Thursday, January 30, 2020

Handicapping The HOF Class of 2020

By John Turney
Every year we like to have some fun and try and predict the Pro Football Hall of Fame classes. Again we place odds on who we think will get in an why. It's not who we think should get in (Polamalu, Hutch, Seymour, Young are who we think are the best football players --last slot Ike, Edge, Butler, Atwater too close to call) but it's our prediction based on simply reading the tea leaves that we find om the Internet.

Here is this year's iteration.
Steve Atwater, Safety – 1989-1998 Denver Broncos, 1999 New York Jets
The hype—Was in Final 10 last year and that usually is a great sign. He has two signature plays (hit on Okoye and the point-blank interception Jay Schroeder which was just as impressive. A big hitter who played more in the box than most free safeties we can think of (Dennis Smith often played the post-safety). A lot of Pro Bowls.
The knock—Only All-Pro twice (other safeties had more), not a lot of picks for a free safety.
Odds of being voted in this year—75%

Tony Boselli, Tackle – 1995-2001 Jacksonville Jaguars
The hype—His peak is Hall of Fame-worthy. In our view not as good as Jonathan Ogden or Walter Jones but better than Orlando Pace, he was right in middle with Willie Roaf among the great tackles of his era. Was a dominant run blocker and good pass protector. Tough and nasty and could handle the bests defensive ends of his day.
The knock—Short career but that is having less and less of an effect on recent candidates and with Jimbo Covert going in, there is no reason for Boselli to be left out. we could have done without the bickering the last few years and the attempts by a few writers to dirty-up Joe Jacoby's record to advance Boselli's cause but he had nothing to do with it, shame on the writers who did that though. Had they looked at it logically Jacoby, Kenn, AND Boselli would be in. All three worthy. But sometimes parochial interests abound.
Odds of being voted in this year—90%

Isaac Bruce, Wide Receiver – 1994-2007 Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams,
2008-09 San Francisco 49ers
The hype—Key player in Rams Greatest Show on Turf. Caught game-winning touchdown in Super Bowl XXXIV, though it gets overshadowed because of "The Tackle". He was productive for a long time, has a ring, and some "black ink" (led league in major category). Was one of the best route-runners ever. Excellent numbers, some even before the GSOT.
The knock—Not All-Pro that often and only four Pro Bowls. But should have been All-Pro and Pro Bowler in 1995.
Odds of being voted in this year—50%

LeRoy Butler, Safety – 1990-2001 Green Bay Packers
The hype—Gaining momentum. Was a complete safety with more big plays (sacks, interceptions) than any of the other safeties on this Final 15. Has a ring, played some corner and slot corner early and would played linebacker/slot when the Packers employed the "Big nickel" which Packer Fritz Shurmur used in Arizona. Shurmur employed it before with the Rams and with the Packers, too. In his career, attesting to his coverage ability, In 1996 only Reggie White had more sacks on the Packers team that season. Even though he picked off a lot of passes was still better in the box.
The knock—Shorter career, but okay. Only four Pro Bowls, but was All-Pro as much as Troy Polamalu kind of an "honors oddity".
Odds of being voted in this year—25%

Alan Faneca, Guard – 1998-2007 Pittsburgh Steelers, 2008-09 New York Jets,
2010 Arizona Cardinals
The hype—Has all the credentials in terms of honors, All-Pro, Pro Bowls, ring. Will be a HOFer very soon. Could be this year, but if not, a 90% chance next year.
The knock—Really, it's just that if you read the testimonials, Steve Hutchinson gets more love. Was not the athlete Hutch was (smaller, slower, not as strong) but we're not drafting these guys, but the thing is Hutch was able to take freak athletic skill and use it to a slightly higher level than Faneca. Also, are they really going to put four Steelers in the HOF in one year?
Odds of being voted in this year—50%

Torry Holt, Wide Receiver – 1999-2008 St. Louis Rams, 2009 Jacksonville Jaguars
The hype—Seven Pro Bowls, All-Pro once.
The knock—Was second chair to Isaac Bruce
Odds of being voted in this year—0%

Steve Hutchinson, Guard – 2001-05 Seattle Seahawks, 2006-2011 Minnesota Vikings,
2012 Tennessee Titans
The hype—As mentioned a freak athlete, bigger, faster, stronger, quicker than Faneca based on NFL Combine numbers. Blocked for four of the top rushing seasons since 1998 (two for Adrian Peterson, two for Shaun Alexander). Worked himself into good pass protector, was always dominant drive and trap blocker. A beast, he's in the John Hannah, Larry Allen, Zack Martin (and now Quenton Nelson) echelon of blockers. Faneca is the Gene Upshaw, Tom Mack level. Both great but Hutch a bit greater.
The knock—No ring.
Odds of voted in this year—90%
Edgerrin James, Running Back – 1999-2005 Indianapolis Colts, 2006-08 Arizona Cardinals,
2009 Seattle Seahawks
The hype—Had plenty of black ink (good rushing stats) but a great receiver and in our view one of the top 6-7 pass-blocking backs ever, right in the John Henry Johnson, Marshall Faulk, Walter Payton, Emmitt Smith, Ladian Tomlinson-category.
The knock—Didn't get his "ring" and struggle with injuries as well, hurt his productivity some.
Odds of voted in this year—50%, will battle Isaac Bruce, we think, for a slot but both could make it

