Thursday, October 26, 2017

Another Safety Moves to Linebacker: Eric Reid

LOOKING AHEAD
By John Turney
Credit: NFL Gamepass
In 2015 we noted that two safeties were playing linebacker for their respective teams and they did it well. In fact, we placed both on our 2015 All-Pro Team. The players in question were Deone Bucannon of the Cardinals and Mark Barron or the Rams.

Last week safety Eric Reid stepped in at weak linebacker for the 49ers and it has been confirmed that Reid will start at that position this week.

Lots of safeties have are or have been de factor linebackers (Kenny Vaccaro comes to mind) in certain defensive packages for their teams but few have made the full-time conversion to play linebacker in base packages as well as certain specialty packages.

Robert Saleh, the 49ers defensive coordinator, gave this explanation:
Credit: Joe Fann and 49ers PR Department
We will watch with interest to see if he makes the transition as well as Buchanon and Barron did a few years ago.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Boundless Enthusiasm While Chasing A Title: Y.A. Tittle

LOOKING BACK
By T.J. Troup

"If it weren't traditional to punt on fourth down, I'm convinced Y.A. Tittle would have passed, and with his ability, I would have gone along with him 100 percent". This quote by Kyle Rote came after spending his final year with Yelberton Abraham in the Giants Eastern Division title season of 1961.

When the AAFC ended after the 1949 season; Tittle's NFL career began, and so does our story. The 1950 green clad Baltimore Colts were the by far the worst team in the league. Opening day, at home, George Blanda kicks off for Baltimore (his only game with the team) and the beginning of a 1-11 year.

Adrian Burk starts at quarterback, yet later in the first quarter, Tittle enters the game. With a double tight end full house backfield, with left halfback Chet Mutryn going in motion to the right, Mutryn catches Y.A.'s pass for 5 yards in the right flat and this is the first of many, MANY completions for the man from Marshall, Texas.

Five games into the season Tittle had completed 44 of 87 passes for 507 yards, with nary a touchdown toss, and seven interceptions. The Baltimore receiving corps is not very talented as the early season targets of North, Owens, Spinney and Oristaglio either do not finish the year with the Colts or are moved to another position.

The only constant in the offense is halfback Mutryn thus early in his career Tittle demonstrates he knows how to use halfbacks as receivers out of the backfield.

November the 5th and Baltimore won their only game of the year and Y. A. gains a season-high 277 yards passing. Evaluating the film of this game shows his interesting technique as he drops back to pass: he hops at the end of his drop—so we have the "Tittle hop".

November the 12, on the road against Pittsburgh, he completed 24 passes in the 17-7 loss. Tittle is the FIRST quarterback in league history to complete as many as 24 passes in a game for three different teams. Paul Salata has left the 49ers and becomes the first receiver that develops a synergy with Y.A. as he catches 40 passes for 506 yards over the course of the last five games of the year.

A remarkable achievement that has gone unnoticed. Tittle has won the job over Burk (though he plays in every game and starts the season finale against the New York Yanks). Watching from the sideline during the Giants record setting performance against the hapless Colts shows Tittle the value of having a rushing attack that can control the ball and put points on the board. The disastrous season ends with Y.A. leading the league in completions. The Colts are disbanded and Tittle is chosen 3rd in the 1951 draft by San Francisco to be the back-up for Frankie Albert. Bob Williams was chosen by the Bears with the second pick, and for a moment let us consider what would have happened IF the Bears would have taken Tittle.

Later, the 49ers would have what is known as the million dollar backfield; yet if Harlon Hill would have been a slot receiver the Bears in '57 would have had Rick Casares, Willie Galimore, Hill and Tittle in the same backfield—maybe not a million, but worth a few bucks!

Noting how many failed "snap takers" Chicago had during this decade, a duo of Tittle & Blanda would have served the Bears well. December of 1951 and the 4-4-1 Niners are in Detroit taking on the contending Lions. Tittle has come off the bench in relief of Albert for the tenth time during the year. San Francisco leads 20-10 and head coach Lawrence "Buck" Shaw wants Tittle to use the running game to cement the victory, but Y.A. throws deep, and when he takes himself out tells Shaw "I'm sorry Buck, but all I want is touchdowns against those ______!

The 49ers end the season with another victory over Detroit, and Bert Bell has an unusual schedule for 1952 as San Francisco will play Detroit twice in the first three weeks. Tittle is accurate in the victory over the Lions in week one, and starts and plays well in the week two destruction of Dallas. The 49ers have added to their backfield a legendary runner in Hugh "The King" McElhenny to join fullback Joe "The Jet" Perry behind a strong offensive line. San Francisco can sure run the ball, and for balance has an efficient passing passing. The superb game film from October 12th, 1952 (thank you Steve Sabol) shows a powerful pass rush against the Lions and a strong run defense.

The Rams have rotated quarterbacks by quarter for three years now, and the Niners do also with Albert & Tittle. Y.A. completes 13 of 18 for 90 yards in the shut-out victory. Late in the game Tittle is under duress and eludes the Lion pass rush as he weaves his way back towards mid field. He zips an underhand pass upfield to Bob White in one of the most entertaining plays of the year.

Tittle is athletic and a quick thinker on his feet, never at a loss for improvisation. Halfway through the season McElhenny is on his way to a 1,000 yard season, but nagging injuries derail his playing time, and San Francisco falters to finish 3rd.

