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 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?
Halas
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.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

WINNING THE CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP: First Touchdown Matters

By TJ Troup
Three of the four seeded teams won at home last week, and no doubt the steam rolling Tennessee Titans believe they can continue to win on the road and advance to the SB. A quick look at the team stats from last weekend's winners tell us the following: the winning teams recorded 20 sacks and 3 interceptions (the losers 6 and 1).

The four winning teams completed 58 passes for 786 yards, an average of 13.55 a completion, while the losers completed 104 passes for 1,202 yards (11.55 a completion). Two yards makes a difference, and if you don't believe that gain 7 yards on 3rd down and 8 instead of 9 yards and watch your punt team trot onto the field. Sacks, interceptions, and yards gained per completion will be a major part of the winning teams formula this Sunday—yet historically there is an aspect that is the MOST IMPORTANT KEY TO WINNING.

We have had 98 conference championship games since the merger in 1970 and the team that has scored the first touchdown has won 74 times! Excluding the 1979 Ram victory over the Bucs (all field goals for the winners in the shut-out victory) the percentage by conference is as follows: AFC 38 of 49 (77.6%) and NFC 36 of 48 (75%). From 1970 through 1989 in the NFC title game the team that scored the first touchdown won every time (Ram victory excluded).

Since 2002 though the NFC has seen the team that did not score the first touchdown win 9 of the 17. The first team to score a touchdown in the AFC title game since 2002 has won 14 of 17. Ask the four coaches if they would rather have a 7-0 or 7-3 lead? How about a scenario to tie the above all together. The defense intercepts, and on the initial offensive drive gains 14 yards on completions; and scores seven! The clock ticks on and the team that is behind not only gains yards on short completions, they are forced to use time-outs, and finally the pass rush takes down the quarterback.

A 4th quarter sack is one of the most valuable elements of victory. Doubt that and Coach George Allen and myself will come and haunt/visit you. Finally, some of you just might remember where you were on January 15th, 1967?

The first title game clash between the AFL & NFL was memorable for a myriad of reasons, and this former Anaheim Colonist High School football player was glued, and I mean GLUED to CBS to watch the game (which was played in sunlight in the afternoon in Los Angeles). St. Vince and his band of Fox River studs came away with the silver trophy and no one at that time could envision what the game would become over 50 years later. Enjoy the games on Sunday.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Luke Kuechly Hangs 'Em Up After Eight Great Seasons

LOOKING BACK
By John Turney
Credit:  Wikipedia
Luke Kuechly in an announcement through the Carolina Panthers stated he is retiring from the NFL. He's had a great run and recent concussions issues with head trauma one cannot blame him at all, his future health is paramount to him.

Here is a review of his career—
• 2013 Defensive Player of the Year

• 2012 Defensive Rookie of the Year
• Six-time All-Pro (Five consensus plus another Second-team selection)
• Seven-time Pro Bowler

Will undoubtedly be All-Decade for the 2010s but vote for the official team has not been done but he's made every All-Decade team we've seen so far.
Nick Webster's excellent work in stuffs (run or pass plays stopped for a loss) show that Keuchly, in eight years had 82, an average of 10.3per  season, second-most since reliable gamebooks exist. 
At 6-3 and excellent spead he proved excellent in stopping the run but also in coverages, especially in Tampa-2 when he had to cover tight ends through the 'hole' zone.

Here is how Kuechly's career number compared to other HOFers one would think even though he played just eight seasons he's done enough to get a Gold Jacket one day.

Accepting Warts

By John Turney

Everyone has favorites. As a kid mine was Willie Mays. And through him, I grew to love Mickey Mantle. Many years later I learned that Mickey drank too much and fooled around on his wife. He was a flawed individual.

Even later I learned that Willie Mays used amphetamines to increase his stamina in the long MLB seasons. As did Hank Aaron and the Mick, per ESPN "Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and countless others have admitted they used amphetamines during their careers."

Mantle also hooked up with Dr. Feelgood (Max Jacobson). Author Richard A. Lertzman wrote that Dr. Feelgood treated JFK and many New York and Hollywood stars with speed. He also told a Coach to Coast audience that he treated Mantle with both steroids and amphetamines. (Jacobson was an early pioneer in the use of steriods according to Lertzman).

So, what to do? I live with it. They did what they did and they performed how they performed.

