Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Anatomy of a Bomb

By John Turney

Sam Bradford injured his knee Sunday versus the Carolina Panthers and is likely out of the season. The injury seems typical for the kind of luck Bradford has had in St. Louis since being the first overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.

When he has protection and receivers who can bring the ball in he's had success. Unfortunately, his pass protection and skills sets for his receivers have been lacking.

However, in the following nine stills (All credits go to NFL Replay) we can see what Bradford is capable of. 

One a first down (a likely running down) in the third quarter the Rams line up with two tight ends right and the Z-receiver (off the line) outside the X-receiver who is in a tight split (inside the numbers). The Z-receiver motions to the two tight end side and the cornerback who was covering him stays with the X-and the corner who was lined up over the X-receiver follows the motion of the Z- receiver across the formation, giving the impression of man-to-man coverage underneath.
However, the Panthers play or audible to Cover-3 with two of the underneath zone players blitzing and one defensive lineman dropping back and replacing one of the blitzers in the short zones.The right defensive end takes the weak flat the right linebacker takes the short middle and the strong safety takes the strong flat.
The Rams run a hard play-action and send the X-receiver (Brian Quick on a deep skinny post) and the Y (tight end) Lance Kendricks runs an 'under' route and the Z-receiver (Chris Givens) runs an 'over' route at a depth of 12-15 yards.
The Rams pass protection slid left, leaving the second TE to blocking the blitzing Thomas Davis and the running back, Zac Stacy, to pick up Luke Kuechly.
The 'under' route by Kendricks is no threat, he runs below the short defenders and Givens's 'over' route is picked up by the free safety after he's passed off by the near cornerback. With no other threats, the corner goes deep to help the far corner who, though in zone coverage, has Brian Quick man-to-man with no over-the-top help since the Givens route drew the free safety.

In zone coverage, your "man" is the guy who crosses your zone in a classic case of how zone coverage becomes man.
Bradford steps up and lets the ball fly, right down the hash marks with the far corner in trail position to Quick:
 Ball arrives and hits Quick in stride:
And Quick is able to stay ahead of the far corner who trailed him but also the near corner who passed off Givens and then tried to give deep help to the far corner. However, when a pass travels 55 yards in the air, that makes for a tough assignment. Sometimes it's referred to as taking the top off of a zone defense:
In all the play gained 73-yards. 

For the season, Bradford upped his passer rating to over 90 and in 6½ games he completed 159 of 262 passes for a completion percentage of 60.7 and totaled 1687 yards, 14 touchdown passes and for interceptions. 

Those numbers put Bradford on pace for numbers like 363/599 on completions and attempt, 3856 yards for 32 TDs and 9 INTs. But in 2013 those will not happen. "The kn-ee, the kn-ee, always the kn-ee"—Howard Cosell

Monday, October 21, 2013

1984 Football News Players of the Week

By John Turney
Starting in 1984 the weekly publication Football News began selection their own players of the week, as Pro Football Weekly began doing in 1978 and as the NFL and Sports Illustrated began doing, also in 1984.

However, there were times they didn't make selections, such as early in the season and over the Thanksgiving break and over the Christmas and New Years holidays.

Here are the first year's selections:
Week Offense Defense
1 No selection No selection
2 No selection No selection
3 Steve DeBerg, Buccaneers Mark Gastineau, Jets
4 John Riggins, Redskins Lawrence Taylor, Giants
5 Dan Marino, Dolphins Kansas City Chiefs Defense
6 Dan Fouts, Chargers Bob Baumhower, Dolphins
7 John Riggins, Redskins Gill Byrd, Chargers
8 Mark Wilson, Raiders Mark Gastineau, Jets
9 Larry Kinnebrew, Bengals Tom Flynn, Packers
10 Eric Dickerson, Rams Jack Youngblood, Rams &
Dave Brown, Seahawks
11 No selection No selection
12 Otis Wonsley, Redskins James Wilkes, Saints
13 Eric Dickerson, Rams Todd Shell, 49ers
14 No selection No selection
15 Eric Dickerson, Rams Scott Radecic, Chiefs
16 No selection No selection
Lots of names most fans will know, but also a nice set of players like Kennebrew, Wonsley, Shell, and Radecic. John Riggins garnered two selections and Eric Dickerson, three. Mark Gastineau was the only defensive player to get named twice in 1984.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Bruce Smith, 200 or 201?

by John Turney

In Week 11 of the 1985 season the Buffalo Bills traveled to Cleveland to play the Browns, which was not considered a historical game by any means. What makes it interesting is a statistical anomaly that occurred in the NFL Game Summary (play-by-play or PBP).

