Monday, September 16, 2019

Vikings Play from Behind in Loss to Packers

By Eric Goska

Lambeau Field hours before the Packers and Vikings renewed their rivalry there.
Being a frontrunner is not for the easily rattled.

Green Bay assumed that position early in its 21-16 squeaker over the Vikings. Now, by virtue of that win, the team sits alone in first place in the NFC North Division.

If they didn’t figure it out Sunday, the Packers will in the days ahead: the team out front always draws fire.

Matt LaFleur’s regular-season debut at Lambeau Field was notable for a number of reasons. In addition to knocking off a division rival, Green Bay accomplished two other feats worthy of mention.

One was a rarity. The other was a first in this long-standing series that dates to 1961.

Green Bay’s offense scored touchdowns the first three times it had the ball. The team had never done that in 115 previous regular-season clashes with the Vikings.

Green Bay’s early haul put Minnesota squarely behind the eight ball. For just the sixth time in the history of the series, the Vikings trailed on the scoreboard every time they snapped the ball.

This type of opening was what the experts had said the Packers needed to do in order to win: get a lead early and force Minnesota to abandon its formidable running game.

Bart Starr was honored by the Packers at halftime.
But Mike Zimmer’s Vikings refused to back down. Instead of folding, Minnesota spent the better part of three quarters chipping away at the Packers’ advantage before running out of time.

In a turnabout from the opener, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ offense clicked. Instead of minus-12 yards as it earned in Chicago, the unit posted 167 first-quarter yards against Minnesota.

The Packers used 19 plays to travel 75, 63 and 33 yards their first three times out. Thirteen of the plays gained six or more yards.

Rodgers was nearly perfect, completing 10 of 11 passes for 141 yards. He connected with running back Jamaal Williams and receiver Geronimo Allison on touchdown passes.

Aaron Jones plowed in from two yards out for the third score as Green Bay went up 21-0 with just 44 seconds elapsed in the second quarter.

Minnesota had never fallen behind by that many points so quickly in a game against the Packers.

The Packers had twice before scored touchdowns on their first two drives against the Vikings. Paul Hornung and Ron Kramer did it in a 28-10 win in 1961. Elijah Pitts and Jim Taylor got there in a 28-16 triumph in 1966.

But in those games, at least, Minnesota ran a few plays while not trailing on the scoreboard. Sunday, every time Garrett Bradbury centered the ball (60 offensive snaps), the Vikings were in arrears.

That’s a lot of time spent playing catch-up.

Points! Points! Curly Lambeau always points!
The Vikings found themselves in such a situation five times previously against the Packers. They lost each time.

Four of those contests occurred more than 35 years ago. The fifth was more recent, and it, too, was decided by five points.

On Dec. 17, 2000, Green Bay and Minnesota combined for more than 800 yards. The Packers got out front 10-0, then withstood everything the Vikings threw at them. They escaped with a 33-28 decision.

Minnesota’s moxie was on display again Sunday as well. Dalvin Cook reeled off a 75-yard touchdown run and piled up 154 yards on the ground. Kirk Cousins fired passes of 61 and 45 yards, respectively, to receivers Chad Beebe and Stefon Diggs. The latter resulted in a touchdown that cut Green Bay’s lead to five points in the third quarter.

Defensive end Danielle Hunter and defensive tackle Linval Joseph each sacked Rodgers once in the second half. Rodgers was twice forced to throw the ball away on a three-and-out drive late in the second quarter.

After gaining 176 yards in the opening 16 minutes, Green Bay managed just 159 in the closing 44. Minnesota, which picked up 53 yards in the first 16 minutes, helped itself to 368 down the stretch.

In the end, Cousins could not deliver. He completed four of eight fourth-quarter passes for 35 yards and one first down. His throw from the Packers’ 8-yard line with five minutes, 10 seconds to go was intercepted by cornerback Kevin King in the corner of the end zone.

Cousins’ last offering went to Adam Thielen who lateraled to Diggs. Diggs tried to do the same, but his effort hit the turf and was recovered by Green Bay’s Tramon Williams.

