Friday, October 30, 2020

All-Time Leaders, Running backs, Yards from Scrimmage per 16 games

 By John Turney

Ezekiel Elliott has surpassed 60 games, which we've used as an unofficial milestone to be included in the All-Time charts for running backs. As of the end of October 2020, Elliott is second only to Jim Brown in terms of yards rushing and receiving per game (for ease of comparison we look at it per 16 games, just multiplying the per game average by sixteen).

Fairly impressive.

Chart credit: PFJ

We've highlighted the four backs who are in the top forty and who are still active.

RIP Herb Adderley—The Complete Corner

 By John Turney

Art Credit: Merv Corning
News came across the Internet this morning that Hall of Fame cornerback Herb Adderley passed away this morning at the age of 81.  

Adderley was a first-round pick of the Packers in 1961 and earned six NFL title rings and was First-team All-Pro five times, Second-team All-Pro twice times named to the Pro Bowl or was All-Conference seven times, and was a member of the NFL's 1960s All-Decade Team. Additionally, he was Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame (1981) and was named to the AFL-NFL 1960-1984 All-Star team and in 1980 he was voted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 

He was a complete corner—he was a coverage expert, a hitter, and a ball hawk. The Packers had the best coverage for any team in the 1960s and Adderley was a major reason why that was true.  Adderley returned seven interceptions for touchdowns during regular seasons and another one  Super Bowl II. Adderley's 48 interceptions rank him high among the all-time leaders. His interception returns totaled 1,046 yards for a 21.8-yard average. He had seven scoring returns.

Adderley didn't play bump-and-run coverage much, if at all—he liked to play off the receiver a bit. He reasoned that every once in awhile he was going to get faked out, "Everyone gets beat, but the question is if you can recover". Adderly could.

"Lombardi had certain players who he’d call into his office and talk to, others he’d talk to on the field or in the locker room. One thing I remember he said to me…He said I was the best cornerback he’d ever seen. In front of the whole team, he said I was the best athlete … I’ll always remember that."

"Adderley is the most difficult man in the NFL against a passing attack for three reasons," a leading receiver once explained. "First is his all-around ability. Second is the great help he gets from the rest of his defensive unit. The third is that Adderley himself is the best team player of any cornerback I know." "I'm just thankful he's playing for the Packers."

Tom Landry said that Adderley was the best "cluer" ever, meaning he could read offenses and diagnose the play and put himself in the right position. George Allen named him the best cornerback ever, "Adderley anticipated plays superbly. Wherever the ball was, he was. If it was a pass he was the best single coverage I ever saw, if it was a run he came up and got into it". Bart Starr stated that Adderley was "the greatest cornerback ever to play the game".

Adderley, like Night Train, was a hitter (though not quite as vicious) and Steve Sabol once said, "The only adjustment Adderley would have to make to play in the modern game was he'd have to eliminate "the clothesline tackle".

Adderley left the Packers after the 1969 season and played three years with Dallas (After being traded for Malcolm Walker and Clarence Williams), two of which were stellar, in 1971 he didn't allow a touchdown pass and helped the Cowboys secure their first Super Bowl trophy. 

Adderley was traded to the New England Patriots in early July 1973 and was cut later that year and was traded to the Los Angles Rams for Bill Dulac in July. In early August Adderley was cut by the Rams, ending Addely's Hall of Fame career.

He was also a very good kick returner and kick blocker as well.

Adderly played collegiately at Michigan State under coach Duffy Daugherty from 1958-60 and was a two-play player. He was a team co-captain for the Spartans his senior year and was First-team All-Big Ten that year as well. After that season he played in the East-West Shrine Game, the Coaches' All-American Game, and the College All-Star Game and was picked for the All-Michigan State University team in 1970.

Adderley was born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania graduating from Northeast High School in 1957, won All-City Honors where he starred in football, basketball, and baseball.

After his NFL career Adderley was part of the broadcast teams for Temple University and the Philadelphia Eagles. He also briefly was an assistant coach at Temple and with the Philadelphia Bell of the World Football League.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

TUESDAY TIDBITS: Tie-Breakers 2020

By TJ Troup

Since the Cardinals were able to register a come from behind home victory Sunday evening, and the Rams hammered the Bears....thought the article should begin with a view of the possibilities and probabilities for the NFC playoffs this season. 

Not sure if probable, yet sure is possible; the following---drum roll please! Cardinals, 49ers, Rams, Bears, Buccaneers, and Saints all finish 10-6. Imagine for a moment the final weekend if these teams did in fact finish with the same record. 

Seattle and Green Bay I believe are gonna finish at least 11-5 or better. As for NFC East? we all know under .500 is a very real possibility. Four teams last Sunday did not allow a sack, or lose a fumble; Pittsburgh, Green Bay, Cleveland, and Tampa Bay all won. 

