Friday, February 27, 2015

Simeon Rice Denigrates Michael Strahan's Career While Promoting His Own

By John Turney
Digital art credit: Pro Football Journal
On occasion, a player will grow frustrated with the Pro Football Hall of Fame process and lash out against the voters or other players who are already in the Hall of Fame. A few days ago, Simeon Rice did both. In a YouTube video channel called "JRSportsBrief" Rice pulled few punches when making his case for his own Hall of Fame induction while questioning Strahan's career. To see Rice and hear his full remarks, click here.

Rice, referring to the so-called "phantom sack" that gave Strahan the post-1982 single-season sack record in 2001, said, "I didn't have nobody falling down to help me get sacks. I didn't have that. I had to earn everything I got."

He also referred to the 1999 season when Strahan had "four sacks" (actually 5.5) and he was All-Pro (actually Second-team All-Pro) and was not voted to the Pro Bowl, but had to be added by Tony Dungy. There is actually merit to bothto a degree. In 2001, Chicago Tribune columnist Don Pierson asked my thoughts on that sack and I told him it shouldn't have been scored a sack since no effort to throw a pass was made by Favre. As for the 1999 Pro Bowl, it would be a good year to take a look at who should have made it, as Pro Football Journal did for 1979 for the AFC. All things considered, Rice did have a better season than Strahan.

Leaving Rice's invective aside, it is useful to look at Rice's claims to his own career. He certainly had a career to be proud of, from 1996 through 2005, his era of "dominance", Rice had 119 sacks, 2.5 more than the aforementioned Strahan. He was All-Pro in 2002 and 2003 (2002 consensus First-team All-Pro) and Second-team All-Pro in 1999 and Second-team All-NFC in 1996. He was also a Pro Bowler in 1999, 2002 and 2003 as well.

However, does Rice's career match with other right defensive ends in the Offical sack era of 1982-present. Two are in the Hall of Fame, Chris Doleman and Richard Dent. Bruce Smith is a different category due to his unparalleled success (200 sacks (or 201?)) and his nine First-team All-pro selections.

So, here are Simeon Rice's career stats:
Games, starts, solo, assisted and total tackles, stuffs, sacks, interceptions, pass defensed, fumbles forced and recovered.
Rice had a rookie season that set official sack-era records for sacks by a rookie (since broken) then had an excellent run in sacks from 1998 through 2005. He had a high number of passes deflected and also a high number of fumbles forced. However, his stuffs (tackles for loss on running plays) were relatively low compared to other defensive ends.

Here are Michael Strahan's stats:
Strahan was a five-time First-team All-Pro and a seven-time Pro Bowler (six if you leave out the 1999 Pro Bowl which Rice and Warren Sapp didn't approve of. Strahan was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2001 and the NFC Defensive Player of the year in 2001 and 2003. He didn't force as many fumbles as Rice but had more than double the number of stuffs.

It really seems incredulous that Sapp and Rice are so critical of Strahan and his Hall of Fame candidacy. Sapp even called Strahan a failed blind-side rusher in 2013. While it's true Strahan began at right defensive end and protested to the move initially, it paid dividends over the years with Strahan's dual skills of getting pressure and stopping run plays directed at him.

Now, looking at Richard Dent and Chris Doleman's careers, both of whom are in the Hall of Fame.

Doleman was a First-team All-pro three times and a Second-team selection twice more. He was named to eight Pro Bowls. In addition to his 150.5 sacks he had 71.5 stuffs.

Dent, had 137.5 sacks and 41 stuffs, and like Doleman picked off eight passes. He also forced a high number of fumbles and deflected away a high number of passes for a defensive end. He was First-team All-pro in 1984 and 1985 and was Second-team All-pro in 1988 and 1990.

It's fairly easy to see why Dent and Doleman earned Hall of Fame induction. They were excellent pass rushers over a long period of time and played on very good defenses most seasons in their careers and received more honors than did Rice.

In fact, when talking about blind-side defensive ends, one who scouts and coaches may have appreciated as much as, if not more than Rice, was Clyde Simmons. Simmons played the right side but was a good run defender, stout at the point of attack and also could chase plays from the backside. He was First-time All-pro twice (same as Rice) and was voted to two Pro Bowls and likely deserved a couple more, especially in 1989.

