Saturday, May 27, 2017

Part III: Who Will Be On NFL's 100th Anniversary Team?

By John Turney

In Part II of this series we looked at wide receivers and in Part III we take a look at Centers and Guards.
The top center, according to the 1970 Pro Football Hall of Fame voting committee was Chuck Bednarik and the top guard was Jerry Kramer. Neither was on the 75th Anniversary Team as Bednarik was supplanted by Mel Hein (who was a runner-up in 1970) and Mike Webster and Kramer lost out to John Hannah, Jim Parker and Gene Upshaw.

We suspect Hein and Webster will keep their slots (assuming there are only two). Though Dwight Stephenson could be looked at closely. Having seen both, a lot, we think Stephenson at his peak was superior. However, he was felled by a knee injury that ended his career. Webster was able to play 17 years and at his peak was a dominant player, just not quite as dominant (again our opinion) as Stephenson.

Hein is still the only offensive lineman to be an NFL MVP (1938) and his longevity and career honors should keep him in good stead with the voters.

Over the last 25 years, there have been excellent centers but none seem to have had the kind of dominant career that these others had so we don't expect any newbies here.

Larry Allen, we think, will take Upshaw's slot and rightly so.  He was just too big, too fast, too strong and had too many honors to not be considered one of the top three guards of All-Time. Steve Hutchinson stand out as the best guard in recent years but cannot see him cracking the top three.

Zack Martin is off to a great start in his career 3 First-team All-Pros in 3 years but he won't have enough seasons under his belt by 2020 in our view, to be one of the top three, but we could be wrong (see Rod Woodson's selection in 1994 which raised some eyebrows, not in quality but in longevity).

Part II: Who Will Be On NFL's 100th Anniversary Team?

By John Turney

Yesterday we looked at special teams players who could possibly be named to the upcoming  NFL 100th Anniversary Team.

This post is about the wide receivers.
Twenty-five years ago these were the four players who made the 75th Anniversary team. On the 50th Anniversary team, Don Hutson and Elroy Hirsch were the split end and flanker, respectively on the team.

In a few years, Hutson and Jerry Rice are locks in our view. Raymond Berry and Lance Alworth are the two who could possibly be challenged. But by whom? Calvin Johnson was dominant for several years but he hung 'em up and didn't have the "compiling stage" of his career. That is the stage where wide receivers sometimes move from team to be, being productive but not stellar and compile numbers to their career totals. 

Randy Moss is, in our view, the most talented receiver ever in terms of physical ability:  size, speed, leaping ability, hands, smarts. He had it all. And Jerry Rice agrees.  However, he has a well-earned reputation of someone who was capable of loafing and his "I play when I want to play." solidified that sentiment. When things went poorly in Oakland he "dogged it". That is hardly the stuff of the best of the best, worthy of being on the 100th Anniversary Team.

This will be interesting because a second wave of the post-merger passing game began in about 1994 (the first was in 1978) where receivers and quarterbacks increased productivity in terms of passing and receiving numbers. Thus, players like Marvin Harrison, Terrell Owens put up stellar numbers in an era where they could run routes that were patrolled in the past by players like Jack Tatum and Ronnie Lott. So their numbers have to be looked at in context.

One player, who is now in his compiling phase is Larry Fitzgerald and he could garner some notice. He's a great hands player, who is a tough blocker and is an all-around receiver but he wasn't All-Pro very often and didn't lead the league Year-in and year-out in receiving categories like some of the above players did. So we will see.

Clearly, we don't know the voting results in 1994 when the 75th Anniversary Team was released but we wonder aloud how close Paul Warfield was, who was a first-ballot HOF inductee like Rice, Hutson, Berry and Alworth. His numbers are not special but he played quite a few years in the "dead ball era" of Pro Football,— the 1970s. But anyone who saw him play know he was a major key in the Dolphins championships of the early 1970s. Perhaps he will get a second look.

In a few years we will know. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Part I: Who Will Be On NFL's 100th Anniversary Team?

