Tuesday, November 24, 2020

TUESDAY TIDBITS: "Miami's Zone Masters"

By TJ Troup

Hopefully, you folks out there in football land are enjoying this season as much as I am? Yes, it is strange without fans, yet there sure have been some well played hard-fought games—last night's Ram victory in Tampa being one of them. Five teams this weekend did not get sacked, and did not lose a fumble; four of them won. The fifth you ask? Steelers, Rams, Texans all won, and in the Sunday night game both teams did not get sacked, or lose a fumble. That my friends is a rarity. 

Before going back in history, time for a quick check of the standings. Four teams at this juncture have not won a division game; the Chargers, the Bengals, obviously the Jets, and the Lions. November 22nd, 1942 the Packers tied the Giants, and in that game, the Alabama Antelope caught 14 passes to set a new standard. We all know that teams these days throw the hell of out ball, yet the most receptions this past weekend were Diontae Johnson and Robert Woods with 12. 

Bob Waterfield, Art Credit:  Merv Corning

November 22nd, 1945 on Thanksgiving day the Rams traveled to the Motor City with the western conference on the line. Rookie Bob Waterfield found his left end Jim Benton open over and over again, and got him the ball. Benton caught 10 for 303 yards in the Cleveland Rams victory. This past weekend Cooper Kupp and Keenan Allen both gained 145 yards receiving, but simple math tells us that even if you add their totals together....they fall short. Watching film of Benton against the Lions is a joy to behold. Finally, on November 22nd, 1970 in a must-win situation for the Miami Dolphins their rookie right safety Jack Scott delivered. 

Jake Scott, Art Credit: Jim Auckland

Momentum is a strange commodity in football, yet when Jake dashed 77 yards against the Colts with a Lee punt to score the Dolphins began to take control of the game. Scott also intercepted Unitas that afternoon. Jake has left us, and he is the centerpiece of today's article. Scott played exceptional football at Georgia, yet left early and went to Canada to play receiver. He was traded and released during his time north of the border, but was eligible for the NFL 1970 draft. Miami took Scott with the 159th pick on the seventh round. Possibly this was the best seventh-round pick in Dolphin history? Don Shula was ahead of his time with coverages for his secondary. 

The rock-jawed head coach taught a variety of zones, mixed with man, and combination coverages. He had done this in Detroit as defensive coordinator, and in Baltimore as head coach. No doubt the determined head man was going to teach his coverages to his young Dolphins with the aid of secondary coach Tom Keane. Though the Dolphins lost opening day in '70 Scott intercepted in his very first game in the NFL, and played well all year; both as the right safety, and returning punts.

Dick Anderson and Jake Scott. Art Credit: Bart Forbes

Miami was even more determined entering '71 and with a season under his belt learning Shula's concepts, and working with his rangy partner at left safety in Dick Anderson Jake and his "no name" teammates put together a eight-game win streak, and won the division title. One of the key plays in the victory at Kansas City in the first round of the play-offs was Jake coming off the hash on the proper angle to intercept Len Dawson. Home for the AFC title game against the defending Super Bowl champion Colts was the turning point in team history. Leading 7-0 late in the game Unitas attempted to loft the ball deep to Hinton, but the under-thrown pass was tipped and Anderson easily intercepted. Dick Anderson's weaving 62-yard return is one of the classic plays in the decade of the '70's history, and the first block he got was from Jake (there were many open field cut blocks thrown). 

Being physically dominated in the Super Bowl by the Cowboys just made the young Dolphins even more determined for '72. Have stated many times that the defensive passer rating is a tool to evaluate team pass defense, and during both 1970 and '71 Miami finished in the middle of the pack in this key area(right around the league average). That would dramatically change in 1972. Scott was chosen for the Pro Bowl for his play in '71 and would return in '72, and this time would be joined by his partner in crime Dick Anderson. Miami's defensive passer rating was 47.4 in '72 (second in the league), and the improvement was reflected in the standings—14-0. 

The ground game and efficient passing attack got the Dolphins the lead, and opponent passers now had to try and rally against a very improved airtight secondary. Three hard-fought playoff wins set a new standard.....UNDEFEATED. Jake Scott was again selected for the Pro Bowl, but he also was voted the MVP of the Super Bowl with his two timely interceptions. Having researched the history of pass defense for years now, will stand on the mountain top and shout to one and allthe '73 Dolphins rank as one of the great teams of all-time. A defensive passer rating of 39.9 usually would put a team at the top, yet '73 Steelers also played the same rotating zone coverages as Chuck Noll had learned them from Shula. Pittsburgh and Miami were head and shoulders better than all the other teams in the league in pass defense. 

Though could go hours to explain in detail the alignments, and angles to the ball the basic premise was the opposing quarterback attempted to throw to a supposedly open receiver and was stymied by Anderson & Scott. They broke on the release of the ball by the quarterback and arrived in time to stop them. The title of today's narrative comes from a short chapter in Tom Bennett's superb book THE PRO STYLE. The short chapter ends with the following " they were two distinctly different types off the field. Anderson was a hard-working sort with an insurance business, while Scott was the blithe spirit away skiing in Colorado, shoving off on his skis with two broken wrists he had fractured playing football". 

