Tuesday, February 28, 2017

At Least He Was Thorough

By John Turney
 Gary Myers is reporting in the New York Daily News that Terrell Owens bought a gold jacket with his NFL stats on the back.

Well, as long as it has complete stats and not just the couple of career stats repeated as a mantra by T.O. supporters, it's fine with us.

Monday, February 27, 2017

1972 NFL Films "Best of the Week" Awards

by John Turney

Though not a specific "player of the week" award, in 1972 NFL Films, via Pat Summerall and Tom Brookshier, choose their "Best of the Week" award and announced it at the end of their weekly syndicated show This Week in Pro Football.

Here are the winners:

Late in the season they picked quite a few teams for the award, but most of the time it was a player or two. Joe Namath's 496-yard passing game was noted, as was Roman Gabriel's  12/23 225-yard, 2 TD, zero pick and 115.3-rated game versus the 49ers. Larry Brown won it twice as well as capturing the MVP award and tied for the most Courageous Player of the Year with two others.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Rams 20-Yards Per-catch Receivers—Twenty of The,

 By John Turney 
Harold Jackson
In Rams franchise history they have had 20 players that averaged (rounded) twenty yards per catch (25 catches minimum). The most recent was 2000 when Torrry Holt averaged 19.9 yards a catch. They've had three seasons 26.0 yards per catch or over which is three of the ten times it has happened. 

Crazy Legs Hirsch and Flipper Anderson each have three of the top 20 Rams franchise seasons. 

Here is the list—

Friday, February 24, 2017

2010s All-Decade Quarterback, Does Tom Brady Have it Locked Up?

By John Turney
In three years the Hall of fame selection committee will vote on a 2010s All-Decade Team, as they have every ten years since 1970. (They will also be charged with voting for a 100th Anniversary Team as well).

We've completed seven years of the decade and some positions may be locked up, others are more wide open.

One that seems fairly locked up is quarterback, though it is not 100%. Tom Brady has the stats, two Super Bowl rings, and an MVP and the best record among quarterbacks.

Aaron Rodgers is, at this point, the next-best with a Super Bowl win, two MVPs, and better stats than Brady.

The next three years will tell the tale. If Brady keeps up what he's been doing, defying his age and keeping the Patriots in the thick of things he should hold off Rodgers.

However, if Rodgers can win a Super Bowl or even another MVP, he could challenge Brady.

Here is a look at the 2010-2016 stats, courtesy of Pro Football Reference:
(Click to enlarge)

Drew Brees leads in yards and touchdowns at this point with Rodgers and Brady next. Philip Rivers has had a  good decade but has a losing record. Matt Ryan, were he to get to a win a Super Bowl and another MVP has a shot, but would have to almost replicate what he did in 2016 to make a run of it.

So, in this post-Super Bowl, pre-combine lull, what do you think? Brady? Rodgers? Someone else? We will be examining all positions over this off-season so stay tuned.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Youth and the Promised Land: The Champion 1945 Cleveland Rams

By T.J. Troup
QB-S Bob Waterfield
This story begins with a recommendation by John Turney to read James Sulecki's book on the history of the Cleveland Rams. It was Very enjoyable and impressive research done by the author. He does an admirable job on the climatic 1945 season, yet there are some details that fans just might want to know.

The NFL had two very important rule changes in 1945 that Mr. Sulecki does not write about. The first; and most important:  Free substitution was adopted on a temporary basis for the third year in a row and was abandoned after the season and not re-adopted until 1949. The rule change served the Rams well.

The second is moving the hash marks from 15 yards to 20 yards from the sideline. Running a sweep into the boundary before was very difficult, but with the rule change any team with decent speed in their backfield could sure take advantage of this rule change.

The Rams had not had much success in their short history. The champion Packers and an improved Detroit Lion team looked to be the best in the Western conference. The youthful Rams might have been considered be a "spoiler", but a contender? Likely not.

Let's take a look at coaching and personnel. First-year head coach Adam Walsh with strong assistance from George Trafton molded and taught a team that from the outset of the season played cohesive defense. Veteran Floyd Konetsky and Howard "Red" Hickey shared the left defensive end position, while Steve Pritko was superb at right defensive end  (John Turney will detail the line play in a companion piece to this story).
E-DE Steve Pritko, shown here in 1946 in Los Angeles
Elbie Schultz was the nominal starter at left defensive tackle, and rookie Gil Bouley was rock solid starting at right defensive tackle. The starting middle guard was rookie Milan (Mike) Lazetich. What Lazetich lacked in bulk, he more than made up for in shedding blocks and pursuit.

