Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Why Getting Starting Lineups Right is Important

By John Turney

A while back we mentioned that it was good (at least preferable) to get the starting lineups correct in team releases. Here is the reason why—In an article posted today on the Los Angeles Rams website the following phrase appears:

The issue is Smart didn't start at " 3-4 defensive end or a nose tackle through four games". However you would think he did if you read the Rams release. It shows the following:
It shows no starters at nose tackle, and one column is "DT/OLB/DE" while the previous is "DT/DE". In addition to being inaccurate, it's confusing and it is no wonder the author of the article on the Rams website made the error.

Here is what the positions should be and who started the game in those positions.
So, the bottom line is it matters to get the media releases right because the media counts on that information to write articles and posts. In this case, it was one of their own, but next time it could the  LA Times or the Orange County Register or someone else.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

A Pointless Effort at Lambeau Field

By Eric Goska

Getting with the program: Vendors were among those braving freezing temperatures at Lambeau Field Sunday when the Packers hosted the Ravens.

Slim and none showed up at the close of the third quarter in Sunday’s game at Lambeau Field.

Slim’s stay was short-lived as he fled for parts unknown long before the final seconds ticked away.

With zero points to their credit and down by 13, the Green Bay Packers adopted a game plan they had used on other occasions such as this: they folded. This time it was the Baltimore Ravens that bounced them 23-0, but it easily could have the Bears, the Maroons, the Yellow Jackets or another team had it been a different era.

So, what was more surprising: the Packers with a goose egg on the scoreboard after three quarters or the team calling for two timeouts with less than three minutes to go?

It had to be the latter. Down 16-0, Green Bay twice stopped the clock after runs by the Ravens. History suggests the stoppages were a waste of time as the possibility of mounting a comeback at that late juncture had gone from slim to none.

It’s been 11 years since the Packers were last rendered pointless after three quarters. In 2006, both the Patriots (35-0) and Bears (26-0) kept them off the scoreboard.

Scoreless through three has been a rarity in the years since Mike Holmgren coached in Green Bay. It’s happened five times since 1992, with the Dolphins (1994) and Cowboys (1996) blanking the Packers prior to the Bears, Patriots, and Ravens having done so.

This lack of point production wasn’t always so uncommon. Green Bay failed to score in the opening three quarters 100 times from 1921 through 1991.

That failure to score was often followed by failure on the field. Since 1921, the Packers are 10-84-11 (.148) in the regular-season when they had nothing to show through three.

Among those games were 19 in which both teams were scoreless. Eliminate those and Green Bay’s record is even more dismal at 6-79-1 (.076)

Teams that feasted while the Packers rested include the Bears (19-1), the Lions (12-0) and Cardinals (6-0-1). The Pottsville Maroons (2-0) and Frankford Yellow Jackets (1-0) also got into the act.

Not even this gentleman could drum up points for the Packers who lost by 23 to the Ravens.

But let’s take this further. What exactly were the odds of a Packer victory at the moment Baltimore running back Alex Collins ran for a first down to the Ravens 46-yard line at the close of the third quarter?

Needless to say, they weren’t good. The Packers are 1-55 (.018) when scoreless after three and facing a deficit of at least 10 points. Their loss to the Ravens was their 30th in a row under these circumstances.

Over the years, some ugly losses resulted from being in that situation. The Lions, up 26-0 after three, spoiled Thanksgiving Day 26-14 in 1962. Chicago, ahead 16-0, triumphed 26-7 a year later.

More recently, the Cowboys, in front 15-0, persevered 21-6 on a Monday night during Green Bay’s Super Bowl run in 1996.

Green Bay’s lone victory occurred 60 years ago. On Oct. 27, 1957, Baltimore jumped in front 14-0 after 45 minutes of play. The Packers then stunned Johnny Unitas and the Colts with a 24-point fourth quarter barrage that included a 75-yard, Babe Parilli-to-Bill Howton touchdown pass with 29 seconds left.

Green Bay amassed more than 200 yards in that fourth quarter. It scored on each of its last four possessions.

The Packers’ closing effort against Baltimore was nothing of the kind. Green Bay never threatened except, perhaps, the notion that it is going anywhere this season.

Brett Hundley directed five drives. Two were halted by turnover, two culminated in punts and one ended in downs.

Green Bay ran 18 plays for 66 yards. Nine times it was held to no gain or was thrown for a loss.