Clyde Simmons' stats:
Simmons had 62.5 stuffs to go with his 121.5 sacks, and his 663 tackles. However, the classy Simmons isn't one to get on television or radio to promote himself and criticize others. He simply went out and did his job and let the praise come from others and let his career speak for itself. His 55 sacks from 1989-92 were more than any defensive lineman in the NFL for that four-year span, which is saying something in a league populated by Reggie White, Bruce Smith, Chris Doleman, and Richard Dent among others.

So, to answer Rice's comment "There's no Hall of Fame without me in it. There's just not. I dominated when I played. There was nobody better at my position. Nobody." Well, as the above research shows, there likely were a handful of Rice's contemporaries that were better at his position, and that's just the post-1982 era. Blind-side sackers like Al "Bubba" Baker (128.5 sacks) and Coy Bacon (130.5) would head a list of those who played all or part of the career pre-1982. It it's possible Rice rushed to judgment?

NOTE: Pro Football Journal research provided by Nick Webster and John Turney PFJ research uses tackle numbers, solo, assists and totalsfrom NFL play-by-play sheets to ensure an apple-to-apples comparison from player to player and team to team. PBPs are also source for all other stats. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Historical Outliers: How Underdogs Overcome Long Odds

by Nick Webster

In week three of 2008 the visiting Miami Dolphins showed up in New England at 0-2, having gone 1-15 the prior year, they were a combined 1-17 in the prior two seasons. The home-standing Patriots were 2-0, despite losing Tom Brady in their opening game win against the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Pats had finished the 2007 season undefeated during the regular season and with one of the top offenses of all-time. What transpired in the three hours plus that followed quickly became football lore.

The Dolphins, 12.5 point underdogs, employed the Wildcat and ran all over the Pats winning by over 20 points and stunning the humiliated Pats. Rodney Harrison was quoted after the game as saying, "I don’t know why in the world we couldn’t stop that play. They just came in and beat out butts."

How unusual a victory was this? Since 1978, according to Pro Football Reference, only six percent of games have a line of 12 points or greater and the underdog wins only 13% of those games, meaning less than one percent of all games feature a 12-plus point underdog winning outright. Given the current schedule, you’d expect a similar such game, perhaps twice a season. However, the margin of victory for the Dolphins was the absolute largest, since 1978, for a 12-plus point underdog; larger than the second best underdog victory by six points. The unveiling of the Wildcat was truly a game to remember, something that happens once in an era. Had a similar situation happened before? And when?

Let’s go back to week eight of 1960, 48 years prior to the Dolphins knocking off the Pats using the Wildcat, to find something similar. It’s November 27, 1960, and the 4-4 San Francisco 49ers are headed across the country to visit the two-time defending NFL Champion Baltimore Colts at home. The Colts are 6-2 and are 16 point favorites over the visiting 49er based on extensive research conducted by Mark Wald on historical lines. What happened that day was truly extraordinary; the 49ers came into Baltimore and beat the favored Colts 30-22, an eight point victory. According to the aforementioned Pro Football Reference, not a single time since 1978 has a team favored by more than 15 points lost by more than a touchdown.
Brodie, Waters, Tittle - 1960, colorization by J Turney
The story of that game comes down that Red Hickey, coach of the 49ers, pulled off victory similar to that of the Dolphins at the Patriots in the 2008 Wildcat game. The 49ers introduced the Shotgun Offense, dropping starting QB John Brodie and later backups Y.A. Tittle and Bob Waters back in an alignment very familiar to those who watch the game today, the Shotgun. This at the time revolutionary move, it’s written, so confused and flustered the Colts that a historic victory was the result. And there’s some evidence in support of this, even the game-day play-by-play record that was captured at the time had difficulty describing what was transpiring, referring repeatedly to the formation as the “Short Punt” that would have been more familiar in the 1940’s with Sammy Baugh. (See the following play-by-play excerpt from the second quarter)

However, the common account of that game likely confuses correlation and causation.  Indeed the 49ers did roll out the Shotgun Offense to confuse a strong Colt pass rush and the 49ers offense performed well. But overlooked in that account of the victory, is the 49ers turnover margin. Johnny Unitas, who was otherwise spectacular – passing for 356 and 3 TD’s on just 30 Attempts – threw a career high five interceptions that day. The Colts team fumbled an additional three times, losing two, for a total of seven Colt turnovers. In the fourth quarter alone Unitas threw two interceptions, the Colts lost a fumble and a missed 42-yard field goal. The 49ers, conversely, did not turn the ball over at all that day. Again, to the Pro Football Reference database, only three times since 1940 has a team with a plus-seven turnover deficit won a football game.

