The Washington Redskins would be making a mistake if they hire Jay Gruden as their next head coach. The Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator is emerging as a favorite to succeed Mike Shanahan, but like Shanahan, his reputation has been inflated.
Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports predicts that Gruden has the inside track to be the next Redskins boss. La Canfora cites Gruden's relationship with general manager Bruce Allen, who worked with Jay's older brother, Jon, for both the Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
That familiarity is seen as a deciding factor. So is the younger Gruden's work with Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. But this is where the argument in favor of Gruden starts to come off the rails.
Under Gruden's tutelage, Dalton has led the Bengals to three straight playoff appearances, but that stat is only surface deep.
Dalton has lost all three playoff games and his performances in them have been horrible. Supporters of Gruden will stress that he has taken Dalton as far as the young quarterback will ever go, but that is too easy a conclusion to draw.
Part of the blame for Dalton's postseason meltdowns has to belong to his play-caller. If Gruden is going to take the credit for Dalton's numbers in the regular season, he has to bear the criticism for Dalton's follies in the playoffs.
That was never more evident than in Dalton's most recent failure, the 27-10 home loss to the San Diego Chargers in the AFC wild-card round.
Put simply, Gruden was thoroughly outcoached by San Diego defensive coordinator John Pagano.
All it took was a few fire-zone blitzes to completely wreck the Cincinnati offense. Forget any numbers that might suggest to the contrary, your own eyes will tell you Dalton has major issues against the blitz.
If you look at that game, you will see that Pagano sent frequent pressure with the same three-deep, three-under coverage behind it.
That pattern began in the first quarter, meaning Gruden had almost the entire game to adjust to it. Even worse, San Diego's blitzes created the most problems in the second half.
The halftime intermission is a good opportunity for NFL coordinators to add tweaks and wrinkles to a game plan in order to counter or exploit the opposition's tactics.
But instead, Dalton continued to wilt under the blitz after the break. He was guilty of three costly turnovers in the second half, as Gruden failed to adjust and protect his young quarterback.
Gruden's approach to the game was very worrisome. He abandoned the run early, despite a bright start from BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
Green-Ellis had tormented the Chargers in a Week 13 road win for Cincinnati, but Gruden gave him just eight carries in the playoffs.
Gruden also seemed baffled by the Chargers decision to double-cover premier wide receiver A.J. Green. Isn't that what most teams try to do to Green?
With his primary means of attacking defenses taken away, Gruden looked lost. That is the exact the way things went for Robert Griffin III and the Washington offense in 2013.
Allen banking on Gruden's ability to improve Griffin is a very, very dangerous gamble. For instance, where is Dalton's improvement and progress through three seasons?
The end result has been the same, a dire performance and an inevitable defeat in the postseason. If you like to crunch numbers, consider that while Dalton's touchdown figures have gone up, his interception totals have risen as well.
More than mere analytics, Dalton's approach has stayed the same and become stale. It remains "bombs away to Green" and not much else. How is that different from Dalton's rookie season in 2011?
Let's apply the brakes here because this isn't meant as a treatise on Dalton's failings. It is a critique of Gruden's limits as a play-caller.
Coordinators, like the players they coach, have to be judged on progress. More than just numbers, that progress has to be measured in results and performances.
For three seasons, Gruden's offense has faltered at the same stage of the playoffs. The Bengals have only been in the postseason mix because of the play of their defense, not Gruden's influence.
Yet that hasn't stopped others from fueling the narrative that he will take over in D.C. NFL Media Insider Jeff Darlington believes Allen will appoint Gruden as Shanahan's successor.
Darlington is joined in that thinking by Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio, who tabbed Gruden as Allen's preferred choice in an interview with CSN Washington.
There are better names on the still-growing list of candidates to replace Shanahan for Allen to consider. Maybe the focus ought to be a defensive-minded head coach who can fix that side of the ball and balance the team.
San Francisco 49ers defensive boss Vic Fangio, who was recently added to the list by ESPN's Adam Schefter, would be a great hire. And please, can somebody give Allen the number of Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles?
But if the Redskins are intent on hiring an offensive coach to aid Griffin, there are better choices than Gruden. Why not consider Doug Pederson, who has done an excellent job with Alex Smith and the Kansas City Chiefs?
Pederson's offense is creative, quarterback friendly and showed significant improvement as the season progressed.
If Allen and owner Dan Snyder want a quarterback-friendly coach to build a team around Griffin, then hire Pederson or Gase. Follow that up by appointing Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator.
Opting for Gruden is too easy and smacks of lazy thinking. Just because his older brother proved to be a success, it doesn't automatically follow he will be the same.
But more important than the family ties, Jay Gruden's work in Cincinnati doesn't stand up to close inspection. He is the wrong man to revive the Redskins.
All statistics via NFL.com.
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