Jamaal Williams and Devante Mays combined for nine yards rushing on four carries. Hundley completed six of 11 passes for 73 yards and was sacked three times. His passer rating was a miserable 37.3.

Terrell Suggs separated Hundley from the ball midway through the quarter. Another linebacker, C.J. Mosley, scooped up the fumble and romped 18 yards to set up Justin Tucker’s third field goal for a 16-0 Ravens’ lead.

Cornerback Marlon Humphrey then intercepted Hundley with two minutes, 17 seconds left. On the next play, Collins barreled into the end zone from three yards out and Baltimore went up 23-0.

Prior to Sunday, only three teams – the Chiefs (92 points), Lions (88) and Seahawks (86) – had scored more points than Green Bay (80) in the fourth quarter. The Ravens (81) now join that list.

Next up for Green Bay is Pittsburgh. The Steelers last held a team scoreless through three quarters just over a year ago.

The result was predictable. Pittsburgh had little trouble with the Chiefs, drubbing them 43-14 after cruising to a 36-0 advantage after three quarters of play.

Slim Pickings
The Packers have won only six times after having been held scoreless through three quarters and facing a deficit heading into the fourth. Only once have they emerged victorious when the deficit was 10 or more.

Date                   Opponent         Down      Final
Oct. 27, 1957     Colts                  0-14       24-21
Oct. 23, 1921     Marines               0-6          7-6
Nov. 12, 1922    Marines               0-6         14-6
Nov. 26, 1939    Rams                   0-6          7-6
Nov. 2, 1924      Legion                 0-3          6-3
Sept. 27, 1959    Bears                   0-3          9-6

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Atlanta Falcons All-Time All-Rookie Team

By John Turney

This year we are picking All-Time All-Rookie squads for each of the NFL franchises. Today the Falcons get our treatment:
Eric Weems and Elbert Shelly, the two stalwart special teams demons didn't have great rookie years since they didn't play a lot of games, but some others, Michael Boley, Akeem Dent, Jessie Tuggle and Ralph Ortega was players who got down the field, made tackles and played extremely hard so they get the special teams slots. Boley, an All-Rookie pick, gets the First-team slot and Dent (also All-Rookie) gets the Second-team slot. Tuggle and Ortega both get an honorable mention. Boley also started 11 games and performed well at linebacker.

The kickers, both of whom had 5-field goal games to beat the Rams, are Nick Mike-Mayer and Tim Mazzetti. Mike-Mayer was All-Rookie and the NFC Pro Bowl kicker and an All-NFC selection in 1973. Also, the Falcons have three honorable mentions:  Mick Luckhurst, 1981 (All-Rookie), and Jay Feely, 2001 (All-Rookie). Greg Davis, (1988 All-Rookie by Football Digest)

John James, 1972 (All-Rookie), is the top punter followed by Rick Donnelly, 1985. The honorable mentions are Michael Koenen, 2005 (36.9 net average) and Harold Alexander, 1993 (37.6 net) and Matt Bosher, 2011 (All-Rookie)

Deion Sanders, 1989, and Derrick Vaughn, 2000 (All-Rookie), are the First-team punt- and kick returners. The Second teamers are Harry Douglass (1985) and Byron Hanspard, 1997 (All-Rookie).

Dennis Pearson, 1978 (26.5 avg and 1 TD) and Tim Dwight, 1998 (All-Rookie, 27.0 average and  1 TD) are the honorable mention kick returners. The punt return honorable mention is Gerald Tinker, (1974, 13.9 average and 1 TD).

Robert Alford, 2013, is the nickel back followed by Chevis Jackson, 2008. The designated pass rusher for the All-Rookie team is Mike Pitts, 1983 (All-Rookie, 7 sacks), followed by Marcus Cotton, 1988 (5 sacks).

Strong safety goes to Roger Harper, 1993 (All-Rookie, 112 tackles), and he's backed up by Robert Moore, 1986. The free safety First- and Second-teamers are Bret Clark, 1986, and Tom Pridemore, 1978. There are three honorable mentions at safety—Ray Brown, 1971, Keanu Neal, 2016, and Clarence Ellis, 1972, Willie Germany, 1972 (Football Digest All-Rookie), James Britt (1983, Football Digest All-Rookie), and Devin Bush, 1995 (All-Rookie)

Deion Sanders, 1989 (All-Rookie, 5 picks, 2 forced fumbles), and Bobby Butler, 1981 (5 picks), are the cornerbacks, backed by Desmond Trufant, 2013 (All-Rookie, 60 tackles, 2 INTs), and Kenny Johnson, 1980 (All-Rookie). Butler would have gotten more acclaim for his rookie season but Ronnie Lott and Everson Walls took the lion's share of awards that season.