By John Turney

In 1970 the Pro Football Hall of Fame had the voting committee choose a 50th Anniversary NFL Team. For the 75th Anniversary, in 1994, the NFL had a select committee pick a team for the Diamond Anniversary:

Ina few years there with be a 100th Anniversary Team and we wonder what players from the past 25 seasons may crack the list.

The 50th Anniversary Team had 15 players and 30 runners-up a total of 45 players. The 75th Anniversary Team had 48 players. We don't know if there will be a team with, say, 45 or 48 players or if they will expand the number. We suppose they will, and hope they will. For the purposes of this excercise, we will assume it will be more.

Let's start with the special teams. In 1970 the kicker was Lou Groza and no punter or returner was chosen though there were players who could have filled those roles.

In 1994 Ray Guy and Jan Stenerud were the punter and kicker, respectively and Billy "White Shoes" Johnson was the return specialist.

 We think Devin Hester will likely supplant Johnson as the punt returner. His 14 punt return touchdowns and 5 kick returns for scores are simply too great to ignore. Josh Cribbs has 8 kickoff returns for touchdowns, which is the record, but Hester's 19 total are far and away the most. Cribbs was also a good core special teams player, covering kicks and punts but Hester was the most productive returner. 

Cribbs could challenge Gale Sayers as the kick returner, though, but Sayers did a lot in a shorter time. The "eye test" would favor Sayers in our view. Dante Hall was a great returner with 6 punts and 6 kicks returned for touchdowns but Sayer's 6 returns in 91 chances is a 6.6%, the highest of all time among qualifiers, so we think he will retain the KR spot, he'd get our vote.

It may be that the NFL will add a special teams player and our best guess if they do, would be that Steve Tasker would get that nod. Would agree but would hope that some of the others core STers would at least be in the discussion. Hank Bauer, Bill Bates, Reyna Thomspson, Kassim OsgoodBrendon Ayanbadejo, Ivory Sully, and many, many others were also stellar in coverage, blocking and blocking kicks. However, Tasker did it at a high level for a long time and was an All-Pro and Pro Bowler more often than the others.

Jan Stenrud and Morten Anderson are the two Hall of Fame kickers, along with Lou Groza who was a starting tackle for the first two-thirds of his career. In terms of stats, Groza was far ahead of his peers in terms of his averages. Pro Football Research Association member Rupert Patrick has an upcoming book that with show his metric of "Points above League Average". He calculates how many points a particular kicker scores in relation to his peers. Groza, Anderson, and Stenerud all rank very high, but none are at the top. We won't give away who his top kicker is, we will let him reveal that in his book. However, one current kicker is doing very well versus his peers and that is Justin Tucker.

Our view is that if Tucker keeps it up he could challenge the "Big Three". Apart from that, it will likely be Anderson (a two-time All-Decade performer) or Stenerud.

Ray Guy is the only punter in the Hall of Fame. He will likely get the nod again. However, keep and eye out for Johnny Hekker. Playing for a mediocre-to-poor team in his five years Hekker owns almost every record in the book, both in terms of gross stats and in terms of "metrics".

Guy was All-Pro six times, Hekker three times in five seasons. Guy's Inside-the-20 to touchback ratio was 1.5 to one. Hekker's is currently 8.3 to 1. Almost double the next best (Dustin Colquitt's 4.6 to one—though when Sam Martin qualifies he will be around the same). But 8.3 to 1? It's unheard of.

Guy only had 3 punts blocked, which is excellent (0.3%). Hekker has had one blocked and his block percentage is 0.2%. For comparison, Jerrel Wilson, the Chief's great has 12 blocked for 1.1%.

Hekker had, so far, had 38.2% of his punts end up inside the twenty yard-line. Only Dustin Colquitt has a higher percentage (40.5%). Guy's percentage is 24.6%. 

Hekker's net punting average is 43.3 as of the end of the 2016 season. The next closest is Thomas Morstead of the Saints with a 41.2 net average, nearly two yards fewer than Hekker and in this kind of statistic that is a lot since most of the best net yardage punters are all bunched around 40.0. Guy's career net punting average was 35.2, which is good, but not great, either, even for his time.

