Ron Jaworski watches videotape of an NFL game the way a top physician studies an X-ray.
He sees things that the untrained eye would never notice. In fact, if you ask some NFL players and coaches, he sees too much.
That's because Jaworski isn't part of the secret world of football game-planning, in which the tiniest nugget of useful information is treated as if it were highly classified material from the Pentagon. The former NFL quarterback and Lackawanna native shares everything he sees with viewers of his weekly appearances on ESPN's Edge NFL Matchup and Monday Night Countdown shows.
Last season, for instance, Matchup viewers learned that each time Tampa Bay Buccaneers right offensive tackle Jason Odom lined up with his right foot behind him, a pass was coming, and each time his feet were parallel, a running play occurred. It was a revelation that Tampa Bay's more astute opponents wished Jaworski had kept to himself.
During an offseason golf tournament this year, New England linebacker Chris Slade and defensive end Willie McGinest complained to Jaworski that, in his explanation of how they had pulverized Miami quarterback Dan Marino late last season, he exposed the intricacies of the Patriots' blitz package.
Then there was that time a few years back when Jaworski pointed out that linebacker Bryan Cox was over-pursuing and, because he was constantly drawn forward by play-action, teams were hitting passes to the tight end behind him. When Cox later spotted Jaworski at a golf tournament, he said, "Jaws, I didn't like that piece you did on me . . . but you were right."
You won't find a better Xs-and-Os program on TV than Matchup. And there isn't a more insightful football second-guesser than the 47-year-old Jaworski, who is entering his seventh season with ESPN.
"We actually use the coaches' footage to show the pros and cons of how teams are playing or how an individual's playing," said Jaworski, who is the featured speaker for today's 13th annual Buffalo Bills kickoff luncheon at the Convention Center. "I talk to coaches and players around the league, but I don't just take their word. I validate it by the video."
Siskel and Ebert have nothing on this guy in terms of viewing hours logged. During the season, Jaworski spends five days a week -- about four hours per day -- at NFL Films in Mt. Laurel, N.J., which just happens to be about a 10-minute drive from his home. He normally views videotape of eight to 10 games each week in preparation for the half-hour Matchup show he co-hosts with Merril Hoge and Stuart Scott.
TV viewers are limited by what cameras provide, which is usually isolation on the ball and one-on-one encounters. The videotape Jaworski sees is from cameras positioned high atop the stadium to capture the full 11-on-11 view, and in the end zones, which mostly focus on line play. Those angles allow him to study coverages, and pick up any "tips" players on both sides of the ball might unwittingly give each other.
"The 11-on-11 really shows you how a team is playing -- if a quarterback is playing well or playing poorly, or if a receiver is running good, disciplined routes," Jaworski said.
He mastered the science of football analysis during 16 years as an NFL quarterback. He began his playing career in 1974, with the then-Los Angeles Rams, but it wasn't until 1979, his third season with the Philadelphia Eagles, that he actually started learning the correct way to study game film. That was the year long-time quarterbacking guru Sid Gillman joined Dick Vermeil's Philadelphia coaching staff.
Gillman taught Jaworski the importance of paying close attention to foot alignment, the defense's pre-snap look, and its movement within the first two steps of a quarterback's drop.
"Any quarterback worth his salt will know, within two steps, whether it's zone or man coverage," Jaworski said. "On his first step, he will look at the linebacker, and if the linebacker takes one step back, the quarterback knows it's zone. If he takes one step left, right, or forward, it can mean only two things: He's blitzing or he's going out in man-coverage responsibility."
Gillman fed Jaworski knowledge. Vermeil tapped into his steel-town work ethic.
"I would leave the stadium at about 5:30, go home and have dinner and then go right to my office (at home) and look at film for three or four hours," Jaworski recalled. "That's because I knew, at 11:30, I would get a call from Dick Vermeil and he would want to go over what I saw. He would want me to (provide input) like a coach."
Give Jaws a player and he will give you an observation.
Former Bills quarterback Todd Collins: "I've just never seen a live, fluid arm in Todd; he always seems tight when he throws. And usually a guy that's really tight is inaccurate."
New Bills QB Rob Johnson: "He's fluid, although I've noticed that he sometimes has a little flutter in the tail of his ball. That means the wind will affect it more, and when you start talking about the wind in Buffalo, you always want a nice, tight spiral."
Still, Jaworski thinks the Bills made a wise move in trading for Johnson. He likes the powerful backfield combination of Antowain Smith and Sam Gash. And he loves the hiring of Joe Pendry as offensive coordinator. Pendry served in the same capacity with the Kansas City Chiefs in 1989, when Jaworski was their backup quarterback.
"The mentality that Joe brings that offense is what is needed," Jaworski said. "Joe wants a physical, punishing ground attack to make you respect the running game, and then he kills you with play action."
Jaworski won't have to guess whether Pendry is applying that philosophy here. He'll just go to the videotape.