That was the 60th and final play in Minnesota’s futile attempt to catch the front-running Packers.

Behind the Eight Ball

The six regular-season Packers-Vikings games in which Minnesota trailed on the scoreboard every time it ran an offensive play.

  Plays      Yards       Date                      Outcome
    57          177         Sept. 16, 1962       GB 34, Vikings 7
    51          306         Oct. 14, 1962        GB 48, Vikings 21
    57          338         Oct. 13, 1963        GB 37, Vikings 28
    68          347         Nov. 11, 1979       GB 19, Vikings 7
    56          400        Dec. 17, 2000        GB 33, Vikings 28
    60          421         Sept. 15, 2019       GB 21, Vikings 16

Saturday, September 14, 2019

2020 Preliminary Modern-Day List

By John Turney
via Pro Football Hall of Fame

QUARTERBACK -- Randall Cunningham, Jake Delhomme, Boomer Esiason, Jeff Garcia, Jeff Hostetler, Dave Krieg, Donovan McNabb

RUNNING BACKS -- Shaun Alexander, Mike Alstott, Tiki Barber, Earnest Byner, Larry Centers, Corey Dillon, Eddie George, Priest Holmes, Edgerrin James, Daryl Johnston, Thomas Jones, Maurice Jones-Drew, Eric Metcalf, Lorenzo Neal, Clinton Portis, Fred Taylor, Herschel Walker, Chris Warren, Ricky Watters

WIDE RECEIVERS -- Isaac Bruce, Gary Clark, Donald Driver, Henry Ellard, Torry Holt, Chad Johnson, Derrick Mason, Muhsin Muhammad, Jimmy Smith, Rod Smith, Hines Ward, Reggie Wayne

TIGHT ENDS -- Dallas Clark, Ben Coates, Keith Jackson, Brent Jones, Jeremy Shockey, Wesley Walls

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN -- Willie Anderson, Matt Birk, Tony Boselli, Lomas Brown, Ray Donaldson, Alan Faneca, Kevin Gogan, Jordan Gross, Chris Hinton, Kent Hull, Steve Hutchinson, Lincoln Kennedy, Olin Kreutz, Chris Samuels, Jeff Saturday, Brian Waters, Richmond Webb, Erik Williams, Steve Wisniewski

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN -- John Abraham, La'Roi Glover, Casey Hampton, Chester McGlockton, Leslie O'Neal, Simeon Rice, Richard Seymour, Justin Smith, Neil Smith, Greg Townsend, Bryant Young

LINEBACKERS -- Carl Banks, Cornelius Bennett, Lance Briggs, Tedy Bruschi, James Farrior, London Fletcher, Seth Joyner, Wilber Marshall, Clay Matthews, Willie McGinest, Sam Mills, Chris Spielman, Takeo Spikes, Darryl Talley, Zach Thomas, Jessie Tuggle, Patrick Willis

DEFENSIVE BACKS -- Eric Allen, Steve Atwater, Ronde Barber, LeRoy Butler, Nick Collins, Merton Hanks, Rodney Harrison, Albert Lewis, John Lynch, Terry McDaniel, Tim McDonald, Troy Polamalu, Bob Sanders, Troy Vincent, Darren Woodson

PUNTERS/KICKERS -- K David Akers, K Gary Anderson, K Jason Elam, P Jeff Feagles, K Jason Hanson, P Sean Landeta, K Ryan Longwell, K Nick Lowery, P Reggie Roby, P Rohn Stark, P Matt Turk

SPECIAL TEAMS -- Johnny Bailey, Josh Cribbs, Mel Gray, Brian Mitchell, Steve Tasker

Friday, September 13, 2019

Why You Still Cannot Reply on Starting Lineups Listed by Gameooks

By John Turney
We've posted on this before, but here are a couple of examples from the first seven days of the 2019 NFL season.

This is the starting lineup for the Panthers for Week 1—
 This is who actually started—

Now, of course, it's not a huge deal but this information is picked up by media outlets and also by Pro Football and it remains there and then, sometimes years later we have to deal with the
misinformation that began with the gamebooks.

