Friday, June 26, 2020

PROTECTION: Nick Skorich

By TJ Troup
Nick Skorich
There have been many men who made an impact on the history of the NFL, and today's saga is about a man who has never been given his proper due as a coach. That man is Nick Skorich.

He began his NFL career in 1946 after serving our country in WWII; including the Normandy invasion. The twenty-five-year-old rookie contributed to the contending Steelers as an offensive guard, and on defense as the middle guard in Pittsburgh's 5-3.

He usually came off the bench and played in the second and fourth quarters. Though he played both guard positions on offense, he usually is at right guard. Limited film study shows him pulling with quickness, and battling much bigger men in pass protection when the Steelers actually passed.

Jock Sutherland's 1947 team is the only Pittsburgh team that actually earned a play-off berth until 1972, and the story of that team is captured in Steve Massey's book Starless. The team photo on the front shows Skorich front and center the with ball between his knees. Again, he usually came off the bench in the second and fourth quarters.
Skorich demonstrated terrific technique using his hands to defeat blocks at middle guard, and his pursuit and tackling skills are top-notch. Massey states in his book that Dr. Sutherland praised him, and stated that Nick had a future in coaching when his playing days were finished. Pittsburgh's record during his three-year career was 17-17-1.

Nick Skorich rejoins the Steelers as line coach in 1954 under Walt Kiesling and was kept on staff when Buddy Parker took over in 1957. The Steeler passing game came to life under Jim Finks and Joe Bach. Pittsburgh usually ranked near the top in fewest yards lost passing from 1953 through 1956. The Steeler run game struggled, but pass blocking was consistent and rock-solid under Nick. Though many games could be detailed, there is a game from 1955 that bears discussion.

October 23rd the contending Steelers are at the Polo Grounds to take on long time rival New York. The hard-fought 19-17 win kept Pittsburgh in first place with a record of 4-1 (the one loss a controversial game in the Coliseum against Los Angeles). The Steelers had beaten the Giants twice in the first five weeks, and the offensive coordinator of New York—one Vincent Lombardi was at his wits end with the lack of production and consistency of his offense.

Lombardi got together with line coach Del Isola and dramatically changed the Giants blocking scheme to "zone blocking", sometimes called "run to daylight". This story is not the focus of this article, yet Barry Gottehrer's fascinating book The Giants of New York is well worth the time to find, and read.

This story is about Skorich, so let's get back to Nick. Pittsburgh proceeds to lose seven straight in 1955 and is inconsistent in Kiesling's final year in 1956, but film study shows the Steelers were outstanding as pass blockers. The 1957 season though a slight improvement with a 6-6 record, the pass blocking is not as efficient or crisp. Possibly Earl Morrall held the ball too long, or Skorich and Parker were not on the same page with the blocking scheme, but Nick leaves to become the offensive line coach of the Green Bay Packers in 1958.

The less said the better about Scooter McLean's complete failure with that Packer team the better. The next stop for Skorich is a turning point in his career. Buck Shaw endured a very frustrating year in 1958, and his famous quote to his players very late in the season about who would be a Philadelphia Eagle in 1959 was a turning point in that teams' history. Norm Van Brocklin was a savvy hard-bitten leader of men who controlled his huddle. His accuracy and knowledge of the passing game and the coverages he faced are legendary, but rarely if ever does anyone mention that the "Dutchman" got rid of the ball quickly.

Obviously, this made Skorich's job with the offensive line easier. Buck Shaw wanted a balanced offense, and Van Brocklin gave it to him. The Eagles run game was average at best, and film study shows a tough-minded technique-oriented o-line, but the title of this story is protection! Pass protection in '58 before Skorich arrived was excellent as Van Brocklin was dumped for just 46 yards in losses(team lost 75), and never gave up more than 2 sacks in any game. Very impressive for a fifth-place team.

The first four games of 1959 Van Brocklin never goes down, and Philadelphia passers are dropped, smeared, smothered, snowed under—you pick the appropriate adjective for 1959 for just 72 yards. One of the league's quickest and best pass rushers is Chicago Cardinal left defensive end Leo Sugar. Film study shows center Chuck Bednarik snapping the ball and immediately moving quickly to his right to help the right tackle double team Sugar.

Skorich has made a contribution with his offensive line that receives little or no credit outside of the locker room. Seven times in twelve games the Eagles offensive line did not allow Van Brocklin to be taken down. The Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants with all of their skilled tough d-line did not once take down an Eagle quarterback during the '59 campaign! The improved 7-5 record while noticeable does not mean that anyone really believes the Eagles are true contenders in 1960.

Don Schiffer's Pro Football Handbook, and Petersen's Pro Football both pick Philadelphia for third place, and though both publications write about the much-improved o-line with a cast of newcomers—the Eagles are considered a long shot behind New York and Cleveland. During the opening day loss to the Browns back-up quarterback Sonny Jurgensen is dumped for an eight-yard loss, that will be the last time a Philadelphia quarterback will be taken down for six weeks!

The Eagles kept winning and protecting Van Brocklin. When injury forces Bednarik to be moved to left linebacker from center (he does not go both ways very much in the regular season unless a key play here or there) Bill Lapham takes over at center. He is not near as skilled in pass blocking as veteran concrete Charley, and in the key win over New York Van Brocklin goes down three times. New York with creative Tom Landry calling red dogs and line stunts brings the pressure. The next week when Philadelphia again beats New York Van Brocklin does not go down again demonstrating that Skorich can adapt, and teach his young warriors.

For the '60 season, Van Brocklin and Jurgensen are dumped for 141 yards in losses. Before Shaw's arrival the Eagle running backs lost the handle on the ball often. Losing fumbles is never a positive, and recent long term research has taught me the following—when a team does not have its quarterback go down, and does not lose a fumble that team wins 75% of the time (from 1950 through 1969).

Three times the Eagles accomplished this impressive feat in 1960 and won all three times. Nick Skorich now has a Championship ring. Buck Shaw retires, and his replacement is Nick Skorich. Philadelphia stays in the title hunt for the entire '61 campaign, and though the o-line still is adequate at pass protection, and Jurgensen sets league records—the o-line is not as well-coached as when Skorich was their leader and teacher.

