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.


  1. Another outstanding effort by TJ Troup! Growing up a Bills fan, I had hatred for the Dolphins seared into my DNA. But always thought Jake Scott was great! He and Anderson were a big part of the Dolphins dominance over the Bills throughout the 70s.

  2. No offence to the Oakland Raiders, who showed true moxie beating the Dolphins in the 1974 Div playoff, Sea Of Hands Game but had Scott not gotten hurt, it might have been a different game.