ESPN conducted a media conference call today with Ron Jaworski, one of the most popular and knowledgeable television analysts in the NFL today. Jaworski, who played the quarterback position for 17 seasons in the NFL before joining ESPN as in 1990, has become a leading Xs and Os technician – adept at breaking down a game and explaining the finer points like few analysts can. He has an office at NFL Films in Mt. Laurel, N.J., where he watches game film several days each week and tapes weekly editions of NFL Matchup with Sal Paolantonio and Merril Hoge.
Jaworski appears weekly on Sunday NFL Countdown, Monday Night Countdown, NFL Matchup, NFL-branded specials, and more. (Full audio replay) Transcript:
RON JAWORSKI: Good morning, everyone, and happy Thanksgiving before we get started. I’m sitting in my office now at NFL Films, beginning my breakdown of games for upcoming Thursday and over the weekend. I’ve always kind of used this week as somewhat of a barometer of where teams are, and now’s the time for teams to separate. You must be playing your best football as you go into December, and I think this time of year you kind of get a template of where teams are as far as getting ready for that fourth quarter drive of the regular season of the NFL.
It’s kind of been an interesting season so far. I think there are a lot of teams that we expected to do well, are doing well. There are a couple of teams that probably we thought would be doing better and are not doing as well. My hometown team here in Philadelphia, not doing as well as we thought they would. But clearly some surprises when you see Tampa Bay playing really good football under Greg Schiano, and you see the turnaround in Indianapolis what they’ve been able to do in what most people thought would be a rebuilding season.
I think those are the exciting things that are happening in teams we did not think would be playoff contenders. They have certainly improved through the first ten, 11 weeks that they can be. It’s been a week of some consistency and some surprises. So with that, I’ll turn it back to you and we can get started.
Q: You mentioned the Eagles. I was curious. Right now when you look at this roster and their situation, how major is the renovation going to be with this team, do you think, during the off‑season, to turn it back into a legitimate playoff contender?
JAWORSKI: I think there’s a pretty good core of players. But I think there are some players that are clearly underachieving. When you just look at the game this week, which I’ve looked at this morning against Washington, when you see your star players like DeSean Jackson catching two balls for five yards and your other starting receiver Jeremy Maclin getting no catches, it’s pretty hard to be successful, consistent, and help out a rookie quarterback making his first start.
They had 51 drop-backs in that game. When your two starting wide receivers, cumulatively, only catch two balls, you’re going to have issues. So in that regard, you have players that are underachieving.
When you are playing young players, it’s up for the veteran players to make sure that the young players feel comfortable and are doing their job. I think clearly when I look at this roster, I don’t think it needs to be shredded, but I think it does need to be tweaked.
The quarterback position is obviously going to be the first thing that will have to be addressed going into next year. You have a Michael Vick, you have a Nick Foles, you have Trent Edwards. Not a great class coming out of the collegiate levels, at least ‑‑ I haven’t studied the guys yet, but maybe I’m a little premature ‑‑ but the people I’ve spoken to say it’s not a great class.
But when you look at this roster, I think there is a solid core, but I think there are some changes that need to be tweaked.
Q: Russell Wilson, what’s been your general overall impression of him so far?
JAWORSKI: I’ve been blown away by Russell Wilson. I take a lot of pride in my prep of the college players coming in; and I thought Russell Wilson would be a good, solid back‑up quarterback for a decade in the NFL. He’s come in and shown incredible poise, a pocket awareness, the strong arm, and the ability to make plays. Darrell Bevell and Pete Carroll have done a good job of managing his game out there not asking him to win games by himself. They play defense. They run the football. They have a great balance.
But I am absolutely very, very impressed with the play of Russell Wilson. You just watch him move in the pocket. And I know sometimes people say that’s because he’s 5’11”, just under six foot. But when you’ve got guys that are 6’7″, 6’8″, I don’t care if you’re 6’3″, you have to move and find passing lanes, and I think he does an outstanding job of that.
