Tuesday, December 31, 2019

2019—A Nice Year for 'Slash' Players

LOOKING BACK
By John Turney
2019 gave us a lot of entertainment and part of that was the emergence of a handful of 'slash' players that played more than one position.

Taysom Hill was the leading 'slasher'. he played quarterback, receiver, runner, tight end. He had great speed and quickness.

Also entertaining is Patrick Ricard, Baltimore's resident fullback/defensive lineman. The Patriots, who have a history of these guys (Troy Brown WR-DB, Mike Vrabel, LB-TE, Julian Edelman, WR-DB, Rob Gronkowski, TE-S), had linebacker/fullback Elandon Roberts this year and who may have the quote of the year when talking about his football mindset “I run through a motherfuckers' face. Offense, defense, special teams, whatever you want,” Roberts explained. “I think that’s why Bill likes me.”

George Fant is a tackle, but plays more as a tight end in their heavy personnel.

Back in the day players like there were abundant. Then the era of specialization crept in and there were few. On occasion one would slip in—WR-DB James Owens and then WR-DB Roy Green. Kordell Stewart may have been the best, he was a QB-WR. Dan Klecko, like Ricard, was a FB-DL.

The Titans Adoree Jackson is part of this tradition as is JJ Watt DL-TE, Devin Hester WR-DB, Dontari Poe, DL-FB, Randy Moss, WR-DS.

The Rams Mike Furrey actually converted to FS for a year before moving back to his usual Wr position. Patrick Peterson and Deion Sanders were star corners and played wide receiver as well.

There are others, but it seemed to us that the four we mentioned had pretty ig impacts on their teams and it was more than a novelty with them, it was part of what they did on offense and defense, i.e. part of the scheme. And that is entertaining in the NFL which can become dry sometimes.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Season Ending Random Thoughts

By Nick Webster

Jamies’ Incredible Double
With the last throw of his season (career?) for Tampa on Sunday Jamies Winston simultaneously accomplished two related amazing feats. Much has been made of Winston nearing the 30-30 club, the first QB to throw 30 TD’s and 30 Interceptions in the same season a feat he accomplished but not without tacking on 5 extra minutes after the season was supposed to end!

The same play was returned by the opposing Falcons for a Touchdown meaning that in what soccer fans might think of as Stoppage Time Winston set the NFL record for the most ‘Pick-sixes’ in a season in NFL History.

Winston broke his tie with future HOFer Peyton Manning and long-forgotten Rudy Bukich who had each thrown 6 pick-sixes in 2001 and 1966, respectively.  With his 7th pick-six, Winston now stands alone atop a leaderboard he’d probably rather avoid.

We initially thought Winston might have a third accolade as he leads the league in interceptions by a historically wide margin of 9, however, the INT margin-of-victory throne still belongs to Brett Favre who threw 29 in 2005, 12 more than his runner up. It took Brett another two years to get run out of Green Bay, how much longer does Jamies have in Tampa?

Sherman’s Comeback Complete

Richard Sherman had an excellent game Sunday night supporting his 49ers path to their best season in years largely on the back of a rebuilt defense. Sherman was excellent all season and lead the NFC in Passer Rating allowed by a cornerback for the 3rd time—having previously accomplished the feat in 2012 and 2013.

This season, apparently fully recovered from his ACL after a year getting his feet back under him Sherman allowed a rating of just 46.8 according to PFF. Now different sources track passer rating against and the results are not consistent, but Sportradar which tracks for PFR’s advanced metrics also has Sherman leading the NFC, albeit with a less impressive rating.

Passer rating against can be tracked using various sources back to 1995 and in those 25 seasons only two other players have led their conference in defensive passer rating allowed three times; Deion Sanders and Darrelle Revis, good company Richard!

Congrats to Shaq Barrett, No thanks to the scorekeeper
With three sacks yesterday Shaq Barrett passed Chandler Jones to claim the sack title with 19.5 versus Chandler’s 19.0. We still think Chandler was the better all-around player but sack titles (now given the Deacon Jones Award) are a nice thing to have on your mantle.

Shaq owes his title to a creative scheme designed to free him up, a resurgent season where he came back in great shape seemingly with a desire to show the Broncos what they’d lost, and to a scorekeeping change after the Bucs Week 14 game versus the Colts.

As the game was played and with the initial publishing of the gamebook Barrett shared an 8-yard sack with defensive end William Gholston. However, as happens every week, games are reviewed and the league and Elias updates its official tallies; and in mid-week, the half-sack for each Barrett and Gholston was revised to a full sack for Barrett with Gholston losing all credit.

Barrett it seems may owe his accolades to more than just scheme and fitness. Frequently the impetus for these changes comes from the team itself; if a team believes a play was miscredited it will often ask for a review, so we may never know who truly deserves the credit.

Either way, a great breakout season for Shaq Barrett and a deserving runner up for Chandler Jones.

In an associated story, it was accurately reported that a week 16 stat change pushed Markus Golden of the Giants over the 10-sack mark earning him a performance bonus. Left out of this story was the fact that the half-sack he gained with the week 16 adjustment was taken away with an earlier full sack that he had ‘adjusted-down’ to a half-sack at Detroit where Dexter Lawrence was credited with half a sack.

Comeback Pack Sweeps Lions

By Eric Goska
Allen Lazard scored on a 28-yard, fourth-quarter TD pass in Detroit.
(screenshot from NFL Game Pass)
Down but not out might best sum up the Packers’ play against the Lions in 2019.