What is missing (by his supporters) in the Tom Flores discussion is that that he had a lot of positives and ALSO some negatives and those negatives do affect his candidacy for the Hall of Fame.

The top thing is he won two Super Bowls. Also, he was a pioneer as a Hispanic coach in a league that had a history of racial bias.

What does not matter (since he's a candidate as a coach, not a player of player-coach combo) is that he won a ring sitting on the bench for the Chiefs in 1969. It keeps getting brought up and is what I call a True Lie—It's accurate but is it 'true' to the point that he's a HOF coach?

As for the negatives, all the coaches outside the Hall looking in have them. This group is hard to separate:  Don Coryell, Tom Flores, Mike Holmgren, Buddy Parker, Dan Reeves, and Dick Vermeil.

You can throw in Mike Shanahan, George Seifert, and Tom Coughlin as well.

Bill Cowher and Jimmy Johnson both got on over the above coaches. My personal preference would have been to go from oldest to youngest or from 2 championships to 1. But the committee disagreed.

Flores fans on Twitter are hopping mad. And I get it. However, they must look at the picture in toto.

Here are coaching records vis Pro Football Reference. A "check" is a winning season. An "x" is a losting season. Seasons of .500 got no mark. Titles got a gold star.

Flores has two gold stars but also a lot of red Xs. Flores fans have to accept that. We all do for our heroes. His resume is not unblemished and that does hurt him. He's not head an shoulders above anyone but by the same token no one else is head and shoulders above him. This is a tightly packed group.

(click to enlarge)








So, when people go after Cowher or Johnson, remember whoever your guys are, whether it's Coryell or Flores or Seifert, you guy's record has its blemishes, some worse than the guys you are attacking. So a better response than saying "Cowher and/or Johnson don't belong" (they do) say that you don't like the order, maybe the older guy deserved it before a younger guy, or things like that rather than "such and such sucked". Understand?

Even greats like the Say Hey Kid and the Mick had their flaws.

Monday, January 13, 2020

First Rate on Third Down Helps Packers Past Seahawks

By Eric Goska
Members of the media interview Ted Eisenreich,
the Packers Director of Facility Operations, early Sunday morning.
Green Bay’s all-time yardage generator on third-down passing in the postseason was at it again Sunday against the Seahawks. It was his mastery of that down that helped the Packers edge Seattle 28-23 in a divisional playoff game at Lambeau Field.

The Green and Gold converted 9-of-14 third-downs (64.3 percent). Included in that total was a kneel-down on the game’s final play, a situation in which the team wanted to run out the clock, not earn a first down.

For Green Bay, it was the seventh time in 57 playoff games that the team converted at a rate of 60 percent or better. The club is 7-0 in those games.

In addition, the Packers scored three of their four touchdowns on third down. Aaron Jones plowed in for two on the ground and Davante Adams scored once through the air.

Only once before in the playoffs – a 28-7 win over the Rams in 1967 – had the team accounted for that many six-pointers on third down.
Workers pour salt onto the walkways at Lambeau Field.
Aaron Rodgers was particularly effective at procuring fresh sets of downs. He overcame six third downs with passes and erased another with a 2-yard quarterback sneak late in the second quarter.

Two of his biggest completions, of course, occurred on the game’s final drive. He hit Adams for 32 then tossed to Jimmy Graham for nine, the latter allowing Rodgers to kneel three times to run out the clock.

Rodgers played well overall. He completed 16 of 27 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns. He compiled a passer rating of 113.7.

As the down increased, so, too, did his passer rating.

On first down, he clocked in at 64.96 (11-5-66-0-0). On second down, he settled in at 122.62 (7-4-56-1-0).

On third down, Rodgers flirted with ‘perfection.’ There, the 15-year veteran completed 7 of 9 passes for 121 yards and a touchdown for a rating of 155.79.

Graham was Rodgers’ weapon of choice on third down. The big tight end caught three passes for 49 yards and three first downs.

Adams hauled in two for 52. His first was a 20-yarder that put Green Bay up 7-0.

Geronimo Allison and Jamaal Williams caught the other third-down throws. Williams was the only one to fail to earn a first down as he came up three yards short on third-and-12 late in the first quarter.
This isn’t the first time Rodgers has excelled in this manner in the postseason. He has put up some third-down numbers that are unmatched in team annals.