Jake Scott. Art Credit: Merv Corning

Jake Scott was a lean hard-bitten man with the athletic gifts you want in your safeties. Quickness, intelligence, toughness, and most important desire to succeed. Scott would go to five consecutive Pro Bowls, and receive some all-pro recognition each year from 1971 through 1975. NFL Films doing their usual masterful job on the weekly highlights brings me to the division round of 1974. No team had won three straight Super Bowls, yet here at the Dolphins in the black hole taking on Madden's Raiders in one of the greatest games of all-time. 

The Miami players are led out of the tunnel and onto the field by Jake, with the classic NFL Films music in the background. Ken Stabler completed 8 of 12 for 101 yards with one touchdown and one interception in the first half. During second-quarter action, Scott injured his knee and would not return to action. His replacement Charlie Babb was a rock-solid back-up, yet he was not Jake Scott, and the Snake pierced the Dolphin secondary in the second half to the tune of 12 of 18 for 192 yards with three scores, and no interceptions in the Oakland victory. Watching the film again the other day, still relish watching these two teams go after each other. 1975 was another Pro Bowl season for Jake Scott, but finished second in the east to Baltimore. Shula and Scott had a falling out either during or in the aftermath of '75, and was traded to Washington. Jake's impact was felt throughout the '76 season as Washington led the league in the defensive passer rating category with a mark of  42.6 and earned a playoff berth.  

Though Scott was never selected for the Pro Bowl or received all-pro recognition during his time playing for George Allen...he nonetheless played well and was teamed again with a superb strong(left safety) in Ken Houston. Bringing the Jake Scott saga to a close...he was a durable, tough-tackling safety with excellent range and the ability to make the key interception. Don't believe me...ask Stabler, Unitas, Namath, Bradshaw, Tarkenton, Staubach, and Dawson..he intercepted every one of these Hall of Famers.

He also is one of the few men to make my "nemesis" list.....where you have to record at least 10 interceptions against a specific opponent, in this case the Jets. RIP Jake, you were a joy to watch play, and learned one helluva lot from viewing your exploits.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Positive Signs Lead to Dead End for Green Bay in Indy

 By Eric Goska

Prior to Sunday, the Colts of 1997 had been
the only team to have defeated the Packers
in a game in which Green Bay had scored
28 or more first-half points.

A number of developments pointed toward the Packers winning in Indianapolis Sunday.

Then, the second half of their game with the Colts commenced.

Any inroads Green Bay made against the Colts’ top-flight defense in the opening two quarters went for naught as the team squandered a 14-point lead. Up 28-14, the Green and Gold managed a single field goal after the break in falling 34-31 to the Colts in overtime.

The loss was a first for Matt LaFleur as head coach. His Packers had been 15-0 when possessing a lead at halftime, even when that advantage was as slim as three points.

With the way Green Bay played in the second half, one wonders just how great a deficit Indianapolis could have overcome had the need arisen.

The last coach in Titletown to be up by 14 or more at intermission and lose was Mike McCarthy. In 2012, his Packers led the Colts 21-3 before imploding 30-27 in the very same venue: Lucas Oil Stadium.

As with that game eight years ago, Green Bay put up decent numbers in the first half. Aaron Rodgers and the offense staked out 206 yards and 15 first downs. The team converted three of four third downs.

Rodgers turned the ball over twice – on a fumble and an interception – but neither mistake led to points. Colts tight end Mo Alie-Cox fumbled the ball back to Green Bay after the first, and rookie Rodrigo Blankenship came up short on a 50-yard field goal attempt after the second.

In spite of those blunders, Rodgers tossed three first-half touchdown passes. Tight end Robert Tonyan, receiver Davante Adams and running back Jamaal Williams scored on those throws.

In the past, a three-TD display had been a good omen for the Green and Gold. Nine passers – Cecil Isbell (1), Roy McKay (1), Bart Starr (3), Don Horn (1), David Whitehurst (1), Lynn Dickey (5), Randy Wright (1), Brett Favre (16) and Rodgers (19) – have combined to throw three or more in a first half 48 times.

Rodgers is the only one to have lost. He’s 17-2, with the other setback having been a 33-32 disappointment at the hands of the Falcons in 2016.

While Rodgers struck through the air, Aaron Jones counted on the ground. Green Bay’s leading rusher (10 carries for 41 yards) cashed in on a 2-yard burst in the second quarter.

Nearly six years had passed since the Colts last surrendered 28 first-half points. In that case, the Cowboys torched them 42-7 four days before Christmas 2014.

Recording four or more touchdowns in a first half remains a big deal, at least for the Packers. The club is closing in on 1,400 regular-season games played, and in only 53 of them did they come away with four first-half TDs.

With Curly Lambeau (9-0), Gene Ronzani (1-0), Vince Lombardi (9-0), Phil Bengtson (1-0), Bart Starr (4-0), Forrest Gregg (3-0), Mike Sherman (4-0) or McCarthy (12-0) at the helm, the team always prevailed. Only Mike Holmgren (8-1) had felt the sting of defeat, that in a 41-38 loss to the Colts in 1997.

LaFleur is the only of the bunch to post an L the first time his group produced such a pile of first-half points.

Knowing the historical record, this loss to the Colts might have come as somewhat of a surprise. Knowing how poorly the Packers played in the second half, the setback was all but inevitable.

We won’t rehash that nightmare here. Suffice it to say, when this author turns to his daughter in the fourth quarter and says, “Watch this guy fumble away the kickoff,” and the Packers’ Darrius Shepherd obliges, the writing is on the wall.