John Lynch, Free Safety – 1993-2003 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2004-07 Denver Broncos
The hype—A fine safety, played a long time but has lost momentum. The 49ers being in the Super Bowl may help. But of the safeties, we see Atwater and Butler as having more "hype". He has a ring and a lot of Pro Bowls, though. He was one of the last of the "big-hitters", a type of play that has been effectively removed from the game.
The knock—Didn't have a ton of picks.
Odds of voted in this year—20%

Sam Mills, Linebacker – 1986-1994 New Orleans Saints, 1995-97 Carolina Panthers
The hype—A fine inside linebacker with good honors and stats (especially when you include his USFL seasons). Smart player, a leader.
The knock—No real knocks, it's just that when you look at his career you ask if it's Hall of Very Good or Hall of Fame?
Odds of voted in this year—10%
Troy Polamalu, Safety – 2003-2014 Pittsburgh Steelers
The hype—A rare and unique player with all the boxes checked. The JuniorSeau of safeties in terms of impact and the way they played, freelancers at times.
The knock—None really. Could be fooled, but all great players could be fooled once in a while. That's more of a nitpick.
Odds of voted in this year—Lock

Richard Seymour, Defensive End/Defensive Tackle – 2001-08 New England Patriots,
2009-2012 Oakland Raiders
The hype—A great 5-tech on run downs and great 3-technique in passing downs. Has three rings, seven Pro Bowls and three All-Pros.
The knock—Stats are not eye-popping but that was the nature of his positions.
Odds of voted in this year—40%

Zach Thomas, Linebacker – 1996-2007 Miami Dolphins, 2008 Dallas Cowboys
The hype—Five-time All-Pro, had a lot of tackles for a loss. A hustle-type, super-hard working.
The knock—None of his All-Pro seasons were consensus. The AP picked two inside linebackers from 1984-2015 so Thomas got the benefit of the doubt on all of them, was the second-leading vote-getter each time. The other two major teams, the PFWA and SN never had him as an All-Pro.
Odds of voted in this year—25%

Reggie Wayne, Wide Receiver – 2001-2014 Indianapolis Colts
The hype—A good receiver, some good credentials.
The knock—Was second chair to Marvin Harrison. (See Torry Holt)
Odds of being voted in this year—0%

Bryant Young, Defensive Tackle – 1994-2007 San Francisco 49ers
The hype—Underrated player who totaled almost as many sacks as Warren Sapp who is often called the best or second-best pass-rushing tackle of his era and had more run stuffs. Played on some great run-stopping teams that also got to the quarterback. Like Seymour one of the top five football players of the Final 15 (in our view). If you know defensive line play and watched him, you knew he was a HOFer. But stats just don't show what guys like him did. He was a true warrior.
The knock—Not tons of post-season honors (but when you add in Mike Giddings' opinion rating that rises quite a bit. Plays inside and again, like Seymour, voters have not valued the complete defensive tackle position much, going for skill positions and edge rushers much more often.
Odds of being voted in this year—20%

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Five Great No-All-Decade Players

By Andy Piascik
Chuck Howley
Increasingly, the Hall of Fame Selection Committee appears to be using the All-Decade teams as guideposts on who to elect as Senior candidates. While this is likely to continue to lead mostly to good choices, there are also problems.

For one, there were a number of mistakes made when the various all-decade teams were selected. Better players were left off in favor of less deserving ones. Then there are great players whose best years were divided between two decades and thus missed out on making an all-decade team.
Duane Putnam
To some degree, that was a dilemma difficult if not impossible to avoid. If you’re selecting a team on a strict 1950-59 basis, then a player who played from 1955 to 1966 and whose great years were equally divided between the 1950s and 1960s will likely get bypassed in favor of a player who had all his best years from 1950 to 1959.

That’s fine when it comes to an All-Decade team. But it’s problematic when making an all-decade team is then used as a main argument to elect a player to the Hall of Fame. That’s especially true when it can be clearly demonstrated that the 1955-66 player is more deserving of the Hall of Fame than the 1950-59 player.

To illustrate the point, here are five players from the Senior category who did not make any of the all-decade teams and are not in the Hall of Fame: Chuck Howley, Verne Lewellen, Jimmy Patton, Duane Putnam, and Jim Ray Smith.
Vern Lewellen

All five are better than many players who made an all-decade team. More importantly, all are better than many players who made an all-decade team AND are in the Hall of Fame. That’s true whether you’re comparing them to others who played the same position in roughly the same era, comparing them to others from their position from all eras, or comparing them to all Hall of Famers, period, from all eras and positions.