Philadelphia struggles mightily during '62 & '63, and Skorich is cashiered as head coach. Blanton Collier hires Nick to be the defensive line coach for the Browns in 1964. Having been down that coaching road myself there are men who use out of the box thinking; if he can teach blocking, he can teach how to shed blocks, and defeat pass blockers. The result with a veteran d-line in Cleveland is an upset victory over Baltimore in the title game. Nick is a champion again.

Eventually, Collier moves coach Skorich into the position of offensive coordinator, and boy oh boy is he successful in orchestrating the Browns offense into a productive powerhouse. Cleveland twice upsets Dallas in eastern conference playoff games, and though beaten in title games—the Browns offense is consistent, creative, and productive under Nick Skorich.
When Collier retires after 1970 Skorich again gets a chance to lead a team. The Browns are back in the play-offs in both 1971 and '72. Nick Skorich has talented o-line in Cleveland and they sure are capable of keeping the quarterback upright and not getting "SACKED"—we now use that term based upon a very vocal and talented pass rusher in Los Angeles.

For seventy games (1968 through 1972) the Browns allow only 53 sacks in 23 losses, and even more impressive only 53 sacks in 47 wins and a tie! Though there are other offensive line coaches historically that are excellent at teaching pass blocking.

Nick Skorich could have made the claim that from 1954 through 1972 he was the best, with the possible exception of Lombardi. When his coaching career came to a close, Nick went on to be the supervisor of officials for the NFL, yet for me, he will always be known as a man who could teach, and coach offensive lineman.

***************

Will end today with a short, yet pointed comments concerning a recent article online at Sports Illustrated. For those of you who have not read Grant Cohn's disaster of an article on the Mount Rushmore of defensive coaches, would relish comments from all of you after reading it.

How much film of the '50's and '60's did Cohn watch? How many books has he written on the history of NFL defensive football?

Jerry Williams did not invent nickel coverage! Bud Carson did not invent Cover-2! Dick LeBeau did not invent the zone blitz! My library has film that refutes all of what Cohn writes. The end result you ask? After 39 years my subscription to SI has ended abruptly, and Paul Lionel Zimmerman is turning over in his grave. Imagine for a moment the descriptive adjectives Dr. Z would have for Cohn?

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Ralph Hay Pioneer Award—The Hall of Fame Should Present It More Often

LOOKING FORWARD
By John Turney
Over the years we've nominated several people to win the Hall of Fame's "Pioneer Award". It used to be known as the Dan Reeves Pioneer Award and is now known as the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Ralph Hay Pioneer Award.

According to the Hall, it is "Presented periodically to an individual who has made significant and innovative contributions to professional football."

Here is a list of the previous winners—
Fred Gehrke, 1972 
Arch Ward, 1975 
John Facenda, 1986 
David Boss, 1992  
George Toma, 2001  
City of Pottsville, Pennsylvania, 2004
Steve Sabol, 2007
Art McNally, 2012
Joe Browne, 2016

 Gehrke won it for creating the NFL's first helmet logo, Ward for creating the College All-Star game among other things. Facenda for his work voicing NFL Films features, Boss for being the creative force behind NFL Properties, Toma for being a genius in terms of groundskeeping, the City of Pottsville (who rejected the award) as recognition for the lost NFL title in 1925 (a discussion for another day), Steve Sabol for being the creative leader for NFL films, Art McNally for NFL officiating leadership and Joe Browne for being the NFL's publicity man for many years.

We've always felt Seymour Siwoff (Elias Sports Bureau) and Merv Corning (artist) deserved the award and as we said among others, though now with the Hall of Fame's contributor category Siwoff deserves induction to the Hall of Fame itself as a contributor.
Credit: Merv Corning
Some of those others worthy of the Ralph Hay Hay Pioneer Award would be Amy Trask, the NFL's first female Chief Executive. Another would be William “Pudge” Hefflefinger footballs first professional player. Charles Follis, the first black professional football player should also be included.
Amy Trask
Corning's artistry was incredible and so prolific he is deserving of some sort of recognition and the Pioneer Award seems fitting. 
Hefflefinger  Credit: Pro Football Hall of Fame
Trask,  Hefflefinger, and Follis did not have professional careers that were distinguished in terms of success by Hall of Fame standards (Hefflefinger is in the College Hall of Fame)—the best of the best or "the truly great" but they, too are deserving of recognition as pioneers, if not the Hall of Fame itself, the Pioneer Award is exactly the fit for their contributions to the game.
Follis  Credit: Pro Football Hall of Fame
We would encourage the Hall of Fame to not give the award every 4-5 years but perhaps every 2-3 years because, in addition to the 4-5 names here, there are undoubtedly others worthy of an award like the Hay for people who were pioneers who are not Hall of Fame-worthy. 

Monday, June 15, 2020

Rod Woodson—1993: A Season for the Ages

By Nick Webster
Credit: Bruce Testor
This past season Stephon Gilmour, deservedly, won Defensive Player of the Year for his play at cornerback. This is a relative rarity, with the award cornerbacks broke their tie with safety’s for the least recognition in DPOY Awards since the AP began awarding it in 1971.
The Mel Blount and Lester Hayes both led the league with double-digit interception numbers on their path to the award. Then, in 1993, Rod Woodson won the award with just 8 interceptions, a figure that was not league leading in that season—what transpired?  What follows is a game-by-game account of Rod Woodson’s 1993 season compiled based on tape study of every single play of the Steeler defense that season.

The cornerback position can be hard to judge and, notably, many of the early selections for DPOY from the position were selected on the back of extraordinary interception numbers.

First a refresher—the Steeler team was headed by a young new head coach names Bill Cowher, in just his second season at age 36, Cowher was still making a name for himself. The defensive coordinator was Dom Capers, also in his second season who was aided by a DB Coach you may have heard of named Dick LeBeau. LeBeau had already held a defensive coordinator spot in Cincinnati where he had tinkered with the zone blitz concepts that were largely originated years earlier by Bill Arnsparger.