Rodgers has thrown for 1,279 third-down yards. That’s the team record ahead of Brett Favre’s 1,126.

The quarterback from California has passed for more than 100 third-down yards in six different games. That’s twice as many times as all other Packers passers combined (Favre 2; Bart Starr 1).

Furthermore, Rodgers has produced 73 first downs on 154 third-down pass attempts. That ties the club mark set by Favre in 189 attempts.

Nine years ago in Atlanta, Rodgers unleashed perhaps his finest third-down postseason performance. He connected on 10 of 10 throws for 151 yards. His play was one reason Green Bay (seeded 6th) knocked off the top-seeded Falcons 48-21.

Third down is an area in which the Packers must improve if they are to beat San Francisco in the NFC championship game. Green Bay converted just one of 15 attempts in the November meeting between the teams. Rodgers was 3 of 9 for 17 yards without a first down.

Excelling on third down to the extent they did against Seattle will be darn near impossible for the Packers at Levi’s Stadium. The 49ers allowed the second fewest third-down conversions (64) during the regular season behind the Patriots (47), and their opponents converted at a rate of 33.3 percent, tied with Dallas for second place behind, once again, the Patriots, at 24.1 percent.

Extra point
Jimmy Graham became the second tight end in team history to catch three third-down passes in one playoff game. Jermichael Finley was the first when he snagged three for 71 yards against the Cardinals in 2010.

Chains Smoking
Postseason games in which the Packers’ third-down conversion rate was 60 percent or better.

3rd Down       Pct.              Date               Opponent             Result
    11-15         73.33      Jan. 15, 1967            Chiefs          GB won, 35-10
     7-10          70.00      Jan. 12, 2008         Seahawks       GB won, 42-20
     8-12          66.67      Jan. 15, 2011           Falcons         GB won, 48-21
     9-14          64.29      Jan. 11, 2015         Cowboys        GB won, 26-21
     9-14          64.29      Jan. 12, 2020         Seahawks       GB won, 28-23
     8-13          61.54       Jan. 9, 2011             Eagles          GB won, 21-16
     6-10          60.00       Jan. 8, 1983           Cardinals        GB won, 41-16

Green Bay passers who threw for 100 or more yards on third down in a playoff game.

  A-C-Yds-TD-HI           Player                  Date            Opponent
   10-10-151-0-0       Aaron Rodgers     Jan. 15, 2011        Falcons
    11-6-138-1-0        Aaron Rodgers     Feb. 2, 2011        Steelers
    10-8-137-2-0        Aaron Rodgers     Jan. 11, 2015      Cowboys
     9-7-121-1-0         Aaron Rodgers     Jan. 12, 2020      Seahawks
    12-8-113-1-0           Brett Favre        Jan. 16, 1994      Cowboys
    13-7-110-1-1           Brett Favre         Jan. 4, 2003         Falcons
     9-6-109-0-1         Aaron Rodgers     Jan. 15, 2017      Cowboys
    10-8-108-1-0            Bart Starr          Jan. 1, 1967       Cowboys
     8-5-104-1-0         Aaron Rodgers     Jan. 10, 2010       Cardinals

The 2019 Consensus All-Pro Team

By John Turney

As you may know, we reject the "AP-only" school of thought for NFL Awards. We prefer that "Consensus All-Pro" is a better measure, i.e., those who make the majority of the major All-Pro teams.

So, who are the "major" All-Pro teams? We use the ones in the 2011 NFL/NFLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement. Those are the AP, PFWA, and Sporting News. The AP and PFWA are polls of writers while Sporting News is, this year, a poll of the NFL's head coaches.

Here are the three major teams.

DeAndre Hopkins makes two of the three to edge Julio Jones. Michael Thomas is unanimous as is  Quenton Nelson, Jason Kelce, Lamar Jackson, Christian McCaffrey.

George Kittle, Ronnie Stanley, and Ryan Ramczyk are consensus choices.

The special teams picks are all unanimous.

Defensively both corners and safeties are unanimous and only the AP has a fifth defensive back and it was a three-way tie.  The defensive interior players are also unanimous as is Bobby Wagner as a MLB/LBer.

