Thursday, January 19, 2017

What It Means: Rams Hire Wade Phillips to be Defensive Coordinator

LOOKING AHEAD
By John Turney
Will Wink (Over)   Credit: NFLReplay
Sam Sink (Under)  Credit: NFL Replay
The Rams officially hired Wade Phillips to run their defense. Among some Rams fans there are questions of what he will do to a defense that was drafted and coached to be a 4-3 defense and Phillips has used a 3-4 defense most of his career, the only exception was when he ran the Eagles defense under Buddy Ryan in the late-1980s when he ran Ryan's 4-3 defense with its 46 iteration.

The last time the Rams moved from a 4-3 to a 3-4 was in 1983 when then-defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur installed a two-gap 3-4 defense. The decision was made by new head coach John Robinson to  go with the 3-4 because he and Shurmur felt that there were more good young linebackers than good young defensive linemen. So, they shipped of 4-3 defensive tackles Mike Fanning and Cody Jones and traded for Gary Jeter a 3-4 defensive end.

The transition worked well in stopping the run as the Rams allowed an average of 3.61 yards a carry from 1983-86, the first four years in the system, and best in the NFL in that span. However, they were 14th in the NFL in sacking the quarterback in that same time frame.

THAT WAS THEN
Shurmur's alignments were listed in consecutive numbers, most commonly used in college, but some teams adopt this. It means the nose is a 0-technique and the defensive ends (called tackles in Shurmur's scheme) are head up in a 5-techmique.
The most-used base call was "Ram". There would be times that some pressure would be taken off the defensive linemen, who had to two-gap in Ram by calling a slant, so the call may be Ram-slant-3, meaning cover-3. Usually, though the tackles (Jack Youngblood and Reggie Doss) and the nose (usally Greg Meisner or Charles DeJurnett) had to read-and-react. Youngblood and Doss were required to knock the tackle back and if the flow was to them they took the outside gap and if the play was away they had the inside gap. 

The Rams also ran "Under" front quite a lot. They had other fronts we won't show like "Even", "Flop", and "Ram Flop" and "Eagle". But they just were not employed as much as Under and Ram. Here is a look at the Under.

These are a few of the techniques for the tackles, the 5 and 6 techniques. An experienced player, like Youngblood, was given some leeway to align in  6-technique but he was still required to knock the offensive tackle back and read the play, though Youngblood will tell you Shurmur and defensive line coach Marv Goux preferred the head-up 5-technique for the tackles.




THIS IS NOW
Wade Phillips's defense is not like that, at least not anymore, Phillips insists that he adjusts his defense based on the skills of his players. With Aaron Donald, he will still play 3-technique, the same as he did in Gregg Williams's 4-3. He won't be required to two-gap, for example. He'll just have one gap to control.

Phillips uses the classic numbering system for defensive line techniques. So, head-up on a tackle is a 4-technique (a 5-technique in the consecutive system) and outside shoulder of a tackle is a 5-technqiue (a 6-tech in consecutive system). The term "shade" is used for either side of the center whereas the 0 strong or 0 weak are used in the consecutive system.
This is the base defense in the Phillips system that he stated in the above video he doesn't use anymore. As you can see it's similar to the Shurmur "Ram" defense. The ends (called tackles in Shurmur's system) are head-up as is the nose.  Neither of the inside linebackers (Mike and Mo) are covered up, meaning the do, in this alignment, have to take on a guard if need be and flow to the ball.

