Thursday, January 31, 2019

Long, Hampton and Seymour—Hidden Productivity

By John Turney
Two versatile defensive linemen who are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame—Dan Hampton and Howie Long, were similar in a lot of ways. They both were All-Pros and played all along the defensive line. Long could be seen at left end in a 3-4 defense and at right tackle in the nickel/dime scheme. He also would play over the center when the Raiders were playing their version of the 46. Long would also play right defensive end when Lyle Alzado was out or needed a break.

Hampton played left end and also right tackle and also was a nose tackle in the fame 46 defense and also played a bit at left tackle and right end.

Both Long and Hampton were not edge rushers who amassed big sack totals, their production was often hidden, drawing double-team blocks or drawing holding calls from the offensive linemen who held them.

Both were strong and quick and smart. Long was more of an "underneath" player, using rip moves and getting "under" a lineman. Hampton was more of an "over" player, using swim moves and playing a little higher than Long. Both were great in our view.

Long and Hampton also were injured quite a bit. They missed enough games to look at how their teams did with them and when they were not playing and the results are interesting.

During Dan Hampton’s career, in the games he played the Bears allowed 104.0 yards rushing a game for 3.8 yards per rush and 0.6 rushing touchdowns per game.

In the games he missed they allowed 115.7 yards rushing a game for a 4.0 yards per carry average and 1.2 touchdowns rushing per game.

In games he played their record was 79-24 (.779) and when he was out the Bears record was 8-16 (.333).

When Hampton played the Bears recorded 3.4 sacks a game and when he was out it fell to 2.3 sacks per game for the Bears and when he was in the lineup the bears allowed 15.9 points a game and when he was out they allowed 23.1 points per game.

Clearly, you can see there was a "Hampton effect"—the team performed better when he was in the lineup.

Though not as dramatic, in games Howie Long played the Raiders allowed 110.2 yards rushing a game with a 3.7 yards per carry average. When he was out of the lineup they allowed 125.7 yards rushing per game for a 4.2 yard average per carry.

When he played the Raiders averaged 3.2 sacks a game and when he was out they averaged 2.8 sacks a game. When he played the Raiders winning percentage was 59% and when he was out it was 52%.

Like with Hampton there was a "Long effect".
Interestingly, there is another player who also has some of those traits—the team did better when he was in the lineup and poorer when he was out. It’s Richard Seymour who is in the Final 15 for the Pro Football Hall of Fame for the first time this year.

When Richard Seymour played for the Raiders and Patriots their winning percentage was 65%. When he was out the winning percentage fell to 56%.

When he played for the Patriots, when he was in the lineup, they allowed 113.5 rushing yards per game and a 4.0-yard average. When he was out with an injury the Patriots allowed 121.9 yards rushing and a 4.3 yards per carry average.

Also, when he was with New England when he was in the lineup the Pats averaged 2.5 sacks a game and when he missed the game that number fell to 2.1%. When he was playing with the Pats they allowed 17.5 points per game and when he was out they allowed 19.8 points per game.

So, perhaps when voters examine the "Seymour effect" it will show that he was someone whose skills didn't always show up in the usually tackles and stats statistics.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

When Rams Are in Base Defense Which 3-4 Will We See?

By John Turney
As we've outlined  Wade Phillips uses a 3-4 one-gap scheme and thinks it's better than using a 4-3 one-gap scheme. He installed the 3-4 with the Rams last year, the first time the Rams used a 3-4 since 1990.

In 2018 Phillips added a wrinkle. As the Rams struggled in stopping the run, he tried various things and one, we presume was a second base defense or, more accurately,  the same 3-4 but with different personnel.

This is the normal 3-4 base, used the majority of the time in 2018, when the team was in base (they plays sub defenses more than base).

It has Ndamukong Suh (very poor regular season) at nose, Aaron Donald (the NFL Defensive Player of the Year) at 3-technique (always on weak side), Michael Brockers (injured shoulder much of the season) at 5-tech (always on strong side) as the defensive line.

The Mike or Middle linebacker is Cory Littleton who was always on the strong side and the weak inside linebacker or "Mo" is Mark Barron, a converted safety. The outside linebackers were Samson Ebukam on the strong side and Matt Longacre (then Dante Fowler) as the Will or rush backer.