None of the five is a particularly sexy choice. Two are guards, one is a defensive back, one a linebacker and one a two-way back who played so long ago we barely have any statistics for him. Three – Howley, Patton and Smith – are examples of players whose great years were divided between two decades. In the case of Patton and Smith, it’s almost evenly so.

All five are very worthy of the Selection Committee’s close consideration. This is not to say any of the five should be fast-tracked to the Hall of Fame; not at all. Rather, it is a call for the selectors to seriously examine the credentials of these players.

Perhaps more importantly, this is a call for the Selection Committee to set aside or at least downgrade all-decade teams as a criteria for the Hall of Fame. If the Selection Committee does, then it’s my opinion they will deem all of these players more worthy of enshrinement than the vast majority of all-decade players not in the Hall of Fame. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Richard Seymour and Bryant Young—Do Complete Linemen Who Stopped the Run Have Shot at HOF?

By John Turney
It was a pleasant surprise to see Richard Seymour and Bryant Young on the Hall of Fame Final 15 list that was recently released. We think both are worthy and hope they would go in right away since we think they are two of the top give football players on the finalists list. Of course, the voters likely don't agree. But, it is a step forward to be on the Final 15, so we think both, eventually will get in.
(click to enlarge)

Young was not a flashy defensive tackle, he was a grinder, a solid guy who made big plays without a lot of noise or hoopla. He finished his career with 89.5 sacks, only seven behind renowned pass rusher Warren Sapp and he finished with 82 run stuffs—more than Sapp.

He was All-Pro twice and Second-team All-Pro twice and got post-season honors in five seasons which is low for a Hall of Famer but he likely should have been at least a Second-team All-Pro in 2000.

Young was a left defensive tackle and as such had to play both 1-technique (on the shoulder of a center) and 3-technique (on the shoulder of a guard) depending on the strength of the offense and the defensive line call (over, under, etc) so he had more responsibilities than someone like Sapp or John Randle who only played the three-technique. (Of course, there are exceptions to these but for all intents and purposes Young played both techniques and Randle and Sapp just the three-technique).

In that way, Young was a Merlin Olsen/Joe Greene type of tackle. He wasn't going to get 16 sacks in a season but he was not going to get caught going too deep on a pass rush and leaving a crease for a draw or trap play. He was always going to be responsible for his gap assignment, and also was able to beat double teams when he had to play 1-technique and getting a good rush (four times 9.5 or more sacks in his career). He was going to do it all.

In 1993 the 49ers defense allowed 4.5 yards per rush and with Young in 1994 they cut it to 3.6. In 1995 it was lowered again to 3.1 yards per rush. Clearly, Young had a dramatic effect on the 49ers run defense.

Young was one of the all-time warriors, coming back from a devastating broken leg in 1999 to go to the Pro Bowl and winning the NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award. In our view, Young checks all the "boxes" we will see if the Hall of Fame committee agrees.
The same basic things apply to Richard Seymour as they do to Young. Seymour was a major cog of the Patriot defenses of the early 2000s as a defensive end in base defense and as a three-technique in passing situations, though you'd see Seymour over the center some and even outside on some passing downs.
(click to enlarge)
Seymour was a player who had "length"—a modern term for a tall player with long arms. Seymour had great strength and with his body time played with good 'base' or leverage. Seymour was a member of the 2000s All-Decade Team was a Pro Bowler seven times and a three-time All-Pro and did so in different schemes and at different positions. And oh, by the way, has three 'rings'.

The stumbling block for some voters might be his stats, the "numbers". His 57.5 sack total isn't a big number, even for his position. But like Young, it was the quality of his play that was impressive the things he opened up for other players.

Belichick recently wrote a letter to the Hall of Fame voters stating, "Richard had a rare combination of size, speed, strength, and athleticism. Although primarily a defensive end in our 3-4 defense, Richard also played nose tackle. In the four-man line, Richard could play defensive end or defensive tackle depending on the situation and desired matchups." Belichick ended the letter by saying that Seymour was one of the top defensive linemen he ever coached. 

So, in less than a week we'll see if one or both or neither of these studs make the Hall of Fame. We're hoping both, plus Polamalu and Boselli and Hutchinson. That's our wants. Our predictions will be different.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

The 1969 Pro Football Hall of Fame Finalists List

By John Turney

The Pro Football Hall of Fame lists the finalists for the Hall of Fame each year and has done so since 1970. However, prior to that, they did have Finalist lists, it's just that they were not released.

The finalists (often called the Final 15) are then debated the day for the Super Bowl each season and the Hall of Famers are announced after the votes taken in that meeting.

