Saturday, November 30, 2019

Only One Nitpick with the NFL 100 All-Time Team Linebackers

PERSPECTIVE
By John Turney
Sure there are people who are disappointed that one linebacker or another got beat out for the All-Time team but in our view, there were no surprises like there was on the defensive end list.

Here is who did and did not make it—
MLB/ILB: Dick Butkus*, Jack Lambert, Willie Lanier, Ray Lewis, Joe Schmidt, Junior Seau
OLB: Chuck Bednarik, Bobby Bell, Derrick Brooks, Jack Ham, Ted Hendricks, Lawrence Taylor*

LB Finalists that did not make it: Finalists that did not make it: Harry Carson, Bill George, Kevin Greene, Clarke Hinkle, Sam Huff, Luke Kuechly, Von Miller, Ray Nitschke, Dave Robinson, Mike Singletary, Derrick Thomas, Brian Urlacher, Dave Wilcox
*Denotes unanimous selection.

We've read on Twitter and elsewhere that Derrick Thomas or Mike Singletary deserved it, and they do, but there were only seven slots at each linebacker position (inside and outside).

One thing the Blue Ribbon Committee charged with the selections got right is listing Chuck Bednarik with the outside backers. Many think he was a middle linebacker. Well, he was both. He played middle backer later in his career but the vast majority he was really in a unique defense that played him over a tackle (the Eagle defense) rather than over the center like Joe Schmidt, Bill George, Sam Huff, and others.

The one thing they got wrong was listing Junior Seau with the inside linebackers. He wasn't, at least for the majority of his career. He was a weakside linebacker in a 4-3. Bill Arnsbarger, the Chargers defensive coordinator (and later Dave Adolph and Joe Pascale) liked to play the "under" in the 4-3 and that put one outside linebacker over the tight end and the other stacked over the weakside next to the middle linebacker.

There were a lot of middle linebackers in the Seau era in San Diego—Gary Plummer, Dennis Gibson, Kurt Gouveia, etc. 

In his first two seasons, Seau was, indeed an inside linebacker, though, just not the majority of his career. It was a hybrid 3-4 where Leslie O'Neal was converted to outside linebacker but he'd usually rush the passer and then on sure passing downs he had his hand in the dirt. Actually, we saw him with his hand in the dirt plenty in base defense as well. 

He was, for many years, listed as an ILBer by the Chargers media relations staff. We don't know why but it led to him being an All-Pro at middle or inside linebacker. For some reason, the writers of the day just went along with the misnomer rather than vote him All-Pro at outside linebacker.

But Seau's position was akin to say Derrick Brooks' than Ray Lewis'. 

That is no way does it mean he's not worthy of his spot. He 100% does. We just think it's a bit of a "code cheat" to list him as an inside linebacker. 

Friday, November 29, 2019

Atkins a Surprise on NFL 100 All-Time Team

PERSPECTIVE
By John Turney
Here are the seven defensive ends who made the NFL 100 All-Time team—
Doug Atkins, Bill Hewitt, Deacon Jones*, Gino Marchetti*, Lee Roy Selmon, Bruce Smith, Reggie White

These are Finalists that did not make it: Willie Davis, Carl Eller, Len Ford, Howie Long, Julius Peppers, Andy Robustelli, Michael Strahan, DeMarcus Ware, J.J. Watt, Jack Youngblood
*Denotes unanimous selection.

Bill Hewitt was also a surprise but we've noted before that there is not tons of data about him. There is some film but not much. So, we really don't have a comment on his selection.

Atkins, though, there is lots of film and lots of data available. If the Blue Ribbon Committee choosing the All-Time team availed itself of that information we cannot say.

For one, it took Atkins a long time to secure a starting job (he started 29 of a possible 60 games in his first five years due to injuries and inconsistent play). He was not able to get along with Paul Brown in Cleveland and was shipped to the Bears where he was a part-time starter for a couple of years.

Finally, in 1957 (Year four) he began to establish himself as a great player. He was First-team All-Pro in 1960, 1961, and 1963, but 1963 was his only consensus All-Pro season. He was Second-team All-Pro seven times, though, so there is that.