One can’t help but envision the Chicago Bears champing at the bit to get to Lambeau Field. They’ve never come back (0-21) after being down 14 or more to the Packers at halftime.

Not to worry, though. It’s unlikely they’ll fall behind by that much Sunday night.

But if they do, Green Bay might again buck long-established trends and turn the race for the NFC North Division into a free-for-all.

Extra Point

Rock Ya-Sin intercepted Rodgers with three seconds remaining in the first quarter. The Indianapolis cornerback became the first to waylay a Rodgers’ throw in the first quarter of a regular-season game since Seattle’s Nazair Jones did so in the 2017 season opener. Ya-Sin put an end to Rodgers’ franchise record run of 367 consecutive first-quarter attempts without an interception.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Lavonte David being Lavonte David

 By John Turney
In the early 1990s a company then-called Stats, Inc., now called STATS, began publishing run stuffs in their publications. It was simply this—tackles for loss in the run game tallied the same way sacks were tallied. 

They, like us, felt that a stuff or tackle for a loss was a significant play, even if it was for only a 1-yard or 2-yard loss. If it was on a 1st and 10, it puts an offensive team 'behind the sticks' and 2nd and 11. Or if it's 2nd and 5 and it's a screen, and a 2-yard loss, it's 3rd and 7. And if it's 3rd and 1, then it's 4tn and 2. 

However, as our second example (if it's a screen) STATS had one flaw in their metric—they tracked just running plays.

Nick Webster, one of our writers, picked up on that quickly, noted that with screen passes, tunnel screens, etc. that there were more and more passing plays that resulted in a loss, so he began tracking pass stuffs in his personal research. 

In 1999 NFLGSIS, essentially the NFL official stats website began keeping track of tackles for loss (TFL) and they did include tackles for loss in both run and pass plays. But they also included sacks, which skews the TFLs towards the defensive linemen. 

Also, they don't count TFLs if there was a forced fumble. Let's say Lavonte David blasts through the LOS and hits Alvin Kamara behind the line of scrimmage who fumbles. Then, say, Drew Brees falls on the fumble, and then say Ndamukong Suh falls on Brees. 

In that case, Davis gets the forced fumble and Suh gets the tackle for loss. We get that the computer has to balance and the only way to do that is for Suh to get credit for "ending the play". But come on, what are we measuring here? David made the play and as a bonus, he forced a fumble. That's a twofer. 

A player who forces a QB to fumble gets credit for the sack and the FF, not not the tackle or the tackle for loss. It's nuts. But through looking at the play through NFL replay or a careful reading of the gamebook we can find the plays and score them meaningfully.

The Webster/PFJ  protocol keeps it simple and measures what is important the way a coach might. And Webster is currently working on pre-1982 totals which are harder to find due to poorly written gamebooks but he's nailed down the post-1982 total stuffs which matches with the "official" sack era.

After ten games this season David has 6.5 stuffs, taking his career total to 105 stuffs to go with his 23 sacks. It's amazing that he's only received post-season honors three times in his career. 
Chart credit: PFJ
Here is the leader board updated through this weekend. David passed Urlacher, even though he's played just about 8½ seasons.
Chart credit: PFJ
And when shown in a per-season chart, David is the clear leader. And this will rise because he has six more games to play. 
Chart credit: PFJ
David was overlooked on the major All-Decade teams recently release, though he was First-team on ours and also on NFL.com's, and GridFe.com's teams. He plays a WILL position that is an off-the-ball spot that produces few sacks and the TFL or stuff stat rarely appears on television screens so many writers and fans are not familiar with it. That may explain some of the 'underratedness' of David.

Also, other factors play into it as well. Nonetheless, we've recognized David as a First-time All-Pro four times and a Second-team All-Pro three times in his nine-year career based on his run-stuffing skills and his ability to cover in both man in zone. Clearly, AP, PFWA, and SN voters don't agree. 

That's fine, we'll take the heat. We think the film and the numbers back us up.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Brandon Staley's Defense (So Far) Is Comparing Well With Great Rams Defenses of the Past

 By John Turney
Yes, you read the title correctly. However, the caveat is this is a back-of-the-envelope comparison using how defenses of the past ranked in certain categories compared to how the 2020 Rams rank in the same categories.

Here are the 2020 Rams defensive rankings in the NFLGSIS database and we decided to use the same categories for the past defenses. That can be a bit of an issue but as the title suggests this is a "so far (after nine games) comparison and there are nine games left and the Rams face so good offenses in the final nine weeks.

If you add up the ranks of the categories mentioned (2 points for 2nd in total yards and 1 point for yards per play and so on) you arrive at 38 total points. Keep that in mind—38 and note that the lower the point total the better.

Here is 2001, the last time the Rams had an excellent all-around defense i.e. one that ranked highly in lot total yards allowed, low rushing yards allowed, high in sacks, etc. It was the first year of the Lovie Smith Tampa-2 scheme, a big change from the 2000 defense which was a huge disappointment. The 2001 defense was efficient in every way.

The total rank "number" is 64, which is still excellent. So even though the 2001 Rams defense allowed fewer passing yards per game the rank is lower for the 2020 Rams defense due to the changes in the game. The rankings, however, don't change. 
Next up is 1999. It's total "number" is also 64. That year the Rams ranked 20th in passing yards allowed and that is in part due to the Rams playing soft in the fourth quarter, defending big leads, but that's the way it goes. The numbers are the numbers. 

