Friday, February 23, 2018

Next Gen Stats Adds Hurries To Its List of Stats

By John Turney
Hurries in some form have been in the NFL lexicon since at least the late 1960s. In 1967 the Rams coaches credited Deacon Jones with 100 hurries, which presumably included the 26 sacks they credited him with. Recent research by Pro Football Journal (PFJ) reveals that Jones had 5 fewer sacks than that in 1967 but that is another story for another day.
In 1971 when Alan Page won the Associated Press (AP) NFL MVP Award the accompanying article mentioned he had 42 "hurries" that season and that it was a "new stat".
All through the next forty or so years coaches stats have recorded some form of hurries or "pressures". The Cowboys, Jets, Lions, Bears, and just about every team kept track of these stats. Some were kept internally, others were published in media releases or media guides.

In the 2000s a few organizations began to tote hurries and/or pressures. Among them are Football Outsiders, Stats, LLC, Pro Football Focus, NFLGSIS and now NFL's "Next Gen Stats". Pro Football Focus (PFF) states, "Sacks are, at least up until Pro Football Focus came onto the scene, how we judged pass-rushers". Well, that's provably dubious since if one is diligent they could find hurries/pressures stats from many team media guides of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. PFF does a fine job but they were not first in using esoteric stats (such as hits, hurries, or pressures) apart from sacks to look at the effectiveness of pass rushers. Coaches got there long ago and NFL beat writers often published those or used them when they chose All-Pro teams.

Additionally, sacks were only part of how pass rushers were judged pre-PFF because back in the day pass rushers were also judged on how they played the run. Not in all cases, but often, the All-Pro defensive ends, tackles and outside linebackers were the ones who could stop the run as well as the pass. This was especially true in the personal All-Pro teams of writers such as Paul Zimmerman (more on him later in the post), Gordon Forbes, Larry Felser, and others. 

Next Gen Stats in the NFL's own creation and describes itself as "NFL's Next Gen Stats captures real-time location data, speed, and acceleration for every player, every play on every inch of the field."

The following chart shows the career stats of 2017 AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald
(click to enlarge)

Elias Sports Bureau and Stats, LLC. are the usual sources for tackles and assists used by Fox Sports, ESPN, and Pro Football However, the Rams coaches also tally tackles and sacks as does PFF. We have shown them in the above chart.

Outlined in red are the various forms of hits, hurries, and pressures by the known sources.

In 2014 Rams coaches credited Donald with 12 hits and 32 pressures. NFLGSIS credited him with 13 QB hits (and that includes sacks sans forced fumbles so it is really a different animal). PFF shows him with six QB hits, 28 pressures and adds his nine sacks for 43 total "pressures". Football Outsiders (FO) shows five hits and 21 hurries for a total of 26 "hits plus hurries" and add the 9 sacks and it is a final total of 35.  

In 2017 we don't have FOs totals year, they are released in the late spring or summer. NFLGSIS shows 27 quarterback hits which again, includes sacks minus the sacks that resulted in a forced fumble so the "net total" is 18 according to Nick Webster of (PFJ). PFF has a line of 12 sacks, 13 hits, 66 hurries for a total of 91 pressures. Rams coaches had 27 hits but did not record pressures in 2017 after the previous staff did record them from 2014-17. Stats, LLC., had a 36.5 total for hurries.

Actually, when you take the time to do an apples-to-apples comparison the numbers are not that far off, it's simply a difference of opinions on likely a small number of plays. For example in 2015 the Rams coaches gave Donald 29 hits. NFLGSIS, minus the sacks would be 26 hits. PFF had 25 and Football Outsiders had 27. So, there is a margin of four on "hits". And since hits are fairly easy to define from looking at the All-22 coaches film, you can see that they generally agree within a fair margin of error. And that is reasonably consistenthroughoutut the years for which we have data.

Also in 2017 is the aforementioned newcomer, Nex Gen Stats. They totaled 65 pressures for Donald. In a nice change, Nex Gen Stats gave an explanation and expresses that their pressures are based on actual measurements based on sensors in the player uniforms.