Though Roger Eason got playing time at tackle; the key man rotating in at middle guard and tackle was strong stalwart rookie Len Levy. His background in wrestling coupled with his size made him a difficult man to move.

The Rams usually employed a 5-3-3 defense with late round draft pick Pat West starting and playing well at left linebacker. Second-year man Mike "Mo" Scarry started at right linebacker. Strong in pursuit, he was an outstanding pass defender that compares favorably with Mel Hein and Bulldog Turner. Rookie Joe Winkler spelled both Scarry and West.

The key man for the Rams was starting All-Pro middle linebacker Riley "Rattlesnake" Matheson. When the Rams shifted to a 6-2 defense Matheson would become the left defensive guard.
RB-DB Fred Gehrke
Fred Gehrke usually started at left corner, and Jim Gillette at right corner (and he also saw some action at left corner). Gehrke had his moments on defense with interceptions, but Gillette was far superior in coverage and forcing the run.

Bob Waterfield recorded six interceptions during the campaign (three in the victory over Green Bay) and was a willing tackler. When Bob needed a breather the Rams were very fortunate to have veteran Albie Reisz at safety. He displayed range and tackling ability. George Koch attempted to play corner as a backup, and struggled.

How many teams with a history of losing have ever been able to open a season with back-to-back home shutouts? The offense needed time to gel and with a quick-pursuing defense the Cardinals and Bears could not get into the end zone. The Rams recorded those two victories and then the road trip began.

The offense scored 68 points in crushing the Packers and Bears on their own home fields. The Rams wanted a balanced offense, yet the passing attack was not in peak form the first two weeks as Reisz and rookie Waterfield completed just 9 of 34 passes for only 111 yards.

The productive rushing attack needed help and Waterfield began to supply down the field accuracy as he punctured the secondaries of Green Bay and Chicago to the tune of 23 completions for 390 yards. A balanced offense must have a line that can both drive and pass block.

Tackles Bouley and Schultz, guards Matheson and Lazetich were consistent and did the job. Mo Scarry had a fine season at center. Since Matheson is so valuable on defense; someone must rotate in for him and that someone was "Stumpy" Art Mergenthaler, who lacked experience but he earned his letter with solid play at the guard position.
Rb-DB Jim Gillette
Fred Gehrke (most famous for inventing logos on NFL helmets) played both halfback positions, and rank fourth in the league in rushing. Quick and speedy he could break a long run at any time.  Jim Gillette started at the other halfback post and ranked fifth in the league in rushing. He was a smooth, tough effective runner.
FB Don Greenwood
Strategy in the T-formation usually involves man-in-motion, and both these men are seen often doing so. Don Greenwood is the nominal starter at fullback, yet he would also move to halfback and follow Pat West on power plays. Greenwood demonstrated power up the middle, yet once loose in the secondary he would shift into overdrive and run outside. He finished sixth in the league in rushing.

Waterfield did not run often but when he did he was effective. No one and I mean NO ONE could run the naked bootleg like Bob. He would usually save this play for goal line situations.
E Jim Benton, shown here in 1946 being guarded by Otto Graham
Right end Steve Pritko was productive catching the ball. He ran the corner route very well and scored four times during the campaign. Left end Jim Benton has a season for the ages. Yes, he gained over 1,000 yards receiving, but a closer look tells us much more. The NFL plays 16 games in a season now, and if we take Benton's last eight games and double his totals he would have 88 passes for 2,116 yards! He is not explosive-fast, yet his height, long strides, and superb hands give rookie Waterfield a target to go to.

The 4-0 Rams journeyed to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles before the largest crowd ever at Shibe Park (over 38,000) and we will cover that game in some detail.

The Eagles kickoff and early in the game but neither team could move the ball consistently. Philadelphia uses a unique strategy against the Rams in that number 51 (defensive lineman Enio Conti) will leave his position and go with the halfback that is in motion to assist in coverage. Right defensive tackle Al "Ox" Wistert from his stand-up position will crash down into the left offensive guard and create havoc all game. His strength and quickness allow him to pursue with a vengeance as he makes tackle after tackle and usually draws more than one blocker.

In the following two clips you can see Conti cover the HB from his tackle position and see Wistert (number 70 at right tackle) in a two-point stance and him drawing double-teams. These are typical plays from the Eagles scheme that day:

Cleveland receives the first opportunity with Konetsky recovering a fumble in Eagle territory, but West gives the ball back. Early in the second quarter the Rams again have excellent field position, but again they turn the ball over on a faulty exchange between Waterfield and Gehrke. The defenses continued to dominate, until late in the quarter when Gillette gains 13 on a counter, and Greenwood on a delay/draw pounds out 24.
Jim Benton
Waterfield then completes to Benton for 18 yards. Next, Cleveland motions into a single back wing alignment but Waterfield misfires incomplete. Benton is split left, and Pritko stays in to block with a full house backfield, thus max protection. Big Jim gets behind right corner Mel Bleeker and safety Steve Van Buren is too late to make a play on the well-thrown pass by Waterfield. Benton stretches and makes a finger-tip catch inches above the ground and a Cleveland 7-0 lead.

Then, LeRoy Zimmerman rolls right and heaves a pass 60 yards in the air to a wide open Jack Ferrante who has gotten behind George Koch. They were tied at the half.

Van Buren did a little lugging the leather in this game, as Rattlesnake Matheson again makes open-field tackles, seemingly all day. Van Buren led the NFL in rushing that season, but that day gained only 22 yards on 14 carries.

 An exchange of punts brings about a new strategy as Zimmerman flips to Ferrante over and over again on short tosses between the linebackers. The drive culminates with Zimmerman crashing into the end zone behind fine block by Vic Sears.

The rest of the third quarter is much of the same with neither team moving the ball consistently. Cleveland's drive early in the 4th quarter runs out of gas, and again after an exchange of punts the Rams are backed up deep in their own territory on fourth down. The Eagle rush blocks the punt and takes over on the Cleveland seventeen yard-line.

Mel Bleeker carried three times inside the ten yard-line, and then, behind Bucko Kilroy's block gave Philadelphia a commanding 21-7 lead.

Reisz comes in at quarterback and gives to Gillette and who fumbles the ball to the Eagles. This time the Cleveland defense rose to the occasion and forced a punt.

With Waterfield back in at quarterback the Rams begin an attempt at a comeback but his errant pass is pilfered by Zimmerman who returns to the Ram twenty-one yard line. Left handed Allie Sherman is in at quarterback, and his mobility allows him to fire down the field to Flip McDonald for 21 yards and a touchdown. *An interesting side note from this game; Hickey would pass rush after Sherman, and fifteen years later Hickey would trade an aging Y.A. Tittle from the 49ers to Sherman's New York Giants.

A hustling Pat West nails McDonald at the wall outside the end zone. That caused fans, police, and players converge on the area until order is restored which, as you can see, too a while
Reisz will finish the game at quarterback for Cleveland and pitch a beauty down the middle to Harvey Jones for a 44-yard touchdown (Pro Football Reference incorrectly lists this as a Waterfield touchdown pass). The Philadelphia victory puts them back in the race with Washington, while the Ram loss gives hope to both Detroit and Green Bay.

After the Eagles game, the Rams stayed on the East Coast, and win in New York 21-17. They finally return home and take care of Green Bay 20-7 in a game where the Ram secondary intercepts 7 passes (three each by Waterfield and Gillette). Waterfield was a precision-passer at this point in the season as he completes 11 of 15 passes for 229 yards and 3 scores in the victory in Chicago over the Cardinals.

At five minutes to eleven in the morning on Thanksgiving Day as the captains met for the coin toss for the Western conference showdown between the Lions and Rams. Cleveland goes nowhere to begin the tilt but the Fenenbock's long pass on first st down is intercepted by Gillette.

Third down for the Rams and Benton runs an out pattern and catches the well-timed throw from Waterfield. Right corner Dave Ryan is late on the tackle, and the long-legged receiver gallops 46 yards to the Detroit seventeen yard line before Tassos and deShane can haul him down.

Gehrke sweeps right for 17 yards and a touchdown on the well-blocked play (again PFR there is an error as the run was not 23 yards).

Hickey puts pressure on Fenenbock, but the agile tailback escapes and fires over the middle. The tipped ball is intercepted by Matheson. Cleveland cannot capitalize as Damon Tassos intercepts and returns 22 yards to the Ram twenty-two.

Jack Matheson then drops a sure touchdown pass, and Detroit has to punt and that is followed by a Cleveland punt and Andy Farkas returned the kick to the Cleveland forty-nine before Pritko can make the tackle. On the ensuing drive, Fenenbock bounces off tacklers, and as he runs to the Ram seven before the ever-hustling Steve Pritko brings him down from behind. Lions used an unbalanced single-wing formation as Bob Westfall scores from the three and the score is knotted at 7.

When Detroit has the ball next coach Gus Dorais uses one of his classic plays as fullback Westfall lofts a pass up the sideline to tailback Fenenbock for 30 yards. Gehrke then intercepts deep in Ram territory to quell the drive. His 14-yard return puts the ball on the Cleveland thirty, and Waterfield who has by this time in the season built a synergy with Benton fires to him down the middle on a crossing route. On the pass defensive back Chuck DeShane goes for the ball and missed and it was a touchdown for the Rams.

Dick Weber entered the game for Detroit on the next drive and is very inaccurate on his passes. The Lions punt, and in the next Rams drive Benton makes a brilliant diving catch for 31 yards to put the ball on the Detroit forty-three. Waterfield then rolled right and lofted the ball deep to Benton for 38 yards to the Lion one yard line. Waterfield bootlegs beautifully and Cleveland leads 21-7.

Four minutes remain in the half and the resilient Lions run a reverse on the kickoff. Weber again misfires with Mo Scarry intercepting in Cleveland territory on his deep zone drop.

In the third quarter and Gehrke records his second interception of the day and returns to midfield. Waterfield again finds Benton open; this time on a crossing route for 32 yards to the Lion sixteen. Again Tassos and DeShane make the tackle. Detroit staves off the Rams with a fumble recovery, but a short punt after the offense went nowhere had Cleveland in striking distance again.

The film shows the Lions tried to align and take away Benton but that move leaves Pritko is wide open in the end zone on his corner pattern and a Cleveland lead of 28-7.

Nine minutes left in the 3rd quarter, and the Rams are driving again when the get the ball. Linebacker Damon Tassos makes a one-handed interception inside the five-yard line.

In the fourth quarter  no. 51 Dick Booth makes a spectacular and miraculous catch of a long pass, and trundles into the end zone allowing that the Lions could make a game of it. The Lions next drive, though, ends with a fumble recovered by Gil Bouley.

Cleveland, now staying on the ground, cannot keep the ball. One of the best match-ups of the game is between center Mo Scarry and middle guard Bill Radovich during this sequence of plays. Farkas returns the Cleveland punt to the forty-six-yard line. Fenenbock, on a wing reverse, sweeps right and gained 26 yards to the twenty. Anvil Andy Farkas then gains 23 to the three-yard line. Right end Ed Frutig delays after his down block and is open in the end zone for the touchdown as Detroit narrows the gap to seven.

Two minutes then remained but Cleveland recovers Westfall's onside kick. Cleveland is now the Western conference champion! The Rams dispatch Boston 20-7 to finish 9-1 as Waterfield again has an excellent day passing.
Waterfield in the 1948.
James Sulecki details the Championship game so well there is no need for me to do so. Sammy Baugh won a championship as a rookie in 1937 and in 1945 faced a rookie in the title game under arctic conditions. What does stand out are the passing stats for these two T-formation quarterbacks during the campaign of 1945. Baugh played in all ten games of the season and his passer rating in the eight Redskin victories is an amazing 123.8! Cleveland receivers, led by Benton, average 18.7 yards a catch for the last eight games of the year as Waterfield truly was a difference maker for Adam Walsh and the Rams.

Waterfield was voted the NFL MVP as a rookie and was awarded the Joe Carr Trophy. Ask yourself how many rookie quarterbacks were both a starter on an NFL championshio team and also the NFL MVP and led his team the the NFL's bext record?

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Will T.O. Supporters Please Explain Their Terms Better? Thanks.

UPDATED 2/16/2017
By John Turney
It's Valentine's Day and there are still new stories about the so-called T.O. "snub" of not making the Pro Football Hall of Fame last week. It is the same kinds of things we heard last year.

ESPN and New York Daily New's Manish Mehta stated in this video that the committee, is apparently too old and too out-of-touch based on his thinking, I suppose, that Owens should have been a first- or second-ballot electee. Yet, all he cites is the receiving numbers. He says there are "too many out of touch and entitled voices that need to go".

