Ron Jaworski Sounds Off On The Bucs

January 19 – Pewter Report managing editor Leo Haggerty caught up with ESPN NFL analyst and former Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski on the state of the Buccaneers heading into the National Football Conference Championship Game in Philly. As usual, the insight of Jaws will astound you, so read on.

Q: Why did you think it could be an all Florida Super Bowl between Miami and Tampa Bay?
A: I thought it was very realistic. The one thing that saw with the Dolphins is that they got Jay Fieldler back and, what I liked when they played the Raiders in Miami, they got some big plays out of the passing game. Ricky Williams has been a given all season long and their running game has been a give. They were very consistent. I believe that the running game will only keep games close and control the clock. They had to get points out of the passing game and which means explosive plays. The combination of Fielder to Chris Chambers was critical. The Dolphins had that going for a while at the end of the season. Their defense was a constant as well. The down side to their defense, at times, is that they have given up too many big plays. I think they needed to be a little more cautious about keeping plays in front of them but, because of their gambling style, that's the risk-to-reward that they took and it hurt them at the end of the season.

Q: After a full season under Jon Gruden is Mike Alstott a good fit for this offense?
A: I think that Gruden is still finding ways to integrate Mike into the offense. I don't think that Mike is going to be the guy that gets 20 carries a game and gives you 100 yards. I think that he'll give you some tough yards when you need them. I think he's going to give you yards when you have the lead in the game and you pound the game. It's very difficult to build your offense around Mike Alstott. He's a situational player.

Q: What's the big thing that has changed in the National Football League since your playing days?
A: The passing game, period. The people that talk about running the football to win a championship and stopping the run to win a championship are those people that have black-and-white telephones as well as rotary dial phones. That is not how you win anymore. You must have an explosive passing attack. You must be able to throw the football down the field. The rules of the game are allowing that. The ingenuity of offensive coordinators is aggressive in that approach. It's all about scoring points. It's not about getting rushing yards. It's not about controlling the clock and slowing the game down. It's about scoring points. You're seeing Mike Martz and Steve Spurrier and Andy Reid and Charly Weis and Mark Tressman going after defenses in the air. These guys understand the game. They know that it's about scoring points and you score points by throwing the football. What you try to do is get the lead through the air and then pound with the running game. That's when you shorten the game and control the clock but you have to score early to set the tempo.

Q: Is there a problem between Gruden and Keyshawn Johnson in that he's not a down the field wide receiver that can stretch the defense?
A: I don't think that's a problem. I think the one thing that Jon understands is his football team. It is not a vertical passing attack and Jon understands that fact. He knows how to use the specific talents that each player has. You have a quarterback in Brad Johnson that is not a deep ball thrower. You have an offense that's designed to the talents that he has. You have a short and very crisp passing game. It's a game that creates match ups for his wide receivers against linebackers. I call those favorable match ups and it's all about dictating. Jon does a great job of dictating match ups that favor his personnel as well as the talents of Brad Johnson. He's a very accurate passer that gets the ball out of his hands quick and is able to read coverage. Now, if you do get the blitz, this is where Brad will beat you. He will throw the ball down the field because he knows that he has that opportunity for the big and explosive play. I use the second Atlanta game as a real life example when he hit Keenan McCardell with the long touchdown pass down the seam. He had the coverage read and made the play.

Q: How important is it for a quarterback on second-and-10 to avoid the sack by throwing the ball away and look at third-and-10 instead of getting sacked setting up a third-and-20?
A: This is absolutely critical. The one thing that I have said about a thousand times is that some of my best throws in my 17-year NFL career were incompletions. Getting rid of the football so you don't take a sack or forcing the ball into coverage. Throw the ball away and when you get back in the huddle you hear one of your offensive lineman thank you. That's because he's missed his block completely and didn't get credited with a sack. You got rid of the football and didn't take a loss so you kept your offense on schedule. Those incompletions could go a long way in going to the Super Bowl.