Certainly, Hekker will have to keep up this kind of performance for the next few years to catch they eye of whoever is on the voting committee but if he does, he cannot be ignored, even if the Rams don't improve because as of now, he's the best punter ever.

It will be interesting to follow these players and see if the up-and-comers like Hekker and Tucker can sustain their greatness.

Stay tuned for the next parts of this new series.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

1988 Joe Gibbs/Washington Redskins Fine Schedule

By John Turney
Credit: Goalline Art/Gary Thomas
Seemingly from time immemorial NFL clubs had rules for the players and enforced those rules by fines. Here is the fine schedule for the 1988 Washington Redskins.

The second sentence says it all "YOU FINE  YOURSELF". Three of the most expensive infractions on this list are concerning firearms, illegal drugs and women in hotel rooms.


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Pro Football Hall of Famer Cortez Kennedy Dies at 48

By John Turney
Credit: Brian Goodman
TMZ reported that the former Seahawks defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy has died. Kennedy was 48 years old. Kennedy was an All-American at the University of Miami during the glory years of the Jimmy Johnson-coached 'Canes.  He was the third overall selection in the 1990 NFL draft and was the three-time All-Pro for the Seahawks (1992-94). He was also a Second-team All-Pro twice (1991 and 1996) and Second team All-AFC selection in 1995 and in addition, he was a Eight-time Pro Bowl selection (1991-96, 1998-99). He was also an All-Rookie selection in 1990.

He was the AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1992 when he had 92 tackles, 14 sacks and 14 stuffs for an amazing total of 28 plays behind the line of scrimmage. It is worth nothing that the Seahawks were 2-14 in that season.

For his excellence, he was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2012 and was a consensus First-team All-Decade selection for the 1990s.

He totaled 58 sacks in his career and 49.5 run stuffs and batted away 48 passes. He was known as a supreme run-stuffing tackle that could also get good push in pass rushing situations. 
Credit: Scott Ellig

Thursday, May 18, 2017

1959: Zone to Big Daddy?

By John Turney

On Monday we discussed the usage of a zone blitz by Colts defensive coach Bill Arnsparger in 1964 and ended with the question of where did HE learn in it.

T. J. Troup commented that even before that the "1961 Oilers, against Denver, under the savvy guidance of coach Wally Lemm, used zone blitz with DB coming off the edge, and LDE dropping into coverage."

We don't have a clip of that, but we do have one of the 1959 Colts, rushing, then dropping right defensive tackle Big Daddy Lipscomb while dogging two outside linebackers.

Here is a still:

And the clip:
We apologize for the poor film quality, but sometimes that's how it is with older films. The play results in an interception but notice how Lipscomb steps into the guard then drops back, likely to the middle zone and the linebackers put pressure on Rams quarterback Billy Wade.

Again, we are not sure when the first time a lineman was asked to drop into coverage and he is replaced in the rush by a linebacker or defensive back. It was likely in this era, but when?

The Colts did quite a few things with Lipscomb, especially 1958-60. He'd sometimes lineup as a right inside linebacker to give the Colts a 3-4 look.

Here is a still, and it's not the angle we would prefer, we've seen better, but here you can see usualy left defensive tackle, Art Donovan on the center with Gino Marchetti and Don Joyce aligned on the outside shoulders of the tackles. Out of frame is Lipscomb, though you can see his sizable shadow right behind Donovan. Eventually, we will get some better shots for you.

We've also seen in film study that the Colts would stand up Marchetti on some rare occasions to give the Colts a 3-4 look. Here is one of those with Marchetti standing up over the flexed tight end Lamar Lundy at the top of the shot and the Colts showing Double A-Gap pressure by two of their linebackers: 
At that time Lipscomb was a sideline-to-sideline player rather than an up-the-field defensive tackle that he became with the Steelers in 1961 and 1962. The Colts took advantage of that by standing him up and allowing him to read the play and react, using his good speed (for his size) and agility to flow to the ball. 