These creative young, at the time, coaches headed a defense that was up and coming and loaded with playmakers. Rod Woodson and Greg Lloyd were the holdovers and stars in the system, but 1993 also saw the addition of Kevin Greene from the Rams and Chad Brown a second-round pick out of Colorado.

The defense was poised to go on a multi-year run of dominance and would be nicknamed “The Defense of the 90’s”, given that their star Linebackers Greene (91), Lloyd (95), Brown (94) and Kirkland (99) all wore uniform numbers in the ’90s.  But 1993 was the year of Rod Woodson.

Game 1 – Pit v. SF:   4 Targets, 2 Completions, 23 Yards, 0 TDs, 2 Ints
Steve Young, the reigning Passer Rating leader, comes out of the gate hot hitting 13 of his first 15 for 2 TDs. Woodson is not particularly targeted in the streak and draws John Taylor in coverage for much of the game. Woodson is firmly established at left corner and is not traveling or covering any 49er particularly.  

In the second half, Woodson gets hot and picks off two Young passes on consecutive drives to present the Steelers with an opportunity to pull off the victory. His first int comes off a poor pass from Young, pressured out of the pocket to his right by Kevin Greene the lefty QB throws across his body off one foot downfield to Brent Jones. Woodson comes off his man and picks it off undercutting the intended receiver. He shows excellent ball skills making a leaping catch in front of Jones who has no chance to break up the play. It’s an excellent example of what makes Woodson the ballhawk he is known as.
The Steelers go 4-and-out on the following drive. Then, on the first play of the next 49er drive, Woodson picks off another Young pass, another display of ball skills. Woodson is man-to-man on Jerry Rice on the right side, Rice releases inside and goes deep downfield, Woodson trails him to – again – high point the slightly underthrown ball for an Int.  A better-thrown ball could have meant trouble given how Woodson was trailing on the play.
Outside of his dominance in coverage Woodson also blocks a 47-yard field goal coming off the edge, despite the loss, Woodson’s play leaves an impression of what’s to come.

Game 2 – Pit @ LA:   6 Targets, 3 Completions, 27 Yards, 0 TDs, 1 Int
The Steelers go to LA and get trounced by the Rams with Jim Everett having a great day, though relatively little success targeting Woodson. Henry Ellard has a huge first half with 8 receptions for 120 yards – mostly targeting D.J. Johnson.  

Woodson’s Interception is noteworthy however for the fact that – while it counts on the stat sheet – it had virtually no impact on the game. The pick was a garbage end-of-half hail-mary with so little meaning that the announcers fail to even mention it merely calling it the end of the half.  It is another display of the hands that were one of Woodson’s greatest traits, with the ball in his area, he has a chance to pick off any pass at his best.
Game 3 – Pit v. Cin:   0 Targets, 1 Pass Interference Penalty for 22 Yards
Dave Klingler completely avoids Rod Woodson throughout the entire game; finally, down 34–6 in the fourth quarter the Bengals replace Klingler with veteran castoff Jay Schroeder. On his second pass attempt Schroeder finally targets Woodson and draws a 22-yard Pass Interference penalty on Woodson which will be his only PI penalty of the year. He gets caught making too much contact on a stop-and-go to Will Carroll.


Game 4 – Pit @ Atl:  4 Targets, 1 Completion, 21 Yards, 0 TD’s, 2 Ints, 1 Def Holding Penalty
Falcon starter Bobby Hebert struggles massively as the Falcons fall behind 45–17 in the 4th quarter.  Woodson gives up a 21-yard completion to Mike Pritchard in the 3rd quarter, but otherwise, Hebert cannot capitalize. Finally, the Falcons pull Hebert for Jim Miller who is injured on his first play and is then replaced by Billy Joe Tolliver in the 4th quarter. In Tolliver’s first snaps of the season, the drive ends with a Woodson Interception near the goal line, when he jumps in front of Mike Haynes on a curl.
Finally, on the last play of the game, Woodson again is the beneficiary of a gift another Hail Mary interception his second of the season; like most great statistical seasons Woodson was the beneficiary of some good luck.
Game 5 – Pit v. SD:   1 Target, 1 Completion, 11 Yards, 0 TDs
Coming off a buy, the Steeler defense absolutely smothers the Chargers particularly in the running game; the Chargers gain 19 yards on 20 rushing attempts.  In the passing game Woodson has a very quiet day – giving up an 11-yard completion to Anthony Miller on a comeback route on the second play of the game and then not being targeted for the remaining 59+ minutes of the game.

Game 6 – Pit v. NO:  8 Targets, 3 Completions, 46 Yards, 0 TDs, 2 Ints
One of Woodson’s busiest games of the season sees him targeted 8 times and again, for the third time in the young season he picks off two passes. Again, Woodson is the beneficiary of a certain amount of luck, Intercepting a pass tipped into the air by Saint RB Derek Brown for his first Interception of the day and returning it 63 yards for a touchdown to put the Steelers up 7 – 0 on the fourth plan of the game.
On the Saints second possession Woodson deflects a swing pass out of the backfield intended for Fullback Brad Muster. The third Saints possession of the game ends with another Woodson interception, a great play where Woodson undercuts an out pattern to Pat Newman for a diving interception that again displays his special ball skills.
Though the end of the first quarter Woodson has four targets, two interceptions and two other passes defensed. The remainder of the game sees the Saints having far more success going to Woodson going 3 of 4 for 46 yards.

Game 7 – Pit @ Cle .5 Targets, 0 Completions
Through 6 games Woodson has already picked off 7 passes and,along with a little luck, is off to a great start, and the leader in the clubhouse for the Defensive Player of the Year Award.  

He has been so dominant and so statistically impressive that announcer Tom Hammond invokes thoughts of Night Train Lane and the all-time single-season interception record, over 40 years old at the time.  

In early action Browns wideout Mark Carrier injures a hamstring and the Browns attack will struggle to gain traction with his replacement Rico Smith stepping into a larger role.  

One play broke that trend was a 62-yard touchdown to WR Michael Jackson. Jackson caught an underneath pass 4 yards downfield behind Linebacker Levon Kirkland and ran through the defense for the remaining 58 yards. The Steeler defense, when it does have breakdowns, is often a victim of asking too much of its great linebacking core and young Bill Belichick exploited the Kirkland Jackson match up beautifully.

