Friday, August 31, 2018

JIM FINKS and the 1951 Steelers

LOOKING BACK
By T.J. Troup
Today in celebration of Jim Finks birthday, and to correct a topic that is important in not only Steeler history but the league itself—the following. Though this saga will focus on Pittsburgh during the '51 campaign, we will begin in 1942. Previous to 1947 the 1942 Steelers were the best team the Black & Gold had put on the field. They are 7-3 when they travel to Wisconsin to State Fair Park to take on the Packers. Pittsburgh gains 254 yards passing in this game to set a team record, and six of the players had their longest reception of the year.

Trailing 10-0 in the 3rd quarter Dick Riffle runs for 7 yards, and laterals to blocking back Vern Martin. Martin runs over the snow ringed field for 54 yards and a touchdown. Green Bay scores twice in the 4th quarter to lead 24-7. Very late in the game, the Steelers drive 68 yards to score and complete 4 passes for 58 yards. The black & gold recover an onside kick, and Bullet Bill Dudley tosses to Martin for 24 yards and a touchdown. The Packers recover the onside kick to end the game. Many teams have gained at least 254 yards passing in a game, yet the key here is Pittsburgh is entrenched in the single wing. Jock Sutherland took Pittsburgh to the brink of a division title in '47, but his death brought a pall over the organization and the team. He is replaced by young Johnny Michelosen. Pittsburgh begins '48 with a 2-1 record but falls apart to finish 4-8.
The Steelers in 1949 rebound and watching and evaluating film they are a strong team. They certainly are not at the level of Philadelphia, yet they are a precision team that hits hard. Opening the season at Forbes they handily beat the Giants 28-7. Bobby Gage and Joe Geri rotate from tailback and wingback until the 4th quarter. Off the bench comes rookie Jim Finks and his first pass is right on target to left end Bill Long on an out pattern for 13 yards.

This play should have been a foreshadowing; Michelosen is convinced that Gage and Geri can do the job. Finks gets a chance to play in midseason with the injury to rookie Don Samuel and throws his first touchdown pass against the Giants. He has the longest run of his career (38 yards) comes in the victory over the Bulldogs, but over the course of the last five games of the year he completes just 6 of 25 for 96 yards without a touchdown and with 5 intercepted. Finks plays in the secondary and intercepts in the loss to the Bears, and in the last game of the year catches a 17-yard touchdown pass from blocking back Charlie Seabright. He has shown he is athletic and versatile as a rookie, but how much of a chance will he get to play tailback in 1950? He throws passes in the first two games, but Joe Geri has a standout season running, and even sometimes passing as Pittsburgh finishes at 6-6.

Pittsburgh has a record of 16-19-1 entering 1951 during the Michelosen era. Pittsburgh with the 9th pick in the draft takes fullback Butch Avinger who never plays for the Steelers, and with the 20th pick comes Chuck Ortman. The Black & Gold passed on lineman Dick Stanfel, Mike McCormack, and Bill George—ouch! Nine rookies make the team in '51 highlighted by Dale Dodrill, and free agent Jack Butler.
Bert Bell has a strange schedule for the '51 season as each team in the conference will not play each divisional opponent twice. Pittsburgh will play the Chicago Cardinals just once, but National Conference Green Bay twice. Why Bell did this we will never know? There are websites and encyclopedias that have failed in listing who started for teams in this era. For the first time, you will read who did play and where. Let's begin with the over-shifted 5-3-3 defense. Left linebacker and he is stationed on the split end is stumpy Darrell Hogan. Though Hogan plays hard he does little to help his team during the year.

When Pittsburgh shifts to a 6-2 defense Hogan becomes a defensive guard, and he is driven back repeatedly on running plays. The opening day starter at left defensive end is rookie Tom Jelley. Jelley is listed as having played in 5 games during the year, and this is just flat wrong, as he plays in at least 8 games. Jelley will start the first four at left end, play some offense early in the year, and then the last two weeks of the season returns and plays right defensive end.

The left defensive tackle is George Hays for the first four games, and then shifts to left defensive end for the next seven games. Carl Samuelsen rotated in early in the year at left defensive tackle and then becomes the starter. He is woefully slow in pursuit but holds the fort on running plays right at him. Lean bowlegged Dale Dodrill is the starter at middle guard till a mid-season injury against Philadelphia. He struggles at times getting off a block, but sure demonstrates he has a future in the league due to his pursuit and aggressive play. The second half of the year John Schweder starts at middle guard.
Second-year man Ernie Stautner is the right defensive tackle, and he is much improved. Ernie is outstanding in pursuit and is effective in penetrating the pass pocket. The right defensive end is Bill McPeak who is in his third year, and also shows improvement. He is excellent defending the sweep and is a relentless pass rusher. The right linebacker is Frank Sinkovitz in his fifth season. Though he hustles, he just does not make much of a difference during the year, and the newspapers state that the fans booed him towards the end of the year.
Listed as a middle linebacker, though he aligns over the right offensive tight end at times is the best player on the team in Jerry Shipkey. Jerry does not play any fullback and concentrates on leading the defense. He is a very deserving First-team All-Pro. Instinctive, quick, with excellent pursuit angles, he also is exceptional on pass defense. Though he is sent on blitzes up the middle many times, this is not an effective aspect for this team. Shipkey, when allowed to roam sideline to sideline, is in his element. Strong as an ox, he is one of the few men in the league who just does not miss a tackle in the open field.

Jim Finks began the year as the starting right corner but was moved to safety with the struggles of Chuck Ortman and rookie Ray Mathews. Finks will start at safety from the fourth week through the close of the campaign. The third week of the year Jack Butler starts at right corner and improves each week. A fearless tackler and instinctive pass defender this youngster with experience will prove to be one of the best corners in the league till he is moved to right safety in '56.

Howard Hartley is in his fourth year and has already intercepted 14 passes in his career, but the best is yet to come. Howard is one of the few defensive backs in any era to intercept at least 10 passes in a season and not be chosen for the pro bowl. Pittsburgh finishes third in the league in the defensive passer rating category with a mark of 46.6 and intercepts an impressive 11.28% of all opponent passes.

The Black & Gold defense will have many strong games during the year. The problem for this team is the offense. So, who took the field for the Steelers when they had the ball? Veteran Val Jansante begins the year at left end, but he is the subject of venom by fans and leaves the team at midseason. He is replaced by rookie Henry Minarik. His only year in the league is a fascinating one and will be detailed later in this saga. Since Pittsburgh is in the single wing they align both tackles to the same side. Lou Allen in his second year and veteran team leader Frank Wydo do a commendable job in the run game, but both have difficulty in pass protection.

Pro Bowl center Bill Walsh leads the offensive line and is superb at the center snap and making his block. The left guard is second-year man Dick Tomlinson, while the right guard is pro bowl bound George Hughes. Evaluating Hughes is a challenge since the expectations for a pro bowl guard are high, and George does not shine near as often as I thought he would.
The right end is captain Elbie Nickel. Sure-handed and a willing blocker, he has his moments, yet the issue is always the same.....when Elbie is open who is accurate enough to throw him the ball? Joe Gasparella does not throw very much, and at the beginning of the year is the starting blocking back, but after four weeks he leaves the Steelers. He is replaced by Truett Smith, who is only adequate as a blocker. In the Steeler single wing the tailback and wingback switch positions many times during a game.

Left-handed Lynn Chandnois aligns so he can roll left to throw, and he usually is at his best running on outside plays due to his speed. Joe Geri is selected for the pro bowl, and over the years there have been other players chosen that did not earn their way to Los Angeles. Quoting Abby Mendelson from his book on Steeler history "one wonders how Geri earned such honors". He is not effective running and is inaccurate passing. He is often replaced by Chuck Ortman. The rookie from Michigan is a willing runner, but is not very productive. Ortman just does not display the accuracy you need to have in an NFL passer. He is in and out of the line-up all year.
Jerry Nuzum is now a fullback (wingback earlier in his career), and shares playing time with Fran Rogel. Since the Steeler running game is moribund at best, and so much depends on the fullback pounding out yards up the middle neither man can be considered a team strength. Pittsburgh enters the last game of the season having scored only 160 points in eleven games. During the wins over the Cardinals, Packers, and Eagles the defense played solid football, while the offense did just enough. They have been shut-out twice by Cleveland, and the rumor is Johnny Michelosen might be replaced though Art Rooney denies this.

Dick Todd has been coach of the 'Skins for eight games with a 5-3 record and Washington is at home on this fateful final day of the season with a chance to finish 6-6. This is the game that will be detailed, and explain the future of Pittsburgh Steeler football. The captains meet on a snow-covered field with sunshine creating December shadows. There will be 14 turnovers in this game(seven by each team), partially due to the weather conditions on this frosty cold afternoon in our Nations Capitol. The first play from scrimmage shows Rob Goode who is trying to win the rushing crown taken down in the open field by Jerry Shipkey one on one. Washington punts and the Steelers as they have so often during the year align in a double wing formation.

The differences between the single and double wing are not nuanced, they are striking. No writer or historian has ever commented that the Steelers of Jock Sutherland have virtually abandoned the single wing for the double wing! Washington fumbles on their next possession and Ortman now in at tailback bounces a pass off of Truett Smith's chest to linebacker Chuck Drazenovich. The Steeler defense grudgingly gives ground as Baugh mixing his plays beautifully moving deep into Pittsburgh territory.
Middle guard John "Bull" Schweder hustles to down former Steeler Bill Dudley after a reception and dash down the sideline. Dudley though puts three points on the board with a field goal. Ortman has the Steelers in the single wing, but throws incomplete, and they punt. Baugh throwing deep up the left sideline for Dudley has his pass intercepted as Butler leaps into the air. Ortman fumbles the ball to defensive end Walt Yowarsky and again the 'Skins have the ball. Baugh rifles a pass down the middle through the frosty air only to have Hartley intercept. Ortman out of the double wing misfires and Harry Gilmer intercepts.

Second quarter and with all day to pass Baugh locates Joe Tereshinski behind Shipkey. Joe catches the well-thrown pass on the Pittsburgh five and trots into the end zone. Washington 10 Pittsburgh ZERO. The Steelers go back and forth from the double to single wing, but Ortman is sacked after moving the ball to the Redskin fourteen on a pass to Minarik (Pro Football Reference does not list any sacks in this game which is in error) since he holds the ball too long. He did this all year and as such the Steelers finished 10th in this category allowing 318 yards in sacks for the year. Geri badly misses his field goal attempt.

Washington punts and Ortman completes passes to Nickel and Chandnois before again misfiring to Drazenovich. Sammy Baugh has the 'Skins aligned in the t-formation then the double wing, but the staunch Steeler defense forces a punt. Chandnois in the double wing tries to run to no avail, and Pittsburgh again has to punt. Pittsburgh forces a punt, and Ortman aligned in the double wing to pass for three straight plays cannot find a receiver and runs every time till he is again intercepted. We are at half-time in this hard-fought, yet flawed game of turnovers and punts. Ortman begins the second half in the double wing and throws incomplete and is hit by Lipscomb. He is injured and replaced by Joe Geri.

Ortman over the last seven games has a passer rating of 18.4 as he completed just 43 of 114 for 502 yards with just 1 touchdown, and 10 intercepted. Geri proceeds to throw three straight wobbly misguided passes and then punts. Washington goes nowhere and punts. Geri out of the double wing is hammered by Drazenovich when he runs, but on the next play complete his only pass of the game to Chandnois. Geri cannot get the first down on a running play and punts.

Rob Goode fumbles when hit running to his left and a hustling Bull Schweder playing the game of his life recovers. Joe Geri is hit by Paul Lipscomb as he releases his pass and is replaced by none other than starting safety Jim Finks. Finks first pass is pilfered by Gilmer, but Washington now in the t-formation cannot move and punts. Finks has the Steelers aligned in the old Sutherland single wing and after avoiding the rush completes to Minarik on a crossing route, and then out of a double wing completes to Minarik at the sideline.