Again, time for a visual—on November 9th the Niners are at the Polo Grounds and Tittle fades back towards his own goal line drawing in the Giant pass rushers. He flips to "The King" and away McElhenny goes helmet pulled off, sprinting down field on a 77 yard pass play. This is still a grand visual, yet what about Tittle. . . he will and can throw from anywhere on the field. Frankie Albert retires, and San Francisco along with Los Angeles are the main contenders against the champion Lions entering 1953.

San Francisco starts 2-0 but in the loss to Detroit 24-21 Y.A. is injured as his cheekbone is smashed by Jim David on a bootleg touchdown run. His return on November 1st is a game for the ages.....as the Bears & 49ers combined for 91 passing attempts to set a new league record. Y.A. is back! The only loss during the last seven games of the campaign is a hard-fought loss to Cleveland. For a moment it is time for another visual. McElhenny would many times align as a flanker and his post pattern touchdown reception shows the accuracy and velocity of a Tittle pass.

Y.A. leads the league with a 7.7% touchdown pass percentage. San Francisco may have finished 9-3 in 1953, but they know they can win it all in 1954. The first seven games of the season San Francisco scores 217 points yet has a record of 4-2-1. The firepower is there guided by Tittle; who has come to be known now as the "Bald Eagle", but the defense falters time and again and again San Francisco cannot win a division title. Management decides Shaw is not the man to lead the Niners, but 1955 is a certifiable disaster with Red Strader in his only year as head coach. The offense changes shape and though Tittle leads the league in touchdown passes, he attempts to do too much, and also leads the league in interceptions.
December 2, 1956 and San Francisco is still on the road (4th game in a row) in Baltimore. Tittle enters the game having thrown 2 touchdown passes all year. He has shared time with number #1 draft pick Earl Morrall and the Niners have a 2-6-1 record. Y.A. shreds the Colt secondary to the tune of 14 of 18 for 284 yards and two touchdowns in the 20-17 win (a passer rating of 155.8 the second time he has hit this threshold to date).

The 1957 season is one of the most interesting in league history for a number of reasons. Questions abound in the Western Conference; can the Bears defend their conference title? Can Detroit continue to play strong football under a new head coach? Are the Colts that much improve under second-year man Johnny Unitas? The upset loss at home to the Cardinals does not derail the Niners as they win five straight. Rookie receiver R.C. Owens has given Y.A. a new weapon and a term for historians—"the ALLEY OOP" with Owens using his height and jumping ability leaps under the lofted accurate toss by Tittle. Bob Fouts said it best, November the 3rd in Kezar down 31-28, "This has got to be the ALLEY OOP there is not enough time for anything else" When Owens makes the leaping winning touchdown grab Fouts voice cracks as he joyously calls "The 49ers beat the Lions".

San Francisco overcomes a three-game losing streak by beating New York on the road and Baltimore at Kezar. The 7-4 49ers will start new phenom John Brodie at quarterback due to Tittle's leg injuries. The rookie struggles and here comes Y.A. off the bench. His play calling is masterful in using Joe Perry in the run game, and roll out passes to the right. During his time with Frankie Albert, a staple in the 49er offense was Albert faking beautifully and rolling left, and thus when Tittle entered the game same play, but roll right. Y.A. is the best in the league at this maneuver and very accurate throwing on the run to his right. He also rolls right and will screen back to the left. Tittle can do it all.

Tittle is an efficient 10 of 14 for 94 yards in the victory over Green Bay to force a one-game playoff against Detroit scheduled for December 22nd, 1957, at Kezar. Championship game tickets are printed as San Francisco knew they would take on Cleveland in the title game. Ahead 24-7 at the half as Tittle completes 12 of 19 for 186 yards and 3 touchdown tosses. The lead melts under the Lion comeback and Tittle struggles as he completes 3 of 8 for only 31 yards with 2 interceptions. Detroit ahead 31-27, but Y.A. has time to win the game and completes 3 straight for 31 yards on the last drive till he is intercepted. His first playoff game ends in defeat.

Evaluation of his season of 1957 shows a quarterback that completed over 60% of his passes. Due to injuries in the offensive line San Francisco allows more sack yardage than any other team, and add to that Tittle runs 40 times. Why is this important—he does NOT fumble once during the entire season! Though San Francisco is outscored during the year, the success brings optimism for 1958. Albert's last year as head coach is a difficult one for Tittle as Brodie starts six of the first seven games of the season. Y.A. starts all five remaining games and the disappointing Niners finish 6-6.

Receivers coach Howard "Red" Hickey is the new head coach in 1959 and Tittle is back in the saddle as the starter, and San Francisco roars into first place with a record of 6-1. The Western conference is loaded with defending champion Baltimore, and the Bears as viable contenders. For the first time in his career Tittle is not playing up to his capabilities as the Niners fade to 7-5. He plays in four of the final five games and throws just one touchdown pass, while having 8 intercepted. Tittle begins the '60 season three starts and a 2-1 record, but he throws just 49 passes in the final nine games of the year.

He is a team player and helps John Brodie as much as possible, but he wants to play and believes he still can. The excuse Hickey uses is that Y.A is not mobile enough for his new spread formation known as the "shotgun". This is folly, and will be explained as we finish his saga.