Here is the explanation.
Years ago we had a "hurries" discussion with Paul "Dr. Z" Zimmerman. He would say "nothing happened" on a play when a rusher hurries the quarterback and still completed the pass. He felt that a hurry should only count if it negatively impacted the play.

And he has a point. On "The Catch"—the famous play when Joe Montana hit Dwight Clark there were three Cowboys defenders in Montana's face. It can be argued through film study which were closest (within two yards) or who came late, but the question is valid—Should D.D. Lewis, Ed Jones and Larry Bethea be credited with a "hurry" or "pressure"? Many would say yes, Zim said, "no".

Defensive line coaches are sure that if they player did his job, like the trio of Cowboys they get credit. We've spoken to many of them. Jack Youngblood will tell you "(I)t's still pressure" referring to if the pass is completed. 

In Dr. Z's incredible article in the September 1, 1982, issue of  Sports Illustrated he gleaned this great quote from Al "Bubba" Baker concerning this subject. "We figure 500 hurries equals one sack" in a big sense downgrading the value of a sack to defensive linemen. In that same article Zim quoted the Jets defensive line coach as having a statistic called a "spook" which is when one defensive lineman hurries a quarterback into another's arms and the second guy gets the credit for the sack, which happens a lot.

When I first interview Deacon Jones in Calgary in the early 1990s he told us, "I'd rather have 40 hurries and no sacks (in a game) than 3 sacks and no hurries. Because if I am in your ass 40 times, you are going to lose the game". So sufficeth it to say he thought hurries were more important that Bubba Baker did.

Side Bar—not sure why defensive linemen are into the "ass" of the quarterback. Zimmerman had a few ideas on that as well. Here is another example, aside from the Jones quote above, it is a fairly recent Facebook post from Leonard Marshall about he and Lawrence Taylor about to presumably sack some quarterbacks. The verbiage can speak for itself.

Now back to the main topic—
Over the years we've tallied some hurries as well and have used the John Levra approach. Levra was a defensive line coach for the Bears, Vikings, and Bills, coaching up Dan Hampton, Richard Dent, John Randle, Bruce Smith and others. In his book  "Coaching Defensive Lineman" outlined his methodology which is this:

Sacks is the highest level of the rush. Quarterback knockdowns are when a quarterback is on the ground after a pass play as the result of a hit which does not result in a penalty. A quarterback hit is hitting the quarterback legally but is not knocked to the ground. A hurry is when the quarterback is affected when he is throwing. Levra gave point values for those as well as for tackles, forced fumbles, holding penalties drawn and also for a "nasty". 

What is a nasty? Well, in today's quarterback protecting game it is not too politically correct but it is knocking an opposing player out of the game (predominately the quarterback) presumably legally though it was not specifically mentioned.

Here are the totals for Jack Youngblood in 1983 and 1984 using that methodology.

Like the Next Gen Stats the sacks and knockdowns and hits are definitive, there is no question as the result of the play. If the QB is hit, he is hit. If he's sacked he's sacked. If he's knocked down he's knocked down. The only grey area is the hurries, which is subjective, as are the hurries of FO, PFF, Stats, LLC, etc.

But always remember, even though pressure is very important and the pass rushers we've quoted prove tha there is more to a sack. A guy who gets a lot of hurries but cannot get a reasonable number of sacks has "(W)arning track power" according to Youngblood. So, "get all the hurries you can" but you are "paid to put the quarterback on his back".

So, how many hurries or pressures did Aaron Donald have in 2017 or in his career? Depends on who you ask.

This post was updated 2/24/18

Friday, February 9, 2018

THE '66 GIANTS KNEW WHAT WAS COMING: They Just Couldn't Stop It

By TJ. Troup
Allie Sherman, credit Alchertron
The title comes from a quote from outstanding announcer Jack Whitaker from the NFL Films series Game of the Week from 1966. These shows were about 25 minutes in length and detailed each team each week. Having so much film to study was/is a joy—that is if you enjoy evaluating old football film.

Why a story on the New York football Giants defense of 1966? There are legendary defenses in league history (none in today's NFL), and the names of those defenders roll off the tongue and bring to mind visuals of men who just played the game at an elite level. This will not be true of the Giants in '66. How did this team fall so far so fast? Here is the answer, and oh yes some background.