The only target of the game for Woodson had him sharing coverage in a short pass against a zone, it was an otherwise uneventful game.

Game 8 – Pit @ Cin:   2 Targets, 1 Completion, 12 Yards
After replacing David Klingler in the first Bengal – Steeler tilt Jay Schroeder is now the starter in Cincinnati though the team would revert-back to Klingler in a few weeks. Rarely targeted, Woodson gives up a single completion for 12-yards to Carl Pickens in the 3rd quarter. At the seasons mid-point, it is only the second time in the season-to-date that he has ceded a reception without also picking off a pass in the same game.

Game 9 – Pit v. Buf:   5 Targets, 3 Completions, 63 Yards
In a game where the defense shined, Woodson is beaten over the top for the first time all season and this 51-yarder to Andre Reed made an otherwise strong game look weaker. Woodson usually is lined up at Left Cornerback and is often opposite Bills star Andre Reed making this as close to a one-on-one matchup Woodson has had to-date. Ironically, on the play where Woodson is beaten by Reed it’s a rare instance of him aligned on the right side.  

In the first quarter Woodson tips a second-down pass to Reed incomplete; then two plays later he gives up a short 7-yarder to Reed on first down. Woodson is not targeted again until the last drive of the half. On 3rd down from their own 18 with just :38 seconds left in the half Woodson gets burned.
On the play, Reed releases downfield and slowly fades to the sideline.  As Reed fades, Woodson loses contact with him and Reed has created meaningful horizontal separation.  A well-placed Kelly ball is positioned over Reed’s right shoulder but given the separation Reed has created, the ball is now over Woodson’s left shoulder and he gets turned around.  Darren Perry is there for help over the top, but not until the Bills have their biggest play of the game and have created a scoring opportunity late in the 2nd quarter.
Two plays later after a sack and an incomplete pass the half was over and the shutout was preserved.  In the second half, Frank Reich replaces Jim Kelly but the results do not improve, the last Bills offensive play of the game is an incomplete pass from Frank Reich to Steve Tasker with Rod Woodson in coverage.

Game 10 – Pit @ Den:  4 Targets, 3 Completions, 29 Yards
The 6-4 Steelers take on the 6–4 Broncos and get trounced in a 37–13 loss. Bronco QB John Elway has a fantastic game though he only targeted Woodson 4 times with 2 of those successful. A 10-yard first-down completion on 1st and 10 and a 17-yard completion on 2nd and 9 saw Vance Johnson targeted on each.Vance had a strong game, though his TD catch was at the expense of Rookie Deon Figures who is receiving increasing snaps at this point in the season and is frequently picked on opposite his more seasoned teammates.

Game 11 – Pit @ Hou:   1 Target, 0 Completions
The Oilers Run ‘n Shoot Offense has the Steelers respond with a 2–3–6 alignment as opposed to their typical 3–4. This alignment has Deon Figures and Gary Jones as starters in the defensive backfield and sees 270-pound starting ILB Levon Kirkland on the bench as the game starts. Warren Moon and Haywood Jeffries have exceptional games, the latter with 7 receptions for 139 yards including a 66-yard Touchdown.  

The Oiler alignment typically has Jeffries as the inside receiver on the left side of the offensive formation, with Woodson rarely assigned coverage. Jeffries’ 66-yard TD strike comes on a Steeler blitz with Carnell Lake coming off the edge, Jeffries gets behind CB D.J. Johnson and S Darren Perry is slow in getting over to provide support.  
Game 12 – Pit v. NE:   8.5 Targets, 3.5 Completions, 95 Yards
In one of Woodson’s two or three worst games of the season, he gives up almost 100 yards largely covering the since-forgotten Patriot WR Michael Timson.The first time Woodson is targeted is on a deep pass to Timson which goes for 48 yards after Woodson is slow to turn and run with the diminutive wideout, a slightly better throw could have allowed Timson to score had he not had to slow down to catch the ball. However, Woodson’s speed is such that it takes great separation to get behind him and not get run down. Every time in the 1993 season Woodson is beaten, he is never run away from—speed counts.
On the next Patriots drive Woodson yields a 9-yarder to Timson and Woodson is shaken up on the play, a victim of friendly fire from an incoming Greg Lloyd.
Woodson sits out a single play after being shaken up, but perhaps it should have been longer. On the first play, he is back on the field Bledsoe again targets Woodson, this time covering Vinson Brisby on the right side of the defensive formation as the Patriots have no receivers on the other side. The ensuing completion is good for 31 yards.
On Woodson’s first three targets of the game each ended with a completion, the back half of the game would be far better for Woodson. Woodson is still capable of the unique type of plays that only athletes of his stature can make; on the next drive, he produces a leaping play to bat down a Drew Bledsoe check-down attempt on a corner-blitz.
Game 13 – Pit @ Mia:   6 Targets, 1 Completion, 5.5 Yards, 1 Int
On a Miami Monday night, the Steelers face off against a depleted Dolphin team which has Steve DeBerg at the helm with Dan Marino out injured with a torn Achilles. The veteran DeBerg throws the ball 44 times and does not avoid Woodson, throwing his way 7 times (twice with a receiver doubled) though Woodson performs phenomenally coming off one of his toughest games of the year.  

In those 7 targets, 2 are complete (both in double coverage) one for just 2-yards on 1st and 10 and the other for 8 yards on 2nd and 10. However, Woodson personally causes two turnovers; one a forced fumble downfield after a Terry Kirby pass went for 47, one a midfield Interception to close the game as the Dolphins drive for a win down 21–20 with the clock running down.

Woodson’s 2nd quarter Forced Fumble demonstrated his great speed, hustle, and ball skills.  Kirby catches the ball on a short wheel-route out of the backfield. The Dolphins as with many before them, exploit the slow-footed Linebacker Levon Kirkland.  