In reviewing it one can see that late in the first half rookie Bruce Smith was credited with two sacks on back-to-back plays, one for four yards and the next for six yards. However, as is sometimes the case with the PBPs the tackle chart at the end of the game summary showed conflicting information. But, to make this a rarity, the conflicting information is corrected in the tackle chart to make it consistent with the text. However, that information never seemed to be forwarded to Elias Sports Bureau, the NFL’s official statisticians.

The tackle chart and the end of the PBP showed one sack for Bruce Smith for four yards, but shows Don Smith, a defensive tackle who entered games in likely passing situations, getting the other sack for six yards. In NFL sack research Nick Webster and I often go with the text of the PBP as opposed to the tackle chart if there is a conflict, the logic being that the more senior member of the statistical crew would be typing the text. But in the case, the tackle chart was corrected in pencil giving both sacks to Bruce Smith, which made it consistent with the text.

Why mention it now? Only to show that in football there are often anomalies in these documents that have to be addressed by researchers who examine them. What makes this anomaly different is that if the text and the tackle chart agree (which they do after a Bills official corrected the tackle chart) then Bruce Smith had 7.5 sacks in 1985 rather than 6.5. If it bears out, then Bruce Smith has 201 sacks rather than 200.

It’s not a major difference, but does show that prior to 1987 when Elias Sports Bureau insisted on reviewing sacks there were small discrepancies and it shows that even though sacks were official beginning in 1982 that sacks are a tough statistic to score and on occasion it’s a matter of opinion.The best evidence would be the game film or television copy of the game, but those may not still exist. So, using the best evidence at this point, it is that Smith has 201 career sacks.

Art credit: John Turney
On a related note, in 2014 when the St. Louis Rams traveled to Kansas City there was another type of scoring anomaly that shorted Robert Quinn of a rightly earned sack.

Early in that game Quinn tacked down Chief quarterback Alex Smith and stripped the ball from him behind the line of scrimmage and the ball traveled forward a few yards where it went out of bounds. The Chiefs’s official scorers ruled it a running play likely because the officiating crew marked the ball improperly.

For weeks, to no avail, the Rams challenged the scoring. Team officials were told that Elias was having trouble accounting for the yardage since miscellaneous yards were no longer a category for odd plays like this. Rams coach Jeff Fisher said, "Yeah, it's one of those unusual things that happens once every few years". Quinn was disappointed, but also shrugged it off, "No need to sit there and lose sleep about it, right?" he said.

One aspect that would make it significant is that if properly scored Quinn would have had three sacks in the game, which would give him six three-sack games in his career in four seasons. The official leaders in that category are Lawrence Taylor and Reggie White, who had 12 each. Both those players did it 13 and 15 seasons, respectively.

The moral of the story is errors happen in football statistics, it’s such a fast and dynamic game that often split decisions are made to who made a tackle or sack or who forces a fumble or tips a pass. Pro Football Journal likes to report on these types of statistics, but is not under any illusion that the stats are always concrete or set in stone. And don’t even bring up a 2000 sacks credited to Le’Roi Glover that likely should have been credited to defensive end Joe Johnson. Johnson knocked a ball loose a split second before Glover tackled the quarterback who had no ball in his hand. That would have given Glover 16 for the season and Johnson 14, but it would have cost Glover the sack title as Warren Sapp had 16.5.

When this was pointed out to Seymour Siwoff he was a bit put out in that he replied “I wish you would have contacted us, we want to get it right”. His staff was informed by me, but in a busy season it was either not reviewed or it was and the film was not conclusive enough to make the change.

So no one is at fault, all involved try to get it right, but in football, “right” is a bit more nebulous than in say, baseball.

Monday, February 18, 2013

A LOOK BACK: 1979 AFC Pro Bowl selections: DE

by John Turney

Often at Pro Football Journal we like to review the post-season honors players received and with perfect 20/20 hindsight make suggestions as to possible oversights and omissions.

One example is the 1979 Pro Bowl selections for defensive end in the AFC. The players voted to the game were Fred Dean, LC Greenwood, and Elvin Bethea. Dean and Bethea are Hall of Famers and Greenwood is a many-time finalist. Sacks did not become official until 1982 but in 1979 they were kept by game statisticians and most teams tallied them in their weekly press releases, along with tackles, forced fumbles, and other individual defensive statistics.