Tittle has a very successful insurance business due to his intelligence, and affable personality but will he accept the trade to the Giants and the East coast? He knows in his gut he can still do it, thus under new head coach Allie Sherman he will learn a new and more complex offense. He shares the position with veteran Charley Conerly, yet he is playing masterfully and has found a new synergy receiver in lean long legged Del Shofner. Y.A. developed a special ability to find Billy Wilson over and over again in San Francisco (three times Wilson lead the league in receiving), and he helped the Mara family orchestrate the trade for Del.
One the far left is #29 for the Rams who is Del Shofner who caught passes from Tittle with the Giants
The Giants lose badly in the 1961 title game in Green Bay, but Tittle quickly overcomes the loss as New York after 20-17 loss to Pittsburgh in 1962 leads his team to nine straight victories as he sets a new record for touchdown passes in a season with 33. Tittle uses the imaginative Sherman offense to consistently put points on the board. His use of formations and plays is simply outstanding, and New York has the Packers on their home turf for the title. The blustery winds and a great Packer team defend their title. Tittle still has his boundless enthusiasm for the game. He has displayed team spirit and integrity when he threw 7 touchdown passes against Washington and refused to go back into the game to try and get a record eighth.

In Murray Olderman's exceptional book The Pro Quarterback he has a page for each man detailing his favorite play. Quoting Y.A.:

  • "There's only one pass that can't be stopped when it's done right. That's the weak side sideline pass. I used it a lot when I teamed with Del Shofner, our left end on the New York Giants. It's a timing pass. You set up seven yards. The receiver can go downfield 11 yards in the same period of time. I always believed in throwing to the outside, because in the middle there's always trouble. You can't predict how a linebacker or safety is going to react. It looks like a man is open, and then a strange hand reaches up from nowhere. On this sideline pass, there's only one man can get at the receiver. The way this play works, the quarterback has only one choice. He hits the left end immediately or not at all. The beauty of it is, if the man isn't open, you can throw the ball out of bounds and not risk an interception In running this pattern, incidentally, Shofner didn't break it off sharp like a lot of ends. He found out he could get to the spot of the ball faster, and also keep the defensive back off of him by rounding the corner instead of cutting off his right foot, which had to slow him up a little".  

To emphasize Tittle's point about interceptions—all quarterbacks throw them including Y. A. yet in his career he threw just 5 interceptions that were returned for a touchdown. Neither the Bears, Lions, Packers or any of the Eastern conference teams ever returned a Tittle interception for a touchdown!

Cleveland, under Collie,r with Brown, a very improved St. Louis team and a hard-bitten group of Black & Gold Steelers make the Giants work to defend their conference title. Tittle uses the run game, and though he is a master at the run action pass due to his faking ability—he is known for his ability to exploit coverages and use all his receivers. Walton, Gifford, Morrison, Thomas, and especially Shofner give him weapons, and boy oh boy does he know how to use them.

The details of the November the 10th game against the Eagles are as follows:  The 6-2 Giants have positioned themselves with wins over Cleveland and St. Louis to have a solid shot at winning the division. Early in the game Tittle sends Phil King over the middle on a circle route for 38 yards and a touchdown. Philadelphia comes back to tie on a McDonald touchdown. Tittle steps up into the pass pocket and lofts a high archer to right tight end Aaron Thomas for 40 yards. Y.A. rolls right and finds Morrison at the back of the end zone for 7 yards and a score. Tittle has the Giants aligned in a double tight end formation, and Shofner runs his corner route to perfection from tight end left for 45 yards off of a run action play fake. 28-7 at the half and Tittle wants more and he connects with former teammate Hugh McElhenny on a circle route for 24, and later drops back doing the "Tittle hop" to complete an out pattern to flanker Frank Gifford for 14 yards and a score.

Tittle completes 16 of 20 for 261 yards and three touchdowns, with nary an interception.....a passer rating of PERFECTION  of 158.3 at the age of 37. The Bald Eagle had played in 9 of the first ten games of the 1963 season and completed 156 of 255 for 2,263 yards, with 27 going for touchdowns, and just 4 intercepted. A passer rating of 118.8—.but there are storm warnings on the horizon.....over the course of the last four games he completes 65 of 112 for 882 yards, with 9 touchdowns, and 10 intercepted; a rating of 72.8. Why the drop-off? Forcing passes? December weather? This is going to be the veteran Giants last chance to win a title.

Wrigley Field and the Bears defense on this frigid day. Defensive coordinator George Allen knows how to put a game plan together. His use of the Clark Shaughnessy blitz package coupled with both zone and man coverages has put the Bears in the title game. Tittle's record-setting 36 touchdown passes be damned, we have the defense to stop the Bald Eagle! New York forges a 10-7 lead, but the crippling hit by Larry Morris in the second quarter forces Tittle in taking cortisone shots at half-time. He cannot roll out, and he cannot achieve his goal of a championship.
The iconic photo of Tittle in the end zone in 1964 is not the photo for me. My visual of him is a strong-armed quarterback in the pocket with his wide base and 3/4 arm throwing motion zipping passes to all his receivers, then jogging to the sidelines with his childlike enthusiasm punching the air with his fist. Today would have been his 91st birthday, and this is my tribute to one of the finest gentlemen to ever play the game. My hope is that somehow his daughter Diane will have the opportunity to read this saga. R.I.P. Y.A.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Saints Go All Out at Lambeau Field

Saints Go All Out
at Lambeau Field
By Eric Goska

The New Orleans Saints unleashed the full monty while registering a rare offensive triple in their latest sojourn to Lambeau Field.