There is a certain part of his game, and we all have a tendency to look at stats because that’s kind of a primary thing to value players, but what’s been impressive with Russell Wilson, he has made plays when the game has been tied or they’re behind. The majority of his touchdown passes come in critical situations, and I’m a big believer in quarterbacks that manage critical situations. Which ends up being three, four, five a game that those are the turning points that allow you to win or lose a football game, and in those situations, Russell Wilson has been absolutely phenomenal. I’m very impressed with the way he’s playing, and quite honestly, I’m surprised. I did not see this coming, but I guess Seahawks fans are very happy.
Q: If he had the exact same skillset coming out of college and he had been 6’3″, 6’4″, where do you think he would have been drafted?
JAWORSKI: It’s hypothetical, but I think there is a certain criteria now that scouts and evaluators look at measurable – speed, size, arm strength. They value all of those things. But I think he probably would have been a higher draft choice. I don’t think there is any doubt of that. But one thing, if you look at him now and you study him now, he knows what he’s doing. He looks like he belongs.
Maybe if we would have all done a better job studying him in Wisconsin, we would have seen this guy knows how to ball. He knows how to play the game, and sometimes those measurables can be wrong. If you’re a player, you’re a player, no matter how big you are.
Q: You were one of the analysts before the season who had some reservations about Brandon Weeden, and it seems as though you might be right. I want to, first of all, get your thoughts on what you’ve seen from Weeden in the first ten weeks. Are the mistakes that he’s making correctible? In other words, can the Browns go forward with this guy as a quarterback? And on a totally unrelated topic, it’s been about a year since the James Harrison hit on Colt McCoy that sparked some changes. Is the game safer than it was a year ago?
JAWORSKI: Okay, the first one, I’ll address Brandon Weeden. I did like Brandon Weeden when he was coming out. He was a big, strong arm, powerful thrower that kind of had all the prototypical things you like to see in an NFL quarterback. Now when I went through the preseason, I thought starting him was premature. In looking at the tape of the Browns in the preseason, I did not think he was ready to become a starting quarterback in the NFL. Now he’s gotten better every week. He still needs to improve, but I think he will improve.
I know the Browns staff. I know Pat Shurmur. I know Brad Childress. I know the way they coach guys. I know Mark Whipple and the way they coach guys. So he’s going to get excellent coaching. Now, if he buys in and listens, he’ll continue to improve, and he has gotten better.
You watch him this week, there were some mistakes in the game against Dallas, but I thought he made some terrific throws as well. With a young quarterback, it’s all about becoming more consistent, and I’m seeing as the season progresses, he has gotten better. So I think Weeden does have a future in Cleveland.
In regards to the Harrison hit, I don’t think there is any doubt in my mind, and I look at all this tape and watched a number of games on TV, the game has gotten safer. I think players are correcting themselves. When the commissioner decided to basically change the hit zone of where you can hit players and stay away from the head, I wasn’t sure how the players would adjust.
Now you’re always going to have some helmet to helmet contact because of the speed and quickness of the players that play this great game. But one thing I do see, the players have self‑corrected and changed their target zone. They are going lower, taking the legs out and going to the midsection, and less guys going for the head.
So, yes, what the commissioner did certainly changed the way the game is being played and I think in a positive way. Like everything we’ve been learning over the last few years about head trauma.
Q: I wanted your take on Eli Manning’s recent struggles. What do you see going on there?
JAWORSKI: I guess I kind of raised some eyebrows when I said I thought his arm was tired, and I didn’t mean it in a negative sense. I meant with most quarterbacks when you’re throwing about 36,000 balls a year, which one year along with Gordon Florence had calculated he had thrown that many, and I thought he was a little arm weary. When you look at guys through the years, you see the throws they make, the velocity they throw with, and certainly Eli’s got one of the great arms in the national football league. But I thought some of his deeper throws, the seams, the deep comebacks lost a little energy at the end of the throw. I said he needs a little rest. Now he’ll get that rest, and I’m sure his arm will be fresh this week when they play.
But if I look at the Giants, third down has been their real problem. They have really struggled the last three weeks. Eli is 12 of 29, 154 yards, two interceptions. Only seven first downs have been accumulated – that’s 21.9%, and his quarterback rate, something 29.95. Those are the numbers.