For a second time this season, Green Bay fell behind Detroit. For a second time this season, the Green and Gold prevailed.

Sunday at Ford Field, the Packers battled back from 14 down to defeat the Lions 23-20. In October, they rallied from 13 back to knock off the Michiganders 23-22 at Lambeau Field.

Mason Crosby capped both comebacks with walk-off field goals. He hit a 23-yarder as time expired in the first, and he booted a 33-yarder on the final play in the second.

Downing a team twice in one season is tough enough. Doing so when forced to overcome double-digit deficits in both games is almost unheard of, at least in Packerland.

The Packers have tripped up 25 different teams twice in one season. The Milwaukee Badgers were the first as Green Bay bounced them 12-0 and 10-7 in 1923.

Since, the Green and Gold has double dipped another 140 times including Sunday. They’ve notched two-fers most often against the Bears (30) and Lions (30).

Only once previously had the team overcome double-digit deficits in two separate games to sweep an opponent. In 1942, Green Bay twice rose up from 10 short to dispatch the Chicago Cardinals 17-13 and 55-24.

Yes, the Packers have swept the Lions before after having trailed in both games. Just not by 10 or more points in both outings.

In 1939, Detroit led by seven in the first meeting and four in the rematch before falling 26-7 and 12-7. In 2012, the Lions jumped in front by six and 14, but Green Bay roared back to win 24-20 and 27-20.

This year, the Packers not only faced a pair of double-digit deficits, they also were behind heading into the fourth quarters of both games. It’s the first time in team history they’ve swept an opponent under those circumstances.

In October, they trailed 19-13 after three quarters. Sunday, they were on the wrong end of a 17-10 count.

In both games, the fourth quarter belonged to Green Bay. So effective was the team that it established new highs for the rivalry.

Sunday, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ offense amassed 143 yards in the final 15 minutes. Add to that the 195 it piled up in October and the 338 combined fourth-quarter yards is an all-time best for the team against the Lions in one season. It broke by eight the previous high (330) set in 2015.

Green Bay ran 55 plays. That was three more than the record of 52 set in 1951.

Meanwhile, the Lions generated all of 60 yards. The difference between the teams’ outputs (278) is the most by which the Green Bay has outgained Detroit. The previous high had been 235 set in 1937.

Green Bay’s two fourth quarters also shared some similarities. Rodgers threw an interception and passed for more than 100 yards (147 and 109) in both.

Allen Lazard made an all-important touchdown catch each time out. He snagged a 35-yarder at Lambeau Field and snared a 28-yarder at Ford Field.

The Packers started their game-winning drives from roughly the same spot – their own 18- and 17-yard lines. Green Bay was awarded a first down by penalty on each of those advances: defensive end Trey Flowers was flagged for illegal use of hands in October and safety Tavon Wilson was called for unnecessary roughness Sunday.

Taken all together, the comeback Pack outscored the Lions by the slimmest of margins in 2019. The 4-point difference was the smallest in sweeping an opponent, breaking the previous low of six in 2004 when the club edged the Vikings by identical scores of 34-31.

Extra Point
In 1962, the Packers set a team record by defeating five different opponents twice: the Vikings, Bears, 49ers, Colts and Rams.

Sweeping Away Deficits
Most points overcome to defeat an opponent twice in the same season.

Points (G1, G2)    Year    Opponent        Final Scores
27 (13, 14)             2019    Lions                23-22 & 23-20
20 (10, 10)             1942    Cardinals          17-13 & 55-24
20 (6, 14)               1959    49ers                21-20 & 36-14
20 (6, 14)               2012    Lions                24-20 & 27-20
19 (6, 13)               1954    Colts                7-6 & 24-13
17 (6, 11)               1962    49ers                31-13 & 31-21
17 (17, 0)               1972    Lions                24-23 & 33-7
17 (3, 14)               1985    Lions                43-10 & 26-23

2019 PFJ All-Rookie Team

Once again the PFJ All-Rookie team was chosen by Chris Willis, a producer at NFL Films, author, and member of the NFL and HOF Blue Ribbon Committees.

His choice for Offensive Rookie of the Year is Josh Jacobs, RB, Raiders
Credit: NFL Network
The Defensive Rookie of the Year is Nick Bosa, DE-EDGE, 49ers.
Credit: NBC
Here are his picks for All-Rookie—

2019 PFJ All-Pro Team

OPINION
By John Turney
We picked more than 22 players because football has been a game of packages, 12, 21, 10, 11 and there are more than 22 starters on offense and defense. Nickel is a starter, nicker rushers are, but when teams want to go base they use a nose tackle, a fullback, and if it is a 30 defense they use 2 inside backers. We think All-Pros are an exercise in honoring the top players, not trying to pick the best players who only play in 11 personnel.

Besides the AP, NEA and others have picked more than 22—the AP picked to MLBers from 1984 through the early 2010s. The NEA chose three receivers in the late-1980s. NFL Films and Sports Illustrated picked nickel backs in the mid-1980s. The AP also picked two RBs and a fullback for about 20 years. So we get it, and we will do it our way.
For starters, we picked three receivers, including a slot this year, whereas in some previous years we picked two starters and a third (non-starting) receiver as well. Michael Thomas, NO, and Kenny Golladay, Det plus Cooper Kupp, LAR are the First-team guys with Julio Jones, Atl, and Chris Godwin, TB plus Julian Edelman, NE, on the Second-team
Thomas shattered Marvin Harrison’s single-season receptions record and dropped only 5 passes on his 149 catches. He totaled 1,725 yards and 9 touchdowns. We went with Golliday due to his deep threat ability—he had 65 catches for 1,190 yards for an 18.3 average and led the NFL with 11 TD receptions.

