Thursday, October 31, 2019

Analyzing Rich McKay's Letter of Support for Tommy Nobis

By John Turney
Figure 1.  Click to Enlarge

In September Rich McKay ( president, CEO, and former general manager of the Atlanta Falcons) wrote a letter to the Hall of Famer Voters advocating for he lection of Tommy Nobis to be included in the Hall of Fame.

Here it is with our comments highlighted;

Dear Pro Football Hall of Fame voters and football fans everywhere,

I’m writing you today because it is time to do the right thing.
Right thing? Matter of opinion, no?

It is time to rightfully acknowledge, appreciate, and celebrate one of the greatest to ever play the game: the late Tommy Nobis. We can – we should – do that by immortalizing Nobis with a bronze bust at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

And here is why I feel so strongly about it.

For the past 30-plus years, Nobis was affectionately known as “Mr. Falcon” because he was the first player ever selected by the Atlanta Falcons when they made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 1966 NFL Draft and, as importantly, because of everything he brought to the organization on and off the field.
All very nice, but shouldn't be a factor for Hall of Fame.

From the minute Nobis stepped onto the field at the old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, he was a difference-maker. Teams may not have feared the Falcons, but they surely feared playing against Tommy.

After stockpiling a mind-boggling 294 combined tackles during his first season – a mark that still stands as the Falcons’ all-time single-season record and is unofficially the most tackles ever credited to one player in NFL history – Nobis was voted Rookie of the Year and selected to the first of five Pro Bowls in his career.
False. Nobis shouldn't be blamed for it but that is a bogus number, it is a coaching stat not for the play by plays. He had plenty of tackles, just not that many. It's a myth.

That’s right, Tommy was selected to the Pro Bowl five of his 11-year career while playing on a non-competitive team.

He went on to lead the Falcons in tackles in nine of his 11 seasons and was named All-Pro twice (first team in 1967 and second team in 1968). Nobis was later named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 1960s. That team, for whatever it’s worth, was selected by Pro Football Hall of Fame voters at the end of the decade.
True. Technically, he was Second-team All-Decade. However, playing 3-1/3 seasons in the 1960s is a bit light. Also, the HOF committee selected three middle linebackers for the team of the 1960s so for all intents and purposes it shorted am outside linebacker or two.

Here are the more accepted tackles as taken from the play-by-plays:
Figure 2

The Falcons came into the league as an expansion team when Nobis began his career and they achieved at a level that the NFL expansion rules were designed to – they were not competitive for many, many years.

How bad were they? In the 11 seasons Nobis played in Atlanta, the Falcons had just two winning seasons – in 1971 and 1973.

They never made the playoffs.

They played in a baseball stadium.
True, relevance

They were almost never on national TV.

In short, not a whole lot of people saw Nobis and the often overlooked and easily forgettable Falcons play. He was hardly a household name.
He was well known to football fans. From the time he was drafted through the early 1970s he got a lot of publicity.

I grew up in Los Angeles and barely noticed that the Falcons were in the same division as the Rams back then – and I certainly couldn’t tell you much about Nobis’s career as a Falcon, not until I came to Atlanta and felt his impact on the franchise.

It certainly didn’t help that Nobis played during a time when another linebacker and future Hall of Famer named Dick Butkus was starring in Chicago for the Bears.
True. But same is true for Lee Roy Jordan and half of Bergey's career

My NFL life began in 1976 when my Dad, John McKay, came to Tampa to coach the expansion Buccaneers. From that experience, I know how hard it was to succeed with the then NFL expansion rules that the Falcons and Tommy had faced in 1966.

"I'd rather play against Dick Butkus than Nobis."
– Larry Csonka, former Miami Dolphin and Hall of Famer
True. A very good testimonial.

Nobis didn’t always play in obscurity; he was the top selection in ’66 – one pick ahead of Michigan guard and future Hall of Famer Tom Mack – for a reason.
True. College info, relevance?

A two-way star playing both linebacker and guard at Texas, Nobis is the only college player ever to win both the Outland Trophy (top interior lineman) and Maxwell Trophy (best all-around player) in 1965. Despite finishing seventh in the Heisman Trophy voting that same year, he still managed to garner more votes than Bob Griese and Steve Spurrier.
True. College info, relevance?

At a time when college football was more popular than pro football, Nobis was the premiere player on one of the best teams in the land.
True. College info, relevance?

How good were those Nobis-led Longhorns? They won the 1963 national championship over Roger Staubach and Navy. And in 1964, then they toppled Joe Namath and Alabama in the Orange Bowl. Those were two pretty good quarterbacks.
True. College info, relevance?

And during a time when the internet, cell phones and social media didn’t even exist, Sports Illustrated declared Nobis “The Best Defender in College Football” on its cover on Oct. 18, 1965. LIFE magazine also featured Nobis on its Dec. 10, 1965, cover story about the NFL and the former AFL competing for college stars calling him the “nation’s best defensive college player.”
True. College info, relevance?

"I just remember how dominating a football player he was. I remember his speed. For a big guy, I was startled that a guy could make that many plays on the sideline from a middle linebacker position."
– Dan Dierdorf, former St. Louis Cardinal and Hall of Famer
True. A very good testimonial.

He was a pretty big deal. And when he got to Atlanta, he more than lived up to all of the lofty expectations.

I know, I know – the Pro Football Hall of Fame is about his pro career. The same was true with my Dad’s first pick in Tampa Bay, Lee Roy Selmon in 1976. Lee Roy only played nine years (1976-1984) in the league, but his impact on and off the field in Tampa was enormous. For that, Lee Roy was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1995.