Here is the Bucs starting lineup for last night's game—
However, Ndamukong Suh is the nose tackle and Vita Vea is a three technique (DL or DT).
Again, it's not much but the NFL and NFLGSIS opened the door for scrutiny when they insisted on listing the actual starters rather than the usual starters. The usual starters would be the base offense or defense, but sometimes a team would open in goalline due to a long kickoff or would open in 3-wide or 4-wide and the defense would counter with nickel or dime.

Fair enough, but then they need to be consistent, that's all. We all know it's a nickel/3-wide or more league but that does not mean that's necessary 'base' because that word has a specific meaning.

Anyway, if you see oddities (as we have) in starting lineups don't assume they are accurate. The only real way to know for sure (to the degree that it matters) is to look at the film of the first snap.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Anatomy of a Two-yard Stuff from Two Angles—Football is a Game of Inches

By John Turney
Lavonte David
Often we take tackles for loss in the run game (stuffs) for granted. They are rarer than one might think and are hard to make happen for a defense. After all, the offensive guys get paid too, and when they run the ball they have linemen trained to take on smaller guys and given the dynamics of the game the vast majority of runs at least make the line of scrimmage with the mean being about four yards per run, historically.

However, if it's first and ten and a team runs the ball, they at least expect to get that four yards and it's second and six and they can run or pass the ball, it's dealers choice at that point. But if the defense can diagnose what is happening and throw the running back for a loss, it's second and eleven and makes it somewhat tougher to run a second time. In a real sense the offense id behind the sticks five yards.

Pro Football Journal's Nick Webster has been tracking stuffs (both run and pass) like no one else. Stats, LLC., tracks stuffs but only in the run game. NFLGSIS/NFL tracks tackles for loss that includes slip screens and losses in the passing game but exclude assisted tackles and exclude plays where a fumble is forced and then adds in sacks. So neither source is clean in terms of expressing a key stat on its own like we all do with sacks.

Among the best at making tackles behind the line of scrimmage over the years has been Lavonte David. In his first seven seasons, he's already made 87.0 stuffs—an incredibly high number.
Opening week of 2019 was no different. Even though the Bucs moved to a 3-4 base and he's playing inside linebacker, he's still doing almost the same things he always had. It's a one-gap 3-4 and he flowing to the ball. 

Here is an example.

You can see the three Bucs that are down lineman, one on a 'shade' strong on the center. There is a defensive end head up on the tackle. An outside linebacker (SAM) in one the tight end to the right. On the backside, David is on the inside of the guard on the second level—He is the MO or weak inside backer. There is a three-technique over the left guard's outside shoulder and a WILL 'backer on the outside of the left tackle.

It's a 3-4 under.
And from reverse angle—

Here are the blocking assignments— 

Now, look at Vita Vae's (the nose tackle or 1+ tech) charge. Rather than go to his left, he went to the right and 'backdoored' the center. Inconsequential, right?

Wrong. The contact Vae made with the left guard meant that David was going to flow to the ball without having to contend with a block. Had the left guard made contact or even disrupted the steps of David then play outcome would have been different.
All the green checkmarks are good blocks, the point of attack is sealed up. But the red 'x' show the left guard chasing David who is moving like a rocket ship to the ball carrier.
As can be seen there is running room for the back but the unblocked, full-speed David is closing.
David dives and clips the back's back foot. 
The back goes down for a two-yard loss.

It was a shoestring tackle and David deserves a lot of credit. His instincts and speed and effort made the play. It is what has made him our top 4-3 WILL linebacker for the last seven years. However, kudos also got to Vita Vae whose contact with the left guard slowed him enough to not allow any impedance to David and as is illustrated any hinderance would have meant that David couldn't have gotten there.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Ravens Run Nice Little Wrinkle—All Linebackers, Defensive Backs and a Fullback.

