NFC South: Ron Jaworski

In what might be a first, a member of the national media is saying Drew Brees is not the best quarterback in the NFC South.

ESPN Ron Jaworski’s countdown of the NFL’s top quarterbacks has a bit of a surprise. Jaworski ranks Brees at No. 6. He has Ryan at No. 5.

Here’s some of what Jaworski had to say about Ryan:

“Ryan had his best season in 2012. He’s now a veteran quarterback at the top of his game. Can he move up from No. 5? If he can take the Falcons a step further in the playoffs, I wouldn’t rule it out.”

And here’s some of what Jaworski said about Brees:

“In 2012, there were times Brees tried to compensate for the Saints’ historically bad defense; more downfield throws, a lower completion percentage. That does not diminish Brees’ standing as one of the elite players at the game’s toughest position.”

I’m sure this will stir up the masses in both New Orleans and Atlanta. For the record, I’ll respectfully disagree with Jaworski. I think both Ryan and Brees are elite quarterbacks.

But as evidenced by my latest NFC South Top 25 post from earlier Thursday, you’ll see I have Brees ranked ahead of Ryan. I can’t give Ryan the nod until he compiles some more postseason wins.
While I was off, Ron Jaworski started Jaws’ QB Countdown and he now is near the midway point.

Two NFC South quarterbacks have been included in the countdown so far and two haven’t. As you might expect, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan haven’t been mentioned yet and that’s probably because they’re headed for spots in the top 10.

But Jaworski has shared his thoughts on Carolina’s Cam Newton, who came in at No. 18, and Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman, who came in at No. 21.

Jaworski said Newton is one of the more talented quarterbacks in the league, but there’s room for improvement.

“He must become more consistently accurate as a passer,’’ Jaworski said. In 2012, the Panthers committed to the read option as a foundation of their offense. Newton was the Panthers’ leading rusher. That’s nice for SportsCenter, but he’ll never become an elite quarterback because of the way he runs the option – or for that matter – the way he runs at all.

“What prevented Newton from moving up in my rankings from No. 15 a year ago was his passing. Not only did he struggle to read coverage, but he was far too erratic with his accuracy, too scattershot. In fact, the better term for accuracy is ball location. Newton must become more precise. He must better control his throws. But he’s a big-time arm talent, and he improved as the (2012) season progressed.’’

I can’t argue much with Jaworski’s assessment. But I do think that Newton will be better in 2013. That’s because I believe the Panthers will move away from the read option. They’ll ask Newton to be more of a passer. I think the talent is there for him to be successful in that area.

Jaworski called Freeman a frustrating player to evaluate.

“Freeman is an enigma,’’ Jaworski said. “He has a lot of talent, but he should be a better quarterback after 56 NFL starts. He has a lot of snaps under his belt. This is a crossroads season for him. The Bucs drafted Mike Glennon. Freeman is on the clock.”

It’s tough to argue with that. There have been moments when Freeman has looked like an upper-echelon quarterback and there have been moments when he looks like he doesn’t belong as an NFL starter.

This clearly is a huge season for Freeman as he heads into the final year of his rookie contract. Call me an optimist, but I think Freeman will take a step forward this season. He has a good supporting cast and I believe the talent is there. Freeman just needs to show he can play consistently well over the course of an entire season.

Jaws: Josh Freeman becoming superstar

November, 21, 2012
With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers winning and the offense putting up big numbers, a lot of people are jumping back on the Josh Freeman bandwagon. Count ESPN analyst and former NFL quarterback Ron Jaworski as one of them.

Jaworksi spent a lot of time singing the praises of the Tampa Bay quarterback in a recent conference call with the national media.

"Josh Freeman is playing phenomenal football," Jaworski said. "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 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."

Jaworski cited the new offensive scheme of coordinator Mike Sullivan for much of Freeman’s improvement. Jaworski proudly pointed out that Sullivan worked at his alma mater (Youngstown State) as an assistant and went on to coach receivers and quarterbacks with the New York Giants.

"Here's what I like, and it is crystal clear what this offense is about,’’ Jaworski said. "It's about discipline. We know (coach) Greg (Schiano) 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. Mike Sullivan is cut from that same cloth."

Jaworski also praised how the Bucs have dealt with a rash of injuries on their offensive line.

"I'm here in Philadelphia, and people are complaining about all the losses in the offensive line," Jaworski said. "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 nextmanup philosophy that's been heard of around the league. People say it, but you actually have to go on the field and perform."

