Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Special Teams Players of the Year—NFLPA, NFL Alumni, PFWA/PFW, and NFL Pro Bowl

By John Turney

In 1982 the NFL Alumni Association began to award the top special teams player of the year, with Hank Bauer being the inaugural winner. In 1984 the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) and the NFL via the Pro Bowl began to choose the top players in each conference. In 1986 Pro Football Weekly/Pro Football Writers of America began choosing special teams demons to their All-Conference teams.

Here are those winners:
(click to enlarge)

NFL Alumni continued the award through 2010, but from 2000 through 2011 all the winners were kickers or returners. Here are those winners:
However, not satisfied with that we decided to choose winners, based on our own research and film study winners from 1964-1981. We consulted coaches, the literature of the time, and other sources to try and pick who we thought were the top players in the league, conference plus a couple of honorable mentions.

Here are our picks:
We certainly don't list everyone but there are some other great players such as Lou Piccone, Jets-Bills, Charlie Scales, Cle, Sid Williams, Cle, Ed Beard, SF, Mickey Zofko, Det, Bruce Huther, Dal, Todd Christensen, Oak-NYG,  Mike Hull, Chi-Was,  Reggie Garrett, Pit (excellent for two seasons), Don Dufek, Sea, among others. But that is to be expected.

Some great special teamers who were not especially noted in the above charts are  Clint Kriewaldt, Det-Pit (over 100 career special teams tackles), Chris Maragos, SF, Sea, Phi, Steve Hendrickson, SD plus other teams, Donte Curry, Det plus other teams, Harold Morrow, Min plus other teams, Jerald Sowell, Jets, Bucs, Keith Burns, Broncos plus two other teams, Gary Stills, Chiefs, Ravens, Rams, Blake Costanzo, four teams, Steve Gleason, Saints (61 tackles, 4 blocked punts in seven seasons), Bryan Braman, Hou-Phi, Reggie Rivers, Broncos, Norwood Vann, Rams-Raiders, Bill CowherRick Moser, Steelers-Dolphins-Bucs, et al. 

We could have added maybe a couple dozen more names we have in our files as well. We tried to pick players who made tackles, forced fumbles, blocked kicks or punts, i.e. did something to stand out and do things that won games. If you have suggestions, let us know in comments section below.

Alex Hawkins was reported to be the first special teams captain, named by Don Shula in the early 1960s. Back then teams didn't really have "gunners" and Hawkins was more of an "upback" in the punt formation and from there often led team in special teams tackles.

Here are a couple of stills showing the seemingly typical punt formation.

Dave Meggyesy wrote about his special team contributions in his bestselling memoir, Out of Their League. In the literature of the day and Bills fans who saw games back then report that  Marty Schottenheimer was the "Steve Tasker-type" special team of his era. Tony Guillory was a difference maker in 1967 for the 11-1-2 Rams blocking a couple of punts in key games, especially the Packers game in Los Angeles late in the season. Wide receiver Warren Wells had 22 tackles on special teams that same 1967 season. 

Ceasar Belser was our pick for both 1968 and 1969. In 1968 he had 21 special teams tackles, blocked a punt and made himself known on the other specialty teams and the following season he had 17 tackles and in 1970 he had 16. Rich Saul was credited with 51 tackles by Marv Levy, the Rams special teams coach in 1970. We don't think it was that many, but he was a fine lieutenant for Alvin Haymond and his "Haymond's Headhunters"—the nickname for the Rams special teams units. Haymond was not only a fine kick and punt returner, he may be the best overall special teams player from 1964-73 when you take into account coverage, returns and rush.

Bill Malinchak and Rusty Tillman led a seemly cast of thousands for the good special teams units the Redskins fielded in the George Allen era. Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson was something in 1975. He could return kicks (how many linebackers could do that?) and was big on the coverage units as well. He had amazing speed for a 'backer.

Godwin Turk was the top performer for the Broncos units, as a coverage guy and as a blocker for Rick Upchurch who returned four punts for touchdowns. In 1977 Jeff Barnes, again a top tackler, but also blocked three punts and was a top special teams contributor for the rest of his career. We didn't pick Vince Papale for PR reasons, but because he was solid, had 19 tackles and was a leader of a very good special teams unit.

Starting in 1978 Hank Bauer began his reign as the top coverage player in the NFL as he averaged about 25 tackles a year from 1978-82. Perhaps the best all-around special teams player of that era was Ivory Sully of the Rams. Sully was top-notch in coverage and often led the team in special teams tackles but he also blocked 7 punts or kicks and was a great jammer of gunners of the opposing teams and could return kicks if needed—like Haymond and Tasker, Sully was the complete package.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s the names become more familiar and there were actual awards to give them notice of a job well done. Tasker, Ron Wolfley, Fredd Young, Mosi Tatupu, Ron Wolfley, Jim "Crash"  Jensen, Derrick Jensen, Sam Anno, Rufus Porter, and Reyna Thompson with others were among the top honored special teamers among others.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Knuckles In The Dirt or Standing Up: Dale Dodrill Got it Done

By TJ Troup
The Pittsburgh Steelers, during the season of 1950, had some strong moments, yet at times their run defense was like a sieve. Rookie middle guard George Nicksich did not play well during the campaign so and with the 67th draft choice for the 1951 season, the Steelers chose Dale Dodrill of Colorado A&M.
Dale Dodrill came to CSU as a 21-year-old freshman in 1947 after serving in World War II. (Photo: Courtesy CSU Athletics)
Dodrill had served our country in WW II and had a sterling college career, but he wondered if he could compete at the pro level based upon what he had heard and read about East coast football players. Though he started from game one of his career and gave a strong effort, his rookie season was not an effective one. Dodrill broke his nose in a collision with Bucko Kilroy of Philadelphia thus he did not finish the season.

