Monday, December 9, 2019

Packers Stake Out Washington Territory in 20-15 Win

By Eric Goska
Fans pose for a faux Lambeau Leap ahead of Green Bay’s win.
The Washington Redskins were the visiting team Sunday at Lambeau Field.

But in the first half, at least, it was the hometown Green Bay Packers who spent a lot of time visiting Washington territory.

Aaron Rodgers and company all but set up shop on the other side of the 50 in producing a 14-6 halftime lead. That development proved fortuitous – even if it was not fully taken advantage of – as the team did little offensively in the final two quarters yet still squeezed out a 20-15 win.

Offenses love short fields. The Packers had one on three of their four first possessions.

One could even argue it was four-for-four. Running back Aaron Jones ripped off his longest run of the season – a 42-yard scamper – that pushed Green Bay beyond the 50 as the team set sail for a fourth time.

Not counting Rodger’s kneel-down to end the half, the Packers (on average) began five first-half drives from roughly their own 39-yard line. Why the team didn’t tally more points is a concern the coaching staff needs to address or this club will be one-and-done in the playoffs.

Green Bay’s first three drives were set up by newcomer Tyler Ervin. The fourth-year running back – who played six games for the Jaguars earlier this season – joined the team on Dec. 2 as a waiver wire acquisition.

Erving resurrected a punt return game that had netted negative-8 yards through 11 games. He set the team long with each of his first three returns: 10, 12 and 18 yards.

Green Bay started from the 50, the Washington 48 and its own 43 as a result. The journeys concluded with an Aaron Jones rushing touchdown, a J.K. Scott punt and a Rodgers-to-Robert Tonyan scoring pass.

Scott’s punt followed a 7-yard sack of Rodgers. Linebacker Ryan Kerrigan dropped the quarterback after the Packers had moved to the Redskins’ 42.

As Green Bay opened its fourth drive, Jones’ 42-yard run carried the Packers to the Washington 46. Four plays later, Scott punted for a second time as the team again sputtered.

Green Bay’s fifth advance began at its own 25. The team cruised past midfield to reach the visitor’s 27-yard line. Once there, a strip-sack of Rodgers by linebacker Ryan Anderson resulted in the Packers’ only turnover.

Rodgers kneeled from his own 27 to end the half.

Lambeau Field has its Christmas Tree.
In all, the Green and Gold ran 21 of 29 first-half plays on the Redskins’ side of the field. That percentage (72.4) was the club’s highest since Rodgers became a starter in 2008.

It ranks as the team’s 11th best outing since the NFL-AFL merger of 1970.

Such a marked takeover of the opposition’s territory – even if only for the initial 30 minutes – has often been followed by victory. Green Bay has been above 70 percent on 25 occasions in the first half since 1970, and its record in those games is 20-5.

The team has been there seven times since 2008. Its only loss over that span was a 30-34 setback to the Bengals in 2013.

Given such prime real estate Sunday, the Packers lacked killer instinct. The 21 plays they ran from beyond the 50 in the first half produced 73 yards. The other eight yielded 120.

Had the team finished what it started by finding the end zone each time out, the score at halftime could have been 35-6.

Green Bay was even less effective in the second half. Seventeen of its 31 offensive plays were initiated in enemy territory, yet the team managed but six points on two Mason Crosby field goals.

That won’t cut it come January. Failing to take advantage of excellent field position against the likes of San Francisco, Seattle or New Orleans will almost assuredly lead to an early Packers’ exit.

But Green Bay’s effort – unimpressive as it was – sufficed against the 3-9 Redskins. Green Bay shut the door on Washington when Rodgers kneeled twice – from the Redskins’ 47- and 48-yard lines – to run out the final 77 seconds.

Extra point
Green Bay’s best first-half beyond-the-50 showing of the last 50 years occurred on Dec. 5, 1982. On that day against the Bills at Milwaukee County Stadium, the Packers ran 22 of 23 plays (95.7 percent) in Buffalo territory en route to a 33-21 win.

Enemy Territory
The seven times Green Bay has run more than 70 percent of its first-half offensive plays from beyond the 50-yard line.

