Friday, September 17, 2021

Rams Sub Packages Last Sunday Night

By John Turney

After looking at the All-22 we noticed a few different nickel defenses, as well as dime in the Rams, win over the Bears last Sunday night 

This is six DBs, two LBers, and three DLmen. Taylor Rapp is playing linebacker, and Nick Scott takes his place as the right safety (Rams use left- and right, not strong and free safeties). In this case the nickel bak is  Darious Williams with Jalen Ramsey and David Long outside. 

This is the Rams "mint" nickel that employs Jalen Ramsey as the nickel or "Star" and a MIKE 'backer and a moneybacker.  The "Jack" is a hybrid linebacker/defensive end, call it the "edge" player.

Here is a classic nickel look with Jalen Ramsey as an inside linebacker and this time David Long is the nickel corner.

This is one of four nickel defenses we saw. Here it has Troy Reeder as the WILL with Kenny Young on the three-receiver side, making him the MIKE. This is a single-high look, which is kind of rare. Usually, the Rams show a two-high look and rotate one of the safeties down as a robber-type player.

This is dime with Young as the MIKE and Rapp the near corner and Williams as the slot corner on the top side of the still.

The Rams pass defense held the Bears to 219 yards passing on 40 attempts (5.48 yards per attempt)  and a defensive passer rating of 74.6 and picked off one pass and defensed six others.

We will try and monitor any others that show up. It may not be as many different packages as Fritz Shurmur employed back in the day but it is close.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Albert Lewis—An Elite Corner and Elite Special Teams Player

 By John Turney 
Albert Lewis is one of the players you read about who really improved his draft status at the Senior Bowl. Going into the draft he was considered a developmental player, one who was tall and had great speed (4.35 forty) but was raw and didn't have the technique as some others,

He'd been a tremendous player for Grambling but was considered a mid-round prospect at best. He'd been All-Conference twice and was well known to the scouts but the 1983 NFL draft was loaded with talent, players in the second round would have been first-rounders the year before or after. 

So, even with his impressive work at the Senior Bowl he still only went in the third round (61st overall). He was the ninth corner selected behind Tim Lewis, Gill Byrd, Leonard Smith (played safety in NFL), Darrell Green, Mike Richardson (also considered a safety due to slow speed), James Britt, Cedric Mack, Ray Horton.

He was a second-fastest corner in the draft behind Darrell Green and has a knock of not being the best tackle in college. Still, the Chiefs took him and it turned out to be a great pick with only Green having a better NFL career than any of the others. 

As a Chief be began his career as a nickel back and special teams demon. Early in that first year he was a great kick and punt cover guy who not only made tackles but crushing hits drawing comparisons to former Chiefs special teams god Ceasar Belsar.  

He also was an excellent tackler/hitter according to Chiefs Defensive Coordinator Bud Carson. Carson, the former Steelers and Rams DC, felt his secondary was the hardest hitting in the NFL and that "Albert is probably the hardest hitter of them all".

Fortunately for Lewis having Carson as his coach he got a lot more playing time than he might have with another coach because Carson was one who used a lot of different schemes and looks that included nickel and dime and even dollar (seven defensive backs) packages that put Lewis in the action.

His play in camp impressed the Cheifs brass that they could ship starting corner, Eric Harris, to the Rams in a deal that brought former Carson pupil Lucious Smith over. Part because Smith knew Carson's scheme and part because Lewis had a hip flexor injury it was Smith who took over at right corner for the departed Harris leaving the nickel spot for Lewis.

In that role, he picked off four passes and also had 3.5 run stuffs coming off the edge. That year NFL FIlms chose a nickel back for their All-Pro team and it was Cowboy Ron Fellows but the pick could have just as easily been Lewis in our view, though Fellows was certainly deserving it's just that Lewis was on that same level. 

The secondary improved in 1983 they picked off 30 passes and gave up 21 touchdowns and had a league-best defensive passer rating (DPR) of 62.6 after being average (15th) in 1982. 

It should be noted that DPR was not used as any kind of statistical measure back then, it was only for quarterbacks. However, author TJ Troup, though what is sauce for the goose and sauce for the gander and reason that if a high passer rating (whatever flaws may exist in that statistic) was good for a quarterback means a low rating must be good for a defense. 