There are five honorable mentions at corner:  Rudy Redmond, 1969 (41 tackles, 5 interceptions), Tom Hayes, 1971 (All-Rookie), Frank Reed, 1976 (46 tackles, 29 passes defensed, Second-team All-Rookie) Chris Houston, 2007, Brian Poole, 2016, and DeAngelo Hall, 2004.

Tommy Nobis, 1966 (NFL Rookie of the Year, 125 tackles, 5 sacks), is the middle linebacker, the 3-4 inside linebacker is Buddy Curry, 1980 (145 tackles, 3 INTs, 14 passes defensed and a scoop and score, co-Defensive Rookie of the Year, All-Rookie). They are backed by Curtis Lofton, 2008 (All-Rookie, 87 tackles), (middle) and Jim Laughlin, 1980 (42 tackles) (inside). 

For outside linebackers, we chose Al Richardson, 1980 (co-Defensive Rookie of the Year with Curry, All-Rookie, 84 tackles, 7 interceptions, 3 fumbles recovered one for a touchdown) and Deion Jones, 2016 (All-rookie, 106 tackles, 3 picks, 3 for TDs). The Second-teamers are Robert Pennywell, 1977 (86 tackles, 6½ stuffs), Aundray Bruce, 1988 (6 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, All-Rookie) 

The honorables are John Rade, 1983 (All-Rookie), Darion Conner, 1990, Henri Crockett, 1997, and Paul Worrilow, 2013 (All-Rookie), Vic Beasley, 2015 (PFJ All-Pro)

Rick Bryan, 1984, Tony Casillas, 1986, a pair of All-Rookie selections are the defensive tackles followed by Tory Epps, 1990 (All-Rookie), and Moe Gardner, 1991 (All-Rookie), on our Second-team. Greg Lens, 1970 (36 tackles, 6½ sacks), and Andrew Provence, 1983 (All-Rookie) are the honorable mentions.

Claude Humphrey, 1968, (NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year) and John Zook, 1969 (44 tackles, 9½ sacks), are the First-team flanks, and the Second-teamers are Don Smith, 1979 (35 tackles, 9 sacks), and Jeff Merrow, 1975, with Jamaal Anderson, 2007, and Mike Gann, 1985, as the honorable mentions. Humphrey got some All-Pro notice and had 47 tackles, 11½ sacks and five forced fumbles.

The First-team offensive line is composed of Calvin Collins, 1997 (All-Rookie), center with guards Bill Fralic, 1985 (All-Rookie), and Lincoln Kennedy, 1993 (All-Rookie), with George Kunz, 1969 (Pro Bowl), and Mike Kenn, 1978 (All-Rookie), at tackles. As noted, four of the five were All-Rookie selections and the only reason it wasn't five for five is that in 1969 there was no major publication making All-Rookie selections. Kunz did go to the Pro Bowl as a replacement and was regarded as the top rookie tackle in the NFL that season.

The Second-team offensive line is as follows:  James Stone, 2014,  center, R.C. Thielemann, 1977 (All-Rookie), and Justin Blalock, 2007, at guard and Ephraim Salaam, 1998 (All-Rookie), and Jake Matthews, 2014 (All-Rookie), the tackles.

Guards Travis Claridge, 2000 (Football News All-Rookie), and Dennis Havig, 1972 (All-Rookie), plus tackles Houston Hoover, 1988, and Warren Bryant, 1977, and John Scully, (1981 All-Rookie) and Peter Konz, 2012,  are the honorable mentions.

Junior Miller, 1980 (All-Rookie), is the First-team tight end and Jim Mitchell, 1969, is Second-team with Alge Crumpler, 2001 (Football News All-Rookie), Cliff Benson,1984 (All-Rookie), Austin Hooper, (2016) the HMs 

Matt Ryan, 2008 (All-Rookie), is the clear number one quarterback and he's backed but Second-team choice Steve Bartkowski, 1975 (All-Rookie), with Randy Johnson,1966, the honorable mention along with Doug Johnson, 2000 (All-Rookie)

William Andrews, 1979 (All-Rookie), and Steve Broussard, 1990, are the running backs and they are backed up by Bubba Bean, 1976, and Jerious Norwood, 2006. Andrews is the star of this group rushing for over 1,000 yards and catching 39 passes.

At wideout Julio Jones, 2011 (All-Rookie), and Ken Burrow, 1971, are the picks. Their backups are Alfred Jenkins, 1975, and Shawn Collins, 1989 (All-Rookie). At honorable mention, we went with Alfred Jackson, (1978), Mike Pritchard,1991 (All-Rookie) and Bert Emanuel, 1994.

Burrow caught 33 passes for 741 yards and a 22.5-yard average and 6 touchdowns while Julio Jones, despite missing three games had 54 receptions for 959 yards and a 17.8-yard average with 8 touchdowns.Jenkins was close to Burrow in numbers:  38 catches for 767 yards and a 20.2-yard average and 6 touchdowns while Collins totaled 58 catches for 862 yards.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Packers Get Their (Final) Act Together

By Eric Goska

The Packers and Bears combined for 275 fourth-quarter yards in Green Bay’s 23-16 win Sunday at Soldier Field. The only time the two rivals teamed up for more occurred on November 6, 1955 in a game (see above) won by the Bears 52-31 at Wrigley Field.

Better late than never!

The Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears poured it on in the final 15 minutes Sunday in rainy Soldier Field. Yards, first downs and points arrived with greater frequency than during any of the other three quarters.

Amid the flurry of activity were two defenses searching for stops. That Green Bay found one in the last minute saved the day and allowed it to escape with a 23-16 win over its longtime rival.

Youth was at the helm for both Chicago and Green Bay. Brett Hundley, 24, made his third start at quarterback for the Packers. His counterpart, 23-year-old rookie Mitchell Trubisky, started for the fifth time.

Both lack game-day experience. Nevertheless, football pundits from both sides were calling for the youngsters to be turned loose.

Perhaps those experts were looking for something along the lines of Sunday’s fourth quarter.

Hundley and the Packers amassed 143 yards on 21 plays (6.8 average). The team earned seven first downs and ran 13 plays on Chicago’s side of the field.

The outpouring was somewhat unexpected considering the team had gained 199 yards on 44 plays (4.5) through three quarters.

Hundley completed five of six passes for 89 yards and a touchdown. His passer rating was a perfect 158.3.

His only incompletion was a drop by Davante Adams early in the quarter. Had Adams hung on, the Packers might have gotten more than a 50-yard Mason Crosby field goal that put them ahead 16-6.

Hundley made good on a couple of difficult throws. He lofted a 19-yarder to Adams to give Green Bay a 23-13 lead. He fired a 42-yard bomb to Adams that led to a failed 35-yard field goal attempt with one minute, three seconds left.

The athletic quarterback also made an important gain on the ground. His 17-yard dash on third down set the stage for his TD throw to Adams two plays later.

The Packers’ running game battered for key gains. Jamaal Williams, Aaron Ripkowski and Randall Cobb chipped in 37 yards with Williams knocking out 32 in 10 tries to go along with three first downs.

In all, Green Bay’s haul (143 yards) was its ninth most in a fourth quarter against the Bears dating to 1923. The team last had more (164) on Dec. 29, 2013 when Aaron Rodgers and Cobb collaborated on a 48-yard touchdown in a 33-28 win.

Trubisky, too, was given the green light. The decision to put the game in his hands was a no-brainer as the Bears had trailed most of the afternoon.

The rookie completed eight of 14 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown. His passer rating was 111.3.

Trubisky utilized four receivers – Dontrelle Inman, Joshua Bellamy, Daniel Brown and Kendall Wright – in registering six passing first downs. His 46-yard scoring strike to Bellamy cut the Packers’ lead to 16-13 with 10:39 to go.

Trubisky’s final pass was a dump off to Benny Cunningham on fourth-and-10. Cunningham got five then pitched to center Hroniss Grasu who gained another two before Mike Daniels brought him to earth with 28 seconds remaining.

In all, the Bears gained 132 yards in the final 15 minutes. It was far more than the goose egg it posted in the third quarter.

Taken together, the Packers and Bears piled up 275 yards. Only once before had the teams combined for more in a fourth quarter – an unofficial 306 – on Nov. 6, 1955.

That’s quite a show for two quarterbacks making their first starts in the series. Here’s hoping both go on to have more productive careers than the last two to open for the first time in the series on the same day: Rusty Lisch (Chicago) and Randy Wright (Green Bay) on December 9, 1984.

Final Acts
Since 1923, the seven regular-season games in which the Packers and Bears combined for more than 250 yards in the fourth quarter. Data from 1941 is not available.

Yards  Date                   Plys-Yds-GB      Plys-Yds-CB      Result
306*    Nov. 6, 1955          23-211                 13-95             GB lost 31-52
275      Nov. 12, 2017        21-143                16-132            GB won 23-16
275      Sept. 29, 2003       17-107                24-168            GB won 38-23
271      Dec. 18, 2016         10-64                 26-207            GB won 30-27
265*    Sept. 28, 1952       16-135                18-130            GB lost 14-24
263      Sept. 1, 1997         19-125                20-138            GB won 38-24
255      Oct. 1, 2000           23-190                 16-65             GB lost 24-27

*these totals are unofficial and were obtained by using the handwritten play-by-plays recorded by former Green Bay Press-Gazette sports editor Art Daley.

Friday, November 10, 2017

All-Time Career Years for the St. Louis-Era Rams

By John Turney
With the Rams moving back to Los Angeles we thought we'd do a career-year team for the Rams of the St. Louis era. This is not an All-time team, it is a career-year team, the best individual seasons by players at each position. Here goes:
The line comes from the Super Bowl/Playoff era with McCullom, Timmerman, Nutten, Pace and Turley. Nutten an All-Pro as chosen by USA Today in 2000. Pace had many "honors" but 2003 was his best season, he allowed four sacks and wasn't called for a holding penalty. Turley was an All-Pro by the Dallas Morning News and was a top tackle as graded by Pro Scout, Inc. Timmerman was honored in several seasons but his season with the most honors was 2001.

The Second-teamers were not honored at all, other than Jake Long in 2013 as an honorable mention All-Pro. Gandy was a solid player and in 1996 he had the fewest sacks (5.5) and holding penalties  (1) of his Ram career. Joe Barksdale's 2013 season is an honorable mention.

Ernie Conwell was a Second-team All-Pro in 2001 and yes, we had to go with Jared Cook as the Second-team pick. His numbers were the best of any St. Louis-era Ram tight end (51-671-13.2-5). For the blocking backs we went with James Hodgins, 2000, and Madison Hedgecock, 2006. Hodgins blocked for Faulk's MVP season of 2000 and Hedgecock led Rams in special teams tackles and was the lead blocker for Steven Jackson's best season.

Speaking of which Faulk's 2000 (253-1359-5.4-18 and 81-830-10.2-8) and Jackson's 2006 (346-1528-4.4-13 and 90-806-9.0-3) are the top picks running back and the backups are Todd Gurley, 2015, and Zac Stacy, 2013. Faulk was a consensus MVP and Jackson, on a better team, might have been a league MVP. Gurley had a top rookie season in 2015.

Amp Lee, 1997 ( 61 catches for 825 yards), is the First-team third-down back and Benny Cunningham, 2014 (45 receptions), is next in line at that position.
The quarterbacks are pretty easy with Kurt Warner, 1999 (MVP, 41 TD passes), and Marc Bulger, 2006 (Pro Bowl, 92.9 passer rating).

The third receiver (slot) position is very deep. We chose Az-Zahir Hakim, 1999 as the First-teamer and Danny Amendola, 2010, as the Second-team selection Honorable mentions are Ricky Proehl, 2001, Kevin Curtis, 2006, Todd Kinchen, 1995. We could have even chosen fourth receivers in
Shaun McDonald, 2004, and/or Dane Looker in 2003.

The starting receivers are also easy:  Isaac Bruce, 1995, and Torry Holt, 2003, are the top two. Following them are Eddie Kennison, 1996, and Kevin Curtis, 2005. Curtis, due to injuries had to fill in as a starter.
Jeff "Money" Wilkins, 2003, and Greg "The Leg" Zuerlein, 2013, are the First- and Second-team kickers respectively.  Johnny Hekker, 2013, is the top punting season and next is Donnie Jones, 2009.

The punt returners were close but in the end we went with Eddie Kennison, 1996 over Az-Zahir Hakim, 2000, for the First-team. The honorable mention is Tavon Austin, 2014

Tony Horne, 1999 is a clear #1 for kickoff return seasons and he's backed up by Benny Cunningham, 2015. Horne was All-Pro as a kick returner in 1999 and average 29.7 yard per return and two of his returns went for touchdowns.