Looking ahead to MNF: Broncos at Falcons

September, 17, 2012
BUFORD, Ga. -- It’s time to start looking ahead to the "Monday Night Football" game between the Atlanta Falcons and Denver Broncos.

Let’s take a look at some of the preview stuff from the pages of our site:

Here’s my advance column on the game. It’s about how Matt Ryan and the Falcons have played a lot of prime-time games in recent years, but the major storyline always has featured the opponent. The Falcons have a chance to start changing that against Denver.

Take a look at this Insider piece Insider that examines how Denver’s Peyton Manning and Ryan have fared historically when getting pressured by the pass rush. I don’t think you’ll be surprised by what the numbers have to say.

In this Insider piece Insider, Ron Jaworski writes that Atlanta’s offense is becoming elite. That’s based on the season-opening performance against Kansas City, but I agree with Jaworski. I think Ryan will blossom because he’s surrounded by so much talent at the skill positions. The only thing that could throw the Atlanta offense off track is if the offensive line has problems.

Here’s our Monday Night HQ page, which features just about everything you could want to know about the game.

Also, we’ll be doing Countdown Live throughout the game. Just check this blog this evening and you’ll be able to get in. Please stop by and chat with us as we watch the Falcons and Broncos.

Experts: Greg Schiano was doing his job

September, 17, 2012

Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano is getting some pretty strong support from high places for the way he handled the end of Sunday’s loss to the New York Giants.

Although the Giants were lining up in the victory formation to run out the clock at the end of the game, Schiano still had his defense going hard and going after the ball. New York coach Tom Coughlin was critical of Schiano’s tactics immediately after the game.

But, as the story comes under closer scrutiny Monday, others are saying there’s nothing wrong with Schiano’s approach.

“There’s no doubt Tom Coughlin owes Greg Schiano an apology for how he reacted after the game,’’ ESPN and former NFL analyst Ron Jaworski said in this radio interview .

Jaworski went on to say, “You play to the end of the game."

Former NFL player and coach Mike Ditka also said there was nothing wrong with what Schiano did in this radio interview .

“You’ve got pads and a helmet on," Ditka said. “The game’s not over. Play."

I’m with Jaworski and Ditka on this one. If the Giants had been ahead by two scores or more, then Schiano might have been breaking some unwritten rules. But his team was down by only a touchdown. It was a long shot that the Giants would botch a snap or a handoff. But when you're only down a touchdown, you have to do everything you can with that hope in mind.

Coughlin might not have liked the way the Bucs played. But it’s not Schiano’s job to make Coughlin happy. His job is to try to win. He tried to do his job and he did it legally.

You’re welcome to agree or disagree in the comments section below. Also, please head over to SportsNation, where you can cast a vote on whether you think Schiano or Coughlin is right on this one. Last I looked, the majority of fans were backing Schiano.
We’ve hit you with a lot of predictions in recent days. Get ready for some more. John Clayton, Herm Edwards, Ron Jaworski, Mel Kiper Jr., Chris Mortensen, Bill Polian and Adam Schefter have their predictions on who will play in the Super Bowl.

Only one of the seven has an NFC South team making it to the Super Bowl. It’s Polian, who is going with the Atlanta Falcons. Polian says this is the year Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan truly blossoms.

“I really think Ryan is going to grow under new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, and I look for him to take a pretty big leap because of the nature of the offense,’’ Polian said. “It will not be the run-heavy offense of the past. It will be more wide open, and Ryan will get a chance to spread his wings.’’

Ironically, Polian has the Falcons playing the Baltimore Ravens in the Super Bowl. Ryan is forever linked to Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco because they came out in the same draft class. However, Polian’s pick doesn’t come with a totally happy ending for Atlanta fans. He has the Ravens beating the Falcons in the Super Bowl.
I’m sure agent Tom Condon has done tons of homework as he tries to get a long-term deal for New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees. But, just in case, here’s something more Condon might want to throw at the Saints.

SportsCenter just aired the latest segment of Jaws' QB Countdown, in which Ron Jaworski ranks the top 30 quarterbacks in the NFL. Brees is No. 2. No. 1 won’t be announced officially until Tuesday, but I think it’s pretty safe to assume who the winner is because Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers has yet to show up in any of the other 29 spots.