Here is the usual base with Fowler as the Will.

However, the changeup was different in terms of the linebackers, the defensive line remained the same but there were changes in linebackers and secondary.
In this iteration, Littleton was the Sam, John Johnson took Littleton's Mike position, Mark Barron remained as the Mo and Ebukam moved to the Will spot.

This is a smaller, quicker group but if teams passed, it lacked an outside rush, which was mitigated when Dante Fowler arrived.

So, with the Patriots using a lot of 21 and 12 personnel in recent weeks and averaging 160.4 yards rushing a game the last eight weeks as opposed to averaging 108.5 the first ten weeks what will we see more of? Will we see the usual base or the lighter base?

It is interesting because the Rams usual base is not a big one, Barron is a converted safety and Littleton was considered undersized to a degree so going with Johnson as a MLBer or strong inside linebacker makes them even smaller, especially with Littleton as a Sam backer.

Or, will we see a de facto 4-3 defense like the Rams used in the regular season meeting with the Saints. Here Longacre is a stand-up DE in a 4-3 stack or "college/Miami" 4-3.
Or we might see a solid front, like this quasi-Bear front. Here Donald is sunk or reduced to an inside shoulder of the guard, rather than his normal outside shoulder alignment and Brockers is head-up on the tackle rather than shaded inside or outside. Suh is also in a 2i alignment, like Donald, out from his usual shade of the center.
We suspect we may see all the fronts as ways to stop the Patriot running game. The Rams would love to play the run as well as they did in the playoffs and put the Patriots in passing situations where the Rams defensive line can tee off and rush the passer and let the coverage corners match up on the Patriot receivers. We think that's the way they can win, stop the run, rush the passer and perhaps pick off a pass or two.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Pro Football Hall of Fame Thoughts

By John Turney
We cannot be sure if there will be any offensive linemen voted into the Hall of Fame this year, but we hope at least two will be. It's a lock that Ed Reed and Tony Gonzalez will get in. Champ Bailey, we put at about 75% chance, but Ty Law may bump him out for a year. Law's best years were better than Bailey's and his their "down years" were also better. He also had rings.

Reed is much more than his interceptions, he is, in our view, the G.O.A.T. of free safeties, he did it all. But it is interesting to note that during Paul Krause's career the league-wide interception percentage was 5.3%. During  Reed's career, it was 3.0 percent. So, covert it how you like, but Krause's 81 interceptions convert to about 46 in a 3.0% era. Or, conversely, Reed's 64 picks convert to about 113 in a 5.3% interception percentage era. 
We think Tony Boselli has a 50-50 chance though we're sick that Joe Jacoby got knocked out in a "tackle death match" with Boselli. A false narrative went around that when Joe Jacoby moved from left tackle to right tackle it was his failure that caused it. False.

What happened, and anyone who wants to confirm this with Joe Gibbs they can, was the Redskins traded for Jim Lachey, a fine, fine left tackle. And they played him at right tackle because they had Jacoby was coming off what Joe Bugel called Jacoby's "best season" in 1987. So the Redskins went with Jacoby at left tackle and Lachey in an unfamiliar position on the right. And Lachey was okay, but not the star he had been on the left. In late mid-season, Jacoby suffered a groin injury and during that time Lachey moved to his natural left tackle position and was his usual stellar self. 

So, when Jacoby has mended, the Redskins put Jacoby on the right, knowing he could handle it and Lachey couldn't, so for the sake of the team Jacoby set his ego aside and moved. The Lachey at left, Jacoby at right was stronger than the Jacoby at left and Lachey at right because Jacoby was able to play both well.
Also, it is a scandal that Mike Kenn never got a chance at the Final 15. All he did was START for 17 seasons and make First-team All-Pro in his 3rd season (1980) and in his 14th season (1991). And he was honored plenty of times in between. Both Jacoby and Kenn have cases that are stronger, due to longevity than Boselli and their "peaks" are just as high. Jacoby was a better run blocker and Kenn was a better pass blocker, Boselli would be second in both of those in a comparison of the three.