It just seems odd that Atkins couldn't beat out Willie Davis for First-team All-Decade in the 1960s and couldn't beat him out for most of the All-Pro slots in the 1960s (Davis was a five-time First-team All-Pro in the 1960s). So what new info has come out in the 50 or more years that vaulted Atkins over Davis? It's a headscratcher for sure.

In fact, Jack Youngblood, Carl Eller, Michael Strahan, and JJ Watt all got more All-Pro honors than Atkins and those honors include various Defensive Player of the Year awards.

So color us a bit surprised that Atkins beat out several players that were honored more, won more, and in some cases had better stats.

Of course, Atkins is an All-Time great, a legitimate Hall of Famer and though we will be criticized for this, it is not a criticism of his greatness. It's simply a deeper dive into information (film study, stats, honors, intangibles, testimonials, etc) as a way to separate the best of the best. Greater scrutiny is needed.

Atkins had rare size for his era (or any era) and was very athletic and we think perhaps the player personnel aspect of his career was given greater weight than his production. He was a wonder—good speed, great natural strength, and amazing leaping ability. All those things helped him in his pass rush. He was like Marchetti (a grabber and thrower) in terms of style, only he played the right end most of this career (he played some left end early in his career with both the Browns and the Bears).

Nonetheless, we don't see him as a top-seven end. We'd rank him from 13-15.

The "He Changed the Game" Narratives are Getting a Little Thick

LOOKING BACK
By John Turney

We've seen a bit of a trend in sports journalism, a narrative where players are credited with "changing the game". But we have not seen tons of film or game tapes that confirm these claims. This is one example (and there are others we will eventually get to).

On the above video Hall of Famer Ron Wolf makes the claim that Art Shell casued a changed the NFL because, he claims, that because Fred Dean couldn't beat Art Shell that the Chargers began to move Fred Dean around. And that Dean was the first defensive lineman to do that and therefore because Shell was so good that he forced that innovation, he forced the change.

(You can hear Wolf's comments beginning at 1:07 of the above video)

Now we have the ultimate respect for Wolf and his accomplishments. But we have to call B.S. on this one.

First, it doesn't show up on the films of the day.

Dean began as a left defensive end and played there in 1975 and 1976. In 1977 he moved to right defensive end, to Shell's side. So, did the Chargers send Dean into the lion's den? Why would they move Dean to Shell's side if he couldn't at least hold his own with the tackle he'd face twice a year who was on their rival—the team they'd have to beat to win the AFC West?

Additionally, in 1978, Dean had three sacks in one game against the Raiders. We all on Shell? We don't have full film of that game, but it's doubtful none of them came against the left tackle.

Second, in all the films I've seen of the late-1970s Chargers we've never seen him anywhere but the right end. That doesn't mean it didn't happen, but if it did it was not often enough to show up on the games and highlights we have seen.

Of course, Dean, when he was with the 49ers (especially in 1981) he  DID  move around. We've seen him mostly at right end in the nickel, but also at left defensive end, an much less often both tackles and on the nose, all in passing situations. In 1983 they experimented with him at linebacker in the base defense but that didn't last.
Dean at usual RDE in Nickel
Dean at RDE

Dean at LDE (weak side)
The thing is, Dean was not the first defensive lineman to move around in any event.

We think it was Rich Jackson in the late-1960s and early 1970s with the Broncos. The Rams toyed with it some. Deacon Jones and Merlin Olsen would sometimes switch positions to mess with the offensive line but it was rare.

No,  the guy who first did it in earnest (enough to show up on film and to be a 'thing') was Tombstone. We did a post about this a while back. It can be seen HERE.

Here are some shots of Jackson from 1968-71 or so.






So, no disrespect to Wolf, everyone could learn volumes from him. But this particular story does not seem accurate on several counts. Dean was not the first defensive lineman to be moved around and we seriously doubt that "Dean couldn't beat Shell". Shell's All-Pro status was waning in the late-1980s as were his Proscout, Inc.'s rankings while Dean's were rising.

Of course, if we could get some film of Dean moving around looking for a "weak sister" when he was with the Chargers, we'd love to see it and we'd be even more in awe of Wolf. But if it happened it wasn't often or we'd have seen it and that is why we raise the question.