And who might they be Mr. Mehta? The ones who disagree with you? And they need to be replaced with people who do agree with you? It would be good journalism to explain, outside of Owens, who he thinks these men and women are and what oversights, again, outside of Owens he is upset about.

It would also bee interesting to see how he thinks such changes would affect the voting process. Would putting in the "right" players satisfy? Would there then be another group of critics that would then oppose the new and improved voters and call for their heads?

Today, a post by Pro Football Talk wrote that Bill Parcells said, "Asked directly on ESPN Radio in Los Angeles if he would vote for Owens, Parcells answered, “I think I would. I think I would.

On February 9th, Pro Football Talk posted that Steve Young said "Yeah,” Young told KNBR regarding whether Owens should be enshrined in Canton. “Because I played with him, I felt like I knew him. I knew the abilities he had. There’s no question he’s struggled with a lot of things, but in the end, yes. . . .

Yesterday, Pro Football Talk posted about Terrell Owens defending himself on Twitter and explored those details and finished with this, "Regardless, Owens isn’t a close case for Canton. He’s a no-brainer, slam-dunk Hall of Famer. And those who are resisting can either continue to hide under the bed (with the exception of Vic Carucci) or they can stand up, own their vote, and explain their case. Maybe, just maybe, the process of talking it out will cause them to realize that maybe, just maybe, they were wrong to exclude him." (emphasis mine).

It is my view that Owens is not excluded. He has not been elected YET. Many great players have waited for three, four, and more years to be elected. So, while it may not be a "close case for Canton" is it a rock-solid case that Owens was a first- or second-ballot type of player? Being delayed is not being denied. Ask Cris Carter, Tim Brown, Andre Reed, Michael Irvin and others.

Mehta said the system was "flawed and had to be changed" and cited "lazy thinking".I ask, can looking only at numbers be considered "lazy thinking"?

Florio, like Mehta, has called for sweeping changes even citing a list of suggestions. All that is fine, but the impetus for these called for changes are based only on someone not getting in on the first-ballot or even a second ballot, nothing more, it seems from the limited speeches and posts.

Don Hutson was elected to the initial Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 1963. Many years after his retirement he still held most of the NFL receiving records, he won championships, was many-time All-Pro and was a two-time MVP.

Lance Alworth was a first-ballot wide receiver (he played flanker) in 1978. He was a UPI Player of the Year and perhaps the best player in the history of the AFL, being many time All-AFL and was part of their championship and won a ring with Dallas in 1971.

Paul Warfield was a six-time All-Pro, many time Pro Bowler, won two rings for the Dolphins was one of very few players to end career with a 20.0 yards per catch average. He played most of this career in the "dead ball" era of passing in the NFL, roughly from 1970-77 where it was not as easy to pass the ball due to the rules. Opening up the rules in 1978 and then emphasis in how penalties were called caused another wave of passing in the early 1990s.

Steve Largent broke Don Hutson's touchdown pass mark and had other credentials and Raymond Berry was number one of the top categories, not second of third and he had championships on his resume, making it more complete.

Jerry Rice was, well, Jerry Rice. He was an MVP, an Offensive Player of the Year, won multiple rings, was an 11-time First-team All-Pro, 12 Pro Bowls, and held almost every record in the receiving book.

Those are the First-ballot WRs. Hutson, Berry, and Alworth, along with Rice, hold up. Warfield and Largent maybe not so much. Rice, simply put, set a new standard by which to measure wide receivers and to really be a first-ballot, in my personal view, he needs to have some of the things Rice had. Maybe not all, but some of them.

That means retiring with some of the receiving records, not all but some or a couple. That means not being second or third. To me, that shows second or third ballot. Maybe a key figure in a Super Bowl win. Not a Super Bowl loss. Maybe getting a lot of votes for Oppensive Player of the Year. Rice got 141 over his career. Randy Moss got 10.5, Marvin Harrison got 14.5, Owens got 4. None of them really broke out to be a dominant receiver like Rice.
Look, none of these things, including the above chart, in a vacuum means much, but taken as a whole, the stats, the honors, the awards, the rings, the possible intangibles, and yes, the testimonials. What are testimonials? The things people say, like what Young and Parcells said. "In the end, yes" and "I think I would" are not exactly the stuff of first-ballot are they?