Still, Boselli is deserving of the "Gale Sayers" exception to longevity. What is that? It's if a player has a short career, i.e. fails the "sustained greatness test" due to injury, he should still get a fair shot. Dwight Stephenson and Terrell Davis are the two examples of that.
So, what about the interior linemen? All three are worthy, but how does one separate them? From the people, scouts, talent evaluators we talk two Steve Hutchinson gets the highest grades or the most "blue" seasons. And he passes the eye test the best. He was a powerful guard, with size and mobility. Not quite on the John Hannah level but close. They played a similar style and who knows if Hutch played when Hannah did he'd probably be seen as superior. Hutchinson played for three teams.

Alan Faneca would be next in our view. More of a technician type, though he had some good pop. Like Hutchinson he played for three teams so sometimes there is "extra support" in that. 

Kevin Mawae may have the best chance of the three interior linemen based on politics. He also played for three teams, giving him three or more voters' support but he and Faneca in New York and there is extra cachet with that. He also has the least impressive resume in terms of "blue" seasons according to our sources.

Here is a quick look at their "honors":

Again, if the best to the next best to the next best of these players got in in order, it would be Hutchinson, then Faneca, then Mawae. But we'd be happy of two of them got in or if one of them got in along with Boselli—In other words two linemen.

We predict that Pat Bowlen and Gil Brandt and Johnny Robinson, the senior nominee will waltz in the Hall of Fame this upcoming Saturday. Robinson should have gotten in forty years ago. He got caught up, in our view, in an AFL-NFL writer pissing contest that went on for years and it hurt many nominees Robinson among them.

We love Richard Seymour's game great run stuffer, great inside rusher but not big numbers and that will cause him to have to be discussed, but if anyone can get Bill Belichick to talk, he will have a ringing endorsement. He coveted Seymour from his college years and targeted him in the draft and he was a big part of those good Patriot defenses that were helping Brady win rings.

Isaac Bruce and Edgerrin James are the only two other skill players other than Gonzalez on the Final 15 this year—a rarity. We love them both. With Rams in the Super Bowl Ike may get a boost, but with at least two and maybe three first-balloters it will be tough for both. Both Bruce and James were "better than their numbers" types with Bruce being one of the best all-time route runners and James is on the short list of maybe five or six best pass blocking backs ever.

Steve Atwater who had a fine career and two "signature moments" with the Christian Okoye hit and his point-blank interception of Jay Schroeder his rookie year will be eliminated early with too many Broncos (Bailey and Bowlen) in the field to allow for three inductees along with the Ed Reed lock.

The same goes for John Lynch though not with the 'Bronco' tag. Ed Reed will suck up all the 'safety oxygen' in the room and it will stop him and Atwater cold.

The coaches are tough ones. Coryell an innovator/changed-the-game type but not a Super Bowl winner versus a two-time Super Bowl winner who no one can tell if he innovated anything and who didn't do well in his second act in Seattle, begging the question was he just a guy coaching great talent with the Raiders? We suspect one will make the final 10 and possibly take the slot of an interior lineman. But it would be a shame.

So, final predictions?

Who we would put in this year?
Law (Bailey can wait a year)
Hutchinson (Faneca and Mawae can wait and Hutch is best of the three)

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Historical Defensive Player of the Week: 1950 and the Modern Era

By TJ Troup
The contributors to Pro Football Journal have had more than one discussion over the past couple of years about being able to list who in our opinion would—and that is key: WOULD have been defensive player of the week for each week for the decade of the 1950s. This venture now comes to light based upon having complete game by game stats for the decade, and enough film to cement the choices. Bert Bell and league officials have decided to continue with "free" substitution.

Though there are some players who still go both ways; there are plenty of men who concentrate on the defensive side of the ball in this first year of the modern era. The AAFC is disbanded, yet three teams join the NFL, thus we now thirteen teams and a thirteen week season.