This historic meeting between the Colts and 49ers in 1960 was similar to the 2008 meeting of the Pats and Dolphins in two very specific ways, First: A large home favorite lost to an improbable opponent, Second: A new offensive scheme was rolled out, and while successful, in neither case did that scheme survive in a material sense beyond a season or two of the game where it d├ębuted. However, the storyline that might connect these games – a new scheme confusing a superior opponent and leading to a victory – ignores the basic fact that huge turnover margins are difficult to overcome.

The shotgun would find its way into the NFL mainstream, though it would be decades before it took hold in the manner that the 49ers deployed it. Further, the bigger fallacy of the storyline is the idea that what Hickey broke out on that sunny, crisp Baltimore day was groundbreaking and never seen before. In this way the unveiling of the Shotgun Offense and the Wildcat were similar. The Shotgun having been deployed with some frequency in the 1950’s by the Packers, Redskins, and Cardinals and the Wildcat, an evolution of the old single-wing, albeit with a balanced line.

Everything old is new again, true, there are some truly revolutionary ideas flowing around the game, but we should be cautious when ascribing anyone as the ”creator” of any scheme, for as any historian knows there is very little new under the sun. Not the Wildcat (which I was lucky enough to have seen run for the last time at the college level by Coach Piper at Denison University in 1992, as the single wing), not the Shotgun, not LeBeau’s zone blitz, and on and on. With the occasional truly unique scheme thrown in, the great innovators of today manage to tailor or hone their schemes to make the best of the past in the context of today’s players and rules. More on that, at Pro Football Journal, in the coming weeks and months.

See the Pro Football Hall of Fame account of the game – no account of Colt turnovers, and numerous inaccuracies i.e: “Brodie went down early in the game “here’s the play by play showing Brodie running the QB position in the fourth quarter.

Further, Waters “orchestrated” the comeback, despite throwing two passes, albeit one for a touchdown.

Monday, February 23, 2015

George McAfee, Still Tops After All These Years.

by John Turney
McAfee returns one against cross-town rival Chicago Cardinals

Even after 65 years George McAfee still sits atop the NFL Leaderboard for the highest punt return average. For years Devin Hester has given chase, even surpassing him after the 2007 season and the 2011 season, but he's yet to sustain the lead, falling behind both times. Pro Football Journal salutes Mr. McAfee for setting a mark that has been elusive for so many great returners.

This is how the current leaderboard shapes up:
Source: NFL Record and Fact Book
However, due to a scoring error, it is likely that Jack Christiansen had a 12.9 average and is truly tops but Elias Sports Bureau isn't buying it so, McAfee is still number one in their minds but that is a story for another day.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Hall of Fame "snubs"?

by John Turney

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but if what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, then if an opinion is faulty others have every right counter those views. What would be nice is that folks were respectful when they do it. I've read a few fan forums where Rams fans were upset with the "snubs" of Orlando Pace and Warner. Pace's case reminded me of a squabble over another great left tackle a few years ago.

To what or whom do I refer?  In 2011 Fox columnist Jason Whitlock was "irate" when Willie Roaf was not a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee. He told his readers he was going to be irate if Roaf didn't get in right away, and when Roaf was "snubbed" in the process Whitlock followed through with his promise. However, Whitlock seemed more than irate. Vicious is more like it.

Whitlock went on a tear, ripping into the Hall of Fame voters, criticizing the process and even going so far to accuse the voters of "deal-making" and hinting at racism. But Whitlock didn't stop there. In another column  he singled out players he deems less than worthy of the Hall of Fame.

Wrote Whitlock, "
Chris Doleman? Child, please. Same for Dermontti Dawson, Cortez Kennedy, Richard Dent, Charles Haley, and Andre Reed. They’re very good players. Men who should be proud of their careers. But in the same Hall with Jim Brown, John Elway, Reggie White and Joe Montana? Come on, man. I love the Charles Haley debate. He was a specialist who played on third downs. Ray Guy was a specialist who played on fourth downs. Guy was a more dominant specialist than Haley. Guy belongs in the Hall well ahead of Haley."