Tom Landry became one of the truly best defensive coordinators in the late 1950's. From 1956 through 1959, in 48 games, the stalwart defenders from NY gave up just 79 offensive touchdowns (35 rushing & 44 passing). Landry gets the Dallas job in 1960 and for the next four years, we begin to see cracks in the plaster of the Giants defense.

Though they have some strong games, and at times play excellent pass defense; New York allows 134 offensive touchdowns (41 rushing & 83 passing) in 54 games. The Giants usually rank among the leaders in sacks and defensive passer rating, and are more than adequate in stopping the run. Led by Hall of Famers Andy Robustelli and Sam Huff they sure could bring the Yankee Stadium faithful to their feet with chants of "Dee-fense"!

Head Coach Allie Sherman has been honored more than once, and the New York offense is superb as the Giants appear in the title game three times in a row. Sherman's creative offense is his forte and though he claims to understand defense and personnel, there is a dramatic drop-off in 1964. When a division champion plummets to 2-10-2 and looses their last six games many a coach would lose his job. Sherman does not, and New York rebounds in 1965 to climb into contention for a berth in the now-defunct Playoff bowl with a record of 7-6 but the loss to Dallas and Landry (some irony there) 38-20 at home to close the season should have been a telling tale.
Pete Gogolak 
Each August would purchase my Street & Smith's Pro Football Preview magazine (still have them all), and delight in reading the evaluation of each team for the upcoming season. Let us venture into the pages of the 1966 magazine for the write-up on New York. The write-up begins with Hugh Brown telling us about the offense and the improvement in '65, and shows a picture of Pete Gogolak the kicker (a dramatic improvement is expected in this area in '66). Quote from Sherman, "(I)f we had a kicker like Gogolak we would have won two or three more games last season" & "with Pete kicking and a year of maturity on the part of the Giants' youngsters, I expect a better season than last". What else would you expect than optimism from the man in charge?

Hugh Brown begins the next paragraph with "defense could be Sherman's biggest problem". Truer words were never written. Brown mentions changes coming to the defensive line, and then states the following, "the linebackers are sophomores Olen Underwood and Jim Carroll with veteran Jerry Hillebrand in the middle, and the best of the lot".
Now that the background is complete here we go to the dark, dismal land known as the Giants defense of '66. Opening day in Pittsburgh who has a new coach in former Giant offensive guard Bill Austin. The starters are as follows: left defensive end veteran star Jim Katcavage. He will play virtually every down all season and lead the team in sacks with at least 6 (missing a few so he might have a couple more). Playing at 237 lbs is a challenge for Jim in playing off blocks to defend the run, and over the years he has lost speed in pursuit, yet he is by far the best defensive lineman on the team.

Left defensive tackle Jim Prestel has size and strength, but he failed to keep a job with the expansion Vikings. He is not very effective as a pass rusher, and is easily blocked on many running plays. Prestel starts the first five games, then rotates in the rest of the year in his only year as a Giant. The man who plays the most at left defensive tackle is #74 Jim Moran who is coming off a season of injury. He plays hard, but also has difficulty shedding blocks and is not very effective in pursuit. He records 2½ sacks during the campaign.
Glen Condren
The opening day starter at right defensive tackle is rookie Willie Young. he comes off the bench in week two, and then moves to the offensive line. He is quick, agile, and gives an effort, yet he struggles to shed blocks thus his transition to offense. Most of the year the starter at right defensive tackle is second-year man Glen Condren. Glen also starts at defensive end during the second half of the year for a couple of games. He always gives an effort, but is not very athletic or agile. Condren records just 1½ sacks but does make the team in '67 as the right defensive end. Listed in the media guide as the starter at right tackle is #76 Don Davis in his only year (listed as #73 in the guide?). He has size, but is just not what a team needs though he does start four games the second half of the year when Condren goes to defensive end.

Second-year man Rosey Davis starts against Pittsburgh at right defensive end, and remains the starter for the first half of the year. Davis has size, and moves well, he just is not much of a pass rusher, and struggles defeating any and all blocks. Coming off the bench during the year at right defensive end is Jim Garcia (his only year) until he is injured late in the year and plays in ten games.

Film study shows he should have been the starter all year instead of Davis. He sheds blocks well, is excellent in pursuit, and always hustles. Garcia started two games. The last day of the season #84 Bill Matan starts at right defensive end (he plays three games during the year). Matan is virtually invisible against Dallas. Overall with the exception of Katcavage this is group is going to be blocked and run upon all year.

Now to the one of the worst linebacking corps in league history. There is no Olen Underwood playing for the Giants in '66, and Bill Swain is injured. Looking at the draft in '66 everyone will no doubt see that with the exception of Tommy Nobis, this is not a strong linebacker draft; thus of the 27 rookies listed on the Giants roster in Street & Smith's only one linebacker—Jeff Smith; more on him later.

Jim Carroll starts opening day against the black & gold at left (strong side) linebacker. He is sent packing after one game to Washington. What are the expectations of a first-round draft choice of the Giants in '62?
Jerry Hillebrand have been given every chance to play the strong side, and now in '66 he is again expected to play middle linebacker as a starter for the second year in a row. He has size, and excellent speed for a big man. He starts the first four games of '66 at MLB and then moves to left linebacker for the rest of the season. Total Football lists him as playing in 11 games, but I have seen him on film in at least 13 games (he did not play in the loss to Atlanta). Hillebrand is asked to blitz often and never gets to the quarterback. Centers make the difficult "cut off" block look routine when blocking Hillebrand on run plays between the tackles. Playing strong side linebacker he is much, much better, and plays the pass adequately in zone coverage. He lacks the raw speed for man coverage, and since the Giants blitz so often, he is not required to cover backs very often, yet when he is asked, he is usually out of position. This is his last year as a Giant.

The starting right or weak side linebacker is one of the most fascinating stories in Giant history in '66. Larry Vargo had played safety for both the Lions & Vikings, and lost his starting job in Minnesota. He had never played linebacker before, and though listed at 215 lbs., he sure does not look that big on film. He has enough speed, yet struggles in pursuit. Vargo takes brutally poor angles in chasing the man with the ball, and though he can put some pressure on the quarterback (he records 2 sacks), he is a liability. He plays seven games in his only year in New York.

Stan Sczurek comes to the Giants from Cleveland and though he does not start he does a creditable job in tackling during his time on the field at outside linebacker. Late in the season big, fast Freeman White is given an opportunity to play outside linebacker. He is almost always out of position, struggles in pursuit, and though he has excellent speed for a big man he cannot cover anyone. Due to his size and athleticism, he will stay with the team through 1969 and tried at more than one position. Using the old adage of "looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane".

When Hillebrand is moved to strong side linebacker, he is replaced at MLB by rookie Mike Ciccolella. Mike struggles all year, and though he blitzes much of the time, he never records a sack. He will be replaced in 1967 by Vince Costello. Ciccolella would be considered bench strength, and that is being kind. To quote Casey Stengel is there "anyone here who can play this here damn game?" Yes, Casey, rookie Jeff Smith can.

Smith plays both weak and strong side during the campaign. He blitzed very effectively, and at times is even adept in coverage. Smith has excellent quickness, and can fight off a block. Film study shows him making tackles in the opponents backfield on running plays. He even aligns as an inside linebacker in the 3-4 defense, and with his hand on the ground as a defensive tackle. Though he has much to learn, the youngster from USC should have been brought back in '67, but was not?

The last line of defense; the secondary. For many seasons New York played outstanding team pass defense, with superb performances by the likes of Jimmy Patton, Erich Barnes, and Dick Lynch. Patton is at the end of the line in his 12th season. He usually plays when the opponent is knocking on the door of the end zone. Though known for his speed and toughness he just does not make many tackles. He finishes his career at home against Dallas in Yankee Stadium playing virtually the whole game. Patton just does not have it anymore, and his days as a deep centerfielder playing the pass are gone as he is never asked to do this in the current Giant scheme.
Dick Lynch wrote an interesting book detailing the season of '65, but in '66 he plays in seven games (he starts at left corner instead of right against the Rams in November). Dick has lost what speed he had, and though savvy—it is not enough to get him on the field or help his team in his last year. Erich Barnes was traded to Cleveland before the '65 season, and his replacement at left corner is the sole Pro Bowl defender on the Giants. Carl "Spider" Lockhart is a lean, combative, speedy defender. A willing tackler when asked, he has no problem with pursuit across the field. Though he is more than adequate as a zone defender; the Giants usually are in man coverage. Lockhart battles them all, and though he does give up touchdowns, he can take the ball away. The "Spider" is by far the best New York defensive player, but alas that is not saying very much.

The opposite corner for most of the campaign is Clarence Childs. Swift, and fearless, he always gives an effort either run or pass, yet he is just not a quality corner, and is does not start the last game of the year against Dallas. Childs never learns to defend a double move by a receiver.  He is replaced by the starting right safety Henry Carr. Being the free safety on a defense that is in man coverage usually tells us he has the back out of the backfield man to man, or is in deep center field. Carr has blazing speed, but many times he is out of position. He can make a play, and is an adequate tackler, yet maybe he is better served as a right corner?

Wendell Harris was given every opportunity to start for Don Shula in Baltimore, but he is now in New York attempting to play left safety. A quality left or strong safety must be a strong run defender on the "force" which is attacking the wide sweep. In man coverage he must be physical enough to handle a bigger man in the tight end, and of course he must be a demon in pursuit. Wendell H. is none of these. Amazingly he will return in '67 to start. Many times during the woeful season of '66 he is replaced by rookie Phil Harris. In fact Phil H. starts a few games, and even replaces Wendell and plays more of the game. He attempts to be physical in his only year, but is easily beaten on pass routes.

The secondary coach for New York is Hall of Famer Emlen Tunnell, and this group was sometimes referred to as "Emlen's Gremlins". The Giants finished dead last in the defensive passer rating category (97.2). The league average is 67.4.

So, who attempted to coordinate this debacle? Allie Sherman brings aboard Frank "Pop" Ivy who has failed in head coaching opportunities with the Chicago Cardinals and Houston Oilers. His background would be considered by many to be on the offensive side of the ball, and film study shows he cannot coordinate a defense. So many questions arose as I studied film? No doubt fans in Yankee Stadium had a few questions also; and maybe vented frustrations with a few boos. Ivy attempts to play an over-shifted 4-3, the standard 4-3, and move the weak side outside linebacker inside in a stack alignment. New York even aligns in a 3-4 against the Cardinals in a game they probably should have won. You even see the Giants in "nickel" coverage once in awhile (poorly, I might add). Do the opponent offensive stats tell us anything about the defense? Yes, they sure do!

In the first three games, the Giants allowed a 100-yard receiver each game. Mel Renfro gets injured playing offensive halfback after catching a 42 yard pass in week two, and is replaced by Dan Reeves. Though he is not very fast, and lacks quick moves Reeves exploits the errors in coverage as he catches 6 passes for 120 yards, and three scores. This performance convinces Landry that he can play for a contender. Opposing coaches watching film, must have thought if Dan Reeves can do this to New York, then my offensive backs with more athletic skill should be able to also.

During the campaign opposing backs caught 80 passes for 993 yards and 16 touchdowns, and if Pop Ivy ever adjusted, then I missed it? Rather than go through all fourteen games, lets go to one game in particular as this game begins the disaster. November the 13th the Giants are in Los Angeles to play rookie head coach George Allen's Rams (who really need a win). Though New York has given up 85 points the previous four games, they won their only game in this stretch, and actually played decent defense at times.