Cameron Jordan is a consensus pick (the AP doesn't pick defensive ends, just 'edge' players) making both the PFWA and SN squads. Danielle Hunter made the PFWA team and Joey Bosa made the SN team. So, we think tying those two makes sense and giving TJ Watt unanimous status for being an Edge in the AP poll and as a rushbacker (OLB) in the other two.

Chandler Jones was All-Pro on PFWA and SN and Second-team on the AP team.

We consider (as does the Hall of Fame) all the players from each of these three All-Pro teams as legitimate First-team All-Pro, but the chart at the top represents the consensus picks which is a tick above First-team All-Pro—the are Consensus All-Pros.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Derrick Henry IS Bronko Nagurski

PERSPECTIVE
By John Turney
In the NFL's first playoff game in 1932 Bronko Nagurski threw a touchdown pass to Red Grange.

According to Wikipedia "In the fourth quarter, the Bears scored on a controversial touchdown: Carl Brumbaugh handed the ball off to Nagurski, who pulled up and threw to Red Grange in the end zone for the score. Rules at the time mandated that a forward pass had to be thrown from at least five yards behind the line of scrimmage. The Spartans argued Nagurski did not drop back five yards before passing to Grange, but the touchdown stood. "
Chicago Tribune
There were a lot of oddities in that game, one was the contest was played indoors on a short field. But those are stories for another day.

This is not the play, but it is a cool illustration from that game.
TOnight the Titans running back Derrick Henry threw a jump pass against the heavily favored Ravens.
Henry jumps and throws a touchdown to Corey Davis

It was nice to see. Though it's doubtful this was the first jump pass for a touchdown in a playoff game since 1932, it's possible. But they were common then and in the 1930s is equally possible someone did it. Regardless. Talk about fun. Well done Titans, well done.

A Swing and a Miss—Bill Cowher the First of Two Coaches of Centennial Class Chosen

OPINION
By John Turney
A few weeks ago we praised the Hall of Blue Ribbon Committee for their selections for the finalists for the 2002 Centennial Class for the Hall of Fame. They earned that praise we think.

Today, on the NFL Today, the CBS pre-game show Hall  President and Executive Director David Baker showed up and announced Bill Cowher is now a Hall of Famer.
Hmm.

The eight finalists were—
Don Coryell - 1973-77 St. Louis Cardinals, 1978-1986 San Diego Chargers
Bill Cowher - 1992-2006 Pittsburgh Steelers
Tom Flores - 1979-1987 Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders, 1992-94 Seattle Seahawks
Mike Holmgren - 1992-98 Green Bay Packers, 1999-2008 Seattle Seahawks
Jimmy Johnson - 1989-1993 Dallas Cowboys, 1996-99 Miami Dolphins
Buddy Parker - 1949 Chicago Cardinals, 1951-56 Detroit Lions, 1957-1964 Pittsburgh Steelers
Dan Reeves - 1981-1992 Denver Broncos, 1993-96 New York Giants, 1997-2003 Atlanta Falcons
Dick Vermeil - 1976-1982 Philadelphia Eagles, 1997-99 St. Louis Rams, 2001-05 Kansas City Chiefs

Flores, Johnson, and Parker have two titles.

Vermeil, Holmgren, and Cowher have one Super Bowl ring each. Coryell, Parker, Johnson, Flores, and Holmgren have some claim to "innovation" if you will.

It's hard to see how Cowher leapfrogged the "Two title" coaches and the "innovators". Cowher is not known for any kind of innovation or did anything to advance the game that we are aware of. Now he was a great coach and if someone asked if he's Hall of Fame worthy, we'd say "sure". It's the jump to the front of the line that is the "swing and miss", not questioning his great career.

Yes, there are other coaches with just one title (or none) in the Hall of Fame but in general, they brought more to the table than the one title. We are not saying Cowher is unworthy, just that he didn't have the credentials that some of the others on the list had. Coaches are judged by winning and others won more. Also, coaches are praised for breaking new ground, doing something different (think Coryell), creative or innovation. Cowher didn't.

It's just odd, that's all, that he'd leapfrog the ones who had been on Final 15s previously and were losing out to players (which is a tough thing for a coach to do—to beat out a player for one of five HOF slots each year).

The Centennial Class was to ease the logjams at certain positions, to feature players, administrators, and coaches that had been overlooked for some reason had been passed over and when the finalists list was released it seemed like that was going to be accomplished.

