Pewter Report: What does Eagles coach Andy Reid have to do to beat the Buccaneers?
Ron Jaworski: This will be a game that will be determined by field position. I don't expect the Eagles offense to move the ball consistently on the Bucs defense. On the other hand, I don't think too many people, including myself, see the Buccaneers offense putting together a lot of 70 and 80 yard drives of 10 or more plays. Both defenses are going to be the dominating factors. It's going to be a great battle of field position, so turnovers will be huge. In fact, don't be surprised if the game doesn't hinge on a play by the special teams.
PR: Just how bad are the Eagles on special teams this year?
JAWS: Well, the coverage teams have given up three touchdowns in five games, and certainly, that's not good. The strange thing is that the Philadelphia special teams were one of the best units in the National Football League in 2001. I think the big reason is depth. They lost a lot of special teams guys, especially Mike Cardwell and Ron Smart, and that is a big loss. Most of these guys were not starters but they were vital cogs of the special teams. That lack of depth is what, I believe, has hurt the Eagles special teams performance in a big way.
PR: What does Jon Gruden have to do to beat the Eagles?
JAWS: This is an easy one. The number one thing that Tampa Bay has to do is stop Donovan McNabb. He is the heart and soul of this franchise. He is so important because Philadelphia has made no commitment to run the football, period. That is illustrated by the fact that the Eagles, through five games this year, have an offensive imbalance of 76 percent pass to 24 percent run. Philly, plain and simple, depends on McNabb to provide a great deal of the running offense. The Eagles expect him to make plays with his feet as well as his arm. The Bucs have to control McNabb and that means they have to make him go the way they want him to go when he scrambles. What Tampa Bay wants to guard against is McNabb escaping to his right because he is extremely dangerous going in that direction. His receivers have a knack of uncovering when he starts to scramble. The Bucs, when they blitz, have to come from his right. They have to set up that picket fence on the right side of the Eagles quarterback so they force him to go to left. He's not as dangerous and effective going left throwing the football, but McNabb he is a great runner no matter which way he goes.
PR: You just came out with your Super Bowl prediction and wasn't it an all-Florida game in San Diego?
JAWS: Yes, I did say that. I think, as of the first six games, that I believe the Bucs and the Dolphins will be in the Super Bowl. No one, and I mean no one, is playing better than the Bucs defense at this time. Now the Bucs will never be as explosive on the offensive side of the ball because they don't have those kinds of players. The Tampa Bay offense will get better as the season progresses and this team has a great shot to go all the way. I have the same feeling about Miami, but for a little different reason. They have a rock-solid defense, and with the addition of Ricky Williams, they can run the football. Granted, the loss of Jay Fielder will hurt, but Ray Lucas should be able to step in there without any major drop in production. He'll be able to keep the running game going and, because the running game is so effective, the play action passing game will still be effective.
PR: Who is your surprise player by their performance on the Bucs so far in 2002?
JAWS: It would have to be middle linebacker Shelton Quarles. He has simply played terrific, and to be perfectly honest with you, that was a big question mark that everyone had with the Bucs defense going into the 2002 season. It's not easy to move from the perimeter to inside the shell, but Quarles hasn't missed a beat going from the strongside linebacker to the middle. He's been everything that Monte Kiffin has wanted and then some. He is, far and away, the most pleasant surprise for the Bucs so far this year.
PR: From a team standpoint, who is the big surprise in the National Football League in 2002?
JAWS: Far and away, the New Orleans Saints. If you look how the Saints finished out the 2001 season getting blown out by Tampa Bay and San Francisco, their start is amazing. Coach Jim Haslett has rid himself of some players and they are getting some high levels of play from a lot of players starting with quarterback Aaron Brooks. Running back Deuce McAllister has given them an inside and outside running game, plus rookie receiver Donte Stallworth, although slowed by injuries the past couple of games, gives New Orleans the down-the-field speed opposite Joe Horn. This team could be the Chicago Bears of 2002 where they come out of nowhere and make some playoff noise.
PR: What team is the biggest disappointment in 2002?
JAWS: No doubt, the St. Louis Rams. I had picked the Rams to go to the Super Bowl, and they just fell flat on their faces. It's almost shocking to see that St. Louis was 0-5 to start the season. It's almost mind-boggling, especially on defense, where those guys are in the second year of the system installed by Lovie Smith. A team that's running a close second is Pittsburgh, but they will better simply because they play in a very weak division.
To read more of Haggerty's interview with Jaworski regarding the Buccaneers, check out the next issue of Pewter Report, which will be published on October 21 after the Tampa Bay-Philadelphia game. Call 1-800-881-BUCS(2827) to subscribe or purchase this issue.