By John Turney
In the third quarter of the Raven blowout of the Dolphins, there was a neat little coverage we'd like to show. It was third and fourteen. Here is the personnel. It's a 6-1 look with dime personnel—there is a nickel (#24) and a dime (#41) back with two corners and two safeties deep. The nickel is a cornerback (Brandon Carr) and the dime is a safety (Anthony Levine). The three-technique to the right is fullback Patrick Ricard—#42. The rest are linebackers #99 Matthew Judon, #90 Pernell McPhee, and #48 Patrick Onwuasor who is the "MIKE" and  #56 Tim Williams. So, to sum up there are four linebackers, one fullback, three safeties and three cornerbacks on this package.

But, to be fair, Judon and McPhee and Ricard have also been called defensive linemen, depending on what year and in many fronts they still are but it can also be said this is a no-lineman package so eat your heart out Fritz Shurmur!

Here are the stills of the play. As we can see it's a 6-1 look with the Mike 'backer "mugging" the line of scrimmage and the secondary showing a Cover-2 "shell".

The Dolphins see the 7-man pressure possibility and block with seven, (max protect). The Ravens rush only five, with the dime safety and the Mike dropping. The nickel back rushes.

What is interesting is the dime safety drops all the way to the last line of defense, the middle 1/3 of Cover-3 about 25 yards or so from the line of scrimmage. Clearly, the Ravens showed Cover-2 and are playing cover-3. The Mike plays the middle, the free safety springs to the curl/hook/flat to the field side and the strong safety does the same to the boundary. The corners drop to the deep outside thirds with the aforementioned dime safety heading to the middle third zone.

The dime safety is right at the tail of the Dolphins looking at the quarterback while dropping.
The nickel safety (Anthony Levine) sees the ball is going to the post to the boundary side and helps double that route.
 The ball is an overthrow, but also it was well-covered.
Yes, there was am offensive explosion by the Ravens, but the defenses by Don "Wink" Martindale were very effective as well. 

Monday, September 9, 2019

List of NFL's Perfect Passers (158.3) and their Passer Rating Without Limits

By John Turney
Yesterday Dak Prescott and Lamar Jackson both had "perfect" passer ratings of 158.3, but without the "limits" in the formula, Jackson's rating was 223.8 and Prescott's was 161.6.

What do we mean? When the NFL passer rating was designed in 1973 by Former Pro Football Hall of Fame executive Don Smith and his committee they had no way of knowing the NFL's passing game would explode in the next 40 or so years. Back then a passer rating of 100 was about as high as one could expect. A rating of 90 was "excellent" and 66.7 was "average".

Now 90 (or so) is average and is going up seemingly every year.

The formula that they came up wit has upper and lower limits purportedly to normalize outlier stats. The committee used historical standards to come up with the formula and they recognized that there was sometimes an excessively high number on one of the four categories—completion percentage, yards per attempt, touchdown percentage, and interception percentage.

Without going into details sufficeth it to say that when these limits are removed the so-called perfect passer rating of 158.3 is not 158.3. (Of course, all of this is leaving aside the point that the passer rating was never designed to be used for a single game—it was for a season or career, but be that as it may, it's been done so we'll play along).

With players that had 15 attempts or more, there have been 49 with a perfect rating. Here is there passer raring without the upper limits. Jackson's was the sixth-best ever while Prescott's was the lowest "perfect rating" if you will.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Packers' Offense Earns a Negative Review on Opening Night

By Eric Goska
Bears-Packers opened the NFL's 100th season.
“Slow start, spin again,” was at one time the message found on the space following start in Milton Bradley’s board game of Life. Those who twirled the dial and emerged with a one on their first spin – the lowest number possible – were required to try again.

No such option was afforded the Green Bay Packers Thursday night in Chicago. When its offense put up a negative number in the first quarter, the team was forced to live with it.

The NFL kicked off its 100th season at Soldier Field with a prime-time showcasing of its oldest rivalry: Packers-Bears. Green Bay triumphed 10-3 in a low-scoring affair reminiscent of the league’s formative years.

The much-hyped event also served as the coaching debut of one Matt LaFleur. In January, the 39-year-old native of Mount Pleasant, Michigan became the 15th head coach in Packers’ history.