Check the boxscores each week after the conclusion of the games, and see if this trend continues. October 25th, 1964 lives forever in "follies" lore, and for unexplainable decisions as Jim Marshall ran the wrong way against San Francisco with a fumble. 

Plenty has been shared about this play, yet Marshall does figure in the weekly journey down memory lane. October 25th, 1971 at the Met the 4-1 Vikings met the 4-1 Colts on Monday night football. The announcers were spot on during the telecast, especially attempting to explain zone defense, and the number of quality, or even elite defenders in this game. 

The defending super bowl champion Colts taking on a team that had lost in the playoffs three consecutive years(once to the Colts)...but really truly believed this would be the year the Vikings hoisted the Trophy. You would like some statistical background, and some analysis of pass defense? 

Say no more, these are areas that I relish. Baltimore will lead the league in total defense, defensive passer rating, and run defense. Minnesota will finish second in total defense, and defensive passer rating. Minnesota will align in standard offensive formations for the entire game, but the Colts were varied, and creative—single back, wing sets, slot, motion, double tight, and began the game with double tight end and a power-I backfield set with the halfback to the side where the Colts were going to run.

Norm Bulaich had a productive and eye-popping first half lugging the leather, but could not score. Baltimore gained 210 total yards on offense in the first half, while Minnesota gained just 102. The Vikings led 7-0 at the half. Earl Morrall threw three first-half interceptions, and the Vikings on one short drive got in the end zone for the only touchdown of the game. During the decade of the '60s more and more teams attempted to play zone pass defense. Not all of them were successful. 

There were a handful of coaches that were able to teach lockdown constricting zone pass defense, and two of those teams are the Colts and Vikings. On this cool October evening, the fan will witness the Colts play Cover 2 a few times (sometimes known as double zone), roll strong coverage where the corner and strong safety take away 1/3 of the field. 

When the strong safety plays the short zone is known as "SKY", and when the corner plays the short zone was known as "CLOUD". The secondary at Millikin University played cloud & sky in 1970, and a sophomore defensive back trying to play and learn as much as possible sure got an education....yes folks was me. 

Thus when pro teams played these coverages expertly the fan watching the game would also not only get an education, the fan would see how to limit the opposition from scoring. Now, back to the game. The Viking pass rush garnered just 27 sacks all year (17th in the league), while the Colts registered 33 (8th in the league). 

There were no sacks in the first half, and during the second half each team got three. Bubba Smith was at his peak at left defensive end, and he took down Cuozzo twice; once from his usual left defensive end post, and once when he was aligned at nose guard, and shot the gap. 

Minnesota, led by Eller, also recorded three sacks. The offensive attacks bogged down the last thirty minutes with the Colts gaining just 66 yards, and the Vikings 51. So, so many outstanding defensive plays by both teams, and if perchance you ever get a chance to watch the telecast—especially if you love defense, take the time to watch. 

My choice for player of the game would be right corner Ed "Bozo" Sharockman of Minnesota. Not just because of his two timely interceptions, the physical way he played the run, and his fundamental knowledge of how to play the different Viking zone coverages. Sharockman had at least five tackles, and broke up a handful of passes also. 

For the season Minnesota allowed 139 points, while Baltimore allowed 140, yet the breakdown of offensive touchdowns allowed is even more telling. The Vikings allowed only 12, two rushing, and ten passing, while the Colts allowed just 17, eight rushing, and nine passing. These two stalwart defensive teams due in fact make the playoffs, and both lose to the teams that represent each conference in the Super Bowl. In closing, to whet your appetite next week's trip down memory lane is going to be even better, and take us back to leather helmet days. 

Monday, October 26, 2020

Packers Bounce Back in Houston

 By Eric Goska

Davante Adams caught 13 passes for 196 yards against the Texans.
(screenshot from NFL Game Pass)

Two different halves. Two different teams. Two different outcomes.

The Green Bay Packers rebounded from their brutal loss in Tampa by knocking off the Houston Texans 35-20 Sunday. In jumping to a 21-0 first-half lead, the team made clear its dismal finish against the Buccaneers was a distant memory.

Concerns abound any time a team loses by 28 points as Green Bay did to Tampa Bay. Can a club correct its mistakes and bounce back?

For the Packers, righting the ship meant snapping back from one of the worst halves under head coach Matt LaFleur. Green Bay left Tampa with its tail squarely between its legs.

Given that, what took place in Texas had to be encouraging. The Packers exorcised their demons despite missing two starters on offense (running back Aaron Jones and left tackle David Bakhtiari) and two on defense (cornerback Kevin King and safety Darnell Savage).

So let’s back up and start in Tampa. Down 28-10, Green Bay’s offense all but disappeared in the second half. Afforded five possessions, the unit generated three first downs, 52 yards and zero points.