Yes, for sure, there are positive testimonials and they are part of  Owens's case, one that WILL land him in Canton. I think, soon, if measured in Hall of Fame years. But if there are so many that do suggest his antics affected the team or he would run poor routes or dropped too many passes (Owens led NFL in drops once, and was in the top four in drops seven other times) for an elite, first- or second ballot receiver, or when the HOF voted for the 2000s All-Decade team he was not First-team but Second-team then maybe the vocal critics can cool their jets as listen to those factoids. Fair is fair, right?

It is possible I am missing something that elevates Owens to the level of Rice and demands that he should have been included in 2016. We look at things close here and we see a strong case for a T.O. induction but not a strong one for inclusion right away like a Rice or Hutson or even Alworth.

We've not even explored the relative value of the "numbers" or "stats" given the rule changes. We just let them speak for themselves. And being second in this and third in that category that does speak loudly the words "Hall of Fame". It just may not be scream sure-fire, slam-dunk first-ballot the vocal critics who want to change a system think it does.

Additionally, the proper way to look at any skill players "numbers" is on a per-game basis. Back in the day the NFL season was 12 games, then, beginning in 1961 it was 14 games, and then in 1978 it rose to 16 games. Those extra games add up over a long career and allow for the compilation of numbers. Also, we've mentioned the issue of eras, but leaving that aside, the numbers most often cited is that Owens is 3rd in touchdowns, all-time and 2nd in yards, all-time.

But what about his all-time rankings on a per game basis?
The numbers are still excellent, but sure-fire first-ballot, as Owens, himself suggests?

Maybe not. Maybe a closer look shows the numbers, at least reasonably, could be considered less than first-ballot.

So, without giving specifics of why it needs to be changed, other than they disagree with a temporary result. They simply tar and feather voters with whom they disagree. Calling them, really, old, white, and out-of-touch in so many words.

If Bill Parcells and Steve Young give qualified "yeses" to the T.O. question, that may be the answer to the questions in and of itself.

My view, not that it matters is, Yes . . . but not a first- or second ballot. Next year would be a good fit, then Moss the year after.

Backing data
Click to enlarge:

A quick and dirty chart, from Pro Football Reference.  The problem is it left out Lofton and Largent, so they were added in. So, we have not independently verified if it left others out. Will do so as time permits, but even so, Owens 11th in Pro Bowls with 6, which is very good.

Lance Briggs Career Statistics

By John Turney

We've been featuring linebackers and their career stats over the past few months. This installment is Lance Briggs of the Chicago Bears. He was a two-time All-Pro (2005 and 2006), once consensus (2005), and was voted to seven Pro Bowls. He was also an alternate to the 2004 Pro Bowl.

Additionally, Sports Illustrated's Paul Zimmerman picked him to his All-Pro team in 2007 and he was a Second-team All-Pro in 2009 on an oddity:  Brian Cushing was originally voted to the AP Second-team but when he was suspended for violating the NFL's policy on anabolic steroids in May 2010, a re-vote was held and Cushing lost his spot and Briggs and James Harrison were tied in the re-vote for the final Second-team slot.

Briggs was a weakside linebacker in Lovie Smith's defense and was an every-down 'backer. He played the same role for the Bears that Derrick Brooks played for Tampa Bay in the vaunted Tampa-2 defense.
He made 107 plays in the backfield, 92 of which were run/pass stuffs (a PFJ exclusive stat developed by Nick Webster). He also had 86 passes defensed and intercepted 16 passes and scored six defensive touchdowns. 

Only three linebackers have more than his five pick-6s (Karlos Dansby, Derrick Brooks, Bobby Bell) and only Bell and Brooks have more defensive touchdowns.

Though he will not garner much Hall of Fame support, he still had a worthy NFL career.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Ken Norton Jr. Career Statistics

By John Turney
Ken Norton Jr had quite a fine career as an NFL linebacker. He was chosen by Dallas Cowboys in the 2nd round (41st overall) of the 1988 NFL Draft. After his NFL career to coached the USC linebackers from 2004-09, then the Seahawks linebackers from 2010-14 and is currently the Oakland Raiders defensive coordinator, a post he's held since 2015.

In 1993 he was a Second-team All-Pro, although he was a First-team All-Pro on a team chosen by Pat Summerall, but as an esoteric team it's not recognized in the NFL Record & Fact Book, Total Football or in the NFL/NFLPA Collective Bargaining Agreements but by the same token, it's worth mentioning.

