Josh McDaniels And The Raiders Can't Win The Close Ones

More than a decade later, Josh McDaniels somehow still hasn’t learned Bill Belichick’s greatest skill.

How to win close games.

McDaniels and the Raiders have opened the season at 0-2, both losses by a touchdown or less. While it is 12 years removed from McDaniels’ first stint as a head coach with Denver, the start is part of two bad trends.

Josh McDaniels Struggles In Close Games

McDaniels is now 5-19 since opening his career as a head coach with a 6-0 run in 2009. Within that, McDaniels is now 1-8 in games decided by a touchdown or less. In other words, in games where strategy and game management would appear to mean the most, McDaniels is coming up way short.

Especially when compared with Belichick. Over 28 years as a coach, Belichick is 127-78 in games decided by seven points or less, a winning percentage of 61.9. That includes 13-4 in the playoffs and, within that, 5-2 in the Super Bowl.

Of course, critics would counter that Belichick had Tom Brady for most of that, which is true. With Brady, Belichick is 92-48 (65.7 percent) and his postseason marks in close games are all with Brady behind center.

Still, over four seasons in New England with either Matt Cassel, Cam Newton or Mac Jones as the quarterback, Belichick is a reason 10-9 in those games. Even if you throw in his five-year stint in Cleveland in the 1990s, Belichick is 25-30 in games without Brady.

Bill Belichick Is The Master

Furthermore, Belichick’s effectiveness in close games is a conscious effort that dates who when he was an assistant coach with the New York Giants under Bill Parcells. In the 1980s, Parcells was one of the first coaches to have an assistant coach specifically assigned to dealing with game situations.

That was running back coach Ray Handley, a math whiz with a degree from Stanford who also happened to be so good at counting cards in blackjack that he was banned from numerous casinos. Handley, who wore a baseball cap and glasses during games, would normally be a short distance behind Parcells’ right shoulder during games.

Belichick had his own version of Handley with Ernie Adams, a similar math devotee who made a fortune in the stock market. Belichick and Adams have been friends since their days in prep school.

Strategy experts have become standard issue around the league, which would seemingly even out the advantage. Yet somehow, Josh McDaniels either hasn’t gotten the message or he on a really bad run of luck.

What Gives With McDaniels?

“I couldn’t begin to explain it,” said Miami Dolphins running backs coach Eric Studesville, who worked with both McDaniels in Denver and with former New England assistant Brian Flores when Flores was the head coach in Miami for three years.

“When you work with them, they both follow the same New England program when it comes to situations, like how to handle plays at the end of a quarter or a half when you’re trying to draw the other team offside or a lot of those other situations that we all talk about. It’s a million little things that you go over,” Studesville said. “It’s been a long time since I worked with Josh, so I don’t know if he has changed his approach or how he has evolved, but I thought he had a good handle on it.”

What makes the situation more bizarre is that Josh McDaniels is the playcaller and main strategist. He designed the game plans and listened as Belichick managed them. There are few coaches who have ever been exposed to that level of detail and training.

Or as one head coach said about McDaniels: “It’s kind of baffling. Yeah, he had (Kyle) Orton in Denver and he has Derek Carr now. Those guys aren’t great players, but they’re good enough. You’d just think he’d be ready for those games. You watch Bill long enough and he puts on clinics in close games. It’s absurd the things he thinks of. But hey, I’m not shedding any tears for Josh.”

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Jason Cole has covered or written about pro football since 1992. He is one of 49 selectors for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and has served as a selector since 2013. Cole has worked for publications such as Bleacher Report, Yahoo! Sports, The Miami Herald, the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, and started his career with the Peninsula Times-Tribune in Palo Alto. Cole’s five-year investigation of Reggie Bush and the University of Southern California resulted in Bush becoming the only player to ever relinquish his Heisman Trophy and USC losing its 2004 national championship.