Date                   Opponent        Pct.          Plays        Result
Dec. 8, 2019       Redskins          72.4        21 of 29     GB won 20-15
Dec. 8, 2014       Falcons            72.1        31 of 43     GB won 43-37
Sept. 22, 2013    Bengals            71.9        23 of 32     GB lost 30-34
Dec. 13, 2009     Bears               71.0        22 of 31     GB won 21-14
Oct. 24, 2010     Vikings             71.0        22 of 31     GB won 28-24
Dec. 29, 2013     Bears               70.7        29 of 41     GB won 33-28
Dec. 11, 2011     Raiders             70.6        24 of 34     GB won 46-16

Friday, December 6, 2019

Come on Guys—You Can Do Better Than This

OPINION
By John Turney
Looking through Twitter this morning there was a Tweet with a link to a podcast that purported to have a take on the NFL 100 team, so I dutifully followed.

In it, Dave Dameshek and  Matt "Money" Smith had these thoughts on the subject.
Dameshek aired his views that Dutch Clark and Bill Hewitt shouldn't be on the All-Time team and that the NFL was a "minor league sport".  Smith, while supposedly agreeing with Dameshek actually stated the exact reason players like Clark and Hewitt (and there will be others) should be on the team.

Sometimes people get going on a take or rant and actually undermine their whole premise. You see, everyone who follows football knows of the evolution of the game and that the players of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s and so one couldn't play today.

This guy knows that—

But the NFL's point of having an All-Time team is to celebrate the history of the game and honor those who have come before and that is done in the context of rating players in the era they played, i.e. "All those guys could do is play in their decade and absolutely dominate". Thank you, Mr. Smith.  My point exactly.

Of course, I have some quibbles with the All-Time team selections made so far, but I certainly have no issue with Clark or Hewitt or Mel Hein who will likely be one of the centers and others.

It gets kind of old hearing the same, tired complaint by those who know little of the pre-WWII era. That complaint is "those guys couldn't play today". It's just something we all know, especially those who have taken the time to study the era and even watch what film is available.

Actually, I would like to see a discussion about taking Peyton Manning or Tom Brady back to, say, 1960. Have them contend with blockers who could not extend their arms. Defensive linemen could beat the crud out of the helmets of the blockers, and then hit the quarterback from the top of his head to the bottom of their feet and get to hit them hard.

It would be fun to see them contend with the fact their receivers could be "axed" on the line of scrimmage. And their receivers could be bumped after five yards and until the ball was in the air. And on those crossing routes they run with impunity? Nope. They are not there because it the receivers would be in the hospital after the first couple. And if a defender gets close are they are rules for intentional grounding? No. If you ground your ground, no out of the pocket or back to the line of scrimmage.

Sure, the defenses would be less sophisticated but it would be a tough game because the protections given to the quarterbacks and receivers would be gone and much of what teams can do now couldn't be done then. So, to a smaller degree, the "could play today" works both ways. Again, to a smaller degree. And that is not even asking if Manning or Brady could play both ways in the "iron man" era.

Heck, how about this? Eric Dickerson, Earl Campbell, and Barry Sanders are three of the best running backs ever. Bar none. But, could they play today? In an era that does not value pure runners? They were awesome, off-the-charts runners. But none could help you on third down. They were average or fair to poor pass blockers. Fair, to average, to poor pass catchers. Sanders had to be taken out on goalline quite often. What about that? And some of them fumbled a lot. Too much to be able to stay on the field today.

So come on Mr. Dameshek and Mr. Smith it is far more complex to choose an All-Time team than you are suggesting and one cannot just rattle off the names of players from their favorite team on the one hand and then rip the Blue Ribbon Committee choices for honoring pre-WWII players on the other.

Again, criticizing a choice here or there, fine. But dismissing a class of players because they "couldn't play today" is silly. They are part of the game and they dominated in their era the way LT dominated his era.

Put your backs into it, study the subject, then comment. If you do that then your comments can be taken seriously.

The bottom line is the members of the NFL's 26-person blue-ribbon panel are doing a great job. And the presence of Clark and Hewitt are the proof of that good work.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

TEXAS ADVENTURE COMPLETE: Back to the NFL 2019 Season

By TJ Troup
My Texas adventure is now complete, and down the road when the film is about to be released to the public will tell the saga from my point of view.

Back in my routine, and we are at the 3/4 pole of this season, and is about damn time I contributed to the Pro Football Journal.

Where to start? How about with my favorite stat; the top seven teams in the defensive passer rating category (The Sexy Seven) have a combined record of 66-18, and all four teams with 10 wins are in this category.

So, until the stat is not viable, you are gonna hear about who is playing top-notch team pass defense. Today is an anniversary date—and in my first book This Day In Football I detailed that on December 5th there were two fascinating statistical performances.
The first and still the record; rookie Chuckin' Charley Conerly completed 36 passes against the Steelers in a losing performance. Even with so many rookie passers filling the air with footballs, Conerly still holds the rookie record 71 years later.