In 1986 the Rams defenses were excellent but didn't get the publicity of some others likely do to the fact they didn't have a dominant pass rush in 1986 and in 1985 any discussion about defense began and ended with the Bears defense. But in 1985, especially, the Rams defense was solid. They stopped the run and in nickel and dime were effective. 

The NFLGIS handy charts you see above end in 1981 so the great Rams defenses of the 1960s and 1970s don't have charts but we have our own which we typed in by hand (pre-Pro Football Reference) so here those are—

So they are next up. We picked the best of the best seasons for the 1960s and 1970s era Rams defenses. Listed is the year and the "points" based on the rankings of the same categories that NFLGSIS uses in the charts above. So we will add all of them in and put the "golden era" defenses in as well—
Year            Rank "Points"
2020                    38
2001                    64
1999                    64
1986                    70
1985                    52
1980                    74
1978                    27
1977                    68
1976                    54
1975                    35
1974                    46
1973                    38
1970                    60
1968                    27
1967                    45

One aspect that is not part of the NFLGSIS charts that are a big part of defense are defensive scores and in 2020 the Rams defense has not scored on defense. The offense and special teams has allowed three touchdowns, which our course should not count against the defense.

In the other seasons listed the Rams defenses have scored quite a lot of touchdowns. In 2001 the number was five (four pick 6s and one scoop and score). In 1999 it was eight.  In 1986 it was and in 1985 it was four each season.
In 1980 it was four and in 1978 the total was six. From 1973-77 there were nine defensive scores. In 1967 there were four defensive scores and the next year Jack Pardee ran back two picks for touchdowns.
One thing we are not going to deal with we mentioned a couple of paragraphs above—touchdowns the defense is not responsible for. That could be a kickoff or punt return or a pick-six thrown by the quarterback or a scoop and score when the offense was on the field.

We've tracked those to come up with a "net points metric" but we've been lax in posting about it recently. But that is a discussion for another day. 
So, the good news for Rams fans is Brandon Staley, the Rams defensive coordinator is doing a fine job. He runs a 33 nickel defense aligned in a 5-1 look, mixing in a lot of Bear/Cheat fronts. There are some 3-4 looks but when the Rams are in base they run a 4-3 (in a 6-1 alignment) more than the 3-4. 

In likely passing downs, they are in a 40 nickel with the end being linebackers (Leonard Floyd are one end and you pick at the other end). 
The two stars of the defense are of course Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey. But Darious Williams, John Johnson, and Leonard Floyd are playing very well and Michael Brockers is steady as always. 

Rams play a lot of two-high looks at the snap but one of the safeties usually plays a robber look after the snap—looking to make a big play on intermediate crossing routes. Ramsey is playing outside in base and in nickel, he plays both the nickel (Star) position and outside and will also match up with the top receiver and follow him around. 
The Rams have had some injury issues at right safety with rookie starter Jordan Fuller, Taylor Rapp, and rookie Terrell Burgess all going down for various amounts of time but fortunately, it is the Rams deepest position and Fuller is now back and Nick Scott plays left safety when the Rams drop John Johnson to linebacker in some sub-packages. 

And though numbers can only tell part of the story, when a defense can score high in stopping the run, sack the quarterback at a high rate, keep total yards and passing yards low, pick off a high percentage of passes and most importantly keep opponents from scoring relative to all the other teams in the NFL, it is doing its job.

And when it's doing those things at a rate similar to the Super Bowl defenses of 1999 and 2001 and better than the good defenses of the mid-1980s and on par with the great defenses of the 1970s it is also doing its job. 

So, after nine weeks, Rams fans can say this IS a great defense relative to the league and relative to the great defenses of the past, too—IF they can keep it up.

We will see. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Consensus Early NFL All-Time Team

 By John Turney

Over the past couple of years, Chris Willis of NFL Films and author of several essential books on the early NFL has posted the All-time teams as chosen by many of the All-Time greats such as Don Hutson, Johnny Blood, Sammy Baugh, and others. Willis even has his own team, based on his heavily-researched series of the top players in the pre-WWII era.

For comparison purposes here is a chart of all those teams. We think it is a fair representation of the consensus of those teams and gives readers unfamiliar with that era who the best players of that era were. 

Top row—Center: Mel Hein, Guards Dan Fortmann and  Mike Michalske
Bottom row—Tackles: Cal Hubbard, Turk Edwards, Joe Stydahar, and Link Lyman
(votes for tackle very close)

Top row—Ends: Bill Hewitt and Don Hutson
Bottom row—T QB: Sammy Baugh; Single Wing TB:  Dutch Clark

Top Row—Fullback Bronko Nagurski; Blocking back Father Lumpkin; Halback Red Grange
Second row—Halfhback George McAfee; Halfback Cliff Battles, HB-FB Clark Hinkle
Bottom— Halfback Steve Van Buen

Steve Van Buren is sort of an anomy because he played mostly after World War II and he got four votes, one more than Grange and Hinkle and the same as McAfee. Like the voting for the tackles, it was too close to call. So you can make up your mind as to who you want in your backfield.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

TUESDAY TIDBITS: "The Movie Projector Whirred in Vince Lombardi's Darkened Office"

 By TJ Troup

1952 NFL Championship Game

Another week in what so far has been a fascinating season in the NFL. Could always focus on the standings, and will go there briefly—with so many AFC teams at 6-3, there are some upcoming games that sure should shed light on who the final seven are going to be in the AFC. Today though am going to focus on November 15th in league history, and the passing of a legend. 

When the Browns lost back to back title games in 1951 & 1952 Paul Brown became even more intensely motivated than ever before, and the classic game against San Francisco in 1953 was hard-fought between the best 49er team ever (to this point in team history), and an undefeated Cleveland team. During the game, Graham left his protective pocket and ran towards the right sideline. As Otto went out of bounds Art "boom boom" Michalik delivered an elbow shot to Graham's jaw. One tough hombre Graham did return to the game and delivered a victory for Brown. 

The result of the shot by Michalik was a new type of face guard; thick clear plastic about two to three inches wide that was used by many teams and players the next couple of seasons. This past Sunday the Browns had teammates rush for over 100 yards in the win over the Texans, and though that is impressive----pales in comparison to November 15th, '59 when second-year halfback Bobby Mitchell gained 232 yards rushing against Washington. Though Cleveland struggled to stay in the eastern conference race that year; Mitchell and his compadre in the backfield, Jim Brown established a record that few ever thought could be broken. Mitchell and Brown carried the ball 421 times and combined to lose just three fumbles. 

Yes, folks just THREE! Later in this saga, though you will read about a duo that did break the record. Have always enjoyed revisionist history....you know....what if? Green Bay and the Chicago Cardinals did a coin flip for the "bonus" pick for the '57 draft. Imagine for a moment if the Cardinals had won the toss? Simply, that Paul Hornung would have been in Pop Ivy's double-wing offense with Ollie Matson in 1958. Difficult to imagine "the golden boy" in that uniform, and as such let us head to Wisconsin for Hornung's rookie campaign of '57. 

Paul Hornung

Opening day in new City Stadium and Hornung got to carry the ball twice. Second quarter and on a first and ten play he lost a yard, then on second down and eleven he ran right and looked like he was going to throw the halfback option pass, and lost nine yards. The official scorekeeper counted the play as a run, when probably should have been a sack—thank you Mr. Eric Goska! Three games and the rookie has carried the ball eight times for 12 yards. November 3rd, 1957 was the turning point in Paul's career. After three quarter's he has carried the ball eleven times for 51 yards, then from the fullback position he breaks loose for the longest run of his career—72 yards to the New York Giant eight-yard line. The staunch Giant defense stonewalls Hornung in a goal-line stand in the New York victory. 

Watching Hornung from the other sideline was the offensive coordinator of the Giants Vince Lombardi. Much has been written about Lombardi's first contact with Paul, yet this story is about aspects of Hornung's style that has not been developed or even mentioned? 

The Packers have a chance to open the '59 season with three consecutive victories if they can beat San Francisco. Jim Taylor does not play(listed incorrectly that he played in every game that year), and during the week St. Vince challenged Paul with the concept that he was going to get the ball repeatedly. He set the then Packer record of 28 carries, and pounded out 138 yards! Learned that Hornung was sore as hell, but Green Bay won, and both men proved their point. We all know that Paul set the scoring record in a twelve-game season in '60 with 176 points, but today teams play 16 games, so over the course of 9-25-'60 through 10-8-'61 Hornung scored 240 points. 

Let that number sink in! There were some that believe Paul was not a true Hall of Fame player—240 points in 16 games IS a hall of fame player. The above title quote from Dave Anderson in an old Dell Sports magazine tells the tale—Lombardi knew this was a man who could help him win. Paul Hornung had an upright running style, and at 6'2" he was a target for hard-hitting defenders. Though he did make a move on a defender now and again, basically he shifted, and bounced off of tacklers. Hornung had tremendous leg drive, and that was paramount in goalline offense for St. Vince. 

Green Bay not only ran sweeps, but goalline trap plays, and Paul was exceptional at reading the stout blocking of the Packer guards. Very few times was the Packer running game stopped from '59 through '62, yet on December 17th, '60 with the western conference crown on the line the lowly Rams stonewalled the Green Bay running game (30 carries for just 58 yards).  

With so many defenders bunched at the line of scrimmage, Bart Starr played actioned passed the Packers into the lead, and Hornung as he did many times was dead on accurate on his halfback option pass in the game Green Bay had to have. So many folks talk about the Packer sweep, yet it is the companion play—the fullback slant to the weak side that must be run effectively. The left halfback blocks either the outside linebacker, or defensive end (guard pulls or drive blocks), and the ball is given to the fullback Taylor. Paul Hornung was an excellent blocker, runner, passer, and kicker, but what about as a receiver. 

He was also productive when called upon, but only once in his career did he catch two touchdown passes in a game—December 12th, 1965 in a must-win situation in Baltimore Hornung catches two passes for 115 yards. Though he did not have much left in the tank, he had it when his team needed it. Paul Hornung struggled against the Detroit Lion defense running the ball; 124 carries for just 366 yards, yet he is one of the few backs ever to average better than 5 yards per carry (minimum of 100 carries) against an opponent. When Paul saw those horseshoes on the side of the Colt helmet he galloped down the field to the tune of 651 yards on 130 carries. 

My upcoming book (best stuff have ever done) on the season of 1961—will have in-depth detail on Green Bay. Hornung and Taylor carried the ball 370 times and lost just two fumbles, yes folks they broke the Mitchell & Brown record. Paul also began the campaign with his best season kicking as he made 11 of 14 field-goal attempts in the first six weeks. His military commitment to our country limited his place kicking down the stretch. RIP Paul Hornung you were truly one helluva halfback, and watching you toss the ball into the Wrigley Field bleachers on December 4th, 1960 on the highlight film is still a vivid memory. 