Not once did it cross midfield. Its deepest penetration – if it can be called that – reached the Green Bay 47-yard line from where quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw to Davante Adams who made the catch out of bounds. JK Scott then punted.

Fast forward to Houston. Green Bay again had five possessions – although this time in the first half –and was far more successful producing 15 first downs, 253 yards and 21 points.

The team wasted little time in crossing midfield. Jamaal Williams, who started in place of Jones, powered 17 yards with a pass to the Houston 40 on the team’s fourth offensive play.

Jamaal Williams
(NFL Game Pass)
On that gain, Houston safety Justin Reid drew a 15-yard penalty (lowering the head to initiate contact), and Williams’ helmet popped off. The jarring hit only fired up the hard-charging back.

Williams grabbed 83 first-half scrimmage yards, 45 on the ground. Only twice before in his four-year career has he accumulated more in a first half.

Despite that production, Adams led the Packers with 114 yards on eight receptions in the opening 30 minutes. It was the fourth time in his career that the gifted receiver has topped 100 receiving yards in the first half of a regular-season game.

The Packers’ defense deserves some kudos as well. Green Bay permitted the Texans to run just four plays beyond the 50 (Green Bay ran 17) and zero in the red zone. Houston’s best drive ended after Ka’imi Fairbairn sent a 41-yard field goal attempt wide left late in the second quarter.

For its efforts, Green Bay erected its biggest halftime lead (21-0) of the season. The team is 42-0 all-time in the regular-season when holding an opponent scoreless in a first half while posting 20 or more points itself.

Sunday was only the second time since Rodgers became a starter in 2008 that the team had to put a half in which it failed to run a play beyond the 50 in its rearview mirror. It put up a goose egg in the second half against the Vikings on Sept. 15, 2019, then came back to tally 17-first half points on the way to toppling the Broncos 27-16.

The Packers have been limited to their side of the field in one half or the other in 26 games since 1935. Their record in those games is 7-19 (.269).

Half Empty, Half Full

Since 1935, the most yards the Packers have amassed in a half following a half in which they failed to run a single offensive play beyond midfield.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Cardinals No Defensive lineman, Six Linebacker, Five Defensive Back Defense Wins the Game in OT

 By John Turney

Here are some instances we screen captured the 0-5-6

The Cardinals won a nearly five-quarter game against Seattle tonight and though there were many twists and turns and many things we could feature, we thought we'd point out the six linebacker-five defensive back defense they used on third downs (and have much of the season) that gave the Cardinals two key plays in overtime that put them in a position to win. What was a gimmick is now, seemingly becoming a "thing".  They have more than one package with sic 'backers and five backs, but the ones that got the sack and the pick, which we will detail, look to be the same or extremely similar. 

Here is our tweet from October 21st showing the Cards defensive in 2020 versus the Jets with no defensive linemen and the Rams in 1989 with no defensive linemen.

Tonight the Cardinals used this scheme a few times in overtime. One led to a sack of Rusell Wilson forcing the Seahawks to punt and that led to a Card drive and a missed field goal.

Here is the overtime playlist, starting with the sack that forced Seattle to punt:

Here is the sack, six linebackers, five defensive backs, lined eight across the line of scrimmage. The rush the outside two on each side and Murphy, the slot defender, gets to Wilson. 

They ran it again on 3rd and 11 and it led to an Isiah Simmons interception that led to a drive and a game-winning field goal.

The Cardinals lined up six 'backers and two defensive backs accross the line of scrimmage and rushed four and dropped four and Wilson trip to drop it over Isiah Simmons' head but didn't, we supposed, "moon" it enough. Simmons nabbed it and the Cards had yet another chance (they had many in the game) and this time they got it done.

So, same scheme, same alignment as far as we can tell from TV angles even the same four rushers and the same four players dropping into coverage, two results, both good,. A sack and a pick.

We've seen lots of schemes, alignments, some sound other on the gimmick side, but it's rare, in our view, to see something like this make a huge difference in a key game in front of a national audience. That is what we'd say is a separate, something that makes it a "thing" something to plan for something that gets national notice. This 0-6-5 is now on its way in our view. 

Game ball: Vance Joseph the defensive coordinator of the Arizona Cardinals.

Friday, October 23, 2020

JJ Watt—Declining? Holding Steady? On the Market?

 By John Turney

From 2011 through 2015 JJ Watt was unstoppable and seemingly indestructible. His production as a 3-4 end and a sometimes tackle in nickel and sometimes end in nickel he put up unprecedented numbers in sacks and tackles for loss (stuffs). 

In those five seasons he averaged 74 tackles, 15 sacks, 15 stuffs, 9 passes defenses, three forced fumbles, 2.4 fumbles recovered. He also was All-Pro four times, Pro Bowler four times, and a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, five times he was an AFC Defensive Player of the Month, and six times he was an AFC Defensive Player of the Week.

Then game 2016. And 2017. He recovered in 2018 and then was injured again in 2019. This year he's on pace for eight sacks and perhaps 3 stuffs. Not the kind of production we've come to expect from Watt.

Even when average on a per 16-game basis (taking out the games misses) his averages per season in the last five seasons are 53 tackles, 10 sacks, 2.6 stuffs, 2.4 passes defensed, 2 forced fumbles, .8 fumbles recovered. Those numbers, actually, are good. Coaches would love to have a defensive lineman who averaged over 50 tackles and 10 sacks and two forced fumbles a season. But the issue is the 32 games he missed over those seasons.

Here are his career seasons—

Chart: PFJ

Still, Watt is two tackles short of 500 and one sack short of 100. He's going to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. The question is he, in 2020, an elite defensive lineman, even if he's not the JJ Watt of 2012-15?

So far? No. The team struggled and had a change in head coaches and in all likelihood will have another new coach in 2021. 

A quick Internet search will show there are rumors of trades involving Watt. If there is truth to them is anyone's guess.

Some of these links and others not shown are proposed by writers and blogs, so they may be more fantasy than reality but they do make some sense.

Watt wants a ring. The Texans are building. Watt would bring some kind of return, though not a high pick anymore he could bring a couple of mid-round picks. It is without a doubt Watt is productive enough to help numerous teams. Even a 75% Watt is better than most defensive linemen in the NFL and then you add the "recharge" factor, that intangible that often accompanies a player when he's traded (anecdotal, yes, but we have seen it happen over decades of following the NFL) and he would be a big help to any contender that picked him up in our view.

So, we'd love to see a trade. it would be great to see Watt go deep into the playoffs this year showing that he still can get it done. He's relatively healthy and not that old (31) that he could not only help a team, but he could also have several more years of solid production, even if it's not Defensive Player of the Year-type production.

We'll see. We can at least hope. 

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Yet Another Sad Day—RIP Matt Blair

 By John Turney

Viking great Matt Blair passed away today at the age of 70. Blair had been dealing with complications from dementia in recent years but the immediate cause of death was not announced the Star-Tribune reported.

He was drafted by the Vikings in the second round (51st overall) of the 1974 NFL Draft. out of Iowa State. He played a dozen seasons in the NFL, all for the Vikings. After football, he became a wildlife and landscape photographer.

In July of 2019 Proscout, Inc. named him one of its most worthy players not in the Hall of Fame based on their over forty years of scouting NFL players. That same year we named him the fifth-best kick blocking artist of all time.  That same year we listed him as the sixteenth best 4-3 outside linebacker ever.

Blair played in 160 games, starting 130, and had over 1100 tackles. He had 24 sacks, sixteen picks, 19 forced fumbles, recovered 20 fumbles, and blocked 20 kicks. 

Chart: PFJ

In 1974 he made All-Rookie and was All-Pro in 1980, Second-team All-Pro in 1981, and played in Pro Bowls from 1977 through 1982. He was a member of the Viking Ring of Honor and played in two Super Bowls.
Honors chart:
Blair was a rover at the University of Iowa (after transferring from Northeast Oklahoma Junior College) and was considered by the school as one of its greatest defensive players in history. He was a two-year letter winner and played on ISU's 1971 Sun Bowl team.  After sitting out the 1972 season with a knee injury, he rebounded with a fine senior campaign in 1973 in which he earned All-America honors, tallying 77 tackles, one interception, and three fumble recoveries, three forced fumbles and was invited to play in the Hula Bowl, East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl. He was inducted into the Iowa State Athletics Hall of Fame in 1999.

God speed, Mr. Blair. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

TUESDAY TIDBITS: "Apocalyptic Horsemen"

By TJ Troup

This past Sunday we were able to see two of the best all-time rivalries by having the Rams journey to San Francisco to take on the 49ers. October 18th, 1964 these two teams were fighting to stay afloat in the western conference race. 

Bucky Pope

Rookie receivers Bucky Pope of the Rams and Dave Parks of the 49ers both had terrific afternoons gaining yards receiving. The game is historical simply because the Rams defense returned 7 interceptions for a whopping 314 yards. Aaron Martin, Jerry Richardson, Bobby Smith, and Frank Budka were not exactly household names, yet when Brodie and Mira threw errant passes these youngsters pilfered the ball and set sail for the goal line. 

Not sure how many of you have ever seen the highlight film of this game, but it sure is entertaining to watch. Cleveland and Pittsburgh have been trying to bloody each other since 1950, and though both teams have had their time when they dominated the rivalry, there is no doubt the Steelers at home dominate the Browns at this point in the series. 

Researching the history of the game has been a delight for me (bet all of you knew that), and combining the stats with what I learned as a coach took me down some interesting roads. Are you ready to travel down a couple of those roads? 

Ok, pack your kit bag, and here we go. First road deals with the running game. When one team has a 100-yard rusher, and their opponent does not, the team with the 100-yard rusher wins about 77% of the time (1933 through 2020). 

The second road takes us down the interception for a score trail. When a team returns an interception for a touchdown they win about 79% of the time(1933 through 2020). The Browns and Steelers had played twice before on October 18th. The first was on a Saturday evening in '69 when the defending NFL eastern conference champion Browns took the measure of rookie head coach Chuck Noll's Steelers 42 to 31. 

The second came on October 18th, 2009 when the Steelers beat Cleveland at home 27-14. This background takes us to our third road to travel; when a team has a 100-yard rusher and returns an interception for a touchdown they should win at a very high percentage. 

How about 91%.....and on Sunday Minkah Fitzpatrick got the Black & Gold off to a strong start by intercepting, and dashing into the end zone. As the game wore on James Conner continually pounded away, broke Cleveland attempted tackles and gained 101 yards on the ground. Discussing this stat years ago with Steve Sabol, we both believed there should be a name for this stat....and both of us really liked the Grantland Rice poem about Notre Dame and the four horsemen, and as such thought it just might be catchy enough—thus "Apocalyptic Horsemen". 

All teams have accomplished this feat of scoring on an interception and having a back gain over 100, but not all teams have done this the same amount. Pittsburgh ranks near the top all-time as they have accomplished this feat 29 times (26-3). 

Finally, in closing, we are at a point in the season that the standings are beginning to take shape, and we can all see games coming up that will sure help decide who wins each division. The NFC East remains interesting not only because the overall won and lost record may lead to the lowest overall division winning percentage of all-time, but that someone will actually win the division and go to the playoffs. Most likely with a record around .500. 

Since the NFC East has so few wins, then there must be a couple divisions that have strong records? The AFC North and NFC West have teams that are not only in contention for the division title, but wild card berth's also. Expect the folks that decide who is going to play in prime time to have the enviable task of switching some of the games in these two divisions later in the season from 1pm starting time to either late afternoon or evening.

Rams Turn to the 6-1 (4-3) To Try and Stop 49ers

 By John Turney

4-3 defensive diagram from Bill Belichick's defensive playbook 

In Super Bowl LIII Bill Belichick deployed a 4-3 defense (some call it the 6-1) to slow the Rams running game which worked and, in turn, slowed the Rams play-action passing game. 

Screenshot of George Allen's 1977 Defensive Playbook

1970, Allen's  the 6-1 vs Vikings

As a result, the Rams scored three points and ran for only 62 yards, and had 198 net yards passing as the Patriots won their sixth Super Bowl since 2001. 

Patriots 4-3 (though one of the LBers was a safety) in 6-1 alignment

That fall, in 2019, Wade Phillips tried his had at the 6-1 against the Ravens using it as his base (around 30 snaps) in that game. It didn't work.

Rams in a 4-3 (4 DL, 3 LB), in 6-1 alignment

He used it a little versus Seattle but against running teams like the Cowboys and 49ers, Phillips stuck with his 3-4 under as a base and Dallas found some holes and ran for a lot of yards. Other than that, the 3-4 worked well in 2010. In the 14 games aside from the Ravens and Cowboys the Rams run defense allowed 90.1 yards rushing a game. Against those two the Rams allowed 274.0 yards rushing per game. 

Rams in the 6-1 vs Seattle in 2019

Sunday night, beginning in the second quarter, new Rams defensive Brandon Staley used a 6-1 to slow the 49er run game and it worked fairly well. From the 2nd drive of the second quarter the Rams ran the 4-3 (in 6-1 alignment) 14 times when they were in base and the 3-4 six times hwne they were in a seven-man base. 

The lack of a pass rush hurt the Rams more than the run defense. In the first quarter, they allowed a 15-yard run to Mostert. One note: some of the so-called "passes" the 49ers were credited with were essentially jet weep runs, but lateraling to Samual or others so it's credited as a pass but it's really a run.

Here is the 6-1 Sunday night vs the 49ers

The idea for the 6-1 is not to get flanked (wider alignment) and also keep the first level (defensive line) tough to get through. You wouldn't want anyone to get through because there is one linebacker on the second level or maybe two if safety is walked up. So the defensive linemen are not getting up to run the passer, they are playing run. 

In fact, Sunday the Rams used four defensive tackles—Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers, Sebastion Joseph-Day, and Greg Gaines. Last year it was Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers, Sebastion Joseph-Day, and end Morgan Fox that were the down linemen in the 4-3 (6-1). 