Now we are not so sure but will remain open-minded until we see the remaining 14 selections (one more coach, three contributors, and ten players). Based on today we think Jimmy Johnson may get the pregame show announcement and we'd bet money that Paul Tagliabue is one of the three contributors. We will see.

Friday, January 10, 2020

A Look Back at the Top 49er Defensive Lines

By John Turney
The current 49ers defensive line is full of number one picks and has been very productive in 2019. Where do they rank in the annals of the great 49e defense in terms of sacks?

Here is the list of most sacks in a season—


1976 
The "Gold Rush" coached by Floyd Peters
Totaled 61 sacks and were good versus the run—by playing the run on the way to the quarterback.

Cedrick Hardman—39 tackles and 12.5 sacks plus 7.5 stuffs 
Tommy Hart—57 tackles and 16 sacks plus 11.5 stuffs
Cleveland Elam—59 tackles and 14.5 sacks
Jimmy Webb—45 tackles and 7.5 sacks
Ed Cooke—2 tackles and 2 sacks 
Tony Cline—9 tackles and one sack

1985
Oddly this was a year when Fred Dean (3 sacks) was not effective ad a year before Charley Haley arrived. The 49ers got 14 sacks from linebackers and another 4.5 sacks from defensive backs. It was rush by committee.

The leaders were:
Dwaine Board—11.5 sacks
Jeff Stover 10.0
Michael Carter—7 sacks

1983
Fred Dean led with 17.5 sacks playing on passing downs.  Dwaine Board had 13 playing right end in base 3-4 defense and moving to left defensive end in the nickel/dime.

1997
The 49ers got a huge push from Dana Stubblefield who was the Defensive Player of the Year. Kevin Greene came in and rushed as a designated rusher, a position the 49ers called "Elephant". In additon, it was among the best run-stopping defense in 49er history. The defensive coordinator was John Marshall.

Dana Stubblefield 61 tackles, 15 sacks
Chris Doleman 46 tackles, 12 sacks
Kevin Greene 26 tackles, 10.5 sacks
Roy Barker 32 tackles and 5.5 sacks
Bryant Young 45 tackles and 4.0 sacks

1986
This was Charles Haley's rookie season and he took over Fred Dean's role and he led the team with 12 sacks. Jeff Stover usually was an inside rusher in the nickel/dime defense and he as 11 sacks. Dwaine Board was his usual solid self with 8 sacks and playing both in base and in sub defenses.

1984
Fred Dean held out until late in the season but the '84 49ers were still effective. Board had 10 sacks and no one else had more than 5 sacks. Gary Johnson had those five as a designated rusher. The 49ers got 13 sacks from linebackers and another 4.5 from defensive backs.

1998
Another unit managed by John Marshall. Dana Stubblefield left via free agency and Junior Bryant took his place. Also, Bryant Young suffered a gruesome broken leg and missed the final month of the season. Still, they recorded 51 sacks and again were solid against the run. 

Chris Doleman—45 tackles and  15 sacks
Roy Barker—28 tackles and 12 sacks 
Bryant Young—54 tackles and 9.5 sacks

1967
The '67 49ers got good production from there outside linebackers totaling at least 15½ sacks from then and also the inside/outside pair of Roland Lakes (inside) and Hindman (outside) rushers. They totaled 48 sacks.

Roland Lakes—13 sacks
Stan Hindman—12 sacks
Dave Wilcox—9.5 sacks
Matt Hazeltine—6 sacks

2019
Also totaling  48 sacks were the current iteration of the 49ers front but when you watch them they seem put more pressure on the passer than some of the teams we watched that are above them on this list. Opponents use lots of 6- and 7-man protections and get rid of the ball quickly to avoid sacks.

If they play to their potential they could lead their team to the Super Bowl.

Arik Armstead—A top base end, 54 tackles and 10 sacks
Nick Bosa—The rookie phenom, 47 tackles 9 sacks, and the most pressures on the line
DeForest Buckner—The three-technique, 61 tackles, 7.5 sacks
Dee Ford—Injured late in season, was the nickel rusher, 6.5 sacks in 11 games (2 starts)
Solomon Thomas—FIlled in inside and outside, 21 tackles 2 sacks.
D.J. Jones—was the starting nose until felled by injury

1972
This was Tommy Hart's breakout season. Linemate Cedrick Hardman broke out the year before with 18 sacks. 

Cedrick Hardman—46 tackles and 9 sacks
Tommy Hart—65 tackles, 17 sacks, and 7.5 stuffs
Earl Edwards—  43-tackles 6.5 sacks
Bob Hoskins—38 tackles and 4 sacks
Bill Belk—9 tackles and 3.5sacks

We Have Been Toe to Toe Before: Playoff Rivals

By TJ Troup
Is this the best weekend each year in the NFL? My humble opinion—YES!