In 1995 he was a consensus First-team All-Pro and named to his second Pro Bowl. He would garner a third Pro Bowl in 1997, as a replacement. In 1996 he was named to Sports Illustrated's All-Pro team by Paul (Dr. Z) Zimmerman, he was also a Pro Bowl alternate that year. In addition to the Pro Bowl, in 1997 Norton was named to the Miami Herald's All-Pro team.

Norton played all linebacker positions in the NFL, with Dallas he was mostly a  weak side linebacker, but in 1991 he played the strong side as a "Sam"

With the 49ers he played under different listings, but mostly he was a stacked backer, playing the weak side of over- and under-shifts, essentially the same position that Junior Seau was playing for the Chargers. In 1995 and 1996, though he was the "Mike" or middle linebacker, though still in the stacked position, though that is not unusual for a MLBer, but it points to that he was essentially doing similar things as when he was the "Will" in the 49ers Elephant Defense (what they called their 4-3 defense). He was an every down player who earned three Super Bowl rings in a row, from 1992-94.
In his year as a "Sam" he had 15 stuffs, which tied for first in the NFL, according to PFJ's Nick Webster and he ended his career with 91 of those run/pass stuffs among the better numbers that have been found.

He was not one of the "rush backers" of the time getting sacks but a stout run-stopper who also was effective in pass downs covering the middle zones or taking a back in man coverage. Though he got no support for the All-Decade teams of the 1990s he was still, a fine backer who played an interesting role of the stacked linebacker defenses of the era.

Combined All-Decade Teams - 2000s

Things You Can Never Lay Your Hands On
By John Turney
Logo for the Official HOF All-Decade Team
The number of groups picking All-Decade is just five for the 2000s. The Pro Football Hall of Fame, Sports Illustrated (picked by Paul Zimmerman), Peter King of MMQB, Pro Football Reference, USA Today, ESPN, and FOX (chosen by Alex Marvez).

We compile this so as to show that there are other teams worth looking at. While the HOF picks will always have more gravitas, on occasion they make mistakes. One example is Ronnie Lott being on the All-1990s team. As great as he was, playing a few years in the 1990s really wasn't enough to be an "All-Decade" player in our view.

Zach Thomas and His AP All-Pro Seasons

By John Turney
In 1984 the Associated Press added a second inside linebacker to their All-Pro format. This was done to reflect that most of the NFL teams at that time were playing a 3-4 defense and the previous All-Pro teams essentially shorted players from that position.

That continued through 2015 (with the exception of 1994 and 1995). It was eliminated this year as the AP chose to have electors pick three linebackers, rather than four (2 inside and 2 outside).

NFL defenses, in the 1990s swung back to mostly playing 4-3 defenses, yet the format for the AP All-Pro teams never changed, and in the 2000s it was more in the middle compared to, say 1985 (25 of 28 teams played a 3-4) or 1995 (26 of 30 played the 4-3).

Because of this 12-man defense, there have been, really, extra inside linebackers making All-Pro which we have no issue with, the only issue we saw was that often two middle linebackers from a 4-3 were chosen as First-team All-Pros rather than one MLBer and one ILBer from a 3-4. That defeated the purported purpose of the change in 1984.

Perhaps no middle linebacker benefitted more from this format than Zach Thomas who made the AP First-team five times and was Second-team twice more.

Here is the voting for inside linebacker those seven seasons:
Junior Seau, San Diego 26; Zach Thomas, Miami 25;
Ray Lewis, Baltimore 15; Jessie Tuggle, Atlanta 11.
Ray Lewis, Baltimore 44; Zach Thomas, Miami 22;
Junior Seau, San Diego 14; Hardy Nickerson, Tampa Bay, 7.
Brian Urlacher, Chicago 47; Ray Lewis, Baltimore 44
Zach Thomas, Miami 6; Jeremiah Trotter, Philadelphia 2; Kendrell Bell, Pittsburgh 2.
Brian Urlacher (Chicago) 43, Zach Thomas (Miami) 19,
Keith Brooking (Atlanta) 16, Donnie Edwards (San Diego) 14.
Ray Lewis, Baltimore 49; Zach Thomas, Miami, 13;
Tedy Bruschi, New England, 11; Dat Nguyen, Dallas, 7.
Brian Urlacher, Chicago, 49; Al Wilson, Denver, 23;
Zach Thomas, Miami, 8; Mike Peterson, Jacksonville, 4.
Brian Urlacher, Chicago, 48; Zach Thomas, Miami, 15;
Al Wilson, Denver, 13; Bart Scott, Baltimore, 8.