Ready? Here goes:

Week One
September 17th: The Detroit Lions destroy Tom O'Malley and the Packers 45-7, and you would surmise a Lion would be player of the week? So many defenders play well for Detroit; just cannot pick one. The New York Giants have revitalized the roster with additions from the AAFC, yet it is four-year veteran right defensive end Ray Poole who is player of the week. Giants are down by the strange score of 7-4 when Finks throws an interception to Harmon Rowe of NYG. He scampers back across mid-field and has the ball ripped from his arms. Frank Wydo grabs the loose ball, but Poole takes the ball away from Wydo and trundles 13 yards to the Pittsburgh thirty-seven yard line. Poole flips the ball over his shoulder to Tom Landry and he dashes the rest of the way to score. Poole also recovers another Steeler fumble and dashes 38 yards with the ball. New York wins 18-7. Ray is rewarded for an outstanding season with a trip to Los Angeles for the first pro bowl game.

Week Two
September 24th: The defending league champion Eagles were humiliated by Cleveland. Jim Hardy of the Cardinals throws eight interceptions, and Russ Craft returns his 4 interceptions 57 yards in the Philadelphia 45-7 victory.

Week Three
Spec Sanders in the AAFC
September 29th: The third week of the season has a Friday night affair in Yankee Stadium. The first place Lions are 2-0, and this version of the Yanks stands at 1-1. Orban "Spec" Sanders was an outstanding runner/passer in his AAFC days, but his bad knees restrict him to defense at age 31. The secondary of New York limits Bobby Layne to an 18.5 passer rating, and the prime culprit is Sanders. He intercepts twice for 17 yards in the 44-21 victory for the now contending Yanks. Sanders in his only season in the NFL also merits being chosen for the Pro Bowl. Sanders ties Frank Seno & Dan Sandifer's record of intercepting in six consecutive games. A record NEVER listed in the league manual (have the memo from Elias stating this should have been corrected years ago).

Week Four
October 8th: One of the best rivalries of the decade was between the 49ers and Lions, and today in their very first encounter Don Doll continues his mastery of pilfering the pigskin as he steals 3 passes for 43 yards as Detroit beats San Francisco 24-7.

Week Five
October 15th: The Bears lost earlier in the season to Green Bay, and now must beat their ancient rivals to stay in contention in the National Conference. Paul Christman is at the helm for Green Bay and his passer rating for this game is a dismal 28.6. One of the reasons for his poor performance was the pressure supplied by "The Claw"—right defensive end Ed Sprinkle. He leads a pass rush that records four sacks for 39 yards, and on one of his vicious pass rushes, he records a strip sack. Sprinkle also partially blocks a punt in the 28-14 win (the game was tied 7-7 at the half). Sprinkle also heads to Los Angeles for the Pro Bowl.

Week Six
October 22nd: The magnificent machine known as the Cleveland Browns lost to New York already, and in the return match the Browns lead 13-3 at the half. The NYG front seven limits the Browns to just 83 yards rushing, and records 8 sacks for 71 yards. Poole, Duncan and DeRogatis pressure Graham all day, yet the player of the week is right safety Otto Schnellbacher. He steals 3 passes to stop Graham and the Browns. On one of his returns the savvy Schnellbacher laterals to Tunnell for an additional 21 yards to set up a Giant score in the 17-13 win. The Giants are now 4-1, and the Browns 4-2. Folks we have an American Conference race shaping up.

Week Seven
October 29th: Cleveland can also play defense. In fact, the final statistics for the season bear this out as the Browns allow just 2,963 yards, while the Giants are a tad behind at 2,969. Marion Motley has a game for the ages today to pace the offense, but when you win 45-7 someone must be playing defense also. We have co-Players of the Week having graded this film over and over again. Safety Ken Gorgal makes some strong open field tackles, records an interception, and returns a Steeler fumble 15 yards.
Alex Agase is aligned at middle linebacker, left linebacker, and defensive tackle in the Browns myriad of defenses. He plays standout football at all three. Agase is all over the field in pursuit making tackles. He drifts to his right on his zone drop near the Cleveland goal line to intercept and return 14 yards to further add to his outstanding game.

Week Eight
November 5th: Steve Van Buren gained 308 yards on 44 carries in his two games against Pittsburgh in 1949, but today he gains just 79 on 23 attempts. Tommy Thompson cannot complete passes against the black & gold as his passer rating is 26.2 (Mackrides comes off the bench to register a 10.7 passer rating). So, who is leading the charge for Pittsburgh in the 9-7 victory?  Why none other than stalwart linebacker Jerry Shipkey. He pursues and tackles all over the field and intercepts.