The middle linebacker was Micah Kiser and the left linebacker was Leonard Floyd. On the right, it was either Ebukam or Hollins in the 4-3 (6-1). The emphasis on the 4-3 cut Kenny Young's snaps quite a bit as well as rookie Terrell Lewis who would get more snaps in the 3-4 defenses as a rusher. 

Either way, it was interesting to watch. Bill Belichick used this scheme to win a Super Bowl, we've seen quite a lot of teams try it on the Rams in 2019 but none worked as well as the Patriots and when the Rams have tried it the results have been mixed, but nice to take in some old school football from time to time. 

Monday, October 19, 2020

Green Bay Forced to Walk the Plank in Tampa

 By Eric Goska

Aaron Rodgers threw two interceptions Sunday
that Tampa turned into 14 points.
(screen capture from NFL Game Pass)

If what passed for football in Tampa was a harbinger of sorts, the Green Bay Packers’ season is in jeopardy. 

If the debacle was merely a hiccup – and a giant one at that – the team would do well not to dwell and move on.

Call it a slap in the face. Call it a rude awakening.

Call it a stark reminder of how quickly the script can be flipped.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers turned the tables on the Packers Sunday and pummeled them 38-10. Whatever they lacked in the first quarter, the Buccaneers more than made up for it in the next 15 minutes.

How’s this for a start by Green Bay? In the opening quarter, it piled up 144 yards to the Bucs’ 22. It amassed nine first downs to Tampa’s one. It controlled the ball for 12 minutes, five seconds and built a 10-0 lead.

Sitting pretty? Well, it got downright ugly from there.

In the second quarter, Tampa ripped off 131 yards to Green Bay’s five. They engineered a 10 to 1 edge in first downs.

Most concerning, they exploded for 28 points to all but salt away the game.

Packers interceptions triggered the onslaught. Both came from an unlikely source: quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Throughout his 16-year career, Rodgers has been superb at avoiding interceptions. Coming into this season, he had the lowest interception rate (1.38 percent) in NFL history based on 84 picks in 6,061 attempts.

No. 12 hadn’t thrown more than one in a regular-season game in nearly three years. The last time he did so (three) came in Carolina on Dec. 17, 2017, in a return from a broken collar bone.

As for pick-6s, with Rodgers those come around about as often as Halley’s Comet. He threw his first in Tampa Bay in 2009 (Tannard Jackson) and his second against the Bengals in 2017 (William Jackson III).

In between, he fired an NFL record 3,907 passes without one.

Since that narrow win (27-24) over the Bengals at Lambeau Field in 2017, Rodgers had again steered clear. He was at 1,456 attempts without a pick-6 and counting when cornerback Jamel Dean commandeered a pass intended for Davante Adams and raced 32 yards for Tampa Bay’s first score.

Safety Mike Evans went next. He grabbed the ball after it caromed off Adams’ hands and zipped 37 yards to the Green Bay 2. He would have cashed in had receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling and guard Elgton Jenkins not combined to bring him down just short of the goal.

It mattered little. Ronald Jones II blasted over from there to put Tampa up 14-10, and the Buccaneers never looked back.

In between his two picks, Rodgers connected with running back Aaron Jones for seven yards. Only twice before – in New Orleans in 2008 and against the Lions in 2010 – had Rodgers tossed two interceptions in the span of three passes.

As Green Bay got underway in the second quarter, Fox Sports placed three quotes on screen. All were glowing in their praise of either Rodgers, head coach Matt LaFleur or both.

Color commentator Troy Aikman argued both men deserved credit for the Packers’ high-scoring ways through four games.

“Well, one is because you’ve got Aaron Rodgers as your quarterback. But the other part of that is Matt LaFleur and what he’s done within this scheme and utilitizing this personnel. It really has been brilliant. There’s not a lot of offensive minds that could have done what he’s done up to this point.”

And just like that, the jinx was on.

As Aikman finished, Rodgers had bolted from the pocket with outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul bearing down on him. Running out of room, Rodgers threw the ball away.

The pick-6 came next.

Rodgers attempted 13 passes in the second quarter. Three were complete, two were caught out of bounds, two were throwaways and two were intercepted.

Rodgers twice missed Valdes-Scantling inside the Tampa 15, and he overthrew a wide-open Marcedes Lewis. The quarterback also failed to connect on a short toss to Adams.

For his efforts, Rodgers earned a passer rating of zero (3-of-13 for 21 yards and two picks) in the quarter.

But let’s be clear. Rodgers alone was not responsible for this collapse. He had plenty of help from his teammates.

Surrendering more than 21 points in a second quarter after holding an opponent scoreless in the first rarely happens in Packerland. Sunday was just the sixth time since 1921.