Now I’ll tell you why. Here’s what’s happening. I don’t think their receivers are doing a good job beating the press, man‑to‑man coverage. Teams are bringing five. In other words, they’re manning up with the Giants offensive line, trying to get those one‑on‑one blocks, and the Giants offensive line has struggled with those one‑on‑one blocks. The receivers haven’t done a good job on third down of beating the one‑on‑one coverage.
So I think third‑down improvement is going to be absolutely critical for the Giants as we look down the remainder of the season.
Q: Is that the main X and O component in the way teams are defending them now?
JAWORSKI: Yes, that’s how I felt about it. You could see teams are willing to play these wide receivers man‑to‑man, and you’ve got to win or you’re going to see more of it. They’re willing to bring five after Eli to put some pressure on him. It’s not always to get pressure on Eli; it’s to pressure that offensive line. They haven’t been as sharp as they were early in the season in their pass protection.
Q: I was curious. Obviously the Patriots have a lot of depth and a lot of offensive weapons. How do you see them schematically or even personnel‑wise adjusting for his loss?
JAWORSKI: Well, I think first and foremost, when I think of the Patriots I always think of a game-specific plan. In other words, some teams, and I call them execution teams, they’re going to run their offense or their defense, and they’re going to say, hey, this is what we do. We’re going to out-execute you.
When you look at the Patriots with that game‑specific plan, they attack each team independently. So I think that helps them when you lose a guy like (Rob) Gronkowski, because they do change their plan every week, and it’s not just focused on Rob. Make no mistake, this guy is an absolutely amazing football player.
I sit here and grab guys here at NFL Films when I watch the Patriots and I’ll say look at Gronkowski. It’s not necessarily one of those great acrobatic catches he makes, it’s at the line of scrimmage. His pass blocking ability when they do decide to keep him in the block, his run‑blocking ability, when they run behind him is second to none. He is a dominant football player, so he will be lost.
Now fortunately for the Patriots, they have a bunch of tight ends on their roster. They don’t have a pure fullback. They like to use their tight end as an H‑back or wing back, and they have multiple tight end formations. But they do have guys that can jump in and fill the void of Gronkowski. And I think when Aaron comes back, you’ll see the receiving skills there, but the match‑up skills Aaron doesn’t bring what Rob has.
And it’s kind of funny as I sit here and look at this stuff. It’s almost a little funny how teams alter their game plan through the course of the game when they play against Rob. Particularly teams outside the AFC East that don’t see him on a regular basis. Some teams figure oh, we’ll cover him with the linebacker. Well, midway through the second quarter, they’re not doing that anymore. They’ll try using a safety or double team him with a safety and a linebacker. Middle of the third quarter I’ll be going, hmm? They’re changing it up, that didn’t work.
So by late in the game, they’re putting their best cover guys on him trying to stop him. So he alters individually what you do. From a quarterback perspective, every quarterback loves that security blanket. And I know Tom (Brady) loves, in the crunch time, there is a guy that he knows he can count on, and that was Gronkowski. So in those situations, he’ll be missed.
Q: There’s been some consternation raised over the fact that Gronk was out with a 30‑point lead on a point after blocking. Do you have any problem with that?
JAWORSKI: None whatsoever. I mean, when you score a touchdown, the extra point team goes out there. If you’re trying a field goal, the field goal team runs on the field. It’s just the way it’s played. Now, are you going to yell at someone else to go out there for Gronk? I guess you could do it, but it’s not the way the Patriots do it.
I love the way Bill plays football. You play for 60 minutes. Brady is still in the game, starters are still in the game. His guys play and it’s always been that way. So clearly I have no issue with it. It’s one of those freak plays. My recollection is that I never remember anyone getting hurt on blocking for an extra point.
Q: What do you see going on with Ryan Tannehill? The past couple games, the Dolphins offense seems to have stalled. How much do you think it’s hindered by the Dolphins supposed lack of play makers on offense?
JAWORSKI: That clearly is the issue. I thought early in the season I saw a quantum leap from Ryan Tannehill. I did not expect him to play well early. I think probably RG3 has been the biggest surprise. The consistency over ten games right now. But I thought Tannehill had a streak there where he was playing very well.