Was he a hyrbid player—a defensive tackle/linebacker? No. It wasn't done enough to warrant calling him that, but they did it enough to call it a "thing" as the say today. Some games he stood up as many as 10-12 times. Other games he didn't do it at all. It does show that the coaches of the 1950s and 1960s were creative and tried various things in their respective schemes. They didn't line up the same down after down.

In a later post, we will show some shots of the 1960s AFL, where every team used a 3-4 defense at times, though none did it exclusively. Buffalo and San Diego likely did it the most, though the Patriots and Chiefs were pretty close. All of them seemingly did it with the same personnel as their 4-3 defenses, so they didn' swap players, the players like we've shown with Lipscomb and Marchetti just changed their stance and alignment to give a different look

Monday, May 15, 2017

Bill Arnsparger's 1964 Zone Blitz?

By John Turney
Much has been written about the Zone blitz or "fire zone" defensive scheme/call that swept through the NFL in the late1980s to the early 1990s. Rather than go through the evolution that predates Dick LeBeau's popularization of it or the details of it which has been covered in detail we want to focus on the origins of it which trace to Bill Arnsparger.

In his book Arnsparger's Coaching Defensive Football, Armsbarger details how he used a converted linebacker Kim Bokamper to run a call called "Zone to Bo":

It was from these beginning that the Zone Blitz got it's start:
Here is an example of "Zone to Bo". In this clip watch the right defensive end, Bokamper. This is a 40 dollar scheme (7 defensive backs), not the preferred 3-2-nickel that Arnsbarger said he preferred but you can see Bokamper rush, then drop as a defensive back replaces him in the rush.

In this next clip, in the same game, the Seahawks run a similar call with Jeff Bryant rushing, then dropping into the middle zone. Bryant was 6-5, 270 pounds. Tom Catlin was the Seattle defensive coordinator and perhaps he was showing he can do the same things as Miami.

Catlin, LeBeau and others took the scheme to new levels, but at least we know the origins of it right?

Or maybe not. Arnsbarger is not around to ask but if he were, we'd ask about when he began the concept of a defensive lineman rushing the passer then dropping to cover, either man or zone.

Here, right defensive end Ordell Braase rushes on Rams left tackle Joe Carollo, but halts his rush as outside linebacker Don Shinnick rushes inside of him (called "Ox" in George Allen's terminology, we don't know Arnsbarger's verbiage) and after he halts he drops, either to cover Dick Bass (man-to-man) or goes to the middle zone to cover whoever is there (in this case it is Bass). 

We don't know if it's a zone blitz or a blitz (actually a 'dog' since it involves a linebacker) that gives the right defensive end man coverage. But, the defensive coordinator for the 1964 Colts was Bill Arnsbarger and it looks very mich like the "Zone to Bo". We'd need to do more film study to be sure, but it is on our list of things we want to find out.

here are some stills and then the clip, which results in Joe Carollo blocking no one and Gino Marchetti getting a sack:
Here is the clip:

So, you decide, was Arnsparger's scheme Zone to Bo? Or Zone to Ordell? And where did HE get the idea?

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Dominique Easley Signs One-year Tender with Rams

By John Turney
The signed the Dominique Easley to a one-year deal for about $1.8 million. Easley played several positions with the Patriots, who drafted him, and last year backup up All-Pro Aaron Donald as a 3-technique and also played quite a lot in the nickel scheme as an inside rusher.

Rams new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is installing a one-gap 3-4 defense and there is some question who will man the position opposite to Donald, who will remain a dedicated 3-technique. It is presumed that Michael Brockers will remain a shaded nose tackle, as he was in Gregg Williams's 4-3 scheme of a year ago, and Easley could back up both those players, or even possibly play the defensive end who would play over a tackle. His presumed competition would be Ethan Westbrooks or perhaps even Tyrunn Walker.