Here is 1969 Finalist list (bold denotes elected to the Hall that year)
Also on the finalist list were coaches Earle (Greasy) Neale and Clark Shaughnessy making a total of 18 players and coaches. Neale was elected along with Nomellini, Stautner, Perry, and Edwards.

At first blush, it would seem to casual fans that Nomellini, Perry, and Stautner were all considered First-ballot Hall of Famers but they were not. 

They were eligible in 1967 when there was a three-year waiting period. But that rule was changed for the Class of 1969 they were, the five-year waiting period had elapsed and in January they were elected. But like Emlen Tunnell, Bobby Layne, and Chuch Bednarik they were not technically first-ballot selections. 

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Fixing the AP's '65 Toss Power Trap' Diagram

By John Turney

The day after the Super Bowl IV papers who subscribe to the Associated Press' football coverage printed this diagram, label as being made by the AP itself.  It was a good effort but was errant.

Not they have the left guard trapping the right defensive tackle (we think that is what they are trying to convey). But it was the right guard who did the trapping of Alan Page. 

Also, the Chiefs were in split backs or "red" left. The play looks more like this—

The Chiefs playbook we have does not have 65 Toss Power Trap in it, but it does have 56 Power Trap out of Red Left with the tight end motioning to the spot outside the tackle from a flexed position. But it's the same play only reversed—
Why is it called "toss" when there is no toss? It is a play with blocking that simulates a toss play but is actually a trap play.  But the playbook calls plays that begin with fifty or sixty with those names. Teens are 'dive' playes, twenties are "inside runs" and so on.
All we know is "65 Toss Power Trap" is the most recognizable name for a football play ever and you are going to hear it a lot over the next few weeks as we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Super Bowl IV with the Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV.

Remembering Steve Sabol

By Chris Willis, NFL Films 

Last week the Pro Football Hall of Fame announced its Centennial Class for 2020 and with the selection of Steve Sabol as one of the three contributors, it got me thinking of my former boss, mentor and friend.

     As I think about the man, Steve Sabol, I think about one of the most unique qualities that he possessed. It didn’t matter if you were a rookie producer, a 10-year vet or a 30-year employee that he knew for three decades. He had a REALTIONSHIP with you. It didn’t matter that he was the President of NFL Films. He got to know you regardless of who you were or what you did. That is what made him special. It is a trait he learned from his father, Ed Sabol.

     I will always remember him taking the time to talk to anybody. He was one of the rare executives that was in the office everyday- he rarely took a vacation- and he always had his door open to listen to anything you wanted to say. Of course, Steve’s two favorite topics were football and making movies.

   Mainly because of the support of a few producers and Steve Sabol, I was hired full-time in 1996 to run the Research Library. He saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. Somebody that could work hard and do a job that I was passionate about. He gave me my big break at the age of 25.

   Before he passed away in 2012, I was fortunate to work for him at NFL Films for 17 years. I had many conversations with him that I treasure. He always took the time to see how I was doing and if I needed anything to make my job better. I really enjoyed the times when he would just leave me a yellow Post-It note to help me include something for the Library. In my entire time at Films he never failed in giving me what I needed to be successful at my job. When I wanted to write a book on early pro football he gave me his support and let me know, whatever I needed (material, time off to write, etc.), I could have it. This is what made him special. 
Post It Note from Steve Sabol 
      I found out early on that he was not your typical boss. There are two short stories I want to share that illustrates how he cared about you and how he had a RELATIONSHIP with you.

1st) After a year working for NFL Films as a full-time employee Steve got a call from the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. They wanted to offer me a job working in their Research Library, so they contacted Steve to see about talking to me about the job.

It was pretty similar to my job at Films, doing research in their Library. Once Steve got off the phone with the Hall he came down to my small office in the back of the building at 330 Fellowship Road in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. What CEO would come to the office of a first-year librarian? He told me about the offer. He knew that I was from Ohio (close to my family) and that I loved the history of the game. But he saw something in me that nobody else did. Someone worth keeping. He offered me a small bump in pay and a new title. But that didn’t matter to me. What mattered is that he took the time to talk to me. From that moment I never wanted to let him down. I wanted to work as hard as could because he wanted me to a part of his company. So, I stayed. 
Steve Sabol visiting football historian T.J. Troup and Chris Willis at the NFL Films research library in 2005
2nd) A year or so later in one of our casual conversations we started talking about football memorabilia. A passion we both shared. At this time there was a big sports memorabilia show in Fort Washington, PA- the Philly Card Show- that was held several times a year. Once out of the blue he asked me if I wanted to go with him to one of the shows. I told him that would be great but I don’t drive. At this time I didn’t have a driver’s license. He said that’s okay I’ll pick you up. I was living in Moorestown, which was just a short drive from where he lived, so it wasn’t too out of the way. But it shocked me that the President of NFL Films would volunteer to pick me up and drive me to a sports memorabilia show. It was another example of his unselfish generosity.