Week Nine
Joe Muha
November 12th: Philadelphia must beat Washington to have any chance to climb back into contention. The Eagles ravage the Redskin offense in the 33-0 whitewash. Leading the Eagle defense is left linebacker Joe Muha. Washington gains just 127 yards in total offense, and Joe is the leading tackler for Philadelphia. Late in the game, his strip sack of Gilmer is textbook.

Week Ten
November 19th: The Rams are 7-2, and the Yanks are 6-2; so simply stated the winner stays in contention in the National Conference with the Bears. Rookie Woodley Lewis will not only set the team record for interceptions in a season with 12, but he will also be chosen for the Pro Bowl. First quarter on 2nd and 24 Ratterman fires and Lewis intercepts and returns for 28 yards. Second quarter on 1st and 10, he pilfers Ratterman and returns 18. Finally in the 4th quarter as New York has advanced deep into Ram territory in trying to get back in the hard-fought game Lewis intercepts on the goal line and dashes 24 yards. Los Angeles hangs on to win 43-35.

Week Eleven
George Connor
November 26th: Snow rings the field in Chicago as the Rams take on the Bears. Second quarter and versatile Pro Bowl bound linebacker George Connor intercepts Waterfield setting up a field goal and a 10-0 lead. Los Angeles had averaged 157 yards rushing in their eight victories, but today Connor and his hard-bitten gang of nasty grizzlies limit the Rams to just 71 yards rushing. Chicago wins 24-14 to stay in first place.

Week Twelve
December 3rd: Philadelphia wants to avenge the opening day loss to Cleveland, yet the Browns need a win to keep pace with the Giants. Tommy Thompson is passing against the best secondary in the league using the defensive passer rating as our guide (Cleveland led the league with a mark of 28.7). First quarter and an errant pitch by Thompson is pilfered by left corner Warren Lahr, who weaves his way down the sideline to score from 30 yards out. This is the only Browns touchdown today in the 13-7 victory.

Week Thirteen
December 10th: Cleveland has won and finishes with a 10-2 record. Can NYG keep pace against the defending league champion Eagles and force a playoff in the American Conference? New York leads 9-0 in the first quarter, but Philadelphia fights back and trails 9-7 at the half. Pro Bowl linebacker John Cannady has been part of the rebuilding process in New York, and he leads his resilient band of Giants to shut the door on Philadelphia in the second half. Cannady is a demon in pursuit and contributes an interception as the "umbrella defense" of New York ties for the conference title.

Thursday, January 24, 2019


By TJ Troup
Sean McVay
There will be stories online today concerning the birthday of Rams head coach Sean McVay. Recently we have all read that teams are looking for the next Sean McVay? There have been men who got an opportunity to lead teams at a young age; some of course succeeded, and some of course failed.
I was able to watch Dave DeBusschere pitch for the White Sox in the early '60's, but no one when he was on the mound in Comiskey ever dreamed he would be an NBA head coach at the age of 24 in 1964? His coaching career lasted 222 games (79-143), and by the late '60's he was part of a cohesive New York Knicks team as a player.

Roger Peckinpaugh at the age of 23 in 1914 took over being manager of the Yankees, and Bucky Harris at the age of 27 was at the helm of the Washington Senators. The man though that still stands out for me is Lou Boudreau as player/manager of the Indians in 1942 at the age of 24. His season in 1948 still stands out for all Cleveland fans.

At the age of 27 Milan Creighton became the head coach of the Chicago Cardinals football team, and held the job for four years.

During the 1976 NFL season John McVay took over for Bill Arnsparger as the Giants head football coach. Late in the year McVay's Giants beat the Lions 24-10. An assistant coach for that Lions team was 24-year old Bill Belichick. Though McVay did not last long with New York; he was a vital resource for Bill Walsh building the 49ers into a Super Bowl team.

No doubt grandpa John influenced his grandson about what it takes to win in the NFL. So, on Super Bowl Sunday Bill Belichick will look across the field in Atlanta and see what he learned so long ago-—age is just a number if you know what it takes to win, and how to go about it. To hopefully whet your appetite this coming Sunday will be the first of 10 essays for the decade of the '50's. You will be able to for the first time anywhere to read who was defensive player of the week for the 1950 season.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Has Johnny Hekker Done Enough to be the G.O.A.T?