But there is an ebb and flow to young quarterbacks, and there is an ebb and flow to every offensive team, defensive team in the NFL as the season goes and adjustments are made. I think what you’re seeing now, teams are adjusting to what the Dolphins are doing. There’s not much separation from their receivers. So I think the windows are always tight that Ryan is throwing into. Their running game for a while got amped up. It now seems to be going in the opposite direction. Reggie Bush was a playmaker. I call them the satellites. You have to move them around, get them the ball on the edge, on the perimeter.
His play‑making ability as of late has disappeared, and problems in the offensive line. The offensive line just hasn’t played as well. I know you go back to the Indy game. I thought Jake Long, and I know he’s nursed some injuries, but these are all pro players. By the way, he did rebound after that tough game against Dwight Freeney. He did rebound. But there’s been inconsistency on the offensive line.
So I think when you look at a quarterback, particularly a young rookie quarterback in a new system, you need all the other components to be perfect. To be really at optimum levels, and they haven’t been, and that’s impacted Ryan’s performance. He’s made some bad decisions as well. And sometimes that does happen with young quarterbacks rather than just taking what the defense gives you, they always try to make a play, and it always gets you in trouble.
Q: I’m curious, you know everybody in this league. I want to know your relationship maybe with Mike Sullivan, used to tutor Eli with the Giants. Now it’s the first time he’s calling plays, and they’re averaging 28 points a game. We’re not used to that down here in Tampa. What affect do you think Mike Sullivan’s had on Josh Freeman?
JAWORSKI: He’s had a tremendous effect on Josh Freeman. Oh by the way, Mike Sullivan goes back to his coaching career at Youngstown State University, my alma mater. So we go back a little bit. But here’s what I like, and it is crystal clear what this offense is about. It’s about discipline. We know Greg has brought that to the Buccaneers in general.
But when you watch this offense, and the first thing that stood out to me, it’s much like the Giants’ offense. It’s not complex; it’s not sophisticated. We’re not going to beat you at shifts, motions and gimmicks and gadgets. We’re going to play football first. That template has worked for Tom Coughlin and the New York Giants.
Obviously, as you mentioned, Mike Sullivan is cut from that same cloth. He was a wide receivers coach with the Giants. So he knows the precision that Tom Coughlin demands from his wide receivers. He coached Eli Manning, so you know the reads are going to be ingrained. You know he’s going to coach his quarterbacks in the pre-snap phase, read the defense’s mail, put their offense in the best position to make plays.
So clearly Mike Sullivan has had a huge impact on what they’re doing schematically. Getting Doug Martin was a phenomenal acquisition in the draft. You get Vincent Jackson, not only do you look at Philip Rivers’ negative performance, you look at Josh Freeman’s positive performance. When you have the running game, when you have a go‑to receiver, and I’m here in Philadelphia, and people are complaining about all the losses in the offensive line. Well, Tampa’s lost four of their starters in the offensive line. No one’s whining, no one’s complaining. Go out and do your job. They’ve developed that next‑man‑up philosophy that’s been heard of around the league. People say it, but you actually have to go on the field and perform.
So I think Mike Sullivan has done a terrific job with the pieces that he has to deal with, and the beneficiary has been Josh Freeman. That throw he made to Vincent Jackson before the two‑point conversion was about as good a throw as I’ve seen all season long.
My quarterback board going into last week I moved him up from number 21 to 16. If Josh keeps playing the way he’s playing, he’s going to crack the Top 10. So clearly, Mike Sullivan has had a huge impact on that entire Bucs offense.
Q: They’re tied with Seattle and Minnesota at 6‑4. How do you see that last playoff spot in the NFC coming down?
JAWORSKI: I tell you, it’s up for grabs. I think Minnesota has been a little bit uneven. Obviously Adrian Peterson is having an MVP kind of season. But I think Christian Ponder’s going to have to elevate his game. He played well early. He plateaued, went a little backwards, came out with a solid game last week. But I think for the Vikings making it Christian Ponder, he’s going to have to play better.
Seattle is just a big, strong, physical football team. I think I don’t have it in front of me, but I think their schedule is beneficial going down the stretch. So I kind of look at it and see Seattle and Tampa Bay duking it out down the stretch.