     He was a special person. I’m so proud to have meet him, worked for his company, to have had a RELATIONSHIP with him. Besides my parents, he has done more for my career and life than anyone I’ve ever meet.

    Can’t be more happy to see him get elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. A honor so deserving.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The All-Time "Short-Career" Team

By John Turney
Credit: George Bartell
Edit: 1/23/20
Some on Twitter have asked about Andrew Luck. Clearly, we could be wrong, but we are not 100% sure he's permanently retired. If he is still retired in another year, then yes, of course, he will be the First-team quarterback. And maybe it is wishful thinking on our parts. If his issue were concussions then that would be on thing, but he may heal up and get the desire to play again. Again, this is nothing but our speculation. 

Longevity, according to football literature of the time, was a part of what was desired in a Hall of Fame resume. Over the years we marvel at football players who played 16-, 17- or more seasons and did so at a high level.

In the 1990s there was a mighty debate over Dwight Stephenson's qualifications. He was All-pro plenty, even a five-time winner of the NFLPA AFC Lineman of the Year award but he played just nine seasons. We clearly remember the debate when both Stephenson and Mike Webster were on the final 15. In 1996, when neither was inducted after a lot of debate "in the room" we spoke to Will McDonough. When we asked about Webster he shook his head and lowly muttered "Seventeen years".

Those who supported Stephenson finally made the case that if a player's career was cut short it should not count against him, since it was a matter of chance as to had a career-ending injury and who did not. It could happen to any player in any game or practice.

That exception has been loosely known among many researchers and Hall of Fame fans as the "Gale Sayers exception"—the exception to the rule of reasonable longevity. Sayers was known for his great career that was cut short by knee injuries.

The 'Sayers exception' came up with the case of Terrell Davis who played at an MVP level for more than a year and had won Super Bowls, but was felled by a severe knee injury. "The kn-ee. Al-ways, th-e kn-ee" as Howard Cosell used to say.

Last week Jimbo Covert, an All-Decade performer with a ring was inducted to the Hall in the Centennial class of 2020 and that should really help Tony Boselli.

In light of that we've picked a full team of players who played nine or fewer years, but played them at a high level. Some are Hall of Famers, some may be. Some will never be but we tried to pick the players with the highest peak. We also will list quite a few honorable mentions.

We began in 1960 because prior to that there were guys who retired from football to tend to their auto parts business or some such thing. Also, it's when the AFL began so we started there.
Honorable mentions—
we picked a lot, but only at positions where there was not a definitive First- or Second-teamer. So if we missed a wide receiver or a tackle it means there isn't much debate as to the top performers.

In one there is some question and it was a close call we list some alternatives to our picks.
Howard Mudd —A very good guard, smart. Went into coaching after NFL career.
Doug France—The NFL's top left tackle in 1977-78 and ranked high in 1979 and 1980 as well. Slowed by injuries but had a decent comeback in 1983 before hanging them up.
Bubba Smith—Top-notch from 1968-71. After his knee injury a shell of his former self.
Joe Johnson —Vastly underrated end good versus run and pass
Jerome Brown—Could be one of the top four tackles, a close call.
Bob Baumhower—A top NT, tall, but still had base. Could rush well from inside.
Bobby Boyd—One of top zone cornerbacks ever.
Shawne Merriman —Could get after the passer. 
NaVorro Bowman—Solid in all areas as a 3-4 inside linebacker.
Otis Wilson—A rush backer in the Bear defense, but also did more than that unlike some of the rush backers of the day. 
John Mobley —Would be a star today, could run and cover and hit. Very athletic.
Bob Swenson —A tough Sam 'backer. Bedeviled tight ends.
Mike Douglass—A Paul Zimmerman favorite. A smaller version of Otis Wilson in many ways
Mark Fields—Like Mobely, could really cover a lot of ground
Gary Green—Tough, feisty, talkative. Could also rush the edge on special teams.
Rolland Lawrence—A small, quick type. Not a big hitter like Pat Thomas or Gary Green. But solid in most areas. 
Monte Jackson—Was the best CB for a few years, weight-lifted his way or of LA and to Oakland where he was never what he was as a Ram.
Miller Farr—A gambler, chance taker.
Kam Chancellor—Maybe the last of a kind, a "thumping safety". Rules have legislated his kind out of the NFL for good.
Jerry Gray—An excellent zone corner but also played slot and safety in different packages employed by Fritz Shurmur. 
Bill Bradley—An excellent ball-hawking safety. The Eagles were not a good team and his post-season honors just didn't sustain in the mid-1970s.
Goose Gonsoulin—One of the top two-three defensive players for the first six seasons in the AFL, if there had been an AFL Defensive Player of the Year he would have been in the running a few times.
Mike Reinfeldt—Had a huge year in 1979 but was highly graded by one pro scouting service from 1977-81. Very underrated.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Raheem Runneth Over

By Eric Goska
The 49ers deep run into the playoffs continues.