In his criticism of the voters, he singled out Peter King and Rick Gosselin and even raised the specter of bigotry and racism. Whitlock wrote that while he didn't specifically called Peter King a bigot he also thought, "King is the leader of a good-ol’-boys network. There are black good-ol’-boys networks. The HOF board of selectors just happens to be a predominantly white one that sits in judgment of a diverse group of athletes" and added "Does it lead to black candidates being treated unfairly? I don’t know. Ask Michael Irvin. I can guarantee you this: If 41 of 44 voters were black, The Playmaker would’ve been a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Irvin had to wait to get in because some people had a problem with his television work and off-the-field problems."

Does Whitlock really think that African-American voters wouldn't read Irvin's bio and see his lone First-team All-Pro selection? Or his 65 career touchdowns, which was on the very low end for a Hall of Fame receiver? Low touchdown totals and few First-team All-Pro selections likely hurt the candidacies of Charlie Joiner and Art Monk, both of whom retired as the NFL leader in receptions. Joiner was known as the king of the 12-yard curl and Monk the premier 8-yard hitch man yet after some time and deliberations the voters inducted both. Irvin was a major cog in the Dallas offense and was part of the famed "Triplets" with Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith. But was he a sure-fire, no-holes-in-the-resume first-ballot lock? Reasonable people can disagree on that, but to suggest there was race involved seems highly inappropriate and unfair.

Some of the Hall of Fame voters shot back, as well they should have. 
Len Pasquarelli and Bob Gretz were two of them, as was Peter King. (Click on names to link to their responses) 
Art credit: John Turney
As to the merits of Willie Roaf and his candidacy as a first-ballot Hall of Fame tackle, there are some interesting facts that Whitlock may or may not have been aware of:  First, had Roaf been elected right away no one would have been surprised, among the great left tackles since 1980 (about the time the better tackles in the NFL populated the left side as opposed to the right) Roaf was probably known as the best run-blocker. His build and aggressiveness were perfectly suited to move right defensive ends off of the line of scrimmage. If Roaf had a flaw, and this is compared to the great left tackles such as Anthony Munoz and Jonathan Ogden and Walter Jones- not the average NFL tackle, it was in pass protection. He simply was not known to be as quite as good as the rare pass protectors like a Munoz or Jones.

Some of the statistical evidence that buttresses that point is that left tackles Orlando Pace, Jones, and Ogden averaged 1.9, 0.8, and 1.2, respectively, holding calls against them per sixteen games. Roaf averaged three times as many (3.2) per sixteen games. All of them averaged between five and six sacks allowed per sixteen games according to STATS, LLC.  However, Jones and Ogden were closer to five while Pace and Roaf were closer to six.

Lastly, for some reason, Roaf, every couple or few seasons, had a big breakdown game where he just seemed to lose it for the day. In 1997 Chuck "Rooster" Smith lit Roaf up for five sacks. The following year one of Whitlock's whipping boys, Chris Doleman, sacked Saints quarterbacks four times. Child please? (As an aside, Doleman had plenty of big games versus big-name left tackles. He had four sacks versus the Bengals in 1989 and in at least a couple the blocker assigned to Doleman was HOFer Anthony Munoz)

This past Hall of Fame voting session left Pace out as a first-ballot player. However, in his case, as it was with Roaf, he will likely get in next season and also as was the case for Roaf, Pace, and a couple of "dings" on his resume.

One of Pace's was, according to STATS, LLC., he averaged 5.8 false starts per sixteen games. For comparison, Roaf averaged 2.5 and Jones and Ogden were between 1.0 and 1.5, Additionally, Pace got injured late in his career and had a few so-so seasons before he hung them up. He also seemed to hold out a quote often and got off to slow starts a couple of those seasons. Some Rams fans were upset, comparing Pace's peak seasons with those of Jones and Ogden, but perhaps not seeing the entire career. Certainly at his best, from 1999-2004, Pace was as good as the others, but Jones and Ogden seemed to have a longer "peak" and sustained their greatness for a few seasons more. And after all, if being a first-ballot electee to a hall of fame has extra cachet, as Bob Costas once told me, then it seems that those with the most impeccable credentials should receive that honor.