Monday, April 16, 2018

Wilkerson, Richardson, and Williams—The Jets Wasted Opportunity?

LOOKING BACK
By John Turney
Muhammad Wilkerson was drafted by the New York Jets in the first round (30th overall) of the 2011 NFL Draft. Two years later Sheldon Richardson was taken by the Jets in the first round (13th overall) of the 2013 NFL Draft. Leonard Williams was taken two years after that in the first round (6th overall) of the 2015 NFL Draft. Richardson and Williams were All-Rookie selections and all three were Pro Bowlers a single time. Wilkerson was Second-team All-Pro in 2013 and 2015.

The third player in the mix is nose tackle Damon "Snacks" Harrison who started in between Wilkerson and Richardson from 2013 to 2015.

The question is while these were all highly talented players only Williams is still with the team and while this group was together, did they achieve what they should have given that talent?

Here are the individual statistics of the players in question:
In 2013 Wilkerson was a Second-team All-Pro and in 2015 he was a Pro Bowler and a Second-team All-Pro. (Also was a PFJ Second-team All-Pro in 2013 and 2015).

Wilkerson moved around on the line some, but generally, he was a defensive end on the left side of the defense, a five-technique. From 2013 to 2015 he averaged about 7 stuffs and 9.5 sacks and 5 PDs a season.
Richardson was a Pro Bowler in 2014 and also a PFJ Second-team All-Pro. In the Jets scheme Richardson was listed as a defensive tackle, mostly playing the three-technique, though like Wilkerson, he moved around some. That was especially true in 2015 when he played some outside linebacker in the Jet 3-4 defense and some defensive end and defensive tackle in four-man lines.
Williams was a Pro Bowl choice in 2016 and also a PFJ Second-team All-Pro that same season. Williams was often listed as a defensive end in 2015 and 2016 but he was usually a defensive tackle. he was highly graded in 2016 by pro scouting firms.
We at PFJ chose Harrison as our All-Pro nose tackle in 2015 (We also chose him as our ALl-Pro nose tackle in 2015 and 2016 as well). Mainstream media chose him as All-Pro in 2016 and he was voted as a Pro Bowler as well).

So, while it is 100% true that the entire burden of the defense does not fall on the front three, it's a fair question to ask, what happened?

In 2013 and 2014 the Jets rushing defense was horrid, they allowed over 4.4 yards per rush and around 2220 yards per season. With Harrison, Wilkerson, and Richardson as your front three, it seems that they should have done better. In 2015 when the defense played a lot more 4-man lines (and Richardson played some OLBer) they improved but they still were not stellar.

The only two seasons they were able to generate a pass rush (along with the edge rushers and inside backers) with 41 and 45 sacks was again, 2013 and 2014. It seems when they were fair versus the run they didn't get a pass rush and when they did get a pass rush the run defense fell off the map.
Harrison was the first to leave the Jets when signed with the New York Giants in 2016 as a UFA. At the beginning of the 2017 NFL season, the Seahawks acquired Richardson from the Jets in exchange for receiver Jermaine Kearse and a 2018 second-round pick and the teams also swapped seventh-round selections in the deal.

In February 2018, Wilkerson was released by the Jets and a month later he signed a one-year contract with the Green Bay Packers. The day before Wilkerson signed with the Packers, Richardson signed a one-year deal with the Minnesota Vikings.

So, Leonard Williams is left alone with a group of players who were much lower draft picks and/or free agents and we will see if they can improve the productivity of the Jet defense. In 2017 the run defense was above (1702 yards for a 4.0 average) but only totaled 28 sacks. If they could match the 2011 run defense with the 2014 pass rush the Jets might have a shot at the playoffs. If not, they may be in for another 5-11 season. They sure didn't get it done with three supreme talents on the front line. It begs the question of if it is necessary to have three stars up front in your 3-4 defense to be successful in your defensive goals and to winning.

Perhaps the Los Angeles Rams should take note with Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh, and Michael Brockers as their front three in 2018.


Saturday, April 14, 2018

THERE'S A RHUBARB OUT THERE: The New York Giants—1950

LOOKING BACK
By T.J. Troup
Credit: Gary Thomas & Pro Football Hall of Fame
Before getting to the narrative, some background. My last story on the Giants was the sieve-like 1966 defense, so today I am going in the other direction. The story you are about to read is dedicated to my departed pen pal, Mr. Wellington Mara. The title is a quote from announcer Marty Glickman from the game against Philadelphia when a fumble return for a touchdown by MacDowell of the Eagles is negated by a clipping call.

When the 1947 season began no one in the New York Giants organization thought the team would fall on hard times so quickly. The struggles of 1947-49 can be detailed, but much more enjoyable to regale one and all with the outstanding team of 1950.

Steve Owen has a new line coach in 1950 and boy oh boy does he do just a great job. Ed Kolman embarks on a long career of teaching his lineman who to block, and how to block them with consistency and power. Allie Sherman coaches the backs, and Jim Lee Howell the ends. Owen, over his long career, has had defenses that were almost impregnable, and in 1950 he comes close to that goal again. Thirty-four men will suit up in either red or blue for the flagship franchise. Free substitution was brought back by the NFL in 1949. Now it is a league rule, and though this is important to other teams; no team capitalizes on the rule more than the Giants.
Bill Swiacki
Every team needs quality depth, and again New York has the best depth in the league with the possible exception of the Browns & Rams. Offensively the Giants begin the year with Ellery Williams and Bill Swiacki at end. Bob McChesney takes over for Williams and is a much better receiver when the Giants actually decide to pass.

Kolman's offensive line struggles somewhat on pass blocking but shines as run blockers. Jim "Tarzan" White plays both offensive tackle spots and even starts two games at defensive tackle. Johnny Sanchez has a strong year at tackle, and is very adept in the skills needed when New York is in the A-formation. John Mastrangelo usually plays more at the tackle post, yet receives some All-Pro recognition at guard. Charles Milner begins the year at left guard, and also is adequate at linebacker in his only year. The second half of the year when New York runs the ball with pounding success Don Ettinger and Joe Sulaitis rote at left guard. These two men are excellent examples of the versatility of the players for the NYG.
Bill Austin
Ettinger is rock solid on defense at linebacker, and Sulaitis is an outstanding blocking back when the Giants are in the A-formation. Bill Austin begins his career as the right guard, and performs consistently. John Rapacz is best Giants offensive lineman. When a team shifts from the "T" to the "A" formation the center must be able to quickly adjust, and Johnny R. receives some All-Pro recognition in a league loaded with quality pivot men.

New York in the draft with the seventh overall pick takes Travis Tidwell. Travis plays very little the first half of the year, and though he can throw, there are times in film study where he leaves the pass pocket and runs. His best game is against the Colts in November when New York falls behind 20-0 and rallies to blow out Baltimore 55-20. Tidwell does struggle in holding the ball too long, thus he is sacked at a very high percentage based upon his playing time. Charlie Conerly has already set a league record for completions in a game (1948 against the Steelers) and is a willing blocker in the A-formation.
Charlie Conerly
Conerly, no matter the formation, can make every throw and is one of those poised players who delivers in the toughest of situations. He avoids the rush, can throw the jump pass quickly and accurately and throws the deep ball well on crossing routes. New York completes just 64 passes in their ten wins, but those 64 completions gain a whopping 1,125 yards.

Forrest Griffith plays halfback the first half of the year. Jim Ostendarp takes his place the second half of the campaign. These youngsters both have their moments, but the halfback who is key to the attack is the Gene "Choo Choo" Roberts. He gains only 125 yards rushing on 45 carries the first seven games, then explodes setting a new league record. Roberts explodes for 218 yards against the Cardinals. Choo Choo does not catch as many passes as he has in the past, yet he is still a weapon when called upon. Roberts like all Giant backs is a willing and effective blocker.

Randy Clay the second half of the year starts at right corner on defense and gains 101 yards rushing on just 14 carries in the Polo Grounds against the Eagles in a key victory. Joe Scott is still an effective receiver out of the backfield, and when healthy runs the sweep very well. The fullback position is key in either the A-formation or the T-formation, and with the 20th pick in the draft, New York chose Tulane back Eddie Price. He opens the year with an outstanding game against Pittsburgh, then struggles with injury for a few games. The last four games of the year Price gains 429 yards on just 58 carries. He is lightning quick off the ball and can accelerate in the open field. Price is not elusive, but his piston legs just keep driving—thus this undersized dynamo breaks free for long runs of 57, 61, and 74 yards.

Robert "Stonewall" Jackson when given a chance also can explode for the long run from the fullback position also. He gains 113 yards rushing on 12 carries for the year, but has runs from scrimmage of 57 & 55 yards. New York sets a standard during 1950 that has never been equaled....they are the ONLY team to ever have 9 runs from scrimmage over 50 yards in a season. So very difficult to pick the offensive MVP—yet for me it is center John Rapacz.

Before detailing the NYG defense, it is time to explain the A-formation. This offensive alignment is based upon the old single wing with an unbalanced line, and a blocking back aligned in the gap to the weak side. Though motion to or away from the unbalanced side of the line is a staple; there are times when New York does not use motion. Basically a running formation, the Giants are still effective passing whether there is play action or not. Combined with the T-formation the Giants keep many teams on their toes during the year by switching during a game.

There are times defensive statistics tell a true tale of a team, and this is one of those times. NYG recorded 33 sacks for 266 yards: 29 of those sacks came in the ten victories. The Giants allowed 344 yards rushing in their two losses, but only 104 yards a game in the 10 wins. New York defenders hustled, hit, tackled well, and were very opportunistic in taking the ball away from opponent offenses. Let's meet these men!

When healthy Jim Duncan is an outstanding left defensive end, and when Landry and Owen scheme to the "Umbrella defense" . . . he becomes the left outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense. Duncan rushes the passer well, and takes on and sheds bigger offensive lineman. Kelley Mote plays some defensive end early in the year (also catches some passes late in the year). Lean Leo Skladany fills in late in the year, and he also demonstrates he can rush the passer and contributes on special teams in blocking a punt. The right defensive end is big athletic Ray Poole. He pillages the Cleveland pass pocket and is "Johnny on the Spot" in pursuit as he leads the league in fumble recoveries with five. His ability to drop into the right flat on pass defense as an outside linebacker is textbook. For his efforts, Ray receives some All-Pro recognition.

Al DeRogatis is much improved over '49 and is selected for the Pro Bowl. He is strong at the point of attack on the right side next to Poole. Jon Baker is listed as a middle guard; which of course he plays when New York is in the 5-2. The Giants also align in the 4-3 and Baker becomes the left defensive tackle. Though effective at both, he is better when aligned tight on the center's nose. Charles Milner plays the right defensive tackle when New York is in the 4-3, as DeRogatis becomes the right defensive end. John Mastrangelo plays some defensive tackle, and middle guard also.
Arnie Weinmeister
The key man though on the defensive line is future Hall of Famer Arnie Weinmeister. He is listed at 235 (he looks much bigger on film) and is as strong as nine fields of Texas onions. Depending on the defense, he is either a defensive tackle or end and is the best in the league. Have studied film of this entire decade, and with the exception of Len Ford or Gino Marchetti—no man can dominate an offensive line the way Arnie does. Exceptionally quick and agile for a man his size, he sheds blocks easily and is a force in pursuit. Watching him sack quarterbacks has convinced me he could play in any era. He even blocks a quick kick during the year with one hand as he penetrates the offensive backfield.

Since NYG has such a fine defensive line, the linebackers can concentrate on pursuit. Dick Woodard joins the Giants, and though he is listed at starting just one game, he is on the field a lot and plays strong, smart football. John Cannady is one of the few holdover Giants from 1947 and now he is asked to move all over the field depending on the defense. When aligned on the offensive tackle in the 5-2 he pursues well and is excellent in dropping into underneath zones in coverage. When aligned as the middle linebacker in the 4-3 John demonstrates he can "scrape" to the C-gap, and fill any inside hole. Tom Landry and Harmon Rowe join the Giants from the New York Yanks of the AAFC and begin the year as the starting corners. Rowe is an adept pass defender until injured halfway through the campaign.
Emlen Tunnell
Landry is simply the best strong side corner in the league. He has size, smarts, and is a punishing and vicious tackler. Many times he is aligned up near the line of scrimmage and forces the sweep his side with aplomb. Tom is an adequate pass defender who lacks speed, and teams would simply attack his side of the field all day except that the left safety for NYG is the best of the decade. Emlen Tunnell has played corner, and single safety in the old 5-3-3 defense, yet he has found his niche. He is instinctive, athletic, swift, and savvy.

Tunnell is a strong run defender with size and strength and is nonpareil in taking angles to the ball in flight. He takes risks and gets away with doing so because of his companion at safety— Otto Schnellbacher has already played pro basketball and was a legendary athlete for the Jayhawks of Kansas. He led the AAFC in interceptions in 1948 and now is asked by Steve Owen to patrol vast areas of the field. In fact, he is asked to cover ground no other safety in the league can do. Watching film of his interceptions he literally flies into the air to swipe the ball at the highest point (no doubt he was an excellent rebounder in basketball).

Tomorrow would have been Otto's birthday, and in finishing this narrative there is no doubt that Owen & Landry could never have concocted their version of the 4-3 defense ("the Umbrella") without him. Schnellbacher earns a Pro Bowl berth and All-League recognition though there is no defensive team listed by the league. Otto and Emlen combine for 15 interceptions in 12 games. Who is the defensive MVP of this team? Impossible to choose. In closing the narrative, this is the only time in Giant history that they beat Washington, Philadelphia, and Cleveland the six times they played them (allowing just 61 points). The season will end with the hard-fought playoff loss to an outstanding Cleveland Browns team.
Playoff game of Giants versus Browns, 1950

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Remembering George Musso

LOOKING BACK
By Chris Willis, NFL Films
On this date (April 8th) in 1900 George Musso was born in Collinsville, Illinois. Nicknamed the “Moose” the six-foot-two, 270-pound guard-tackle played 12 seasons with the Chicago Bears. He helped the Bears win four NFL Championships (1933, 1940-1941, 1943), earned several All-Pro honors, (at two different positions, tackle-guard), and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1982.

I was fortunate enough to interview George Musso at his home in Edwardsville, Illinois on April 6, 1999, when he was 88 years old- the interview was two days before his 89th birthday. Despite his advanced age Musso talked for nearly two hours about his life and career in football. It was a wonderful experience listening to one of the NFL's early pioneers talk about his love for football. This post will focus on a few of his answers about playing against future political leaders.
George Musso with author in April of 1999
One of the more fascinating tidbits about Mr. Musso is that he has the distinction of playing against two future U. S. Presidents. Musso played his college ball at small Milliken College, located in Decatur, Illinois, where he was a star linemen and team captain on the football team. In 1929 Milliken squared off against Eureka College on a rare Friday night football match-up. That night the rather massive Musso lined up against a puny guard from Eureka named Ronald Reagan. When I asked Musso about playing against a future President of the United States he said:

“He played left guard and I was right tackle. Of course, we played right in front of one another. He weighed about 165 pounds, I was weighing about 235, 240 at that time. He was supposed to be handling me, of course, he couldn’t do it.

To begin with, because I was just too much weight, too strong for him. I pushed him back. In fact we beat them 42-7 or something like that. He was quick. He was a good ball player, but he was no comparison with the size. I could push him whatever way I wanted to push him.

But he was a good ball player, that’s all I can tell you about that.”



1929 Eureka vs Millikin game headline and lineups, featuring Musso at right tackle
and Ronald Reagan at right guard (Courtesy of Decatur Herald)

Millikin actually defeated Eureka 45-6 in front of 3,000 fans at their home stadium. As a matter of fact, Musso scored a touchdown in the first quarter when Eureka (backed up near their own goal line) tried a punt that was blocked, in which Musso fell on the ball in the end zone for a score.

Musso’s teammate George Corbett, who also played several years with the Chicago Bears (1932-1938), scored three touchdowns that night including a 90-yard kickoff return.

Most players can’t say that they played against a future President of the United States. But Musso can. Not only that, he can say that he played against two.
Ronald Reagan, Eureka College
(Courtesy of Eureka College)
Five years after his encounter with Ronald Reagan, the every opportunistic Musso played in the 1934 College All-Star Game at Soldier’s Field in Chicago. In that game, Musso lined up against Michigan All-American center Gerald Ford.

“I played against another fella that became President. Ford. He was a center on the All-Star team. Of course, we played a five-man front and I played right in front of him. He was pretty rugged. He was pretty tough. Trying to move him out of there. But he was a good ballplayer.”
Gerald Ford, Univesity of Michigan
(Courtesy of Univ. of Michigan)
Musso passed away on September 5, 2000, at the age of 90.

I will always remember my interview with the great George Musso in 1999- the man who played football against two future Presidents of the United States. Happy Birthday “Moose.”

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Reggie White's 1998 AP & PFWA Defensive Player of the Year Award—Did He Deserve It?

LOOKING BACK
By John Turney
Credit: Chris Paluso
From time to time we look back at Awards won by players and ask if they really had the type of season that deserved the award.

Reggie White is one of my favorite NFL players ever, he's likely the best defensive end in the history of the game, at the very worst he's the second-best. Part of his greatness was that he sustained it late into his career and in his second-to-last season (1998) he had 16 sacks (the most he'd had in a season since 1988) and four forced fumbles. On the strength of this, he was voted the AP and PFWA Defensive Player of the Year.

(click to enlarge)
Late in that season, I spoke to Steve Hartman, then of XTRA Sports Radio in San Diego, about who should be the NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Hartman is as knowledgeable as anyone I know about NFL (MLB and NBA and NCAA Awards as well) awards.

"Who else would you give it to?" he asked. I didn't have a good answer but I knew I'd see about ten Packers game that season and White was getting a lot of sacks, but he wasn't making run stops in the backfield and he took a lot of plays off in my view. White ended up winning the PFWA Award and the AP Award (with 20 of the 47 votes cast)
However, looking back, I still question if he was the NFL's best defender that season. The issue is that others may not have had seasons that were remarkably better.

(Click to enlarge)
The above chart shows the 1998 individual stats and team stats of the vote-getters along with a handful of others. As can be seen White did have 16 sacks but his 1.5 stuffs is quite low. His career-high was in 1994 with 8.5.

John Randle was a starting right defensive end in the base defense for the Vikings and was a 3-technique in the nickel. He had 10.5 sacks and 4.0 stuffs, neither are exceedingly high. Randle was second in the AP voting with 6. Even though he was second in the voting, it really wasn't the top season Randle ever had. Moving to defensive end on running downs, in my view, hampered him some.

Zach Thomas was the MLB for the 3rd ranked defense (1st in fewest point allowed) and totaled 137 tackles and 14 of those were stuffs (tackles of scrimmage plays behind the line of scrimmage) and he also had two pick sixes. Ty Law led the NFL with 9 interceptions and had 27 passes defensed.

Junior Seau played on the NFL's #1 defense and led the NFL with 15.5 stuffs, he seems like he would have been a good choice for DPOY. Michael Strahan had 15 sacks (one less than White) and 8 stuffs a pick six, though he was not part of a top defense.

White's teammate LeRoy Butler might have been just as good a choice as White. Bryant Young, in my view, was having a Defensive MVP-type season in 1998 until he broke his leg in the twelfth game of the season. Darrell Russell of the Raiders finished with 10 sacks and 12.5 stuffs and was a consensus All-Pro and was worthy of consideration.

As a young player with the Seahawks, Michael McCrary was described as having "a motor". Surely the term had been used before but it was the first time I remember a player being tagged with that moniker repeatedly on telecasts. Now, you hear it about scores of players, but in my mind McCrary was the original "high motor" player. In 1998 he recorded 13 stuffs and 14.5 sacks for the Ravens and made 66 solo tackles and had a total of 72 tackles. He was not a Consensus All-Pro that year but in the players poll by Sporting News, he was a First-team All-Pro (a great example of why the "AP only" approach is silly). The NFL player recognized that McCrary was more effective in run defense and still was just 1.5 sacks short of White.

It's difficult to know who had the best year, there was not J.J. Watt 2012-type year among NFL defenders in 1998 and I am aware most AP voters in 1998 would not have known where to find the "stuffs" statistics (Stats, LLC) and there was not the NFL Replay All-22 films to review, so this is not a criticism of the voters per se, it's just a review of the votes and questioning if the right player was chosen.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Top Defensive Line Troikas

LOOKING BACK
By John Turney
Credit: Los Angeles Rams
In an April 2, 2018, Q&A post on ESPN.com Alden Gonzalez, the ESPN Rams reporter wrote, With Suh joining a defensive line that already includes Donald and Brockers, the Rams might have the greatest trio of interior linemen in NFL history".

Well, it may be a little early for that crown, but it is within the realm of possibility. Since not all 3-4 defenses are the same, it can be hard to compare, but most have one thing in common—they usually go to a 4-man line in nickel or dime defenses.

Throughout the 1960s in the AFL teams like the Bills, Chiefs and Chargers among all other AFL teams used the 3-4 defense to some degree. In the early-to-mid 1970s the Patriots, Oilers, Broncos and others moved to a 3-4 defense fulltime, and with the exception of the Broncos most used 4-man lines in nickel (the Broncos began to do that in 1980).

So, it's always a bit of folly to rate just the starters on the defensive line of a 3-4 defense. The run stopping and pass rush also rely on the linebackers and the nickel rushers. However, since it is being suggested that Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh, and Michael Brockers "may" be the best trio in NFL history it is worth a look at some others who may be right up there—especially since Suh is signed for just one year.
In 1975-76 the Houston Oilers had Tody Smith and left end, Curly Culp at nose tackle and Elvin Bethea at right end. Culp was a converted defensive tackle, one of the few that have ever made a successful transition, time will tell if Suh can do the same. In 1975 Culp was the NEA NFL Defensive Player of the Year and had 11½ sacks and six forced fumbles and Culp is a Hall of Famer, the only nose tackle inducted.

Tody Smith was Bubba Smith's younger brother who was a good athlete and in 1974 played some outside linebacker in the Oilers 3-4 and also some base defensive end. In 1974 he had 10½ sacks. In 1975 he had 7 sacks anchoring the left end. On the right side was Hall of Famer Bethea, who had 10 sacks in 1975 and 14½ in 1976.

And in those two years, the Oilers allowed 3.61 yards per rush which was third in the NFL and additionally they totaled 95 sacks, which was 4th in the NFL for that span. It was a top defense punctuated by fine individual performances. It would be hard to find a more productive trio than the 1975-76 Oiler group of Bethea, Culp and Smith.
Another fine defensive line trio was the 1995-99 Buffalo Bills. This group was composed of right end Bruce Smith, nose tackle Ted Washington and left end Phil Hansen. They played together for five seasons which is fairly long given how often there might be an injury or trade or retirement. From 1995-99 the Bills defense allowed 3.58 yards a rush, third in the NFL for that span and totaled 223 sacks which was second in the NFL during the same span.

Hall of Famer Bruce Smith averaged 11 sacks and Hansen averaged 8 sacks per year from 1995-99. Ted Washington averaged three sacks, which is NOT a bad total for a 365-lb nose tackle that wasn't always on the field in passing situations.
From 2004-08 the New England Patriots had a very good unit of defensive ends Richard Seymour, Ty Warren, and nose tackle Vince Wilfork. During those years the Patriots were not a pure 3-4 team in that they would switch to 4-3 schemes and others on any given Sunday to find matchups they liked. But when they were in the 30, these were their guys. Seymour and Wilfolk both were All-pros at different times and also were on Super Bowl winning teams. They certainly deserve mention.
The Chiefs had a fine group in the mid-1980s and in 1984 the trio of Art Still (Second-team All-Pro, 14.5 sacks), Mike Bell (Pro Bowl alternate, 13.5 sacks), Bill Maas (All-Rookie, 5 sacks) combined for 33 sacks. This group was together through 1987, though Bell was suspended in 1986. 
In the early 2000s, the Steelers group of Aaron Smith, Kimo von Oelhoffen, and nose Casey Hampton were a major part of the Steelers defense. Smith was solid for more than a decade and he and Hampton were able to earn two Super Bowl rings. In 2006 Brett Keisel stepped in for von Oelhoffen and the unit didn't miss a beat. 
The mid-1980s Raiders had a couple different iterations of their 3-man line. They were among the best at using sub defenses, they had their 3-4 base defense and would bring in Greg Townsend to play left defensive end and Howie Long would move to right tackle, usually as a 3-technique. In 1985 Lyle Alzado, the right end since 1982 was injured and Sean Jones took over as the right end and Bill Pickel took over for Reggie Kinlaw as the nose tackle in 1985.

In 1986 the starters on the defensive line totaled 34.5 sacks (Jones 15.5, Long 7.5 and Pickel 11.5) as Long was a Pro Bowler and Pickel was All-Pro.

The previous year (1985) the New York Jets starting defensive line totaled 28.5 sacks, with Joe Klecko (consensus All-Pro) having 7.5, All-Pro Mark Gastineau (13.5) and Barry Bennett 7.5 and allowed just 3.5 yards per rush.

Aside from the Oilers in the mid-1970s, two other teams hard formidable trios. The 1977-78 Broncos who had Lyle Alzado, and Barney Chavous as ends and Rubin Carter on the nose. The Patriots had Tony McGee and Julius Adams at end and Ray Hamilton as their nose. McGee would sometimes start and other years he was the designated pass rusher, but even when he was the starting left end, his forte was rushing the passer.
The Mid-1980s New York Giants group was another fine one with Curtis McGriff as the base end (with George Martin as the pass rush end who took McGriff's play in nickel) and nose Jim Burt and
Leonard Marshall the end opposite McGriff. Marshall and Burt were both Pro Bowlers in 1986, but Burt was likely better in 1984 and 1985. In 1985 Marshall had 15.5 sacks playing a role similar to Howie Long—played end in base and inside in nickel. 
In 1983 Doug Betters was the AP Defensive Player of the Year and had 16 sacks, nose tackle Bob Baumhower (8 sacks) was an All-Pro and right end Kim Bokamper had 2 sacks, though he did have a fair amount of hurries. Bokamper was a converted linebacker and undersized and was a battler, but was not particularly effective as a DE averaging 3 sacks a year in his for seasons in that role. He probably would have been most effective as a defensive end in a nickel defense and not playing in base defense
The Seahawks had a group together from 1983 to 1990 and their top year may have been in 1984 when left end Jacob Green (All-Pro, 13 sacks), right end Jeff Bryant  (14.5 sacks) and nose man Joe Nash (All-Pro, 7 sacks) combined for 34.5 sacks. In 1985 they totaled 31 sacks and in 1983 they combined for 27. The 34.5 sack total is tied for second-most by a 3-man line combination (with the 1986 Raiders). Also in 1984, the Seahawks nickel rusher was Mike Fanning who had 7 sacks. In 1985 Randy Edwards was the 'Hawks nickel rusher and he totaled 10.5 sacks making the unit formidable when they went to a four-man line.

The top sack total by a trio goes to the 1984 Philadelphia Eagles. The group was composed of left end Dennis "Big Foot" Harrison, nose tackle Ken Clarke, right end Greg Brown. Harrison totaled 12 sacks, Clarke 10.5 sacks and Brown 16 sacks for a total of 38.5 sacks. In 1985 Reggie White took over for Harrison and had 13 sacks, Brown had 13 and Clarke had 7 for a total of 33 as a group.
In 1984 and 1985 the Bengals trio was very good, totaling over 20 sacks as a group, each season. They were made up of ends Eddie Edwards, Ross Browner and nose tackle Tim Krumrie.

We have covered a lot of the notable 3-man lines, but this post is not an exhaustive one. There are certainly more groups worth mentioning, and even more years from the groups we have mentioned. However, we do feel confident that several of these groups, if not many, will be viewed historically as better than the group of Donald, Brockers, and Suh. However, that does not mean the Rams trio is does not have potential, it certainly does, but they have to do quite a lot of work to earn their way onto this list.

In our view, they would have to really improve on the Rams run defense which was one of the NFL's worst in 2017 and they also would have to really contribute lots of sacks and hurries in the nickel situations. Donald has been likely the NFL's best interior lineman in that skill set that last few years, Suh was one of the best 3-4-5 years ago, but as dropped off recently, Brockers will likely not get many chances to rush the passer in the nickel unless Suh moved outside in nickel. With three tackles, one will have to sit in our view.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Dons of Linebacker Interceptions—Don Shinnick and Donnie Edwards

LOOKING BACK
By John Turney
Starting in the 1980s NFL linebackers transformed from basic all-around players who stopped the run, dropped into coverage and would dog (blitz) the quarterback. Hall of Fame linebackers like Dave Robinson (22 sacks, 27 Interceptions), Jack Ham (25½ sacks, 32 INTS), and Bobby Bell (40 sacks, 26 INTS) represent that kind of linebacker as do Chuck Howley (26½ sacks, 25 picks) and Isiah Robertson (25½ sacks, 25 INTs).

After that, most, but not all HOF linebackers were rushbackers like Lawrence Taylor who had 142 sacks and 9 interceptions or Kevin Greene who had 160 sacks and 5 interceptions and many others.

However, there have been exceptions, Junior Seau and Derrick Brooks possessed all-around skills and were rewarded with Hall of Fame Gold Jackets.

In the history of the NFL a linebacker has intercepted 5 passes or more in a season 94 times (courtesy of Pro Football Reference.com) and sixteen linebackers have recorded that feat twice in their career. But only two have achieved that 5-interception mark three times in their careers—Don Shinnick and Donnie Edwards.

Shinnick is also the modern NFL's all-time leader in interceptions among linebackers with 37. He was a starter from 1957-68 for the Colts as an outside linebacker (though he played in the middle in 1958, the year the Colts won their first World Championship). He even led the NFL in interceptions in 1959 with seven. Even so, he was never a Pro Bowler or garnered other post-season honors.
Edwards played as an inside linebacker, outside linebacker and middle linebacker in his career. He ended his career with 1490 tackles and 28 interceptions (four were pick-sixes), 23.5 sacks and 75.5 run/pass stuffs and recovered 11 fumbles (two were scoop and scores). He achieved his five-interception seasons in 1999, 2002 and 2004.

Despite those impressive all-around numbers, Edwards was never a First-team All-Pro, though he was Second-team All-Pro in 2002 and 2004 and a Pro Bowler in 2002. We can't help but think that if a player put up these kinds of numbers year-in and year-out in the 1960s or 1970s that he might have been a multi-year Pro Bowler. From our own "eye test" if you will, Edwards passed. He was always in the thick of things on the field and stepped where Junior Seau left off in the Chargers defense.

Here are his career numbers:
One interesting factor is the NFL/AFL interception rate for the 1960s was 5.7% and for the NFL in the 1970s it was 5.3%. When Edwards played, from 1996-08 the interception rate was 3.2%, meaning interceptions were rarer in the more recent years and it would be harder for players to amass them and thus the 28 picks Edwards had would translate to far more if adjusted for era—perhaps around 40.

We wouldn't advocate Hall of Fame bona fides for either of these players, but they do deserve some credit for pulling off the 5 picks in a season trifecta. For a linebacker doing it once is impressive, twice, great, three times, well it's a charm, we suppose.

Again, courtesy of Pro Football Reference.com here are the top intercepting linebackers in NFL modern history.
http://pfref.com/tiny/sbCmI


Monday, March 26, 2018

2018 Rams—The New Over-the-Hill Gang?

LOOKING BACK
By John Turney
In 1971, and also for several following seasons, George Allen, the Washington Redskins coach brought in older players through trading away his draft picks. He declared "The Future is Now".

Allen brought in Billy Kilmer, Verlon Biggs, Ron McDole, Myron Pottios, Maxie Baughan, Jack PardeeRitchie Petitbon among others. All were older, established players. Allen also brought in some younger established players like John Wilbur (28) and Diron Talbert (27) again, among others.

Rams General Manager Les Snead and Head Coach Sean McVay are nowhere near what Allen did, but in terms of today's NFL, it is interesting to look at some of the Rams additions and losses over this offseason.

Traded away were starters Alec Ogletree (27) and Robert Quinn (28) and brought to Los Angeles were Aqib Talib (32), Ndamukong Suh (31), Sam Shields (30).

Additionally, the Rams still have holes at outside linebacker and inside linebacker. It is, as of now, presumed that Samson Ebukam will be one of the starting linebackers and Mark Barron will be one of the inside linebackers—so that leaves two slots.

There have been some rumors that the Rams are talking to Junior Galette (30) who may eventually be one of them and would join the 30-and-over crew. Also, there is still a possibility that the Rams may re-sign SAM backer Connor Barwin (32), a move that would allow Ebukam to move to the weak side.

Could they look at Navorro Bowman (also 30) to fill the other inside (MIKE) position? We have not seen rumors of that anywhere but on Rams fan chat boards. They could go with Ramik Wilson as the MIKE, a player who has started some at that position for the Chiefs the past couple of seasons. Or they could go with smallish special teams demon Cory Littleton at that spot.

We will keep a close eye if the Rams do bring in more 30-year olds and see if the Rams now are doing what the early 1970s Redskins attempted and bring "The Future is Now" to a reality.


Thursday, March 22, 2018

Houston Oilers 1972-74 Helmet Anomaly

LOOKING BACK
By John Turney
Zeke Moore
In 1972 the Oilers changed from silver lids to Columbia blue ones and wore them until 1975 when they switched to white. The issue is some of them had slightly different hues of Columbia blue.

Below Ronnie Coleman (#47) has a darker blue helmet than #2 Skip Butler:

Here, George Adamson (#12) in front has a darker helmet than the player behind him.

In this shot it appears the player in back has a lighter version than the others, though we admit this is not the best shot:

Here defensive lineman John Matuszak appears to have a lighter lid than the player behind him:

On Twitter follower of ours suggested it may be that the difference was that some of the helmets may have been clear shells. So we took a look and that does not appear to be the case. Here you can see the left guard's helmet is lighter than the quarterback and the right guard and right tackle:

Here are some more examples:



Both of these helmets are purported to be game used from the 1972-74 era, which we cannot verify but they do appear (even with very different lighting) to be different shades of blue or even different values of the same hue, we are not sure

If anyone knows the answer, if it was just different brands of helmets, or there were some helmets painted slightly different, we are all ears. Are we can tell is some of the helmets look different.