Kupp had 94 catches for 1161 yards and  10 scores and had one of the best YAC runs of the season versus the Saints.

Godwin and Jones both had over 1300 yards. Godwin dropped just one pass and had 86 receptions for 1,333 yards and 9 scores. Jones snagged 99 passes for 1,394 yards and 6 touchdowns.

Edelman was Brady’s only weapon in 2019 with guys getting cut and Gronk retiring. He might have beaten out Kupp but he dropped way too many passes. But, overall he was, we think, the second-best slot receiver this year.
George Kittle, of the 49ers is an easy First-team pick with Travis Kelce of the Chiefs backing him up. Kittle is the top blocker and is a gifter receiver as well. He’s the 2019 version of Russ Francis in his prime, a great two-way end.
The Ravens left tackle Ronnie Stanley easily has one tackle slot and La'el Collins, of Dallas, has the other. It was hard finding others—it was not a great year for tackles. Ryan Ramczyk, NO, backs up Collins.

Laremy Tunsil is an honorable mention. On pure grades he was very high, maybe second only to Stanley, but his 18 penalties (12 false starts) were just too many to ignore, some in key situations. So, his All-Pro status will happen when his 'key big errors' drop. Maybe next year? Talent-wise, the sky is the limit. Kolton Miller, therefore, edges Tunsil for the Second-team slot.

Good guards, unlike tackles, were abundant this year.  Zack Martin, Dal and Joel Bitonio, Cle are the highest we graded. Zack Martin is just in another league, he’s already a Hall of Famer. Brandon Brooks, Phi, backs up Martin.  Brooks is the has the best physical qualities, size, strength, quickness and

The Patriots Joe Thuney and the Colts Quenton Nelson, tied for Second-team guard. We just couldn't separate them. It reminded us of 1978 in baseball. The two MVPs were Dave Parker and Jim Rice. Both were great. Thuney is more like Parker, a higher average, a bit less power, but more all-around. Nelson is like Rice, still a high average but more power and more strikeouts. Any of the top five could be First-team All-Pro but Martin and Bitonio were slightly higher than the other three.

Ryan Kelly of the Colts is the top center and Second-team is Trey Hopkins of the Bengals.  Cody Whitehair was a top guard and center so he gets a high, high honorable mention. Chase Roullier of the Washington and the Jaguars Brandon Linder (after a slow start) are also honorable mentions. Roullier was the best pass blocking center this year.
Lamar Jackson of the Ravens is easily the MVP and the All-Pro quarterback.  His passing starts were impressive—265/401 for a 66.1 percent completion percentage for 3127 yards 36 scores and just six picks for a 113.3 passer rating. He ran for 1206 yards and 7 more TDs and a 6.9 yard per rush average.
Christian McCaffrey of Carolina and Derrick Henry of the Titans round out the First-team backfield. McCaffrey joined Roger Craig, 1985, and Marshall Faulk, 1999, as one of three backs to get 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in the same season. Henry was a vital player in the Titans playoff drive and earned the rushing title. Nick Chubb, Cle, and  Ezekiel Elliott, Dal and are the Second-teamers.

Yes, we picked two running backs and a fullback. Knock off the second-teamers if you want. But for time and immemorial All-Pro teams have had two running backs (or more). Even the AP All-Pro team did it until recently and they had a fullback as well.

Kyle Juszczyk, SF is the #1 fullback and Taysom Hill, NO, is our “true flex” playing QB, RB, TE, Receiver. Our third-down back is James White, NE.

C.J. Ham, Min, is the backup fullback and Patrick Ricard, Bal, is the “flex” playing fullback and defensive tackle.

Other honorable mentions in “flex” are Elandon Roberts who plays linebacker and fullback plus George Fant who plays tackle and tight end. Chris Thompson, Was, is the Second-team receiving back. It's too bad Thompson gets hurt so much, he'd be putting up some great numbers as a third-down back otherwise. In the last five years he's averaged 55 catches for 465 yards and 2 TDs per 16 games but had missed 20 games in that span.

Jacksonville's kicker Josh Lambo beats out Justin Tucker. Sure, Tucker is, as it stands now, the best ever but an All-Pro team is to pick who had the best season and Lambo earned the No. 1 spot. Tucker made his only 50+ yard field goal, Lambo was 4/4 from 50 yards and over. Both missed just one field goal but Tucker missed a pair of PATs, Lambo just one.

In the NFL's stat—"FG Plus/Minus = Summation of (If Field Goal made, 1 - rolling two-year League average success rate from that distance, if missed, negative rolling two-year League average success rate from that distance) Lambo edged Tucker 2.9 to 2.8. All that means is they try to level the playing field and judge who was better in FG kicking in a better way than just FG percentage. It was close, but Lambo had a better year.

Brett Kern of the Titans edges Tress Way of Washington as the punter. Way had a higher net average 44.1 to 43.1 but Kern's inside-the-20 to touchback ratio was 37-2 as opposed to 30-4 for Way. Kern also allowed 85 fewer return yards and in the NFL's metric "Net Yards over Avg" Kern is about a half-yard better. That metric takes into account where punts are kicked and therefore a punter isn't penalized if he has to punt inside the 50 yards line (for an example).