The Green Bay Packers, meanwhile, did little to dissuade these transgressions as they employed a defense that too often resembled the gang from Monty Python.

Drew Brees and the Saints gobbled up a season-high in yards as they dispatched the Packers 26-17 Sunday. New Orleans crossed midfield on 10 of 11 possessions and earned at least one first down every time it had the ball.

Such a showing should have surprised no one. Brees and whatever cast of characters he has leaned on have posted big numbers against the Packers since he first engaged the Green and Gold as a member of the San Diego Chargers in 2003.

This latest episode was meeting No. 7 between the principals. The 485 yards Brees orchestrated was in line with the 424, 380, 416, 477, 474 and 495 of the first six encounters.

Two first-quarter interceptions by the Packers merely delayed the inevitable. The Saints marched onto Green Bay’s side of the field on every possession save one, and running back Mark Ingram Jr. crossed midfield with two minutes remaining to allow Brees to close out the game with three kneel-downs in Packers’ territory.

That’s one way to nail down a victory.

Damarious Randall and Davon House came up with the interceptions. Neither turnover was turned into points by the home team, and neither did little to dent Brees’ impressive run against Green Bay. The 17-year veteran continues to own the highest passer rating against the Packers (110.4) based on a minimum of 100 attempts.

On the surface, then, it was just another productive day for Brees. All the yards and points represented just one more undressing from a field general who knows how to embarrass the opposition.

But until Sunday, Brees and the Saints had never dropped the full monty on Green Bay; that is, amassing 100 or more yards in each of four quarters. They had come close, but had always fallen short during one or more of these 15-minute segments.

Not this time. New Orleans piled up 122, 103, 143 and 117 yards in quarters one through four. First down production (5, 5, 6, and 9) suggested the team got stronger as the game grew longer.

The Saints outgained the Packers in every quarter but the second. They dominated the fourth getting 117 yards to Green Bay’s 10.

New Orleans ran 44 plays beyond the 50. The Packers ran 11.

Yes, Green Bay’s lack of offense (260 yards) hindered its defense. So, too, did its woeful lack of possession time (23 minutes, four seconds).

But the Saints did a lot of taking what they wanted when they wanted. New Orleans converted 8 of 15 third downs to keep their party going.

In the end, the Saints’ output was not so far out of the realm of normal. Teams have hit or surpassed 400 yards 41 times in the regular-season against Green Bay since Dom Capers become defensive coordinator in 2009.

Instead, it was the team’s consistency – 100 or more yards in each of four quarters – that was noteworthy. The Saints became only the 10th team to accomplish this feat at the expense of the Packers since 1952.

Green Bay’s record in those games is 3-7.

The Packers are not alone in this regard. Others have suffered this fate. Brees and the Saints applied the full monty to the Bengals (2006), Lions (2009), Panthers (2012), Cowboys (2013), Giants (2015), and Jaguars (2015), and beat all but Cincinnati.

This was the first time, however, that the Saints and Brees went 4 x 100 on the road.

New Orleans also produced a notable triple as well. It had a 100-yard rusher (Ingram; 105 yards), a 100-yard receiver (Ted Ginn Jr.; 141) and a 300-yard passer (Brees; 331).

This was only the 14th time a Packers opponent has come up with such a triple in the regular-season since 1921. Half of those occurrences have taken place since 2009 with Peyton Manning (Broncos) and Kirk Cousins (Redskins) leading the charge in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

The Packers’ record is 6-8 when dealing with triplets.

So, how has the team fared when allowing both a triple and a full monty in the same game? The count is 0-3 with losses coming against the Bears (61-7) in 1980, the Texans (24-21) in 2008, and now the Saints.

The Full Monty
Since 1952, games in which Packers’ opponents gained 100-plus yards in each of four quarters.

Date                   Opponent     Yards by Quarter       Result
Oct. 22, 2017     Saints            122-103-143-117        GB lost 17-26
Oct. 18, 2015     Chargers       111-140-143-154        GB won 27-20
Oct. 16, 2011     Rams             117-105-102-100        GB won 24-3
Dec. 7, 2008       Texans          145-139-107-158        GB lost 21-24
Nov. 29, 2004    Rams             114-111-106-121        GB won 45-14
Nov. 22, 1984    Lions             108-188-138-105        GB lost 28-31
Dec. 7, 1980       Bears            103-151-152-188        GB lost 7-61
Nov. 12, 1978    Cowboys      111-139-160-127        GB lost 14-42
Nov. 23, 1958    49ers             141-151-137-112        GB lost 12-33
Oct. 19, 1958     Redskins       107-106-115-114        GB lost 21-37

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Why Not "Run Action Pass" and "Pass Action Run"?

Terminology
By John Turney
We hear the term "Play action pass" every Sunday. Pregame, during the game, and in post-game analysis. The got the run game going and that opened up the play action passing game.

We all know what it means, but why isn't it called what it is—a run action pass?

A "play" can be a run or a pass. That word in front of "action pass" really makes no sense except that it has been part of the NFL lexicon for many decades. Some playbooks have corrected it to "run action pass" but it has not yet become mainstream.

The point of the play is to throw a pass while faking a run play with the idea of holding the linebackers for a heartbeat, forcing them to react to a potential run game, before they can get to the pass drops with the hopes that fraction of a second delay will open up a hole in the zone enough to complete a pass that would otherwise be more difficult.

It is a team-wide effort, the QB and running back mimic exactly their motions on a running play as does the offensive line and the receivers block for a moment before going into the pass pattern.

The opposite of a run action pass is a pass action run. A draw play is an example. It's a play designed to look like a pass play but the quarterback gives the running back the ball deep in the backfield, where the pass drop ends.

A  screen pass is, in effect, a pass action run, but since the ball is thrown forward to the running back it is still a pass play.

So, let's hear it for "pass action run" and "run action pass".

Friday, October 20, 2017

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

After Leonard Fournette Gashed Rams Defense How Did Wade Phillips Counter?

LOOKING BACK
By John Turney

Last Sunday, versus the Jacksonville Jaguars the Los Angeles Rams opened the game in the base 3-4 defense. They called a stunt in which starting rookie nose tackle Tanzel Smart slanted to his left, but he went too far and the Weak A-Gap was wide open and Leonard Fournette ran 75 yards to paydirt.

When Jacksonville came out in the same or similar personnel packages and formations Rams Defensive Coordinator counters with a defense that had four defensive linemen and four linebackers and three defensive backs "8 men in the box" as it is called. He also aligned them in a Bear front, very similar to the 46 Defense perfected by Buddy Ryan. A few times he used the base 3-4 with a safety walked up for the 8-man in the box look, but most of the afternoon, it was the 4-4 Bear front.









  




The above still shots (all credit to NFL Gamepass) show the fronts.

Here is an end zone look. The only difference between this and the 47 is the right DE is in a down position and is in a 5-technique (outside shoulder of the tackle) rather than a 7-technique (inside shoulder of the tight end). Other than that, it's the 46.
It begs the question of if Phillips meant to use this as part of the gameplan all week or if he made the change after the one big play and committed to a 4-4.

Regardless it worked. On his next 20 carries, Fournette gained only 55 yards and the defense allowed just 10 points in the last 59 minutes of the game. The Bear front puts a defender on the center and both guards, in theory, making sure the A-Gaps are closed and preventing the kind of run that burned them on their opening defensive snap. Additionally, when they did use the base 3-4 with a safety walked up they sometimes reduced the 5-tech (Defensive end) down to a 3-technique giving the 3-4 defense a "Bear" look. Most coaches call that a "Sink" or "Double Sink" when players move over a spot on the interior.
So, Phillips seems to know a few things about not staying with one scheme. He was touted as a 3-4 guy but when he felt it was needed he ran a 4-4 (which is the exact same as a 4-3 with a safety walked up, but that is a story for another day.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Fourthfully Working in Minnesota








Fourthfully Working in Minnesota
By Eric Goska

For the sake of Packers fans everywhere, let’s hope Green Bay’s fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium doesn’t come to define the remainder of the team’s 2017 season; that is, a flurry of activity that leads nowhere.

Dealt a major blow with the loss of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay’s offense went into hiding. That finally changed in the fourth quarter when the unit, led by backup Brett Hundley, generated more yards than what the team had produced in the first 45 minutes.

Was this late movement that added nothing to the scoreboard just sound and fury signifying nothing? Or was it an indication that Hundley can guide the team in the right direction in the coming weeks?

As might be expected, the Packers were not themselves in falling 23-10 to the Vikings Sunday in Minnesota. Losing a two-time MVP, such as Rodgers, is sure to stagger any team’s resolve.

Once again, the fourth quarter figured prominently for Green Bay. This time, though, it earned notice not for the rally it inspired, but for the workload that accompanied it.

Twice this season had the Packers rallied late. In Week 3, Rodgers engineered a 27-24 overtime win over the Bengals. In Week 5, he orchestrated a 35-31 fourth-quarter comeback in Dallas.

But against the Vikings, Rodgers was in no position to work such magic. The veteran quarterback broke his collarbone when tackled by linebacker Anthony Barr with six minutes, 57 seconds remaining in a scoreless first quarter.

The highest rated passer in NFL history might miss the remainder of the season.

Enter Hundley who had thrown but 11 passes in his three-year NFL career. In previous appearances, the 24-year-old had been called upon to either protect a lead or close out a lost cause.

This time, he had more than three quarters with which to work. This time, he was expected to have a say in the outcome.

Not counting a hand off to Aaron Jones that was followed by a Justin Vogel punt, Hundley presided over six drives prior to the fourth quarter. The 24 plays that composed those advances accounted for just 72 yards and three first downs.

The Packers did score 10 points during this stretch. A 63-yard fumble return by linebacker Clay Matthews set up Hundley’s first NFL touchdown pass, a 14-yarder to receiver Davante Adams that tied the score at 7. Cornerback Damarious Randall then intercepted Vikings quarterback Case Keenum to set the stage for Mason Crosby’s 26-yard field goal that pulled Green Bay to 14-10 late in the second quarter.

That’s 10 points scored as the result of turnovers. The last time the Packers won a game in which all of their points were set up in such a manner came against the Cowboys in 1965.

Not only have 52 years passed since that 13-3 triumph, but then-coach Vince Lombardi, who could conjure victory under some of the most trying of circumstances, is long gone. In the intervening years, the team has always had to manufacture at least one score without the aid of the defense in order to win.

