Sunday, June 21, 2015

Leo the Lion Begins to Roar: The 1951 San Francisco 49ers

LOOKING BACK
by TJ Troup

Nomellini. Colorization by John Turney
Coaching: Lawrence "Buck" Shaw returned as head coach with Jim Lawson again coaching the ends. But new staff member Phil Bengston is a welcome addition as line coach. San Francisco usually aligned in a 5-3 defense; yet in long yardage situations they substituted and went with a 5-2-4 defense. During the 44-17 win in Kezar against the Los Angeles Rams the 49ers substituted defensive backs for linebackers to defend against the speed of the Los Angeles team. They also use a 3-man defensive line late in the year against Green Bay in their use of nickel coverage. The Niners prefer the standard T-formation with ends in multiple alignments (closed or split). Motion was used, and sometimes a three wide receiver alignment was also employed.

Personnel: Thirty-four men suited up for the 49ers with just seven in their last or only year in the NFL showing a dramatic infusion of talent joining the team for 1951 as rookies and welcome additions from other teams which revitalizes the Niners. Joining the team after a year in Canada is left defensive end Ed Henke. He consistently gives San Francisco outstanding performances as a run defender and pass rusher. Hamp Tanner in his only year is the nominal starter at left defensive tackle. Under sized Bob Downs began the year as the middle guard and was released after just one game.

Visco Grgich replaces him and is more than adequate at shedding blocks and pursuing runners. He shares the position with rookie Dave Sparks who is quicker and a much better pass rusher in his only year. Sparks will drop into coverage as a middle linebacker when San Francisco goes to a four-man secondary. Al Carapella usually starts at right defensive tackle (a couple games at left defensive tackle) as he demonstrates solid run stopping ability. Gail Bruce is an adequate pass rusher in his last year with the team at right defensive end.

Right linebacker is handled by Pete Wismann and Don Burke. Joining the Niners is shoulder tackling, undersized, middle linebacker Hardy Brown. He red dogs up the middle on many plays and is not much of a factor as a pass defender. Though he can be blocked; Brown must be accounted for due to his ability to hit with his shoulder and lay out a runner and/or force a fumble. The leader of the defense is a savvy veteran left linebacker named Norm Standlee (also plays some fullback in the middle of the campaign). The "Big Chief" comes off the edge with a vengeance on the red dog, and is a stalwart run defender who is always in position. Hustling Jim Powers starts at left corner, though rookie Rex Berry earns plenty of playing time in the last ten games of the year. Berry is an outstanding athlete and pass defender who just needs experience.

Safety Jim Cason earns a pro bowl berth at safety as he records 8 interceptions, and is a willing tackler. One of the most improved players on the team is starting right corner Lowell Wagner who excels in man coverage. Gordie Soltau earns a Pro Bowl berth at left offensive end. An excellent route runner, who displays superb hands and is tenacious going over the middle to make key reception. Right end is shared by Al Beals in his last year and as the season progresses rookie Billy Wilson.

Veryl Lillywhite opens the season by gaining 209 yards rushing on just 23 carries in the first two games, then gains just 188 yards the final ten games in his final season as a 49er. He not only does he contribute at halfback, but also as a left safety when San Francisco goes to a four-man secondary. Rookie Pete Schabarum earns his letter at halfback as both a runner early in the year and as a receiver the second half. His longest run of the year is a 56 yard run (not the 67 yarder as listed by league manual) against the Rams in the victory at Kezar. Johnny Strzykalski still has his moments running the ball, yet Jim Monachino and rookie Bishop Strickland also get playing time.

Joe Arenas shines in the late season victory against Green Bay, and demonstrates game breaking ability as a punt and kick-off return man. Though he has some injury issues; Joe Perry is the key to the running game. The Jet, quick out of his stance, this dymano is adept going inside or outside.

Frankie Albert is a master commander at the play fake, roll out, and finding a receiver with an accurate pass on a crossing route. Joining the team from the disbanded Colts is Y.A. Tittle who shares the quarterback position with Albert throughout the year(usually in the second half). Decisive and accurate, he is mobile enough to avoid pass rushers on the roll out. Ray Collins earns a Pro Bowl berth at left offensive tackle (plays defensive tackle also), while rookie Nick Feher establishes himself well at left guard. He can pull to lead a sweep or trap a d-lineman. Bill "Tiger" Johnson handles the center position well, while Bruno Banducci receives some All-Pro recognition for his fine play at right guard.