Pittsburgh, under John Michelosen, was still in the outdated single-wing offense, and the defense would improve with an infusion of young tough talent. In the games Dale played in during 1951 he would align at middle guard and sometimes shift to left defensive tackle when Pittsburgh went into a 4-man line. When the Steelers were in their goal line defense Dodrill would attempt to "submarine" the offensive lineman in front of him, and he was not very effective.

The Steelers, in 1952, under the guidance of Joe Bach had an improved offense as Jim Finks passing so well in the victory over Washington to close the '51 season was now in the T-formation. Though the league did not have a most improved player award Dale Dodrill sure would have been a candidate based upon his play in '52.

Not every middle guard in the league used the same style and techniques. Some would align in the gap and penetrate, some would align right up on the center's nose and attempt to drive him back into the offensive backfield, and some would hand fight the center or guard and pursue.

Pittsburgh still is not a factor in the divisional race as Cleveland dominates and Dodrill sure has hands full when battling Browns center Frank Gatski. Whether he moves to left or right defensive tackle and plays the gap, or utilizes the "twist" stunt with right defensive tackle Ernie Stautner— Dale plays the run very well.

Dodrill is not much of a pass rusher; in fact at times even though the Steelers have a middle linebacker (Darrell Hogan) he drops into pass coverage the opposite side of Hogan. November 2nd, against Washington, Dodrill shoots the gap and blocks George Buksar's field goal attempt. Dale finally is able to grab the bouncing pigskin and is off and running for his first NFL touchdown in the win over the Redskins.

All Steeler fans can talk about the famous 63-7 win over New York in late November, and Dodrill's contribution is again on defense, and in the kicking game. Tom Landry is going to punt from his own end zone, but Dodrill again penetrates into the backfield, goes over Eddie Price to block the punt. George Hays trots into the end zone with the ball as the Steel City Eleven pour it on over the Giants.

The once contending 49ers are beaten badly by the Steelers at Kezar, and Pittsburgh can end the season on the west coast in fine fashion by knocking off the red-hot Rams in the Coliseum. Los Angeles needs a victory to earn a playoff berth in Bob Waterfield's last game. The Rams lead 7-0 and Waterfield is attempting a short field goal. Rangy George Tarasovic flashes in from the left and blocks the attempt. Dodrill grabs the ball on the ten and heads up the right sideline with a Black & Gold convoy. Deacon Dan Towler ends the cross-country trek at the Los Angeles nine-yard line when he wrenches Dale to the turf with a face mask tackle (not a penalty in those days). Finks is unable to get Pittsburgh into the end zone, and the Rams make enough plays to win the game.

Earning All-League recognition is always a player's goal, and the group of men listed at middle guard are a who's who of this era.—Stan West, Bill Willis, Les Bingaman, Bucko Kilroy, and Dale Dodrill.

Coach Bach returns in 1953 and the November game against the Giants again demonstrates Dodrill's outstanding ability to hustle and pursue. Fullback Merwin Hodel catches a swing pass, and fumbles when hit by Flanagan. Dale is right there to scoop up the ball and put Pittsburgh on the scoreboard with his 16-yard fumble return. The Steelers again cannot put a winning team on the field with any consistency.

Dodrill is still the anchor at middle guard in the Pittsburgh 5-3-3 defense and again receives some All-League recognition in Bill Willis's final season. The Steelers, under Walt Kiesling, open up the 1954 season with an improved brand of football and finally beat Cleveland. Dodrill is playing the best football of his career as Pittsburgh is now in the standard 5-2-4 defense. He still has his knuckles in the dirt, and continues to shoot the gap, run the twist with Stautner, but he now will quickly stand up from his four point stance and drop into pass coverage.

Dale is the team MVP in '54 and again earns All-Pro recognition. Pittsburgh must improve their last place ranking in run defense as the 1955 season begins. Dodrill's pass defense instincts from middle guard have improved as he records interceptions in the early season victories over the Cardinals and Giants. The fast start fades as Pittsburgh loses their final seven games.

Watching the heartbreaking loss to the Lions on film allowed me to concentrate on Dodrill. Late in the second quarter with the Lions leading 14-0 Layne attempts a lateral to Bill Stits who cannot find the handle. Dodrill as he has so many times in his five year career hustles to the ball and takes off for an apparent 40 yard touchdown. Wait a minute? You cannot advance a fumbled lateral? No score Dale, and the valiant Steeler rally falls short 31-28.

When the All-Pro team is listed for the 1955 season the organizations now list a middle linebacker, and Dodrill is First-team All-Pro (listed as defensive guard by AP) and garners the most votes ahead of the likes of George Connor, Chuck Bednarik, Bill George, Joe Schmidt, and Les Richter.

