Monday, November 30, 2020

Turnovers a Constant in NFL's Oldest Rivalry

 By Eric Goska

Darnell Savage Jr. (left) grabs the first of
two interceptions against the Bears Sunday night.
(screenshot from NFL Game Pass)

Ninety-nine years after the Packers and Bears first met, turnovers continue to impact the most storied rivalry in football.

Green Bay never trailed in toppling the Bears 41-25 Sunday night. More than half of the winner’s points were set up by turnovers.

Almost 100 years have passed since these two teams first clashed. Chicago, then the Staleys, trounced the Packers 20-0 on Nov. 27, 1921.

In that contest and in every regular-season game since, at least one turnover has reared its ugly head.

The latest encounter followed suit. Green Bay swiped the ball three times at Lambeau Field resulting in 21 points.

Darnell Savage Jr. was the first to pounce. In the second quarter, the safety grabbed a pass in the end zone targeted for Chicago’s Darnell Mooney.

Thirteen plays later, Aaron Rodgers hit Allen Lazard with a 2-yard scoring pass, and the Packers went up 20-3.

Za’Darius Smith then crashed the party. On third-and-17, the linebacker jarred the ball free from Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky. Preston Smith scooped it up and trucked 14 yards to pay dirt as Green Bay extended its lead, 27-3.

Savage Jr. finished the job in the third quarter.  The second-year defender waylaid a pass intended for Anthony Miller near midfield and, four plays later, Rodgers connected with tight end Robert Tonyan to give the Green and Gold a 34-10 advantage.

Savage Jr. joined Cully Lidberg (in 1929), Bobby Dillon (1955) and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (2016) as the only Packers to set up two touchdowns with interceptions in a game against the Bears.

Only four other times in this series has Green Bay garnered 21 or more points as a result of turnovers. The record is 24 in a 38-7 victory in 1962.

Losing the ball in this rivalry has sometimes been more common than scoring points. On Nov. 23, 1924, the two clubs combined for a record 14 turnovers in the Bears’ 3-0 win. On Sept. 27, 1931, the ball changed hands 13 times with Green Bay prevailing 7-0.

In all, 1,052 turnovers have been registered in 199 regular-season meetings. Chicago has committed 562 and Green Bay 490.

The Packers’ record in games in which it has fewer turnovers than the Bears is 75-24-2 (.752). The Bears’ record in games in which it has fewer turnovers than the Packers is 50-13-3 (.780).

Of course, refusing to give the ball to one’s enemy is always best. Chicago is 7-3 (.700) under those circumstances. Green Bay is 24-3 (.889).

Rodgers is 9-0 as a starter against the Bears when the Packers are turnover-free. Green Bay has not committed a turnover in each of its last three games with Chicago.

Turnovers were part of the first meeting between the
Packers and Bears (then the Staleys) in 1921.

Almost a century ago, Jake Lanum became the first Bear to intercept a pass in the series. Later in the same quarter, Art Schmael did so for the Packers.

Those two kicked off a tradition of theft that is as old as the rivalry itself. Expect more of the same when these two teams tee it up to close out the 2020 season on Jan. 3.

It’s a Setup

Most points scored by the Packers as the result of turnovers in a regular-season game against the Bears.

          Points         Date                              Result

              24              Nov. 4, 1962               GB won, 38-7

              21              Sept. 30, 1962            GB won, 49-0

              21              Nov. 9, 2014               GB won, 55-14

              21              Sept. 28, 2017            GB won, 35-14

              21              Nov. 29, 2020            GB won, 41-25

              19              Dec. 8, 1929               GB won, 25-0

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Panthers Rookie Jeremy Chinn Ties NFL Record for Scoop and Scores in One Game

 By John Turney

Jeremy Chinn. Credit: Fox Sports 

By recovering two Viking fumbles and taking them to the end zone (on back to back scrimmage plays) Jeremy Chinn tied a 62-year old NFL record for "Most Touchdowns, Game (Opponents’ recovered)" that was set November 28, 1948, by  Fred (Dippy) Evans of the Chicago Bears against. Washington. He also ties an unofficial 100-year old record of Al Nesser (see Note below).