So, let’s make sure we fully appreciate what Tommy accomplished in those 11 years. The thing is, unless you played with Nobis or against him, you couldn’t truly appreciate his greatness.

I haven’t even mentioned the incredible contributions Nobis had off the field with his foundation – The Tommy Nobis Center – that was founded in 1977 to support the community of people with disabilities in the Atlanta area. It started with just three employees and has now helped more than 25,000 people across 24 states. More than 40 years later, the Tommy Nobis Center continues to provide education, training to support those with barriers to find real jobs.

Nobis was an amazing football player and even better human being.
True. Relevance?

Nobis, whose No. 60 was never worn by another Falcons player and eventually retired by the team, was an inaugural member of the 2004 Falcons Ring of Honor. Not surprisingly, he's also a member of many more honorary teams and hall of fames:

College Football Hall of Fame
Atlanta Sports Hall of Fame
Georgia Sports Hall of Fame
San Antonio Sports Hall of Fame
State of Texas Hall of Fame
Sports Illustrated’s College Football All-Century Team
True. Relevance?

Tommy Nobis earned the moniker Mr. Falcon. He played every game with everything he had at the highest level.
True. Relevance?

It’s time to do the right thing.

It’s time to put Tommy Nobis into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Rich McKay
President and CEO of the Atlanta Falcons

Okay, so it's a fine letter, with lots of excellent College Hall of Fame credentials. Some of the statistical claims are off, but they are simply taken from old media guides which often have false information in them. So, there is no blame, but it's important to get the best information into the discussion and we've done that.

Looking at the top chart (Figure 1, at top of page) you can see the vital statistics for Nobis compared to other middle linebackers who are in the Hall of Fame and some who are outside looking in.
Nobis averaged about 1 sack a year, 1 interception a year and 1 fumble recovery a year. And adjusting for injuries he averaged a fine 120 tackles a year.
Bill Bergey was not "Mr. Eagle" or anything like that, but he was a three-time All-Pro (two consensus) and went to five Pro Bowls. He averaged about 1½ sacks, 2 interceptions and close to 2 fumble recoveries. We don't have all his Eagle tackles but his tackle average is in the same range as Nobis'. So, in total, he had 66 "big plays" compared to 33 for Nobis.
Lee Roy Jordan was a two-time All-Pro (one consensus) and also averaged about 120 tackles a season or thereabouts. He averaged 1½ sacks, 2+ interceptions and 1 fumble recovery. He had a total of 70 "big plays". He also was the 1973 NFC Defensive Player of the Year as well and has a ring.

Then there is Mike Curtis. He was the 1970 NFC Defensive Player of the Year he averaged 1 sacks, just under 2 interceptions a year and just under one fumble recovery—for 53 or so "big plays". He has a ring as well and was All-Pro once (it was consensus) and went to four Pro Bowls. Curtis also played outside linebacker for his first few seasons before moving to the middle and played another year of OLB for Washington.
Then there is inside linebacker Randy Gradishar. He was a five-time All-pro (three consensus) and went to seven Pro Bowls. He was the NFL defensive player of the year and received votes for that award in three other seasons. He averaged 2 sacks and 2 picks a season and just over 1 pick a season. His 5.7 "big players" per season is more than the inside linebacker HOF hopefuls and more than most in the Hall of Fame.

He too, had a "coaches stat" issue when he was up for the Hall of Fame. Some writers, including Sports Illustrated's Paul Zimmerman, thought Gradishar's tackles were inflated by the Denver coaches. Well, "inflated" is not what was going on, they just had criteria for scoring tackles and "assists" were part of the criteria, same as with Nobis. We've gone through the play-by-plays and Gradishars tackles are excellent (as are Nobis' and the others). He averaged 148 tackles a year using common sources. For comparison, Harry Carson averaged 142 and Jack Lambert averaged 156.

So, to be clear, we have no issue with Tommy Nobis getting into the Hall of Fame, we think his All-Pros (one, none consensus) is light, and his "big plays" are light (33 or 3 per year) but if the experts on the 2020 Hall of Fame Blue Ribbon Committee want to say his film is HOF-quality, who are we to argue. But we've seen film of all of them and Gradishar stands out in terms of run-stuffing and coverage (Proscout, Inc. says he's one of two best-ever at 'neutralize/operating in space) but the others are of course, excellent.

What we would not like to see is Nobis (or any player) getting in based on hype or after-the-fact analysis (revisionist history). If the committee were to consult Proscout, Inc., they'd find out that their views and experience say that Nobis was likely the best of the mid-1960-75 era, outside of Butkus. But McKay didn't do that. That is the strongest talking point, we think.

Our memory is that when Nobis was healthy he was well known, a hard hitter, someone who ran well for his size. We are not sure that stands about above some of the others we mentioned. We can show he didn't make as many plays as his peers, for whatever reason.

We also know that from 1966-76 No team allowed more rushing yards and the yards per carry allowed was bottom 1/3 as well. The Falcons had Nobis, Claude Humphrey, Mike Tilleman, John Zook, Greg Brezina, and some other good players. Frankly, not one of them can be blamed, but as a unit, something was sure wrong. For what it's worth the Falcons were not great in pass defense either.

Nonetheless, Nobis should be evaluated on his contributions, but team success does matter to some degree. Not necessarily the wins and losses, some guys do get caught on a bad team for a long time, but the performance of the unit (in this case the defense) does matter some. Not a lot, but it ought to be looked at. We have. And it lacked to be kind.