Special teams players were plentiful. We settled on Chris Chamberlain, 2010 for the First-team and Antonio Goss, 1996, for the Second-team. Goss blocked two punts that season, the most since Nolan Cromwell blocked three in 1987. Goss also forced a key fumble on special teams.

Honorable mentions are Fletcher, 1998, who had 30 tackles. Keith Crawford, 1996, (15 tackles and a forced fumble). Cedrick Figaro, 1995 (24 tackles, 1 ff, 2 fr), Billy Jenkins, 1997 (23 tackles), 
Chris Thomas, 2000 (18 tackles and credited with 95 blocks)  and Madison Hedgecock, 2005 (19 tackles which led team)

The starting secondary is composed of corners Aeneas Williams, 2001 (All-Pro, 72 tackles, 18 PDs, 4 picks, 2 pick 6s, 4 FF), Todd Lyght, 1999 (All-Pro 66 tackles, 13 PDs, 6 INTs, one for a TD), and safeties Toby Wright, 1995 (115 tackles, 5 stuffs, a sack, 12 passes defensed, 6 INTs and a scoop and score), and Keith Lyle, 1997 (84 tackles, 11 passes defensed, 9 picks and 3 FF).

Our Second-team unit is Jackrabbit Jenkins, 2012 (73 tackles and 4 defensive touchdowns—a Rams season record), Trumaine Johnson, 2015 (71 tackles, 17 PDs, 7 picks), at corner and Adam Archuleta, 2003 (79 tackles 4.5 stuffs, 5 sacks, 7 passes defensed, one INT and a scoop and score, and O.J. Atogwe, 2008 (83 tackles, 5 PD, 5 INT, 6 FF and a FR for a TD), at safety. O.J. Atogwe's 2007 season drew strong consideration (75 tackles and 8 picks) but the combination of 5 picks and 6 forced fumbles (actually Rams coaches credit him with 8 and film review shows they are correct) was more impressive.

Some honorable mentions are Ryan McNeil 1997 (71 tackles, 20 passes defensed, 9 INTs and one pick-six), Travis Fisher, 2003 (61 tackles, 11 passes defensed, 4 INTs, two for TDs), Anthony Parker, 1996 (60 tackles, 13 PDs, 4 INTs, 2 returned for scores), and Dexter McCleon, 2000 (54 tackles, 19 PDs and 9 picks).

Our First-team nickel back is Dre Bly, 2001 (six INTs, two returned for touchdowns). The Second-team pick is Corey Ivy, 2005 (69 tackles, 6.0 stuffs, 2.0 sacks, 5 passes defensed, 1 pick and 1 forced fumble). Bly was extremely effective for the Rams from 1999-01. Ivy was always making plays, a stuff, a sack, a key tackle. He didn't get much notice at the time but he was very good in his role. It seems though, the Ravens noticed as he filled that role for then for the next few years.

Our two honorable mentions are Lamarcus Joyner, 2015 (72 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 stuffs), and Ronald Bartell, 2006 (25 tackles, 3 stuffs, 6 passes defensed, 3 picks, one returned for a TD).
London Fletcher, 2000 is the number one season at MLB and James Laurinaitis, 2011, is his backup. Fletcher's 2001 season was right up there with 2000 but given that the defense was so poor in 2000 and Fletcher played so well, it seems he did more with less in 2000 and that season gets the nod. In 2000 Fletcher had 133 tackles, 9.5 stuffs, 5.5 sacks, 8 passes defensed, and 4 INTs. And no, Fletcher didn't get a Pro Bowl invite. Back then, he never did. James Laurinaitis, in 2011, had 142 tackles, 9.0 stuffs, 3.0 sacks, 7 passes defensed and 2 INTs. 

Roman Phifer, 1995, is the WILL and Mike Jones, 1999, is the SAM. They are backed by Mark Barron, 2015 (WILL), Alec Ogletree, 2013 (SAM).

Phifer had a Pro Bowl-type season in 1995 but didn't get the votes to make the team. He made 125 tackles, 3 sacks, 10 stuffs, 13 passes defensed, 3 INTs, and a forced fumble. His backup on our team, as a WILL, is Mark Barron and he had 113 tackles 18.5 stuffs, 1 sack, 4 forced fumbles, 5 passes defensed and one INT.  

Mike Jones not only had "The Tackle" in Super Bowl XXXIV he also had a great 1999 season. He had 67 tackles on a top defense, but also had 11 passes defensed, 4 INTs, 2 returned for touchdowns, forced two fumbles, recovered two and returned one of those for a touchdown. He was a rare SAM who played every down and was an impact player on the 1999 Championship Rams.

Ogletree was perhaps in the odd position of SAM (strong-side linebacker) when his skills seemed to be suited for WILL (weak-side linebacker). However, Jo-Lonn Dunbar was at WILL so Ogletree had to play on the strong side. In 2013 he had 118 tackles with 11 of them stuffs, had 1.5 sacks, 9 passes defensed, picked off a pass that he returned for a touchdown and he also forced six fumbles. 

The honorable mentioned outside 'backers are Jo-Lonn Dunbar, 2012, Pisa Tinoisamoa, 2003, and 
Tommy Polley, 2003. Dunbar was all over the field in 2012 totaling 112 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 12 stuffs, 4 passes defensed, 2 forced fumbles and 2 picks. 

Polley was a pass coverage specialist and in 2003 had 68 (6.5 were stuffs), 12 passes defensed and four INTs. Tinoisamoa, who had other fine years, totaled 76 tackles, 7.0 stuffs,  2.0 sacks, 7 passes defenses, 3 INTs and 4 forced fumbles in 2003. 

As our designated pass rusher position First-team is Leonard Little, 2001, and the Second-team spot goes to William Hayes, 2012.  The honorable mentions are Tyoka Jackson, 2003, James Hall, 2008, and Robert Quinn, 2011. 

Little had 33 tackles and 14.5 sacks in 2001 and forced a pair of fumbles. Hayes had 35 tackles 7 sacks and 7 stuffs usually playing as a left defensive tackle in sub defenses (nickel and dime). Jackson had 24 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 1 pick, and 2 forced fumbles and got a special mention from Sports Illustrated as a nickel rusher. James Hall had 44 tackles and 6.5 sacks playing inside and outside in sub defenses.

The First-team shade or nose tackle is Ryan "Grease" Pickett, 2005, and the close Second-teamer is Michael Brockers, 2015. The honorable mentions are Jimmie Jones, 1996, Ray Agnew, 1998, and Jeff Zgonina, 2001.

Pickett had a fine career, never any honors and the Rams made a mistake letting him go and trying to use Jimmy Kennedy as a nose tackle. In 2005 Pickett made 65 tackles and 2 sacks but the key was his 12 run stuffs the most of any Ram defensive tackle not named Aaron Donald. Michael Brockers didn't technically move to shade tackle until 2014 but in 2012-2013 he often was over the center when the Rams over-shifted the line when the tight end was on the offense's right. However, we went with 2015 for Brockers when he was the nose tackle and had 44 tackles, 6 stuffs and 3 sacks. But his 2012 and 2013 would certainly fit our criteria here.

Jimmie Jones's 1996 season was composed of 45 tackles, 5.5 sacks, and 4 stuffs, Ray Agnew's 1998 season line was 64 tackles, 5 sacks and 6 stuffs. In 2001 Jeff Zgonina had 38 tackles and no sacks (he was removed on passing downs) but did have 7 stuffs.

At three-technique the top spot goes to Aaron Donald, 2015 chosen by a hair over D'Marco Farr, 1995. Donald's 2015 was an All-Pro season and he totaled 69 tackles, 11 sacks, and 13.5 stuffs. Farr's 1995 season got him chosen to the Dallas Morning News All-Pro team with his 50 tackles, 11.5 sacks, 11.5 stuffs, and 5 forced fumbles.

At defensive end, the top two slots go to All-Pros Robert Quinn, 2013, and Kevin Carter, 1999. The Second-team slots go to Leonard Little, 2003, and Chris Long, 2011.
Robert Quinn was the Pro Football Writers of America Defensive Player of the Year in 2013 and his stats were as follows:  57 tackles, 10.5 stuffs, 19.0 sacks, 7 forced fumbles, and one defensive score. Kevin Carter was the Dallas Morning News Defensive Player of the Year as he led the NFL in sacks with 17 and totaled 34 tackles and four forced fumbles.

In 2003 Leonard Little was All-Pro even though he missed four games. He had 12.5 sacks, 47 tackles and six forced fumbles. Chris Long's 2011 season was his best even though he tweaked his ankle late in the year. He was voted the NFL Alumni Defensive Lineman of the Year and was a first alternate to the Pro Bowl and according to a couple organizations had a pile of hurries. Long had 37 tackles and 13 sacks on the year.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Give Credit Where Credit is Due

Current Events
By John Turney

About a month ago we pointed out some oddities and errors in media releases and in NFL Gamebook starting lineups. The team we used as an example was the Los Angeles Rams. After a month of reminders the Rams PR staff, in this weeks release, got it right.