Jim then completes to Chandnois on an out pattern, and to Nickel up the seam. Finks is sacked by defensive end Bob Hendren. Finks cannot gain the necessary yardage when he runs, and the Steelers again punt. Washington in the T-formation is again stopped and punts the ball back to Pittsburgh, but Finks fumbles the ball back to the 'Skins.

Very late in the 3rd quarter, and Baugh is intercepted by Shipkey on a textbook linebacker zone drop play. This is the turning point in the game. Finks out of the single wing completes to Minarik as the quarter ends. Fourth quarter and the Steelers have not scored a point since the first half of the Eagle game on November 25th (thirteen quarters). First play of the quarter out of the standard single wing Finks well-thrown pass hits the mark as Chandnois catches the ball on his sideline route, and scampers 40 yards down the sideline to score.

The Redskins are in the 'T' and go nowhere, and punt again. Finks completes an out to Chandnois, and then comes back to him again on an out route. His passes have a slight wobble in the frigid air, yet his timing is superb and he is accurate. Finks cannot find a receiver and runs. The momentum and promising drive ends as Drazenovich rips the ball loose from Rogel.

Washington cannot move again and punts again. Finks completes another out to Chandnois, and then finds Minarik open on the other side of the field on a skinny post for 37 yards. Chandnois catches another pass, and when Finks cannot locate either Chandnois or Minarik he flips to Rogel who makes a fine one-handed catch and trundles deep into Redskin territory. Rogel punches it in and Pittsburgh leads 14-10.

The Skins fumble the kick-off back to Pittsburgh, and Finks still in the standard single wing rolls right and takes off for 22 yards. Joe Geri re-enters the game and burrows his way into the end zone to score. His extra point attempt goes off the left upright, but no matter a ten point lead late in the game. Washington is aligned in a wing formation with Ed Salem at tailback instead of Baugh, and one of his balloon passes is intercepted by Howard Hartley.

Finks and Geri are in the game at the same time as the Steelers run out the clock. Pittsburgh has set a new team record with 288 passing yards, and Finks was a very sharp 14 of 24 for 201 yards. For the first time in team history two receivers for Pittsburgh gained over 100 yards receiving; Minarik in his last game as a pro, and Chandnois for the second time in the season. Questions arise? How come Finks was not given an opportunity sooner? Quoting Ray Didinger in his superb book on Steeler history states "the tough little defensive back everyone said should have been throwing the ball all year."

Why use Geri and Ortman when neither could hit the ground with their hat? Pittsburgh aligned in the double wing so many times in the year attempted more passes than ever before in team history and had so little to show for it. Art Rooney dismisses Michelosen, and Joe Bach returns to Pittsburgh. Finks leads the league in touchdown passes in 1952 as Chandnois and Ray Mathews display their skills receiving. Elbie Nickel gains over 200 yards as a receiver in the final game of the '52 season against the Rams.

Finks will have his struggles after Joe Bach leaves due to ill health and Walt Kiesling returns. Those two men just could not get on the same page philosophically. Five times Finks would attempt at least 40 passes in a game, yet the Steelers off to fast starts in both '54 and '55 could not sustain their winning. Finks leaves the Steelers after 1955, and sure had success in helping build the Vikings and Bears, yet he should also be remembered for that fateful frosty day in Washington when the starting safety moves again to tailback and passes his team to victory.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

The 1973 NFC Player of the Year—Did John Hadl Deserve It?

LOOKING BACK
By John Turney
From time to time we like to look back and analyze past award winners and view them through the lens of current sensibilities versus those "back in the day". Things have changed and scrutiny is higher, especially for quarterbacks.

So, today the subject is the NFC Offensive Player of the Year. The AFC and NFL MVP/Player of the Year was clear—O.J. Simpson and his transcendent 2003-yard rushing season for the Bills.

John Hadl was the consensus NFC Player of the year in 1973 winning the UPI, Sporting News, NFLPA, and Kansas City Committee of 101 versions of the award with Fran Tarkenton winning the New York Chapter of the PFWA award.

Hadl's awards make sense based on the Rams 12-2 record and his passing statistics for the season but when you break down his season into halves, it may not be that simple.

In the first six games, Hadl was on fire with a 129.5 passer rating  (the first season it was used as a passing statistic) and had 13 touchdowns compared to just two picks. Then, in week seven he hit a purple wall and only had a few good games in the last eight weeks and some poor ones—
Hadl's slump continued in the playoff game versus Dallas and into 1974 when he was traded to the Packers for a pile of draft picks. Insiders thought there was something wrong with Hadl's arm, he was missing throws he normally made and Rams GM Don Klosterman jumped when he had a chance to unload his ailing quarterback for such a high bounty. It turns out it was not his arm but his lower back that was causing the issues, you know, with the backbone connected to the neck bone and the neck bone connected to the arm bone, it all fits together. Regardless, there were issues.

So, was him having one great half of a season and one poor half of a season the stuff of being a Player of the Year? Maybe then, but if this happened now we think someone else would be chosen. 

But who?

Roman Gabriel had a fine year but his 5-8-1 record would be a hindrance, even though they were a few plays away from being 7-7. Fran Tarkenton, as mentioned, won the NY PFWA NFC Player of the Year Award for his 12-2 Vikings. Roger Staubach was 10-4 won the passing title and led the NFC in passing touchdowns (tied with Gabriel). All would be fine choices.
However, we think the best vote would be for Harold Jackson, Hadl's teammate.
Chart credit: Pro Football Reference
Jackson was a big part of Hadl's first half anyway and had another monster day (for the 'dead ball era') in the second half. His 21.9 yards per catch were second in the NFL and his 13 touchdown receptions led the NFL, all for a team that ran the ball almost two-thirds of the time.

Jackson is a player who often gets overlooked, he led the 1970s in receptions, yard receiving, touchdowns and was fifth in yards per catch and didn't get close to being All-Decade. Possibly because he played for three different teams in the 1970s and didn't have huge support from any of the voters because the longest he played for any team was five years.

Regardless, we think he had the best, most-productive, impactful season of any NFC skill player in 1973. He's our pick for this "what if" analysis.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Colorization of the Day—Al Blozis

LOOKING BACK
By John Turney
Al Blozis only played 23 games in the NFL from 1942-44 before shipping over to Europe to served in World War II. Tragically he was killed in action.

Per Wikipedia:
He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 28th Infantry Division. On January 31, 1945, his platoon was in the Vosges Mountains of France scouting enemy lines. When two of his men, a Sergeant and a private, failed to return from a patrol, he went in search of them alone. He never returned.

We've seen some film of Blozis and in our judgment, he was the best defensive player in the NFL in 1943 and would be our choice for a retro Defensive Player of the Year Award. he was listed as a defensive tackle and that was accurate, but in those days the alignments were different. He spent most of his time lined up over an offensive tackle and these days that would make him a defensive end (the same is true of Arnie Weinmeister as well).

Here above is our colorization salute to a true hero:  Al Blozis.

Dennis Havig Never Did Earn His "Falcon"?

HUMOR
By John Turney

One uniform story this preseason is the Browns coach Hue Jackson making the Browns 'Earn their stripes' in 2018 meaning they had to make the team before the get the three stripes in the middle of the lid.

Until then they have to wear these:

Okay, fine, but in 1973 Dennis Havig was photographed like this:
Did he never earn his Falcon?

Clearly, it came off, but wouldn't it be great if players did have to earn their logos? We would see better football, no?
Actually, it was likely just issues with the sticker itself. Here he is a few weeks later, presumably a new sticker and it's starting to come off. 

A Brief History and Review of NFL's 'Three Techniques'

LOOKING BACK
By John Turney
At first flop the 4-3 defense did not catch on in the NFL. The first team to use it, and they did it for just one year, was the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And a key feature of the flop 4-3 is that the defensive tackles switch sides depending on the line call, and one of the defensive tackles is a nost tackle and the other is always a three-technique. And until he got hurt the Bucs three-technique was Lee Roy Selmon who became a Hall of Famer as a 3-4 defensive end.
For time immemorial the 4-3 defensive tackles had been left and right. They always stayed on the same side and when the coach wanted to make a call, such as an overshift or and undershift, the tackles slid into position, meaning both would, at times, play over or near the center and over the guard. With the flop 4-3 they would change sides to achieve the same affect.
There are more than one of the technique alignment charts, with different numbers of the outside techniques, but this is the classic one. There is one that makes small changes and one that has consecutive numbering over the tight end. Also, rather than "1" sometimes the shade techniques over the center are called 0+and 0- meaning zero strong and zero weak.

The overs and unders are set on where the tight end aligns. Below the when the tight end is to the offenses right it's called "closed left". When the TE is to the offenses left it is "closed right".

In the under the line is shifted away from the tight end and in the over the line is shifted towards the tight end. In both cases the linebackers shift the opposite way to balance the defensive formation.

So, after the experiment with the Bucs the flop 4-3 didn't appear in the NFL until 1986 when the Vikings began to use it when they moved from a 3-4 to a 4-3 to free up Keith Millard and to get Chris Doleman on the field full time. Later, after Millard blew out a knee and was traded John Randle took that spot and held it for over a decade. Millard was the consensus NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1989 when he had 18 sacks (still the unofficial record for three-techniques) and 11 run/pass stuffs.

Randles numbers were ridiculous in terms of pass rush with 137.5 sacks in his career, but only 44 run/pass stuffs. Nonetheless, he was a six-time All-Pro and went to seven Pro Bowls en route to the Hall of Fame.
In 1990 the Jets employed the flop scheme. In 1989 they were a 3-4 team that was struggling to put pressure on the quarterback. Pete Carroll was the defensive backs coach with the Vikings when they went to the flop was the Jets defensive coordinator in 1990. He put Dennis Byrd into what he called the "Eagle" tackle, which is just different nomenclature for the 3-technique, and it paid dividends, with Byrd recording 20 sacks over the next two years. Sadly it ended with a tragic injury to Byrd in 1992.

The Buccaneers used the flop 4-3 in 1976 and switched to a 3-4 in 1977 and played that through 1990. In 1991 Floyd Peters, who implemented the flop in Minnesota in 1986, was the Bucs defensive coordinator and installed the flop there. In 1992 the Bucs drafted Santana Dotson to fill the 3-technique spot and he held it until he was shipped to the Packers and the Bucs drafted Warren Sapp. Peters was there through 1994 and in 1996, in Sapp's second year Monte Kiffin (another Viking alum who was with Peters and Carroll in 1986) was hired and the Tampa-2 defense was perfected. They coverage was the specific Cover-2 that Bud Carson used to call Cover-22 but the front—the defensive line was still the same flop that Peters installed in 1991 and Sapp thrived.
Sapp, of course, ended with close to 100 sacks and was voted to the Hall of Fame and is often considered the prototype for the three-technique. We think he was sometimes too heavy and could have been even more productive in run defense, but really, it wasn't his job. He was supposed to get up the field and create problems for the offense and he did that very well.

In the early 1990s the flop was catching on with coaches other than the Vikings, though some still did. In 1995 Willie Shaw installed his "Jet" scheme which was a flop 4-3 but he emphasized that all plays were passing plays, i.e. the "jet" technique was used, which mean they rushed the passer first and played the run on reactions and athleticism. Calling it the "Jet" scheme was good PR but it was no different than what the other flops schemes were doing or for that matter, it wasn't different than what Deacon Jones and Merlin Olsen did in the George Allen schemes of the 1960s.
In Shaw's scheme, D'Marco Farr emerged and a Pro Bowl quality player. In 1995 he has 11.5 sacks, 11 run stuffs and forced five fumbles. He was a Dallas Morning News All-Pro in 1995 and a Sports Illustrated All-Pro in 1996 and a Pro Bowler in 1999. Knee injuries cut his career short and had to hang 'em up in 2001.

The scheme proliferated to New Orleans, Atlanta, and through Lovie Smith to Chicago, and elsewhere. La'Roi Glover and Rod Coleman, and Tommie Harris were the stars in those locales. Glover even led the NFL in sacks in 2000 with 17 (though we think Sapp did with 16.5 but that is another story). Coleman had 22 sacks over a two-year period in 2004-05 and Harris was a three-time Pro Bowler for the Bears from 2005-07.
These days it is a golden age of the three-technique though not all of the players are in flop 4-3 schemes. Geno Atkins, now beginning his ninth season, is and has been a Pro Bowler every year since 2011 with the exception of 2013 when he had a knee injury. He's totaled 61 sacks in his eight seasons and is a three-time All-Pro. 
Jurrell Casey began in a flop 4-3 but the last few years he's been in a hybrid 3-4 where one "end" is reduced or "sunk" to three-technique. That occurs with Wade Phillips's scheme with the Rams, Aaron Donald is a three-technique who was almost always on the weak side. In that scheme the WILL backer and MO backer also are always away from the tight end/strong side, flopping three positions rather than one.

Casey had 10.5 sacks in 2013 in the 4-3 and while still being a difference-maker has not had that kind of production since they went to the hybrid 3-4. In our view he gets moved around too much, sometimes standing up as a defensive end or in the A-gaps as a linebacker. Obviously, the coaches know more than we do, but it's just a bit too gimmicky. Line him up over the guard like the Rams do with Donald and Casey will get you double-digits sacks and stuffs is our view.
Donald is more productive year-in and year-out than any three-technique. So far he's averaged 9.8 sacks a year and 10.4 run stuffs and has been All-Pro three times and was the AP Defensive Player of the Year in 2017. The only concern is when he's going to show up to play for the Rams in 2018. He's holding out for the second straight year and though it is thought he will be in sometime soon, the longer goes means the possibility of missing games like he did in 2017.
Kawann Short and Gerald McCoy have been in the more traditional flop 4-3 schemes and also have been Pro Bowl quality. They get overshadowed a bit because of the emergence of Donald and the constant presence of Atkins but both are fine players. Short got post-season honors in 2015 when he had 11 sacks and 7.5 stuffs and McCoy is a six-time Pro Bowler.
On the horizon, the 49ers have DeForest Buckner and the Cowboys were thought to have a future star in David Irving but that is on indefinite hold due to being suspended four games for violating the league's substance abuse policy. He is eligible to return Week 5 but by not reporting to the camp, that is in question. Irving had 7 sacks in eight games through the middle of the 2017 season but his recent Instagram message: “Every game you seen me play in, I was medicated” does not help matters.
Buckner has a bright future and has already played very well. We look forward to seeing if he can reach the upper-echelon this season. Grady Jarrett played very well in 2017 and seems to be getting better he needs to up his production but he seems to have the right stuff.

One rookie we are watching is P.J. Hall of the Raiders. He stood out the first two preseason games and leveled off in the third, but we expect him to be the starting three-technique sooner rather than later. He had violent hands and lots of hustle. It's early, but he's one to keep an eye on. If he plays in the regular season like he has in preseason he will definitely be on the All-Rookie teams.

In this look back we've hit the highlights, there are some good players over the past 30 years we've omitted but we're confident these are the one that stand out in this specialized position of "3-tech". So, who will the best "Eagle" tackle in the NFL in 2018? It's a good bet he will wear number 99 but it's no guarantee.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

When The Fan Was Not Fed: Pre-Elias

LOOKING BACK
By T.J.Troup


John Turney's outstanding article yesterday on Seymour Siwoff and the Elias Sports Bureau sure inspired me. Thus the following; research is much more difficult when the film and statistics are not the same.

Where to begin? During the decade of the 1940's the NFL had a separate category for laterals. While this is not the most important category, anyone who looked at the stats would see errors. Not sure if Joseph T. LaBrum had enough help, but his name is listed on the league manual.
When the lateral category was changed with the dawning of a new decade the yards gained went into the category of the play; i.e.; Brodie throws to Conner for 13 yards vs. Eagles in October of 1958, and he laterals to Owens who gains another 48. This 61 yard play is John Brodie's longest completion of the year.

So, the most poignant question; were there errors in listing the laterals? Yes, there were, and at times listed in the wrong category. Should have been on interception return yards, but was listed in rushing is just one example.
The Rams are playing the Lions in '53 and Woodley Lewis returns a punt, and laterals to guard Duane Putnam who goes an additional 21 yards. Is Putnam listed in the league manual? No! Should he be? Of course, and when you have the play by play and film and they both show the Putnam play that speaks to the researchers on what to do with the play?

Then as John stated so emphatically, Elias took over and chose to correct as much stat data as they could while also keeping each seasons current stats accurate. There are folks across the country who have shown tremendous dedication to the team they cheer for. The most prominent is Mr. Eric Goska.

Eric's detailed play by play of Packer history, and his dogged determination in making sure all the numbers add up is an indication that this Northwestern Wildcat math major wanted complete and detailed accuracy. Having worked with and become friends with Eric over the years on many projects just shows that a Packer fan, and a Bear fan can coexist, and in fact work well together. Anyone who relishes Packer history should/must own his book on Packer history. Eric is not alone. Terry Musolf was most helpful with my projects as he knows Colts history. Should every team have someone like Terry or Eric? Of course!

Since I mentioned the Bears, and John stated in his story yesterday that the fire in Bears headquarters caused the loss of so much historical data. While many would assume, and folks be careful you know what happens when people assume—the Bear organization has made little or no attempt in the past about attaining the game by game stats pre-fire. That may change now that Mr. Jared Ellerson is in charge of the media? Jared are you listening? Recently my research quest has taken me to a category that is listed last on the score sheets—fumble returns and recoveries. Later this year will detail what I have learned/gained by attempting to research this category, and there will be a story attached on Cardinal Tom Wham.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Feed Me, Seymour

LOOKING AHEAD
By John Turney
When the name Seymour Siwoff is mentioned 99% of current NFL fans would say, "Who?". Yet likely 100% of NFL fans who enjoy fantasy football, NFL analytics sites such as Pro Football Focus, Football Outsiders or Cold Hard Football Facts wouldn't be able to do so without the work of Seymour Siwoff. Yes, all of us who love football and who love to count things related to the game it is an absolute fact that Seymour Siwoff has fed us with football statistics for our entire lives.

So who is he?  Siwoff was a WWII veteran was received a Purple Heart when he was wounded in Italy. After returning from the war Siwoff, in 1952, after a stint as the company accountant, purchased what was then Elias Bureau and renamed it Elias Sports Bureau and in 1961 he was hired to organize and product and distribute run the statistics for the National Football League which he has done so ever since. Even now, at age 97, he remains the president of  Elias Sports Bureau.
Prior to 1963, the NFL records were a mess (full or errors and omissions), and part of the reason for that is there was a fire in the Chicago Bears facility where many of the NFL records were stored and as such were destroyed. So when Elias took over it was not only a new job they had in recording the current statistics, the old statistics had to be recreated and checked. And that task was accomplished and because of that we have a rich history of NFL statistics predating Elias.
And early on the sports media noticed Siwoff's work. In 1969 Jerry Kirshenbaum wrote in Sports Illustrated:

"All that aside, the fact is that pro football's upsurge in popularity has been accompanied by a rapid increase in the statistics that surround it, a phenomenon that Siwoff has openly aided and abetted. Until 1966, for example, individual field-goal records were confined largely to the number of goals and total attempts. Siwoff has since amplified those records to reflect the number of field goals and attempts according to distance—one to 19 yards, 20 to 29 yards, etc. Similarly, statistics on punt and kick-off returns were maintained separately until the St. Louis Cardinals' Chuck Latourette had a big and busy season in both last year. After research by Siwoff, two new categories have been added in the 1969 NFL official record book:

Most Combined Kick Returns, Season 74 Charles Latourette, St. Louis, 1968 (28 punts, 46 kickoffs)

Most Yardage, Combined Kick Returns, Season 1,582 Charles Latourette, St. Louis, 1968 (345 punts, 1,237 kickoffs)

Siwoff also added new stats such as team sacks (then called 'times tackled attempting to pass') in 1963 because he saw the yardage total the league had been using and new there had to be a numerative feature to match with the yardage. He added the individual sack in 1982 (with prompting from Jet GM Jim Kensil).

In addition to all the work/improvement, Seymour contributed to the record book and the standard statistics is all the next-level statistics that started under him—Things like red-zone statistics, quarterback W-L records, game-winning drives, average yard line starts, third-down percentages, fourth-down percentages as well as just about all esoteric NFL statistics you've seen in the 1960s-2000s—data that is used to enhance every NFL telecast now—all began under Seymour’s direction at Elias.

Add to that the idea of taking statistics and making fun/interesting facts out of them––most career TD passes from one QB to one receiver, most consecutive starts by a QB, oldest player to start a Super Bowl––all these notes that fill every NFL and team PR release before every game days––started with Seymour and his staff. Heck, just go to Pro Football Reference the online statistical site, How much of that is NOT the initial work of Elias Sports Bureau?

We at Pro Football Journal have had our disagreements with Siwoff over the years. He was adamantly against backdating the individual sack statistics, which we at have attempted to do, but it's an honest disagreement and we respect his perspective. In fact, we don't think they should be official, just available so there wasn't that much of a disagreement.

Also, we called for Elias to backdate net punting stats from 1960-75 (they are available in the 1950s and became official in 1976 but there is a black hole which we'd love to see filled) but again, it's just a disagreement. It does not take away, in our view, Siwoff's contributions to the game of football. And that net punting average is another added stat that Seymour embraced—the idea that the punter’s statistics shouldn’t suffer if he was good at hitting the coffin corner instead of kicking five years further and having it come out to the 20, which is of course why we want it for the missing years. In our own research (which is incomplete) we show Bobby Joe Green may be the most underrated punter ever because he kicked for a high net average year-in and year-out before it was "cool". But without Siwoff adding it we wouldn't have the basis by which to compare, so even in our small differences we only are at the starting point because of Siwoff so who are we to complain?

In addition to the fan enjoyment and understanding of the game, NFL coaches use the work of Elias to set goals and maintain quality control. Here is a shot of the 1980 Los Angeles Rams defensive playbook and the 2009 New York Giants defensive playbook. Both used NFL stats to show what the league did overall and what the league averages are in certain key statistics.
The above tables and charts can be found in most NFL Playbooks, at least the scores of playbooks we have collected. So Siwoff and his team not only contributed to the fans enjoyment, but also to the coaches ability to do their jobs. And there it is—contrubutions. If there is a contributors category for the Pro Football Hall of Fame then shouldn't a person's contributions count? It's pretty plain to see that Siwoff's contributions are tangible and measurable. Just pick up and old NFL Preview Magazine. Any of them—Street and Smith's, Sporting News, Sports Illustrated and anytime you see a statistic, any statistic think of Seymour.

Try playing fantasy football without accurate statistics organized and standardized by Seymour. In that vein, Siwoff has contributed more for a longer period of time (and no offense to these good men) than Edward DeBartolo, Jerry Jones, and Pat Bowlen, three recent owners who are or will soon be in the Hall of Fame. They all bought teams and did good things, for the most part. But if three other men had purchased those teams would things have been different?

What if someone less dedicated to accuracy and innovation had been hired to do the NFL stats in 1963? It's pretty clear NFL fans LOVE statistics and in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s those statistics were a part of the game's growth and storyline.

And to us, that is one way how you can measure contributions—how pervasive are they? The work Siwoff pioneered touches nearly every article, most every Tweet, every book, every blog, and every website that has NFL football as it's subject.

And here is the key:  It so so pervasive that it is taken for granted thousands and thousands of times a day, every day. Football fans expect to click on a link or any football site and get statistics. And those who take the more basic stats and twist and turn them to get a DVOA or N/YPA or anything else starts with the work of Elias. There is no way to do most analytics without them. Siwoff's work became more like a utility than anything, like electricity or running water, we expect it to be there as football fans. That is an impact, that is a contribution.

Again, from Kirshenbaum,"For all that enthusiasm, though, Siwoff knows enough to keep his statistics—and himself—in proper perspective. "There's more to sports than just data," he acknowledges. "You have to look at the broader picture, too. In football, a guy might gain a lot of yards rushing. But it could say more about his blocking or the other team's defense than it does about his own ability. And look at fielding figures in baseball; they tell you tragically little. Even an outfielder's assists don't mean much. If he has a really good arm, he might not have too many assists because they're all afraid to run on him."

So, Seymour gets it. Our motto at PFJ is "Football is art. I like the numbers, and love to count things. But I love the art more." and Siwoffs comments are similar, "There's more to sports than just data,". Amen, brother.

Look, we are in favor of George Young getting into the Hall of Fame as soon as possible. But we also strongly support those outside-the-box contributors like Steve Sabol and yes, Seymour Siwoff. We don't think they served on as many NFL committees as DeBartolo, Modell, Jones, Bowlen or Kraft, but the contributions are great in terms of reach and enjoyment and growth of the game than any of these modern owners in our view.

Siwoff is a vital character in the NFL's unwritten history. Sure, one could write the history of the NFL without him (many have) but when you mention Johnny Unitas's 47-consecutive game streak with a touchdown pass or Eric Dickerson's 2105 yards you only know that because of Siwoff and because of that he should be a very serious candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the contributor's category. His contributions are really incalculable.
Note: Special thanks to Tod Maher for the information that the NFL hired Elias in 1961, not 1963.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Nailed It: Bowlen and Brandt

LOOKING BACK
By John Turney

Pat Bowlen and Gil Brandt are indeed the two contributor nominees for the Class of 2019 for the Pro Football Hall of Fame as we predicted two days ago (a week ago if you count our posts on the PFRA chat page).

We predict both will get the 80% of the necessary votes next February when the entire committee meets to vote on the upcoming class. And with the deck cleared with these two, we expect George Young to emerge as the sole contributor nominee for the Class of 2020. (In even years there are two contributor nominees and in odd years there is one, and the opposite is true for the senior committee nominees). Young, we feel, has some tangible achievements such as being a five-time NFL Executive of the Year winner so we expect that to get recognized next year.

As we've mentioned we don't get too excited for modern owners getting into the Hall of Fame, but it is a necessity (a necessary evil?) given the amount of money the NFL sends to Canton and the fact that NFL Owners are on the Hall of Fame Board of directors.

We also think it's odd that Eddie Debartolo, Jerry Jones, and now Bowlen, the first three owners who are in or will be in the Hall of Fame, all had issues of cheating in terms of the salary cap. DeBartolo had to pay $300,000 and surrender two a 3rd and 5th round pick. Jones didn't lose picks but had to pay $10 million and had to trim his salary cap by $10 million as punishment.

Bowlen got nailed twice—in 2001 and 2004. In 2001 Bowlen had to pay about $1 million in fines and have to forfeit a 3rd round pick. In 2004 he got hit again and had to pay a similar fine and cough up another 3rd rounder.

So, of course, it makes sense to put those three modern owners in first. We are sure Robert Kraft will be the nominee in three to five years to have a really fearsome foursome of questionable ethics in the Hall of Fame.

But, as we said, it's nothing to be excited about, the Hall of Fame does not lack anything if these modern owners are in and it gains nothing in terms of significance if they are in. Plenty of Hall of Fame players are not pleased that the owners get to wear the same jacket they wear and get recognized as football Hall of Famers so they will never be accepted by the rank and file Hall of Famers anyway.

If there were an award for being good businessmen (sitting on this committee or that committee) then the owners would certainly deserve it. But these owners are not the pioneers of the game, taking the league from a rag-tag affair to what it became in the 1970s. These are not Maras, Hunts, Davises, etc., who might be likened to Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak. The modern owners are more like Tim Cook or Satya Nadella (the current CEOs of Apple and Microsoft) who do great work but are riding the wave created by the innovators.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Pro Football Hall of Fame Contributor Nominee Predictions

LOOKING AHEAD
By John Turney
Pat Bowlen and Gil Brandt, our predictions
When one looks back as the articles that have been written about the Contributor nominees over the last several years you can glean who the runners-up were—those who were close but lost out to those who have been inducted.

These are the ones who have been voted in under the contributor category—
Bobby Beathard
Edward DeBartolo, Jr.
Jerry Jones
Bill Polian
Ron Wolf

These are names that have been mentioned in the press as having been close in the voting—
Bucko Kilroy
Gil Brandt
George Young
Pat Bowlen
Art McNally
Steve Sabol
Paul Tagliabue (Was one of the nominees but was rejected by full committee)
John Wooten

And these are a few other names we've read that have been bandied about—
Carrol Rosenbloom
Bud Adams
Dick Steinberg
Joe Thomas
Art Modell
Clint Murchison
Jack Kent Cooke

We'd say the favorites are Bowlen, George Young, Gil Brandt, and Tagliabue. George Young has the most tangible achievments—he was a five-time NFL Executive of the Year and helped build the 1980s and 1990s New York Giants.

However, our prediction for the two nominees is Pat Bowlen and Gil Brandt. Reading the tea leaves yields few other scenarios. Much of the Denver media went ballistic the past few years when others were selected as the contributor nominees. If nothing else, Bowlen becoming one of the nominees this Thursday will finally end that. It shows the squeaky wheel does get the grease.

Brandt is a terrific ambassador of the game and deserves his share of the credit for taking the Rams system that Tex Schramm brought with him to another level and perfected it and computerized it. He did have lots of help with Bucko Kilroy and Ermal Allen in the scouting end of things, many call them the brain trust of the Cowboys system. Yes, Brandt and Schramm did miss on a lot of picks starting in 1978 through 1988 and the wheels kind of came off, opening up the arrival of Jimmy Johnson but the success of the Cowboys from the mid-1960s through the mid-1980s should be plenty to put Brandt over the top.

So, there are the picks: Bowlen and Brandt.  And we think George Young will be the sole nominee next year.


Buddy Ryan's Statistical Legacy

LOOKING BACK
By John Turney
Buddy Ryan entered the NFL with a bang, he was the defensive line coach for the New York Jets beginning in 1968 and that year the Jets defeated the Colts in Super Bowl III

He remained with the Jets until 1975, when he left to be the defensive line coach of the Vikings. He was there for a couple of years and from 1978-85 he was the defensive coordinator for the Bear, where he established his legacy with the 1985 Bear defense, thought to be one of the best, if not the best single-season defenses of all time.

His success there led to his head coaching job with the Eagles from 1986-90, when Wade Phillips and Jeff Fisher ran his defense. He was fired after the 1990 season and was out of football for a couple of years and took the job as the defensive coordinator for the Houston Oilers.

That reestablished Ryan's bona fides and he got a second head coaching job in Arizona.

Here is a chart showing the performance of Ryan's defenses/defensive lines year-by-year:
As can be seen, the Jets defensive line was stellar versus the run from 1968-70. Injuries to Gerry Philbin and John Elliott as well as trading away Verlon Biggs cut into their effectiveness after that.

The next time Ryan had a defense that allowed around 100 yards a game or less was 1982 with the Bears. But from then on his teams were excellent at stopping the run and in sacking the quarterback.

Over his career his teams had a sack rate of 8.6%, that is they sack the quarterback on 8.6% of his dropbacks. The 1971-81 run defense totals (years there was little talent to work with in New York and Chicago) skew him towards average, with a 4.0 yards per carry average.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Sack Master Coach—Floyd Peters

LOOKING BACK
By John Turney
Floyd Peters, a.k.a. "Sgt. Rock" (the DC Comic book character) had a fine 12-year career as a defensive tackle in the NFL. He was a three-time Pro Bowler and a leader on his teams, namely for the Philadelphia Eagles.
He began on the cab squad for the Baltimore Colts, learning at the heels of Gino Marchetti. In 1963 he was with the Lions for a year, filling in for the suspended Alex Karras. Then finishing with the Eagles, where he got Pro Bowl notice and then ending with the Redskins in 1970 where he was a player-coach.

After his playing career, he was an assistant defensive line coach, a defensive line coach, and a defensive coordinator. From 1971-73 he worked under Bill Arnsbarger who was the defensive coordinator for the 2-time Super Bowl champions. Of note is in 1973 Bill Stanfill had a career-high of 18½ sacks under the tutelage of Peters.
Peters followed Arnsbarger to the Giants where he ran the defensive line in 1974 and 1975. In 1975, Jack Gregory, who was an All-Pro in 1972, had 14½ sacks, his highest total since that 1972 season.
In 1976 and 1977 Peters was the defensive line coach for the 49ers and in 1976 the 49ers led the NFL in sacks with 61 and the line was dubbed the "Gold Rush". The 49ers line, for years stuck in a flex defense, were set free and Tommy Hart turned into an All-Pro and had 16 sacks. The following year Cleveland Elam, a defensive tackle, had 17½ sacks, the second-most in the NFL (unofficially). In the two years with the 49ers they were tied in the NFL for the most sacks in that span and likely would have been tops if Cedrick Hardman hadn't missed time with a broken ankle in 1976. Still, second isn't bad.
In 1978 Peters went to the Detroit Lions where he help cobble together the "Silver Rush" that had 55 sacks and a rookie phenom, Bubba Baker who led the NFL with 23 sacks. In his four years as the defensive line coach in the Motor City the Lions were third in the NFL in sacks.
Peters got a chance to be a defensive coordinator in St. Louis for the Cardinals Jim Hanifan. In 1983 they sacked the QB 59 times, to set a team record. Bubba Baker was a big part of the total as was Curtis Greer who had 16 sacks in 1983 and 14 in 1984.
In 1986 he became the defensive coordinator for the Vikings and he was instrumental in moving Chris Doleman from strong-side linebacker to defensive end and moving Keith Millard from a 3-4 end to a three-technique. Peters once explained to us, "(early in 1986) Every time were in nickel this big, tall, strong kid (Doleman) was standing next to me. So, to get him on the field we moved him to end".
Millard was the nickel defensive tackle, but when the Vikings went to the 4-3 full time, they employed the "flop" version of it. That meant one of the defensive tackles was always shaded on the center and the other defensive tackle was always a three-technique, moving from one side or the other defensive on the formation (which side was strong) and what the line call was (an overshift or undershift).

This setup served the Vikings well, as they were one of the best defense in the league and in 1989 Millard was the Defensive Player of the Year and Doleman led the NFL with 21 sacks as the Vikings led the legaue with 71 sacks—one short of the NFL record.

In 1991 the Buccaneers wanted to convert to a 4-3 and brought Peters in to install it. They had been a 3-4 teams since 1977 when they converted from the flop 4-3 that year.

Keith McCants was drafted to be a rushbacker in a 3-4 defense, but dues to injuries and other factors it didn't work out in 1990. In 1991 Peters made him his "Chris Doleman" moving him to right defensive end. McCants didn't have the success Doleman did, but he was better at end than linebacker, but he will likely never overcome the "bust" label since his production didn't match his 4th Overall draft status.

Peters's final job was as the defensive line coach for the Oakland Raiders in 1995 and 1996. He also had a nice conversion story there, too. He moved linebacker Pat Swilling to right defensive end and he had 13 sacks, the most he had since 1991 when he was the 1991 AP  NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Here is a year-by-year review of the performances of his teams:
In looking back Bill Stanfill, Tommy Hart, Bubba Baker, Curtis Greer, Chris Doleman had their best seasons under Peters and Pat Swilling and Jack Gregory had their second-best seasons under Peters. The 49ers, Lions, Cardinals, and Vikings all set team records in sacks under Peters.

It does beg the question of at what cost did the sacks come? That would mean did the run defense suffer under the "up-the-field" style that Peters coached? Well, they were usually good or at least average, but never great. The Lions in 1980-81 were good and the Vikings were, too, from 1986-89. The Bucs in 1994 were also good. So, yes, the style comes at a cost at times. But Peters felt it was the way to play.

His teams averaged 8.6% sacks over his coaching career. In checking that total against Buddy Ryan's totals it's right there with him. Ryan's similar roles as defensive line coach and coordinator for the Jets, Vikings, Bears, Eagles, Oilers, and Cardinals, they also sacked the quarterback at 8.6% of the dropbacks, same as Peters' teams.

The Pro Football Writers Association has a great award called the Paul "Dr. Z Zimmerman" Award that is presented as a "lifetime achievement as an assistant coach in the NFL".  Eventually, we hope that Coach Peters will be on that list.