In 1984 left corner wanted more money but the Chiefs thought that Lewis was able to be a starter so rather than paying Green they shipped him to the Rams for a first- and fifth-round pick. Green and the Kansas City media was not happy but the Chiefs were.

The Chiefs didn't miss Green and the secondary was good (67.3 DPR) and was eighth in that category it gave up 19 touchdowns and again pilfered 30 passes and was gaining a reputation as the best young secondary in teh NFL with Lewis (24 years old), strong safety Lloyd Burress (27), right corner Kevin Ross (22) and free safety Deron Cherry (25).

In 1985 the team took a step backward from an 8-8 record to 6-10 but the offense was held to 14 points or less in seven of their sixteen games and being shut out twice. The secondary was still very good though the numbers dropped slightly. 

Lewis picked off eight passes Cherry seven and the Cheifs DBs were considered among the best. They also had an excellent three-man front in Art Still, Mike Bell, and Bill Maas. The thing they were weak in was the linebacking crew which is part of the reason the Chiefs played so many sub defenses with five- or six DBs. 

In a 30 front the linebackers need to be particularly strong and in Kansas City, in the mid-190s, they were not. And when they went to four down lineman they didn't have that rush backer who could play DE like an Andre Tipper or a stand-up guy that some others teams had. No Lawrence Tayor or others that were even in a second-team level to the great ones.

Gary Spani was the best backer they had but over the mid-1980s the outside guys were journeyman tyles like Tom Howard, Charles Jackson, Ken McAlister, Calvin Daniels, Ken Jolly, Tom Cofield, Lewis Cooper—you get the drift, these guys were not going to end up on any pro Bowl roster. The Chiefs had to wait until 1989 when they drafted Derrick Thomas to get the kind of play from an outside linebacker they needed in the mid-1980s. 
However, in 1986, the Chiefs did make the playoffs due to the defense, special teams, and the offense at least trying to keep up—they were held to 14 or fewer points only three times as opposed to the seven times in 1985. 

The defense had a DPR of 62.1 and picked off 31 passes (from 1983-86 no team picked off more and only the Bears had a lower DPI for those four seasons). The defense and special teams were a huge help in the point-scoring department for the team with 70 points (10 return touchdowns on returns, picks, fumble recoveries, and blocked kicks).

The special teams were, though, the key to the playoffs. Albert Lewis blocked three punts and deflected another (he blocked it but the ball travel past the line of scrimmage), and tackled a punter (which really should go down as a block but that is another story for another day) and blocked yet another punt in the playoff loss to the Jets. So, including playoffs, that's six de facto blocked punts on the year.

When the Chiefs needed to win to get into the playoffs the special teams scored three touchdowns (a blocked punt, a blocked kick, a kickoff return, and a field goal) to account for all the points and it should be noted that Albert Lewis had a pick in the fourth quarter to seal with win, 24-19. 

For a team that rushed for 91.8 yards a game with a 3.4 yards per carry average and that completed less than 50% of their passes, going 10-6 is kind of a miracle and though others were contributors on special teams Lewis was "the man" on those units.

In 1987 the Chiefs had a new head coach Frank Gansz, who was promoted after John Mackovic was let go based on his special teams units that had been so dominant. Unfortunately, it was a disaster with the Chiefs going 8-22-1 in his two years as the head man. Lewis made the Pro Bowl but didn't make any of the major All-Pro teams but Paul Zimmerman named him to the Sports Illustrated team.

In 1989 Lamar Hunt hired Marty Schottenheimer to take over and he brought Bill Cowher to run the defense with Tony Dungy to coach the defensive backs and his brother Kurt to run the special teams and after two seasons in the doldrums the Chiefs returned to respectability in 1989 and they were a fixture in the playoffs from 1990-93 (and after, even, when Lewis was a Raider).
Now with HOFer Derrick Thomas and DE Neil Smith, the Chiefs had a pass rush to aid the secondary and from 1989-93, Lewis' final five seasons the Chiefs DPR was the NFL's sixth-best over those years and Lewis finally made First-team All-Pro in 1989 and 1990. Prior he'd been Second-team All-Pro in 1986 only. Also in 1990, Joel Buchsbaum wrote that Lewis was one of the best two finest man-to-man cornerbacks in the NFL. 

The injury bug hit Lewis in 1991 (tear in his PCL) and 1992 (broken arm) but he returned healthy in 1993 and had a Pro Bowl-type season but only made Bob Glauber's (now a HOF voter) team.