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Packers are LaFleurishing since 2019

 By Eric Goska

The obvious: Matt LaFleur is a winner.

Less obvious: the Packers’ head coach has been notching victories at a pace far superior to most NFL coaches in their first tour of duty.

Green Bay outlasted Jacksonville 24-20 at Lambeau Field to garner its seventh win of the season. The game is the latest example of LaFleur’s charges coming out on top.

The hiring of a new coach comes with no guarantees. Each season brings a new round of firings as those who fall short are relieved of duty.

LaFleur, who turned 41 earlier this month, became the Packers 15th head coach on Jan. 8, 2019. An NFL assistant for 10 years—including six as quarterbacks coach and another two as offensive coordinator—the native of Mount Pleasant, Michigan has possessed the keys to the most storied franchise in league history now for nearly two years.

Landing the job was an accomplishment. Making a name for himself in a role once held by Curly Lambeau, Vince Lombardi, Mike Holmgren and others would be another matter entirely.

According to Pro Football Reference, just over 500 men have been head coaches since 1920. Some—George Halas (Staleys/Bears), Don Shula (Colts; Dolphins), Bill Belichick (Browns; Patriots)—are held in high regard. Others—Coonie Checkaye (Muncie Flyers), Ed Kubale (Brooklyn Tigers), John Fassel (Rams)—came and went with little fanfare.

Sunday was LaFleur’s 25th regular-season game at the helm. The milestone provides an opportunity to compare his record against those who came before him.

Getting to Game 25 is a feat in and of itself. Roughly 40 percent of the 500 men on the all-time list never made it that far.

Of the 300 or so who did, few have been as successful so early in their careers as has LaFleur. The second youngest head coach in team annals (Lambeau) has won 20 of his first 25 regular-season games.

As a rookie in 2019, he guided the Packers to a 13-3 record and a division title. In doing so, he joined George Seifert (49ers), Steve Mariucci (49ers), Jim Caldwell (Colts) and Jim Harbaugh (49ers) as the only men to win 13-plus games in their first season as head coach according to the team’s media guide.

This year, LaFleur’s outfit is 7-2 and leads the NFC North Division by two games over the Bears. His club has yet to lose two in a row.

LaFleur is easily off to the best start of any Packers’ head coach. Mike McCarthy had been the standard bearer (16-9) followed by Lombardi (15-10) and Mike Sherman (15-10).

With his team downing Jacksonville by four, LaFleur became the 11th head coach in NFL history to win at least 20 of his first 25 regular-season games. Of the 11, he is only the second (Chuck Knox in 1973) to have gotten there after inheriting a team with a losing record.

Green Bay went 6-9-1 in 2018.

Seifert (23 wins), Guy Chamberlain (22) and Paul Brown (22) got off to the best starts of anyone in their first 25 games. The remaining eight on the list won 20 of their first 25.

In a number of ways, win No. 20 for LaFleur didn’t resemble many of his previous triumphs. Green Bay failed to score on its opening possession for the first time this season. The team was on the wrong end of the turnover differential for the seventh time since 2019.

The 91-yard punt return by the Jaguars’ Keelan Cole was the first special teams touchdown allowed by the Packers under LaFleur. In addition, Green Bay overcame a fourth-quarter deficit for only the third time in the last season and a half.

Yes, the Packers’ win was ugly. Yes, the outcome remained in doubt with less than two minutes remaining.

But Jacksonville’s resolve and refusal to back down only strengthens the notion that winning consistently in the NFL is anything but easy. Even the most downtrodden of clubs can rise up and threaten the best-laid plans of the opposition.

So don’t let this narrow decision over the Jaguars minimize what LaFleur has done. Through 25 games, the offensive mastermind has put the Packers in a position to compete for championships. Perhaps like five of the 10 previous coaches who got to 20 so quickly, he’ll come through with at least one league title before he calls it a career.

Extra Point

James Robinson became the sixth running back to log all carries from scrimmage by a Packers opponent in a game. The undrafted rookie from Illinois State carried 23 times for 109 yards, but did not reach the end zone. Others who have shouldered the entire rushing load against Green Bay are Ted Brown (11-28-1) in 1981, Barry Sanders (12-38-0) in 1992, Eric Lynch (30-115-2) in 1993, Edgerrin James (17-71-0) in 2000 and DeMarco Murray (18-134-1) in 2013.

25 Will Get You 20

NFL head coaches who won 20 or more of their first 25 regular-season games.

        Record       Coach                           Years                 Team           Year Before

          23-2-0        George Seifert               1989-1990          49ers                    10-6-0

          22-0-3        Guy Chamberlain         1922-1924           Bulldogs                5-2-3

          22-3-0        Paul Brown                   1950-1952           Browns                 9-1-2*

          20-2-3        George Halas                1920-1922           Staleys/Bears       NA

          20-2-3        Tommy Hughitt           1920-1922           All-Americans      NA

          20-4-1        Dick Rauch                   1925-1926           Maroons                NA

          20-5-0        Chuck Knox                  1973-1974           Rams                    6-7-1

          20-5-0        Barry Switzer                1994-1995          Cowboys             12-4-0

          20-5-0        Steve Mariucci              1997-1998          49ers                    12-4-0

          20-5-0        Jim Caldwell                 2009-2010          Colts                    12-4-0

          20-5-0        Matt LaFleur                2019-2020          Packers                6-9-1

*In 1949, the Browns were a member of the All-America Football Conference and not the NFL.