By John Turney
First, picking any one player to be a GOAT (Greatest of All-time) maybe be a dubious exercise, but we all do it anyway. Answers usually vary due to different criteria applied by different folks. With that said, we ask a legitimate question:  Is Johnny Hekker already the best ever?

The only pure punter in the Pro Football Hall of Fame is Ray Guy. Guy was an All-Pro six times and a Second-team All-Pro twice and went to seven Pro Bowls. He was known for tremendous hang time and booming punts.

Here are their honors, side-by-side.
As can be seen, Guy got the bulk of his awards in his first eight seasons but nothing much after 1980. Hekker is close but is still in his prime, so if he keeps up his current pace a bit longer, he could overtake Guy in terms of All-Pro honors, which is one key aspect, but not the only thing when assessing GOATS.

Here are Hekker's and Guys ranks in net punting. Neting punting became official in 1976. However, we've been able to backdate it, with some exeptions by researching gamebooks. We are sure Guy was 2nd in the NFL in neting punting in 1973 and first in 1984. We think he is first in 1975, but we are missing some gamebooks from two teams and until we get to look at them there is a possibility another punter may just edge him from the top spot. We are confident Guy is either first or second however:
Guy was also always above the league average (his last season being the only exception) in net punting.
*1973-1975 stats missing a small amount of data, but not enough to change the league net average significantly.

As can be seen, his gross average was usually above the league average.

Punting has become more and more of a science, being refined and improved year after year, so the baseline, the league averages are getting higher. The following chart shows that improvement:
So, when you look at Hekker's averages, compared to the league average, the gap won't look as great, but in fact, to be as much over the average as he is, it is impressive.

In 2016 Hekker was 5.7 yards above the league net average which is remarkable since the average was 40.3 yards.

From 2012-18 Hekker's gross average is 47.0 while the league gross average was 45.5. Hekker's net over that span is the best of All-time at 43.4, which is 3.5 yards a punt over the league's net average of 39.9. No one is really close. In fact, the punter who is second all-time in net average is Thomas Morstead at 41.4—two full yards behind Hekker.

The following chart is a bit tedious, but essentially the top line for each player is the NFL averages in key punting statistics for the years they played. The bottom line, of course, is each player's stats. The bottom line is the plus or minus in each category. The main takeaway is the lack of red numbers (representing a value lower than the NFL average) in Hekker's final line.

(Click to enlarge)

There are quite a few more stats, but having reviewed and studied punting stats dating back to the 1950s it is our view that Hekker is further ahead of his peers than any other punter (including Guy) in history.

So, that deals with the numbers. The punting numbers, that is. What everyone can see is that Hekker is a true threat to execute a fake punt well. He can run and throw with far more acumen than any other pure punter. Yes, back in the day, quarterbacks often were their team's punter so we are not prepared to say he could run or pass better than Bob Waterfield or even Tom Tupa for example. The question is how often fakes were employed and that we do not know. Tupa's stats on fakes is knowable, but we have not looked through the gamebooks to see how he did. He was clearly a better thrower than Hekker and likely runner, too. But was he as effective in fakes? If he was it was never written about and we didn't see him try and often as Hekker.

The takeaway here is that Hekker is a true threat to not only fake it, but to make it work. And in this day and age, that means a lot. For us, it was the intangible that vaulted him to our All-Pro team when everyone else was picking Michael Dickson. Dickson had a fine year but getting one blocked in Week 17 dropped him a hair and the slot was Hekker's, rightly we think.

The bottom line is that Hekker, after seven seasons, has to be seen as at least even with Ray Guy after his first seven seasons. By that time Guy's All-Pro run was over and he'd go to one more Pro Bowl.

Hekker has more competition for All-Pro honors since, we think, voters pay more attention to stats, especially net punting that they did in 1979-1980, etc. Even with more scrutiny Hekker has been First-team All-Pro four times and Second-team All-Pro twice and has been named to four Pro Bowls.