We are hoping to see a Final 20 list from the Blue Ribbon Committee soon and we will see who made the first cut. It will be interesting.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Packers Defeat Chiefs with Solid Backing

By Eric Goska
Aaron Jones (33) follows Jamaal Williams (30) to the end zone
to give Green Bay its first lead over the Chiefs Sunday night.
(screenshot from NFL Game Pass)
Aaron Jones is the latest Packers running back to demonstrate he can’t be overlooked as a receiver.

The third-year ground gainer provided ample evidence of that in Green Bay’s 31-24 victory over the Chiefs Sunday night.

Historically, the Packers have had remarkable success finding backs skilled at catching passes out of the backfield. This tradition stretches at least as far back as Johnny Blood who led the league with 10 receiving touchdowns in 1931.

Jones isn’t likely to duplicate Blood’s feat this season. But the third-year pro from the University of Texas at El Paso has put defensive coordinators on notice with his work in the passing game.

Jones amassed 226 yards from scrimmage at Arrowhead Stadium. The vast majority was produced after fielding throws from Aaron Rodgers.

How big was Jones’ haul? It accounted for more than 60 percent of the Packers’ 374-yard offensive output.

Jones caught seven passes for 159 yards and two touchdowns. He became just the second Packers running back to surpass 150 receiving yards in a game joining Andy Uram who gained 174 yards against the Cardinals in 1942.

In order, Jones’ seven catches picked up 2, 17, 4, 50, 11, 67 and 8 yards. He, Uram and Paul Hornung are the only backs in club annals to have caught two passes of 50 or more yards in the same game.

Five of Jones’ receptions delivered first downs. Six occurred on scoring drives.

His first long-gainer came late in the first quarter. Initially ruled a 60-yard touchdown, it was reduced by 10 yards upon review as Jones’ heel clipped the sideline boundary. The catch-and-run helped set up Jamaal Williams’ 1-yard plunge that put Green Bay ahead 14-0.

His second long-gainer went the distance midway through the fourth quarter. Jones accepted a pass behind the line of scrimmage, then outraced linebacker Anthony Hitchens and safeties Juan Thornhill and Daniel Sorensen to score from 67 yards out to give the Packers a 31-24 lead with eight minutes, two seconds remaining.

Jones also counted on a three-yard shovel pass to cap Green Bay’s opening drive.

All this from a back who was rarely utilized as a receiver when he first left college. As a rookie in 2017, Jones caught just nine passes for a meager 22 yards in 12 games.

A year ago, Jones snagged 26 for 206 yards and a touchdown. This season, he has gained 355 yards and has scored three times on a team-high 34 receptions.

Should Jones continue on his current pace, he would wind up with 68 catches for 710 yards. That yardage total would break Edgar Bennett’s single-season Packers record for a running back (648) set in 1995.

200 Yards from Scrimmage
In collecting 100 receiving yards – the 13th Green Bay running back to do so in a regular-season game – Jones became just the seventh Packers back to produce 200 or more yards from scrimmage in an outing. Combine his 159 receiving yards and his 67 rushing yards and the resulting 226 he earned for the night is the second-highest total by a back in team annals.

Jim Taylor (twice), John Brockington, Eddie Lee Ivery, Dorsey Levens, Darick Holmes and Ahman Green (thrice) all attained 200. Ivery, like Jones, got there because he topped 100 yards receiving.

Jones’ 200 stands out for a couple of reasons. First, he needed fewer touches (20) to reach the milestone than the others. Second, he gained positive yards on each of his 20 touches, something only Green can claim to have done when he set the franchise record for rushing yards in a game (218) on Dec. 28, 2003.

For more than three quarters, Jones’ output (114 yards on 11 touches) fell far short of 200. It appeared unlikely he would break his personal best of 182 set in Dallas earlier this season.

But with the game on the line, Jones delivered. He became the go-to back after Kansas City running back Damien Williams danced into the end zone from three yards out to tie the game 24-24 with 9:01 remaining.

Jones then either carried or caught the ball on nine of Green Bay’s next 10 plays. That he absconded with 112 yards during a time in which Kansas City was in shutdown mode is a testament to his skills as a runner and receiver.

Jones ripped off 8 yards up the middle to start the Packers’ second-to-last drive. He followed with his 67-yard touchdown dash, the longest reception of his career.

Not satisfied, Jones rushed six times for 29 yards and a pair of first downs on the team’s final possession. His 8-yard reception on third-and-five allowed Rodgers to conclude the festivities with a trio of kneel-downs.

Thanks to Jones, the Packers did not have to part with the ball in the final 5:04. That possessiveness was similar to the Lions game in which Green Bay ran out the final 6:46 before Mason Crosby dispatched the Lions with a 23-yard field goal as time ran out.

If this refusal to part with the football at game’s end is the start of a trend, it is most welcome. Rare is the opponent that can muster a last-minute comeback when deprived of the football.

Extra Point
Rodgers threw for 305 yards. Jones had 159 receiving yards. Sunday was the first time in Rodgers’ 166 regular-season starts that a running back was responsible for more than half of the quarterback’s passing yards in a game.

Got Your Back
Packers running backs who gained 200 or more yards from scrimmage in a regular-season game.

PFJ's 2019 Midseason All-Pro Team

By John Turney

Midseason All-Pro teams are flawed because just eight games (for the most part) have been played and a couple of big games can skew stat totals. But, we do it anyway because it also a fun exercise. So, we talked to people we know and studied as much film as we could digest and made our picks.

Here they are—

Michael Thomas and Amari Cooper are our outside receivers and Cooper Kupp is the slot. Certainly many times these roles interchange but we are going with these three. We will see were they are at the end of the year. The Second-teamers are Stefon DiggsChris Godwin, and Julian Edelman as the inside receiver.