The net few months will be interesting. However, what we'd like to know is if Phillips will use Easley like Bill Belichick did on this play. Easley is playing opposite the right guard on this play. However, he stems from one strong-technique, to two inside, to two, to three, to four inside, to four to five, to four, four inside, to three, to two, to one, to two, again, to three, to two, to three. For those scoring our count is—1s-2i-2-3-4i-4-5-4-4i-3-2-2i-2-3-2-3 then the snap. But we could be wrong.

Credit: NFL Replay, Fair use claim for education and criticism

Monday, May 1, 2017

THUNDEROUS PRODUCTION: Gaining 1000 Rushing and Averaging 5.0 Per Carry.

By T.J. Troup

A quick note: John Turney's column on the 1966 Dolphins is a must read for those folks who treasure reading about the evolution of defenses.

For today, Happy birthday to Charley Bednarik! During the 1949 season, Bednarik took over the center position and demonstrated why he was so highly thought of coming out of Penn. He joined a veteran and talented offensive line led by Al Wistert to continue to open holes for Steve Van Buren.

Mr. Van Buren begins our story today as the following criteria is explained. How many runners have gained 1,000 yards rushing on a minimum of  200 carries, and averaged at least 5 yards per carry against a single opponent?

Many runners have averaged 5.0 on 100 carries against an opponent, but this fraternity is much, MUCH smaller with the above criteria. Entering the 1951 season Van Buren has carried the ball 240 times for 1,205 yards against Washington. The nagging injuries curtailed his final season, and as such (though he begins our story today) he falls short as he gained 1,289 yards on 265 carries (4.9 avg).

Though he does not make our list that in no way does that diminish his Hall of Fame career. Ok, that said, who is on the list? We begin with an undersized fullback known as the "Jet". Joe Perry was quick, explosive, and had excellent balance and toughness. During his long career, he earns his spot in our fraternity as he gained 1,602 yards on 303 carries against the Lions, and 1,667 yards on 333 carries against the Packers.
He retired as the top ground gainer in league history. Perry in the early 60's is still "lugging the leather" and in 1962 the Colts play a Cleveland team led by Jim Brown. Film study and highlight film show a rare running back, and that Brown is the BEST EVER. His consistency against teams in his division shows that even though the focus was on attempting to try and stop him he still got his yards. Go to Pro Football  and look up his splits against the six teams in his division; he had thunderous production against them all.
The NFL changed the field in 1972 and no one utilized this rule change better than the physically talented O.J. Simpson. The reduced hash marks allowed him to sweep both sides and against the Patriots he gained 1,514 yards on 280 carries.The league had seen many running backs from 1933 through the end of Simpson's career, and only three men are in the fraternity so far.

Barry Sanders had a unique running style, and he dominated three teams in his division. The Bears, Packers, and Vikings all are shredded; and Sanders had over 350 carries against each of them.
Much has been written about the Ravens defense during the 2000 season, and they were by far the best that year. Jamal Lewis was the focal point of the offense, and against the Browns & Bengals he joins the list.
Someday the voters for the Hall of Fame will debate the qualifications for Fred Taylor. His performance against the Colts speaks volumes as he gained 1,251 yards on 246 carries.

Tiki Barber sure had his moments for NYG and against their hated rival the Eagles he carried 305 times for 1,559 yards.

Three men left of the ten on our list, and all three are players in this decade. Frank Gore demonstrated he could pound the ball between the tackles, and during the course of his career against some excellent Seahawk defenses he gained 1,421 yards on 277 carries.

Chris Johnson's blinding speed caused many a headache for pursuing defenders and none more so than the Houston Texans as Chris gained 1,116 yards on 220 carries.

Finally, in the twilight of his career, Adrian Peterson—like Joe Perry and Barry Sanders before him drove through the Packers and Lions defenses to make the list.
There you have it:  Ten terrific runners with thunderous production.

Oh, the story cannot end without a quick discussion of who did not make the list? Robert Smith was a vital part of the Viking attack, and he retired with 199 carries for 1,088 yards against the Lions, and the man joining him, though he may eventually get there, is LeSean McCoy who needs just one more carry against the Giants. He has gained 1,036 yards, yet he many never get the chance due to scheduling.