NA = not applicable

1963 AFL Defensive Players of the Week

By Jeffrey J. Miller 

Week 1 – September 7, 1963

Tommy Morrow of the Oakland Raiders registered three interceptions in leading the Raiders to a surprising 24-13 victory of the Oilers at Houston. Morrow, who played his collegiate ball at Southern Mississippi, picked up where he left off in 1962 when he led the Raiders with 10 thefts. It was the first opening-day loss ever for the Oilers, winners of the Eastern Division crown in each of the AFL’s first three seasons, and the first-ever opening day win for the Raiders, who were coming off a dreadful 1-13 campaign.

Week 2 – September 14, 1963

San Diego’s Chuck Allen was a one-man wrecking crew in leading the Chargers to a 17-14 squeaker over the Patriots at Balboa Stadium. The six-foot, one-inch, 225-pound middle linebacker was credited with 22 tackles (12 unassisted) to go with two passes defensed to keep the game close until the Chargers’ offense could put up the winning points on a George Blair field goal midway through the final frame.

Week 3 – September 22, 1963

The Oakland Raiders were a bit of a surprise, starting the 1963 campaign at 2-0 after finishing 1962 with the worst record in the league at 1-13. A new attitude imported by new head coach Al Davis resulted in impressive victories over Houston and Buffalo. The Boston Patriots, on the other hand, were still trying to establish an identity, starting the season at 1-1. Going up against the emergent Raiders in Oakland did not appear to be a good place to start a march toward a post-season berth, but there is a reason why the games are played on the field and not on paper.  Led by a stingy defense that sacked Oakland quarterbacks nine times, the Pats eked out a 20-14 win to improve to 2-1. Middle linebacker Nick Buoniconti led the way with a sack and two interceptions, the second pick coming late in the fourth quarter off Tom Flores as “The Iceman” was driving the Raiders toward what could have been the game-winning score.

This might very well have been Boston’s most important win of the entire season.       

Week 4 – September 28, 1963

Lucky for New York’s Dainard Paulson, thievery on the football field is not only legal, but it is strongly encouraged. The hard-hitting cornerback from Oregon State registered four thefts in the Jets’ 10-7 defeat of the Oakland Raiders at New York’s Polo Grounds. Paulson recorded a takeaway in each quarter of the game, including interceptions in each of the first three stanzas, then a fumble recovery in the fourth as the Jets improved to 2-1 on the season, while the Raiders dropped to 2-2.   

Week 5 – October 5, 1963

Having started the season at 0-3-1, the Bills were looking to get off the schneid against the 2-2 Oakland Raiders in this Week 5 contest at Buffalo’s War Memorial Stadium. Rookie safetyman George Saimes, starting just his third game on the defensive side of the ball after beginning the season as the backup to star fullback Cookie Gilchrist, was determined to keep the Bills’ playoff hopes alive. The Canton, Ohio, native came through like a Hall-of-Famer, registering a pass interception, one pass defensed, a fumble recovery, and a half a sack in leading the Bills to their first victory with a 12-0 shutout. 

Week 6 – October 13, 1963

The Buffalo Bills were coming off their first win of the season with the previous week’s drubbing of the Raiders, but at 1-3-1 were still desperate for wins. Staying on the beam this week would be no small task as the Bills traveled to Kansas City to face the defending AFL champion Chiefs, who were coming into this contest at 2-1-1. Cornerback Booker Edgerson, drawing inspiration from defensive backfield mate George Saimes’ Defensive-Player-of-the-Week performance a week earlier, was all over the field, registering four unassisted tackles, seven assisted tackles, one fumble recovery and one pass defensed to pace the Bills to a 35-26 upset victory at Municipal Stadium. 

Week 7 – October 20, 1963

With six weeks now in the books, the race in the East was still anybody’s call. Houston and Boston were deadlocked at 3-3 with Buffalo right behind at 2-3-1, making this weekend’s game between the Oilers and Bills at Jeppeson Stadium the league’s featured game. But the game did not live up to its hype as the Bills came out flat and never seemed to get into a groove. Houston’s All-Pro cornerback Freddie Glick led by swiping two Jack Kemp passes and providing strong run support as the Oilers breezed to a 28-14 win. 

With the victory, the Oilers improved to 4-3, and maintained their tie for the Eastern lead with Boston, who were also victorious this weekend.

Week 8 – October 27, 1963

The Houston Oilers entered Week 8 at 4-3, needing a victory to keep pace with the Eastern Division rival Boston Patriots, who bore an identical record.  Fortunately for the Oilers, this week’s opponent was the Kansas City Chiefs, who were coming into this contest at Houston with a disappointing 2-3-1 mark. The result was still in doubt as the third quarter began with the Chiefs ahead 7-0. But Houston’s veteran outside linebacker Doug Cline earned this week’s DPOW honors by picking off two Len Dawson passes as well recovering a Dawson fumble that thwarted a Kansas City drive deep into Houston territory late in the second quarter, keeping the Oilers within striking distance as the second half got underway.  