In 1994 Lewis was a UFA and had he change to finally make some real money and the Raiders knowing Lewis well gave him the bag of cash. Al Davis, always willing to bring in corners as he'd always done (Willie Brown, Monte Jackson, Mike Haynes to name a few) and Lewis was the latest. Lewis was open to staying in Kansas City but they never made an offer so he ended up picking the Raiders over the Falcons and Chargers. 

Over his Raider years, he was not targeted much and didn't pick off a lot of passes but he still graded well considered a high red in 1994 and 1995. In his third Raider season he got his first pick with that team and when it was pointed out to him he wryly answered: "I guess I am not worth a damn".
With the Raiders he'd still play in the slot in sub defenses and recorded 8 of his 12.5 career sacks and was still solid in run plays—
In 1998 Lewis, then 38 years old, moved to free safety since they had rookie Charles Woodson and had brought in Eric Allen (another of the acquisition that Davis loved) going the route of players like Rod Woodson, even Charles Woodson, Aeneas Williams, and others who moved to safety late in his career. 

We are not sure why Lewis never gets Hall of Fame mention (he's never been in the Final 15) when we think scouts of that era would say he was one of the absolute best from 1985-95 or so. Then add in his special teams prowess, likely the best punt blocker ever, it would seem he at least deserves to be in the room (or nowadays on the Zoom).

It's been reported that Jerry Rice said he was the toughest corner he faced, but we've also seen Rice list Deion Sanders and Darrell Green as well. Either way, even if he's in the top three, that's quite a good testimonial. Willie Brown also has praised Lewis' skills as well, at one point calling him the "NFL's best". 

Lewis was an extremely intelligent player and an extremely hard worker in a league with lots of smart and hard-working players. Obsessed with being the best he innovated technique he pored over film of opponents, trained in martial arts, and then implemented them into his defensive back techniques and as well as studied basketball players to do the same thing. He kept notes on opponents wide receivers, tied to find weaknesses and exploit them 

As we mentioned he was not afraid to hit receivers, he was know and a mean-type guy, not in verbiage but in focus and in one-the-field intensity. 

It's likely that the reason is his interception total is not all that impressive compared to some others. In so,e ways he kind of like Lemar Parrish in that the guy opposite him had more interceptions (in this case it's Kevin Ross and Terry McDaniel opposite Lewis) no serious folks at the time thought Parrish was not the best CB on his team and the same is true for Lewis. Ross and McDaniel were good but Lewis was great even though he had fewer picks than those two when they were paired with Lewis. 

We don't know if Lewis can be one of those guys the Hall of Fame voters finally consider and he breaks through to the Final 15 (we find it hard to believe there are 15 modern-era players that had better or more impactful careers) but we hope so. 

There is no reason this guy should go into the senior "swamp". He was just too good for that. 

He checks all the boxes.

Career honors—

Career stats—

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

TUESDAY TIDBITS: Is This Finally Our Year?

 By TJ Troup 

How enjoyable to watch games with the fans some involved and cheering; felt so good to hear them as I watched on Sunday. Fourteen games across the country, and no doubt we all had the game or games we wanted to see. 

The game of the day for me and possibly a play-off encounter in January was the Steelers @ Bills. Half-time adjustments and/or a newfound motivation brought the victory to Pittsburgh. 

Always there are scores that surprise us? Will that continue? Hell yes! Two divisions are undefeated, and that said...a brief look at the schedule tells us that the NFC West (strongest division in football) plays the AFC South, thus any victory by a team from that division coupled with a winning record against division opponents will bring the division title to that team. 

AFC West plays the so-called "Black & Blue" division the NFC North, and as such teams such as the Vikings and Bears who view themselves as Wild card candidates best win at least a couple of those match-ups. 

Taking a look back at anniversary achievements; the Rams on September 12th, 1976 tore apart a Falcon team that just could not stop the Los Angeles ground attack. "Ground Chuck" had two 100 yard rushers (McCutcheon & Cappelletti). Historically the Rams have had one of the most prolific rushing games, with many, MANY 100-yard rushing performances. 

From 1963 through 1975 the Rams record when having a 100-yard rusher was 23-2-1 (opening day '73 Rams had two 100 yard rushers). The NFC Championship losses of '74 & '75 in the rear view mirror, the Rams no doubt believed "this is finally our year"! Is that the case for Los Angeles in 2021? 