Q: Is Michael Pittman just feeling his way through a new offense or is there something mechanically wrong with his running style?
A: I thought Michael Pittman would have a huge impact, in a positive way, on the Bucs this year. I guess, unfortunately, it hasn't happened. I really thought he would end up being the feature back. I thought he would catch a lot of balls and be that two-dimensional back that I thought he had the ability to be as far as a runner as well as a receiver. For whatever reason he just never assimilated into the Buccaneers style of offense. He has become a situational back as well.

Q: Are you saying, in pretty simple terms, that the Bucs really are a team of situation players in the backfield with no feature back?
A: I think that's pretty close to the truth. The big problem about having situational backs is that you begin to get stereotyped. In certain situations the defense begins to know what that particular player is going to do. Now you have to do some self-scouting and begin to change things up. When you have one back in the game at all times, a multi purpose back, you can continue to run the same plays all the time. If you have backs that are specialists then the defense can zero in on the talents that each individual has.

Q: Who had the best year and who had the worst year on the offensive line?
A: It's really hard to make that determination. When I look as offensive lines I look at them as a unit. I think that it's very important that it be addressed in that manner. This is because that no one really knows exactly what the blocking scheme was and the calls that were made at the line of scrimmage. At times blame can laid on someone from a visual standpoint but, until you find out what the scheme was or what call was made prior to the ball being snapped, you really don't know for sure who was at fault. As a general statement the Bucs offensive line has got better, as a whole, over the course of the season. Those five guys are beginning to interact as one. Then you can throw the tight end in there as their sixth blocker. I've seen this offensive line get progressively better over the course of the regular season has worn on. That does not surprise me at all. I have the utmost respect for Bill Muir the offensive line coach. His bar is very high. If the guys don't respond to him raising the bar he'll find some other offensive lineman that will do it. This line has respond to Bill's coaching and have got better.

Q: Is the offensive line a smash mouth group or a finesse group?
A: The Bucs do not have a physical style of offensive line. It is not the Pittsburgh Steelers or the Tennessee Titans who get a mano-on-mano approach. They want to get a man on a man and, plain and simple, kick the other guy's ass if I can paraphrase those two teams style of play. The Bucs are more of a finesse style of offense. They run a lot of counters and a lot of treys along with a lot of misdirection. It's not a group that's going to go belly to belly and beat someone physically.

Q: Is the Bucs lack of down the field speed by their wide receivers something that has been overblown?
A: No because it's true. That's why the team is designed around the short passing game and I'm not saying that's a bad thing. I'm just saying that this is what they are. If they are going to look for a vertical, down the field game they have a pipe dream. That's not going to happen. That's not what this receiving corps is all about. When you look at McCardell and Keyshawn Johnson along with Joe Juervicious they are all big, strong receivers. They are good route runners who will get open but they are not going to do it down the field. They won't throw the ball down the field because it isn't their strength. You have to respect Jon Gruden for understanding that and playing to their strength which is the short to intermediate passing game.

Q: Because Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly were left off the Pro Bowl and the Eagles corners, Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor, made it to Hawaii do you think this is a put up or shut up game for the Bucs secondary?
A: I think the Bucs corners will be very angry and rightfully so. Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor have both had outstanding years and, on par with that season, have been Brian Kelly and Ronde Barber. A very difficult choice by the voters but I am not a big fan of the Pro Bowl voting and balloting system. Quite honestly, I think it stinks. I think it's a popularity contest. I think people who understand and know the game of football should do it. Personnel people and scouts that break games down. When I see people like Orlando Pace, who last year was the best tackle in the game but this year has been hurt, who hasn't played much and when he has played has played very poorly making the Pro Bowl I think it is a joke. Anyone who voted for these guys to go to the Pro Bowl ought to have their heads examined. They are voting the wrong people. Clearly, when you look at Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly they were Pro Bowl deserving and I expect them to play this week with a chip on their shoulder. The Tennessee Titans had a bye and a home field game with the second best record in the AFC and are playing for the AFC championship in Oakland and have zero players in the Pro Bowl. That's just ridiculous.