However, we are not sure but are pretty confident (based on odds) that Dippy's recoveries didn't come eight seconds apart (official clock time). 

Here is the screenshot from the official NFL Record and Fact Book—

Now, this only includes the official record. According to research done by 

Al Nesser recovered two fumbles in the end zone for touchdowns Sunday, October 3, 1920, when his Akron Pros beat the Wheeling Stogies 43-0. However, the NFL does not accept Nesser's achievement in their Record and Fact Book but we do. 

So, well done Mr. Chinn. It has to improve Chinn's chances to be the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. His uncle is Steve Atwater and Chinn Chinn was selected in the second round with the 64th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers and was named Defensive Rookie of the Month for October.

We shall see.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

The First NFL Spike, AFL Spike and NFL Non-Spike

 By John Turney 
Does a spike count if it is not a celebration but a demonstration of frustration?

On November 16, 1960, Leon Clarke almost caught a game-winning pass but it was ruled incomplete and he spiked the ball to the ground. He'd beaten double coverage from a Steeler and a kid in the end zone.

Still, there is no TD so is it a spike?

Homer Jones has often been credited as being the first NFL player to spike a football. This is the play that gets cited—

However, the year before Jones' first spike in an NFL game (as far as we know) a few AFL players spiked the football—Hewritt Dixon, Paul Lowe and Al Denson

Hall of Fame voter Frank Cooney and perhaps others have mentioned Dixon as being the first to do it rather than Homer Jones but he didn't specifically mention Lowe and Denson. 

Here are clips of spikes from the three AFLers—

Hewitt Dixon with two powerful spikes in 1964

Also in 1964, Paul Lowe with a pair of documented spikes after touchdowns

Al Denson with a spike after a long TD reception, 1964

It seems that AFL guys are not getting their due when it comes to the spike. The evidence is they got there first. 

Of course, this is based on current evidence. Did a player from the 1930s, 40s or 50s slam te ball down after a touchdown and it wasn't documented? It's possible.

Did someone in the AFL do it before the three guys we've mentioned? Also possible. We'll keep an eye out for earlier examples but these are the earliest we've noticed so far.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

AFL Defensive Players of the Week – 1964

 By Jeffrey J. Miller

Week 1 – September 13, 1964

The Buffalo Bills were a team on the rise, a point which was established the previous year when they made the postseason for the first time in their four-year existence. If the Bills’ performance on opening day 1964 was a declaration that this was a team of destiny, it was about as loud of a declaration as one could make. The Bills bludgeoned the hapless Chiefs into submission before the first quarter had ended, staking a 31-0 lead, including 21 points resulting directly from turnovers. Buffalo’s All AFL defensive tackle Tom Sestak staked his claim as the greatest interior defensive lineman in the league by recording three quarterback sacks and a fumble recovery to go along with an interception of Len Dawson, which he returned 15 yards for the touchdown that gave the Bills their 31-point bulge. By the time it was over, the Bills had posted a 34-17 victory in front of 30,157 delirious fans at Buffalo’s old War Memorial Stadium.      

Week 2 – September 20, 1964

Boston’s Ron Hall is this week’s top defensive player for his role in helping the Patriots in defeating the powerful Chargers at San Diego’s Balboa Stadium. Hall had been moved from his familiar cornerback position to right safety this season, and the shift was paying immediate dividends. In just his second game at his new post, the Missouri Valley grad swiped three Tobin Rote passes, which he returned for a total of 47 yards. The third, coming with the Chargers driving toward the go ahead score in the game’s dying moments, allowed the Pats to run out the clock and claim a narrow 33-28 victory.     