Actually, Bryan Anger is the top statistical punter, but since he missed some games we excluded him and went with the players who played the full season. His NYOA was one of the best ever but that total of just 40 punts was bothersome to us.

Cordarrelle Patterson of the Bears is the First-team kick returner and Brandon Wilson of the Bengals is the Second-team. Wilson did have an average yards-per-return of 31.3, almost two yards more than Patterson but Patterson had 200 more yards. They both had a touchdown but Patterson took more risks and that hurt his average a bit but also allowed more chances to break one. Mecole Hardman of the Chiefs is an honorable mention.

Diontae Johnson of Pittsburgh is top punt returner (12.4 avg. and a touchdown) and Deonte Harris, NO (9.4 avg 1 TD) backs him up. Technically, the Colts Nyheim Hines was the top punt returner (31.2 avg and 2 TDs) but he only had 9 returns, not enough to qualify.

J.T. Gray, NO, is the top special teamer and Matt Slater is our second-teamer. Gray had 14 tackles and a blocked kick and Slater had 10 tackles and blocked his first career punt this season. Tyler Matakevich is an honorable mention—he led the NFL in special teams tackles with 16. Sp is Dane Cruikshank of the Titans who blocked a punt and a PAT and had 9 special teams tackles. he really came on in the second half of the season.

The defensive specialists are J.C. Jackson, NE, and Buster Skrine of the Bears as the fifth (non-starter) defensive back. Josh Allen of Jacksonville and Benson Mayowa of the Raiders are the Nickel Rushers. Jackson is more of a dime back than a nickel, but the Pats play a lot of dime and Jackson was too productive (5 picks) to ignore.

Skrine was all over the place, would cover in the slot, blitz—a do it all guy. Our Second-team All-AFC sub defensive back Mile Hilton is in that category, too, a do it all slot corner.
Our 4-3 end is Cameron Jordan and our 3-4 (sink end) is Cameron Heyward.  Jordan finished with 15.5 sacks and 53 tackles and according to Sportsradar had 27 hurries—the most of any defensive ned. He simply does more than most DEs. He played a lot a 7-tech (inside shoulder of tight end) and dominates them in the running game and gets a consistently excellent rush game after game. Heyward played valiantly after his linemate Stephon Tuitt went down, losing his inside partner in crime. He had 83 tackles, 9 sacks and got his hands on six passes.

Matt Ioannidis is tied for our backup 30 end. He has a 'light stance' and plays a reading position but he still hustled his way to 8.5 sacks (last year he had 7.5 and he was our Second-team All-NFC 30 end) and 64 tackles and 35 pressures. Yes, the injury to JJ Watt moved Heyward up and also Ioannidis but give him some credit, he hustles and makes plays. Michael Brockers had his best year ranking very high in stopping the run, though he hurt his ankle in the last game. He made a career-high in tackles and simply stands up guards and tackles with his leverage, but the only thing is he's not a elite pass rusher though he was better in 2019 than 2018 when he had a shoulder injury most of the year.

Joey Bosa and Danielle Hunter tied for Second-team at 40 end. Hunter had 70 tackles, 14.5 sacks, 35 pressures) and forced three fumbles and Bosa had 64 tackles and 11.5 sacks, 55 pressures (most by any defensive end) and drew lots of extra blockers.

Nick Bosa, SF, is a strong honorable mention. We had Nick Bosa as an All-Pro end on our mid-season team but though he still makes some plays, his production in sacks, QB hits and knockdowns has dropped enough to let a couple others ahead of him. We don't know if he hit the 'rookie wall' or not but 'blue players make blue plays' and lately Nick has had fewer of them but he sure always passes the 'eye test'.

Aaron Donald, LAR is our three-technique and Vita Vea of the Bucs is the shade tackle. They are ably backed by Grady Jarrett of the Falcons and the Patriot nose tackle Danny Shelton.

Donald had 48 tackles and 12.5 sacks and 9.5 stuffs and was double more than anyone in the NFL. He's in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year. Vea was tough all season and for a guy whose job it is to stuff the run he also got some push in the pass rush. Shelton had 55 tackles and 3 sacks patrolling the middle of the Pats defense. Jarrett had 69 tackles, 7.5 sacks, and 9.0 run stuffs. If there were not a guy named Aaron Donald in the league Jarrett would be a First-team All-Pro.

Chandler Jones of the Cardinals secured the rush LBer spot with his 4 sacks in Week 16 and Shaquil Barrett, TB, is backing him up and T.J. Watt, Pit is the honorable mention.

Jones had 53 tackles, 19 sacks, 42 pressures, eight forced fumbles (tied for NFL lead), deflected five passes and is only one of two players ever to have 19 or more sacks and at least eight forced fumbles. he also missed fewer tackles than Barrett and Watt which can be the difference in a pressure or a sack.

Barrett had three sacks the final week and edged Jones for the sack title with 19.5 had 58 tackles six forced fumbles and 37 QB hits and 50 pressures. TJ Watt tied Jones with eight forced fumbles had 55 tackles, 14.5 sacks, 37 hits, 60 pressures, two picks, four fumbles recovered and seven passes defensed.

It was hard to separate Jones, Barrett, and Watt. Others may put them in a different order but there was only one slot and we made a call. The forced fumbles are big, they are often game changers so, in the end, his combination of sacks, pressure, and forced fumbles put him above the other two. However, putting any one of those three as the top rush linebacker would not be wrong.

