Wednesday, October 18, 2017

After Leonard Fournette Gashed Rams Defense How Did Wade Phillips Counter?

LOOKING BACK
By John Turney

Last Sunday, versus the Jacksonville Jaguars the Los Angeles Rams opened the game in the base 3-4 defense. They called a stunt in which starting rookie nose tackle Tanzel Smart slanted to his left, but he went too far and the Weak A-Gap was wide open and Leonard Fournette ran 75 yards to paydirt.

When Jacksonville came out in the same or similar personnel packages and formations Rams Defensive Coordinator counters with a defense that had four defensive linemen and four linebackers and three defensive backs "8 men in the box" as it is called. He also aligned them in a Bear front, very similar to the 46 Defense perfected by Buddy Ryan. A few times he used the base 3-4 with a safety walked up for the 8-man in the box look, but most of the afternoon, it was the 4-4 Bear front.









  




The above still shots (all credit to NFL Gamepass) show the fronts.

Here is an end zone look. The only difference between this and the 47 is the right DE is in a down position and is in a 5-technique (outside shoulder of the tackle) rather than a 7-technique (inside shoulder of the tight end). Other than that, it's the 46.
It begs the question of if Phillips meant to use this as part of the gameplan all week or if he made the change after the one big play and committed to a 4-4.

Regardless it worked. On his next 20 carries, Fournette gained only 55 yards and the defense allowed just 10 points in the last 59 minutes of the game. The Bear front puts a defender on the center and both guards, in theory, making sure the A-Gaps are closed and preventing the kind of run that burned them on their opening defensive snap. Additionally, when they did use the base 3-4 with a safety walked up they sometimes reduced the 5-tech (Defensive end) down to a 3-technique giving the 3-4 defense a "Bear" look. Most coaches call that a "Sink" or "Double Sink" when players move over a spot on the interior.
So, Phillips seems to know a few things about not staying with one scheme. He was touted as a 3-4 guy but when he felt it was needed he ran a 4-4 (which is the exact same as a 4-3 with a safety walked up, but that is a story for another day.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Fourthfully Working in Minnesota








Fourthfully Working in Minnesota
By Eric Goska

For the sake of Packers fans everywhere, let’s hope Green Bay’s fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium doesn’t come to define the remainder of the team’s 2017 season; that is, a flurry of activity that leads nowhere.

Dealt a major blow with the loss of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay’s offense went into hiding. That finally changed in the fourth quarter when the unit, led by backup Brett Hundley, generated more yards than what the team had produced in the first 45 minutes.

Was this late movement that added nothing to the scoreboard just sound and fury signifying nothing? Or was it an indication that Hundley can guide the team in the right direction in the coming weeks?

As might be expected, the Packers were not themselves in falling 23-10 to the Vikings Sunday in Minnesota. Losing a two-time MVP, such as Rodgers, is sure to stagger any team’s resolve.

Once again, the fourth quarter figured prominently for Green Bay. This time, though, it earned notice not for the rally it inspired, but for the workload that accompanied it.

Twice this season had the Packers rallied late. In Week 3, Rodgers engineered a 27-24 overtime win over the Bengals. In Week 5, he orchestrated a 35-31 fourth-quarter comeback in Dallas.

But against the Vikings, Rodgers was in no position to work such magic. The veteran quarterback broke his collarbone when tackled by linebacker Anthony Barr with six minutes, 57 seconds remaining in a scoreless first quarter.

The highest rated passer in NFL history might miss the remainder of the season.

Enter Hundley who had thrown but 11 passes in his three-year NFL career. In previous appearances, the 24-year-old had been called upon to either protect a lead or close out a lost cause.

This time, he had more than three quarters with which to work. This time, he was expected to have a say in the outcome.

Not counting a hand off to Aaron Jones that was followed by a Justin Vogel punt, Hundley presided over six drives prior to the fourth quarter. The 24 plays that composed those advances accounted for just 72 yards and three first downs.