Everyone who read the write-up of the game and Matt Stafford's pinpoint performance will stay tuned to see if he can continue his elite passing and lead the Rams deep into the playoffs.

In closing, recently read that former Minnesota Viking center Mick Tinglehoff has left us. He was one of those men who had to wait many years before enshrinement in the Hall, but fortunately, he was alive to be there. Having seen a virtual ton of film of him; would have relished sitting and talking football, and specifically blocking with this durable consistently excellent player. 

How many centers had the opportunity to attempt to block Schmidt, Nitschke, Butkus, Lanier, Lambert, and hopefully future Hall of Famer Gradishar? His interviews with NFL Films are priceless—especially talking about Butkus. 

RIP Mick, you were a valued member of your team and the league. 

Monday, September 13, 2021

Ball Control Helps New Orleans Past Green Bay, 38-3

By Eric Goska

No. 41 Alvin Kamara (above) and No. 83 Juwon Johnson (below)
finish off two monster drives for the Saints in Jacksonville.
(screenshots from NFL Game Pass)

Lump-sum or smaller disbursements over time?

Sunday, the New Orleans Saints chose the latter. Content with extracting payment in regular intervals, the Saints repeatedly gouged Green Bay during a pair of monster first-half drives that set the stage for a 38-3 blowout win.

Those two possessions – back-to-back 15-play excursions – propelled New Orleans to a 17-3 halftime lead. They also kept the ball away from Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ offense.

The first covered 76 yards, removed seven minutes, 51 seconds from the game clock and was capped by Jameis Winston’s 3-yard pass to running back Alvin Kamara. The second carried 80 yards, chewed up 10 minutes and concluded with Winston’s 1-yard toss to tight end Juwan Johnson in the back of the end zone.

Given time to digest this seemingly relentless advancement by New Orleans, the crew at Fox Sports offered this nugget coming out of halftime. Not since the Vikings of 2000 had a team put together back-to-back touchdown drives of 15 or more plays.

It’s a powerful stat. And it beautifully summed up just how inept Green Bay’s defense was at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville.

Nearly 21 years and more than 5,000 games ago, New England served as patsy while the Vikings imposed their will. Now Green Bay sits in the corner, dunce cap squarely atop its head.

Like sculpting with stone, the Saints chipped away at the Packers. They picked up 13 first downs on their second and third drives combined. They encountered five third-down situations, converted three and utilized fourth down – including Winston’s pass to Johnson – to overcome the other two.

Never did they gain more than 17 yards on a single play. Only once did the team lose yardage, that a 1-yard setback with Taysom Hill carrying.

Methodically and purposefully, New Orleans moved the ball. Or, to use an expression popularized by the late Hank Stram who once coached the Saints (1976-77), they “matriculated the ball down the field.”

In doing so, New Orleans gave Green Bay precious few opportunities. While Winston and his unit reeled off 38 first-half plays, Rodgers and his teammates got on the field for just 17. The Packers’ four first-half rushing attempts tied a team low going back to 1954.

What Fox Sports could not report was how often Green Bay has been subjected to consecutive long-haul touchdown drives throughout its first 100 years. Leave it to Pro Football Journal to provide that information below.

Extreme Matriculation

Back-to-back TD drives of more than 25 combined plays given up by the Packers since 1921.

   Plays    Yards      TOP         Opponent              Date                 Result

      30          156         17:51               Saints             Sept. 12, 2021        GB lost, 3-38

      29          146         10:54            Cowboys          Nov. 12, 1978          GB lost, 14-42

      29          171         14:44                Lions             Nov. 22, 1984        GB lost, 28-31

      28          158         15:23              Vikings           Nov. 10, 1968         GB lost, 10-14

      28          152         14:22              Vikings             Oct. 2, 1977          GB lost, 7-19

      28          147          9:40                Bears             Nov. 29, 2019         GB won, 41-25

      27          143         12:03            Cardinals          Oct. 29, 2006          GB won, 31-14

      26          150           NA              Maroons          Nov. 4, 1928            GB won, 26-14

TOP = time of possession

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Chandler Jones' Five Sacks—Third-most Ever on Opening Day

 By John Turney 
Yesterday we posted the official and unofficial leaders for sacks on opening day—

Chandler Jones had five sacks to move him to the third-most ever for opening day. If you add in Ezra Johnson's 5 in 1978, he'd be tied for third.

Either way, it was an excellent day, one that caused tackle Taylor Lewan to Tweet about it—

 Lewan didn't give up all five sacks but he did get beat a few times so he was really just owning his poor performance rather than making excuses and good for him for doing that.

Jones now had 55.0 sacks over his last 54 games going back to the beginning of 2017. In that time, including today only Aaron Donald's 58.5 has more than Jones.

Additionally, Jones had 2 forced fumbles, giving him 15 since 2017—Only T.J. Watt has more (17) and leaves him tied with Donald a Khalil Mack who both have had 15 fumbles forced over the last 4 years and 1 game. 

2021 Awards Predictions

 By John Turney 

SUPER BOWL—Packers over Bills

MVP—Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs



COACH OF THE YEAR—Kyle Shanahan, 49ers




Friday, September 10, 2021

Wilber Marshall—Buddy Ryan's 'Charlie' 'Backer

 By John Turney 

It took a year for Wilber Marshall to become the right linebacker for Buddy Ryan's defense in Chicago. The 1984 starter Al Harris sat out and that opened up the position for Marshall however we wonder if Marshall might have won the ob outright had Harris not held out. 

We wonder because Marshall was a quicker, even stronger player even though Harris was a bigger man. Regardless, in 1985 the job was Marshall's.

In Ryan's base defense Marshall was the right-side linebacker with Otis Wilson on the left-side linebacker. However, in Ryan's famed '46' defense Marshall was the 'Charlie" linebacker and Wilson was the "Jack" 'backer.
In the '46' Wilson, as the Jack, was the edge defender and rushed most of the time and Marshall was often in man coverage on the tight end as the 'Charlie', though he'd blitz as well at times making him the more complete linebacker of the two outside guys on the great Bear defenses of the mid-1980s.

Illustrating that completeness consider this—since 1960 Marshall is the only linebacker to have 4 or more sacks and 4 or more interceptions in a single season three times. He did it twice with the Bears (1985-86) and once with Washington (1991).

In the 4-3 base D (what Ryan called 'Pro') he was athletic enough to slot cover receivers and the best of receiving backs. He was also a devastating hitter, giving the proverbial Ronnie Lott "Wooo hits" with regularity. In our view, he was just a wonder to watch—certainly passing any 'eye-test' anyone would want to throw out there.

After the 1987 season, Marshall signed as a free agent with Washington and the Bears received two number one draft picks as compensation. The Bears actually tended an offer for Marshall but he signed with Washington anyway opting for the five-year, $6 million contract offer that made him the NFL's highest-paid defensive player ever. The Bears could not match the terms since Washington's contract was guaranteed and also had a no-trade clause in it as well. 

All that kept Marshall from holding out in 1988 (like Al Harris did in 1985) as he had threatened to do if he didn't get the type of compensation he was worth.

In the Nation's Capitol, he was able to continue his high level of play. though there was an adjustment period in 1988 playing in Richie Petitbon's defense (George Allen's defense). 
In 1991 he moved to the left side and got post-season honors that year and in 1991 and in 1991 he got his second Super Bowl ring. 

At this point in his career his knee problems began. He re-joined Buddy Ryan's defense in 1993 with the Oilers and then followed him to the Cardinals when Ryan landed the head coaching job there.

Washington made Marshall their "Franchise player" after the 1992 season so he couldn't become a free agent. Mashall actually sued and then appealed that designation but lost the appeal. The saga dragged out for a couple of months until May when Washington and the Oilers were trying to work out a deal to get Marshall to the Oilers but there were differences in opinions as to the amount of money that was offered by Houston. The Oilers had offered (or not) Washington a first- and fifth-round pick if Houston could sign Marshall.
All this led to a lawsuit against the Oilers for breach of contract because he alleged there was a deal in place but the Oilers claimed they had retracted their offer before a key fax arrived in Houston. The fax allegedly was the agreement. 

The parties agree to take the issue out of the courts and to NFL Commissioner'sPaul Tagliabue's desk. He decided to enforce the terms of the deal with a slight alteration in compensation (Washington got a third- and a fifth-round pick rather than the original first and fifth and thus after about three months Marshall became an Oiler. 