Yes, truly believe Conerly should have received more consideration for Hall of Fame induction honors. The other stat is a combined team stat. The defending champion Cardinals of Chicago, and the lowly '48 Packers combined to run the ball 108 times in a game!

Now that is a combined team stat that will probably never be broken based upon the strategy of the game as it is played in 2019. Finally, tonight we have the Bears taking on the Cowboys, and one of the teams goes over .500, and the other falls below .500.

Both teams were expected to be powerful winning and probably playoff teams this year; yet they have both had their struggles, and many in the land of the red, white, and blue could(and probably have)go hours on why they are not winning? Last year both teams made the playoffs, and both teams have both made the playoffs in the same season before—but not very often.
During '77 the Tonka Truck known as "Sweetness" literally carried the Bears on his back to a wild card berth. Chicago's opponent the future Super Bowl Champion Cowboys; and the game was a route. During 1979 Dallas beat the Bears in the regular season, and both teams were knocked out in the their first playoff game.

During 1985 the Bears crushed the division champion Cowboys in the regular season as Chicago was not going to be denied on their path to their only Super Bowl victory. Dallas lost to the Rams in a game Doug Smith detailed to me when we coached together at Orange Coast College.

Watching film of the game truly shows that Doug knew what he was talking about. Finally, 1991 as the Jimmy Johnson Cowboys on the rise beat the Bears 17-13. The game was very painful to watch for any fan who cherishes navy blue & burnt orange.

Steve Beuerlein completely outplayed Jim Harbaugh, and the Dallas defense recorded 3 sacks and 3 takeaways. Painfully I know first hand about Mr. Beuerlein of Servite High School, and what he did to me in 1980 & 1982 during my time at Mater Dei High School. Those memories have not faded with time, and many, many coaches can always reflect back on championship game losses.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Packers Rate Better than Giants in 31-13 Win

By Eric Goska

Aaron Rodgers had a passer rating of 125.4; Daniel Jones had a rating of 49.4
Vive la dif·fé·rence!

Pardon our French, but if the Green Bay Packers can continue to come up with passer rating differentials such as the one they orchestrated against the New York Giants Sunday, the team will be tough to beat.

Aaron Rodgers and his merry band of receivers teamed up to produce Green Bay’s third-highest passer rating of the season. The defense, meanwhile, surrendered its lowest number of 2019.

The difference between the two numbers – a margin of 76 points – was the greatest the team has seen in three years. It was a number that stood out in the Packers’ 31-13 conquest of the Giants at MetLife Stadium.

In order to produce a gap of 75 or more, a team’s offense and defense must both be playing well. If only one unit is clicking, differentials typically aren’t as pronounced.

Case in point: Rodgers compiled the NFL maximum rating of 158.3 against the Raiders earlier this year, and his counterpart, Derek Carr, checked in at 119.2. While that’s a difference of 39.1 points, it could have been far more had Green Bay’s defenders been less forgiving.

In the Meadowlands, the Packers were strong on both sides of the ball when the teams took to the air. Rodgers fired four touchdown passes – two to Davante Adams and one each to Allen Lazard and tight end Marcedes Lewis. His rating of 125.4 was his third-highest of the season.

On the other side of the field, Daniel Jones appeared as though he might be equally as impressive, at least early on. His 18-yarder to Sterling Shepard tied the score at 7-7 late in the first quarter, and the rookie’s rating ballooned to 135.9.

But Jones fired incomplete on his next two attempts. He subsequent offering was waylaid by cornerback Kevin King early in the second quarter.

By game’s end, Jones’ rating was a miserable 49.4.

Rodgers’ jumped into triple digits on his second attempt of the afternoon. He found Lazard downfield for 43 yards and a first down to set up the Packers’ first touchdown.

From there, Rodgers’ rating never fell below 115. He even clocked in at 158.3 on a number of occasions in the first 18 minutes.

Jones’ rating plummeted to 63.1 after he was picked by King. It never got any higher than 71.5 thanks to fourth-quarter interceptions by Darnell Savage and Tramon Williams.

Gaps of 75-plus (starter versus starter with each quarterback attempting at least 15 passes) don’t come around often for Green Bay. When they do, the Packers usually prevail.

The Green and Gold has been 75 points better 48 times since 1947, the year the team went to the T formation. The team’s regular-season record in those games is 46-2.