Q: I was talking to Greg Cosell in December, and he was telling me he (Aaron Rodgers) and the offense were out of rhythm, I think he called it. The last five games they’re undefeated, and Rodgers has 16 touchdowns and only two interceptions. How do you account for what went wrong before and what they’re doing now that they’ve been able to correct things so well?
JAWORSKI: I think there are two things that jump out at the tape. And by the way, Greg Cosell’s office is about 12 feet from mine, so we sit and talk football, look at tape and just have fun hanging around and talking about this game.
But Aaron Rodgers is clearly a phenomenal quarterback. His skillset, I believe, is the best in the National Football League. But when you look back, and I think that Seattle game, that Monday night game, was one of the first times in a long time where I saw Aaron Rodgers get a little frenetic in the pocket where the rush began to affect how he was playing. He normally is a guy that is cool, calm, comfortable in the pocket, not too much bothers him. Great focal point down field reading the coverage.
But he was getting hit and getting hit and getting hit. I played the position for 17 years in the NFL, and trust me, no one likes to get hit. It can impact how you play the game.
I actually thought Aaron got a little frenetic and off his game, but he’s clearly gotten back on track. It’s still not the best offensive line in the world, but Mike does a great job with his schemes and how they block things up and use their tight ends in their protection schemes.
Obviously they’ve had injuries to the wide receiver spot. That always afects the esprit de corps between a quarterback like Aaron and his wide receivers. But down the stretch, Aaron Rodgers will continue to play as great as he’s played over the last four of the season. To me, he’s the best in the business right now, and the Packers are just starting to warm up.
Q: Has he been taking shorter drops? Is that one way they’ve been combatting and fighting so much in that Monday night game in Seattle?
JAWORSKI: There is no question they struggled in that Seattle game, and a few games after that I thought they struggled offensively. Particularly on the offensive line. I can’t say it ‑‑ it would be a knee‑jerk decision to say there are more quicker drops. I haven’t charted every one.
But I think it’s a matter of definition. When Aaron gets clear definition of what the receivers are doing, the ball comes out. Let it be a three‑step drop, five‑step drop or any of his play action. He’s one of those guys that if in the presnap he’s getting a good, definitive read, even if they don’t block pass rushers, the ball will come out of his hand. He is in that groove and seeing the field with great clarity.
Q: With the Raiders heading to Cincinnati this weekend, I was curious to get your evaluation of Carson Palmer, what his skillset is like at age 32, what is the offense that they’re running suits him and whether the trade with the Bengals was worth it?
JAWORSKI: On the surface, you would say the trade was not worth it, but I think Carson has been very uneven this year. I see some absolutely phenomenal throws where you say “there is the old Carson Palmer.” Then I see errors in judgment and decision‑making which means he’s pressing and trying too hard when I see mistakes that normally a veteran quarterback would not make. If you evaluated his trade, you would clearly say the Bengals came out with better part of this.
Q: Do you see that the offense that they’re running calls for some boot legs? Is that something that still fits him at this stage of his career?
JAWORSKI: I think play action fits him. The guy can read a defense pretty much blindfolded. When you use the play‑action game, I think it’s advantageous to him. I don’t think Carson’s the guy you want to consistently get outside the pocket. But I always think a little changeup now and then is good for a quarterback. But I don’t think you build your offense around Carson Palmer moving around.
Q: When you look at Chicago’s pass protection, what do you think besides ‘thank God I don’t have to play behind that’? And Colin Kaeperneck has that extended throwing motion coming out of Nevada. He obviously played well, but if they’re going to have him as a starter in years to come, where do you see him in that progression?
JAWORSKI: Well, the one thing I recollect from my study of Colin is the big, strong arm and the athletic ability. He had that big, elongated delivery, Randall Cunningham, Byron Leftwich kind of guy, which in today’s NFL just doesn’t work on a consistent basis. Clearly when you look, Jim (Harbaugh) loves coaching the quarterbacks. That is his personal pride and that’s why he’s involved with coaching.