Week 3 – September 26, 1964

Buffalo’s Tom Sestak earned his second DPW laurel in the first three weeks of 1964 with another stellar outing, this time against the high-powered San Diego Chargers. With 40,167 frenzied witnesses on hand on a balmy Saturday night in Buffalo, the Bills demolished the boys in powder blue 30-3. Sestak posted two-and-a-half sacks, accounting for losses totaling 47 yards, as the defense held San Diego to just 118 net passing yards.

Week 4 – October 4, 1964

Bobby Hunt, Kansas City’s All League strong safety, picked off George Blanda four times in leading the Chiefs to a 28-7 triumph over the Oilers in front of an appreciative crowd at Kansas City Municipal Stadium. The Auburn grad returned those interceptions for a total of 108 yards, including one in the third quarter that he brought back 29 yards for a touchdown.   

Week 5 – October 11, 1964

The Denver Broncos were seeing yet another season slipping away, entering Week 5 at 0-4.  In their previous four seasons, the Sad Sack franchise had never posted a winning record.  With the 2-1 Chiefs coming to town, it did not appear they would be getting off the schneid anytime soon. But Denver’s All AFL safety man Austin Gonsoulin was having none it. The man better known to teammates and fans as “Goose” nabbed three interceptions to lead the Broncos to a 33-27 upset win at Bears Stadium.  Gonsoulin also had a hand in seven tackles, six of which were unassisted.   

Week 6 – October 18, 1964

Tom Day, Buffalo’s new right defensive end, recorded three QB sacks in Buffalo’s 35-22 win over the Chiefs at Kansas City’s Municipal Stadium. Day was playing his first campaign on the Bills’ defensive line after spending his first four pro seasons on offense (one year with St. Louis in the NFL and three in Buffalo). The six-foot, two-inch, 252-pounder out of North Carolina A&T demonstrated his mobility by being credited with four unassisted tackles while assisting on another four. A savvy move by the Bills’ brain trust of head coach Lou Saban and defensive coordinator Joe Collier. 

The undefeated Bills (5-0) dropped the Chiefs to 2-3 and extended their lead in the East over the Boston Patriots, who fell to 4-1-1 after managing only a tie with Oakland on Friday night.   

Week 7 – October 23, 1964

After falling a game and half behind in the race for the Eastern Division crown following last week’s tie with Oakland, the Patriots were ready to turn things around against the 2-3 Chiefs at Fenway Park. Led by defensive end “Wildman” Larry Eisenhauer, the Pats’ swarming defense held Hank Stram’s charges to just 52 yards on the ground and 137 through the air (118 net!). Eisenhauer, a huge presence at six-feet, five inches and 250 pounds, recovered two fumbles and registered eight tackles (four unassisted) as the Patriots improved to 5-1-1 with a 24-7 victory.      

Week 8 – October 31, 1964

New York’s Bill Baird was this week’s top defender, swiping three Babe Parilli aerials in leading the Jets to a 35-14 upset win over Boston at Shea Stadium. Two of Baird’s thefts came on back-to-back Boston possessions late in the second quarter, allowing the Jets to retire to the locker room at halftime with a commanding 21-0 lead.

With the win, the Jets improved to 4-2-1 on the season and established themselves as a presence in the Eastern Division race, just a half-game behind the second-place Patriots, who fell to 5-2-1.

Week 9 – November 8, 1964

The San Diego Chargers maintained their lead over the Chiefs in the Western Division with a 30-21 defeat of the Broncos at Denver’s Bears Stadium. With hard-nosed middle linebacker Chuck Allen leading the way with 10 tackles (including eight unassisted), the Chargers improved to 5-2-1 on the season. Allen, who played his collegiate ball at the University of Washington, also notched a fumble recovery and a pass defensed in support of the cause.      

Week 10 – November 15, 1964 

Denver’s All League cornerback Willie Brown was nearly unbeatable this day, snagging four interceptions in leading the Broncos to victory over the visiting New York Jets before a sparse crowd of 11,309 at Bears Stadium. Brown swiped Jets passes in the first and third quarters, then two more in the fourth, including one on the Jets’ final drive in the game’s dying minutes that secured the Broncos' narrow 20-16 triumph.  The Grambling State alumnus also recorded two passes defensed. He had another interception called back in the third quarter after the Broncos were flagged for roughing the passer.

Week 11 – November 20, 1964

“Local Boy Makes Good” could very well have been the headline in any New England newspaper this weekend, as safety Ross O’Hanley played the hero in the Patriots’ 12-7 victory over the Denver Broncos at Fenway Park. O’Hanley, who was born in nearby Everett, Massachusetts, and attended Boston College, picked off two Denver passes, including one on the final play of the game as the Broncos were driving deep into Boston territory toward the go-ahead score, securing the win and allowing the Patriots to improve to 8-2-1, just one game behind Buffalo in the Eastern Division race.        

Week 12 – November 29, 1964

Dainard Paulson, the Jets’ hard-hitting safety, led the charge the resulted in the Kansas City Chiefs being knocked out of post-season contention. The four-year veteran out of Oregon State nabbed his league-leading 10th and 11th interceptions off Chiefs’ signal-caller Len Dawson, including one he returned 32 yards for a score, giving the Jets a 13-7 lead.  Paulson was credited with five solo tackles along with two passes defensed as the Jets dumped the Chiefs 27-14 in front of 46,597 frenzied fans at Shea Stadium. 

Week 13 – December 6, 1965

Needing a victory to stay alive in the race for the Eastern Division pennant, the 9-2-1 Patriots traveled to Kansas City to face the struggling Chiefs, who at 5-6 were already out of the race in the West.  The Chiefs put up a fight, but the Patriots, led by veteran cornerback Don Webb – this week’s DPW – held on for a narrow 31-24 win. Webb made his presence felt throughout the game, having a hand in seven tackles (three unassisted) and breaking up two passes. The Iowa State alum made his greatest contribution as the Chiefs were driving toward the tying score late in the fourth, intercepting a Len Dawson pass deep in Boston territory to seal the win.

Week 14 – December 13, 1964

Many pro football historians credit Larry Wilson of the NFL’s St. Louis Cardinals with popularizing the safety blitz. Sometimes overlooked, though not so much by AFL adherents, was the expert proficiency with which Buffalo Bills free safety George Saimes executed the tactic. In the midst of his first All-AFL season, Saimes earned this weekend’s Defensive Player of the Week honors by sacking Denver quarterbacks no less than three times in Buffalo’s 30-19 victory over the Broncos at Bears Stadium. The five-foot, eleven-inch, 186-pounder out of Michigan State capped his brilliant performance by blocking an extra-point attempt late in the third, allowing the Bills to maintain a seven-point bulge going into the final frame.

Week 15 - December 20, 1964

For the Oakland Raiders, 1964 had been a very disappointing season.  After finishing 1963 at 10-4, expectations were high that this would be their year. Unfortunately, the boys in Silver and Black were limping toward the finish line at 4-7-2. The San Diego Chargers, on the other hand, had already clinched a berth in the AFL Championship Game, entering the final week of the season at 8-4-1. Neither had much to play for, other than pride. 

Warren Powers, the Raiders’ second-year safetyman, led his team to victory with two interceptions. His second pick came in heroic fashion late in the fourth quarter with the Raiders leading 21-20 and the Chargers driving toward the presumptive go-ahead score. On first down from his own 44, San Diego quarterback Tobin Rote decided to go for it all, but Powers had Charger flanker Jerry Robinson covered and pilfered Rote’s heave at the Oakland 25 with 1:47 remaining in the game. All that was left was for the Raiders to run out the clock and claim a moral victory from the post-season-bound Chargers.           

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 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.

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. 

David was overlooked on the major All-Decade teams recently release, though he was First-team on ours and also on's, and'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 and zone. Clearly the 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 Penny front (33 nickel personnel 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 is one end and take your 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.