He's led the NFL in net punting three times, was second-twice and possesses three of the four best seasons ever. He also has four of the top eight, five of the top 15 and seven of the top 30 all time. Here, "All-time" begins in 1976 when the NFL officially began to keep net punting average as a statistic. We've explored previous seasons and have lots of data and think only Sam Baker's 42.8 net average in 1959 and possibly Bobby Joe Green's 1961 season would qualify for this list.
Here are Hekker's ranks is some of the key stats:

Here are his career stats:
Other considerations are punting conditions. Hekker was blessed to play half his games indoors when he was in St. Louis and the Los Angeles weather is also not any kind of hinderance like the punters who play outdoors in cold-weather cities. So, that is one strike against Hekker, but honestly, that's the only negative we can find. Guy played in Oakland and Los Angeles, so he had good weather and got one game a year in Denver, which was a bit of a bonus.

Time will tell, but as the Rams travel to Atlanta for Super Bowl LIII we feel confident Hekker will get plenty of media notice based on his punting and faking skills as a true weapon for the Rams.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Rams Won Fair and Square But it WAS Defensive Pass Interference

By John Turney
Twitter is fun and entertaining. Today, we saw someone from the Los Angeles Media try and soften the controversy of the non-call on Nickell Robey-Colemen by showing an angle that perhaps showed that the ball was past the receiver and therefore (we suppose) no pass interference.

Well, come on. It was DPI and there is no question about it. here are some stills from the All-22. They show it was a quick snap by the Saints and that the Rams underneath coverage was not in position and there was confusion on the defense at the snap. Robey-Coleman was on the wrong side of the formation to cover the running back out of the backfield. He was beaten from the snap. We don't know for sure if he had the flat or if he was to take the #3 strong receiver, either way, he had Tommylee Lewis, a wide receiver who was lined up in the backfield. Perhaps the impetus of the confusion since running back Alvin Kamara was lined up as the #1 receiver to the weak side.

The Rams had just a split second to decide who had who if it was man coverage underneath (it was Cover-3 deep) and it was just the advantage the Saints needed. Lewis ran a wheel route out of the backfield and because of the presnap confusion on the Rams he was wide open on his route. Brees saw it and possibly feather the ball a hair too much giving time for Robey-Coleman to get there fill tilt.

Kamara (#1 weak)  was also open in the left flat. Michael Thomas (#2 strong) was double covered in the short hook/curl area. Tre'Quan Smith (#2 weak) runs a seam route and flahes open, but it's a tough throw. Tight end Dan Arnold also runs a seam but is covered. The most open is Lewis. To hit Kamara Brees would have had to reload, as it were and throw to his left and his protection, while good, may have broken down. Lewis looked to be open for a touchdown and Brees threw it there—the best option.

It was suggested that if Robey-Coleman had played the ball he could have picked it off. Well, only in a world where he was actually playing the ball. In this reality, he was hell-bent on preventing a touchdown and hitting the receiver and that he did.
You cannot blame him. He knew he was badly beaten and he wanted to keep from giving up the touchdown, so the smart play is pass interference. Anything is better than giving up a touchdown. So, when he gets up, he is expecting a flag, but none comes. He says an official gave him the "tipped ball" signal. The line judge tells the back judge (can be seen on video) that it was a "bang-bang" play after he signaled 'incomplete'.

Here is the sequence:

So, it was a bad no call. And the Rams will have to live with it for a couple of weeks, but it will not take anything away from their season, especially if they beat the Patriots.

When Oiler wide receiver Mike Renfro's touchdown was denied in the 1979 AFC Championship Game versus the Steelers, it was largely forgotten. Same with the Rob Lytle non-call on a fumble in the 1977 AFC Championship Game. These things happen in the NFL and always will.

It will be a topic for discussion for a couple of weeks, but that's life.

Andrew Whitworth said he's already tired of the discussion but that's too bad. He gets to be proud of his win and that they won it fair and square, but he also doesn't get to dictate the public discussion on the matter, either. When a player runs 25 yards with the sole intent of committing defensive pass interference and doesn't get called for it, it's a story whether Whitworth or Rams fans like it or not.

As we've said, mistakes happen and Rams won the game fair and square. Both things an be true at the same time. It's not a binary proposition.