He played well at times but had knee issued and a rib injury so he just was not himself and since he signed a one-year deal he became a free agent and Houston did not offer him a contract.
So, he was Buddy Ryan's Charlie 'backer again in the Desert and just like in 1993 he was good but not great and after that year he was once again a free agent but he remained unsigned until late August when the Jets had injuries at linebacker and signed marshall to fill in. With the ers he played 15 games but starting just a handful of those games. In none of his last three years was he able to perform as well as he had in his first nine seasons. 

At the University of Florida he was All-American in 1982 and 1983 and was a three-time First-team All-SEC selection as well. He was also a finalist for the Lombardi Award in both 1982 and 1983. 

He was a member of the Gainesville Sun's "Team of the Century" in 1999 and was inducted into the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame and to the University of Florida's Ring of Honor.

Marshall was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008.

He attended Astronaut High School in Titusville, Florida, and was a High School All-American. He is a member of the Florida High School Athletic Association named Marshall to its "All-Century Team".

Coming out of the Swamp Marshall was the  (11th overall) of the 1984 NFL Draft but he was almost the second-overall. The Patriots traded up for the first-overall and signed Irving Fryar prior to the draft. Since the Oilers had the top pick at that point (second overall) they had the right to negotiate with Marshall prior to the draft but the two parties we not able to work out a deal. 

After his career Marshall's injuries left him disabled and he was treated for the pain with prescribed pain pills (always guarding against potential addiction), anti-inflammatory injections in his battered joints.

For his career, he had 45 sacks, 23 picks, 24 forced fumbles, and 16 fumbles recovered. He's one of three linebackers to have 45 or more sacks and 20 or more interceptions 

Marshall was All-Pro in 1986 and 1991 and was All-NFC in 1986, 87, 91, and 92. He certainly was Pro Bowl/All-Pro level in 1985 and likely 1990 as well. 

In 1992 he was the NFL Linebacker of the Year by NFL Alumni and the NFC Linebacker of the Year by NFLPA. He was voted as one of the “100 Greatest Bears of All Time” as well as one of the “80 Greatest Redskins.

Marshall has not gotten a ton of notice from Hall of Fame voters, likely due to the fact he tailed off at the end of his career. His greatness came from 1985-92 and even then he was a bit light on post-season honors (All-Pro, Pro Bowl, etc.) because it was an era that reward the 3-4 outside linebackers, the sackers rather than the complete linebackers that are common now and were the standard from the time the NFL defenses turned into a 4-3 league which was roughly the mid-1950s through the late-1970s. 

In fact, in the mid-1980s there were just three teams that didn't switch to some form of the 3-4—Dallas, Washington, and the Bears. All other teams had switched (and some switched back at times) and by the time the NFL was back to a 4-3 league, Marshall's career was basically over. 

Regardless, there is a big place for Marshall in the league's story—he was a major factor in two championships and was the best at his position, at least for a time, and he was a complete linebacker in an era of guys who were not three dimensional (played the run, covered and rushed). Additionally, he played well in the playoffs and made key plays throughout 

So there is a lot to be said for Marshall. A lot. 

Career stats—

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Joe Carr, F.D.R. and NFL Passes (1934-1938)

By Chris Willis, NFL Films
1935 NFL Pass to President Franklin D. Roosevelt
(Courtesy: FDR Presidential Library) 

As we approach the NFL’s 102nd season in 2021 PFJ looks back on the old tradition of the NFL office sending out courtesy passes to the press and dignitaries. Back in 2016 PFJ wrote an article on how and why Joe Carr, NFL President from 1921-1939, used the ability to send free NFL passes to get the writing press and special dignitaries to come to NFL games during the league’s first two decades.

One of Carr’s biggest attempts to get people out to NFL games was to offer the President of the United States a free NFL pass. From 1934 to 1938 Carr sent a free pass to Franklin D. Roosevelt. His letter and pass would go straight to the White House.

One of the most interesting thing about this venture was that the NFL pass that Carr sent every year to Roosevelt was always labeled number one. Carr made sure the President would get the first pass printed up.

Over those five years, Joe Carr's letter to the White House would be addressed to Roosevelt himself and would include the free pass and the hope that the President could attend games that fall. Once in 1936 Carr wrote: "As you are probably aware, the American public has come to realize that Professional Football is a really GREAT GAME, and we would certainly feel complimented to have a really GREAT PRESIDENT honor us with his presence at some of our games." Carr and the NFL would always get a thank you letter back from the White House, signed by FDR's secretary. 