January 15th, 1956, we are in the Los Angeles Coliseum for the Pro Bowl game. Dodrill has been here before, yet this is a landmark game as both teams do NOT align with a middle guard. The 4-3 defense is now the preferable defense in the league. The Eastern Conference starter at middle linebacker is Chuck Drazenovich of Washington, and he rotates quarters with Dodrill. Second quarter and Dale demonstrates he was meant to play the position and play it well. He tackles Moegle of the west team on a cross buck after a short gain, and then drops the swift 49er back on screen for a loss of five. The Eastern All-Stars claim victory 31-30.

Walt Kiesling just cannot put a winning Steeler team on the field, and we enter the 1957 campaign with the legendary Buddy Parker at the helm. Pittsburgh continues to play improved run defense each year (finishing 3rd in '57), and the Steelers are a factor in the tight division race during the year. October the 13th at Forbes Field and the 1-1 Steelers must win to stay even with Cleveland. Dodrill is now the veteran leader of a team that fields 15 rookies under Parker. Jack Butler, Ernie Stautner, and Dodrill form one of the best defensive trio's in the league.

Pittsburgh leads 12-6 in the 2nd quarter when Dodrill as he has done before on "special teams" shoots the gap to block Summerall's field goal attempt. Bob O'Neil recovers the bounding ball and scores. Second half as McHan fires over the middle to running back Frank Bernardi, but Dodrill calls a halt to the Cardinal drive as he pilfers the pigskin and sets sail for the goal line. He leaps over prone team mate Aubrey Rozzell and dashes 44 yards (longest Steeler interception return since October of '54) before Bernardi can chase him down in the 29-20 win. Pittsburgh is 4-3, and must beat Green Bay to stay in the race, and on the first play of the game Dodrill intercepts Bart Starr, yet the team falter's badly in the 27-10 loss.

The improved Steelers knock the Giants from the race with a 21-10 December victory, but cannot catch Cleveland yet again. Dale will earn his final pro bowl berth and ranks with the best middle linebackers in the game. The trade for Bobby Layne two games into '58 gives Parker the quarterback he needs. Dodrill intercepts for the 10th and final time in the 24-3 decisive victory over Philadelphia. Pittsburgh's record when Dale intercepted was 8-2. He is 33 years old and begins the year as the starter at middle linebacker in 1959.

The lanky bowlegged Dodrill is listed in programs at 6'1'' and 211 lbs, but as the season progresses he shares time with rookie Mike Henry (who later became TVs "Tarzan"). Late in the campaign he sees less and less playing time in his final year. Graduate history studies at CSU, Fullerton granted me an opportunity to learn from some excellent professors. Dr. Reitfeld would explain and define the word significance for us. He stated that being first, or only was always historically significant.
The dictionary tells us that significance is derived from the latin word significantia (force, energy). Later defined as important and consequential. Combining all of this sure helps define Dale Dodrill on his 92nd birthday—he is the ONLY middle guard who became a middle linebacker and earned both All-Pro and Pro Bowl recognition.

Friday, February 23, 2018

NextGenStats Adds Hurries To Its List of Stats

By John Turney
Hurries in some form have been in the NFL lexicon since at least the late 1960s. In 1967 the Rams coaches credited Deacon Jones with 100 hurries, which presumably included the 26 sacks they credited him with. Recent research by Pro Football Journal (PFJ) reveals that Jones had 5 fewer sacks than that in 1967 but that is another story for another day.
In 1971 when Alan Page won the Associated Press (AP) NFL MVP Award the accompanying article mentioned he had 42 "hurries" that season and that it was a "new stat".
All through the next forty or so years coaches stats have recorded some form of hurries or "pressures". The Cowboys, Jets, Lions, Bears, and just about every team kept track of these stats. Some were kept internally, others were published in media releases or media guides.

In the 2000s a few organizations began to tote hurries and/or pressures. Among them are Football Outsiders, Stats, LLC, Pro Football Focus, NFLGSIS and now NFL's "Next Gen Stats.Pro Football Focus (PFF) states, "Sacks are, at least up until Pro Football Focus came onto the scene, how we judged pass-rushers." Well, that's probably dubious since if one is diligent they could find hurries/pressures stats from many team media guides of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. PFF does a fine job but they were not first in using esoteric stats (such as hits, hurries, or pressures) apart from sacks to look at the effectiveness of pass rushers. Coaches got there long ago and NFL beat writers often published those or used them when they chose All-Pro teams.

Additionally, sacks were only part of how pass rushers were judged pre-PFF because back in the day pass rushers were also judged on how they played the run. Not in all cases, but often, the All-Pro defensive ends, tackles and outside linebackers were the ones who could stop the run as well as the pass. This was especially true in the personal All-Pro teams of writers such as Paul Zimmerman (more on him later in the post), Gordon Forbes, Larry Felser, and others. 

Next Gen Stats is the NFL's own creation and describes itself as "NFL's Next Gen Stats captures real-time location data, speed, and acceleration for every player, every play on every inch of the field."