Yes, he’s the head coach, but I know how much he loves the quarterback position because he played it, and he understands it. I think clearly Colin has gotten better mechanically. Now, he still has a ways to go, he’s got incredible natural ability, but he’s got a ways to go as far as getting better, shortening his stroke, being more accurate with his throwing. I still think he has a lot of room for improvement, which is good, because he’s pretty darn good right now.
But he’s far from a polished, finished product. Their offensive coordinator as well, Greg Roman, understands how quarterbacks should play, what their reads should be, and the lineage with Greg and Jim goes back to their Stanford days. But I think clearly Kaeperneck’s ability to get the ball down the field scares the hell out of defenses.
Alex Smith is a terrific quarterback, but you don’t have the vertical game that you have, with Alex Smith in there, that you have with Colin Kaeperneck.
Maybe take it one step further. I thought in last night’s game that Jim’s game plan was phenomenal. First of all, the focus was, they were going to get Vernon Davis the ball early and he was going to be the primary guy that was going to attack that Chicago defense. They did a very good job with it. But I thought ‑‑ and here’s where coaching comes in – this is why I love looking at the tape so you can see who is going to get the play call. And good coaches when they call plays and number one comes open, quite honestly, guys, it’s a lot easier playing the quarterback position.
I thought last night, the play calling and play design got No. 1 open for Colin Kaeperneck. He seldom had to go to the progression, go to two, three, four or take it and run. I thought the game plan was beautifully designed where number one came open. So props to Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman and the guys they have, and I think Colin executed it very well.
Q: When you have the personnel they’ve got, do they have to make mid‑season adjustments because your quarterbacks are getting destroyed, how do you do that midseason? (Chicago Bears)
JAWORSKI: You don’t have to look at the tape like I do, and you see that offensive line is dreadful. When the quarterback plants his back foot and he’s getting whacked, it’s very difficult to complete passes. Clearly you can just say, yeah, they’ve got to play better. Okay, that’s a start, and maybe you just have to find players that can play better. Then you go to the normal things that you do with an offense.
You keep the tight ends in. You keep the backs in. You chip your release. You use some movement. You have to go to a shorter passing game. But we have to understand that the defense knows this as well, so it makes it easy to play defense when you’re running two receiver routes, when your backs are chipping and releasing, or you’re keeping tight ends in or not doing any fan blocking, just shoulder to shoulder type blocking. Defenses know that, so that plays into their hands.
Right now Mike (Tice) has his work cut out for him how he’s going to get this offense cranked up again. But I always believe the antithesis of what a lot of teams believe. When your offensive line is struggling, sometimes you have to tighten it up and bang the ball in there and get the running game going.
I think a little differently. I think how do we get the ball on the edge of the defense? How do we get the ball in the hands of our play makers on quick screens, and bubble screens and bunch formations where we get picks and rubs? I think that’s where the offense has to go.
The protection will be a problem because you can’t change every offensive lineman right now. But by design, you can do some things to get players open quickly.
Q: I was curious if you’ve had a chance to look at the tape yet of Nick Foles start?
JAWORSKI: Yes, I did.
Q: I realize it’s kind of a lot of season in Philadelphia this year. But if you had to say which quarterback gives the Eagles their best chance to win down the stretch, who would be your pick?
JAWORSKI: I just got done looking at that game. It was interesting, because in watching the game on TV, I thought Nick (Foles) played a little fast and a little bit frenetic. But after looking at the tape, I thought for the most part he was under control. There were a few times I thought he got a little quick in the pocket with his feet. And that’s going to happen not only with a rookie, but with any quarterback.
But, overall, when I look at the tape, I look at the quarterback’s feet first. It could be the young guys, because if their feet are skittish and they’re flying around, that’s how they’re thinking. If they’re calm and collected with their foot work, they’re usually calm and collected with the way they’re playing the game in their mind.
I thought for the most part he was very, very good in the game. Now he made some mistakes. There were times they didn’t give him some help. I just don’t think you can ask the young quarterback to drop back 51 times in the game and expect great results against a very complex and sophisticated Jim Haslett defense that got after him pretty good, by the way.