Dean, when he was up for the Hall of Fame, was credited by a few as the player who innovated the designated pass rusher. That wasn't true either. Players had been doing that for over a decade when he was asked to do that in 1981 by Bill Walsh.

No Player Was Perfect, Even the Best of the Best

LOOKING BACK
By John Turney

UPDATED 11/29/7:15
These are the seven defensive end chosen for the All-Time Team.

Doug Atkins, Bill Hewitt, Deacon Jones, Gino Marchetti, Lee Roy Selmon, Bruce Smith, Reggie White.
Today the top 7 defensive ends out of the final 17 will be announced by the NFL as part of the NFL Top 100 team.

It is clear, we think, who the top five are—Reggie White, Bruce Smith, Deacon Jones, Gino Marchetti, and JJ Watt.

Our prediction is that Willie Davis and Howie Long will be the sixth and seventh defensive ends chosen. Strahan could edge on of these two, however. We've already opined in April why we thing Jack Youngblood won't make it. Selmon has to be hard to leave off.

That leaves these great players off the team.
Doug Atkins
Carl Eller
Len Ford
Bill Hewitt
Julius Peppers
Andy Robustelli
Lee Roy Selmon
Michael Strahan
Demarcus Ware
Jack Youngblood

When fans and even writers evaluate any player's career they focus on the positives, the All-Pros, the stats, the rings, the intangibles, longevity, the testimonials and that is the "hype". And it's great.

However, what about the other side? The negatives? Do we dare talk about them? If we don't then how can we separate players one from another in a career evaluation, i.e. 'is he worthy of All-Pro, Hal of Fame, or the NFL 100 team?

Of course, the best of the best will have far fewer "negatives" than the average, good, and vry good player but that does not mean to do not exist.

And an exercise, we'll list the negatives of the above players and perhaps a few more who were likely close to making the finalists list. And we will catch all kinds of hell for it.
Reggie White—Took downs off, tackles we talked to said he'd make hard for a few plays and then play not so hard. But his overall success covered that up. Also, in the 1990s he got too heavy and became a far more power player than all-around power/speed guy he was in the 1980s.

Bruce Smith—Early in career was fat and didn't play the run well. He overcame both for the 1990s was the dominant Bruce. At the end, he hung on too long and was not the 'dominant Bruce' with the Redskins. He wanted the sack record and he played long enough to get it.

Deacon Jones—Spent his first with running around clueless, but still made plays. His second year he was getting better. His third year he thought he needed to be huge, put on weight and was not as effective as before. The from 1964-69 he had his era of dominance.  In 1970 he was ill some, was too light and got pushed around some, same in 1971 when he also had a foot injury. His football was played in that era of dominance and in the 1970s he ranged from great one week, to average the next week. Even in his prime he could be 'run at' some. Many of his tackles for loss were in backside pursuit, using his speed to catch backs going the other way.

Gino Marchetti—Though not his fault he had to play offensive tackle his second year and then had injury issues for a couple of years. From 1956-64 was his 'era of dominance' and you can throw out 1966, he came back to NFL as a favor to Carroll Rosenbloom because of injuries along the defensive line. He played some end and tackle and was a shell of himself. In his prime he would take the inside move perhaps too often because he could get caught inside and blow contain. But all the great ones did that.

JJ Watt—Again, not his fault but when objectively evaluating a career we think durability is one of the factors, not the only one, but one of them and Watt has not been durable. He's played 32 of 64 games the last four seasons.

Willie Davis—Davis was a part-time defensive end as a rookie and an offensive tackle his second year (like Marchetti). His era of dominance was 1960-67. His production dropped off in his final two years and the film shows his speed was diminishing quite a bit those last 2-3 years.

Howie Long—Poor Howie, he missed so many sacks due to poor tackling. Paul Zimmerman estimated it at 50. It was not that many but many times he did get to the quarterback first, hit him and he got away. A good number of those were cleaned up by Alzado or Pickell or Townsend, but it was a true weakness. Also, he had durability issues—he missed 22 games from 1981-91.