Tobin Rote was the Packers’ triggerman in the first. On Oct. 2, 1955, he fashioned a rating of 89.3 while the Bears’ Ed Brown barely registered at 12.8. Green Bay won 24-3.

Brett Favre has been at the helm a record 15 times in these ratings landslides. Rodgers is next with 14 such outings.

Bart Starr was at the controls in the most lopsided. On Oct. 12, 1970, Starr’s 132.9 was 131.6 points better than John Hadl’s 1.3. Even so, the Packers needed a fourth-quarter field goal from Dale Livingston to escape with a 22-20 victory.

Rodgers last outpointed the opposing starter by 75 or more on Dec. 11, 2016. No. 12 tossed three touchdown passes (150.8 rating) while Green Bay’s defense intercepted Seattle’s Russell Wilson five times (43.7). The Packers cruised 38-10.

Gaps of 75 or more were more commonplace when Rodgers was younger. He and the Packers came up with at least two in five different seasons: 2009 (2), 2010 (3), 2011 (2), 2012 (2) and 2014 (3).

To this day, the difference between a team’s passer rating and that of its opponents is a good indicator as to how a team might fare in the postseason. Given that Green Bay’s number through 12 games is a pedestrian 14.6 (102.2 for; 87.6 against), continuing to widen that gap would likely only help the Green and Gold come January.

Extra Points
Green Bay’s two losses in 75-plus situations came with Lynn Dickey and Mike Tomczak under center. In 1983, Dickey (120.5) outplayed the Lions’ Eric Hipple (37.6), but Green Bay fell 23-20 in overtime after Dickey was lost to a concussion late in the first half.  In 1991, Tomczak (115.9) outdueled Billy JoeTolliver (36.1), but Atlanta came back to win 35-31 in the second half behind Chris Miller (137.7).

In 2010, the season in which the Packers last won a Super Bowl, the team’s passer rating (98.9) was 31.7 points better than that of its opponents (67.2).

Air Superiority
Quarterback starters for Green Bay who recorded the most regular-season games in which they outpointed the opposition’s starting quarterback by 75 or more (minimum 15 attempts by each quarterback).

   G   GB Starter         Largest Difference                                              Date         
  15   Brett Favre          125.8 (Favre 141.5; Trent Dilfer 15.7)                    Sept. 1, 1996
  14   Aaron Rodgers    119.0 (Rodgers 155.4; Derek Anderson 36.4)        Oct. 25, 2009
    9   Bart Starr            131.6 (Starr 132.9; John Hadl 1.3)                         Oct. 12, 1970
    4   Lynn Dickey        97.8 (Dickey 149.5; Archie Manning 51.7)             Dec. 13, 1981
    2   Tobin Rote          87.4 (Rote 115.6; George Shaw 28.2)                    Oct. 14, 1956

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Deshaun Watson Joins New Club

By John Turney
In the Sunday Night Football game tonight there was a play in which at first it appeared that Deshaun Watson ran for a touchdown on a pitch from DeAndre Hopkins.

It was ruled a forward pass and thus Watson was credited with a touchdown reception. It was the first of the season.

Watson now has 23 touchdown passes, 5 rushing touchdowns, and a touchdown reception.

According to Pro Football Reference it marked just the 12th time in NFL history a player had at least 15 touchdown passes and at least one touchdown run and one touchdown reception.

Here is the complete list—
Folks are saying Lamar Jackson is the frontrunner for the MVP and that is likely true. But there still a month of games left, so let's see all of them. Don't sleep on Watson, he's still in the race in our view.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Only One Nitpick with the NFL 100 All-Time Team Linebackers

PERSPECTIVE
By John Turney
Sure there are people who are disappointed that one linebacker or another got beat out for the All-Time team but in our view, there were no surprises like there was on the defensive end list.

Here is who did and did not make it—
MLB/ILB: Dick Butkus*, Jack Lambert, Willie Lanier, Ray Lewis, Joe Schmidt, Junior Seau
OLB: Chuck Bednarik, Bobby Bell, Derrick Brooks, Jack Ham, Ted Hendricks, Lawrence Taylor*

LB Finalists that did not make it: Finalists that did not make it: Harry Carson, Bill George, Kevin Greene, Clarke Hinkle, Sam Huff, Luke Kuechly, Von Miller, Ray Nitschke, Dave Robinson, Mike Singletary, Derrick Thomas, Brian Urlacher, Dave Wilcox
*Denotes unanimous selection.