The following chart shows the career stats of 2017 AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald
(click to enlarge)

Elias Sports Bureau and Stats, LLC. are the usual sources for tackles and assists used by Fox Sports, ESPN, and Pro Football However, the Rams coaches also tally tackles and sacks as does PFF. We have shown them in the above chart.

Outlined in red are the various forms of hits, hurries, and pressures by the known sources.

In 2014 Rams coaches credited Donald with 12 hits and 32 pressures. NFLGSIS credited him with 13 QB hits (and that includes sacks sans forced fumbles so it is really a different animal). PFF shows him with six QB hits, 28 pressures and adds his nine sacks for 43 total "pressures." Football Outsiders (FO) shows five hits and 21 hurries for a total of 26 "hits plus hurries" add the 9 sacks and it is a final total of 35.  

In 2017 we don't have FOs totals year, they are released in the late spring or summer. NFLGSIS shows 27 quarterback hits which again, includes sacks minus the sacks that resulted in a forced fumble so the "net total" is 18 according to Nick Webster of (PFJ). PFF has a line of 12 sacks, 13 hits, 66 hurries for a total of 91 pressures. Rams coaches had 27 hits but did not record pressures in 2017 after the previous staff did record them from 2014-17. Stats, LLC., had a 36.5 total for hurries.

Actually, when you take the time to do an apples-to-apples comparison the numbers are not that far off, it's simply a difference of opinions on likely a small number of plays. For example in 2015 the Rams coaches gave Donald 29 hits. NFLGSIS, minus the sacks would be 26 hits. PFF had 25 and Football Outsiders had 27. So, there is a margin of four on "hits". And since hits are fairly easy to define from looking at the All-22 coaches film, you can see that they generally agree within a fair margin of error. And that is reasonably consistenthroughoutut the years for which we have data.

Also in 2017 is the aforementioned newcomer, Nex Gen Stats. They totaled 65 pressures for Donald. In a nice change, Nex Gen Stats gave an explanation and expresses that their pressures are based on actual measurements based on sensors in the player uniforms.

Here is the explanation.
Years ago we had a "hurries" discussion with Paul "Dr. Z" Zimmerman. He would say "nothing happened" on a play when a rusher hurries the quarterback and still completed the pass. He felt that a hurry should only count if it negatively impacted the play.

And he has a point. On "The Catch"—the famous play when Joe Montana hit Dwight Clark there were three Cowboys defenders in Montana's face. It can be argued through film study which player was closest (within two yards) or who came late, but the question is valid—Should D.D. Lewis, Ed Jones and Larry Bethea be credited with a "hurry" or "pressure"? Many would say yes, Zim said, "no".

Defensive line coaches are sure that if the player did his job, like the trio of Cowboys they get credit. We've spoken to many of them. Jack Youngblood will tell you "(I)t's still pressure" referring to if the pass is completed. 

In Dr. Z's incredible article in the September 1, 1982, issue of  Sports Illustrated he gleaned this great quote from Al "Bubba" Baker concerning this subject. "We figure 500 hurries equals one sack" in a big sense downgrading the value of a sack to defensive linemen. In that same article Zim quoted the Jets defensive line coach as having a statistic called a "spook" which is when one defensive lineman hurries a quarterback into another's arms and the second guy gets the credit for the sack, which happens a lot.

When I first interview Deacon Jones in Calgary in the early 1990s he told us, "I'd rather have 40 hurries and no sacks (in a game) than 3 sacks and no hurries. Because if I am in your ass 40 times, you are going to lose the game." So sufficeth it to say he thought hurries were more important than Bubba Baker did.

Side Bar—not sure why defensive linemen are into the "ass" of the quarterback. Zimmerman had a few ideas on that as well. Here is another example, aside from the Jones quote above, it is a fairly recent Facebook post from Leonard Marshall about him and Lawrence Taylor about to presumably sack some quarterbacks. The verbiage can speak for itself.

Now back to the main topic—
Over the years we've tallied some hurries as well and have used the John Levra approach. Levra was a defensive line coach for the Bears, Vikings, and Bills, coaching up Dan Hampton, Richard Dent, John Randle, Bruce Smith and others. In his book  "Coaching Defensive Lineman" outlined his methodology which is this:

Sacks is the highest level of the rush. Quarterback knockdowns are when a quarterback is on the ground after a pass play as the result of a hit that does not result in a penalty. A quarterback hit is hitting the quarterback legally but is not knocked to the ground. A hurry is when the quarterback is affected when he is throwing. Levra gave point values for those as well as for tackles, forced fumbles, holding penalties drawn and also for a "nasty". 

What is a nasty? Well, in today's quarterback protecting game it is not too politically correct but it is knocking an opposing player out of the game (predominately the quarterback) presumably legally though it was not specifically mentioned.

Here are the totals for Jack Youngblood in 1983 and 1984 using that methodology.

Like the Next Gen Stats the sacks and knockdowns and hits are definitive, there is no question as to the result of the play. If the QB is hit, he is hit. If he's sacked he's sacked. If he's knocked down he's knocked down. The only grey area is the hurries, which is subjective, as are the hurries of FO, PFF, Stats, LLC, etc.