Tight end is tough because the numbers go to Austin Hooper of Atlanta. However the 'eye test' goes to George Kittle and Travis Kelce. We will follow this close, but we think Kittle is the most complete tight end but Kelce has the edge in the numbers. It's really a toss-up but as of now, we will go with Kittle then Kelce.

Anthony Castonzo of the Colts and Ryan Ramczyk of the Saints are the midseason All-Pro tackles. At guard, we are going with Joe Thuney and Zack MartinTrey Hopkins of the Bengals is the best center we've seen. Hopkins is a standout on a poor team.

Backing those five up are tackles Kolton Miller of Oakland and Taylor Moton of the Panthers (who edge out Ronnie Stanley who is having a great season), guards Cody Whitehair of the Bears and David DeCastro, and center Brandon Linder of Jacksonville. Whitehair is also part of units that are struggling but he's played well after moving to guard this year from center, where he was also a solid player.
Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson are the top two quarterbacks, but Aaron Rodgers is close as is Patrick Mahomes who has been hurt. Wilson also edges Watson as the first-half MVP but it's not a clear cut pick. Watson is very near Wilson in a lot of stats and is just one QB Win behind. The only substantive difference in the "numbers" is Watson has thrown more picks.

We will say that the eye test has us very nearly picking Watson over Wilson. It will be a good race the next two months to see if Watson can keep his current pace going. And when Mahomes returns he will also jump in the All-Pro First-team/MVP race as well.
The running backs are easy—Christian McCaffrey of Carolina and Dalvin Cook of Minnesota. Backing them are Leonard Fournette of Jacksonville and Nick Chubb of the Browns.

Specialists are C.J. Ham of Minny and Kyle Juszczyk of the 49ers at fullback and the third-down backs are James White of the Pats and Chris Thompson of Washington. Juszczyk has been hurt and that is why we regulated him to the Second-team. We will reevaluate at the end of the year to see if Juszczyk can play enough games to qualify for the end of the year All-Pro team.

Tes, we know that's three running backs. But All-Pro teams have chosen 2 runningbacks forever and from the mid-1990s to the mid-2010s the AP chose three running backs. We just follow suit. But if you want to be a purist, go with McCaffrey on First-team and Cook on the Second-team.

Defensive specialists are (fifth DB) Buster Skrine of the Bears and Mike Hilton of the Steelers and the designated pass rushers are Josh Allen of the Jaguars and Benson Mayowa of the Raiders. Allen has started a few games but has been a nickle rusher for the last month and Majawa has been a nickle rusher the whole season.
Edge rushers are deep so far this year. One could pick any one of a half-dozen and not be wrong. We're going with Cameron Jordan of the Satins and 49er rookie Nick Bosa on the First-team and Danielle Hunter of the Vikes and Myles Garrett of the Brown on the Second-team. Garrett got docked for having a "knucklehead factor" of committing too many serious penalties. JJ Watt is out for the season but he's leading the NFL in QB hits, so we give him an honorable mention. We also give Joey Bosa an honorable mention. As we said, it's a good year for edge rushers.

Inside we toyed with going with Grady Jarrett but Aaron Donald is just better. Jarrett was making more plays the first month or so of the season but Donald, drawing double-teams, has 7 run stuffs and 5 sacks and does things no one else does. Jarrett is his back up and he has 44 tackles and three sacks and 6 stuffs. 

Vita Vea is our nose tackle. He's the anchor of the NFL's best run defense. And so far, we like the Bears Eddie Goldman as his backup on the Second-team.

Out rush linebackers (nickel ends) are Chandler Jones and Shaquil BarrettZa'Darius Smith of Packers is a high honorable mention and could easily be one of the top to LB-edge guys. Jones has 8.5 sacks and is tied for the league lead in forced fumbles with four. Barrett started hot with 9 sacks in the first four games, but just one since. 

Jamie Collins of the Pats and the Panthers  Luke Kuechly, Car are our inside (off-the-ball) linebackers followed by Bobby Wagner of Seattle and Cory Littleton of the Rams.

Collins is in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year. Collins has 44 tackles, six sacks, 3 picks, 2 FF, 1 FR, and 4 PDs at midseason. Kuechly is playing a slightly different position this year as a hybrid 3-4 inside linebacker but they play a lot of 4-3 as well. And he's been as effective as ever and totals 72 tackles, has two picks and six passes defensed.

Bobby Wagner, like Kuechley, is his usual All-Pro self. Cory Littleton is always around the ball, is always on the field. He has 66 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 2 recoveries, 2 INTs and 8 passes defensed. Eric Kendricks gets a thumbs up as well.

As a pure outside linebacker, we are choosing K.J. Wright of Seattle for the First-team and Kyle Van Noy of the Patriots for the second-team. Wright is fun to watch, he's asked to do a lot of things as is Van Noy. Like Jamie Collins, Van Noy plays more than one position. Van Noy plays on the edge a lot but also off the ball. Collins is also hard to pigeon-hole playing both inside and outside.
Stephon Gilmore of the Patriots is our top corner and our midseason Defensive Player of the Year. and Richard Sherman of the 49ers are the First-team corners. Sherman was hardly tested last year, this year they've tried and he's picked off thee passes so far. 

The two great backups are Shaquill Griffin of Seattle and Buffalo's TreDavious White. We also have the Panthers James Bradberry is a high honorable mention. There are a couple more corners having a good year. 