We've read on Twitter and elsewhere that Derrick Thomas or Mike Singletary deserved it, and they do, but there were only seven slots at each linebacker position (inside and outside).

One thing the Blue Ribbon Committee charged with the selections got right is listing Chuck Bednarik with the outside backers. Many think he was a middle linebacker. Well, he was both. He played middle backer later in his career but the vast majority he was really in a unique defense that played him over a tackle (the Eagle defense) rather than over the center like Joe Schmidt, Bill George, Sam Huff, and others.

The one thing they got wrong was listing Junior Seau with the inside linebackers. He wasn't, at least for the majority of his career. He was a weakside linebacker in a 4-3. Bill Arnsbarger, the Chargers defensive coordinator (and later Dave Adolph and Joe Pascale) liked to play the "under" in the 4-3 and that put one outside linebacker over the tight end and the other stacked over the weakside next to the middle linebacker.

There were a lot of middle linebackers in the Seau era in San Diego—Gary Plummer, Dennis Gibson, Kurt Gouveia, etc. 

In his first two seasons, Seau was, indeed an inside linebacker, though, just not the majority of his career. It was a hybrid 3-4 where Leslie O'Neal was converted to outside linebacker but he'd usually rush the passer and then on sure passing downs he had his hand in the dirt. Actually, we saw him with his hand in the dirt plenty in base defense as well. 

He was, for many years, listed as an ILBer by the Chargers media relations staff. We don't know why but it led to him being an All-Pro at middle or inside linebacker. For some reason, the writers of the day just went along with the misnomer rather than vote him All-Pro at outside linebacker.

But Seau's position was akin to say Derrick Brooks' than Ray Lewis'. 

That is no way does it mean he's not worthy of his spot. He 100% does. We just think it's a bit of a "code cheat" to list him as an inside linebacker. 

Friday, November 29, 2019

Atkins a Surprise on NFL 100 All-Time Team

PERSPECTIVE
By John Turney
Here are the seven defensive ends who made the NFL 100 All-Time team—
Doug Atkins, Bill Hewitt, Deacon Jones*, Gino Marchetti*, Lee Roy Selmon, Bruce Smith, Reggie White

These are Finalists that did not make it: Willie Davis, Carl Eller, Len Ford, Howie Long, Julius Peppers, Andy Robustelli, Michael Strahan, DeMarcus Ware, J.J. Watt, Jack Youngblood
*Denotes unanimous selection.

Bill Hewitt was also a surprise but we've noted before that there is not tons of data about him. There is some film but not much. So, we really don't have a comment on his selection.

Atkins, though, there is lots of film and lots of data available. If the Blue Ribbon Committee choosing the All-Time team availed itself of that information we cannot say.

For one, it took Atkins a long time to secure a starting job (he started 29 of a possible 60 games in his first five years due to injuries and inconsistent play). He was not able to get along with Paul Brown in Cleveland and was shipped to the Bears where he was a part-time starter for a couple of years.

Finally, in 1957 (Year four) he began to establish himself as a great player. He was First-team All-Pro in 1960, 1961, and 1963, but 1963 was his only consensus All-Pro season. He was Second-team All-Pro seven times, though, so there is that.

It just seems odd that Atkins couldn't beat out Willie Davis for First-team All-Decade in the 1960s and couldn't beat him out for most of the All-Pro slots in the 1960s (Davis was a five-time First-team All-Pro in the 1960s). So what new info has come out in the 50 or more years that vaulted Atkins over Davis? It's a headscratcher for sure.

In fact, Jack Youngblood, Carl Eller, Michael Strahan, and JJ Watt all got more All-Pro honors than Atkins and those honors include various Defensive Player of the Year awards.

So color us a bit surprised that Atkins beat out several players that were honored more, won more, and in some cases had better stats.

Of course, Atkins is an All-Time great, a legitimate Hall of Famer and though we will be criticized for this, it is not a criticism of his greatness. It's simply a deeper dive into information (film study, stats, honors, intangibles, testimonials, etc) as a way to separate the best of the best. Greater scrutiny is needed.

Atkins had rare size for his era (or any era) and was very athletic and we think perhaps the player personnel aspect of his career was given greater weight than his production. He was a wonder—good speed, great natural strength, and amazing leaping ability. All those things helped him in his pass rush. He was like Marchetti (a grabber and thrower) in terms of style, only he played the right end most of this career (he played some left end early in his career with both the Browns and the Bears).

Nonetheless, we don't see him as a top-seven end. We'd rank him from 13-15.