The Packers did score 10 points during this stretch. A 63-yard fumble return by linebacker Clay Matthews set up Hundley’s first NFL touchdown pass, a 14-yarder to receiver Davante Adams that tied the score at 7. Cornerback Damarious Randall then intercepted Vikings quarterback Case Keenum to set the stage for Mason Crosby’s 26-yard field goal that pulled Green Bay to 14-10 late in the second quarter.

That’s 10 points scored as the result of turnovers. The last time the Packers won a game in which all of their points were set up in such a manner came against the Cowboys in 1965.

Not only have 52 years passed since that 13-3 triumph, but then-coach Vince Lombardi, who could conjure victory under some of the most trying of circumstances, is long gone. In the intervening years, the team has always had to manufacture at least one score without the aid of the defense in order to win.

Producing points under its own power was too much to ask of Green Bay’s offense against the Vikings. But the unit did move the ball in the final 15 minutes.

The Packers gained 125 of their 227 yards in the fourth quarter on 32 plays. Eleven of those offerings, or two more than in the first three quarters combined, began on Minnesota’s side of the field.

Hundley moved the team 84 yards (15 plays) on its final possession. Cornerback Trae Waynes’ interception with 15 seconds left ended the threat.

Aaron Jones, the Packers’ leading rusher with 41 yards, gained 24 in the fourth quarter. Adams, who scored the team’s lone touchdown, accumulated 40 of his 54 receiving yards in the period.

The fourth quarter was the only in which Green Bay had the greater time of possession (9:13 to 5:47). The team moved the chains nine times to the Vikings’ zero.

For the Packers, this was only the sixth time since 1954 in which it ran 30 or more plays in the fourth quarter. The team is 1-4-1 in those games.

There is something to be said for being forced to work so often so late. Time doesn’t look favorably on a team that requires so many steps to achieve its goal.

Only once before has Green Bay been so busy so late against the Vikings. The Packers ran 30 fourth-quarter plays in a 26-26 tie on Nov. 24, 2013.

Green Bay’s only 30-plus fourth quarter win came against the 49ers at Lambeau Field in 1996. Brett Favre threw 24 passes in the final 15 minutes of regulation, then lobbed another five as the Packers edged San Francisco 23-20 in overtime.

Fourthfully Working
Since 1954, the six regular-season games in which the Packers ran 30 or more fourth-quarter plays.

  4Q Plays   4Q Points    Opponent        Result                   Date
       34               6           49ers                GB won 23-20       Oct. 14, 1996
       32               0           Vikings             GB lost 10-23        Oct. 15, 2017
       31              14          Seahawks         GB lost 14-20        Dec. 9, 1990
       31              16          Vikings             26-26 tie                Nov. 24, 2013
       30              17          Browns            GB lost 24-26        Sept. 18, 2005

       30              13          Lions                GB lost 16-18        Nov. 15, 2015

Remembering Y. A. Tittle (1926-2017)

LOOKING BACK
By Chris Willis, NFL Films

On October 8, 2017 the NFL lost one of the game’s greatest quarterbacks. Y.A. Tittle passed away at the age of 90.

Yelberton Abraham Tittle, or Y.A., played 17 seasons of pro football with three teams: the Baltimore Colts (1948-1950), San Francisco 49ers (1951-1960) and the New York Giants (1961-1964). He made seven Pro Bowls, named First-team All-Pro four times, won a NFL MVP in 1963 and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971. His only blemish on his resume is a lack of a World Championship- losing three NFL Championship Games with the Giants in the early 1960’s.

The “Bald Eagle” was definitely one of the game’s greatest passers.
One unique tidbit about Tittle was that he was the first NFL player featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Wearing his 49ers helmet and plastic facemask Tittle was on the November 22, 1954 cover. The historic photo was taken by Fred Lyon. 
Cover Sports Illustrated (Nov. 22, 1954). Tittle 1st NFL player to appear on cover.
Over the past five decades, a few books and magazines have been published about Tittle, including his autobiography. 
Y.A. Tittle: I Pass!
My Story as told to Don Smith 

Y.A. Tittle: I Pass! MY Story as told to Don Smith was published in 1964 (a year before he retired) by Franklin Watts, Inc. The 29- page autobiography was written with Don Smith, a former sports writer who was the New York Giants Public Relations Director. Smith was a logical choice working for the Giants and had just published a book “The Quarterbacks” also published by Franklin Watts.