Za'Darius Smith is a super-strong honorable mention. He was a huge difference-maker for the Packers, but again, his lack of forced fumbles (though he was consistent in pressure with 22 knockdowns and 51 pressures) left him out in the cold, though he deserved a Pro Bowl slot over Khalil Mack.

Now, as far as the NFL's stat of QB Hits, make sure to add in the forced fumbles since they don't count in that total. If you force a QB to fumble it's not a "QB hit" so when you see Smith, Watt, and Barrett with more than Chandler Jones know that when the sacks with forced fumbles are added back in the totals are far closer than the official total which shorts Jones on that score.

One additional note—TJ Watt had a good interior rusher and edge rusher on the opposite side to help him, Barrett got a healthy Jason Pierre-Paul down the stretch and that helped him. Who was there to help Jones? Certainly not as much as Watt or Barrett so that factor was used to rank the rush backers. Even Za'Darius Smith had Preston Smith to take the focus off of him some. Jones did it almost alone. His best rush 'mate' was Terrell Suggs and he even was cut late in the season. To highlight that consider Jones had 48% of his team's sacks, Barrett 40%, Watt had 27% of the Steelers sacks. Added to the fact that Jones is simply a master of pass rush moves and technically perfect in his skills.

It was simply a strong year for edge rushers, which may be part of the reason it was a poor year for offensive tackles.
The “Mike” is Fred Warner, SF, and the “Mo” is Lavonte David, TB. David has 121 tackles and led the NFL in run/pass stuffs, forced three fumbles and defended seven passes on a top run defense. He has been so good for so long but always seems to be overlooked. He can still play at a top level.

Warner made 118 tackles, had 3 sacks, had a pick 6 and deflected 9 passes and forced three fumbles.  At 6-3, 236, he has great length and excellent speed and awareness. he could be All-Pro for a long time in the 49ers scheme with his skills, the 2020s version of a bigger Bobby Wagner, perhaps.

The Bills MLBer Tremaine Edmunds and  Zach Cunningham of Houston back them up. Edmunds had 115 tackles and 8 stuffs. Edmunds is huge (6-5, 250) and he and Warner are potentially the Urlacher-Kuechly types of the future. The Bills finished Top 10 in total defense, run defense, pass defense and scoring defense. Both Warner and Edmunds are already excellent, but with their PQs (physical qualities) the sky is the limit for both.

Bobby Wagner, Sea (MIKE), Luke Kuechly, Car (ILB) Cory Littleton, LAR (ILB) are all honorable mentions. Kuechly played well (144 tackles, 6 stuffs, 12 passes defensed and 2 picks) but you could tell he was frustrated with his defense and wasn't what he was in 2018 (when he had 22 stuffs). Littleton was excellent the first half of the season but tailed off. He finished with 134 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 2 picks, 2 forced fumbles, 9 passes defensed and recovered four fumbles—he sure filled out the stat sheet and he put him on the All-NFC Second-team. We also give an honorable mention to Eric Kendricks he played well but is limited in a lot of way. But we give him credit, he had a good year and we also named him Second-team All-NFC.

Darius Leonard of the Colts was injured in the middle of the season and missed a few games but came on strong through the end of the year. He snags the WILL spot over the Saints Demario Davis. Leonard is one of only four linebackers to have at least 5 sacks and 5 interceptions in a single-season since 1982. (There are a few more before that, when sacks unofficial but it's a rare feat). He finished with a total of 121 tackles, 5 sacks, 5 picks, 7 PDs. Davis was also special. He made 111 tackles (7 were stuffs) and 4 sacks.

Anthony Barr of the Vikings is an honorable mention as is Kyle Van Noy of New England who is a SAM but had a fine year at OLBer. Jamie Collins played more inside the first half of the season and more on the outside in the second half. He made a lot of big plays and deserves a mention as well. He is a complete 'backer who can rush, cover, play the run, etc.
Stephon Gilmore of New England and the Bills TreDavious White are the First-team corners. They both had six picks to be two of the tri-leaders in the NFL in interceptions. That is an oddity because we don't care that much about picks but in this case the best two corners also had the most interceptions.

Richard Sherman of the 49ers are the corners and Shaquill Griffin of Seattle backup the First-teams corners. Sherman was one of our top two cornerbacks at midseason but he had a few penalties in the second half and was nicked some. Still, it was a super year for him. Logan Ryan had a fine year, too. He is an honorable mention and Second-team on our All-AFC team. he had 4.5 sacks and 4 picks, 113 tackles, 4 forced fumbles and 18 passes defensed.
Jamal Adams of the Jets is the box Safety and Justin Simmons of Denver is the free safety. One scout we spoke to compared Simmons to Nolan Cromwell—a guy who can play post safety of 1/2 the field, or play the slot corner or be a box safety as well.

We picked him as First-team All-Pro last year when no one did and though he didn’t make the Pro Bowl the rest of the media will likely pick him as the All-Pro free safety. Jamal Adams is the best safety in the box, he can blitz (6.5 sacks) and cover tight ends and backs and is very smart.

Terrell Edmunds of the Steelers and Tyrann Mathieu of the Chiefs backup the safeties. Edmonds is 'nosey' and always around the ball. Mathieu plays all over, in the slot, deep, and made big plays all year.

And since only PFWA still does it, we picked All-Conference teams—

Most Valuable Player—Lamar Jackson, Ravens
Offensive Player of the Year —Christian McCaffrey, Panthers
Defensive Player of the Year—Stephon Gilmore, Patriots
Offensive Rookie of the Year—Kyler Murray, Cardinals
Defensive Rookie of the Year—Nick Bosa, 49ers
Comeback Player of the Year—Cooper Kupp, Rams
Most Improved Player of the Year—Devante Parker, Dolphins
Special Teams Player of the Year—JT Gray, Saints
Coach of the Year—Jim Harbaugh, Ravens
Assistant Coach of the Year— Greg Roman, Ravens
Exec—John Lynch, 49ers

Position Awards:
Offensive Lineman of the Year—Ronnie Stanley, Ravens
Defensive Lineman of the Year—Aaron Donald, Los Angeles
Linebacker of the Year—Chandler Jones, Cardinals
Defensive Back of the Year—Stephon Gilmore, Patriots
Running Back of the Year—Christian McCaffrey, Panthers
Receiver of the Year—Michael Thomas, Saints
Returner of the Year—Cordarrelle Patterson, Bears
Special Teams Player of the Year—JT Gray, Saints
Kicker/Punter of the Year—Josh Lambo,Jaguars

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Darius Leonard In Rare OLBer Club—Five Sacks and Five Picks in Same Season

By John Turney
Darius Leonard picked off his fifth pass of the season today and when coupled with his five sacks he became the fourth linebacker since 1982 to have five (or more) of each.

The others? Wilbur Marshall in 1986 and 1991, Brian Urlacher in 2007 and LaVonte David in 2013.

Of course, this is since 1982. There are others who achieved it before sacks became official. Oddly, a coupe of them are Colts. Stan White had 8 sacks and 7 picks in 1977 and 6½ sacks in 1975 to go with his 8 picks. Ted Hendricks had 5 sacks and 5 interceptions in 1971.

Leonard missed a few games midseason, playing in a total of 13. So, it's quite the achievement to do it in that few games. All the rest did it in 14 or more.


Friday, December 27, 2019

SCIENTIFIC FOOTBALL MAN: Blanton Collier and his NFL Title Game Achievement.

By TJ Troup
Yesterday PFJ had a short post on the success of Elbert Dubenion and his impressive yards per catch stat. On that list was Paul Warfield, and he is part of the story of the day. 55 years ago today the Cleveland Browns were crowned champions for the last time.

My morning coffee, and another review of the film of the Browns vs. Colts is always enjoyable to watch from a strategy point of view. Blanton Collier replaced a legend at the University of Kentucky in 1954 (Bear Bryant), and he now was in his second year having replaced another legend(Paul Brown).

The Browns in '63 were the first team in league history to begin a year 6-0 and not earn a playoff berth(don't count the play-off bowl). Cleveland added a dimension to the roster in '64 that was sorely needed; that of a game-breaking receiver that could stretch the field DEEP.

That man was one of my receiving heroes—Paul Warfield.
Warfield on a slant
Collier studied the Colts strong defense in preparation of the championship game against one of his former assistant coaches Don Shula, and with the scored tied 0-0 at the half he unveiled his half-time adjustment.

Cleveland would attack the Colts on their vulnerable right side (Namath would do the same four years later). Almost all teams played man to man coverage or strong zone to the two receiver side; called "cloud or sky".

Collier noticed that right safety Jim Welch had "rolled" weak to help  Lenny Lyles against Warfield. Cleveland is now ahead 3-0 after Jim Brown on a flare pass to the left set up Groza's field goal. The Browns are in pro left with running back Ernie Green (a willing and strong blocker) lined up as a wing left. Single back set and toss to Jim Brown going left.
Schafrath
Left tackle Dick Schafrath pulls as tight end Johnny Brewer blocks down. Green blocks the first man he sees; which usually would be the right linebacker, but Shinnick has moved inside to the c-gap to blitz.
Jim Brains gains 46
Behind excellent downfield blocking Brown gains 46 to the Colt eighteen yard line before left safety Jerry Logan makes the tackle. Logan is aligned in the middle of the field when Welch rolls weak. Time to strike—Baltimore again is in roll weak coverage and as such Collins can easily get inside of left corner Bobby Boyd as Frank Ryan's pass goes under the crossbar and hits Collins in the chest for the first touchdown of the game.
Frank Ryan
Cleveland controls the ball and the clock as Brown gains over 100 yards rushing, and Frank Ryan gains 173 yards on seven of his completions (all of them 13 yards or more). Jim Welch became the Colts right safety in 1962 after three different men had started at that position over the course of the three previous seasons.

Welch has experience yet he is by far the weak link in the Baltimore secondary. Watching the title game clash he is virtually non-existent in helping stop Brown when he runs, and he is nowhere to be seen on the pass completions by Ryan. Collier by his offensive alignments and the presence of Warfield has made Welch a non-factor.
Gary Collins
On the second touchdown by Collins, Logan arrives way too late to stop the deep seam streak as again Gary easily got inside of Boyd who believed he had help deep in the middle. The third score was a perfectly thrown ball by Ryan to a tall receiver who positioned himself to take advantage of a shorter defender (Boyd).

Paul Brown had called Blanton Collier a "scientific football man", and the Millersburg Kentucky native sure lived up to that moniker on December 27th, 1964. The 2019 NFL regular season will come to a close this Sunday with a handful of meaningful games.

There are teams that are just not playing cohesive team pass defense; what I call the "SLOPPY SIX". Washington, Detroit, NYG, Miami, Oakland, and the porous Cardinals all have a defensive passer rating of at least 100. Since Dallas, Green Bay, and Philadelphia all need victories and have quarterbacks cranked up and ready to shred three of the Sloppy Six you might see the ball in the air plenty Sunday afternoon.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Elbert Dubenion—RIP

By John Turney


Elbert Dubenion passed away today from complications related to Parkinson's disease.