This is what will be used in Los Angeles. The end here is a 3-technique and has one gap to control. The nose is in a shade alignment and the weak end or open end in a 5-technique, all one-gap assignments since this is a 3-4 one-gap system when aligned this way. It is no different that a 4-3 undershifted defense.
This is essentially the mirror of Sam Sink. Again, there is a shade, a 3-tech and a 5-tech, same as a 4-3. One of the OLBers (Sam or Will) acts as a defensive end for all intents and purposes. Again, it is no different than a 4-3 overshifted defense with the exception of who may or may not have their hand in the dirt in 3-point stance.
What Phillips can and will likely do is switch Aaron Donald from side to side depending if it's a Sink or Wink and always play the 3-technque. Michael Brockers can stay as a shade technique, which he has been playing since 2014. Robert Quinn does not have to stand up, he can play with his hand in the dirt and play the Will position. Alec Ogletree will remain the Mike and Mark Barron can play the Mo backer, which Phillips says is in the above video more of the "coverage linebacker". The 5-technqiue can be handled by Ethan Westbrooks or William Hayes and even Brockers at times if they choose to put Cam Thomas as a shade to spell Brockers.

What Ram fans may be concerned with is who will play the Sam backer spot. In Denver it's Von Miller. The Raiders, who run a similar scheme, use Khalil Mack. The Rams don't have that kind of player on the roster. They will likely draft someone to play that position and/or sign a Chandler Jones or a Nick Perry or a Melvin Ingram, all of whom were double-digit sackers and all UFAs this off-season.

In an era where almost all offensive and defensive schemes are hybrids, borrowing from other schemes and melded together the 3-4 one gap won't hurt what the Rams vaunted defensive line can do. There may be questions here and there as to whether Quinn, when called upon, can cover, which he will have to do a little bit to mix up games and stunts and blitzes that are needed in trying to confuse NFL offenses, but by and large the only questions would be how they list the players. That is if Donald will remain a "tackle" on paper or called an end, which the playbooks calls for. And if Quinn will be listed as an end or a linebacker.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

PFJ Honors

AWARDS
By John Turney

Here are the results of our staff poll for NFL MVP, Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year, Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year, Comeback Player of the Year and Coach of the Year.

MVP-  QB Matt Ryan, Falcons
OPOY- RB Le’Veon Bell, Steelers
DPOY- DE Khalil Mack, Raiders
Offensive Rookie- RB Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys
Defensive Rookie- DE Joey Bosa, Chargers
Comeback POY- WR Jordy Nelson, Packers
Coach of Year-  Bill Belichick, Patriots

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Defensive Dominance: Steelers 1972-76 and Bears 1984-88

LOOKING BACK
By T.J. Troup
Before the story for today an update:  For the 47th consecutive year there was at least one road victory in the playoffs and with the Packers & Steelers winning yesterday that streak continues.
Since I mentioned the Steelers they are the beginning the saga of dominant defense.

Previous to Pittsburgh becoming a power in 1972 there were many, many teams that played championship defense, yet as PFJ's impressive chart from his story on January 4th points out rarely did a team lead in all categories across the board.
Click to enlarge:
 Chuck Noll had a strong defensive background before becoming the Steelers head coach in 1969 and the building blocks were added with each season; starting of course with Charles Edward Greene. There have been many teams with talent, and effective coaching. What separated the Steelers from all the other outstanding defenses was the lethal combination of talent and scheme.
oll learned under Shula in Baltimore that a double zone coverage was not only possible, but viable. Having only two men in coverage deep was a work in progress, and the Steelers did not align in what is known as Cover-2 on every down.

Why did this coverage work? The first element was the pass rush from a front four that did not need a blitzes to be effective. Did the Steelers blitz? Of course, yet was even more effective since they seldom did it. Teaching to the weakness of the coverage is an element that all successful coaches subscribe to. The MIDDLE of the field is open!
Can the offense get a receiver to that area, and will he have time to deliver the ball? Greene supplied relentless pressure up the middle, with Dwight White and L.C. Greenwood coming hard from the outside.

Jack Ham, though, was the key to success. A strong side linebacker that could "shiver" the tight end upon his attempted release, and at times actually cover the tight end man to man all over the field. Ham was simply the best-ever linebacker in pass coverage. He also could rotate in zone, and of course take the back out of the backfield in whatever coverage defensive coordinator Bud Carson and Noll asked of him.
Film study of Ham in 1972 is eye-popping as he ranked among the NFL leaders in interceptions. The road playoff victory over one of the best Raider teams of all-time in '194 again demonstrates Ham's contribution.