But always remember, even though pressure is very important and the pass rushers we've quoted prove that there is more to a sack. A guy who gets a lot of hurries but cannot get a reasonable number of sacks has "(W)arning track power" according to Youngblood. So, "get all the hurries you can" but you are "paid to put the quarterback on his back."

So, how many hurries or pressures did Aaron Donald have in 2017 or in his career? Depends on who you ask.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018


Things You Can Never Lay Your Hands On 
by John Turney

Beginning in 1955 the Sporting News began awarding NFL executives an award for outstanding work in assembling and building a team. However, they abruptly ended the award after only two seasons. Then, in 1972, they began giving the award again and did so through 2012. In 1993 the Pro Football Writers of America began voting for the same award.

Recent Hall of Fame inductee Bill Polian appears numerous times. Ron Wolf, only once, however, he has likely received votes from his various stops in his NFL journey.

If this is any indication two-time Hall of Fame finalist George Young will be strongly considered for the "contributor" spot in 2016, and if not 2016 then soon thereafter. Hall of Fame contributors Jim Finks and Tex Schramm and Art Rooney and Dan Rooney also appear on these lists as recognition for their contributions to their success as administrators.

       NFL Executive of the Year  
Sporting News     Pro Football Writers Association
1955- Dan Reeves, Los Angeles Rams  No award
1956- George Halas, Chicago Bears  No award
1972- Dan Rooney, Pittsburgh  No award
1973- Jim Finks, Minnesota  No award
1974- Art Rooney, Pittsburgh  No award
1975- Joe Thomas, Baltimore Colts  No award
1976- Al Davis, Oakland  No award
1977- Tex Schramm, Dallas  No award
1978- John Thompson, Seattle  No award
1979- John Sanders, San Diego  No award
1980- Eddie LeBaron, Atlanta  No award
1981- Paul Brown, Cincinnati  No award
1982- Bobby Beathard, Washington  No award
1983- Bobby Beathard, Washington  No award
1984- George Young, New York Giants  No award
1985- Mike McCaskey, Chicago Bears  No award
1986- George Young, New York Giants  No award
1987- Jim Finks, New Orleans  No award
1988- Bill Polian, Buffalo  No award
1989- John McVay, San Francisco  No award
1990- George Young, New York Giants  No award
1991- Bill Polian, Buffalo  No award
1992- Ron Wolf, Green Bay  No award
1993- George Young, New York Giants George Young, New York Giants
1994- Carmen Policy, San Francisco Carmen Policy, San Francisco 49ers
1995- Bill Polian, Carolina Bill Polian, Carolina Panthers
1996- Bill Polian, Carolina Bill Polian, Carolina Panthers
1997- George Young, New York Giants George Young, New York Giants
1998- Jeff Diamond, Minnesota Front Office, Minnesota Vikings
1999- Bill Polian, Indianapolis Bill Polian, Indianapolis Colts
2000- Randy Mueller, New Orleans Randy Mueller, New Orleans Saints
2001- Dan Rooney, Pittsburgh Charley Armey, St. Louis Rams
2002- Bruce Allen, Oakland Al Davis, Oakland Raiders
2003- Scott Pioli, New England Scott Pioli, New England Patriots
2004- Scott Pioli, New England A.J. Smith, San Diego Chargers
2005- Art Rooney II, Pittsburgh Bill Polian, Indianapolis Colts
2006- Mickey Loomis, New Orleans Mickey Loomis, New Orleans Saints
2007- Ted Thompson, Green Bay Scott Pioli, New England Patriots
2008- Thomas Dimitroff, Atlanta Bill Parcells, Miami Dolphins
2009- Bill Polian, Indianapolis Bill Polian, Indianapolis Colts
2010- Thomas Dimitroff, Atlanta Scott Pioli, Kansas City Chiefs
2011- Ted Thompson, Green Bay Trent Baalke, San Francisco 49ers
2012- Ryan Grigson, Indianapolis Ryan Grigson, Indianapolis Colts
2013- No award John Dorsey, Kansas City Chiefs
2014- Steve Keim, Arizona Jerry Jones, Dallas Cowboys
2015- David Gettleman,  Carolina Mike Maccagnan, New York Jets
2016-Reggie McKenzie , Oakland             Reggie McKenzie, Oakland Raiders
2017-Howie Roseman, Philadelphia Howie Roseman, Philadelphia Eagles
2018-Ryan Pace, Chicago Chris Ballard, Indianapolis Colts
Sources: Pro Football Writers of America and Sporting News.

Friday, February 9, 2018

THE '66 GIANTS KNEW WHAT WAS COMING: They Just Couldn't Stop It

By TJ. Troup
Allie Sherman, credit Alchertron
The title comes from a quote from outstanding announcer Jack Whitaker from the NFL Films series Game of the Week from 1966. These shows were about 25 minutes in length and detailed each team each week. Having so much film to study was/is a joy—that is if you enjoy evaluating old football film.

Why a story on the New York football Giants defense of 1966? There are legendary defenses in league history (none in today's NFL), and the names of those defenders roll off the tongue and bring to mind visuals of men who just played the game at an elite level. This will not be true of the Giants in '66. How did this team fall so far so fast? Here is the answer, and oh yes some background.