We have the four seeded teams against the four winners from last weekend. Adding to what should be some very hard-fought football, and hopefully, compelling games is an aspect that Steve Sabol and I discussed many times.

So Coach TJ what did you and the visionary leader of NFL Films specifically discuss? First and foremost the best historical rivalry; which no doubt will always be the Raiders against the Steelers five CONSECUTIVE years—doubt we ever see that again?

There are other rivalries where the two teams have flipped the coin and gone to battle more than once in their respective team histories. We have two of those on Saturday.

Beginning in 1968 the Minnesota Vikings have frequently earned a playoff berth, and have played 17 games against the Rams, Cowboys, and 49ers.

Saturday afternoon in California the Vikings will attempt to beat San Francisco for just the second time in playoff history (Minnesota holds the regular season edge, but the Niners have won four of five in the playoffs).
Anthony Carter. Credit:  CBS
The Vikings have a strong receiving corps, and maybe just maybe Thielen or Diggs can have a day like Anthony Carter in 1987?

The next two years Walsh & Seifert beat Minnesota easily.

Saturday evening the Ravens take on the Tennessee Titans (for you youngsters, this band of brothers used to reside in Houston Texas as the Oilers). The Oilers/Titans will square off for the fourth time against Baltimore.

Four other teams have faced them four times in play-off history; the Chargers, Patriots, Raiders, and beginning in the late '70s traveled to the Steel City to take on Pittsburgh. The Houston Oilers have been a franchise that has been moved more than once from one division to another, thus attempting to have a long-time rival in the playoffs has not captivated historians like San Francisco vs. Minnesota.
Steve McNair and Eddie George. Credit: CBS
That said—everyone who watched the Ravens play the Titans in January of 2001 came away from the game knowing that these two opponents just did not like each other.

The keys to victory in the playoffs are very similar to the regular season, yet we all know the stakes are higher with elimination, and any play can help determine the game. Line play and turnovers are key, but since this is a territorial game gaining yards and having the clock be your friend is paramount.

 Since so much of the game in this era is passing, and playing team pass defense; will end this narrative by examining the passer rating system (we all know a favorite of mine). New England led the league this year with a rating of 62.8, and Ryan T. had a rating of 61.0 against the Patriots last Saturday evening, a decent performance. Victory of course came from a staunch defense and bulldozing runs by Derrick Henry.

The Ravens ranked in the top five in the defensive passer rating system with a mark of 77.5, so Tannehill. must be more efficient for Tennessee to have a chance. The Titans were in the middle of the pack this year at 90.4, and face the league MVP.

No doubt Vrabel has mentioned this fact more than once this week, and specifically told his secondary to make plays!

San Francisco played much-improved team pass defense this year with a mark of 83.0, and the Vikings ranked just a few notches below at 86.1. Efficiency, turnovers, pass rush, and quarterbacks being decisive & accurate will determine the winner in this game. My smokehouse almonds and Dr. Pepper are ready, and so am I—bring on the divisional round!

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Close Coach Phillips—But Off Just a Little Bit

By John Turney 
Today Coach Wade Phillips did a great chat on Twitter, fielding questions from his followers. And he did a wonderful job. He's a great coach and a gentleman.

Of course, he repeated a claim that has been made over the years, that isn't true, it's close, but it's off some.

Here is the LINK to the Q&A.

Phillips is referring to the 3-4 defense and why he likes it more than a 4-3 and then says the Houston Oilers were the first team to use the 3-4 fulltime.

Well. . . yes and no.

The first teams to use it as their full-time base defense were the 1974 Oilers AND  ALSO the 1974 New England Patriots. Both teams opened the 1974 using the 3-4 defense, not just the Oilers.