1934 NFL Pass to FDR
(Courtesy: all NFL passes, letters, FDR Presidential Library) 

1935 NFL Pass to FDR

1936 NFL Pass to FDR

1937 NFL Pass to FDR

In 1938 Carr and the NFL went one step further. That year Carr sent the pass to Washington Redskins owner George Preston Marshall to hand-deliver the pass to Roosevelt. On September 17th (the day the NFL was founded in Canton, Ohio) Marshall entered the White House at approximately 11:40 a.m. In the White House office Marshall handed the 1938 NFL Pass to President Roosevelt. A photo was taken to preserve the moment. Then at 11:45 a.m. Marshall left, the President had a meeting scheduled with William G. McAdoo, a senator from California.

Sept. 17, 1938 Day-to-Day Schedule, FDR, White House
(Courtesy: FDR Presidential Library) 

George Preston Marshall, owner Washington Redskins, hands FDR 1938 NFL Pass
(Courtesy: Joe F. Carr family) 

In the end, it looks like Roosevelt’s schedule prohibited him from attending any NFL games in those years, or at least there is no known proof. Unlike baseball, where FDR attended games and threw out the first pitch often, FDR it seems didn't make it to an NFL game. But it didn’t stop Joe Carr or the NFL from trying.

Enjoy the 2021 NFL season!

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Greg Brezina—The 'Blitz' in Grits Blitz

 By John Turney 
Brezina was drafted in the 11th round (275th overall) of the 1968 draft by the Falcons out of the University of Houston where he was an honorable mention All-American (NEA) in 1967. He was one of five Brezina brothers who played for the Cougars and there and he was a linebacker on the same unit with Wade Phillips. 

He was quick but on the smaller side, 6-0, 220 pounds as a rookie, maybe a bit heavier in his last few years. Back then coaches lined their linebackers to be 6-2 or 6-3 and 230 or more pounds. It may seem quaint now, but to a coach, 5-10 pounds and a couple inches or so could cause a player to drop a long way in the draft, which is what likely happened to Brezina.
However, in eleven seasons with the Falcons, Brezina played in 151 games, started 114, and picked off 12 passes, had 14 fumble recoveries, and 26 sacks to go with 835 tackles. He was an "excellent but unspectacular player"—which is how the Los Angeles Times described him in 1975. And that was pretty fitting. There is nothing wrong with being "excellent' at your job.

In 1969 (80 tackles, 10.5 run/pass stuffs, and 5 fumbles recovered) he was named as a replacement player in the Pro Bowl, the only time he received any post-season honors from a major "All" team. However, in 1978 he was named All-NFC by the New York Daily News which was a pretty astute pick by Larry Fox who chose the team since that season Brezina totaled 107 tackles, 11 stuffs, 9 sacks two forced fumbles, and deflected nine passes.

So perhaps those couple of years he was almost spectacular. You could also throw in 1977 and maybe even 1975.

He hurt his knee the following the Pro Bowl season and missed all 14 games but from 1971-76 he was a that "steady linebacker" that often made his way into the backfield on running plays, and in 1975 even picked off four passes.

From 1971-73 the Falcons were a competitive team and a decent defense—with the Falcons at least above .500 cumulatively for those three years, but from 1974-76 the wheels came off the team, going 11-31 from 1974-76.
But in 1977 the coach changed (Leeman Bennett was hired from the Rams staff) and defense changed (Jerry Glanville and others were given the keys to the defense and Brezina's role changed to became the right side blitzer. He recorded 17½ of his career sacks in his last three seasons in the new role and the defense made a quantum leap that year. 

The 1977 Falcons defense allowed 129 points allowed is the modern-day record for the fewest in a 14-game season (9.2 points per game). It is known as one of the best single-season performances of any defense and even has a Hall of Famer among its ranks—Claude Humphrey. 

In addition to leading the NFL in fewest points allowed the Falcons "Gritz Blitz" defense was second in fewest total yards allowed and in takeaways, they allowed the fewest yards passing in the NFL and had a defensive passer rating of 37.4 which was best in the NFL and recorded 42 sacks (tied for seventh) and Brexine led the team in that category.