The last time the outlay reached 28, the Bears mauled Green Bay 61-7 in 1980. That remains one of the low points in team history.

How this latest loss will affect the club cannot be known. Six times (2004, 2007, 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2019) has Green Bay rebounded from losing a game by 28 or more to reach the playoffs. In each case, it did not advance to the Super Bowl.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Top Designated Pass Rushers Of All-Time

 By John Turney

The first time we saw the term "designated pass rusher" was in Sports Illustrated in 1979 when Paul Zimmerman used it. Later, we saw it in the literature of Proscout, Inc from 1977-78 or so. We think Zim got it from there. 

Later Proscout changed the term to "nickel rusher". Either way, it refers to a non-starter who comes into football games in likely passing situations to get after the quarterbacks. We think the first one, for all intents and purposes, was Credrick Hardman of the 49ers in 1970, he held that for the first part of his rookie year until he secured a starting position. There were some who did it a little bit before that, but for someone to do it for more than a few weeks, it was rare.

Coaches during the 1970s would use young players who had rush skills but maybe were not ready to start in that role or who could not play the run well enough to play in a 3-4 defense (which was becoming more and more popular at the time) but could come in whey they switched to 40 nickel in passing situations.

Sometimes, later in the 1980s older players would play the position, those who has all the knowledge and techniques but perhaps would get worn down playing full time.

However, there was also a third group, a few players who played the nickel rusher role when they were in their prime and did it well. 

In today's post we will give a brief listing of who we think were the best of that group.

Yesterday's passing of Fred Dean reminded us of this topic, and if his role in this group and we have to rank him first. 

He was a starter for the Chargers but was traded to the 49ers and was the non-starting rusher for them for five years. In that time the 49ers won two titles and Dean played 57 games and totaled 40 sacks as well as going to Pro Bowls in 1981 and 1983 and being voted the NFC Defensive Player of the year in 1981, the first-ever non-starter to win that award.

Next, we'd have to go with Greg Townsend who was a nickel rusher from 1983-87 before he became a starter. he played 68 games and totaled 47.5 sacks in that role for the Raiders. He also forced eleven fumbles from 1983-87.

Tony "Mac the Sack" McGee would be next. He was a designated rusher for the Patriots and the Redskins from 1977 through 1984 with the exception of 1981 when injuries forced him to start most of that year, so we will leave that season out. In the other years, he played 103 games and had 66 sacks and forced nine fumbles in those games. McGee also came off the bench in 1974 and had 4½ sacks that year so if that is counted his "designated total is 70½. As a rookie he played 14 games and started four but we think that was more of a traditional backup role rather than a player who had a role in the nickel defense, based on watching the film. 

Robert Mathis was a non-starter from 2003-05, then again in 2008. In those four seasons, he played 60 games and had 34 sacks and an amazing 23 forced fumbles. In seasons he started nine of more games he averaged 9.6 sacks and 3.6 forced fumbles. In seasons he started two or less games he averaged 9.3 sacks and 5.5 forced fumbles. Maybe he should have always been a nickel rusher. 

Gary Jeter who played for the Rams (1983-88) and Patriots (1989) as a designated sacker did excellent work as a nickel rusher. He came over from the Giants where he'd been a starter but transitioned to the part-time role. In the seven years as a DPR he played in 93 games and totaled 52 sacks. 

The Giants George Martin was a DPR from 1982-85 and then again in 1988. His totals here 71 games and 38 sacks. He was a starter in 1986 and 1987 and was also a starter from 1976-80 and part-time starter in 1981. 

Trace Armstrong played four years in a nickel role for the Dolphins, 1995, then 1998-00. In those years he played 63 games and had 39 sacks. He was signed by the Raiders to play the rush role but injuries to the starters caused him to have to start a lot of games and that, couple with his own injuries limited his success there. 

Jumpy Geathers was an inside rusher and played a nickel rusher role most of his career, though he started outside in his first couple of seasons. Eleven seasons of his career he came off the bench to create trouble for opposing quarterbacks often using his signature "forklift" move. His 167 games and 62.0 sacks and 15 forced fumbles are impressive for a non-edge player, although he played left end in passing situations in 1984 and right end in 1985 before moving inside the rest of his career.

The Raiders Anthony Smith had a terrific three-year run from 1991 through 1993 playing in 47 games and sacking the quarterback 36 times, an average of 12 per season and he forced seven fumbles in that span. Smith became a starter and as is the case with many of these players his effectiveness dropped. Smith averaged 5.5 sacks a season after becomeing a starter.

Jesse Baker was the Oilers sack man from 1979-81 before he took over as a starter at right end. In those three years, he had 32 sacks in 48 games. 

Jim Jeffcoat was a wave rusher from 1992-94 for Dallas, then again in 1996-97 for Buffalo. In 87 games he had 32.5 sacks.