This week they correctly show that Michael Brockers is the defensive end, the 5-technique and that Aaron Donald is the  defensive tackle and Tanzel Smart is the nose tackle:
They also correctly updated the depth chart:
There are still issues here but the most recent week, the Giants is mostly correct. So, as Meatloaf sang, "Two out of three ain't bad".
For anyone scoring at home, this is how this chart should appear based on NFL Gamepass:
So, well done Rams Media Relations Staff. Now, if we could get NFLGSIS to list Brockers as a defensive end and not a tackle, we'd have completed our task.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Anatomy of a Bomb Part II

By John Turney
Jared Goff hit Sammy Watkins on a long bomb versus the Giants last Sunday. Over the last several years the Rams have used this concept (along with likely all other teams) to strike a defense that is looking at heavy run personnel and a run formation with various run actions.

A while back we posted this: Anatomy of a Bomb detailing the same concept as the Goff-to-Watkins toucdown. That play is the same concept as some recent ones we've seen so we'll incorporate it into this discussion.

 For openers, here is the Goff-to-Watkins touchdown. (All credits: NFL Gamepass)

You can see the route concept a skinny post by the single-side receiver and an 'over' route or crossing route or "4"(a rounded "dig)—whatever you choose to call it. In this play, the running back slips through and runs to the flat. If the middle of the field safety (MOF) gives more attention to the deep over route than to the post and it costs the Giants. Also, the far corner doesn't get back to help out. Addiionally Watkins, did a double-move on his post route, a quick ake to the outside or corner before cutting in to the post which aided the play. In all of the following players there are different wrinkles here and there but the concepts, really, are the same.

Here is the 2013 version the Rams ran (called Triple Rt Zoom Act 4 Dover):

Going back in time, here is the 2010 version the Rams ran against Seattle in the season finale. This pass was dropped by Danario Alexander. The play in Pat Shurmur's verbiage  "Strong right west pass 95 Y deep over".  In the Zampese/Martz verbiage, it would be called something like "Twins Rt switch fake belly right, max left 844."

Here is the end (credit NBC) of the play as the ball slips through the receivers hands. The play was pivotal in the Rams season and it missed by very little, in fact, Cris Collinsworth said during the telecast that it wasn't a "hard catch".

Brian Schottenheimer ran essentially the same play in 2014 with Shaun Hill at QB who he hit Kenny Britt who was the single-side receiver and the victims were the Denver Broncos:

Earlier in the 2017 season the Rams ran this play with some differences in the play action portion of the play with mixed results.In week one the Rams ran it versus the Colts and Goff hit the wide open Cooper Kupp on the over route rather than taking the deep shot to Watkins.

Versus Seattle Goff went to Watkins but it appeared as though Watkins slowed a bit before speeding up. The TV coverage had Watkins isolated and the commentators suggested that perhaps Watkins wasn't expecting the ball.

The Rams called the play again in Jacksonville and again Goff and Watkins failed to hook up even though Watkins had a step on the defender. In all honesty we are not 100% sure of the coverage the Jaguars were running, our best guess is it's a form of Cover-6 with man coverage on the X receiver but if anyone wished to correct us, feel free, we welcome knowlege.

Monday there was a Twitter dust-up between a Cardinals writer and Tyrann Mathieu. The writer (and Moose Johnston for that matter) put the blame of a long pass on Mattieu and he responded by saying he had the "dig" and suggesting that writers do not have any idea of what coverage the Cardinals run.
Well, the play in question was the same concept we've covered in this post:

Our best guess is that it was Cover-3 and Mathieu did have the "dig" and when it didn't show he smartly helped out the outside 1/3 back. But, the ball was perfectly thrown and it was complete.

The Rams have used play action mixed with ghost/end around action to sell the run, the Texans, against the Seahawks used option action as part of the play fake:

So, there you have it, a series of screen captures explaining a route concept that lots of teams are developing, changing and using for a quick strike touchdown. It seems to work versus Cover-2 and Cover-3 and others. Showing some sort of heavy run action and sometimes sending out as few as two receivers into the pattern seems to work well in 2017.