Kirby pulls-away, avoiding a tackle attempt by Carnell Lake, bouncing off Linebacker Chad Brown and S Darren Perry.  After being chased down by D.J. Johnson, Woodson makes up ground and tomahawks the ball from Kirby’s hands on the 6-yard line allowing the trailing Carnell Lake to recover the ball deep in Steeler territory at the 3-yard line.
Then – with the Dolphins down 1 (21–20) 1st and 10 on their own 44-yard line with :15 seconds left, DeBerg tries to drive the comeback. Content with getting into Field Goal range, the Dolphins are not looking for the Hail Mary but rather to pick up smaller chunks of yardage to make way for a Stoyanovich Field Goal for the victory.  

DeBerg’s sideline pattern to Mark Ingram is read perfectly by Woodson, who steps in front of the pass for the Interception and is headed down the sideline for the Endzone. Only a great hustling play by Richmond Webb–who has an angle on the much fleeter Woodson–prevents it from being a pick-six . . . game-over, Steelers win.
This huge game late in the season likely sealed Woodson’s Defensive Player of the Year lead.

Game 14 – Pit v. Hou:   1 Target, 1 Completion, 10 Yards
Houston jumps out to an early 14-point lead following a long run with a short pass by RB Gary Brown and an Interception return TD by Bo Orlando, less than six-minutes into the game.  Off the early lead Houston’s game-plan is relatively conservative with a good Run-Pass balance for a Run ‘n Shoot Offense and with many of the passes being to Backs or Tight Ends for short gains.  Woodson is targeted once and gives up a 10-yard reception on 2nd and 13 in the 4th quarter.

Game 15 – Pit @ Sea 0 Targets, 0 Completions
Woodson is not attacked by young Rick Mirer in the Seattle game as the Seahawks grind out a win riding 45 Rushes for 267 Yards with over 35 minutes of possession to surprise the favored Steelers.  Woodson’s 6 tackles are all made on running plays as the Seahawks pound their opponents.

Game 16 – Pit v. Cle:  5 Targets, 4 Completions, 72 Yards
The Steelers win their final game of the season against their division rivals to earn a playoff spot for the second straight year under Bill Cowher. Woodson gives up his longest completion of the season a 55-yarder to veteran Mark Carrier but has an otherwise solid game.

The first quarter is quiet, though Woodson does muff a punt on special teams. On the first Browns play of the second quarter, Woodson gives up his biggest play of the year. Lined up man-to-man with Mark Carrier on the defensive left, Woodson gets a right-hand jam on Carrier off the line. The jam does not materially throw Carrier off who gets an outside release downfield. Woodson is able to run in Carrier’s hip pocket and appears to be in excellent position. The Testaverde bomb however is slightly underthrown 30 yards down the right sideline and Carrier does a better job adjusting to the throw than Woodson who loses balance after Carrier goes up for the catch. Carrier regains his balance but has lost enough speed so the Steeler defense can catch up.  He bounces off a tackle attempt of D.J. Johnson and Darren Perry before Greg Lloyd can finally mop up the play 55-yards downfield.  The play could easily have gone for a Touchdown; however, the Steeler defense holds and the Browns have to settle for a 36-yard Matt Stover Field Goal.
On the first play following the bomb Woodson injures his hand in run support along with Darren Perry and Chad Brown.  Woodson misses the remaining two defensive plays of the drive but returns when the Browns regain the ball for the following drive and the remainder of the game is largely uneventful.

Season Recap:   56 Targets, 26.5 Completions, 414 Yards, 0 TD’s, 8 Int’s
Completion: 47.3%,  Touchdown: 0.0%,  Interception: 14.3%,  Yds / Attempt: 7.4,  
Defensive Passer Rating: 32.8

Woodson’s season was truly special. His 32.8 Passer Rating allowed is among the best ever and up there with the great seasons that Deion Sanders and Ty Law had, 2009 Darrelle Revis and outlier great seasons like Eric Allen’s 1998 or Asante Samuel’s 2010.  

His interception percentage specifically would rank 4th among CBs targeted in the last 25 years (1995–2019); complete data is not available prior to 1995 so it is possible another CB had a higher rate in 1993 or 1994).  Clearly, any season where a top CB allows zero touchdowns is a tremendous success.

Woodson did it largely with superior physical skills, excellent hands, and anticipation, but without always the most technically perfect technique.  

He frequently used wingspan to make up for being slightly out of position and was turned around on a few instances. 

However, all that is still the nature of the position, all top-flight CB’s get beaten (as Gilmore was in the Pats shocking final week loss by Devante Parker), and Woodson was truly beaten three times.  However, another sign of a great is that being beaten doesn’t result in a TD, in this his recovery speed was his biggest asset.

Surround a season like Rod Woodson’s 1993 with a series of other of similar – possibly a half notch down – quality seasons, a long career, and impressive numbers and recognition and you have yourself a member of the NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team.

Click to enlarge—


Thursday, June 11, 2020

The Grandaddy of All Trade Strings

LOOKING BACK
By John Turney
Andy Robustelli
The grandaddy of them all—the "big" trade string. This one is more complicated than the previous two we've posted about. It involves a bit more of an investment in original picks, but the payoff is also higher.

So, let's get going.

In the 19th round of the 1951 NFL Draft, the Los Angles Rams drafted a small (6-1, 220) end out of Arnold College named Andy Robustelli. He was a fine defensive end for the Rams. He played for them for five seasons (twice All-Pro, twice Second-team) and then wanted to retire. He'd tired of being away from the East coast. So, to send him closer to home and engineered a trade to the New York Giants and Robustelli brought in a 1957 first-round pick—Del Shofner.
Bill Wade
Now, let's go back to 1952 when the Rams finally got their chance at the bonus pick—a rotating extra first-round pick that was drawn from a hat, and then the teams that got it were eliminated. thus, in 1952 it was the Rams turn. With that pick, they took quarterback Billy Wade.

As can be imagined, Norm Van Brocklin was not pleased with Wade's presence (which due to military service didn't happen until 1954) and it eventually led to Van Brocklin's departure to the Eagles. Wade took over as the full-time Rams quarterback in 1958 but by 1960 he was sharing time with Frank Ryan.