Tom Landry became one of the truly best defensive coordinators in the late 1950's. From 1956 through 1959, in 48 games, the stalwart defenders from NY gave up just 79 offensive touchdowns (35 rushing & 44 passing). Landry gets the Dallas job in 1960 and for the next four years, we begin to see cracks in the plaster of the Giants defense.

Though they have some strong games, and at times play excellent pass defense; New York allows 134 offensive touchdowns (41 rushing & 83 passing) in 54 games. The Giants usually rank among the leaders in sacks and defensive passer rating, and are more than adequate in stopping the run. Led by Hall of Famers Andy Robustelli and Sam Huff they sure could bring the Yankee Stadium faithful to their feet with chants of "Dee-fense"!

Head Coach Allie Sherman has been honored more than once, and the New York offense is superb as the Giants appear in the title game three times in a row. Sherman's creative offense is his forte and though he claims to understand defense and personnel, there is a dramatic drop-off in 1964. When a division champion plummets to 2-10-2 and looses their last six games many a coach would lose his job. Sherman does not, and New York rebounds in 1965 to climb into contention for a berth in the now-defunct Playoff bowl with a record of 7-6 but the loss to Dallas and Landry (some irony there) 38-20 at home to close the season should have been a telling tale.
Pete Gogolak 
Each August would purchase my Street & Smith's Pro Football Preview magazine (still have them all), and delight in reading the evaluation of each team for the upcoming season. Let us venture into the pages of the 1966 magazine for the write-up on New York. The write-up begins with Hugh Brown telling us about the offense and the improvement in '65, and shows a picture of Pete Gogolak the kicker (a dramatic improvement is expected in this area in '66). Quote from Sherman, "(I)f we had a kicker like Gogolak we would have won two or three more games last season" & "with Pete kicking and a year of maturity on the part of the Giants' youngsters, I expect a better season than last". What else would you expect than optimism from the man in charge?

Hugh Brown begins the next paragraph with "defense could be Sherman's biggest problem". Truer words were never written. Brown mentions changes coming to the defensive line, and then states the following, "the linebackers are sophomores Olen Underwood and Jim Carroll with veteran Jerry Hillebrand in the middle, and the best of the lot".
Now that the background is complete here we go to the dark, dismal land known as the Giants defense of '66. Opening day in Pittsburgh who has a new coach in former Giant offensive guard Bill Austin. The starters are as follows: left defensive end veteran star Jim Katcavage. He will play virtually every down all season and lead the team in sacks with at least 6 (missing a few so he might have a couple more). Playing at 237 lbs is a challenge for Jim in playing off blocks to defend the run, and over the years he has lost speed in pursuit, yet he is by far the best defensive lineman on the team.

Left defensive tackle Jim Prestel has size and strength, but he failed to keep a job with the expansion Vikings. He is not very effective as a pass rusher, and is easily blocked on many running plays. Prestel starts the first five games, then rotates in the rest of the year in his only year as a Giant. The man who plays the most at left defensive tackle is #74 Jim Moran who is coming off a season of injury. He plays hard, but also has difficulty shedding blocks and is not very effective in pursuit. He records 2½ sacks during the campaign.
Glen Condren
The opening day starter at right defensive tackle is rookie Willie Young. he comes off the bench in week two, and then moves to the offensive line. He is quick, agile, and gives an effort, yet he struggles to shed blocks thus his transition to offense. Most of the year the starter at right defensive tackle is second-year man Glen Condren. Glen also starts at defensive end during the second half of the year for a couple of games. He always gives an effort, but is not very athletic or agile. Condren records just 1½ sacks but does make the team in '67 as the right defensive end. Listed in the media guide as the starter at right tackle is #76 Don Davis in his only year (listed as #73 in the guide?). He has size, but is just not what a team needs though he does start four games the second half of the year when Condren goes to defensive end.

Second-year man Rosey Davis starts against Pittsburgh at right defensive end, and remains the starter for the first half of the year. Davis has size, and moves well, he just is not much of a pass rusher, and struggles defeating any and all blocks. Coming off the bench during the year at right defensive end is Jim Garcia (his only year) until he is injured late in the year and plays in ten games.

Film study shows he should have been the starter all year instead of Davis. He sheds blocks well, is excellent in pursuit, and always hustles. Garcia started two games. The last day of the season #84 Bill Matan starts at right defensive end (he plays three games during the year). Matan is virtually invisible against Dallas. Overall with the exception of Katcavage this is group is going to be blocked and run upon all year.

Now to the one of the worst linebacking corps in league history. There is no Olen Underwood playing for the Giants in '66, and Bill Swain is injured. Looking at the draft in '66 everyone will no doubt see that with the exception of Tommy Nobis, this is not a strong linebacker draft; thus of the 27 rookies listed on the Giants roster in Street & Smith's only one linebacker—Jeff Smith; more on him later.