The Packers were the latest to get trampled as San Francisco sprints to Miami to face the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl 54.

San Francisco overran Green Bay 37-20 Sunday at Levi’s Stadium. The 49ers more than quadrupled the rushing output of the Packers in laying claim to the NFC championship.

This was old school football. And San Francisco carried the day.

By game’s end, the number of missed tackles by Green Bay could well have reached double digits. The yards it surrendered after initial contact may have approached triple digits.

What had been billed as a three-headed rushing attack became a one-man show. Raheem Mostert exploded for 220 yards (29 carries) and four rushing touchdowns as San Francisco amassed 285 yards on the ground.

Green Bay collected a meager 62 on 16 attempts.

So effective were the 49ers that they required just nine passing plays. Jimmy Garoppolo threw eight times for 77 yards and was sacked once for a loss of eight.

But to call this an unbalanced attack would be unfair. If nothing else, it was balanced in that Mostert was seemingly always upright.

Mostert (772 rushing yards), Matt Breida (623) and Tevin Coleman (544) paced the 49ers during the regular season. San Francisco led the NFC in ground gaining, and its 23 rushing touchdowns were tops in the league.

Coleman opened at running back Sunday, but a shoulder injury sidelined him early in the second quarter. By then, Mostert was in high gear. Breida played just two snaps on offense, carrying once for two yards.

When Coleman did not return, Mostert became the go-to back. His performance ranks among the most impressive in any playoff game against the Packers.

·    His 220 yards rushing broke ColinKaepernick’s single-game record of 181 set in 2013.
·    His four rushing touchdowns broke the previous record of three shared by Emmitt Smith, Terrell Davis and Shaun Alexander.
·    His 10 rushing first downs nearly tied the record of 11 held by Smith and Davis.
·    His seven gains of 10 or more yards is one fewer than the eight of record-holder Marshawn Lynch.
·    He became the first player to gain more than 100 yards rushing in a single quarter (113; second) against the Packers.

Mostert’s big outing helped San Francisco to:

·    Run 11 straight times (second quarter) and 13 in a row (late second quarter into the fourth). The last team to run 13 straight times in a playoff game against Green Bay was the Colts who did so on Dec. 26, 1965. Baltimore was without its top two passers that day (Johnny Unitas; Gary Cuozzo), and started running back Tom Matte at quarterback.
·    Attempt no passes in the third quarter and join the 1938 Giants (fourth quarter) and 1944 Giants (first) as the only teams to produce pass-free quarters in a playoff game against the Packers.
·    Become the first team to utilize fewer than 10 pass plays (9) in a postseason game involving Green Bay. The Bears (12) of 1941 had had the fewest.

So overpowering was San Francisco that its offense needed just 51 plays to dispense with Green Bay and move on. Only two clubs previously – the Eagles of 1960 (49) and the Redskins of 1972 (51) – had bounced the Green and Gold from the playoffs so expeditiously.

Extra Point
With 27, the 49ers became the 12th playoff team to nick Green Bay for 20 or more first-half points. The Packers are winless when that occurs.

Most, Mostert, Mostest
Players who gained 150 or more yards rushing in a playoff game against the Packers.

Player                           Date                       Team         Yards     FD   10+   TD
Raheem Mostert           Jan. 19, 2020           49ers           220       10      7       4
Colin Kaepernick         Jan. 12, 2013           49ers           181        7       7       2
Barry Sanders              Jan. 8, 1994             Lions           169        8       5       0
Terrell Davis                 Jan. 25, 1998         Broncos         157       11      4       3
Marshawn Lynch          Jan. 18, 2015       Seahawks       157        8       8       1
Emmitt Smith                Jan. 14, 1996        Cowboys        150       11      4       3

There Are Three Offensive Lineman Up for the Hall of Fame—All Have the Credentials, Who Goes In?

By John Turney

Sadly, the Hall of fame backlog at offensive tackle has thinned but not by induction, but by attrition. Joe Jacoby and Mike Kenn ran out of eligibility and are now in the senior pool leaving only Tony Boselli as the lone tackle on the  HOF Final 15. The Hall would be more complete with Jacoby and Kenn in rather than waiting.

Hopefully, Boselli will be inducted the day before the Super Bowl when the HOF committee meets.  He has the credentials, but his longevity "box" cannot be checked because his career was cut short by injury. But with players like Terrell Davis and just a week ago Jimbo Covert being inducted with their injury-shortened careers, it bodes well for Boselli's chances.

Attitudes on the committee have changed since the 1990s when Dwight Stephenson was deemed unworthy by a small minority because he lacked longevity. Finally, in his sixth year of eligibility he was voted in, rightly so. 