Wade, like Van Brocklin, was not happy about having to share the quarterback position. Actually, it was the same with Bob Waterfield who was still in his prime when Norm Van Brocklin showed up on the scene in 1949. This, as most NFL fans know, is a Rams theme—quarterback controversies.

When Wade took his complaints with the media the Rams made him part of a three-way trade that sent him to the Bears, Erich Barnes to the Giants, and brought the Rams a first-round pick, a sixth-round pick, Lindon Crow and quarterback Zeke Bratkowski.
So, the Rams had the Giants 1962 first-round pick. The Giants had another first-rounder—they traded George Shaw to the expansion Vikings and received the Vikings 1963 first-round pick for him.

Back to Shofner was a player with great speed who had played defensive back as a rookie then was a fine end in his second and third seasons averaging 48 catches, 1016 yards, a 20.7 average, and 8 TDs in those two years. Then in 1960, he played more defensive back and less receiver.

When the Giants inquired about Shofner, when the Rams offered him for trade was "what's wrong with him". The word was, according to Rams general manager Elroy Hirsch "the boys kind of lost confidence in Shofner, he had a couple of drops in a couple of games". Tom Fears was the receivers coach and Bob Waterfield was the head coach so maybe the "boys" Hirsch.
Del Shofner
Late in the preseason in 1961, the Giants agreed to a trade for Shofner. They were to send the Vikings first-round pick to the Rams and the Rams would send Shofner and a "frontline" player to be named later—presumably a halfback.

As the 1962 draft drew closer (in December 1961) the Giants and Rams couldn't agree on that halfback. One very reliable Ram source suggested it would be a defensive halfback (he didn't name him) but the Giants were pretty well-stocked at corner and even safety. They were relatively weak at offensive halfback and the Rams had some fine young ones. However, the report we saw came from a writer who nailed most of the Rams draft picks that year.

So, using some speculation the "frontline" halfbacks could have been Jon Arnett or Dick Bass (both former first-round picks) or perhaps Eddie Meador, though again, the Giants didn't need him, but he was an excellent player who would have been highly valued. The Rams perhaps wanted to send someone like Alvin Hall and young player but he didn't have the draft pedigree of the aforementioned players.

Be that as it may, the Rams and Giants could not agree and Pete Rozelle stepped in and forced a final completion of the trade the day before the draft. It was decided that The Rams (who technically owned both the number one picks, the Giants and the Vikings, but owed the Giants a "frontline player") would not send a player to the Giants, but would only keep the Vikings pick and the giants would keep their own pick later in the round.

Thus, the "net-net" is that Shofner was traded for the privilege of moving from the back of the first round to the top of the first round.

Ironically Arnett had leg injuries in 1962 and 1963 and was shipped to the Bears in 1964 to replace Willie Gallimore who had passed away in a car crash. Essentially, the Rams paid a first-round pick to keep Arnett or Bass or Meader. bass and Meader had a lot left and Arnett didn't, though there was no way for the Ram to know that at the time.

So, were at the 1962 NFL draft and the Rams have the number one overall pick and they take Roman Gabriel. We'll get to him later.

The Rams got 2½ years of poor play from Zeke Bratkowski (3-21 starting record 20-25 TD-INT ratio) and he was waived late in the 1963 season and quickly signed by the Packers. But was he cut or traded?

There was a lot of funny business in the deal. Bart Starr was hurt and the Packers needed a reliable backup for insurance and after the season Ken Iman told the media, "It was an open secret that one of us (Packers) was coming to Los Angeles. The de facto "player to be named later" was Iman.

So, add that to the total. Iman, after missing a season with a broken ankle was a Rams starting center for ten seasons. (Iman, in 1975, was traded to the Cardinals for a conditional pick, but he failed a physical so the pick was never exercised.)

1951 19th round pick Andy Robustelli (5 years)
1957 first-round Del Shofner (4 years)
1952 bonus pick Billy Wade (7 years)
1958 fourth-round  John Guzik  (2) years
1962 fifth-round pick
Lindon Crow (4 years)
Zeke Bratkowski (2.5 years)
Ken Iman (11 years)
Roman Gabriel (11 years)

We have yet to find the 1962 sixth-rounder the Rams were supposed to have received in the three-way deal. records are hard to find for later round picks, so it could have been traded away but we will keep looking. So, there could be a bit more "value" yet to be uncovered.

So,  through Gabriel, the original 19th rounder, the first-round bonus pick, a 4th, and a 5th round pick netted the Rams 46½ seasons. Robustelli, Shofner, and Gabriel made All-Pro at least once.
Roman Gabriel
Now comes the famous 1973 Gabriel trade to the Philadelphia Eagles. After John Hadl was traded to the Rams Gabriel was unhappy and demanded a trade. The new head coach of the Eagles Mike McCormack though Gabriel had enough left to pay a very steep price.

That price?
Harold Jackson, a Pro Bowl wide receiver (5 years)
Tony Baker, a fine fullback.  (2 years)
1974 first-round pick (#11-John Cappelletti) (6 years)
1975 first-round pick (#11-Dennis Harrah) (13 years)
1975 third-round pick (#67-Dan Nugent) (no Ram years)

So, the original haul for Gabe was 26 extra years. But that was not all. We have to see what those players brought in terms of residuals. 

Tony Baker was traded in 1976 for Carl Ekern. Baker had been a terrific short-yardage back in 1973 and 1974 and got offered a fifth round pick so they took it, likely figuring they had a fine stable of fullbacks having recently converted Cullen Bryant to running back and just having drafted Cappelletti. 
Carl Ekern
Harold Jackson was traded to the Patriots in 1978 for a 3rd and 4th round picks after five Pro Bowl-type seasons for the Rams. Here it gets complicated but using the current draft trade value chart we think we've done the due diligence to parse out how the picks were used, well, close enough for rock and roll, anyway.  

The fourth-round pick for Jackson and a third-round pick (acquired in exchange for Dan Nugent) were paired together in a complicated trade with the 49ers for Charle Young that brought the Rams Jewerl Thomas. Young brought a third, but that was not part of the trade string in our view. (And that third was paired with a pick the Rams got for Bill Simpson and it brought them Gary Jeter if one wished to include it, we won't.)

Thomas had a couple of big games late in 1980 then did little else and was eventually traded for cornerback Eric Harris. Harris was a key role player in 1983 and 1984 when the Rams suffered injuries, so he came in handy.

So, Jackson's part was one year of Thomas and about ½ of Barry Redden because the third round was part of a trade that was sent to the Washington that got the Rams a first-round pick in 1982. We think Nugent's part of the Redden deal is about two seasons. 

We mentioned Dan Nugent, the Rams got the third-rounder we mentioned, but they also got a second-rounder in 1980 and with that, they chose Irv Pankey. Pankey was a stalwart for the Rams in the 1980s, taking over for Doug France. 

So Nugent got netted the Rams 605 draft trade value points (2nd and a 3rd) in today's parlance. A late-1st round pick. 

As a sidebar, it seems the Rams sure took advantage of George Allen in a couple of trades involving offensive linemen. A second- and third for Nugent who was a third-round pick. 

Then there was the Tim Stokes deal, which again, using the current DVC as a guide netted the Rams first-round value. Allen sent a 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th to the Rams for Stokes and a 6th and 8th making the value for Stokes around a 23rd overall. Stokes, like Nugent, was originally a third-round pick.

To say George Allen didn't value picks was always an understatement but giving that kind of value (2nd and 3rd rounders) for players who were originally 3rd rounders and hadn't proven anything in the NFL is pushing it, even for Allen.

Back from the sidebar.

And after a decade of service, Pankey was traded to the Colts for a third-round pick and a 1993 third-round pick (Marc Boutte) and a 1993 eleventh-round pick (Brian Townsend).

We mentioned Barry Redden. He was the product of sending a #2-1982  (#49); a #3-1981 (#69); and two #5s-1981 (#117 and #132) for the Washington's 14th overall pick. 

The Rams got one of the 5ths from the Packers for Mike Wellman, and the Rams got Wellman for the pick they got for Harold Jackson. The #3 they got in the Bob Brudzinski deal, which is not part of the Gabriel trade string in our view.
John Cappelletti
However, the second-round pick that went to Washington is part of the Gabriel deal. The Rams got it from the Chargers for John Cappelletti. Using our formula we estimate that Cappelletti contributes to three years of Redden's career. 

We told you this is complicated.

The Rams got five years of service (as a backup to Eric Dickerson) out of Redden but since he was a strong, fast rinning back with little wear and tear he had trade value. 
Barry Redden
So the Rams shipped him South on  I-5 to San Diego and got a 1988 second-round pick and a 1989 sixth-round pick. The sixth-rounder was Thom Kaumeyer who didn't contribute to the Rams but did play as a special teamer for the Seahawks for a could of seasons. But the second-rounder was Flipper Anderson who was a huge "get" for the Rams. 

He was a terrific deep threat for the Rams for several years and many Rams fans will always remember him as the one who scored a touchdown in overtime to beat the Giants in the 1989 playoffs. 

Carl Ekern (13 years)
Jewerl Thomas (2 years)
Eric Harris (3 years)
Irv Pankey (10 years)
Marc Boutte (2 years)
Barry Redden (5 years)
Flipper Anderson (7 years)
The tally for the residual of the Gabriel "haul" is about 42 years, including injured reserve seasons.

So in three parts we have—
Pre-1973 Gabriel trade = 46½ seasons
The Gabriel haul = 26 years
Residual years = 42 years
Total = 114½ seasons

Again, for the price of—
the original 19th rounder,
the first-round bonus pick,
A 4th (Guzik)
A 5th round pick

And the lowly 1951 pick from Arnold college took the Rams into the early 1990s with Marc Boutte.

How a Slice of Bacon Became a Whole Hog

LOOKING BACK
By John Turney
Coy Bacon
We have posted about "trade strings" before and will again in the future. Before we posted about a free agent Bob Mann returned huge dividends for the Lions over many years. In the future, we will talk about a lowly 19th rounder plus a bonus pick stocking a team with active players for forty years.

Today it's a 1969 fifth-round pick that grew into a lot of players and a lot of years by building his value and bringing greater returns and then the player they were traded for getting traded for more and more picks by wise moves by a general manager.

Coy Bacon wasn't in love in college. He was at Jackson State but left there to try out for the Houston Oilers but they wouldn't sign him because after a few phone calls they found out he had not graduated from school (signing players whose graduating class had not graduated was against AFL and NFL rules).

So, Bacon played minor league ball for a couple of years and was signed by the Dallas Cowboys and spent a year on their taxi squad. The Los Angeles Rams were familiar with him because they often scrimmaged with the Cowboys because both trained in Southern California at the time.

Bacon was an up-the-field type defensive lineman, not a fit for the Dallas disciplined flex defense, so in 1968 the rams sent a 1969 fifth-round pick to the Cowboys for Bacon. Bacon was a backup in 1968, filled in for an injured Roger Brown part of the 1969 season, and from 1970-72 was a Pro Bowl quality defensive end for the Rams, though his run defense was not top quality, he was one of the best pass rushers in the NFL.
Bob Thomas
In 1971 the Rams picked up a running back the Bengals had drafted but cut named Bob Thomas, and he was a special teamer that year and filled in well in 1972 for an injured Willie Ellison and in two early-season starts, he ripped off 144 yards rushing in week one and 142 yards in week four. His stock was pretty high. Ellison came back and Thomas did start a few more games but didn't get more than 10 carries in any game that season. Still, he had value.

In January 1973, Chuck Knox was hired by the Rams and a day later, attempting to shore up the quarterback position (which suffered in 1972 with a sore-armed Roman Gabriel) and shipped Coy Bacon (who Knox didn't think played the run well enough for his tastes) and Thomas to San Diego for John Hadl.

Hadl gave the Rams 10 great games, going 8-2 and completing 101 of 179  passes for 56.4% and 1592 yards for 17 TDs and just 6 picks and 103.9 passer rating which began that very season.

Then, in the next 11 starts (including playoffs), he was 7-4 and his passing stats were 106/239 (44.4%) for 1445 yards and 13 TDs and 12 picks and a 61.4 passer rating.

Hadl had an unannounced back injury late in 1973 and it affected his accuracy. And it was pretty clear it had to have happened around week 10 of that season. Hadl had clearly regressed.

Don Klosterman, the Rams GM, armed with that knowledge, and the Packers, likely not. And the Packers were desperate for a quarterback. After week five they beat Hadl and the Rams and were 3-2.  Apparently, the Packers brain trust didn't think Jerry Tagge and Jack Concannon could take them to the playoffs and they thought the 1974 team was capable of getting there if they could have something close the the "1973 Hadl" with them.
So, to remedy the situation the Packers sent the Rams a 1975 first-round pick, 1975 second-round pick, 1975 third-round pick, 1976 first-round pick, and a 1976 second-round pick (two #1s, two #2s and a #3) for Hadl.

With those picks the Rams chose:
• 1975 first-round pick (#9-Mike Fanning; 8 Rams years )
• 1975 second-round pick (#28-Monte Jackson, 3 Ram years)
• 1975 third-round pick (#61-Geoff Reece, 2 Ram years)
• 1976 first-round pick   (Compensation for signing free agent Ron Jessie, 5 Rams years)
• 1976 second-round pick (#39-Pat Thomas, 7 Ram years)

So, a quick tally, with the 1969 Rams fifth-round pick the Rams got
Coy Bacon, 5 years
Bob Thomas, 2 years
John Hadl, 1.5 years
the Hadl "Haul" 25 years.

But, that's not all. Those players, after they had served the Rams were then traded and had "salvage value" or residual value. It's kind of like buying a car and trading it in a few years later for a partial down payment on a new one. If it's new enough and the car is really good (and All-Pro) you can get more for you paid in the first place. 

So, here's the return on the original picks—

In 1984 Mike Fanning was traded for a fifth-round pick which the Rams used on Hal Stephens. They got no years of service from him, he spent 1984 on injured reserve.
In 1979 the Rams traded Monte Jackson to the Raiders for the ole' Lawrence Welk deal "ah one, ah two, a three". 

With those picks, the Rams drafted 1979 #1 George Andrews and 1980 #3 Leroy Irvin. The second-rounder was packaged in a deal that gets complicated but it did play a big part in the Rams getting Jim Collins. Using the draft value chart, we'd estimate it got the Rams perhaps five or six of the right seasons the Rams got out of Collins (no, this is not an exact science). 

Geoff Reece never played for the Rams but he was sent to the Seahawks (after a year on injured reserve and one year and a backup and a special teamer) with a second-round pick for a higher second-round pick. Reece was the "value", (we'd estimate a third-round value) that the Seahawks accepted to sell their higher second-round pick to the Rams, which they used to take Kansas safety Nolan Cromwell
Ron Jessie was traded to the Bills for a 1983 seventh-round pick that was packaged with another pick that the Rams used to take Joe Shearin, who was on IR one year and was a backup one year. 

Finally, Pat Thomas' knees went wobbly, but he felt he could still play. He was traded to the Raiders for Monte Jackson, yes that same Monte Jackson that the Raiders traded for in 1979. However Thomas failed the Raiders physical so the trade was changed to a seventh-round conditional pick, but the conditions were never met, but Jackson stayed with the Rams and even filled in for a few years.

So, the salvage value of all these players, again, including injured reserve is 30 seasons plus let's call it five seasons of Jim Collins' career and let's call it about one-third of Cromwell's career—oerhaps about 4 seasons (again, not an exact science). 

The final tally for that 5th rounder? We'd say about 72½ years give or take. And that includes at least a dozen Pro Bowl-type seasons and All-Pro years from Hadl, Monte Jackson, Cromwell, Irvin and Collins. 

Not bad.

The 1939 Draft And Why The Bears Were the First Team to Have Two First-round Picks

LOOKING BACK
By John Turney
In 1936 the NFL began its annual selection meeting (the NFL draft) and for the first few years, it was pretty straight forward. The only anomaly was in 1937 when the league made the selections for the newly added Cleveland Rams who were not quite organized enough to make them on their own.

In 1939, though, the Chicago Bears were the first team to have two picks, having their own and the Pittsburgh Pirates first-round pick.
Luckman
With the Pirates pick (#2 overall), they chose Sid Luckman and with their own (#6 overall) the chose Bill "Bullet Bill" Osmanski.
Osmanski
So, what did the Pirates get for coughing up that first-rounder to Papa Bear Halas?

The Pirates coveted Edgar "Eggs" Manske enough to send that first-round pick to the Bears. Who you ask?

Well, let's start with this:  it was another disaster for the Steelers and a boon to the Bears. Maybe worse than the second-round pick and fourth-round pick for the first-rounder that secured Dick Butkus. Maybe not, but very, very close. 

Manske, for the Pirates, played six games and caught nine passes for 113 yards and one touchdown. He then "severed ties" with the club and returned to the Bears. 

So, the Bears had their player back and they still had the pick that Pittsburgh owed them. In early December the draft was held, and Luckman, who told everyone who would listen that he was not going to play pro football, was taken by the Pirates anyway, who dutifully sent his rights to the Bears. 

However, Halas, in the end, got his way and Luckman signed with the Bears and the two had a fairly succesful partnership over the years, to say the least!
Who is Eggss Manske?

No, we have not forgotten about Manske and why he was worthy of a first-round pick. Well, because he was. He'd been one of the best ends in the NFL since 1935, outside of Don Hutson.

Using Pro Football Reference's great search tool you can see Manske's effectiveness from 1935-39 (though Manske's travels from Bears tp Pirates back to Bears was during the 1938 season) was impressive.
Chart credit: Pro Football Reference
Manske didn't do anything in 1940 and was out of the NFL after that, but given the length of careers back then and the record of other ends of the era—Eggs was a serious player at end in an era with a lot of excellent ends, Hutson, Hewitt, Millner, Johnny Blood. Bill Karr was good and earlier in the decade of the 1930s Ray Flaherty and Red Badgro were All-Pros and ended up in the Hall of Fame.

We're not suggesting he's a Hall of Famer, but we are suggesting he was pretty good, and he stuck the Pirates pretty good.