In the NFC the choices were fairly easy. Lee Roy Selmon was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year and Jack Youngblood and Bubba Baker were two of the top sackers in the NFL. Selmon was injured in the 1979 NFC Championship game and was replaced by Harvey Martin. Carl Hairston of the Eagles had 15 sacks and was thought to be a top alternate.

However, the AFC players didn't have the gaudy statistics of their NFL counterparts. Dean had nine sacks and Greenwood had seven. Bethea had one. Yes, one. Research has yielded some interesting details about that season and can perhaps offer a couple of choices that may have been better than Bethea and even Greenwood. Clearly, sacks are not the only measure of a defensive end, playing the run and being aware of run action passes like screens and on occasion taking the second back out of the backfield in coverage. But, from the Deacon Jones era to the present, sacks are a representation of the major job a defensive end has. To paraphrase Hall of Fame coach George Allen, "If a defensive lineman cannot rush the passer, he's stealing".

Starting in the late-1960s the designated pass rusher was starting to show up in NFL games, a player who played primarily on likely passing situations. However, none had ever received post-season honors such and being named All-Pro or voted to the Pro Bowl until 1981, when Fred Dean was so honored with both and more. Bethea was a worthy Hall of Famer, but 1979 was not one of his better seasons.

Rookie designated pass rusher Jesse Baker got the lion's share of sacks and led the AFC with 15½, about the number of Dean and Greenwood combined. However, being a rookie and not being an every-down player (he did spell Bethea some at right defensive end in the base defense) he was not voted for any post-season honors other than being voted to various All-Rookie teams so it's understandable how he was overlooked. 

Also overlooked, for likely the same reasons, was Tony "Mac the Sack" McGee, who totaled 11½ sacks The same is likely true for Tony "Mack the Sack" McGee, who, from 1974 through 1983 was a consistent nickel rusher for the Patriots and Redskins. The same goes for Willie Jones, the Raiders replacement in the DPR role previously held by Pat Toomey, with his ten sacks.

As for the players who were starters the best candidates for the Pro Bowl who were overlooked were Art Still and Vern Den Herder. Den Herder a nine-year vet had nine sacks as the Dolphins surged after a few down years. Still was chosen by Sports Illustrated's Paul Zimmerman for his All-Pro team, citing consistent pressure and great ability to stop the run. Still, he had 8
½ sacks but really began to show his ability the following year, 1980, when he totaled 14½ sacks and continued in his run-stopping dominance.

Bethea was hampered by some injuries, but played through them and on occasion played defensive tackle while Baker played right defensive end in the Oiler pass-rush set.

So, in this looking back installment, the best choices for 1979 AFC defensive ends would be Dean, who played very well on a very good Chargers defense, Still, an up-and-comer, and then a pick 'em: Den Herder or Greenwood. Both veterans with good moves, but coming to the end of their careers.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

PFJ's 2012 All-Pro Team

Here are the ALL-Conference picks:

Position Awards:
Offensive Lineman of the Year—Marshal Yanda, Baltimore
Defensive Lineman of the Year—J.J. Watt, Houston
Linebacker of the Year—Von Miller, Denver
Defensive Back of the Year—Richard Sherman, Seattle
Running Back of the Year—Adrian Peterson, Minnesota
Receiver of the Year—Calvin Johnson, Detroit
Returner of the Year—Jacoby Jones, Baltimore
Special Teams Player of the Year—Bryan Braman, Houston
Kicker/Punter of the Year—Justin Tucker, Baltimore

Friday, January 4, 2013

NFL Special Teams Coaches of the Year

Complete Lists
By John Turney
It seems that after 1998 you couldn't watch a Dallas Cowboys game on television without the announcers bringing up the fact that special teams coach Joe Avezzano was the only three-time winner of the NFL Special Teams Coach of the Year Award.

We'd search high and low for a complete list and who gave the award out. We learned that it was based on a poll of other NFl special teams coaches and was awarded by Professional Kicking Services which was a business that specialized in football camps, especially kicking camps.

They would have an awards dinner every year and invite the winning coach to Sparks, NV, to accept the award and give a speech. It not longer is in operation and in 2010 it didn't give out the award. However, it was always interesting to see who won each year, as some teams would feature the winner in media guides, other teams never seemed to know their special team coach won the award, based on their bios in media guides.

Brad Seeley joined Avezzano as a three-time winner in 2011. Eventually, we will try and get a complete list of the Dallas Morning News Special Team Coach of the Year awards, which were chosen by Rick Gosselin and was based on his excellent tallying of complete special teams play annually in that paper. However, we have not complied that list as of yet (little help researchers?).

Here is the list: