Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Pro Football Hall of Famer Cortez Kennedy Dies at 48

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 18, 2017

1959: Zone to Big Daddy?

By John Turney

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

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

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

Here is a still:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 15, 2017

Bill Arnsparger's 1964 Zone Blitz?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Dominique Easley Signs One-year Tender with Rams

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 1, 2017

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

By T.J. Troup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The 1966 Miami Dolphins and the 46 Defense

By John Turney
Credit: Sports Illustrated
It's been said that the NFL does not invent anything it just recycles old concepts. We are not sure that is 100% true but there are certainly many aspects where that concept is true. One such occurrence is the Dolphins used of what was later known as the 46 defense fairly regularly in their inaugural season.

George Wilson was the new franchise's head coach in 1966 and he had a long and powerful career in the NFL from a player (1937-46) and as an assistant coach (1949-65) on the offensive side of the ball. Over that span, it was certain that he'd seen everything in terms of what NFL defenses did.

He chose as his defensive assistants Tom Keane as defensive backs coach and play caller, recently retired player Bob Pelligrini as the linebackers coach and Les Bingaman as the defensive line coach. Keane was a former player and had been a defensive coach in the NFL before joining the Dolphins staff. He, too, would have had lots of experience seeing various offensive and defensive schemes and had a working knowledge of how to employ them.

In 1966 he turned to what would have then been known as the "Eagle" defense which got its moniker from the Philadelphia Eagles in the early 1950s which was usually a 5-2 (five lineman, 2 linebacker defense).
In the early 1950s there were various defensive fronts used by various teams. The 4-3, as a base defense for most of the teams was still a few years away and NFL teams used  5-3, 5-2, 6-1 fronts and spaced those players in a variety of ways.

Here are the New York Giants in their famed 6-1 Umbrella defense. The two outside players were still called ends, though they are in two-point stances and if we were to consider them linebackers (and they did have pass coverage responsibilities) it would be a 4-3 defense and even more technically a 4-3 overshift since one of the tackles is shaded over the outside shoulder of the guard/inside shoulder of the tackle which in today's general terms would be a 3-technique.

In this still the Giants defense (on far side) in a 6-1 only it is an even front, with two "3 techniques".

Here are the Browns in a standard 5-2. The tackles, as they were called at the time, we head-up on the offensive tackles, what is now known as a 4-technque. It resembles a 3-4 defense of more recent years.

Here is another screenshot of the Browns in for all intents and purposes is a 3-4, just imagine the DEs being called outside linebackers and the DTs being called ends.
Here is the Eagles defense of that era, as one can see they have a player over the center (Zero technique) and two 3-techniques. that is the feature that was unique when Greasy Neal invented the alignment. And to this day, many coaches still call the 3-techique an "Eagle tackle".

It is, here, a seven-man front (a 5-2) but a safety could be walked up to create the so-called 8-man box.
1966 Dolphins
In 1966, film study shows that a good percentage of the time the Miami Dolphins used this front, both as a 7-man and 8-man front. Sometimes they would align with it, other times they would stem into it (stem is to the defense what a shift is to the offense, it simply means lining up in one spot and moving to another, pre-snap).

Here are a couple of screen shots:

As can be seen above there is a zero technique and two 3-techniques. The right end is actually linebacker Wahoo McDaniel with his hand in the dirt. Frank Emanuel is the middle linebacker and number 53 is Tom Erlandson who is on the tight end. Outside him, out of the shot, is left defensive end Ed Cooke.

A complete film study would be required to pinpoint how well the Dolphins did in this front and how often. But from seeing quite a bit of film, we'd estimate it was at least 10-15% of the time, maybe more. Perhaps Tom Keane chose to use it based on his experience seeing it from a defensive perspective or maybe the opposite is true. Perhaps George Wilson faced it and thought it served a purpose. 

Sadly, none of the coaches are around to ask. Les Bingaman had a heart attack on the field during a 1969 game, collapsed and nearly died (actually he DID die but an adrenaline shot injected into his heart revived him). He later succumbed to heart issues in 1970. Wilson, Keane and even Pellegrini have also passed on. Perhaps in due time, we can connect with some of the players who are still with us and we can get more information.

The Dolphins were not the only team to employ this, but again, it was rare in our view, based on some fairly extensive study.
Other pre-46 Uses of the Eagle
In 1971 and 1972 the Saints would use it. They tried it in the game that the Rams Willie Ellison gained 247 yards rushing. Here you can see the easy-to-spot "3-0-3" front or "Eagle front:

Here is a screenshot of the 1975 Vikings using 5-defensive linemen with Alan Page over the center in the Eagle front, this was a year before Buddy Ryan became the defensive line coach there
The fifth linemen is Bob Lurtsema playing over the guard, which was Page's usual spot. 