Jim Carroll starts opening day against the black & gold at left (strong side) linebacker. He is sent packing after one game to Washington. What are the expectations of a first-round draft choice of the Giants in '62?
Jerry Hillebrand have been given every chance to play the strong side, and now in '66 he is again expected to play middle linebacker as a starter for the second year in a row. He has size, and excellent speed for a big man. He starts the first four games of '66 at MLB and then moves to left linebacker for the rest of the season. Total Football lists him as playing in 11 games, but I have seen him on film in at least 13 games (he did not play in the loss to Atlanta). Hillebrand is asked to blitz often and never gets to the quarterback. Centers make the difficult "cut off" block look routine when blocking Hillebrand on run plays between the tackles. Playing strong side linebacker he is much, much better, and plays the pass adequately in zone coverage. He lacks the raw speed for man coverage, and since the Giants blitz so often, he is not required to cover backs very often, yet when he is asked, he is usually out of position. This is his last year as a Giant.

The starting right or weak side linebacker is one of the most fascinating stories in Giant history in '66. Larry Vargo had played safety for both the Lions & Vikings, and lost his starting job in Minnesota. He had never played linebacker before, and though listed at 215 lbs., he sure does not look that big on film. He has enough speed, yet struggles in pursuit. Vargo takes brutally poor angles in chasing the man with the ball, and though he can put some pressure on the quarterback (he records 2 sacks), he is a liability. He plays seven games in his only year in New York.

Stan Sczurek comes to the Giants from Cleveland and though he does not start he does a creditable job in tackling during his time on the field at outside linebacker. Late in the season big, fast Freeman White is given an opportunity to play outside linebacker. He is almost always out of position, struggles in pursuit, and though he has excellent speed for a big man he cannot cover anyone. Due to his size and athleticism, he will stay with the team through 1969 and tried at more than one position. Using the old adage of "looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane".

When Hillebrand is moved to strong side linebacker, he is replaced at MLB by rookie Mike Ciccolella. Mike struggles all year, and though he blitzes much of the time, he never records a sack. He will be replaced in 1967 by Vince Costello. Ciccolella would be considered bench strength, and that is being kind. To quote Casey Stengel is there "anyone here who can play this here damn game?" Yes, Casey, rookie Jeff Smith can.

Smith plays both weak and strong side during the campaign. He blitzed very effectively, and at times is even adept in coverage. Smith has excellent quickness, and can fight off a block. Film study shows him making tackles in the opponents backfield on running plays. He even aligns as an inside linebacker in the 3-4 defense, and with his hand on the ground as a defensive tackle. Though he has much to learn, the youngster from USC should have been brought back in '67, but was not?

The last line of defense; the secondary. For many seasons New York played outstanding team pass defense, with superb performances by the likes of Jimmy Patton, Erich Barnes, and Dick Lynch. Patton is at the end of the line in his 12th season. He usually plays when the opponent is knocking on the door of the end zone. Though known for his speed and toughness he just does not make many tackles. He finishes his career at home against Dallas in Yankee Stadium playing virtually the whole game. Patton just does not have it anymore, and his days as a deep centerfielder playing the pass are gone as he is never asked to do this in the current Giant scheme.
Dick Lynch wrote an interesting book detailing the season of '65, but in '66 he plays in seven games (he starts at left corner instead of right against the Rams in November). Dick has lost what speed he had, and though savvy—it is not enough to get him on the field or help his team in his last year. Erich Barnes was traded to Cleveland before the '65 season, and his replacement at left corner is the sole Pro Bowl defender on the Giants. Carl "Spider" Lockhart is a lean, combative, speedy defender. A willing tackler when asked, he has no problem with pursuit across the field. Though he is more than adequate as a zone defender; the Giants usually are in man coverage. Lockhart battles them all, and though he does give up touchdowns, he can take the ball away. The "Spider" is by far the best New York defensive player, but alas that is not saying very much.

The opposite corner for most of the campaign is Clarence Childs. Swift, and fearless, he always gives an effort either run or pass, yet he is just not a quality corner, and is does not start the last game of the year against Dallas. Childs never learns to defend a double move by a receiver.  He is replaced by the starting right safety Henry Carr. Being the free safety on a defense that is in man coverage usually tells us he has the back out of the backfield man to man, or is in deep center field. Carr has blazing speed, but many times he is out of position. He can make a play, and is an adequate tackler, yet maybe he is better served as a right corner?

Wendell Harris was given every opportunity to start for Don Shula in Baltimore, but he is now in New York attempting to play left safety. A quality left or strong safety must be a strong run defender on the "force" which is attacking the wide sweep. In man coverage he must be physical enough to handle a bigger man in the tight end, and of course he must be a demon in pursuit. Wendell H. is none of these. Amazingly he will return in '67 to start. Many times during the woeful season of '66 he is replaced by rookie Phil Harris. In fact Phil H. starts a few games, and even replaces Wendell and plays more of the game. He attempts to be physical in his only year, but is easily beaten on pass routes.

The secondary coach for New York is Hall of Famer Emlen Tunnell, and this group was sometimes referred to as "Emlen's Gremlins". The Giants finished dead last in the defensive passer rating category (97.2). The league average is 67.4.

So, who attempted to coordinate this debacle? Allie Sherman brings aboard Frank "Pop" Ivy who has failed in head coaching opportunities with the Chicago Cardinals and Houston Oilers. His background would be considered by many to be on the offensive side of the ball, and film study shows he cannot coordinate a defense. So many questions arose as I studied film? No doubt fans in Yankee Stadium had a few questions also; and maybe vented frustrations with a few boos. Ivy attempts to play an over-shifted 4-3, the standard 4-3, and move the weak side outside linebacker inside in a stack alignment. New York even aligns in a 3-4 against the Cardinals in a game they probably should have won. You even see the Giants in "nickel" coverage once in awhile (poorly, I might add). Do the opponent offensive stats tell us anything about the defense? Yes, they sure do!