Producing points under its own power was too much to ask of Green Bay’s offense against the Vikings. But the unit did move the ball in the final 15 minutes.

The Packers gained 125 of their 227 yards in the fourth quarter on 32 plays. Eleven of those offerings, or two more than in the first three quarters combined, began on Minnesota’s side of the field.

Hundley moved the team 84 yards (15 plays) on its final possession. Cornerback Trae Waynes’ interception with 15 seconds left ended the threat.

Aaron Jones, the Packers’ leading rusher with 41 yards, gained 24 in the fourth quarter. Adams, who scored the team’s lone touchdown, accumulated 40 of his 54 receiving yards in the period.

The fourth quarter was the only in which Green Bay had the greater time of possession (9:13 to 5:47). The team moved the chains nine times to the Vikings’ zero.

For the Packers, this was only the sixth time since 1954 in which it ran 30 or more plays in the fourth quarter. The team is 1-4-1 in those games.

There is something to be said for being forced to work so often so late. Time doesn’t look favorably on a team that requires so many steps to achieve its goal.

Only once before has Green Bay been so busy so late against the Vikings. The Packers ran 30 fourth-quarter plays in a 26-26 tie on Nov. 24, 2013.

Green Bay’s only 30-plus fourth quarter win came against the 49ers at Lambeau Field in 1996. Brett Favre threw 24 passes in the final 15 minutes of regulation, then lobbed another five as the Packers edged San Francisco 23-20 in overtime.

Fourthfully Working
Since 1954, the six regular-season games in which the Packers ran 30 or more fourth-quarter plays.

  4Q Plays   4Q Points    Opponent        Result                   Date
       34               6           49ers                GB won 23-20       Oct. 14, 1996
       32               0           Vikings             GB lost 10-23        Oct. 15, 2017
       31              14          Seahawks         GB lost 14-20        Dec. 9, 1990
       31              16          Vikings             26-26 tie                Nov. 24, 2013
       30              17          Browns            GB lost 24-26        Sept. 18, 2005
       30              13          Lions                GB lost 16-18        Nov. 15, 2015

Remembering Y. A. Tittle (1926-2017)

LOOKING BACK
By Chris Willis, NFL Films

On October 8, 2017 the NFL lost one of the game’s greatest quarterbacks. Y.A. Tittle passed away at the age of 90.

Yelberton Abraham Tittle, or Y.A., played 17 seasons of pro football with three teams: the Baltimore Colts (1948-1950), San Francisco 49ers (1951-1960) and the New York Giants (1961-1964). He made seven Pro Bowls, named First-team All-Pro four times, won a NFL MVP in 1963 and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971. His only blemish on his resume is a lack of a World Championship- losing three NFL Championship Games with the Giants in the early 1960’s.

The “Bald Eagle” was definitely one of the game’s greatest passers.
One unique tidbit about Tittle was that he was the first NFL player featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Wearing his 49ers helmet and plastic facemask Tittle was on the November 22, 1954 cover. The historic photo was taken by Fred Lyon. 
Cover Sports Illustrated (Nov. 22, 1954). Tittle 1st NFL player to appear on cover.
Over the past five decades, a few books and magazines have been published about Tittle, including his autobiography. 
Y.A. Tittle: I Pass!
My Story as told to Don Smith 

Y.A. Tittle: I Pass! MY Story as told to Don Smith was published in 1964 (a year before he retired) by Franklin Watts, Inc. The 29- page autobiography was written with Don Smith, a former sports writer who was the New York Giants Public Relations Director. Smith was a logical choice working for the Giants and had just published a book “The Quarterbacks” also published by Franklin Watts.

I Pass! Featured a beautiful dust jacket painting by Leon Wolf.  The book contains 30 chapters of Tittle’s life. He covers his NFL Career with the Baltimore Colts (member of the AAFC), San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants (that includes insight into his trade from the 49ers to the Giants).

Tittle also talks briefly about his growing up in Marshall, Texas, where he feel in love with the game of football- as well as the passing game.

“Putting the ball in the air was the way I learned to play football in Marshall, and it has been my motto ever since.

To me, football is passing. I am a passer before everything. This is what I do best. Give me a chance, and I am going to throw the hell out of the ball.”

And throw it like hell he did.

At the time of his retirement after the 1964 NFL season Mr. Tittle held every major passing record including most touchdown passes with 212. 
Giants and Heroes: A Daughter’s Memories of Y.A. Tittle
Giants and Heroes was written by Tittle’s daughter Dianne Tittle De Laet. It was published in 1995 by Steerforth Press. A 261-page ode to her famous father Tittle De Laet, a poet and concert harpist, asks the question “What constitutes a hero?” She answers her question by investigating the Greek and Roman classics and writes a very heartfelt memoir that only a daughter could. The book was written so well that NFL Films interviewed Tittle De Laet for a piece on father-daughter relationships that aired in 1996. 
Nothing Comes Easy: My Life in Football
 Nothing Comes Easy, written with Kristine Setting Clark, was Tittle’s updated autobiography, some forty plus years after I Pass! This volume published in 2009 by Triumph includes a Forward by Frank Gifford and an Introduction by Steve Sabol.

“Football has been my entire life” said Y.A. Tittle.

Below are a few of the best magazine covers that featured Y.A.
1957 Pro Football All-Stars magazine
The color photo of Tittle was taken by another legendary sports photographer, this time by Hy Peskin. Pro Football All-Stars was published by Murray Olderman for MACO Magazine Corporation.
1957 Eagle Magazine

1962 All-Pro Football
Tittle appears on another Murray Olderman publication in 1962 (Dell publishers). The front cover photo of Y.A. was shot by Neil Leifer.
1963 Peterson Annual (8th Edition)
Probably my favorite Tittle cover. Great close-up image by legendary football photographer James Laughhead. Inside also includes an article "Profile of a Pro" that features artwork by Dave Boss.
1963 Pro Football (Dell)
This issue features cover photo by Walter Iooss and an article by Tittle's teammate Alex Webster, as told to sportswriter Dave Anderson.
Fall 1964 Pro Football (Sports Special)
In 1971 Tittle was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Despite not winning a championship Tittle was a no-brainer for the Hall. He should be remembered for his leadership and incredible passing skills that lasted for 17 seasons.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

A Stat Line for All Time?

Looking - Just a Little Bit - Back
By Nick Webster
The Packers and Cowboys certainly gave us a treat last Sunday. But the last play of the game may have actually produced a stat line that may have never been seen before. A challenge to the readers, if you’ve seen this stat line before please, let us know.
You’re looking at Dak Prescott’s receiving line from the game. You’ll recall the thrilling end included a play missing only the Stanford band marching out onto the field as the Cowboys lateralled the ball over and over in vain trying to pick up the miraculous last few yards to take the game. The play-by-play treated it like this:


Five laterals finally ended when Nick Perry, Linebacker of the Packers forced and recovered a fumble.

Now, this type of play isn’t terribly uncommon, but two aspects of it were. First, going back to the receiving chart, Prescott had 0 receptions for 0 yards and a 3-yard Long reception!  It’s not unusual to show up on a receiving chart with no receptions, this is the way the league treats any play where a receiver laterals the ball to another player, you are credited 0 receptions and whatever yardage you get following the lateral. We’d venture to say it’s even happened before that a player has had 0 receptions and 0 yards, as it seems reasonably possible that a player can get a lateral and fail to gain any yardage following the lateral. 

But how do you get 0 receptions, 0 yards, and a 3-yard long reception? It requires that you have no direct receptions in the game, receive a lateral, gain yardage (in this case 3) and then receive another lateral – in this case on the same play, but it could be later in the same game – and lose precisely the yardage you gained following the initial lateral. This may be the first time that has ever happened, is it, if you have evidence of another occurrence, let us know.


Friday, October 13, 2017

Gamebooks and Team Press Releases—Can They Be Improved?

 LOOKING FORWARD
By John Turney



The image above is the top of what is now called an NFL Gamebook, though it is entitled a "Game Summary". It used to be called a Play-by-play. We, at Pro Football Journal, have gone through tens of thousands of them doing research trying to glean information from them that had previously been ignored or neglected. Things such as sacks, net punting yardage, forced fumbles, starting lineups, etc.

We will focus on the starting lineups in this post.

The stated purpose of the Gamebook or Game summary is for "assisting the media in their coverage of the game". And they do a tremendous job in doing that. But in recent seasons, with so many different offensive and defensive schemes the starting lineups sometimes can get skewed. And the same things happen with some team Press Releases to the media.

Then, the erroneous information gets picked up and posted by excellent websites like Pro Football Reference.com or Ourlads. Then someone who reports on the NFL will go to those sites and use that slightly off information in a story or a feature about a player. We'd prefer that the original sources like the Gamebooks and Media Releases get it right from the beginning.

We will use the Los Angeles Rams as an example.
Credit: NFL Gamepass

This is a screen capture of the first defensive play from scrimmage in the Colts at Rams game the first week of the season. Tyrunn Walker is lined up shaded on the center. Most of the game he was lined up on a tackle, making him an end but at the start of the game, he was the nose tackle. Michael Brockers is lined up in an "eye" technique on the right guard, a tight 3-technique, making him a defensive tackle. Number 93 is Ethan Westbrooks lined up over the right tackle, making him a defensive end.

However, the Gamebook has the starting positions of Walker and Brockers reversed. However, cutting some slack for the stats crew there was a late shift to the left (defense's left) before the snap, but if that was the reason it wouldn't explain the next few games.


Here os the first snap of the Rams-Redskins games in Week 2.
Credit: NFL Gamepass

In this instance, the official game scorer chose to like Tyrunn Walker as a defensive tackle, though he is at 5-technique, over a tackle which makes him a defensive end. Had he listed Robert Quinn (#94) and Connor Barwin (#98) as defensive ends since they had their hands in the dirt it could be argued that Walker was a defensive tackle in a 5-2 look. But those two were listed as outside linebackers and in coachspeak, if you line up over an offensive tackle, you're a defensive end. Also, in Wade Phillips's 3-4 one gap scheme he uses one defensive end and one defensive tackle on the line with those two flanking a nose tackle.




Week three versus the 49ers:
Credit: NFL Gamepass
Here is the same questionable call as the Redskins game. Walker is head-up on a tackle, still making him a defensive end. It could also be debatable if Donald is an end on this play. He's usually aligned in a 3-technique, but here he's a bit wider, in a 4i-technique, which is the inside eye of a tackle. However, that is a matter of maybe a half-a-foot depending on the splits of the offensive line so keeping him listed as a defensive tackle is likely the right call. Walker, though, is technially and end.