Throughout the time from the early 1950s to the early 1980s and even recently, teams would achieve the "Eagle" or double-Eagle look from a 4-3 defense my simply having the middle linebacker step up and put his hand in the ground in front of the center, between the two defensive tackles. The late-1950s-1960s Bears did it quite often with Bill George with his hand in the dirt between the tackles. 
That was the most common way we saw of covering the center and both guards, but that was merely the middle part of the defense, without the way the tight end was covered as in the Saints shot above and as the 1966 Dolphins did and how the Buddy Ryan Bears of the 1980s did it.

Here is a couple of examples of  that from the 1975 Bears, 1968 Rams, and 1965 Chargers
The 46 Defense
In 1980, of course, Buddy Ryan revived the double Eagle look, gave it a name, and it became a phenom in the mid-1980s as the Bears used in 1984-85 about 40% of the snaps and won the Super Bowl in 1985. If Ryan used it before 1980 we have not seen it. In 1978 he did experiment with a 3-4 defense, he called "Okie" but it was short-lived. In 1979 it was predominately a 4-3 defense with the usual over- and under-shifts.
Here it is in 1980 with Doug Plank #46 walked up to create the 8-man front. It is his uniform number that gave Ryan's version of this defense its name. 

In this screen shot the 46 is a 5-man line since strong side rusher Al Harris has his hand on the turf, as does the weak side rusher, Mike Hartenstine #73. Alan Page is the nose and Dan Hampton and Jim Osborne are the 3-techniques. Otis Wilson is on the instep of the tight end, a position Wilbur Marshall would play in 1985 with Wilson playing where Al Harris, #90 is, only using a 2-point linebacker stance.
Here it is in 1984, with the tight end on the right side so the linebacker combination is on the right, As you can see Wilson and Harris have changed positions since 1980. (In 1985 Harris and Bell #25 held out and Marshall and Dave Duerson stepped in and the defense didn't miss a beat).

One note is that the 3-technique is tighter with the Bears (and 1966 Dolphins) than with the 1950s Eagles. The actual playbooks we've have seen often call for the players over the guards to be head-up or a 2-technque but it seldom shows in the games we've seen the defenders are almost never head-up, but in the 3-tech.

Here is the 1981 iteration of the 46. Todd Bell (#25) is playing one of the linebacker spots and Len Walterscheid is in Plank's position. 
Once the Bears had success with the defense, other teams followed and tried it. By the late 1980s all teams seemed to use it to some degree. The 3-4 teams would simply shift (sink) their defensive ends from over the tackles to over the guards. The 4-3 teams would do what the Bears did and shift their linemen to the appropriate spots.

Here are the Rams, in 1982, using it against the Bears. Hall of Fame defensive end Jack Youngblood is "reduced" or "sunk" to a 3-technique over the Bears right guard and Mike Fanning is the zero technique and Cody Jones is the right-side 3-technique.

In 1988 Fritz Shurmur (who was the Defensive Coordinator in the above still) used the 46 Defense, though he called it the Eagle defense and used 5 linebackers because the Rams had injuries among their line and had plently of solid linebackers. The nose was, at first converted college defensive lineman Mike Jerue but when he was injured Fred Strickland was the nose, or "nose-backer". He would stem from the zero technique to an inside linebacker position and when he did that Shurmur referred to it as the "Hawk" defense.
Kevin Greene and Mike Wilcher are the outside rushers, Larry Kelm in on the instep of the tight end on the near side and the only two defensive linemen are in 3-technique position. The Rams used it a decent amount but it was never their base defense, which was a two-gap 3-4. However, outside of the Bears and Buddy Ryan-era Eagles, the 1988-91 Rams likely used it the most. The Rams also liked to employ a linebacker heavy nickel/dime scheme in that era which would use, at times, only one and even no defensive lineman since Fred Strickland and enough size, strength, and quickness to rush from a defensive tackle position as did a linebacker named George Bethune.

The Eagle gap responsibility page from Fritz Shurmur's playbook on the 5 linebacker defense.

 After Ryan left the Bears they cut down on its use from approximate highs of 40% in 1984 and 1985 to perhaps 20% in 1986-89 or so. Again, seeing all the games and charting them is the only way to find the exact numbers.

One final shot, again it's the Rams, this time in 2013. Jeff Fisher's defense called this 'Cheat' with usual right defensive end Robert Quinn in an "Eagle" defensive tackle position, though it's a 4i (inside shoulder of the tackle) rather than a 3-technique (outside shoulder of the guard) and Chris Long has moved from left end to right end and Alec Olgletree is essentially the stand-up end/weak-side rusher in this instance.
Credit: NFL Replay
If fans ever want to see the golden age of the 46 they can watch almost any game from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s. Our guess is that almost all teams in those games will use the Eagle/Bear (46)/Cheat or whatever they called it in every game.

It is used to this day, almost all teams will use it if their usual run defense is not doing the job and the three inside blockers being 'covered-up' discourages runs to the middle. However, smart quarterbacks will usually try and check out of a run and thy to throw against this 8-man version and thus the game of cat and mouse continiues as it has since the 1950s Eagles, to the 1966 Dolphins to the 1980s Bears to 2017.