In the first three games, the Giants allowed a 100-yard receiver each game. Mel Renfro gets injured playing offensive halfback after catching a 42 yard pass in week two, and is replaced by Dan Reeves. Though he is not very fast, and lacks quick moves Reeves exploits the errors in coverage as he catches 6 passes for 120 yards, and three scores. This performance convinces Landry that he can play for a contender. Opposing coaches watching film, must have thought if Dan Reeves can do this to New York, then my offensive backs with more athletic skill should be able to also.

During the campaign opposing backs caught 80 passes for 993 yards and 16 touchdowns, and if Pop Ivy ever adjusted, then I missed it? Rather than go through all fourteen games, lets go to one game in particular as this game begins the disaster. November the 13th the Giants are in Los Angeles to play rookie head coach George Allen's Rams (who really need a win). Though New York has given up 85 points the previous four games, they won their only game in this stretch, and actually played decent defense at times.

Not today in the Coliseum. The Rams in the 1st half record 23 first downs, and gain 351 yards in total offense. Watching the film you see Roman take his boys up and down the field at will. The 2nd half the Rams even with substitution record 15 more first downs to set a league record, and gain an additional 221 yards. Halfback Tom Moore of the Rams sets a league record that year in the Marchibroda offense (60 receptions), and in this game catches 9 for 81 yards. Guess no one told Pop Ivy that you have to cover halfbacks out of backfield on passes? New York allows 59 offensive touchdowns during the year (23 rushing & 36 passing). As you can well imagine Mr. Ivy will not be back as a defensive coordinator in '67. Patience is a virtue in the Mara family, and Allie Sherman is brought back even though the last three years the record is 10-29-3. The brilliance of Fran Tarkenton saved Sherman's job until the late season four-game losing streak of '68.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Aaron Donald Moving Up All-Time Ranks

By Nick Webster
At long last Aaron Donald has received well-deserved recognition as the AP Defensive Player of the Year, but this wasn’t a runaway of the sort we’ve been used to seeing from J.J. Watt. Donald won with 23 votes (a 46% share), edging out Calais Campbell, who won the award as named by the Pro Football Writers Association. It was, however, Donald’s third time receiving votes for AP Defensive Player of the Year—joining a slew of Hall of Famers with three appearances (votes since 1971).
Mills received a total of just 6 votes over the course of his career and is not likely to end up in the Hall, Martin is also an unlikely inductee at this point, but won the award in 1977, edging out Lyle Alzado. This portends well for Donald, who has certainly been among the top defenders in the league for four years now.

We also like to measure a defenders DPOY “Shares” the portion of votes—in aggregate—a player receives over the course of his career.  It’s a fantastic way to recognize players who are consistently good but aren’t always able to break through for a win, or who constantly comes up against an all-time great like Joe Greene, LT or Watt. In Career DPOY Shares Aaron Donald now enters the top 15, ahead of some HOF snubs and entering into the range of all-time greats.
In fact, were it not for the otherworldly Watt, Donald would likely be receiving his second DPOY award having finished a distant second to Watt in 2015.  A second win would have placed Donald with the likes of the all-timers: Bruce Smith, Reggie White, Ray Lewis and Joe Greene —only LT and J.J. have three each.

Congrats to Aaron Donald – a well-deserved award – entering the likes of the all-time greats.

Monday, February 5, 2018

More Than One Option—Burton to Foles

By John Turney
When the Eagles lined up to fo for a touchdown at the end of the first half, NBC commentator Cris Collinsworth said, "This could decide the game", he wasn't that far off.

The Eagles ran a play in which Trey Burton threw a touchdown pass to quarterback Nick Foles that extended a three-point Eagles lead.

The play went down like this:
Apparently, Jeffrey is on the line of scrimmage, he is even with the right tackle, but a yard off the ball, but it seems like he checked with the side judge from the replay. It is perplexing because our understanding is an offense must have seven players on the line of scrimmage. Nonetheless, the play went on without penalty.
It's a 3 by 1 formation with tight or "nasty" splits to the sideline and a single receiver to the field.

Foles steps up and drifts to the wing position on the right, while brushing the front of this shirt, to show he was eligible, but that wouldn't be necessary since he has an eligible numeral. It could have just been a decoy, something to confuse the Patriot defense or just a sure way to make sure the referees knew he was eligible to catch a pass since he was in the shotgun before he moved to the wing.

Foles moves to the wing and touched the right tackle to begin the snap sequence.

The play is a sweep left-reverse to the tight end. Foles holds until the reverse actions shows.
Foles runs his route to the flat and is all alone, and there is even a second receiver open in the short middle.
Had the Patriots sniffed this out and covered Foles, Smith was open in the middle of the end zone, all alone.
On a 4th down, it takes a lot of guys to run a trick play and it worked and was a key play in the win. Congrats Doug Pederson.