I Pass! Featured a beautiful dust jacket painting by Leon Wolf.  The book contains 30 chapters of Tittle’s life. He covers his NFL Career with the Baltimore Colts (member of the AAFC), San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants (that includes insight into his trade from the 49ers to the Giants).

Tittle also talks briefly about his growing up in Marshall, Texas, where he feel in love with the game of football- as well as the passing game.

“Putting the ball in the air was the way I learned to play football in Marshall, and it has been my motto ever since.

To me, football is passing. I am a passer before everything. This is what I do best. Give me a chance, and I am going to throw the hell out of the ball.”

And throw it like hell he did.

At the time of his retirement after the 1964 NFL season Mr. Tittle held every major passing record including most touchdown passes with 212. 
Giants and Heroes: A Daughter’s Memories of Y.A. Tittle
Giants and Heroes was written by Tittle’s daughter Dianne Tittle De Laet. It was published in 1995 by Steerforth Press. A 261-page ode to her famous father Tittle De Laet, a poet and concert harpist, asks the question “What constitutes a hero?” She answers her question by investigating the Greek and Roman classics and writes a very heartfelt memoir that only a daughter could. The book was written so well that NFL Films interviewed Tittle De Laet for a piece on father-daughter relationships that aired in 1996. 
Nothing Comes Easy: My Life in Football
 Nothing Comes Easy, written with Kristine Setting Clark, was Tittle’s updated autobiography, some forty plus years after I Pass! This volume published in 2009 by Triumph includes a Forward by Frank Gifford and an Introduction by Steve Sabol.

“Football has been my entire life” said Y.A. Tittle.

Below are a few of the best magazine covers that featured Y.A.
1957 Pro Football All-Stars magazine
The color photo of Tittle was taken by another legendary sports photographer, this time by Hy Peskin. Pro Football All-Stars was published by Murray Olderman for MACO Magazine Corporation.
1957 Eagle Magazine

1962 All-Pro Football
Tittle appears on another Murray Olderman publication in 1962 (Dell publishers). The front cover photo of Y.A. was shot by Neil Leifer.
1963 Peterson Annual (8th Edition)
Probably my favorite Tittle cover. Great close-up image by legendary football photographer James Laughhead. Inside also includes an article "Profile of a Pro" that features artwork by Dave Boss.
1963 Pro Football (Dell)
This issue features cover photo by Walter Iooss and an article by Tittle's teammate Alex Webster, as told to sportswriter Dave Anderson.
Fall 1964 Pro Football (Sports Special)
In 1971 Tittle was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Despite not winning a championship Tittle was a no-brainer for the Hall. He should be remembered for his leadership and incredible passing skills that lasted for 17 seasons.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

A Stat Line for All Time?

Looking - Just a Little Bit - Back
By Nick Webster
The Packers and Cowboys certainly gave us a treat last Sunday. But the last play of the game may have actually produced a stat line that may have never been seen before. A challenge to the readers, if you’ve seen this stat line before please, let us know.
You’re looking at Dak Prescott’s receiving line from the game. You’ll recall the thrilling end included a play missing only the Stanford band marching out onto the field as the Cowboys lateralled the ball over and over in vain trying to pick up the miraculous last few yards to take the game. The play-by-play treated it like this:


Five laterals finally ended when Nick Perry, Linebacker of the Packers forced and recovered a fumble.

Now, this type of play isn’t terribly uncommon, but two aspects of it were. First, going back to the receiving chart, Prescott had 0 receptions for 0 yards and a 3-yard Long reception!  It’s not unusual to show up on a receiving chart with no receptions, this is the way the league treats any play where a receiver laterals the ball to another player, you are credited 0 receptions and whatever yardage you get following the lateral. We’d venture to say it’s even happened before that a player has had 0 receptions and 0 yards, as it seems reasonably possible that a player can get a lateral and fail to gain any yardage following the lateral. 

But how do you get 0 receptions, 0 yards, and a 3-yard long reception? It requires that you have no direct receptions in the game, receive a lateral, gain yardage (in this case 3) and then receive another lateral – in this case on the same play, but it could be later in the same game – and lose precisely the yardage you gained following the initial lateral. This may be the first time that has ever happened, is it, if you have evidence of another occurrence, let us know.


Friday, October 13, 2017

Gamebooks and Team Press Releases—Can They Be Improved?

 LOOKING FORWARD
By John Turney



The image above is the top of what is now called an NFL Gamebook, though it is entitled a "Game Summary". It used to be called a Play-by-play. We, at Pro Football Journal, have gone through tens of thousands of them doing research trying to glean information from them that had previously been ignored or neglected. Things such as sacks, net punting yardage, forced fumbles, starting lineups, etc.

We will focus on the starting lineups in this post.

The stated purpose of the Gamebook or Game summary is for "assisting the media in their coverage of the game". And they do a tremendous job in doing that. But in recent seasons, with so many different offensive and defensive schemes the starting lineups sometimes can get skewed. And the same things happen with some team Press Releases to the media.

Then, the erroneous information gets picked up and posted by excellent websites like Pro Football Reference.com or Ourlads. Then someone who reports on the NFL will go to those sites and use that slightly off information in a story or a feature about a player. We'd prefer that the original sources like the Gamebooks and Media Releases get it right from the beginning.

We will use the Los Angeles Rams as an example.
Credit: NFL Gamepass

This is a screen capture of the first defensive play from scrimmage in the Colts at Rams game the first week of the season. Tyrunn Walker is lined up shaded on the center. Most of the game he was lined up on a tackle, making him an end but at the start of the game, he was the nose tackle. Michael Brockers is lined up in an "eye" technique on the right guard, a tight 3-technique, making him a defensive tackle. Number 93 is Ethan Westbrooks lined up over the right tackle, making him a defensive end.

However, the Gamebook has the starting positions of Walker and Brockers reversed. However, cutting some slack for the stats crew there was a late shift to the left (defense's left) before the snap, but if that was the reason it wouldn't explain the next few games.


Here os the first snap of the Rams-Redskins games in Week 2.
Credit: NFL Gamepass

In this instance, the official game scorer chose to like Tyrunn Walker as a defensive tackle, though he is at 5-technique, over a tackle which makes him a defensive end. Had he listed Robert Quinn (#94) and Connor Barwin (#98) as defensive ends since they had their hands in the dirt it could be argued that Walker was a defensive tackle in a 5-2 look. But those two were listed as outside linebackers and in coachspeak, if you line up over an offensive tackle, you're a defensive end. Also, in Wade Phillips's 3-4 one gap scheme he uses one defensive end and one defensive tackle on the line with those two flanking a nose tackle.




Week three versus the 49ers:
Credit: NFL Gamepass
Here is the same questionable call as the Redskins game. Walker is head-up on a tackle, still making him a defensive end. It could also be debatable if Donald is an end on this play. He's usually aligned in a 3-technique, but here he's a bit wider, in a 4i-technique, which is the inside eye of a tackle. However, that is a matter of maybe a half-a-foot depending on the splits of the offensive line so keeping him listed as a defensive tackle is likely the right call. Walker, though, is technially and end.


Next is the Dallas game in Arlington:
Credit: NFL Gamepass
In this game it was publicized that Wade Phillips was going to move Michael Brockers around, and he did. He played almost all, if not all, likely run downs at 5-technique—defensive end. On the first snap he was lined up outside Tyron Smith. Rookie Tanzel Smart took Brockers's spot at nose tackle and Donald is at 3-technique over All-Pro Zack Martin.

But the Gamebook shows Smart at defensive tackle and Brockers at nose tackle. Both are in error.

Finally, last Sunday's game versus the Seahawks.
Credit: NFL Gamepass
This still gets a bit complicated. But if we are going to put this into a 3-4 scheme then Quinn and Alec Ogletree are the outside linebackers (our view is this is more of a 4-3 stack with Quinn as a stand-up defensive end) and Mark Barron and Cory Littleton would be the inside linebackers.

This is an even front (no nose tackle) and the tackles are Brockers and Donald with Barwin at defensive end in a 6-technique (head-up on tight end) and Quinn in a wide technique outside the tackle as a stand-up end.

It is fully understandable if the official scorer, in a short amount of time didn't get this quite right. But he or she lists Brockers as a nose, which he is clearly not and Ogletree as an ILBer even though he's in the hip pocket of Barwin on the second level.



Adding to the confusion is the Los Angeles Rams Media relations staff and the press releases that go out every week.

Here is what they have listed in the current release which is for the upcoming Jacksonville game:
For some reason they still list Ethan Wesbrooks as a "projected starter" even though he has not started a game since Week One versus the Colts. They also list Brockers as a nose tackle even though he's been a defensive end, for the most part, the past two games. Tanzel Smart takes the lion's share of snaps at nose tackle.

 This is the current unofficial depth chart. Yes, it is unofficial but we are not sure that is an excuse for inaccurate. We just don't think this is accurate enough for a professional team's media relations department. The shop needs to be a bit better in our view.


This is not supposed to be unofficial, it is meant to help media with coverage of the games and to reflect who actually did start games. To be fair this is likely taken from the NFL Gamebooks, which we have pointed out can be off from time-to-to time.

For what it's worth, this is how we'd list the Rams front seven for the opening snaps of each game this season:

Why it matters? Mostly for historical purposes. This screen capture of the starters for the Rams at Pro Football Referece.com is accurate in the sense that it correctly records what the NFL Gamebooks list. But when someone in the future goes back and wants to study about or write about the players of 2017 they will make errors based on what is listed, the old GIGO theory (garbage in, garbage out).

Further, unless someone has video of the game it won't be correctable since Pro Football Reference uses a good system of using official documents (like Gamebooks) when making corrections. 

Ourlads tries to keep current depth charts for their website visitors. They have the new starting strong safety, John Johnson, listed but as per the Rams PR release still have Westbrooks as the starting defensive end, again, even though he started only this season's opener.

There are plenty more examples we've seen and really don't want to single out the Rams PR staff, though we have reviewed other teams and they seem to have the highest propensity for error but have not made an in-depth study of all 32 teams.

We just ask that the starting lineups be as correct as possible at the NFL Gamebook level and with the teams PR staff level. I wasn't until the last 20-35 years or so that the Gamebooks insisted on getting the starters right. Back in the day, the eleven starters in the base defense were listed and if a team opened with three- or 4-wide receivers they were not listed as starters. However, in this age of substitution, a decision apparently was made to get the starting elevens right, even if they were not going to play the majority of the game. And what happened is sometimes a nickel back would then get four or five starts, or a designated pass rusher would get three of four starts, not that he earned a spot on the base defense, but because the opposing team opened in three wides.

So, we simply suggest that all of us (and we don't exclude ourselves) up our game to get the best information recorded for future generations that way we won't have a 2040 equivalent of Merlin Olsen listed as a right defensive tackle at Pro Football Reference.com (a position he never played) for players that are active now.

UPDATE: October 15, 2017. Jacksonville scorekeeper lists Aaron Donald as an OLBer.

However, Donald is lined up in his usual 3-technique spot, on the outside shoulder of an offensive guard, making him a defensive tackle. Brockers is on the tackle, making him a defensive end.

We have no idea why Donald is listed as an OLBer and only some idea of why Brockers is listed as a defensive tackle, though it isn't accurate.

They also listed John Johnson as a RCB when he was the deep/weak or free safety.
Credit: NFL Gamepass
And due to these errors, places like Football Outsiders.com, a great site, also apes the poor information

In their snap count section, due to the errant listing of Aaron Donald as an OLBer, his snap counts skew to unit totals for the defensive line and linebackers for the Rams. There table for week six, seen below shows five linebackers getting over 71% of the total snaps in the game. That is kind of hard to do when there were four linebackers the majority of the game.