Q: Did that slight motivate the Titans and could it work the same way for the Bucs in the NFC championship game?
A: I will guarantee you that it's the first thing that came to Jeff Fisher's mind. Now he has a tremendous tool for motivation and the Titans haven't lost since. The fact that the road to get to Oakland had to go through Nashville was definitely a big factor in their game with Pittsburgh. He probably came into the locker room and said do you believe that we are getting no respect from the people out there. They don't think we are a good football team. Of course Jeff has that motivational tool and he has played it and so will the Bucs.

Q: What's the Bucs big negative on defense that they have to change against the Eagles?
A: The inability to stop the run on a consistent basis in a power running game is their biggest problem. If you look, historically, as to how the Philadelphia Eagles have knocked the Bucs out of the playoffs it's because they were able to run inside. Not to the outside, that plays to the strength of the Buccaneers, but running the power game inside. The Bucs love to play the offset tackle and teams have been taking the guard and the center and creating push up the middle. Now they let Warren Sapp run through his gap and you create a natural void. Clearly, when you look at what this Bucs defense must do it is to be stronger at the point of attack if they intend to go to the Super Bowl. They will get a stern test with the Eagles. Philadelphia will look at the teams that have handled the Buccaneers and they will stay with the running game. When you have an offensive line like the Eagles Duce Staley will see the football and he will see it often.

Q: What's the Bucs biggest positive that they have to continue to exploit against Philadelphia?
A: No doubt that is Brad Johnson. There is no doubt in my mind that there is another real slight in the Pro Bowl balloting. Here's a guy that should have got MVP consideration and he doesn't even make the Pro Bowl. To me, that's another joke about the Pro Bowl. No one has played better and more consistently than Brad Johnson this season. He reads coverage well. He gets rid of the football. He doesn't make dumb mistakes that will put his defense in a bad situation. He has been the constant of the Bucs offense this season.

Q: Does the NFL need to change the overtime rule after the Steelers don't even get a chance to touch the football against the Titans or take the mentality that it ain't broke so don't fix it.
A: Leo, I'm with you. If it ain't broke don't fix it. It ain't broke so leave it alone and lets move on.

Q: Why are so many teams abandoning the run so early in the football game?
A: Each team is different. If you look at how playcalling goes in the NFL today and you look at the first half you'll find some amazing things. I chart just the first half of games because this is what your game plan is going into the contest. This is what the coaching staff has determined how the game will be played. In the first half the game plan will be shown. The second half could be dictated by score or by field position or by adjustments made at half time. If you look at just the first half of games the teams in the National Football League call pass plays an average of 61 percent of the time. We're talking about called pass plays. 61 percent in the first half which means that they are only running 39 percent of the time in the opening 30 minutes. Clearly, the NFL is becoming a passing league but I also believe in balance. I believe that you must have balance between the run and the pass to sustain offense and be a dominant offense. You just cannot be one-dimensional.

Q: With that said, is there a better team than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers against the pass and does that give them the ray of hope that they need to upset the Eagles?
A: Obviously, the Bucs defense is the best in the National Football League. The one thing that I like to look at is the quarterback rating against the defense. You look at the Bucs defense when it comes to that statistic and it is number one with a rating around 48. That is a fantastic number. The next closest defense in that statistical category is around 64. There is a huge difference and that simply means that the Buccaneers defense is the most difficult defense to throw the ball against. That could be the turning point on Sunday because it could led to some turnovers that, I think, will decide this football game.