I respect Jaworski’s opinions, and I certainly respect Rodgers’ ability. But I think you can also make the case that Brees easily could be No. 1. He’s coming off a record-setting season and, although a lot of people moved Rodgers ahead of Brees, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning as Green Bay went 15-1 last season, the Packers didn’t make the Super Bowl. They won it the season before and the Saints won it in the 2009 season, so Rodgers and Brees each have one Super Bowl title.

Brees’ statistics were better than Rodgers’ in some areas last season, and his ability as a leader is unquestioned. In fact, Jaworski said Brees is the best quarterback in the league in at least one area.

“No quarterback is as consistently precise with his throws as Brees,’’ Jaworski said. “Throughout his Saints career, Brees has thrown the seam routes as well as any quarterback in the NFL. In fact, those vertical seams have been a foundation of the Saints’ passing game, especially effective in scoring territory.

“Brees’ last three seasons have been the most accurate stretch any quarterback has strung together in NFL history. What have I always said is the most overlooked element of quarterbacking? Accuracy. Brees possesses many attributes of high-level quarterbacking. But there’s no question that his consistent success over time has been mostly a function of his remarkable ball control.’’

Jaworski did touch on the one thing people sometimes use to knock Brees -- arm strength. But Jaworski said Brees more than compensates for not having the league’s strongest arm.

“His touch and his accuracy, especially on deep throws, is outstanding,’’ Jaworski said. “Brees sets the ball right on the receiver’'s hands. He does not just throw to his receiver. He hits a smaller, more defined point. It’s simple math. The margin of error decreases the smaller the target at which you aim. Brees controls his throws better than any quarterback in the NFL.’’

That’s why I’m saying I don’t think it would be wrong for anyone to rank Brees as the best quarterback in the league.

Jaws: Josh Freeman is not the problem

December, 20, 2011
I’ve been a defender (some of you have used stronger words) of Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman for much of this season. Sure, he deserves some of the blame for what’s gone wrong, but I think the bigger problem has been his supporting cast and maybe even the play calling. I still stand by that.

That’s why I was happy to hear that someone who knows a lot more about quarterback play than I do, said essentially the same thing.

ESPN analyst and former NFL quarterback Ron Jaworski has always been a big believer in Freeman. In a recent conference call with the national media, Jaworski was asked about what’s gone wrong for Freeman this season.

“There's no question about it, he has taken a step back,’’ Jaworski said. “But the quarterback is going to get too much credit when things go well and too much blame when things are going poorly, and right now it's an accumulation of all those things. He's having to play from behind, he's forced to try to make plays down the field rather than take the easy play. Right now, the receivers are not doing a good job of getting open and the running game has been inconsistent, turning the football over, and all those things work to the detriment of the quarterback.

“I'm not taking any blame away from Josh because I thought early in the season he was making some bad decisions of where to throw the football and also some inaccurate throws that caused interceptions. But I still am a firm believer the guy is a very talented quarterback, it's just been one of those years where things have kind of piled up and not gone well, but I still believe Josh Freeman is going to be one of the great quarterbacks in this league. There's an ebb and flow to every player's career. This is one of those down moments for him, but I think he'll learn from this experience and be better for it.’’

Gruden, Jaws on Falcons' no-huddle

December, 19, 2011
I know a lot of readers like it when the Atlanta Falcons run the no-huddle offense and suggest they should use it even more. I totally agree with that.

We are not alone in those opinions. In fact, two guys who know a lot more about football than most of us, recently were singing the praises of Atlanta’s no-huddle offense. The topic came up in a recent conference call with ESPN "Monday Night Football" analysts Ron Jaworski and Jon Gruden.

“I actually love the way Matt Ryan is running that nohuddle, and I go back to earlier this season and that Philadelphia game where I think they gained great confidence in the nohuddle,’’ Jaworski said. “They were down in that game 3121, they went nohuddle and Matt Ryan orchestrated a couple beautiful drives late in that game to beat the Eagles 3531, and it seems right now that it's a type of offense they can hang their hat on. When they get in trouble, when they're lacking for tempo, when they're not sustaining offense, they go to that.’’

The Falcons have used the no-huddle offense at various times as far back as Ryan’s rookie season in 2008. They’ve had a lot of success with it, but Jaworski said the no-huddle offense is an even more valuable weapon these days.

“I think Matt Ryan right now is at a point in his career where he can orchestrate that offense at the line of scrimmage,’’ Jaworski said. “He understands what the defense is trying to do. I think it's an unbelievable weapon to have and it's something I think we'll see more of as the season wears on, but I think it's something they know they like and they use when they need a jump start.’’