Like quite a few AFL players Elbert Dubenion was drafted by and NFL team (Cleveland Browns) but made his mark in the new league. And make a mark he did.

He was a wide receiver with tremendous speed and in the new league that passed the football as much as it did he was a true deep threat, among the best in the league averaging 18.0 yards per catch for his career.

In 1964 he caught 42 passes for 1139 yards and an amazing 27.1 yards per catch for 10 touchdowns. That 27.1 yards per catch is the NFL record for players with more than 40 receptions in a season.
Dubenion was Second-team All-AFL in 1960, 1963, and 1964 and was part of two AFL title teams (1964-65) and is a member of the Buffalo Bills Wall of Fame

We bid farewell to "Golden Wheels" and celebrate his accomplishment which is not a small thing—the have the highest yards per catch ever for a 40-plus catch season.

Will Lavonte David's Skills Land Him on the All-Decade Team?

By Nick Webster
Lavonte David
Few players this past decade have been more consistently underrated than the Tampa Bay Bucs Lavonte David. The speeds Linebacker is excellent in coverage and can chase down plays in space and is, in essence, a poor mans Derrick Brooks. But alas, the Tampa D of the 2010s is not that of the early 2000s and his individual excellence has been largely ignored.

With one week left in the 2019 season, David again leads the NFL in stuffs (tackles of runners or receivers for a loss, using sack-like accounting). With 11.5 stuffs David is two clear of Aaron Donald and Jordan Hicks who trail at 9.5. The remainder of the top 10 (really the top 15 as many players are tied with 8) contains many of the top defenders in the NFL including Donald, Grady Jarrett who’s having a breakout season, the consistently excellent Demarcus Lawrence, contract year star Bud Dupree, and Joey Bosa.
So perhaps David is a bit underrated this year as he’s received no mention for All-Pro and again was not even invited to the Pro Bowl. In his now eight-year career he has one All-Pro season and one Pro-Bowl season, in 2013 he was spectacular enough to get All-Pro treatment but so unknown that he made All-Pro without making a Pro Bowl. He then made the Pro Bowl but not All-Pro two years later in 2015.

Here are the leaders in stuffs per 16 games since David entered the league in 2012, you’ll note on the list 5 Defensive POY awards, and 6 if you count that PFWA gave Campbell the DPOY award in 2017.
More impressive perhaps may be David’s rankings, if he stays on top this season it will be his third time leading the league in stuffs. The only players as consistently at the top of the league are Aaron Donald and (accepting that injuries have impacted him) JJ Watt, these are the class of players David is in league with.
Here are the year by year leaders in stuffs going back to 1982. Three players have led the league twice and you’ve certainly heard of the first two, Mike Singletary and Ray Lewis, David is the third.  Only one player has led three times in the past 37 years, and that is HOFer Junior Seau. We think it’s time to start re-thinking David’s place among the NFL’s best linebackers.
Here are the stuffs leaders since 1982. Not that David is just finishing his eighth year and is averaging 12.3 stuffs a season, the best of anyone on the list.
And Finally, here are his career stats:

Black, White, and Gold—Packers Turf Shows From 1973-75

UNIFORMS
By John Turney
In 1973 the Green Bay Packers wore black turf shoes when they played on Astoturf of Tartan Turf and Polyturf (three of the turfs available at the time).
1973
In 1975 they all wore white, kind of the usual thing in that era.
1975
But for one glorious year, 1974, the Packers wore mostly gold shoes on turf. And it was great. Not all the players had gold shoes (some whore black or white) but the majority did wear the gold.
1974
1974
What we don't know is what they would have worn if they played a team (like Dallas) who wore white at home. Would they have worn the gold shoes with the green jerseys? Unknown.

So, cheers to the 1974 gold turf shoes Packers, well done.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

A Stack of Confusion

By Joe Zagorski
Lanier with an interception in Super bowl IV   credit: CBS
Pro football strategy has been a series of actions and reactions since the very first game over a century ago, focusing on the play calling and formation decisions made by offensive and defensive coaches. Their identical goal was—and still is—to fool the other enough times and on enough plays from scrimmage in order to obtain victory.

Offenses try one bit of strategy, and defenses try to stop it with their own elements of designed maneuvers. It is a chess match, played on a 100-yard stage. Coaches throughout these many years have made their reputations on being able to design the type of strategy that can not only fool their opponent, but that can take advantage of their opponent’s weaknesses, as observed from their personnel and their tendencies. Coaches also devise specific strategies that take advantage of the strengths and abilities of their own players.

During much of the latter 1960s, the defensive coaches of the American Football league were well aware of the fact that their league possessed somewhat more explosive offenses than those of the usually stodgy and conservative National Football League.

Their assignment was to find a new way, or at the very least a more effective way, to curtail their opponents’ offensive run and pass production. One of the more promising and successful methods to achieve their goal was innovative in its simplicity. What was not simple was how many offenses dealt with it.
Credit: CBS
That pioneering idea was called the stack, a defensive maneuver that placed at least one linebacker, and often two or all three linebackers, taking their stances directly behind their defensive linemen, who were usually in a three-point stance. The result? Confusion beyond belief for many offenses.

Let’s look at the team that seemed to use the stack the most, the Kansas City Chiefs. Hank Stram, the head coach of the Chiefs, gets a lot of credit for establishing revolutionary ideas as an offensive play caller, and rightly so.  But Stram also deserves plenty of accolades for his defensive plans.  The key to Stram’s success with the stack starts with the size and abilities of his personnel.