Not today in the Coliseum. The Rams in the 1st half record 23 first downs, and gain 351 yards in total offense. Watching the film you see Roman take his boys up and down the field at will. The 2nd half the Rams even with substitution record 15 more first downs to set a league record, and gain an additional 221 yards. Halfback Tom Moore of the Rams sets a league record that year in the Marchibroda offense (60 receptions), and in this game catches 9 for 81 yards. Guess no one told Pop Ivy that you have to cover halfbacks out of backfield on passes? New York allows 59 offensive touchdowns during the year (23 rushing & 36 passing). As you can well imagine Mr. Ivy will not be back as a defensive coordinator in '67. Patience is a virtue in the Mara family, and Allie Sherman is brought back even though the last three years the record is 10-29-3. The brilliance of Fran Tarkenton saved Sherman's job until the late season four-game losing streak of '68.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Aaron Donald Moving Up All-Time Ranks

By Nick Webster
At long last Aaron Donald has received well-deserved recognition as the AP Defensive Player of the Year, but this wasn’t a runaway of the sort we’ve been used to seeing from J.J. Watt. Donald won with 23 votes (a 46% share), edging out Calais Campbell, who won the award as named by the Pro Football Writers Association. It was, however, Donald’s third time receiving votes for AP Defensive Player of the Year—joining a slew of Hall of Famers with three appearances (votes since 1971).
Mills received a total of just 6 votes over the course of his career and is not likely to end up in the Hall, Martin is also an unlikely inductee at this point, but won the award in 1977, edging out Lyle Alzado. This portends well for Donald, who has certainly been among the top defenders in the league for four years now.

We also like to measure a defenders DPOY “Shares” the portion of votes—in aggregate—a player receives over the course of his career.  It’s a fantastic way to recognize players who are consistently good but aren’t always able to break through for a win, or who constantly comes up against an all-time great like Joe Greene, LT or Watt. In Career DPOY Shares Aaron Donald now enters the top 15, ahead of some HOF snubs and entering into the range of all-time greats.
In fact, were it not for the otherworldly Watt, Donald would likely be receiving his second DPOY award having finished a distant second to Watt in 2015.  A second win would have placed Donald with the likes of the all-timers: Bruce Smith, Reggie White, Ray Lewis and Joe Greene —only LT and J.J. have three each.

Congrats to Aaron Donald – a well-deserved award – entering the likes of the all-time greats.

Monday, February 5, 2018

More Than One Option—Burton to Foles

By John Turney
When the Eagles lined up to fo for a touchdown at the end of the first half, NBC commentator Cris Collinsworth said, "This could decide the game", he wasn't that far off.

The Eagles ran a play in which Trey Burton threw a touchdown pass to quarterback Nick Foles that extended a three-point Eagles lead.

The play went down like this:
Apparently, Jeffrey is on the line of scrimmage, he is even with the right tackle, but a yard off the ball, but it seems like he checked with the side judge from the replay. It is perplexing because our understanding is an offense must have seven players on the line of scrimmage. Nonetheless, the play went on without penalty.
It's a 3 by 1 formation with tight or "nasty" splits to the sideline and a single receiver to the field.

Foles steps up and drifts to the wing position on the right, while brushing the front of this shirt, to show he was eligible, but that wouldn't be necessary since he has an eligible numeral. It could have just been a decoy, something to confuse the Patriot defense or just a sure way to make sure the referees knew he was eligible to catch a pass since he was in the shotgun before he moved to the wing.

Foles moves to the wing and touched the right tackle to begin the snap sequence.

The play is a sweep left-reverse to the tight end. Foles holds until the reverse actions shows.
Foles runs his route to the flat and is all alone, and there is even a second receiver open in the short middle.
Had the Patriots sniffed this out and covered Foles, Smith was open in the middle of the end zone, all alone.
On a 4th down, it takes a lot of guys to run a trick play and it worked and was a key play in the win. Congrats Doug Pederson.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

On of Off?

By John Turney
Offenses must have seven players on the line of scrimmage at the snap, otherwise, it is a penalty.

From the NFL rulebook:

Position of Players at Snap

  1. Offensive team must have at least seven players on line.
  2. Offensive players, not on line, must be at least one yard back at snap.
    (Exception: player who takes snap.)

However, in Super Bowl LII, on the play when Nick Foles caught a touchdown pass the Eagles appeared to have just six players on the line of scrimmage.
Credit: NBC, NFL Replay

The question is this:  Is the player at the top of this screenshot on or off the line? He is a yard off the line but if that is the rule, then it leaves only six Eagles on the line. 