But if you ask me the question down the road, it’s going to be interesting. Because I don’t know what style of offense, if there is a coaching change, and appears to be the way things are going in Philly right now, it’s probably going to be blown up and go in a new direction. The first thing you look at, do you have a young quarterback and a coaching staff that can evaluate and say this could be our starter for the next ten years?
It will be interesting how it plays out the next couple weeks. If Michael Vick is clear to play. He (head coach Andy Reid) always says he’s going to be my quarterback when he’s healthy. But I think with Nick Foles, he’s shown through the preseason, and I watched him very closely in the preseason and training camp, he’s a big, strong‑arm thrower, that mechanically is very sound. I think he will be a starter in the NFL and a good one.
But I think it’s going to be up to coach to determine whether he wants him to sit a little bit and play behind Michael Vick, the veteran, or say this guy’s like Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson. Let’s get him out there and let him play.
Q: From your experience in playing and watching games now, is there more pressure being put on young quarterbacks like Cam Newton and Andrew Luck to perform right away? Are we counting them out too soon if they don’t? Or have you seen that throughout your playing and your career as an analyst?
JAWORSKI: I think there’s always pressure on the quarterback. I don’t care if you’re a guy that’s been around 15 years like Peyton Manning or if you’re a rookie like Cam Newton. I think there is always pressure on that position to perform.
Now that being said, I’m going to be totally honest with you. I am absolutely blown away by quarterback play of these rookies this year. You know, Nick Foles this past week, that is now six rookies that we have starting. Probably, the most in the history of the NFL. I know five was, so I think probably six is. These guys are so much more prepared to play in the NFL. I just can’t believe it.
I mentioned RG3 a little while ago, and this guy has played ten games. He’s played a very consistent quarterback. There are many veterans in this league that don’t give you consistent quarterbacking week‑in and week‑out, and here’s a rookie doing it.
You’re watching the growth of Andrew Luck, Weeden, Wilson, Tannehill, and now Foles. I was happy to be in the huddle 30 seconds let alone to go out and execute the offense the way these guys are. And I think it’s really a tribute to the way these guys are being coached not only at the NFL level, but also what’s happening at the college level. They’re throwing the football more, reading defenses more now in high school, with the summer camps, the 7 on 7, all those things. These players now are mature beyond years. They’ve thrown more passes, read more coverage. It shouldn’t be as surprising as it is that they’ve come to the NFL and played very well.
Q: I’m curious what you’re seeing with Philip Rivers, and as a follow‑up, (Joe) Flacco is coming to San Diego, his road‑home splits are really interesting. Not the same guy on the road. What do you see with him?
JAWORSKI: First of all, Philip Rivers for years and still is one of my favorite players. Philip Rivers loves the game of football. Whenever we’d have one of those “Monday Night Football” production meetings, I’d look forward to going into a room with Philip Rivers and talk football. Because you can sit there all day and talk football with Philip Rivers. The guy has an amazing passion for the game.
But being realistic and watching his play, it’s not been good as of late. Maybe the Vincent Jackson loss has impacted him significantly this year, because clearly the deep ball accuracy has not been there, and the explosive plays have not been there. But I think the biggest thing that surprised me is his decision making. Whenever I look at a quarterback, it’s all about the decisions and where to go with the football. Most of those quarterbacks now all have big, strong arms. They can make every throw. But the decision making is critical.
Right now Philip has been struggling in that area. As a player for 17 years, I know there are times when you’re going to press. You try to make every play. But sometimes you just have to let the game come to you. Sometimes you just have to throw it away or sometimes you have to take a sack. And that’s kind of a surprising thing at this point in his career that he’s forcing so many plays and making so many poor decisions. But if anyone’s going to work their way through it, it’s going to be Philip.
Now you asked me about Flacco, right?
Q: Yes. He seems to be different?
JAWORSKI: Yeah, it is amazing. I really don’t have an explanation for it. But I did spend some time in the off‑season, I had him in the film room for my segments with ESPN. I was in Baltimore on Friday with the Ravens and Flacco and Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones and talking about their passing game and what they do.
Here’s what I like about what they do, and maybe this is maybe the difference between being great at home and not so great on the road. They’re a deep ball passing team. They want to throw it down the field. They’ve made an effort this year. I think Cam Cameron said we’ve got Jacoby Jones, we get him here from Houston, we’ve got the speed of Torrey Smith. We’re going to try to get explosive plays. Sometimes you get them, and sometimes you don’t.