Andy Russell contributed on the weak side, and Henry Davis was adequate in coverage. When the lean, lanky "Dracula in cleats" joined Pittsburgh in 1974 the underneath pass coverage took on a new element. With Lamberrt, a middle linebacker with speed, height, and discipline he made throwing over the middle a new challenge due to the trajectory of the pass.
Mel Blount continued to improve, and he responded to his benching in 1974 against Oakland with a shut-down season in '75. Rowser needed to be replaced at left corner and JT Thomas was a smaller version of Blount, but learned his lessons quickly.
The Steelers team MVP in 1974 was "Knotty Pine" Glen Edwards as he had finally won the job at right safety on a full-time basis(shared position with Ralph Anderson earlier), and Mike Wagner was a tough tackling very disciplined savvy ball hawk at left safety.

When a team wins as often as Pittsburgh did from 1972-76 there must be a reason, or reasons. Black & Gold became a perfect storm. From lynch pin Greene in his cocked stance in the 4-3 to linebackers who could run and tackle, to a secondary that understood the concepts given they were truly a curtain . . .in fact sometimes a "Steel Curtain" in defending the talented offenses that came a calling. They remain the bench mark to be measured by.

The Los Angeles Rams under the impressive coaching of Chuck Knox and defesnsive coordnator Ray Malavasi did lead in one category during this time frame. As strong as the Ram defense was during this time period, they still cannot measure up to Pittsburgh.

What about Dallas? Washington? Miami? Minnesota? yes, all of them were truly excellent on defense, but just not the pinnacle.
The Chicago Bear defensive players impassioned plea to the papa bear to retain James "Buddy" Ryan was the combustible mixture of Ryan and Mike Ditka in Chicago. Rather than discuss personalities, let us deal with the talent and concept on the field from 1984 to 88.

Ryan's background with the Jets and Vikings convinced him that defenses must not only adapt and adjust during a game that they must control the tempo if at all possible. While that is a sound bite everyone would listen to the question is 'Ccan you do it'? Alan Page was in the final stages of his career, yet he could still shoot a gap and must be accounted for. Young improving Dan Hampton was a match-up nighmare  when aligned on the center.
The key though was Page's replacement in "Mongo" Steve McMichael the most under appreciated defensive tackle of his era, and Richard Dent's value as the starting right defensive end gave Ryan the front four he needed and savored.

The Bear linebacking corps from 1978-82 was adequate, yet not near as athletic and fast as Buddy wanted. Otis Wilson slowly developed, and first Al Harris, then dominant Wilbur Marshall manned the right side when aligned there. Oh? you don't have to have both outside linebackers on opposite sides? Marshall & Wilson aligned on the tight end side, with many, MANY possible combinations of assignments.

Mike Singletary learned his lessons well and became the best middle linebacker in the league during this time frame. The linebackers did have coverage responsibilities, since the Bears did not blitz every down, but the linebacking corps was so much better in attack mode. The secondary has never gotten the respect they deserved, and though they were not the best in the league (Seattle was) they were top notch and did their jobs under immense pressure of man coverage with virtually little help from the safeties.

No help from the safeties? Why? Doug Plank wore jersey #46 thus the catchy nickname of the defense. Basically an 8-man front aligned so different from defenses of the past. over shifted to the tight end side, with a safety in the "C" gap weak-side. The middle linebacker protected with the center and both guards "covered".
No center in the league could consistently block Dan Hampton, thus Samurai Mike could roam side line to side line. Ryan dialed up a myriad of alignments and blitzes, many which had not been seen before established the tempo. Could a quarterback read the coverages (usually some form of man or combination zone and man)? YES! Does the QB have time to throw? That became key.