Week 9 – November 3, 1963

The Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs were teams heading in opposite directions.  The defending AFL-champion Chiefs were coming into this weekend with a 2-4-1 mark, having dropped their last three contests. The Raiders, on the other hand, were riding a two-game winning streak that brought them to 4-4 on the season, the first time the Raiders had been at .500 this late in a campaign since 1960. Oakland’s defense, led by veteran defensive end Dalva Allen, kept the Chiefs offense in check well enough to allow the Raiders to escape with a narrow 10-7 win. The six-foot, four-inch, 245-pound Allen, who played collegiately at the University of Houston, registered two quarterback sacks (totaling 21 yards) and also recovered a fumble in support of the cause.     

Week 10 – November 10, 1963

Heading into Week 10 of the 1963 season, the Eastern Division was still up in the air as the Oilers and Patriots were locked in a dead heat with identical 5-4 records. Needing to stay in the win column to keep pace with their division rival, the Oilers took care of business by defeating the New York Jets 31-27 at Jeppeson Stadium. Starring for the Oilers was cornerback Bobby Jancik, who intercepted two Dick Wood passes. Jancik’s first theft stopped a New York drive in the end zone in the second quarter. The second came late in the fourth, leading directly to a Houston touchdown that ultimately provided the margin of victory.

Jancik, by the way, provides the answer to the trivia question, “Who was the first player from Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, to play professional football?”

Week 11 – November 17, 1963

The second-place Buffalo Bills (5-4-1) welcomed the Western Division-leading San Diego Chargers to War Memorial Stadium needing a win to keep pace with the Eastern co-leader Oilers (6-4) and third place Boston Patriots (5-5). Unfortunately for the Bills, the Chargers were involved in a race of their own, needing a victory to keep pace with Oakland, who boasted a similar 6-4 mark. Defensive back Dick Harris, a two-time All Pro, played brilliantly, swiping three of former teammate Jack Kemp’s passes. Two of Harris’ picks led directly to San Diego field goals, while the third came on the final play of the game, as the Chargers held on for a hard-fought 23-13 triumph. 

November 24, 1963

Games postponed as the nation mourned the passing of President John F. Kennedy.

Week 12 – November 28, 1963

This year’s surprising team, the retooled Oakland Raiders, who at 6-4, found themselves just two game behind the division-leading San Diego Chargers (8-2) with four games remaining in the regular season. If Al Davis’ crew were to have any chance to catch his old team, they could not falter the rest of the way.  The Denver Broncos, at 2-7-1, had little to play for at this point, other than pride. The inspired Raiders, behind a stingy defense that surrendered just 46 yards on the ground and 187 via the pass, gave their beloved head coach and fans something to be very thankful for this Thanksgiving Day, steamrolling the Broncos 26-10 at Denver’s Bears Stadium. The Raiders’ standout performer was six-foot, three-inch, 218-pound linebacker Clancy Osborne.  Playing his first season with the Raiders after spending his first four pro campaigns in the NFL (1959-60 with San Francisco and 1961-62 with Minnesota), Osborne came through with a dazzling performance, registering two sacks and one interception in helping the Raiders to improve to 7-4.

Week 13 – December 8, 1963

With the division crown at stake, the 6-5-1 Boston Patriots traveled to Jeppeson Stadium in Houston to take on the 6-5 Oilers. In a game that certainly lived up to its billing, the Patriots prevailed in a 46-28 shootout.  Boston’s All-Pro linebacker Tommy Addison earned this week’s Defensive Player of the Week honors with an outstanding performance that included two-and-a-half sacks, six solo tackles, and a forced-fumble that Nick Buoniconti returned for a touchdown.

The victory put the Patriots in the driver seat at 7-5-1 with one game remaining on their schedule.  All they would have to do is win their final contest the following weekend against the Chiefs, and the division would be theirs

 Week 14 – December 15, 1963   

Because of a weird scheduling anomaly resulting from the AFL’s decision to postpone the games from the weekend following President Kennedy’s assassination, the two teams vying for the Eastern Division pennant, Boston and Buffalo, were playing their final regular-season games this weekend, the penultimate week of the AFL season. Buffalo came into the weekend with a record of 6-6-1, needing a win over the Jets and a Patriots loss to the Chiefs in order to force a divisional playoff game, while all the Pats had to do was beat the Chiefs or hope the Jets beat the Bills. 

The Chiefs, already mathematically eliminated from the post-season, were eager to play the role of spoilers and laid a 35-3 walloping on the slumbering Pats. The Chiefs’ defense was nearly impenetrable, allowing a paltry 74 yards on the grounds and a mere 85 yards through the air. All-Pro cornerback Dave Grayson led the way for Kansas City, recording two interceptions and four passes defensed, while contributing three tackles. The Patriots’ loss, combined with the Bills defeat of the Jets in New York, resulted in the first-ever divisional playoff game in AFL history.

Week 15 – December 22, 1963

Though it was a meaningless game with both teams already eliminated from playoff contention, the Kansas City Chiefs were still the defending AFL champs and were not about to let the season end on a sour note.  Bobby Hunt, Kansas City’s All-Pro left safety, was all over the Municipal Stadium field as the Chiefs totally dominated the visiting New York Jets. The Auburn grad registered four tackles (3 unassisted), batted down two enemy passes, intercepted two passes, and topped it all off with a fumble recovery in leading the Chiefs to a 48-0 skunking. The shutout of the lowly Jets meant the Chiefs surrendered just three points in their two final regular-season games.