One wonders what LaFleur would have done had he been offered a do-over at the end of the first quarter. Might he have opted for another spin given his offense was stuck in reverse?

The Packers’ three drives in the opening 15 minutes ended almost before they started. Each time the team went three and out, traveling minus-10, minus-7 and five yards.

Green Bay’s first possession lasted one minute, 59 seconds. Bears linebacker Roquan Smith knifed into the backfield to knock down Aaron Jones at the line of scrimmage. Smith then dropped the running back for no gain on a pass from Aaron Rodgers. On third down, defensive end Roy Robertson-Harris overpowered guard Lane Taylor and sacked Rodgers for minus-10.

Green Bay held the ball for 1:46 on its second try. Rodgers’ first-down pass bounced incomplete into the turf and tight end Jimmy Graham’s shoe almost at the same time. Jones came away with nothing after getting dumped by linebacker KhalilMack. Rodgers was again sacked on third down, this time by linebacker Leonard Floyd for minus-7.

The Packers abandoned the run on their third outing which clocked in at all of 56 seconds. Despite starting at the 40 as the result of a Bears kickoff going out of bounds, Green Bay continued to sputter as Rodgers threw too low for Davante Adams, connected with the wide receiver for five yards, and then missed him near midfield on third down.

J.K. Scott ended each failed enterprise with a punt.

Packers head coach Matt LaFleur at practice.
(Eric Goska photo)
Negative first quarters are rare for the Packers. When they do occur, however, they don’t always foreshadow a loss.

Thursday in Chicago was the 11th time since 1942 that Green Bay has finished with fewer than zero yards in an opening quarter. The team is 5-6 in those games.

The Packers last started underwater on Dec. 14, 1986. After producing minus-3 yards on eight first-quarter plays in Tampa Bay, the team rebounded and dispatched the Buccaneers 21-7.

The Green and Gold’s worst opening quarter in the previous 76 years took place on Oct. 26, 1975 in Milwaukee. The team generated minus-19 yards on six plays and succumbed 16-13 to the Steelers.

Green Bay last began on the wrong side of zero against the Bears most probably on Sept. 29, 1946. Ted Fritsch gained little and Herman Rohrig went backwards to produce minus-1 yards (unofficially) on three rushing attempts. Chicago romped 30-7.

Of course, misfiring early can be demoralizing. The best remedy is to shrug off such sluggishness as quickly as possible.

Green Bay did just enough in the final three quarters to subdue the Bears. Rodgers and Graham connected on an 8-yard scoring pass early in the second quarter. Mason Crosby booted a 39-yard field goal with 5:15 left in the game.

Thanks to a tremendous defensive effort, those two scores carried the day. The Packers last beat the Bears with 10 or fewer points on the road when they triumphed 2-0 on the strength of a Tom Nash safety at Wrigley Field on Oct. 16, 1932.

Over the course of the final three quarters Thursday, the Packers produced 225 yards of offense on 48 plays (4.69 per play). The Bears collected 212 yards (4.42) on the same number of snaps over the same span.

Green Bay’s early struggles followed on the heels of a preseason in which the team rarely played its starters. Just how much that approach contributed to its rustiness is a debate that will surely continue.

What we know with more certainty is that LaFleur’s first quarter was likely the least productive season-opening period in franchise history. It surpassed the minus-9 yards the Packers managed on three plays in a 19-14 loss to the Rock Island Independents to kick off the 1922 campaign.

Negative yardage aside, LaFleur’s opening act will long be remembered for a far different reason. In taming the Monsters of the Midway, LeFleur joins Gene Ronzani, Vince Lombardi and Dan Devine as the only Green Bay head coaches to have defeated the Bears when meeting them for the first time

LeFleur and Devine are the only to have registered that victory on the road. LeFleur and Lombardi are the only to have done it in a season opener.

Extra Point
For the first time ever, the Packers (47 yards) and Bears (46) both rushed for fewer than 50 yards in the same game.

Negatively Charged
Since 1942, the 11 games in which the Packers have generated negative first-quarter yardage.