Next is the Dallas game in Arlington:
Credit: NFL Gamepass
In this game it was publicized that Wade Phillips was going to move Michael Brockers around, and he did. He played almost all, if not all, likely run downs at 5-technique—defensive end. On the first snap he was lined up outside Tyron Smith. Rookie Tanzel Smart took Brockers's spot at nose tackle and Donald is at 3-technique over All-Pro Zack Martin.

But the Gamebook shows Smart at defensive tackle and Brockers at nose tackle. Both are in error.

Finally, last Sunday's game versus the Seahawks.
Credit: NFL Gamepass
This still gets a bit complicated. But if we are going to put this into a 3-4 scheme then Quinn and Alec Ogletree are the outside linebackers (our view is this is more of a 4-3 stack with Quinn as a stand-up defensive end) and Mark Barron and Cory Littleton would be the inside linebackers.

This is an even front (no nose tackle) and the tackles are Brockers and Donald with Barwin at defensive end in a 6-technique (head-up on tight end) and Quinn in a wide technique outside the tackle as a stand-up end.

It is fully understandable if the official scorer, in a short amount of time didn't get this quite right. But he or she lists Brockers as a nose, which he is clearly not and Ogletree as an ILBer even though he's in the hip pocket of Barwin on the second level.



Adding to the confusion is the Los Angeles Rams Media relations staff and the press releases that go out every week.

Here is what they have listed in the current release which is for the upcoming Jacksonville game:
For some reason they still list Ethan Wesbrooks as a "projected starter" even though he has not started a game since Week One versus the Colts. They also list Brockers as a nose tackle even though he's been a defensive end, for the most part, the past two games. Tanzel Smart takes the lion's share of snaps at nose tackle.

 This is the current unofficial depth chart. Yes, it is unofficial but we are not sure that is an excuse for inaccurate. We just don't think this is accurate enough for a professional team's media relations department. The shop needs to be a bit better in our view.


This is not supposed to be unofficial, it is meant to help media with coverage of the games and to reflect who actually did start games. To be fair this is likely taken from the NFL Gamebooks, which we have pointed out can be off from time-to-to time.

For what it's worth, this is how we'd list the Rams front seven for the opening snaps of each game this season:

Why it matters? Mostly for historical purposes. This screen capture of the starters for the Rams at Pro Football Referece.com is accurate in the sense that it correctly records what the NFL Gamebooks list. But when someone in the future goes back and wants to study about or write about the players of 2017 they will make errors based on what is listed, the old GIGO theory (garbage in, garbage out).

Further, unless someone has video of the game it won't be correctable since Pro Football Reference uses a good system of using official documents (like Gamebooks) when making corrections. 

Ourlads tries to keep current depth charts for their website visitors. They have the new starting strong safety, John Johnson, listed but as per the Rams PR release still have Westbrooks as the starting defensive end, again, even though he started only this season's opener.

There are plenty more examples we've seen and really don't want to single out the Rams PR staff, though we have reviewed other teams and they seem to have the highest propensity for error but have not made an in-depth study of all 32 teams.

We just ask that the starting lineups be as correct as possible at the NFL Gamebook level and with the teams PR staff level. I wasn't until the last 20-35 years or so that the Gamebooks insisted on getting the starters right. Back in the day, the eleven starters in the base defense were listed and if a team opened with three- or 4-wide receivers they were not listed as starters. However, in this age of substitution, a decision apparently was made to get the starting elevens right, even if they were not going to play the majority of the game. And what happened is sometimes a nickel back would then get four or five starts, or a designated pass rusher would get three of four starts, not that he earned a spot on the base defense, but because the opposing team opened in three wides.

So, we simply suggest that all of us (and we don't exclude ourselves) up our game to get the best information recorded for future generations that way we won't have a 2040 equivalent of Merlin Olsen listed as a right defensive tackle at Pro Football Reference.com (a position he never played) for players that are active now.

UPDATE: October 15, 2017:  Jacksonville scorekeeper lists Aaron Donald as an OLBer.

However, Donald is lined up in his usual 3-technique spot, on the outside shoulder of an offensive guard, making him a defensive tackle. Brockers is on the tackle, making him a defensive end.

We have no idea why Donald is listed as an OLBer and only some idea of why Brockers is listed as a defensive tackle, though it isn't accurate.

They also listed John Johnson as a RCB when he was the deep/weak or free safety.
Credit: NFL Gamepass
And due to these errors, places like Football Outsiders.com, a great site, also apes the poor information

In their snap count section, due to the errant listing of Aaron Donald as an OLBer, his snap counts skew to unit totals for the defensive line and linebackers for the Rams. There table for week six, seen below shows five linebackers getting over 71% of the total snaps in the game. That is kind of hard to do when there were four linebackers the majority of the game.

UPDATE II 10/23/17:
Fox Sports who got their info from Rams PR staff got the starting lineups wrong again as did the NFL Gamebook. The still shot is correct (labeled by Pro Football Journal)
 

Credit: NFL Gamepass
UPDATE III   10/31/2107:
The Rams PR release for week 8 still getting it wrong:

Here is the ones in error, a "check" is correct, an "x" is in error: