Thursday, February 14, 2019

Rob Gronkowski Thoughts

By John Turney

The Boston Herald published an article that has been picked up by Bleacher Report and others posing the question if Rob Gronkowski is a first-ballot lock or not. It seems the consensus of the Hall of Famer voters they spoke to stated they think Gronk is a Hall of Famer but not a lock for first-ballot.

The negative factor is if he's played long enough to warrant that extra cachet of being a first-ballot selection. In our view, they have been a few players who got in recently on the first ballot who lowered the bar of that elite status so we're not sure it matters as much as it used to.

Regardless, short career guys do get in. Gale Sayers got in on the first try, deservedly so, even though he only played 7 seasons and 68 games. In the researcher world that became known as the "Gale Sayers exception" meaning that in general, voters liked sustained and prolonged greatness—longevity. In the past couple of decades Dwight Stephenson, Ken Easley, Terrell Davis all were enshrined, though Easley had to wait and get in via the seniors committee.

Thus, shorter careers have been honored and in out study of the subject, longevity is nowhere near as important as it was in the 1980s or 1990s when the voters would talk about it as a key factor in their decisions.

So, in the Paul Zimmerman coined line (for the Lynn Swann HOF debate) "What do you want quality or quantity"? Well, most people would say both, but if you have to choose, what would it be?

When Dwight Stephenson was making the Final 15 Mike Webster was, too. They essentially went head-to-head in 1996 when Zimmerman used that talking point for Stephenson, who he thought was the best center in NFL history. When the voters came to the press conference after the vote we briefly spoke to Will McDonough who, when asked why Webster was omitted, jsut shook his head and muttered "Seventeen years". Yes, 17 years.

So, to Gronk.
Here are his career honors compared with the HOF tight ends and some other HOF hopefuls. We are assuming Gronk will be an All-Decade pick for the 2010s:

Now, here are the statistics:

As you can see, Gronk is number one in yards per 16 games and TDs per sixteen games, the two most important of the four major receiving categories. Yes, he missed a lot of games, but when it's done on a per 16-game bases he's at the top of the "numbers".

That leaves the eye test and every Hall of Fame voters has his or her own. We think Gronk passes the ole' eye test in wonderful fashion. The way he was used as a receiver, his ability to make tough catches,  his blocking. The whole package. The only thing we would do is use him as a safety on Hail Mary passes.

We don't know if Gronk will be first-ballot or not if he retires and does not play another down in the NFL but we also think nine years is enough to determine if someone is a G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time) or not.

However, our prediction is he will not be first-ballot if it's a strong class . . . the voters likely will hold the longevity thing against him. But no matter, he's going to get in early. If not first, then second.

That's our take.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Super Bowl LIII—Old Becomes New

By John Turney

Quite a bit has been written this past week about the Patriots defense employing a 6-1 front and playing a lot of quarters coverage behind it. It worked well for Bill Belichick and the Patriots.

Here is a shot from the All-22 where you can see the basic alignment the Patriots used to thwart the Rams offense. You can see the six players on the line of scrimmage backed up by one linebacker and the secondary, here showing off-man free, but the Patriots would vary the coverages, often Cover-4 (quarters) but also other coverages.
In Super Bowl III the Colts used something similar. From their 4-3 they used the diamond front with the left linebacker and right linebacker on the line of scrimmage. They played their secondary in the same "look" but usually played Cover-3, but would mix in Cover-4 or Cover-2.

Here is a screenshot of the All-22 of Super Bowl III.
 As we know, Joe Namath figured it out and beat the Colts 16-7. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. But, it was fun seeing an old school front employed in the NFL these days.

Belichick used it because it widened the edges and put the Pats in a better position to stop the outside zone runs and the jet sweeps the Rams like. It also eliminates the "bubble" on the line of scrimmage. However, it does leave bubbles on the second level with the one linebacker in the middle of the formation.

Everything old is new again.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Should NFL Coaches be Considered Contributors for Pro Football Hall of Fame?

By John Turney
With how difficult it is for the coaches who were very good (Tom Flores, Jimmy Johnson, Don Coryell, etc) but maybe not great (Noll, Landry, Shula, and eventually Belichick) there is, we are told, that there is discussion among Hall of Famer voters and the Hall of Fame that coaches should not have to compete with players for the modern-day slots, of which there are only five per year.

Do we agree?

Well, yes.

The Contributor category was introduced with the idea that general managers and other contributor-types didn't have a fair shot at the Hall of Fame. It has worked in that Gil Brandt, Bobby Beathard and Bill Polian have gotten in. It also gives a shot for owners, which we don't like, but we understand it. Three of the owners who have gotten in are recent and also have been on the Hall of Fame board of directors. Not good form in our view.

So, who would the coaches compete with and would they take slots of owners or other contributors? Well, we think George Young should get in as a contributor. Steve Sabol is another. Carrol Rosenbloom is interesting. The voters are going to want to put Robert Kraft in soon. We think Elias Sports Bureau's Seymour Seywoff deserves a chance, though we doubt many of the voters know who he is.

Originally the Hall of Fame was to include officials. Art McNally is one who has been considered. And there are others, too.

The Hall of Fame has what is called the Ralph Hay Pioneer Award and McNally has won that.

Here are the past recipients of that award:
1972—Fred Gehrke
1975—Arch Ward
1986—John Facenda
1992—David Boss
2001—George Toma
2004—City of Pottsville, Pennsylvania
2007—Steve Sabol
2012—Art McNally

For about a decade we've nominated Seymour Siwoff and artist Merv Corning for this award, but our nominations have been ignored.  But we feel this is a great award and too few people know about it. However, the Hall of Fame only gives this out every few seasons, so it's not a viable option to award-worthy people who are not quite Hall of Famers. (Amy Trask, we predict will be awarded this someday and it's a great fit).

So, the point is there may be fewer and fewer pure "contributor types" in the next decade so it's possible the quality could go down, to some degree. However, adding coaches to the pool would make sure the candidates nominated will of the high possible quality.

The two Super Bowl-winning coaches we discussed HERE. It also would give a fair shot to the guys who didn't win two Super Bowls (or one for that matter) like Mike Holmgren, Marty Schottenheimer, or even a Chuck Knox or a Dan Reeves or an Andy Reid one day or a great coaching mind like a Don Coryell or a Clark Shaughnessy.

Now, we are NOT advocating for all or some of these, we are neutral on them, but it seems like adding them to the contributor category or having a separate category for coaches that rotates with the contributors seems like a great idea. That way, they can though have a fair shot at it. Otherwise, Bill Belichick will get in five years after he retires, and he could be the next coach in the Hall of Fame if they have to compete with all the worthy players that come up each year.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Separating the Two-Win Super Bowl Coaches—Is It Possible?

By John Turney

Yesterday neither Tom Flores nor Don Coryell was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Predictably partisans were upset on Twitter.

A sampling on Flores:

And for Coryell:

Our question is how do you separate and order the coaches that have won two Super Bowls? Flores is one of them, Coryell is not. Coryell is more of an innovator and wasn't able to get his teams over the hump. So, we will discuss him another day.

Flores does have the two Super Bowl wins, as does Jimmy Johnson, who didn't make the Final 15 for this year's Hall of Fame but did make the Semifinal list of 25.

There are nine coaches with two Super Bowl wins—Don Shula, Tom Landry, Bill Parcells, Vince Lombardi (who are in the HOF), Tom Flores, Jimmy Johnson, George Seifert, Mike Shanahan, and 
Tom Coughlin who are not.  Lombardi's 2 wins shorts him because he won three other NFL Titles before the Super Bowl was introduced. Shula and Landry are coaching legends but they did lose seven Super Bowls between them. But they had longevity and were credited with coaching innovations, Landry especially.

Bill Parcells
Parcells won two with the Giants, then lost one with the Patriots. He's more of a contemporary to Flores, Johnson, Siefert, Shanahan, and Coughlin. So, he sets the standard, in our view, for the two-ring coaches.

Parcells was a 'motivator type' of a coach, rather than Belichick who is more of an 'Xs and Os' coach, though we wish to take nothing away from him, to win as much as he has Belichick has to be a great motivator, too. We just want to paint, with broad bushes where a coach fits.