Stram possessed three of the quickest and most agile linebackers in pro football in the late 1960s.  Middle linebacker Willie Lanier, and outside backers Bobby Bell and Jim Lynch, each had speed, quickness, superb tackling talent…and boy could they hit!  Then one had to look at Stram’s defensive line.  Ends Aaron Brown (6-foot-5, 265 pounds) and Jerry Mays (6-4, 252)  teamed up with tackles Curley Culp (6-1, 265) and Buck Buchanan (6-7, 287) to form one of the largest front fours in the pro game. 
Jerry Mays.  Credit: CBS

Their reputation was so feared, that they were often called by many opponents “The Redwood Forest.” It was the size of the Kansas City defensive line which provided onlookers with the most obvious showing of the stack’s success. Those mammoth linemen were required to tie up as many blockers as possible on each play, which enabled the linebackers more freedom the find and tackle the ball carrier.

Moreover, the huge size of those defensive linemen made it extremely difficult for offenses to see what the Chiefs’ linebackers were doing on any given play. As a result, the linebackers were virtually hidden until the snap of the ball. Deception thus became the first and most important byproduct of the stack.

“You have to have the right kind of defensive linemen to use a stack,” admitted former New York Jets coach Walt Michaels, a man who used the stack almost as much as Stram. “They have to be quick types.  They have to be able to penetrate that gap and tackle people, not big lard asses who can’t close their arms around anybody.”

What exactly were Stram’s linebackers trying to do prior to closing their arms around opposing runners while using the stack? Really, any number of things. Often, the linebackers who were stacking were required to fill in the gaps in between the defensive linemen. 

They also—individually or in tandem—would react to a play by going to their left or their right. The dilemma with that was that opposing offenses never really knew which direction the linebackers would flow to, especially if they disguised their movements numerous times throughout many different down and distance situations. And then, one or more of those linebackers could decide to blitz, coming from an unpredictable direction.

Finally, one or more of the linebackers could peel back into pass coverage, while one or more of the others did something completely different, such as fill a gap that no one on the offense expected that player to fill. 

Truly, the options available to a coach who employed the stack were virtually endless. The key was to make sure that you did not really have a rhyme or reason to what type of stack you were calling, or to where the linebackers were going, on consecutive plays, or possibly more than once in a game.

The goal was to keep your opponent guessing, to keep them confused, to keep them adjusting to your stacks, and most importantly of all, to keep them reacting to your actions. If an offense was a step behind linebackers like Lanier, Bell, and Lynch, Kansas City’s stack defense had a good chance at achieving success.

Certainly, the greatest moment of success for Coach Stram and his stack defense occurred in Super Bowl IV, when the Chiefs took on the heavily favored Minnesota Vikings on January 11, 1970, in New Orleans’ Tulane Stadium. On that epic day, the stack did its job of confusion to perfection.  True, the Minnesota brain trust only had one week to prepare for the Chiefs, unlike the customary two-week span of time between conference championship games and the Super Bowl today. 
Credit: CBS
But that did not matter all that much. Kansas City’s defensive line dominated Minnesota’s smaller offensive linemen, and the Chiefs’ linebackers filled the gaps as well as they ever did.  The Vikings could gain only 67 yards rushing all game long. 

Lanier, Bell, and Lynch also did their part in limiting the Minnesota runners to just two first downs rushing all game long. And to add a cherry on top of this tasty dessert, the Chiefs managed to intercept three Minnesota passes in achieving a 23-7 victory in Super Bowl IV.

“We were in some form of the stack 90 percent of the time,” said Kansas City defensive end Jerry Mays following the game, “and we never played it that much before. Minnesota’s recognition was destroyed.”

Unfortunately for defensive coaches league-wide, the stack was not the be-all, end-all of defensive football strategy. Minnesota’s recognition of the stack would take several more months to be seen, but it was seen, in the first game of the 1970 regular season, when a rematch with the Chiefs brought about a much different result than what occurred in the previous Super Bowl. The Vikings gained at least some measure of revenge by scoring a 27-10 victory over Kansas City.

“No defense is perfect,” admitted Mays after the loss. “The stack included. They angle-blocked us and didn’t take us head-on. They had learned how to attack it. They got us out of it.”

The stack defense still makes an appearance now and then in the NFL of today. But it is not used as much as it was by the AFL teams of the late 1960s. That is because pro football coaches have had a couple of allies for many years in helping them defeat the stack defense, and any other defensive or offensive strategy that has come down the pike since the very first game.

For a time, that ally was the 16mm film projector, but today, it is a digital video recording and playing device. And studying…lots and lots of studying. Whatever it takes to avoid getting too confused on Sundays.
———

Editor’s Note: Joe Zagorski is the author of three pro football books.  His newest book, America’s Trailblazing Middle Linebacker: The Story of NFL Hall of Famer Willie Lanier, will be published by Rowman & Littlefield, and will be released in February 2020.

Sources:
Bennett, Tom.  The Pro Style: The Complete Guide to Understanding National Football League 
Strategy.  Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1976.
Zagorski, Joe.  The NFL in the 1970s: Pro Football’s Most Important Decade.  Jefferson, North
Carolina: McFarland and Company, Inc., 2016.
Zimmerman, Paul.  A Thinking Man’s Guide to Pro Football (Revised Edition).  New York: E.P.
Dutton, 1971.