Q: Are teams that are physical up front like the Eagles working the one-gap against the Bucs?
A: I think to a certain degree this is happening. Teams know that the Bucs love to play that one-gap system. Win your gap and the linebackers, for the most part but not all the time, will key the fullback. You are starting to see teams use the fullback and the tailback, particularly out of the I formation, with some misdirection. The same things teams are doing out of split backs when it comes to misdirection. Teams are trying to get the linebackers moving. Just give them that split-second of indecision and that creates the void. The one-gap players go up the field and, we all known, Monte loves to have his defensive lineman get up the field. This is not a read and react style of defense. As they go up the field they create that natural void and, if the linebackers aren't there because they are frozen for a second, that gives the offense an opportunity to hit that hole quickly and get positive plays. I think the Detroit game was a real life example. They got a couple quick hitters up inside with the speedy backs that they had in the game and those four and five-yard plays became 20-yard plays.

Q: How does the Bucs undersized defensive tackles fight off the Eagles double team of two three hundred plus pound lineman?
A: You just have to dig in. The one thing is that when you play that offset tackle position in a 4-3 defense and you're in the guard-center gap you are going to get double-teamed almost every single play. You can almost expect the double team. That's were the team that gets the push wins. The offense wants to push that defensive tackle back into the linebackers lap. That's what it's all about when you talk about winning the line of scrimmage. You just have to honker down and do you best to split the double team.

Q: What's the one thing on offense and on defense as well as on special teams that you would change in the NFL game if you could?
A: I am more of a purist and I love the way the game is played right now. The one thing that the Competition Committee of the National Football League does is do slight tweaking to make the game better. I think this year has been a real life example. Going into Week 16 of the 2002 season there wasn't one AFC team that had clinched a playoff spot. That shows me that there is parity and that there is competition. When the Houston Texans can go into Heinz Field in Pittsburgh and beat the Steelers and when the New York Giants, who are fighting for a playoff spot, go down to play the same Houston team and lose to an expansion team that shows me that all is well in the National Football League. You must play your best every single Sunday or you're going to get beat. You let up for one second, like what the Saints did against the Vikings at the end of the season that cost them a playoff spot, you lose. You must be ready every single game. You must be ready to play every single snap. You must be ready to give a hundred percent all the time.

Q: How hard is to win 10 games in the NFL let alone 12 like the Bucs and Eagles did this year?
A: It's very hard to win 10 games. My feeling is that a lot of coaches in the NFL coach to win eight games. Now, the real good ones go beyond that point. A lot of coaches coach to win eight games to keep their job. Very few coaches will get fired going 8-8 except where the bar is set higher like in San Francisco this year or Tampa Bay last year. Now, those coaches that are gutsy and really want to win a world championship will become the risk takers. They will be the ones that try to win 10 games and then 12 or 13 games to get home field advantage throughout the playoffs which is so critical. The risks takers, to me, are the ones that win championships.

Q: Is the Bucs offense a true West Coast or is it a hybrid?
A: It's a hybrid. It's clearly not the West Coast offense and I don't think that there is a pure West Coast offense anymore. I think, through the years, the West Coast offense has been tweaked by each coach that has come through the Bill Walsh tree and they have put there own stamp on it. I don't think there is a pure West Coast offense anymore. I think right now we have our hybrids in Philadelphia and in Tampa.

Q: Does the league have to change the challenge rule because you only have two challenges and, even if you're right, you're done especially after what's gone down in the playoffs this year?
A: In general, I love the challenge replay system to make a wrong call right but, if the coach challenges the call and he's right, the coach get penalized in the system today. I think that is the part of the challenge system that needs to be addressed. A coach should not be penalized if he's correct.

Q: How important is home field in the playoffs?
A: Home field is always critical. I think, in the playoffs, it's worth three points and, in Philadelphia, maybe even more. The home crowd always comes lathered up and that's puts the team in a better position. It has that impetus of the home crowd behind them. It makes it much more difficult for the visiting offensive team to communicate. I think the home field advantage is paramount. This is the game I thought the NFC would come down to so it's time to kick it off.

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