Example: Lombardi—motivator. Landry—Xs and Os, teacher. Like that. 

Parcells was the Giants defensive coordinator, then went to the Patriots as a linebacker coach, then returned to Giants as the defensive coordinator. His success as a DC was tied to Lawrence Taylor, meaning they were not good in 1979, and when LT arrived, they were much better.

He won the Super Bowl in 1986 and 1990 and then went to the Patriots where he took a poor team, improved it and got to a Super Bowl in 1996, losing to the Packers. He then turned around the Jets and later the Cowboys, though the Cowboys were not able to get too far in the playoffs and the Jets got to an AFC Championship game.

So, Parcells did a great job in his 'first act' if you will, with the Giants. Then a good job in his 'second act' and then a good job in his third act and fourth act, but no doubt his first act was his best. It is a theme we will see repeated in this post.

Tom Flores
Fans of Flores like to present him as a combination candidate, listing his playing career achievements as part their reasoning why Flores should be in the HOF. We hope the voters ignore that because it's not relevant. Flores was a mediocre NFL player and that is being kind. Those same folks also seem to think him sitting on the bench in 1969 for the Super Bowl champion Chiefs counts as a ring. People, it's a gravy train ring. It does not give him any extra cachet.

What does give him extra cachet is being a trailblazer for being the first Hispanic coach in th NFL and that is absolutely worth noting.

As an assistant coach, it's not specific what his role was, though he was an offensive coach that worked with the quarterbacks and the Raider offense was very good in the time he was there. Ken Stabler called the plays, but Flores was part of the game planning and game preparation.

Flores inherited a good team in 1979 and he kept it good, winning a Super Bowl in 1980. The Raiders then fell apart in 1981 and in 1982 they rebounded with an 8-1 record, but underachieved, losing in the playoffs to the Jets. Flores won his second ring in 1983, doing a great job beating a very good Redskins team coached by Joe Gibbs.

However, in 1984 and 1985 the Raiders badly underachieved, they were a very talented team, especially on defense and at running back and on the offensive line but they were bounced from the playoffs early in both seasons.

The next two years coast Flores his job. They were 8-8 in 1986 and 5-10 in 1987.

Flores was not good in his 'second act'. He was 14-34 with the Seahawks for a .292 winning percentage. In some ways, Flores' teams were like the little girl with the curl. When they were good they were very good (1980 and 1983) and when they were bad they were very bad (the poor teams and the underachieving good teams).

We are not sure if Flores was an Xs and Os guy or a motivator or a little of both. He didn't have the Lombardi/Jimmy Johnson style but also didn't have the reputation of a Coryell or Mike Martz as a ofensive scheme master.

Jimmy Johnson
Jimmy Johnson came to the NFL from college, so he didn't have a track record as a coordinator or position coach so his HOF resume is only as a head coach.

Johnson took over a bad Dallas franchise that was damaged by poor drafting (sorry Mr. Brandt) and maybe outdated schemes like the Flex defense (sorry Coach Landry). Johnson had a leg up on most of his fellow NFL coaches because he knew college talent and drafted accordingly. He's credited with perfecting the NFL Draft Trade chart into almost a science. Prior to the chart, which gives numerical values to each draft lost, teams did back-of-the-envelope valuations, i.e. two second-round picks were equal to a first-round pick or two thirds were worth a second rounder, and so on. Then teams would haggle to 'even it out'.

Johnson also made key trades (Charles Haley, for example) that put the finishing touches on a Cowboys team that was a mini-dynasty from 1992-1995. His predecessor, Barry Switzer, took his team and won a Super Bowl in 1995.

After some acrimony, Johnson left the Cowboys and then a couple of years later he was hired by the Dolphins for his second act. His second act was good, but not great. he drafted well and his teams were in the playoffs in three of his four seasons there and they won a couple of playoff games.

We see Johnson as a motivator more than Xs and Os (and remember this is a generalizations, he knew his Xs and Os but his forte was drafting well (player personnel and motivation)

George Seifert
George Seifert took over a great team, loaded with talent and were coming off a Super Bowl win. Siefert met expectations by following up with a Super Bowl win of his own. But it's clear that he had an easier road to travel than even Flores, who took over a very good, but not great team.

Siefert, though, gets some of the credit for that 1980s 49er dynasty since he was the defensive coordinator for much of it, getting two Super Bowl rings as a DC (1984, 1988).

Siefert won his second ring in 1994 after a few years of near misses, losing NFC Championship games in 1990, 1992 and 1993. 

In 1999 we come to Siefert's second act with the Carolina Panthers and it was not good. In fact it was bad. In his three years the team got worse, ending at 1-15 in 2001. John Fox took that team and was 7-9 in 2002 and in 2003 lost a close game to the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Head scratcher.

Siefert, we think, based on his years as a DC was a Xs and Os guy, and maybe a sublime motivator but not the obvious leader-type like a Johnson or Shula, etc.

Mike Shanahan
Mike Shanahan actually had a first act with the Raiders and it didn't end well. Perhaps he wasn't ready to be a head coach or it was not a good team Flores left him with but after going 7-9 in 1988 he was fired after going 1-3 in 1989 and was replaced by Art Shell.

Shanahan went back to being an offensive coordinator in 1991 (he was in that position from 1985-87 for the Broncos, helping Broncos to a pair of Super Bowls. He then was the OC under George Siefert with the 49ers from 1992-94.

An Xs and Os coach, Shanahan was very successful with the 49er offense with Steve Young winning two MVPs and was a runner-up once and finished with a great performance and gameplan in routing the Chargers in 1994 in the Super Bowl.

Shanahan took over the Broncos in 1995 and a great 14-year run, winning two Super Bowls and posting a 14-7 playoff record. However, the last couple of seasons were not stellar and he was let go by the Broncos and he started his third act with the Redskins in 2010.

It was okay for a short time going to the playoffs in 2012 but the wheels came off in 2013 and Shanahan was gone. He had a poor opening act, a great second act, and a so-so third act.

Tom Coughlin
Tom Coughlin has not received a lot of HOF pub likely because he's still active in the NFL as an executive with the Jaguars. Coughlin was a receivers coach in the NFL for seven years before going to college to coach Boston College. 

In 1995 he had his first act, with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and took an expansion team to the AFC Championship Game in his second year and peaking in 1999 with a 14-2 record. He introduced, from our memory, the four defensive end pass rush with Jacksonville (and it proved vital in wins over the Patriots in Super Bowls, especially 2007). Then things slowed down and after four straight losing seasons, Coughlin and the Jaguars parted ways.

His second act with the New York Giants will give you whiplash. At certain points in his tenure with the Giants they fans wanted to put him in the Hall of Fame immediately and other times they wanted him fired without passing Go and not collecting $200.

Coughlin ended with two rings with the Giants and a 12-7 record in the playoffs with the Jags and Giants. We see Coughlin as the motivator-type rather than the 'mad genius' Xs and Os type. 

There is none. How can you separate these coaches? None have the perfect resume. Coughlin had a good first act and great second act, the others tended to have a great first act and average or even poor second acts. Some are Xs and Os types, others are motivators, leader-types. Some offensive, others defensive. Some were good coordinators, others came from college and don't have a coaching record as a coordinator.

We do think that definitively stating one coach is ahead of others, i.e. (Flores should be in NOW and it's an injustice that he's not) is not fair because a close, non-partisan look at his career does show some question marks. But the same is true with Johnson. Johnson had great first act and a good second act. He was a leader and innovator. 

Shanahan failed in act one, was great in act two, and so-so in act three. Siefert was a great coordinator, had a great first act and a failure in the second act. 

So, we think these guys are close but do think that due to success at both stops Johnson and Coughlin have the slight edge. But reasonable people certainly disagree.

And then we have the issue with a great innovator and very good but not great (no Super Bowls) coach in Coryell. And then we have Mike Holmgren, an Xs and Os guy, and a motivator, but he's 1-2 in Super Bowls. But he did have very good success at both his stops as a coach.

So, when you see "Flores is getting jobbed" or "Jimmy Johnson is getting ripped off" think also of Shanahan, Siefert and Coughlin (less so because he's still active).

How would you order these coaches?

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Aaron Donald Moves up in All-Time Votes for the AP Defensive Player of the Year Award

By John Turney
Aaron Donald garnered 45 votes in the Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year Award which was announced tonight. Bear linebacker Khalil Mack received five votes. Both moved up on the all-time list of vote recipients. Donald is now sixth and has his second win. He also has received votes in four separate seasons.

Mack now has a total of 23 votes over two seasons and one win.

Chris Long is the NFL Man of the Year; Andrew Whitworth the NFLPA Man of the Year

By John Turney
NFL Man of the Year (left) and NFLPA Man of the Year (right)
Chris Long, the Eagles edge rusher has been named the Walter Payton Man of the Year by the NFL. A few days ago Rams left tackle Andrew Whitworth was awared the NFLPA Alan Page Community  Award, which was known as the Whizzer White Man of the Year Award from 1967 through 2018.

Long is the 15th Player to be named the winner of both awards. Here are complete lists with the double awardees highlighted.

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2019

By John Turney

As per Twitter, and family members, media, friends of players, we've pieced this list together. We would not die for it, but we'd take it to court.

Ed Reed
Tony Gonzalez
Pat Bowlen
Johnny Robinson
Champ Bailey
Kevin Mawae
Ty Law
Gil Brandt

From Twitter, we found out the leaked names of those who got in and out:


And that left Coryell, James, Faneca, Law, and Seymour.

Then we got this Tweet, we went with the story.
So, if we are right, no one will care, because we are "nobody from nowhere" and if we are wrong we will eat crow and humble pie.

Update: We beat the national media and HOF by 28 minutes.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Julius Peppers Hangs 'Em Up

By John Turney
After 17 seasons and 266 games, Julius Peppers called it a career today. He began that career in 2002 with the Panthers, the second overall pick in the 2002 NFL draft and ended with the Panthers with stints with the Bears and Packers in between.

He was a four-time All-Pro (three consensus) and was a second-team All-Pro in two additional seasons. He was a nine-time Pro Bowler and PFJ named him our All-Pro nickel rusher in 2017 as well.

In addition to those honors, he was—

• NFC Defensive Player of the Year (2004)
• NFL Alumni Defensive Lineman of the Year (2004)
• NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year (2002)
• NFL All-Decade Team (2000s-Second-team)
• 4x NFC Defensive Player of the Month
• 7x NFC Defensive Player of the Week

His 159.5 sacks and 52 forced fumbles are among best-ever as are his 13 blocked kicks. His sack total is fourth on the official list and fifth when pre-1982 sacks are included. He also picked off four passes and returned four for touchdowns and is credited with 86 passes defended unusually high for a defensive end.

Here is his career in a capsule—
Where does this place Peppers in the All-time realm?

Here is a chart comparing defensive ends in the Hall and where Peppers' numbers place him—
As can be seen, Peppers fares well against Hall of Famers, right behind Michael Strahan and ahead of Jason Taylor, two recent inductees.

We expect Peppers to get in the Hall right away, if not first ballot, soon thereafter. However, it has to be noted that first-ballot among defensive ends can be very tricky. Jason Taylor got in right away and thus has his named etched with Reggie White, Bruce Smith, Gino Marchetti, and Deacon Jones as the only defensive ends to be first ballot. Strahan had to wait a year. Jack Youngblood, whose credentials were very close to Deacon Jones, had to wait more than a decade. As did Carl Eller. So it's clear the voters in the 1990s mucked up the defensive ends/first ballot thing pretty badly.

The only slight negative we see is a lack of tackles for loss (run stuffs) in the running game, totaling 62.5 in his career. Jason Taylor, not known as a supreme run stuffer had 76.0, Willie McGinest another edge player had 89.0, Terrell Suggs has 94.0 stuffs but that can be seen as something to those players' credit rather than a big issue for Peppers.

So in five years, we will see, but it's apparent that Peppers had a long and unique career with special skills and he will be treated fairly by the voters.