However, why wasn't it called? Did the all-star team of referees miss it? Did they see it and thing the player at the top was actually ON the line of scrimmage?

I am sure post-game this question will come up and we will learn some answers.

DO YOUR JOB: Eagles vs. Patriots Super Bowl

By T.J. Troup
The final game of the season, and just finished watching the only pre-game show that is worth a damn—in fact NFL MATCH-UP is always worth watching. Greg Cosell & Louis Riddick not only study and understand the game, they explain what they see so very well.
For today the show began with "red zone" offense and defense. Brady's ability to put points on the board when the Patriots get to the red zone has been well documented. How does he do it? His ability to read coverage and throw accurately into the "tight windows" is why he is an all-time elite QB.
The key man is going to be Malcolm Jenkins of the Eagles; can he cover Gronkowski by himself, or will he need help? Terrific Tom has no problem making the quick adjustment and throwing to another receiver.

The best example you ask? Amendola on the back line of the end zone against J-Ville. Philadelphia relishes the run-pass option and by using motion can give Foles the read if the Patriots are in man or zone.
The other tight end—in this case, Zach E. of Philly is going to be a key ingredient if the Eagles are to score in the red zone. As this season progressed Matt Patricia's Patriot defense improved dramatically against the pass (they were very porous beginning of the year). The disguised coverage by New England forced opposing quarterbacks to hold the ball longer, and the Patriot pass rush became an important factor.

Nick F. must read quickly to ensure success and keep the chains moving; and as such can keep pace with Brady. Louis Riddick detailed the New England kickoff return and did a superb job detailing the open field blocks by the Patriots for Dion Lewis.

Greg Cosell explained that this Patriot defense is not as fast in pursuit as past champion New England teams. Thus, look for the Eagles to try and run the perimeter. For me, the key man in this game is right guard for Philadelphia #79 Brooks. He is such a strong quick run blocker he can make the "reach block" on the defensive tackle in the gap, and allow the center Kelce to pull and lead. All teams would relish doing this, but most teams do not have a guard as adept as #79.

Will Bill B. have his defense adjust? Yes! Last year his half-time run defense adjustment gave the Patriots a slim chance to come back when down 25 points, and we all saw that was accomplished. In summation, there is going to be a few bucks wagered today, and as a man who made successful bets years ago—take a long hard look at the over/under.

The last 14 games the Patriots have played; 4 overs & 10 unders. The last 9 games for the Eagles 3 overs and 6 unders and as of right now the over/under is 49. Scores like 24-20 and 26-21 are a very real possibility—thus play the UNDER and enjoy the game.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Class of 2018 is Eight Players/Contributors

By John Turney
The Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2018 is Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher, Brian Dawkins, Robert Brazile, Jerry Kramer, Bobby Beathard.

According to press accounts:
The cut from 15 to 10 that were eliminated: John Lynch, Everson Walls, Joe Jacoby, Isaac Bruce and Edgerrin James.

In the cut from 10 to 5 eliminated were: Ty Law, Kevin Mawae, Tony Boselli, Alan Faneca and Steve Hutchinson.
My predictions were off, we had Alan Faneca and Joe Jacoby instead of Brian Urlacher and Randy Moss. So we got six of eight.

It was a surprise that no linemen were voted in, at least one you would have expected. But from the list of cutdowns, four of the five linemen made the cut from 15 to 10. And apparently, there was a circular firing squad by the voters that eliminated all four from making the top five.

Of course, we could be wrong, but it was likely a pissing match of "my guy is better than your guy" and votes got split. All four were worthy of induction, and you'd think some would have thought of that but recently I posted on Twitter about too much parochialism on the committee. Not everyone, but enough to cause logjams too often. (CFL cities used to protect the innocent). Sometimes the voter for Calgary has too much contact with the ownership and management of Calgary to be independent and he essentially does the bidding of that franchise. Or Montreal hasn't had a player in for a while so there is a push to get one in. Or Vancouver (do they have a team?) has problems with Toronto player who some of his Vancouver boys don't like. And all that goes into the mix.