Doug Atkins—Another slow starter. He did not secure a full-time starting job until year six, though  in year three he started as well. But in years four and five he was hurt and split time at defensive end . Known to take some plays off as well. Had a dip in production in the mid-1960s and led to his finishing his career as a Saint where he had a resurgence. His era of dominance was 1957-63 and then was spotty his last few years with the Bears.

Carl Eller—Was not lighting quick off the ball early in his career. There was serious talk of Moose moving to defensive tackle early in career due to that. But once be began adopting Deacon Jones' head slap moves and getting quicker off the ball he was on his Hall of Fame career path. Late in career had an addiction to drugs, which he overcame and that's the important thing, but he admitted that $1500 a week habit affected his play late in his career. Probably hung on a couple of years too long.

Len Ford—Was an offensive player mostly, in the AAFC, then went to the Browns in 1950 and he had a broken jaw and missed most of the season. Not his fault, but playing receiver cannot really be part of his 'defensive end legacy'. Became dominant in 1951 through 1955 and his production tailed off. Football literature of the 1960s says he had drinking issues and it affected his play. When you watch him on film you can really see the difference in play between the early 1950s and the late 1950s. Night and day.

Bill Hewitt—We have only seen clips of him, not enough to evaluate. Nick Webster has found news stories about Hewitt that suggest he had tackles players for losses of over 300 yards in 1933. So it's hard to get a real career gage on him.

Julius Peppers—Was a rusher, an athletic skilled edge player but was never known as a top run-stuffer in the way Strahan, for example, was. Ended career as nickel rusher but would start if the regular starter went down. Was fairly effective, but the Proscout, Inc. phrase is "TWTTIN" or "That was then this is now" when it comes to Peppers late in his career. Great athleticism and good health allowed him to play a long time, but the tape showed that those years were "TWTTIN" or on other words just "okay".

Andy Robustelli—Didn't stand out on film the way Marchetti or even Gene Brito did. But from 1959-62 or so he was fun to watch, was getting off the ball better and making a lot of plays. Dropped weight his last couple of years to keep his quickness but admitted that at "225 pounds they'd just blow me out of those holes". In our views, he was up and down with the Rams and better with the Giants.

Lee Roy Selmon—The only weakness was durability he only go in nine seasons and missed games here and there throughout his career. Again, we don't blame the players who got hurt and had to retire early, we just try and reward those who played longer and were effective to the end.

Michael Strahan—Warren Sapp said Strahan was a "failed right end". We would not go that far but it was true he began as a right end in an era where that was the premium end spot. Almost all the best tackles were left tackles and the Giants did move Strahan to the left end, where his skill set was better suited. So rather than beating tackles like Tony Boselli, Willie Roaf, Orlando Pace, Willie Jones, he beat up on Jon Runyan, Jon Jansen and the like. He also had a big of a slow start to his career. Year five was his breakout year.

Demarcus Ware—We are not sure why he's on this list. Yes, he played as a DE, and yes he's an edge rusher but he belongs on the same list as Lawrence Taylor, Derrick Thomas, Von Miller, and so on. Whatever those guys were, that is what Ware was.

Jack Youngblood—Only started a handful of games as a rookie, but was the starter for the rest of his career. His main "knock" is the Rams could never win a Super Bowl. He would also get criticized by coaches for freelancing once in a while but all defensive ends do that. Had the benefit of playing next to Merlin Olsen the first half of his career. That was a boon to him that perhaps others didn't have.

Not on the list:
Claude Humphrey—Known as a rusher, played on some poor run-stopping teams. It was not all his fault but he was part of the unit and has to bear some responsibility. In 1978 he didn't like playing in the Falcons 3-4 defense and perhaps other issues, so he quit the team only to come back with the Eagles in 1979. Puts a bit of a stain on a career. His last couple years he was a non-starter, a designated rusher and was effective.

Gene Brito—Durability issues and like Len Ford played offense early in his career and had limited snaps on defense in those seasons. He also went to Canada for a season (1954) and that is not exactly "resume building" in terms of being an NFL 100 All-Time team candidate. An illness also shortened the backend of this career.