Finally in the middle of the field is the premier combination of brains and tackling ability. Gary Fencik would be considered an over achiever, yet he did earn a pro bowl berth at strong safety, and now aligned in the middle of the field he adjusted to what the opponent pass offense was doing. Pressure from the outside, the best middle linebacker with a future hall of fame nose guard in Hampton in front of him, and behind him one of the smartest safeties in league history who just did not miss tackles.

A navy blue & burnt orange perfect storm on the carpet in the city of big shoulders. Ryan left after '85 yet the next three seasons under Vince Tobin the Bears still played outstanding defense. No, not nearly as much in the 46 alignment, usually a traditional 4-3. Talent is talent, and except for Fencik and Todd Bell (replaced by valuable Dave Duerson) leaving the line-up.  The many corners who played were all adequate with the exception of Les Frazier, as he was excellent.
Since today is Dave Brown's birthday (he left us way too soon). He ties this package together. He was a special teams dynamo with the champion Steelers in 1975. He joined the fledgling Seahawks in 1976 and remained a key figure in the teams rise to a playoff team in 1983. Brown was a smooth moving, physical corner strong in man coverage, yet stellar in zone, he was joined by ballhawk John Harris and the best strong safety of his era the vicious Kenny Easley at strong safety. A defensive passer rating of 58.7 for a 5 year period in the mid-1980's? Not only unheard of, but amazing. Seattle has sure had their moments during the past 5 years, yet they pale to the Steelers of 1972-76 and the Bears of 1984-88.

The Cleveland Rams: The NFL Champs Who Left Too Soon, 1936-1945

BOOK REVIEW
By John Turney
Wow, I just finished the McFarland Books volume The Cleveland Rams: The NFL Champs Who Left Too Soon, 1936-1945 a new book by James C. Sulecki and I was impressed. If you are into NFL history, this one will give you more information than you thought possible on the Cleveland Rams. The end notes, bibliography, and index are over fifty pages in length. I am not sure I've seen a better-researched football book. There are some that equal this, but I honestly cannot say any surpass the work of Sulecki.
 Note: Photos in this post are not in book, they are PFJ Colorizations 
In this volume Sulecki details the first iteration of the Rams, the time in Cleveland that preceded Los Angeles, then St. Louis, then Los Angeles. It was a team that began as an expansion team in 1937 and won an NFL Championship in 1945 with a rookie quarterback, Bob Waterfield, who was also the NFL MVP. And soon after that left Cleveland for sunny Southern California.

Note: Photos in this post are not in book, they are PFJ Colorizations 

It is also detailed in this book the move from the American Football League to the National Football League in 1937, something I had always had questions about. It also reviews the failures of Cleveland professional football in the previous decade and a half, which is also informative.
Note: Photos in this post are not in book, they are PFJ Colorizations 
Also of note is the lost season of 1943 which the Rams missed due to World War II and their players being dispersed to other teams that year.

Sulecki also does nice profiles of the Rams star players like Johnny Drake, Parker Hall, the NFL MVP in 1939 as a rookie, Waterfield, and others.

The book is illustrated with black and white photos, images of game programs, official Cleveland Rams and NFL documents, and charts which are a nice added touch. Th final chapters document the 1945 championship season and has a nice appendix of "What Became of Select Individuals" that describes where some of the key figures in the Cleveland-era ended up and what they became or accomplished.
Note: Photos in this post are not in book, they are PFJ Colorizations 

So, have to say, I liked it very much. One of the better football books and one that could challenge for a spot in Chris Willis's Top 100 Pro Football Books of All-Time: Part Five - 20-1 at some point in the future when Chris updates his series.

Note: Photos in this post are not in book, they are PFJ Colorization
On a scale of 1-10, I rate this one as a 9 . . . very well done.

You can get it at the above link or  HERE or 1-800-253-2187

Monday, January 16, 2017

2016 PFWA All-Pro Teams

AWARDS
By John Turney
The Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) have released their annual All-NFL team along with the All-AFC and All-NFC teams. Since 1966 the PFWA has polled their members and released these teams and in 1970 and 1971 they were the only official NFL All-Pro teams. The PFWA is one of four All-Pro teams accepted by the NFL and NFLPA in it's 2011 CBA in determine contract bonuses for post-season honors. The PFWA is made up of accredited writers who cover the NFL and the 32 teams daily.