Fortunately, that does not happen all the time and does not happen like it did in the bad old days of the late-1980s and 1990s when I first began to observe the process.
However, small things can happen that lower the bar ever so slightly. Last year, for example, Jason Taylor got in on the first ballot. He was a worthy Hall of Famer but was he in the echelon of being with the best of the best at his position? Gino, Deacon, Reggie, and Bruce. And Jason? Those are the five defensive ends who have been first-ballot. Like the old Sesame Street song "One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn't belong".
For first-balloter middle linebackers, the average number of All-Pros was 6-times. Ray Lewis exceeded that mark. Urlacher fell short. But for now and forever Urlacher and Lewis are on the same level, the same plane as Nitschke and Butkus and Lambert and Singeltary. Lewis fits with that group. Urlacher does not.
For two years Terrell Owens was "snubbed" mostly because of how he split locker rooms and how he hurt his teams but also because he dropped a lot of passes. We felt that he should get in this year and that Moss should wait. After all, Moss quit in his team in his last year in Minnesota and then in Oakland and after he was traded from New England he didn't do much of anything.

We felt he was the most talented wide receiver ever but that he lacked the intangibles of work ethic, effort, leadership when things are going bad like a Jerry Rice had or a Lance Alworth had. Guys who played when the games were played and not when they "wanted to play". But with his induction, the bar is lowered on that front.

Look, we get it. We will be attacked by those who saw all the highlights and saw the incredible plays Moss made—and there were many. But few will have the courage to look closer and try and understand the place history plays in the Hall of Fame and why Moss for all his greatness didn't meet the mark of a true first-ballot Hall of Famer. Moss was a tremendous deep receiver. he had amazing speed and leaping ability—when he used it. And even he admits he didn't use it 100% of the time.

But now, Moss will always be able to back up his claim of  "I'm the best wide receiver in NFL history", Jan.  29, 2013 and "I call myself the greatest" Minneapolis Star Tribune, Feb 2, 2018. Because he's first-ballot he has some firepower to his argument. It would all be fine if he'd been All-Pro more than four times and a Pro Bowl more than six times and if he had gotten closer to Jerry Rice in accomplishments, personal and team, but in real, honest, unbiased truth, he didn't.
So, what used to be a once-in-a-while anomaly of guys getting in on the first try that were slightly questionable (Jackie Slater—3-time All-Pro, none consensus, 7 Pro Bowls in 20 years, sat bench for the 3 years, injured last 3) is now a pattern of 3- and 4-time All-Pros (Taylor, Urlacher and Moss) getting in right away. If 3-time and 4-times All-Pro were the standards it would be fine, but it's not.

And yes, we are aware that All-Pros and Pro Bowls are only part of the Hall of Fame equation. There are statistics, anecdotes, and yes, the intangibles (which is exactly our point, vis-a-viz Moss), the "hardware", rings, etc, i.e. lots of things. But All-Pros shouldn't be ignored or undervalued either when legacies are at stake.

We mentioned parochialism. What we think is that the question voters and fans and teams need to ask is not whether their guy should get in the Hall of Fame because it would be good for the fans or the team or a feather in the voter's cap for getting "his guy" in.

The question is this:  Does the Hall of Fame lack because "the guy" is not in. And that includes the caveat of being first-ballot in certain, warranted instances.

Sure, some voters want to dismiss first ballot significance and I don't blame them. When the bar is lowered it means less. For us, it's nearly over. But for years there was something extra to some players and that extra was rewarded by being in the Hall of Fame right away.

Yes, there were screw ups, there was the anti-Super Bowl ring parochialism that kept Alan Page out of the Hall of Fame for a year. And there have been others.

So, pardon the rant, but when no linemen get in when there are 5 qualified linemen it is upsetting because there is no Shannon Sharpe to shout from the hilltops about them. Skip Bayless likely couldn't care less that the blood and guts of a football team are underrepresented in a Hall of Fame class (and don't get us started about cornerbacks).

No, the lineman will suffer in silence, suck it up until next year and not go on radio, television and Internet to whine and complain and call themselves "the best ever". That's what divas do.