Gruden said he likes Atlanta’s no-huddle offense better than most because the Falcons keep most of their playbook on the table.

“What makes this nohuddle go, I think is the volume of offense that they can call,’’ Gruden said. “They're not lined up in a generic formation like no some nohuddle offenses. They can line up in all kind of different formations, different personnel groupings, and Matt Ryan has a great control of his system. Looks like he's very confident, he can limit substitutions, he can wear out defenses.’’

Jaws: Bucs don't have enough offense

September, 1, 2011
When you see my season predictions Thursday afternoon, you’ll see that I’m very high on Tampa Bay’s offense. But not everybody falls into that same category.

Take "Monday Night Football" analyst Ron Jaworski for one. On a conference call with the other members of the broadcast crew Wednesday, Jaworski was asked if the Bucs have enough weapons surrounding Josh Freeman.

“I really don't,’’ Jaworski said. “I think Josh Freeman and I know we've had this discussion before. I think he's a rising star. He's got everything you could want in a quarterback from a physical side, all the throws. He was wired by NFL Films last year, and I listened to his demeanor in the huddle at the line of scrimmage, so you know he's got the cerebral approach down. I think he's a terrific young quarterback.

But that’s where Jaworski veered in another direction.

“I think they have to run the football a lot more consistent,’’ Jaworski said. “Obviously, LeGarrette Blount came in and did an outstanding job last year. I still don't think they've got enough. They've got some quality at the wide receiver in (Mike) Williams and (Arrelious) Benn. I just don't see a team where I say, wow, they're going to scare me right now on the offensive side of the football. I think, as this offense begins to evolve and grow around Josh, then it can become a dynamic offense.’’

I’d throw out the names of receivers Dezmon Briscoe and Sammie Stroughter and tight end Kellen Winslow to argue the Bucs can be a pretty dynamic offense. Dynamic enough to score with Drew Brees and the Saints and Matt Ryan and the Falcons? Maybe so.

But the thing I worry about more is Tampa Bay’s defense being able to keep Brees and Ryan from piling up points.

Sean Payton to try television work

January, 24, 2011
Sean Payton is going to the Super Bowl after all.

The coach of the defending Super Bowl champion (and they technically still hold that title until there is a new Super Bowl winner) New Orleans Saints will join ESPN’s coverage during the week leading into Super Bowl XLV.

Payton will be part of Sports Center Special at 3 p.m. ET on the Thursday and Friday before the Super Bowl. He also will be a part of the pre-game coverage on Super Bowl Sunday. Payton will join the "Monday Night Football" team of Mike Tirico, Ron Jaworski and Jon Gruden from the ESPN set at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. That part should be especially interesting since Gruden and Payton are close friends.

They worked as assistants together with the Philadelphia Eagles and Gruden has visited Saints’ training camp the past two preseasons to spend time with Payton and quarterback Drew Brees. By the way, Payton and Gruden have something else in common. They are the only two coaches to win Super Bowls with an NFC South team.
Jimmy Clausen looked very good at times in his NFL debut. Matt Moore looked mediocre at times.

Does that add up to a sudden quarterback controversy for the Carolina Panthers? Not just yet. I’ll explain why as we run through seven observations from Thursday night’s preseason game between the Panthers and Baltimore Ravens. By the way, for those who actually track preseason results, the final was Baltimore 17, Carolina 12.

1. Clausen looked very NFL ready, at least until the rain started. He made some nice throws and seemed to have a good sense of awareness. But let’s remember a few things. Clausen was playing against Baltimore’s backups and the Panthers pretty much decided Moore’s performance at the end of last season earned him the right to open this regular season as the starter. Clausen landed some jabs, but nothing close to a knockout punch.

2. Moore was far from horrible. He wasn’t spectacular, but he did some nice things. Something else to keep this in perspective -- Moore was playing against a very good Baltimore first-team defense. He also was doing it without receiver Steve Smith, right tackle Jeff Otah and running back Jonathan Stewart. All three are expected to be ready for the start of the regular season and they will make Moore a much better quarterback. Moore would have to absolutely bomb to lose the job now and he didn't do that.

3. What was the deal with Jordan Gross? The left tackle got called for three penalties in the first 12 minutes and that didn’t help Moore. I wouldn’t be too concerned with this and I doubt the Panthers are. Gross is one of the best left tackles in the league. He’s not going to have games like that in the regular season.