2016 PFWA ALL-NFL TEAM
Offense
QB – Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
RB – Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys; David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals
WR – Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers; Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
TE – Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
C – Travis Frederick, Dallas Cowboys
G – Zack Martin, Dallas Cowboys; Kelechi Osemele, Oakland Raiders
T – Tyron Smith, Dallas Cowboys; Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns

Defense
DE – Jadeveon Clowney, Houston Texans; Khalil Mack, Oakland Raiders
DT – Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams; Damon Harrison, New York Giants
OLB – Vic Beasley, Atlanta Falcons; Von Miller, Denver Broncos
MLB – Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks
CB – Marcus Peters, Kansas City Chiefs; Aqib Talib, Denver Broncos
S – Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs; Landon Collins, New York Giants

Special Teams
PK – Justin Tucker, Baltimore Ravens
P – Johnny Hekker, Los Angeles Rams
KR – Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnesota Vikings
PR – Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs
ST – Matthew Slater, New England Patriots

2016 PFWA ALL-AFC TEAM
Offense
QB – Tom Brady, New England Patriots
RB – Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers, DeMarco Murray, Tennessee Titans
WR – Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers; T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts
TE – Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
C – Rodney Hudson, Oakland Raiders
G – Kelechi Osemele, Oakland Raiders; Marshal Yanda, Baltimore Ravens
T – Donald Penn, Oakland Raiders; Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns

Defense
DE – Jadeveon Clowney, Houston Texans; Khalil Mack, Oakland Raiders
DT – Geno Atkins, Cincinnati Bengals; Ndamukong Suh, Miami Dolphins
OLB – Lorenzo Alexander, Buffalo Bills; Von Miller, Denver Broncos&
MLB – Dont’a Hightower, New England Patriots
CB – Marcus Peters, Kansas City Chiefs; Aqib Talib, Denver Broncos
S – Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs; Devin McCourty, New England Patriots

Special Teams
PK – Justin Tucker, Baltimore Ravens
P – Pat McAfee, Indianapolis Colts
KR – Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs
PR – Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs
ST – Matthew Slater, New England Patriots

2016 PFWA ALL-NFC TEAM
Offense
QB – Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
RB – Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys; David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals
WR – Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants; Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
TE – Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers
C – Travis Frederick, Dallas Cowboys
G – T.J. Lang, Green Bay Packers; Zack Martin, Dallas Cowboys
T – Tyron Smith, Dallas Cowboys; Trent Williams, Washington Redskins

Defense
DE – Cliff Avril, Seattle Seahawks; Brandon Graham, Philadelphia Eagles
DT – Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams; Damon Harrison, New York Giants
OLB – Vic Beasley, Atlanta Falcons; Ryan Kerrigan, Washington Redskins
MLB – Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks
CB – Janoris Jenkins, New York Giants; Patrick Peterson, Arizona Cardinals
S – Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Green Bay Packers; Landon Collins, New York Giants

Special Teams
PK – Matt Bryant, Atlanta Falcons
P – Johnny Hekker, Los Angeles Rams
KR – Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnesota Vikings
PR – Marcus Sherels, Minnesota Vikings
ST – Dwayne Harris, New York Giants


Jerry Lewis and the Los Angeles Rams for Muscular Dystrophy

LOOKING BACK
By John Turney

In 1956  a few of the LA Rams, including Hall of Famer Les Richter participated in a short presentation to support Jerry Lewis's cause. With the emphasis these days on NFL players and their ccharitable service, it's good to note they are continuing a tradition that goes back the football's early days.





Super Bowl Media Day: January 1978 and January 2016

LOOKING BACK
By John Turney

The top photo is from Super Bowl XII and you can see a few Denver Broncos players standing around a field with some writers in trenchcoats all around. 

The bottom photo is from last January. My #TimesHaveChanged.