The most outstanding 49er for the season is All-Pro right offensive tackle Leo Nomellini. Powerful as a drive blocker, and more than adequate in pass protection, he also is a destructive force at left defensive tackle. Amazingly quick for a man his size, he is an outstanding pass rusher, and virtually unblock able as a run defender. Leo also contributes in the kicking game as he blocks a punt for a touchdown against Los Angeles.

WHAT THE STATS TELL US: San Francisco ranked 4th in total offense (second in rushing), and 4th in overall defense. The Niners dramatic improvement in pass defense (second in the league in the defensive passer rating system) was a key element in the team's success. San Francisco allowed 470 yards on the six long touchdown passes recorded by the opposition during the year, but the other 152 completions netted just 10 yards a completion to demonstrate the hustle and tackling ability by the secondary. In the seven victories the Niners completed 96 of 157 for 1,289 yards with 12 going for touchdowns, and just 9 interceptions for a passer rating of 88.8! In the five games they either lost or tied the rating was just 35.2. Though the opposition recorded more sacks than the Niners garnered .......the pass rush as a key component in San Francisco victories.
Colorization by John Turney
GAME OF SIGNIFICANCE: We are at Briggs Stadium in Detroit to witness the suddenly contending Lions (who have won four straight). Detroit has scored 142 points in their last 14 quarters. San Francisco has had their moments during the year so far with outstanding wins of defending conference champions, Cleveland and Los Angeles, but at 4-4-1 the have also demonstrated inconsistency. Even more damning is the fact the Niners have won just once in the eleven league games on road since they joined the NFL the year before. Captain Norm Standlee meets Bob Hoernschemeyer of the Lions for the coin toss before 52,024 fans on this cold day in Detroit. First quarter: The Lions usually use the half-back option pass later in games, but today Hunchy Hoernschemeyer opens the game with a option left incompletion.

Detroit punts and San Francisco will drive 90 yards to take an early lead. Frankie Albert completes three passes on the drive for 38 yards to Gordy Soltau (his only catches of the game), while Joe Perry pounds away on the ground. Johnny "strike" punches it in on a dive right behind Nomellini's block to score. Soltau misses the extra point. Detroit cannot move the ball as the Lions lose their leading rusher when Hunchy is knocked out by Standlee on his lone carry of the game.  Detroit punts to Joe Arenas who returns the ball to the Lion forty-eight line-yard. Perry continues to run well, but Soltau misses a field goal.

The teams exchange punts into the second quarter with Hart and Dibble making key receptions to keep the drive alive before Doak Walker's field goal slices the lead to three yard-line. Albert evades the Lion pass rush, rolls left and flips to Billy Wilson. The long legged rookie takes off on a weaving 38 yard gain to the Detroit 49 before safety Don Doll brings him down from behind. The Lions take over on downs, but left corner Jim Powers intercepts Layne's tipped pass, but Albert's first down pass is pilfered by right defensive end Jim Doran in the flat. Big Jim gallops 38 yards down the sideline, but the Lions come up empty as Walker misses a field goal. San Francisco punts after three plays, but the half ends as Christiansen cannot gain on a punt return (he entered the game as the league leader with 13 returns for an amazing 335 yards).

Third quarter: Walker returns the Niner punt 25 yards to the San Francisco twenty-three yard line. Lindy Pearson (taking over for Hunchy) and Pat Harder keep the Lion ground game going until Hardy Brown forces a fumble with his patented shoulder tackle. Leo Nomellini recovers on the 49er four yard line. Again, San Francisco punts, but Ed Henke's sack of Layne forces a Lion punt, by Lowell Wagner fumbles with hit by D'Alonso (recovered by Berrang). Nomellini sacks Layne to force a field goal attempt that is blocked by Henke. Tittle enters the game for the Niners and finds rookie Bill Jessup for 31 yards up the right sideline. Jessup gets behind rookie right corner Jack Christiansen for the 22 yard touchdown catch in the right corner of the end zone. Detroit responds as Doak Walker zips through the red clad jersey Niners to the twenty-four yard line on his 63 yard return.