4. The pass rush is very much a work in progress. When it mattered with the first and second teams, the Panthers had stretches when they didn’t generate any pressure on Joe Flacco and Marc Bulger. But they also had a few flash plays where they did. The good news is veteran Tyler Brayton had two sacks on Flacco. The bad news is Brayton suffered some sort of ankle injury on his second sack. We don’t know the extent of that injury yet. The most encouraging news is rookies Greg Hardy and Eric Norwood showed some real flashes. If I’m John Fox, I let Brayton sit for most (or all) of the rest of the preseason. The Panthers know what they can get out of Brayton. They need to find out more about what they can get from Hardy, Norwood, Charles Johnson and Everette Brown.

5. Whoov? Like a lot of Carolina fans, I was more than a little concerned when the Panthers let fullback Brad Hoover go after last season. It was hard to find a fullback more dependable than Hoover. But I liked what I saw of replacement Anthony Fiammetta. He blocked well and looked good as a receiver out of the backfield.

6. Backup running back Tyrell Sutton had a few nice plays. But I wouldn’t go drafting him for your fantasy team. As long as DeAngelo Williams and Stewart are healthy, they’re going to get almost all of the carries. Besides, Sutton fumbled at the goal line and Fox isn’t big on giving the ball to guys who fumble.

7. Rookie Armanti Edwards will be a factor on offense, but not immediately. Jon Gruden and Ron Jaworski both talked about how the former college quarterback is adjusting to playing wide receiver and implied it might take until about midseason for him to have much of a role in the offense. That’s the exact word I got from the Carolina brass when I visited training camp. But don’t be surprised if Edwards is handling punt returns sooner than that. That’s a new task for Edwards, too. But he showed he can catch punts, even in the rain, and the guy has the dynamics to make things happen in the open field.

Gruden extends deal with MNF

November, 16, 2009
I had been thinking that Jon Gruden’s stint as a broadcaster was a one-year thing. I was sure Gruden would be back in coaching next year because I thought that’s what he loves most.

Looks like I might be totally wrong. ESPN announced this morning that Gruden has agreed to a multiyear contract extension to continue his role as an analyst on “Monday Night Football’’.

"Working with Mike [Tirico], Jaws (Ron Jaworski) and our entire 'Monday Night Football' team is the most fun I have had in years, and I am fired up to make this long-term commitment to ESPN," said Gruden. “'Monday Night Football' is special and I look forward to remaining a part of it and continuing to call these great games.”

The announcement also said Gruden will take on some additional duties, working for ESPN Radio for the Rose Bowl and Bowl Championship Series title game broadcasts.
Posted by's Pat Yasinskas

TAMPA, Fla. -- There obviously isn't an NFC South team in this Super Bowl, but the fact the game is being played in Tampa gives the division a strong connection to the game. The Buccaneers are the face of the NFL in Tampa Bay -- but it hasn't always been a pretty face.

  David Boss/US Presswire
  John McKay left USC to take over the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Here's a look back at the early years of the Bucs:

In the very beginning -- out at that primitive facility alongside a Tampa International Airport runway with rodents scurrying the hallways -- the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were a National Football League franchise in name only.

It was 1976 and what showed for the first practice at One Buccaneer Place wasn't pretty. The brand new team, which had joined the league with the Seattle Seahawks, had coach John McKay (who had jumped to NFL riches from the University of Southern California), first-round pick draft Lee Roy Selmon, and ... absolutely nothing else.

"The biggest cast of characters and misfits you've ever seen," jokes current Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay, the son of John McKay.

Rich McKay was about to begin his senior year as a quarterback at nearby Tampa Jesuit High School and worked as a ball boy that first season. The high school kid had a résumé as good as some of the players who showed and was healthier than most of them.

Back in those days, the NFL's expansion rules just weren't very friendly. There was no free agency, a resource Carolina and Jacksonville used to build quickly when they joined the league in 1995. The expansion draft wasn't much help either. The Bucs and the Seahawks didn't even get the list of players available until 24 hours before the draft and couldn't bring players in for medical exams.

"Over 50 percent of the guys on the list couldn't even pass a physical," Rich McKay says. "I think if my dad had known what the expansion rules were and how everything was going to be stacked against the team, he probably would have stayed at USC. Seriously, it made no sense to give a city a franchise and then give them absolutely no chance for success."

(Read full post)