Justin Simmons of the Broncos and Jordan Whitehead of the Bucs are the top two safeties and we have the Saints Vonn Bell and the Patriots Devin McCourty back them up.

The Broncos defense is not what it used to be but Simmons is a good tackler and plays excellent coverage. McCourty usually plays deep but in some sub defenses he's near the line of scrimmage or even will cover from the slot. Whitehead and Bell both a lot near the line of scrimmage are good tacklers and can blitz. Whitehead is a hitter, a throwback (as much as possible) to an earlier era.
Justin Tucker is the top kicker followed by Josh Lambo. Those were easy choices. Tress Way is the #1 punter and Brett Kern edges out several others for the Second-team slot. Johnny Hekker, who we think is the G.O.A.T. is having an off-year, ranking in the low 20s in most of the major metrics we look at. He's still first all-time in those same metrics but this season is not helping his career rankings.

The Bears pair of returners Cordarrelle Patterson and Tarik Cohen are the kick- and punt returners, respectively. They are backed up by Brandon Wilson of the Bengals (KR) and Deonte Harris of the Saints (PR).

Out top special teamer so far is J.T. Gray of the Saints and his backup is Azeez Al-Shaair of the 49ers.  Jalen Reeves-Maybin could really be tied with Al-Shaair. Gray has seven special teams tackles and a blocked punt that resulted in a safety. Shaair has six tackles and is on the Niners' top ranked coverage teams. Reeves-Maybin has eight tackles and a forced fumble and a recovery on coverage. 

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Buccaneer Run Defense Through Six Games—Quite Good

By John Turney
Vita Vea
Through six games the Buccaneers new hybrid 3-4 defense is making a mark in run stopping by allowing 2.89 yards a rush, best in the NFL so far this season.

Here are the top 35 (through six games) since 1950.
Actually, a lot of these teams are recent, which surprised us a bit, i.e. few in the 1970s and 1980s. But, of course, it's early in the season.

Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles changed the 4-3 defense the Bucs had run for years into a 3-4 one-gap defense allowing Vita Vea to plug the middle and Ndamukong Suh to play three-technique full time. Suh was a nose tackle with the Rams in 2018 and a left defensive tackle with the from 2010-17 with the Lions and Dolphins. As a left tackle, he played both three-technique and a shaded nose tackle, depending on the strength of the offense and the front call (over or under) of the defense.

This year, based on film study, Suh is almost always over a guard at three-tech (similar to Aaron Donald for example). It seems to be paying dividends.

William Gholston is the base end who doesn't play on pass downs does a find job at stacking and shedding tackles to create piles and contribute to the success of the run defense. Every team needs a player like him.

The linebackers get good rush (Barrett has 9 sacks) and find the ball. Now, if the pass defense can rise to the level of the run defense, they'd be quite formidable.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Jimmy Garoppolo is 14-2 in His First 16 Starts

By John Turney

Though Jimmy Garoppolo is in his sixth season, last Sunday marked his 16th NFL start, the equivalent of a full season.

His record for those 16 starts is 14-2.

His stats are as follows:  330/497 66.4% for 4094 yards and 23 touchdowns and 14 interceptions for a 95.4 passer rating.

Not bad. Now if he can stay healthy and continue that for a while the 49er fans will fall in love with him.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Terrell Suggs Still Making Plays

By John Turney
Suggs in tha backfield stuffing a runner for a loss. Credit NFL Replay
After 16 years in Baltimore Terrell Suggs returned to Arizona, where he played his college ball and at 37 is doing things much younger rushbackers are supposed to be doing.

Through seven games Suggs has 25 tackles, 4.5 of them stuffs, 5 sacks and 4 forced fumbles. The forced fumbles are tied for the league lead and his 5 sacks are tied for 12th. The 4.5 stuffs (tackles for loss) are tied for fifth. This old man is defying the odds without doubt.

Suggs has always een a consistent performer and he's been relatively healthy, missing just ten games in his NFL career. He had his "career year" in 2011 when he was All-Pro and was the AP and PFWA Defensive Player of the Year and a Pro Bowler. Five other seasons he was a Pro Bowler as well.

So he's had "honors" but they are light compared to some of the edge players or "rushbackers" of his era. John Abraham was a 3-time All-Pro, Julius Peppers four, Dwight Freeney three-times All-Pro, Demarcus Ware was a five-time All-Pro, Elvis Dumervil two. Jason Taylor, a Hall of Famer (first-ballot!) was a three-time All-Pro. All these compared to the one-time for Suggs.

Most of them were good at prying the ball loose when they got to a quarterback, including Suggs wh has 37 forced fumbles. Abraham and Taylor both have 47 and Julius Peppers has 52 and Freeney has 46 and Ware had 35.

However, none of them played on a great defense, year-in and year-out like the Ravens had. As part of that Suggs was a team defender, sticking his nose in the gaps to stop running plays. Like sacks, stuffs are inexact, but we've found that usually, the best pass rusher has the most sacks and the most gurries. Likewise, the best run defenders make the most plays behind the line of scrimmage and have plenty of assists in that, akin to a hurry if you will.

Suggs had 98.5 stuffs to go with his 137.5 sacks. The others? John Abraham has 54.0 stuffs and 133.0 sacks; Jason Taylor 76.0 and 139.5; Julius Peppers 62.0 and 159.5; Dwight Freeney 39.0 and 125.5; Demarcus Ware 67.5 and 138.5; Elvis Dumervil 11.5 and 99.0.

Add them together and Suggs is on the top of the list.
So, does combined sacks and stuffs matter that much? Maybe not. It matters to us because when matched with other things can identify who is working hard in the run game or even who is recognzing the run when it shows from pass formations and we think that fits Suggs to a 'T".

Come, Hall of Fame time, we'll see if voters take notice of his two-way play.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Forty-Niners Defense Looking Strong

By John Turney
Robert Salah.  Credit NFL Replay
Next Sunday the 49ers will host the Panthers in a Week 8 tilt at Levi's Stadium. It will be the seventh game of the season for the 49ers.

Through six games of the season the 49ers have allowed 64 points. The 1976 defense allowed 63 points in seven games so the current iteration cannot top that but if they allow 22 points or less it will mark the second-best start for a 49er defense ever.

The 49er defense has allowed just one rushing TD so far and has a fine 64.6 defensive passer rating. We'd be raving about it if the Patriots weren't at an amazing 35 or so. The are on pace for perhaps 45 or so sacks and the rushing defense is among the best in 49ers history.

Richard Sherman is playing well (he played well last year, too), Fred Warner and Kwon Alexander are solid at linebacker but it is the defensive linemen that are driving this train.

DeForest Buckner has a rare build for a three-technique at 6-7, 300 pounds. He looks like a 3-4 but he gets great push and makes a lot of players. He made the Pro Bowl last year and has a shot this year, too.
Armstead, with arrowing identifying, with ideal stack and shed technique. Credit: NFL Replay
One end, Arik Armstead has really stood out no that he's been healthy for a year and a half. This is looking like a breakout season for him. He stands tackles and tight ends up, presses them and has the ability to shed and find the ball carrier.
Nick Bosa takes Adrian Peterson down for a loss. Credit; NFL Replay
The other end is rookie Nick Bosa. He's got four sacks and four run stuffs and is credited with 10 quarterback hits. But after starting slow with an injury he's really come on. He has to be considered a front-runner for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Nick Bosa. Credit NFL Replay
Six-foot 321 point D.J. Jones is the shade tackle and he has not been as noticeable in terms of big plays but he does a good job in the middle. Solomon Thomas and Ronald Blair play on passing downs inside and Dee Ford plays opposite Bosa on passing downs and has 4.5 sacks and two forced fumbles so far.

The rush has produced 20 sacks, which is 12.1% of pass attempts, best in the NFL.
Courtesy Pro Football Reference
Incredibly, the 49er pass defense has allowed just 176 yards passing since the bye week. Not 176.0 yards per game, but 176 passing yards or 58.7 yards per game.

Since the 1978 rule changes the only the 1988 Buffalo Bills have had a lower total over three games (174 yards). The '88 Bills also had a steak of 3 games of allowing less than 80 yards net passing.

There have been longer streaks of this nature, but only the 2019 49ers and 1988 Bills have happened after 1978 the demarcation line of sorts when it comes to NFL passing and pass defense records.

The 49ers three-game streak of allowing fewer than 180 total yards and seven or fewer points allowed is something only three other post-1978 teams have accomplished—the 2000 Tennessee Titans, the 1991 New Orleans Saints, and the 1985 Chicago Bears.

In addition, the 49ers have picked off seven passes god for 4.2% of pass attempt, second in the NFL behind the Patriots. Their total yards allowed is second in the NFL at 223.5, less than a half-yard behind the Patriots, who lead the league.

As with our posts about the Patriots and Rams, it is too soon to praise anyone too much but again, the 49ers defense, by the eye test, by the numbers looks to be formidable. We will see if they can maintain that dominance.

The 2019 Patriots Pass Defense—The Best Ever?

By John Turney
Stephon Gilmore. Credit: NFL Replay
Through seven games the Patriots have allowed a single touchdown pass and have picked off 18. One has to go back to the early 1960s to find more ('62 Packers had 21 and the '60 Colts, '61 Packers had 20). But remember, these days about 2.5% of all passes are intercepted and in the early 1960s it was more than twice that making recent picks more impressive.
Data courtesy PFR
Additionally, the Patriots defensive passer rating of 35.6 through seven games is 8th all-time but all the previous entries were pre-1978 NFL rule changes that changed the game forever.

The only team post-1978, besides the '19 Patriots, are the 1996 Packers—
And yes, we get it. Critics will howel "But who have they played"? We'd say they've played NFL teams, same as everyone else. But sure, the strength of schedule and strength of opposing passing offenses is a factor, no doubt. If someone wants to take those factors into account and write about it, we'd love to read it.

What we do know is in this era, to allow one touchdown pass and pick off 18 is impressive and rare and should be mentioned. We also know that the Patriots are putting up pass defense numbers that are on par with the 1960s and 1970s when passing was more difficult than it is today, so that needs to be taken into account. 

Put it this way, the Pats defensive passer rating is just over 39% of what the league passer rating is (just about 92 as of this posting). In 1977 when Dallas posted a 24.6 it was about 42% of what the league-wide rating was. So, compared to the rest of the league the Pats defensive passer rating is slightly better than the rest.

Certainly it's the major factor in the +175 net points scored/allowed through seven games which is second-best all-time.

So, we will monitor this throughout the season to see how the Pats pass defense finishes in these categories because given all the circumstances—opposing offense strength and era if they keep it up (or close) it could be one of, if not the best, pass defense ever.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Son of Bum Has the Rams Run Defense in Lofty Company

By John Turney
NFL Replay

It has not been a terrific year so far for the Los Angeles Rams, the defending NFC champions. As of this posting, they are 4-3 and in most categories, they are average when in the past couple of seasons they have been at or near the top. Offense, passing offense, rushing, special teams and so on.

Last week they parted with two future #1 picks and a future 4th-round pick to get a shutdown corner—Jalen Ramsey to bolster the pass defense. However, the run defense is one thing that has been doing well, in fact, better than well.

In 2017-18 combined the Rams allowed 4.87 yards per rush, the worst in the NFL over that span (and were 27th in rushing yards allowed). Needless to say, the run defense was not exactly stellar.

Of course, we realize that stopping the run no longer matters like it did in previous generations but we also know that the numbers are skewed in that the rules have been changed to allow more passing, in part by reducing the risk of throwing forward passes. Safety, as well, was part of that mix and that is a good thing, protecting the players. Quarterbacks and receivers are safe no matter what they do, so why not throw more.

Teams counter with five- or six defensive backs, teams then run plays against softer fronts and/or small-count boxes. We get it.

However, football is still football and if you can hold your opponent on running downs to a yard or yard-and-a-half less, it makes the pass defense less difficult.

That said, the Rams are allowing just 3.42 yards per rush this year, a full 1.5 yards per carry less than in 2017-18 combined. They are second in the NFL in that category. What is interesting is to see where that ranks in Rams history because as we know that history is replete with good defenses in eras when stopping the run mattered a full measure.

Here are the top 25 seasons in Rams history of lowest yards per rush. The 2019 Rams are tied for fifth in the seven games they have played this year.
Certainly we are not suggesting that the current iteration of the Rams defense is on par with the Fearsome Foursome or the 1970s Rams defense but we also acknowledge they are making some plays that they have not been making the previous two seasons.

Aaron Donald's sack total is not quite what it has been, but he's making big plays in the run game, and is tied for the NFL lead in tackles for loss versus the run. Michael Brockers, who had a bum shoulder most of last year, is back to his normal self, stacking and shedding offensive tackles. Sebastian Joseph-Day is an upgrade to Ndamukong Suh at nose tackle.

The linebackerd habe contributed, Dante Fowler, who finally caught fire in the pass rush has three run stuffs as the WILL backer (which for all intents and purposes is usually a defensive end in the Phillips scheme). Cory Littleton is always around the ball and the rest have filled their gaps well.
LA Rams
As can bee seen most of the top 25 slots are filled by the Deacon/Merlin led 1960s defenses and then the Merlin/Youngblood 1970s defenses. The 1983-86 Frtiz Shurmur 3-4 defenses are represented.
CBS Sports
The 1991 Jeff Fisher Bear-front defense is 10th, which is surprising, but that group could stop the run but could get no pass rush and the coverage was lacking due to that. Both the 1999 and 2001 Super Bowl defenses are there, with the 2001 defense led by Lovie Smith.

The 2013 defense is the most recent, other than the 2019 Wade Phillips iteration. That 2013 defense was led by Robert Quinn and Chris Long and James Laurinaitis.

With nine games left it isn't right to put the 2019 Rams defense in the pantheon of Rams run defenses just yet but we will see where this goes. We think a stout run defense goes a long way in helping prevent points and making teams, even more, one dimensional that they want to be and will allow Donald to rack up sacks and Ramsey to make bid plays in coverage.

We'll follow this and update it in January.

Billy Kilmer 1961—A Rookie Quarterback With Three Straight 100-Yard Rushing Performances

By John Turney
While TJ Troup is working as the football technical advisor for the upcoming Hollywood film Twelve Mighty Orphans and hobnobbing with Robert Duvall, Martin Sheen, and Luke Wilson and the like he shoots us an email stating that he'd watched ESPN this morning and the topic was Lamar Jackson and his rushing performances and comparing him to other quarterbacks. He wasn't pleased.

Said Troup, "(T)hey left out Billy Kilmer. in '61. A rookie QB rushes for at least 100 three straight weeks (10-1, 10-8, and 10-15). There is stupid, extra stupid, and then there is ESPN."

And he's right. In 1961, in week three Kilmer rushed for 103 yards on 16 carries and two scores. A week later he rushed for 131 yards on 19 carries and a pair of touchdowns. Then, on October 15 he rushed for four touchdowns to go with his 115 yards on 20 carriers for a total of 55 carries for 349 yards and eight touchdowns over that span.

Only Michael Vick (10), Russell Wilson (4), and Lamar Jackson (4) have more 100-yard rushing performances than Kilmer (There are six tied with three).

Certainly, this deserved a mention by ESPN, no? TJ sure thinks so.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Air-Ron Soars as Packers Beat Raiders 42-24

By Eric Goska

Packers fans had a lot of fun Sunday against the Raiders.
He’s faster than a speeding bullet.

He’s Aaron (Air-Ron) Rodgers and he has thrown 350 touchdown passes quicker than any player in NFL history.

Rodgers threw five touchdown passes in Green Bay’s 42-24 victory over the Raiders at Lambeau Field. Five different players were on the receiving end of those tosses as the veteran quarterback made NFL history.

In recent weeks, the Packers had let their running game carry much of the load. Aaron Jones rushed for 107 yards and four scores in a 34-24 romp in Dallas. Jamaal Williams zipped to 104 yards in just 14 carries in Green Bay’s 23-22 win over the Lions.

But Sunday Rodgers and his receivers commanded center stage. Rodgers completed 25 of 31 passes for 429 yards and enough scores for each finger of his throwing hand.

  • Aaron Jones hauled in a 21-yard, back-shoulder throw in the end zone early in the first quarter. Jones ran past linebacker Nicholas Morrow for the score. 
  • Jamaal Williams accepted a short pass in the right flat and ran untouched past linebacker Tahir Whitehead for a 2-yard score late in the second quarter. The Packers lined up with two tight ends and three running backs – Jones, Jamaal Williams and Danny Vitale – but opted to throw on the play. 
  • Jake Kumerow outmaneuvered cornerback Daryl Worley down the sideline and snared a pass at the Oakland 11. The wide receiver then tightroped to the three where he launched himself toward the pylon, knocking it down with the ball before returning to earth to complete a 37-yard catch and run with 12 seconds left in the first half. 
  • Jimmy Graham counted on a 3-yard pass late in the third quarter. The tight end got a step on safety Erik Harris and snared the low throw late in the third quarter. 
  • Marquez Valdes-Scantling ran 68 yards down the sideline to complete a 74-yard play that all but finished the Raiders with six minutes, 28 seconds to play. Valdes-Scantling was aided by Jones’ block on Oakland safety Karl Joseph near midfield.
With those scores, Rodgers has now thrown 351 touchdown passes. He ranks ninth all time behind Peyton Manning (539), Tom Brady (527), Drew Brees (522), Brett Favre (508), Dan Marino (420), Philip Rivers (385), Ben Roethlisberger (363) and Eli Manning (362).

Of the eight, Brees had been the fastest to 350. The Saints quarterback reached that milestone in his 180th regular-season game.

Rodgers bettered Brees’ mark by the equivalent of a half a season. No. 12 tossed No. 350 in just his 172nd NFL regular-season game.

Reaching milestones quickly is familiar territory for Rodgers. He was also the fastest in NFL annals to 300 and to 250.

Rodgers has utilized a different receiver each time he ascended to a multiple of 50. His 50th touchdown pass went to Donald Driver. No. 100 landed in the arms of James Jones.

From there he found Randall Cobb (150), Davante Adams (200), Eddie Lacy (250) and Ty Montgomery (300). Sunday, of course, Graham lifted him to 350.

Rodgers’ 351 TD passes have been distributed to 37 different players. Rodgers and Jordy Nelson clicked most often (65 times).

Quick Draw
The nine NFL quarterbacks who have thrown for 350 or more touchdowns and the game in which they hit 350.

Games      Quarterback                     Date
172            Aaron Rodgers                   Oct. 20, 2019
180            Drew Brees                        Nov. 17, 2013
185            Dan Marino                        Dec. 17, 1995
185            Peyton Manning                  Nov. 15, 2009
188            Tom Brady                         Nov. 24, 2013
196            Brett Favre                         Sept. 26, 2004
199            Philip Rivers                       Sept. 23, 2018
209            Ben Roethlisberger             Nov. 8, 2018
225            Eli Manning                        Nov. 12, 2018
The Tundra Line entertained ahead of the game.
Rodgers is the highest-rated quarterback in NFL history. He has earned a passer rating greater than 100 in an NFL-record seven seasons.

Against the Raiders, Rodgers became the first Packers passer to compile a perfect (158.3) passer rating in a game (minimum 20 attempts).

Rodgers has flirted with perfection before. He finished above 150 on four other occasions in the regular season.

He previous best was a mark of 155.4 against the Browns in 2009.

Rodgers’ rating was perfect at five different times Sunday. He reached the NFL maximum after his 5th, 20th, 21st, 24th and 31st throws.

Rodgers’ last pass was a 74-yard TD to Valdes-Scantling. It was his longest completion of the season.

Heading into the game with Oakland, Rodgers passer rating for the season was 92.8. The 15-year veteran increased that to 103.7 with his big outing.

Highly Rated
Packers passers with the highest single-game passer rating (minimum 20 attempts).

Rate    Player                   Date                      Opponent        A-C-Yds-TD-HI
158.3   Aaron Rodgers       Oct. 20, 2019        Raiders             31-25-429-5-0
155.4   Aaron Rodgers       Oct. 25, 2009        Browns            20-15-246-3-0
154.9   Brett Favre             Dec. 22, 2003        Raiders             30-22-399-4-0
154.5   Aaron Rodgers       Oct. 19, 2014        Panthers           22-19-255-3-0
152.1   Lynn Dickey           Sept. 11, 1983       Steelers            20-14-290-3-0
151.2   Aaron Rodgers       Sept. 28, 2014       Bears               28-22-302-4-0
150.8   Aaron Rodgers       Dec. 11, 2016        Seahawks         23-18-246-3-0
150.0   Bart Starr               Dec. 2, 1962          Rams                20-15-260-2-0

As the old saying goes, “it takes two to tango.” A quarterback is only as good as his receivers.

Rodgers completed a career-best nine passes of 20 or more yards. His previous high had been eight in a 37-29 loss to the Panthers in 2015.

Helping stretch the field with Rodgers were Graham with catches of 29 and 25 yards. Also chipping in were Jones (21), Vitale (22, 21), Kumerow (37), Valdes-Scantling (59, 74) and Allen Lazard (26).

Brett Favre holds the Packers’ record with 10 completions of 20 or more yards in one game. His big outing occurred in a 37-30 victory over the Panthers in 1998.
Stretching the Field
Packers passers who completed the most passes of 20 or more yards in a regular-season game.

No.      Player                   Date                      Opponent
  10      Brett Favre             Sept. 27, 1998       Panthers
    9      Lynn Dickey           Nov. 27, 1983       Falcons (OT)
    9      Brett Favre             Dec. 22, 2003        Raiders
    9      Aaron Rodgers       Oct. 20, 2019        Raiders
    8      Bart Starr               Oct. 29, 1961        Vikings
    8      Lynn Dickey           Nov. 16, 1980       Giants
    8      Aaron Rodgers       Nov. 8, 2015         Panthers