In fact I got done doing a break down which shows passes of 20 yards or more, and he’s 25 of 61, 767 yards and seven touchdowns. Now the completion percentage is only 41%. But remember you’re throwing the ball more than 20 yards down the field and it’s produced 7 touchdowns. Because they’re such hit‑or‑miss plays, maybe they’ve tried more of these on the road than they have at home. That’s about the only thing that would pop into my mind right now.
But clearly I think Joe Flacco is a Top 10 quarterback. For some reason, just doesn’t seem to get the recognition that I believe he richly deserved.
Q: Josh Freeman, seems to be playing well. I wonder what the difference is between his play this year. And also Matthew Stafford to me, not playing as well as last year, what do you see with him?
JAWORSKI: First of all, Josh Freeman is playing phenomenal football. I thought last year he really struggled with his accuracy. As their season wore on and their record got worse, disinterest might be the wrong word, but there just didn’t seem to be a fire in that Bucs offense. That usually reflects upon the quarterback, and I thought Josh really struggled last season.
Two years ago I thought he was really coming on and had the potential to be a superstar. I’m seeing that superstar potential now come to the forefront. I think he’s right now in a very good balanced offense. They run the football. They use the play action, and he has been absolutely phenomenal in the red zone.
The NFL is now a red zone league. If you set up for field goals, you’re going to lose. You need to score touchdowns. The throw he made to Vincent Jackson on Sunday was an absolutely phenomenal throw before the two‑point conversion; and that throw kind of to me crystallized the year that Josh is having. He has the confidence to make that throw and trust his receivers, especially a guy like Vincent Jackson. So clearly I’m seeing a very confident quarterback that trusts the system and trusts the players that surround him.
I think clearly Freeman is on his way to becoming a superstar in this league. He’s got all the attributes you would want in a quarterback. Clearly those are being refined.
Matthew Stafford has been disappointing to me. And I’m kind of a whack job when I look at quarterbacks about mechanics. I think you must be perfect in your mechanics. Now there are going to be times when bodies are flying around and you’ve got to change your platform and move your feet, you’ve got to sidestep people.
But I think to be consistent in the NFL, your mechanics must be consistent, the throwing slot, the footwork, the hip turn, all of those things. Right now, Matthew Stafford has been very inconsistent. I don’t know how many throws I have tagged. When I’ll be doing my stuff in the off‑season on the big board with my quarterback rankings of these side arm throws, slinging it out there, inaccurate throws, Matthew Stafford at this point in his career needs to be honed in on being more consistent. He’s not been, and consequently, he’s struggled.
Q: Last night we saw Colin Kaeperneck put on a stealth performance. Now (Jim) Harbaugh said after the game he’s going to go with the guy with the hot hand. Do you think he’s going to go back to Alex? If so, do you think Alex is going to be looking over his shoulder a little bit now with Colin having this big performance on Monday night?
JAWORSKI: Yes and yes. I think he’ll go back to Alex Smith, and I know Colin played terrific last night. As I said a few moments ago, I thought that Jim and Greg did a great job. But clearly I don’t like to see a quarterback lose his job due to injury. I know that may be a little old school, old‑fashioned. But I think Alex will certainly be given the job again. That is my feeling. I think Jim being an old school guy will go that direction.
That being said, I think the leash will be shorter now on Alex Smith. If he does struggle or their offense doesn’t get going early, I think you will see Colin Kaeperneck. But I think it’s a good quarterback situation out there right now. Because I think you can always have the Colin Kaeperneck package in there.
Though last night you didn’t see much of that movement stuff. You didn’t see the normal things with the wild Kap package that they’ve used in the past. It was pretty much consistent, NFL, prototypical style passing game. There were a few deviations.
But for the most part, they did ask him to do the thing that’s he’s done with his single package. So to answer your question, I think they’ll stay with Alex Smith. But certainly Colin Kaeperneck has earned the opportunity to get the chance if Alex doesn’t play well.
(FastScripts by ASAP Sports)