LC Greenwood—Again, some durability issues. Excellent defensive end when healthy. took a few years to start, but was an effective rotational player in 1969-70. At the end of his career could not handle the 3-4 in 1982 training camp so he hung them up. It was not his type of defense so that made sense, however, his contemporary Jack Youngblood made the transition in 1983 and played well in it for two seasons. Greenwood's effectiveness waned in 1980-81 anyway so had they stayed with the 4-3 he still may have not made the team in 1982.


Richard Dent—Didn't start as a rookie but exploded in years two and three. Then injuries, contract disputes, disputes with the coaching staff who didn't think he was a dedicated weight lifter, not trying to get better and stronger. He also had some injuries issues. Ended his career as a designated rusher which is fine, but it's not really part of a "best of the best" resume. Maybe now it is acceptable, but then there was a 16/16/60 (16 games, 16 starts, 60 minutes) axiom and that didn't describe the end of Dent's career.

———

Again we are not "ripping" these guys (to use a Paul Zimmerman term) we just pointing out that when looking at a player's career in its entirety the negatives, failures, and flaws need to be at considered along with all the hype and positives. It's the only fair and logical way to separate the best of the best (or even the good from the average for that matter).

In any case, it will be fun when the final names are revealed tonight. We will stick with our predictions but also fully admit that perhaps Strahan will edge out Davis or Long. Or Hewitt. Or Selmon will make it.

We will see in a few hours.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Josh Allen Channels Ken Stabler on Thanksgiving

LOOKING BACK
By John Turney

Today Josh Allen has quite a lot of time on one play. We immediately thought of the 1976 NFL FIlms clip of Ken Stabler, standing like a statue, reading the defense and completing a pass.

Stabler pass was complete to Dave "Ghost" Casper. Allen's pass was a 19-yard completion to Cole Beasley. It's fun to connect the current to the vintage and Allen did it today.




Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Pigskin Pioneers

By Eric Goska
Yes, Virginia, there was an NFL before the advent of the Super Bowl.

Yes, Virgil, there is a book that provides a fascinating look at the game before it became America’s favorite spectator sport.

The NFL today is a multi-billion dollar entertainment giant. The game on the field is fast-paced and loaded with offense.

The Super Bowl has become an unofficial national holiday.

Fans are quick to credit those associated with the sport today for its overwhelming success. But let’s not forget the many others who created the foundation from which this colossus emerged.

Where to begin?

John Maxymuk provides an answer in the preface of his latest book, “Pioneer Coaches of the NFL.”

“Coaches are the means by which the National Football League evolved and grew from meager and hardscrabble origins almost 100 years ago to assert itself as the most popular spectator sport in the United States. They are the men who devised, adapted, and altered the on-the-field stratagems that developed the game into the dramatic televised spectacle it has become.”

Maxymuk shines a light on 13 coaches – Guy Chamberlain, Curly Lambeau, LeRoy Andrew, George Halas, Dutch Sternaman, Ralph Jones, Potsy Clark, Steve Owen, Ray Flaherty, Jock Sutherland, Clark Shaughnessy, Jimmy Conzelman and Greasy Neale – and chronicles their influence on the game. He examines their life and career, the keys to their coaching, and the pivotal games in which they were involved.

That you might not be familiar with some of these names is reason enough to purchase this informative work.

From Maxymuk:
  • “Above all, Chamberlain’s teams relied on physical conditioning, rigorous practice, and exacting teamwork.”
  • Clark was an inspirational coach who strove to get his players to play together as a team and stay emotionally keyed up,”
  • “Sutherland believed in the single wing almost religiously as the one true way.”
Each of these men was shaped by others in the business. Halas’ employed the T formation, an offense he learned while playing at Illinois under coach Bob Zuppke. Lambeau preferred the Notre Dame shift, an approach he picked up in his one year toiling for Knute Rockne.

Owen and Neale earned recognition for their defensive prowess. To defense the Cleveland Browns, Owen came up with what amounted to a 4-3 defense that is still in use today. Neale preferred a five-man line – with two linebackers who chucked the offensive ends – in order to better pressure passers.

