Jaws: Ravens will likely follow Eagles’ blueprint
MOUNT LAUREL, N.J. – Ron Jaworski and Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan spent last week watching the same silent movie.
The film had no sound, but it spoke volumes.
“Holy cow,” an incredulous Jaworski yelped as he watched the NFL Films non-audio game tape of the Steelers’ Week 3 loss at Philadelphia. “What are you doing?”
Jaworski, regarded as the top NFL analyst for breaking down X’s and O’s, provided some early insights into what to expect when the Steelers host the Ravens on Monday Night Football at Heinz Field.
During a six-hour review of game tapes in a second-floor office at NFL Films headquarters in a tree-lined industrial park in south New Jersey, Jaworski analyzed, play by play, the teams in preparation for this week’s prime-time, nationally televised game.
Jaworski delved into the Steelers’ 15-6 loss to the Eagles, in which Ben Roethlisberger was sacked eight times, and how it will translate into tomorrow’s game against another aggressive, blitz-happy defense.
“I guarantee you, Rex Ryan, right now, is chomping at the bit,” Jaworski said. “Rex Ryan is an aggressive, design freak. He is a beautiful designer of defense. When he sees flaws like this in your protection schemes, either by design or individual breakdown, he’s going to test them. If the Steelers don’t respond in a positive way, he will turn it up.”
Leaning back in his chair a couple of feet from a 36-inch television, Jaworski, who played quarterback for 17 years in the NFL and led the Eagles to the 1980 Super Bowl, props his feet on his desk and holds a remote control known as a Cowboy Clicker.
Jaworski rewinds a play and watches it over and over again. The small details become obvious, and each sack can be traced to its origin.
Some lead to a confused offensive line. Others point to Roethlisberger, whether for leaving the pocket too early or missing a hot read – the receiver targeted for a quick hit on a blitz.
“They’ve won,” he said of the Eagles’ defense early in the fourth quarter after another Steelers’ blunder. “They’ve won the chess match.”
Breaking it down
As the Steelers’ besieged offensive line braces for Terrell Suggs and others tomorrow night, Jaworski said the latest film provides a road map for opposing teams.
“(Steelers offensive coordinator) Bruce Arians better take that whole group for extra meeting time,” Jaworski said. “You play (Eagles defensive coordinator) Jim Johnson or you play Rex Ryan, you better be studying, folks. If you’re not, you are going to be embarrassed. … That’s on tape now. That’s the one thing. There it is. The Steelers can get ready for blitzes.”
For nearly two decades, Jaworski has been breaking down film for ESPN’s NFL Matchup, where he explains the nuances of pro football in-depth to hard-core and casual fans.
Jaworski and Greg Cosell, the executive producer of NFL Matchup, are viewing the game tape that the video coordinator for each team shoots and sends to NFL Films. It is the same tape that every coach and player uses to prepare for the upcoming opponent.
The footage includes a sideline shot — called the all-22 camera because all of the players are shown – and an end-zone shot. Each tape shows only the offensive plays of an individual team — no special teams.
The truth hurts
The films are called “the truth serum” by Jaworski, because they never tell a lie.
Jaworski noted Roethlisberger is the key to subduing an all-out blitz by the Ravens. The Pro Bowl quarterback missed the hot read at least three times against the Eagles, Jaworski said, because he either didn’t identify the correct target or tried for a bigger — and unrealistic — gain. “Not every play is going to get you 20 yards.”
Eagles all-pro safety Brian Dawkins hurt the Steelers with his blitzes, but Jaworski called him a “liability in pass coverage.” But Ed Reed, the Ravens’ Pro Bowl safety, is a dual-threat, according to Jaworski.
In the Ravens’ Cover-3 zone defense, Reed is responsible for one-fourth of the field deep. When no receiver enters Reed’s zone, he is free to attack the pass pattern. Jaworski replayed a half-dozen times Reed’s interception of a Derek Anderson pass in this exact coverage. Reed zipped 32 yards for his fourth career interception return for a touchdown.
“Reed is a gambler,” Jaworski said. “But it doesn’t always work, and he can get caught.”
Jaworski’s breakdown also made it clear how confusion crippled the Steelers’ offensive line.
Center Justin Hartwig and right guard Chris Kemoeatu fail to block an Eagles defensive linemen – set directly across from them – on one sack. “Ugh. Three-man rush, untouched. Right up the middle.”
Roethlisberger misses a hot read to a wide-open Heath Miller down the right seam in the first quarter — “Throw it! Throw it! Throw it! Good Lord.” — and then is off-target on another. “That’s the right throw. He doesn’t miss those normally.”
There are a dozen other examples that will be prime viewing for Ravens first-year coach John Harbaugh, who learned under Johnson in Philadelphia.
“That was clearly one of the worst performances I’ve seen by the Steelers’ offense in years,” Jaworski said. “I don’t think one guy would get a passing grade.”
Giving Flacco flack
Looking ahead to the Ravens, Jaworski said the Steelers don’t necessarily need Miller to block to stop the blitz. He pointed out a play late in the second quarter against the Eagles. As soon as Miller retreated to block, Dawkins, lined up slightly inside, blitzed past him. It led to a sack.
The Cowboys, who played the Eagles in Week 2, countered this package by having Jason Witten take a step back and, when the safety blitzes, the all-pro tight end quickly released into an open area. Twice it has produced big gains in the past two years.
Whereas Donovan McNabb completed his first 15 pass attempts against a “soft” Steelers’ scheme more focused on coverage than pressure, Jaworski is certain Ravens rookie quarterback Joe Flacco will see face a more forceful attack.
“They will try to squeeze him,” Jaworski said. “To me, it almost looked like they wanted Donovan to throw. Against Flacco, they will want more pressure.
“They were way too conservative early against the Eagles,” he said. “Donovan had all day back there. Flacco will pick you apart if you let him sit back there and read coverage and throw the ball. Is he that advanced alreadyâ¢ No. But he has the skill-set where if you gave him time, he could make some throws. You’ve got to force the action.”
Flacco threw two interceptions and missed some big plays in the victory over the Browns, but Jaworski is impressed with the first-rounder from Delaware.
“He throws this post, he’s got a touchdown,” Jaworski said, pausing the screen on a second-half interception. “Ugh. He made a mistake on a cross where he didn’t see the linebacker. But I tell you, he can fling it. He trusts his receivers. He’s not afraid to make tough throws.”
Perhaps the most inventive play the Ravens used against the Browns was a whoopsy-doo, when tight end Todd Heap pretended to fall down, jumped up and caught a 17-yard pass to the Browns’ 8.
When asked if the Steelers are vulnerable to any part of the Ravens’ offense, Jaworski gave a quick “no.”
After concluding the all-day film review — interrupted by a brief visit down the hall to Bill Cowher on the set of Showtime’s Inside the NFL — Jaworski gave a nod of approval for his hometown team’s defensive scheme.
“Damn, that was good,” he said, “and Rex Ryan will be even wackier.”