Most of the rest of the player spent less than three seasons in the role or were just not that effective so we limited this list to the eleven players above. Call it our top eleven.

For more here are links to our five-part series on nickel rushers:

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Fred Dean, Hall of Fame Defensive End, Loses Battle with COVID

 By John Turney

Credit: Ed Lefferts

Twenty-twenty is not a good year. Too much bad news. More hit today as we learned Fred Dean succumbed to complications from COVID-19.

Dean was special in a lot of ways. He was chosen by the San Diego Chargers in the second round (33rd overall) of the 1975 NFL Draft and immediately stepped into the starting left end position, even though he was around 230-235 pounds at the time, making one of the smallest left ends in the NFL at the time.

Dean compensated by having unusual, even freakish natural strength and speed. We say natural because he was not a dedicated weight lifter. He has one of the best all-time quotes when he said "I get the urge to lift weights but I lie down for a while and the urge goes away".

Still, he had enough base and strength to not be a liability against the run. 

Credit: Chuck Ren

In 1977 he moved to the right side and there his career took off. Even though he held his own on the left side, the right side was his ideal position, given his 4.48 speed. He scored a couple of touchdowns in 1977 and in 1978 racked up 14½ sacks and forced four fumbles even though he didn't get any post-season honors, it was most certainly a Pro Bowl-level season. 

He was the top player on a great Chargers defensive line in those days and was often unblockable. Pat Haden once said, "He's too good, you cannot block him with a pickup truck".

Salary disputes led to a trade to the 49ers in 1981 where he was the "missing piece" for the 49ers defense.  The original trade was that was Dean traded from San Diego Chargers to San Francisco 49ers for 2nd round draft pick in 1983.  However, after that, the trade string gets complicated, which is a story for a different day.

Dean was a huge asset in the 49ers winning their first ring that year. Bill Walsh used Dean as a designated pass rusher rather than a starter, which was new for Dean who had always been a starter. But Dean was always in a 4-3 defense and the 49ers base defense was a 3-4 so he was not a fit. 

However, the 49ers did use a four-man line in 3rd down or other passing situations and Dean was perfect for this role and was supremely effective in it contributing 12 sacks in 11 games for the club. Dean most often played right end in nickel but would also play the left end, and even over the center or guard as well. Not a much as his end spot, but enough to shake up some interior offensive linemen on opposing teams. 

Dean also broke some ground that year for role players. Though nickel rushers or designated pass rushers (the role Dean played when he got to San Francisco) had been around for a bit over a decade, none had made a Pro Bowl before or been voted a Defensive Player of the Year. Dean did both, as he was voted the UPI NFC Defensive Player of the Year. 

Credit: Cliff Spohn

The following season (1982) was a poor year for the NFL and the 49ers. Dean didn't play well and with a few other players who slump was rumored to be on the trading block. 

He stayed and in 1983 inside linebacker Jack Reynolds talked the 49er coaches into starting Dean as an outside linebacker in the base so they could seamlessly move from a 3-4 to a 4-3 without changing personnel. That was one experiment that did not work...and Dean quickly returned to his designated rusher role and he totaled 17.5 sacks and again went to the Pro Bowl and the 49ers were very close to making the Super Bowl again.

The 1984 season brought another salary dispute and a holdout which kept Dean out of the lineup until the final five games and playoffs. But when he returned the "Dean-fense" returned. He had four sacks in those five games and four sacks in the three playoffs games to go with plenty of pressures as the 49ers secured their second Super Bowl ring in five years.

For whatever reason Dean didn't keep up the stellar play in 1985 and Bill Walsh had a philosophy that he'd never let his team get old, so when he had a couple of potential replacements for the "whip" position in the 40 defense in 1986 in Larry Roberts and Charles Haley (Roberts was a second-round pick, Haley was not a known quantity then but had a lot of potential) Dean retired one of those "Bill Walsh wants you to retire" things. 

Oddly, earlier this year, the first (for all intents and purposes) designated pass rusher Cedrick Hardman passed away, himself a 49er. Hardman moved on to the Raiders in 1980 and was the first designated rusher to win a Super Bowl ring, and Dean was the second. 

Dean was born in Arcadia in north Louisiana and graduated from Ruston High School. He was a standout at Louisiana Tech University (Second-team All-American) and an All-Southland Conference defensive lineman during his collegiate football career.

On August 2, 2008, Dean was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. A year later he was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame.

Dean was also inducted into the Louisiana Tech University Athletic Hall of Fame and is also a member of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.  

Six days ago media reports announced that Dean had been hospitalized with a coronavirus infection and was on a ventilator and on Wednesday the 14th, pass on. He was 68.

RIP, Mr. Dean.