Most of these men won at least one championship as head coach. All compiled winning records while serving as headmasters in the NFL.
Authors John Maxymuk (left) and Eric Goska at Lambeau Field.
Maxymuk notes that many elements of the game today – the man in motion and screen pass, to cite two examples – owe much to one or more of these coaches.

Regarding the former, Maxymuk says: “While there might be nothing new under the sun in football, it can be accurately said that Ralph Jones was the coach who made the man in motion a central element of the T formation.”

Regarding the latter, Maxymuk says: “He (Flaherty) devised a behind-the-line screen pass for his single wing attack before the championship game in 1937, to combat the heavy rush his rookie passer, Sammy Baugh, was encountering.”

Even talking trash, something found in abundance today, is nothing new. Consider this from Clark after his Spartans endured an early, bitter loss to the Packers in 1932.

“You remember this, when you (Lambeau) bring your overrated 11 to Portsmouth, I’m going to beat you with 11 men,” Clark declared. “I’m not going to make a single substitution to prove to you just how strong your team really is.”

Clark made good on his promise. He did not substitute as his Spartans blanked the Packers 19-0 in an early December rematch.

Maxymuk concludes his look back with an Epilogue titled “Paul Brown: Modern Pro Football Coach” and an Afterword titled “Fritz Pollard’s Dream Deferred.” He also includes a Postscript called “Equivalencies” in which he compares these early coaches to some of their more modern counterparts.

Maxymuk is a reference librarian at Rutgers University. He has written more than a dozen books on professional football history.

“Pioneer Coaches of the NFL,” his latest work, is well worth your time.

Domination on the Ground

LOOKING BACK
By John Turney
Lamar Jackson Credit: NFL Replay
Monday night the Ravens rushed for 285 yards and allowed on 22 by the Los AngelesRams for a net difference of 263 yards. Since 1950 it was the 26th time a team had a net positive difference in rushing yards and rushing yards allowed.

Here is the complete list—

Class of 2020 Modern Era Semifinalists

LOOKING AHEAD
By John Turney

Today the Hall of Fame released its annual semifinalist list of the 25 modern-era candidates for the Hall of Fame. It will be trimmed to 15 in January and then the day before the Super Bowl five (maximum) will be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

CLASS OF 2020 MODERN ERA SEMIFINALISTS
OFFENSE (11)
RUNNING BACK (3) – Edgerrin James, Fred Taylor, Ricky Watters.
WIDE RECEIVER (4) – Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Hines Ward, Reggie Wayne.
TACKLE (1) – Tony Boselli.
GUARD (2) – Alan Faneca, Steve Hutchinson.
SPECIAL TEAMS (WR/KR) (1) – Steve Tasker.

DEFENSE (14)
END (1) – Simeon Rice.
TACKLE (2) – Richard Seymour, Bryant Young.
LINEBACKER (5) – Carl Banks, Clay Matthews, Sam Mills, Zach Thomas, Patrick Willis.
CORNERBACK (1) – Ronde Barber.
SAFETY (5) – Steve Atwater, Leroy Butler, John Lynch, Troy Polamalu, Darren Woodson.

There are plenty of new names. Troy Polamalu, Patrick Willis, Reggie Wayne, Carl Banks, Bryant Young, Ricky Watters, and Fred Taylor made the semifinalists list for the first time

On offense, there are seven skill position players and three linemen. There are five linebackers and five safeties.

Defensive lineman finalists revealed for NFL 100 All-Time Team

By John Turney

Yesterday the NFL released the finalists for the NFL 100 All-Time team for the position of defensive end, defensive tackle and linebackers.

Here is the official NFL Meme for the list—
Official NFL Meme
We have opined on this position before, so here we will list the All-Pro honors for those on the list and a few that we think could have been on the list. They are more or less in chronological order.

Here is a chart that has a lot of key data which is sorted by 'Consensus All-Pros and then Second-team All-Pros—

On the individual charts "bolded" represents consensus All-Pro, meaning they made the majority of ALl-pro teams that were recognized by the NFL Record and Fact Book and the Official Encyclopedia of the NFL.

An asterisk next to the year means Pro Bowl that season.