It would be impossible to go back and say what exactly might have happened if say, in 1995, the AP switched to a 4-3 alignment as had most of the NFL or required one 3-4 ILB and one 4-3 MLBer, but from the voting we see that Thomas was never to top vote-getter, though he was close in 1998. It's a fair guess that his First-team All-Pros would have been Second-teams and his Second-teams, likely, honorable mentions.

When the NFL teams began moving towards a 4-3 defense in the mid-1950s it was not unusual to see three middle linebackers on one First-team All-Pro squad. Often outside linebackers (called corner linebackers at the time) were left off. It was common to see Joe Schmidt, Sam Huff, and Bill George as the First-team "linebackers" though all were "Mikes", or in the case of Huff "Meg" and George "Mac" using the terminology of their coaches at the time.

Because of the history of the All-Pro MLBers, please don't take this as any kind of knock against Thomas or his career, it's not. We like his career quite a lot, We just posted about this as we did some research on Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher, who are both up for the Hall of Fame next year and Thomas's name was always in the mix.

Here is a review of Thomas's career:
Stats from STATS, LLC,  and NFL Gamebooks
He had over 1700 tackles and 96.5 of them were run or pass stuffs behind the line of scrimmage. In 2001 he was second in the NFL in tackles (behind Ray Lewis). He led the NFL in tackles in 2002 (just ahead of Urlacher). He was fourth in 2003 and 2004. Again, in 2005 he was second and in 2006 he was again first. He also was voted to seven Pro Bowls and played for an excellent defense most of that time that was especially good from 1998 through 2003. Going back he was third in the NFl in tackles in 1996 and fifth in 1998. He was an every-down linebacker, staying on the field in nickel and dime situations and picked off 17 passes and defensed 68 in his career.

However, we do note that it is interesting that someone with fine credentials has yet to crack the Semifinalists list of 25 in any of the years he has been eligble.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Jason Taylor Puts His Name in With the Mt. Rushmore of Defensive Ends

By John Turney

With the Terrell Owens not getting in the Hall of Fame hoopla, what got somewhat underreported is the significance of Jason Taylor being elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. He became the fifth defensive end to be so honored. The other four? Gino Marchetti, Deacon Jones, Reggie White, and Bruce Smith. White was a 10-time First-team All-Pro, Smith and Marchetti nine time, and Jones a six-time First-team All-Pro. 

Taylor's All-Pro selections are more in line with Howie Long, Chris Doleman, Richard Dent, Lee Roy Selmon and others as can be seen in the chart below. Nonetheless, Taylor survived a very tough and competitive process and emerged as one of those few NFL players who can claim that status.
Click to enlarge:

Notes: We have estimates for games started for the players in which blanks appear in the above chart, however, there could be errors in the data and therefore left it out. From film study, none of them started all the games they played, but their number of starts was very close to the number of games they played. Data in the 1950s is hard to come by as all game films are not available. However, our best estimates are that Marchetti started around 147, Ford around 118, Davis 150, Robustelli 172, and Atkins around 170.

Also, we have sack numbers for those players with blanks in that column, however, they are not complete, again, data in the 1950s is very hard to come by. However, we feel very confident that Marchetti is around 110, Ford is in the close to 100, Willie Davis is just under 100, and Robustelli is around 110 and Atkins at least 130. Some day, God willing, we will have complete numbers for those players.

Folks can debate if Taylor is worthy of that honor, after all, there have been some minorly questionable first-ballot selections in football and baseball and this is one of them. But having the names Gino, Deacon, Reggie, and Bruce listed with Jason Taylor just does not sound right. It connotes he was on their level. And he really wasn't.

Sports Illustrated's 1986 Players of the Week


Complete Lists
By John Turney
From 1984 through 1986 Sports Illustrated chose an Offensive and Defensive Player of the Week. Unfortunately, SI gave up the ghost after Week 13. Ken O'Brien was the only repeater in this season

Here is the 1986 list (Click to enlarge):
Week 1
 Week 2
 Week 3
 Week 4
 Week 5
 Week 6
 Week 7
 Week 8
 Week 9
 Week 10
 Week 11
 Week 12
 Week 13