That leaves two guards who have been slugging it out. It seems reasonable to us that since Troy Polamalu is (according to conventional wisdom and Internet chatter) a lock and with Bill Cowher and Donnie Shell being inducted in the 2020 Centennial Class last week that Alan Faneca would now a longshot unless the Steelers voter and media want to be completely partisan and piggish.

With Faneca and Steve Hutchinson vying for (theoretically) for one slot, it seems that if there is no other way to order them or stack them, then Hutch should get the nod. We happen to think both have the credentials but that Hutch was the more dominant and had the higher "peak" but Faneca lasted a bit longer.

So, if all's well that ends well, go with the top guy first and then follow-up with Faneca next year. If they put four Steelers in, well, let's just say they might want some viewers from somewhere besides Western PA.

Of course, it's only our hope that two offensive linemen get in. It may not happen. The way skill players get all benefits of the doubt the linemen (see Jacoby, Kenn) have to wait and wait and sometimes never get in. It's a travesty since some of the best football players of all time are linemen.

We'd also hope one or two defensive linemen get in—Bryant Young and Richard Seymour are both worthy but our feeling is that Miami will freeze over before they put four linemen (two offensive and two defense) in the HOF the same year even if they are four of the top football players on the Final 15 (which they may be, if not that case can be made).

Sunday, January 19, 2020

The NFL's First True 4-3 Middle Linebacker—Chuck Drazenovich

By John Turney
Chuck Drazenovich
Sometimes history has to be challenged and questioned. As the NFL was growing and gaining viewers and spectators the NFL media was also growing. And like the NFL they were gathering their sealegs and getting a lot right and some wrong. No biggie, it happens.

For decades it's been reported that Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch was the NFL's first true 'flanker'.  In a recent post, we showed that was not accurate. He played some flanker when the right end was on his side, when the tight end was on the opposite side it was Tom Fears who was the flanker.

Another inaccuracy is the old yarn that Sam Huff was the NFL's first true linebacker. Or Joe Schmidt or Bill George. Wrong on all counts. The first true MLBer was someone else.

Coach TJ Troup wrote, "The Washington Redskins were the first team to use the standard 4-3 defense on virtually every down for a complete season making Chuck Drazenovich the first true middle linebacker."

Troup is someone who has the gravitas to make such a statement. He is the author of The Birth of Football's Modern 4-3 Defense: The Seven Seasons That Changed the NFL 
And because of a close friendship with now Hall of Famer Steve Sabol he had access to film that few have ever had and he made use of it by poring over those films and finding many things that defy conventional wisdom. He put that film study to use in the above volume on 1950s NFL football.

Back to Drazenovich. The 4-3 defense had been around for a while. One can see teams use it in the 1940s but none did it full time. They might employ it for a specific game or series. We've seen the Brooklyn Tigers use it some as well as other teams.

It began to creep into NFL defenses in the early 1950s and was becoming more common. But 1954 was a watershed moment. 

Both New York and Washington opened the season using it, thus making Drazenovich one of the first two "regular MLBers" along with John Cannady but the Giants didn't stick with it for the whole season, reverting back to the 5-2 they had used in previous years. So, at best, Cannady gets partial credit.

As for Huff, Troup's film study showed he began his career as a defensive tackle before moving to linebacker in his rookie season of 1956. The Lions and Schmidt and Bears with George (and others) migrated to the 4-3 in the mid-1950s, but it was Washington and Drazenovich who got there first and used the 4-3 for an entire season, from start to finish.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Give the Blue Ribbon Committee Credit—They Did Due Diligence but Also Made Errors

By John Turney
Ed Sprinkle

Coach TJ Troup always throws out this challenge to major media types when he makes a claim, "Come on down to Louisville, Kentucky, I will put on a pot of coffee and some films and we can discuss what we see".

That's what Coach will say to those who challenge this assertion "Ed Sprinkle is not a HOF player". That's because the coach knows of what he speaks and can prove it through the great teacher: game film".

Ed Sprinkle was one of the 2020 Centennial Class Hall of Fame inductees announced yesterday and he may be the weakest choice. We just simply cannot agree with Papa Bear Halas. Halas referred to Sprinkle as "the greatest pass-rusher I've ever seen" and "a rough, tough ballplayer, but not a dirty one." The "rough, tough" sure. We agree. "(G)reatest pass-rusher"? We cannot. There is too, too much evidence to the contrary and even George Halas is not above being questioned.

Halas must have had his eyes closed when Len Ford or Gino Marchetti or even Doug Atkins was on the field because PFJ has seen a lot of film on Sprinkle and he is just not a dominant rusher, down-in and down out.

He was an arc rusher, coming wide from what might be called a 'cocked 9-technique' and didn't really vary his charges. "He never used his inside shoulder to take on a tackle and rush tight to set himself up for an inside move". He was good, even very good at times, but Hall of Fame? No. He was a smaller guy (6-1, 207) and did have some thick calves and some natural strength but Troup states, "He was neither quick nor fast, even for that era".