Slot right formation and Layne pitches to Dibble behind the coverage for 30 yards and the score......folks we have a ballgame at 13-10. Detroit can take the lead when they get the ball back but Hardy Brown's shoulder tackle knocks the ball loose and Henke recovers. Fourth quarter: Perry jets to the Detroit seventeen yard line on a draw play(gains 126 on the day). Tittle rolls left ducks under the rush, and finds Arenas at the back of the end zone for 12 yards and a 20-10 lead. Dave Sparks enters the game at middle guard for San Francisco and will drop into coverage as middle linebacker or rush the passer. Fred Enke replaces Layne but is intercepted by Lillywhite. Perry sweeps left jukes "Tulsa Bob" Smith off his feet and keeps the clock ticking as San Francisco eats up time and comes away with an impressive road victory. The 49ers win their final two games of the year to finish second in the conference; just a half-game behind the future league champion Rams.

SUMMATION: San Francisco has turned the corner and now rank with the elite teams in the league. They need speed at halfback on offense to become true title contenders.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Marion Motley: Carrying the Team on Your Back

LOOKING BACK
By TJ Troup

On October 8th, 1950 Billy "The Commanche Kid" Grimes gained 167 yards on just 10 carries in the Packers loss to the New York Yanks. That set an NFL record for yards per attempt, that lasted for three weeks. Oddly short for an NFL record.

Why? Because on October 29th, when the Browns played the Steelers at home (for the first time in what became their long rivalry) extraordinary events occurred. Cleveland was coming off a difficult loss to the New York Giants in which they scored only one touchdown, and gained only 83 yards rushing on 32 running plays. A 30-year old fullback who had not flourished during his first encounters with NFL defenses set a record that stood until 2002.

Here is a carry-by-carry review based on the study of the game film:
1st quarter: Opening drive; on the Steeler 17-yard line Motley has his first carry on a trap right for 13 yards as he powers through the Pittsburgh secondary. Then on a first and ten and Motley gained a yard on a dive up the middle. Otto Graham finishes the drive with a 3-yard run for the score. The long Steeler drive is stopped, but Cleveland cannot advance and Horace Gillom punts. Pittsburgh is stopped by the first of six interceptions by the ball-hawking Browns defense. Motley then carries on a second and long from the Cleveland 9 yard line; and on a trap left Motley gains 8 yards as the quarter ends.
Marion Motley. Colorization by John Turney
2nd quarter: On another first and ten on the Cleveland 37-yard line, Motley gains 6 on a well-blocked cross buck play. Second and four on the 43. the play is a toss sweep right and the big man rumbles for 54 yards down the right sideline before hustling right corner Jim Finks knocks him out of bounds on the Steeler 3-yard line. The Pittsburgh defense stiffens, and Lou Groza kicks a 13-yard field goal. On the ensuing drive Cleveland again intercepts and on first and ten on the Steeler 49-yard line Motley gains 3 yards on a trap left. Graham is pressured by Nicksich on a Steeler defensive line twist stunt; yet Otto has the wherewithal to flip the ball into the left flat to Motley who keeps his balance as he breaks tackles, losing his helmet in the process, and scores on the 33 yard pass play. Again on the next drive, Cleveland intercepts. The Browns are forced to punt and the half ends with Pittsburgh losing a fumble. Cleveland 17 Pittsburgh 0.

3rd quarter: The Steelers are stopped at the Cleveland 31-yard line. On the second play of the drive on second and ten (and on another trap left) behind Weldon Humble's block Motley powers up the middle, patiently waiting for an opening, and whoosh.......he is gone as he accelerates past Finks and McWilliams to score on his longest run of the campaign (69 yards). Pittsburgh is again stopped and on his next carry Motley gains 20 more yards on a cross buck. Marion Motley had gained 174 yards rushing on just 8 carries. No matter what 8-man front Pittsburgh attempted to play (either 5-3 or 6-2) the outstanding Cleveland offensive line made the necessary blocks. However, the rest of the game Motley carries only 3 more times for 14 yards as coach Paul Brown gives back-up fullback Emerson Cole a chance to play with a commanding lead.

In all Motley carried for 188 yards on 11 carries for a 17.1 yards a carry average. That was broken by Michael Vick in 2002 when the quarterback ran for 173 7ards on 10 carries against the Minnesota Vikings.
Motley. Colorization by John Turney