However, many (if not all) teams dabbled in going back to the early 1960s. In the early 1970s a lot of teams used it quite a bit, the Patriots and Oilers among then, especially in 1973. But the Dolphins used it as a pass defense (the 53 defense) in 1972-73 and the Bills used it a lot in the mid-1960s, as did the Chargers and other AFL teams/

So, Phillips is not far off, but just to be accurate the Patriots got there first as well.
Game 1 Oilers used the 3-4

Patriots in Game 1, 1974 in the 3-4
Obviously, we are not saying Phillips is wrong or is intentionally deceptive, it's just likely he does not remember what the Patriots were doing.

Here are some AFL shots from the 1960s with a few teams in the 3-4—
This is the 1960 Chargers versus Denver with LAC in 3-4

1965 Chargers with the RDE on 2-point stance

Same game, Chargers with left DE standing up giving defense a 3-4 look


1965 Bills in their 3-4 with the RDE on second level over a guard

Chiefs with Buck Buchanon on the nose RDE standing up (LLB Bell in crouch)
We could show a lot more, but as we mentioned almost all teams used some form of a 3-4 defense and some point. In the 1950s teams mixed it in, even the Colts who'd move Bid Daffy Lipscomb to from right defensive tack to right inside linebacker in a 3-4 look. Others had variations as well but none didn't use it full time as the '74 Patriots and Oilers did but they did use it.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Pro Football Journal Awards

By PFJ Staff

Here are the PFJ Award winners for 2019—
MVP—LaMar Jackson, Ravens
OPOY—Christian McCaffrey, Panthers

DPOY —Stephon Gilmore, Patriots

Comeback—Cooper Kupp, Rams

Improved— Devante Parker, Dolphins

ST —JT Gray, Saints

Coach—John Harbaugh, Ravens

Executive—John Lynch, 49ers

Assistant Coach— Greg Roman, Ravens

Monday, January 6, 2020

Wade Phillips Out as Rams Defensive Coordinator

By John Turney
The Rams defense had three or so awful outings in 2019 but was also, on average, better than the 2018 defense that made it to the Super Bowl.

Phillips has had a long and distinguished career without a doubt. We do not know if he'll coach again or hang up the old waffle soul Riddells. But when you look at the teams he's been the defensive coordinator for or the head coach for, it is impressive.
(Click to enlarge)


One thing is for sure, several times he's landed in the money. What do we mean by 'landing in the money'?

He was hired to run his father's defense with the Saint in 1981 and they quickly drafted Rickey Jackson. Then, in 1986, he was hired by Buddy Ryan to coach the Eagles. Who was on that team when Wade arrived? Reggie White. In 1989 he goes to Denver but he inherited (and improved the defense there). They didn't have a star like Reggie White but then he's hired to coach the Bills who have a defensive end named Bruce Smith on the roster. Then he had some good players with the Falcons and Chargers but when he goes to Dallas he has DeMarcus Ware. Next, Son of Bum goes to Houston who just drafted JJ Watt then to Denver who had Von Miller

He then gets hired by the Rams who have Aaron Donald on the roster.

So, either he's the best defensive coach ever who developed these talented players into Hall of Famers or he's the most fortunate coach ever. Maybe both.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Everything Old is New Again—A-Gap Pressure Look with Defensive Tackles

By John Turney

The Seahawks beat the Eagles tonight in a fine game. One thing of note was a front the Eagles used to get their only sack. Here it is:
Eagles with both defensive tackles in the A-Gaps or both shading the center
It was interesting because it brought to memory the 1970 Eagles (and others) doing the same thing back in the day. Here is a screenshot of that:
1970 New York Giants at the Eagles
Jets align with both DTs in A-Gaps. 1979
It was nice seeing it, it's not something we see often.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Prediciting the AP All-Pro Team—How'd We Do?

By John Turney
Yesterday we posted our guesses for the AP All-Pro Team. So, how'd we do? We'd say we did okay but did miss some.

Here are the tallies for the "Locks":
We missed on Justin Simmons who was Second-team.

Here are what we termed "probables":
We missed on Hudson (Second-team) and Sherman as the fifth DB. We overthought the edge rushers, but Watt did get First-team as did Jones.

Here are the "Maybes", the hard ones to predict:
We'll take partial credit on the linebackers there. We didn't predict them as much as suggest that they would get mentions. We did miss on the second WR slot, though.

Where we missed the most was on who would get a certain amount of votes, we call that a fail by us.