Additionally in an era that was run first, Sprinkle was a liability. "In the early 1950s the Rams just feasted in the run game by running off-tackle on Sprinkle. Dan Towler and Tank Younger just ate him up.". To be fair Troup suggests that Clark Shaughnessy's "mystical defenses" couldn't have helped. But in 1956, when "Atkins was there and the Bears were in the 4-3 they stopped those off-tackle plays to the left".

The numbers back up Troup's assertion if anyone cares to look them up. In 15 games during the peak of Sprinkle's career then Rams ran for over 2,100 yards thus showing what Troup saw on film is backed up by the gamebooks.

Again lest anyone get mad, it is not that Sprinkle was not good, he was good, but this is the Hall of Fame, it is supposed to be the best of the best.

Sprinkle made the 1940s All-Decade team even though he made All-Pro only in 1949 (by INS). Then he was First-Team All-Pro by New York Daily News. And then was Second-team in 1951, 1952 and 1954 by major organizations UP and AP. Essentially a two-time All-Pro by a pair of semi-major organizations. He also went to four Pro Bowls.

So when looking that those honors,  two-time All-Pro, four-time Pro Bowler his honors are light. What that means is the media of the day preferred other players in general over him as the best of the best. Was Halas not promoting his guy? Did they not listen if he did promote his guy?
We've posted about there are inherent issues with All-Pro/Pro Bowl teams, some guys get perhaps an honor or two and the end of their peak years and perhaps get shorted at the beginning. That happens and we recognize that. It does not seem Sprinkle fits that narrative. Mainly because he never had a real "All-Pro" run where he was a consensus All-Pro—a defensive end considered one of the top two in the NFL

We admit Halas' comments carry a lot of weight. And we have to accept it as is. However, we get to ask what he was looking at when he picks his guy over contemporaries like Ford, Marchetti, Atkins and even Gene Brito or Jim KatcavageNorm Willey was far more conspicuous on film with real speed and quickness for his era. Even Bill McPeak and Jack Zilly looked as good, if not better, than Sprinkle. Sprinkle was just not that special on film. Or on paper.

We could buy his inclusion on a 1945-55 All-Mid-Decade team, we can buy Hall of Very Good. Hall of Fame? No.

Oh sure, the Blue Ribbon Committee did a great job overall, we even posted that opinion. But that does not mean they are infallible. Just because something goes through an excellent vetting system does not mean errors cannot be made.

We know how voting works, and that at the bottom of any plurality votes there are players getting two or three or votes beating out someone who perhaps get one or two votes. That's the way voting distribution falls. And that could have happened here.

So, if anyone takes this as a criticism of the committee please don't. They did a fine job. It's just that we are free to criticize and scrutinize their work just as many of them (writers) made a living scrutinizing the work of players and coaches. And the general management/coaching types make a living doing that to players, who should be drafted or traded or cut.

So, 99% of those men and women can take the criticism (if any) professionally. Maybe not all but the vast majority will. What we hope is they don't descend into personal attacks on us or pull the old illogical "appeal to authority" argument of "we know more than everyone or committee was stacked with the best minds so don't dare criticize us".

That won't work here. We've seen the film, we know what's on it. We know the record books, we know what's in therm. And if we see a mistake, we will say it. And if anyone wishes to debate Coach Troup or anyone at Pro Football Journal, we'll take the challenge. You see, we KNOW, we make mistakes and we KNOW we have tons to learn and welcome any opportunities to increase our understanding in the game we love.

It comes down to the fact that we know there are experts that were not on the Blue Ribbon Committee who didn't have a say and Coach TJ Troup was one of them. The man literally wrote the book on the 1950s that reads like an encyclopedia. So no committee, Blue Ribbon or not gets a free pass and as we stated, 99% would expect that. But we've seen some who apparently do.

It's not going to happen. If Coach Belichick were to ever be willing to discuss this or any issue, we'd listen and not say a word bit try to ask as many questions as he'd answer. But if he asked, "Do you think Ed Sprinkle is a Hall of Famer, based on what you've seen". We'd look him in the eye and say, "No, sir. Respectfully".
So while we don't know what exactly happened here as a good player got vaulted above his ability (ironically the same thing happened with the other Blue Ribbon Committee naming Doug Atkins one of the top seven defensive ends ever. Top 15? Sure. But JJ Watt, Willie Davis, Jack Youngblood, Carl Eller, and Michael Strahan all were better and had better careers than Atkins). And lest anyone the we are anti-Bear, Coach TJ states "I bleed navy and burn orange).

For time and memorial writers and now bloggers question the work of the Hall of Fame committees, and now the Blue Ribbon Committees. And as much as they work hard, vet, discuss, mistakes will be inevitable. And we contend that through the evidence of detailed film study and research this one one of them.

We welcome contrary views in the comment sections.