The scheme was a 4-3 but often went to a 3-man line defense on passing downs and would blitz Brezina, Dewey McClain, or even the inside backers. Simply put the Falcons brought more people than the offense could block and forced quick throws that were often inaccurate or picked or resulted in a sack or knocked-down quarterback.

Under Bennett and Glanville the Falcons became competitive and even made the playoffs in 1978 and won a wildcard playoff game. In Brezina's final season the defense took a step back, but Brezina's understudy at right linebacker, Joel Williams, came alive in 1980, the year after Brezina retired, and recorded 16 sacks and the Falcons, now with a very good offense, won the NFC West. 
Brezina was not a part of that NFC West title, except perhaps in spirit, but he was part of the late-1970s Falcon turnaround and finished his career on an upswing after those mid-1970s seasons in the cellar and it extended the year after he hung 'em up. Perhaps he helped set the table a bit.

It can honestly be said Brezina had an excellent but perhaps unspectacular career but it is certainly one that is noteworthy being the top blitzer in the famed Grits Blitz defense. That is quite a lot and that will be his legacy in football.

In 1971 Brezina, at a crossroads of his life, became and born-again Christian and after his football career embraced the ministry. He and his wife Connie are partners in a "counseling and training ministry" called Christian Families Today.

The Christian programs he runs now are will be his post-football legacy and that, too, is quite a lot. 

Career stats—

Monday, September 6, 2021

Small Insight into Statistics and Honors in Relation to Ron Pritchard

 By John Turney
A few months ago when someone would for to Pro Football maybe to look up Ron Pritchard or if they just were clicking through they would have seen something like this on his page—
We've modified it to condense the space, but when you pair his 1970 season with his being Second-team All-AFC one would have seen just the two interceptions and the safety. For some fans that may have begged the question of  "Why?".

So, what was it that a couple AFC sportswriters saw to mark him down as one of the top two AFL linebackers that year? They would have seen the safety he was credited with when Terry Bradshaw was forced out of the end zone but was that it? The interceptions? Two?

Recently PFR added sack data and that offers some insight—

We can now see that in 1970 Pritchard had 7½ sacks. Of course, but standards associated with 3-4 defenses and rushbackers or "edge" players that total may not seem like much. But for that time, it was an excellent number for a 4-3 outside linebacker. Heck, it's more than Hall of Famer Robert Brazile ever had in a single season and he was in a 3-4 his whole career so that will open one's eyes/

So, what we are suggesting is that the reason he got post-season honors in 1970 is because of that statistic. Writers saw him get the sacks, maybe it was even the Houston-based writers who voted for him or even maybe a Pittsburgh writer, we don't know. But we are saying it was based on something it was "not for nothing" if you will.
Credit: NFL, Fair use claim for education and criticism
We've seen this over the years, on an honorable mention for a less-known player on an AP or UPI All-Pro team and ask why that guy got a vote or two, enough to be an honorable mention. Sometimes it was on a reputation (Deacon Jones was an honorable mention in 1971 and he was hurt and didn't deserve any votes) but more often it was a guy like Clark Miller in 1966 who had 10 sacks (the number not known then but the writers would have seen the big plays) and was honorable mention All-Pro, never to get listed again.

We suggest though not perfect, the writers of the day were watching games, talking to coaches, players, other writers, and were, in general, careful and consciences about the All-Pro/All-Conference votes. We think this obscure pattern illustrated that and gives credence that All-Pros (and even Pro Bowls) were not just "popularity contests".

Certainly, the "All" system does have flaws and there are players who get overlooked, and maybe another player gets an "All" a year after he was deserving. But that is not a reason to dismiss the system completely. It, like anything, requires a little study and homework, a little reason and intelligence applied to it before some cliche is thrown around to completely discount it when it is convenient. 

Both things can be true—it was a basically fair system that has/had some flaws in specific cases. It's up to smart folks to identify those flawed cases but also affirm the majority of guys who make All-Pro/All-Conference/Pro Bowls are pretty deserving. The "snubs" are usually because there are only a certain number of slots and maybe there were more good players in a specific year at one of those slots.

Rant over.

Back to Pritchard.

He was a First-team All-American at Arizona State and is in the College Football Hall of Fame. He was All-WAC 1966-68 and was named to the Sun Devils’ All-Time Football team and to the All-Time Western Athletic Conference team. He is also a member of the ASU Sports HOF and Ring of Honor,

Prior to his time in the desert he graduated from Antioch High School  (CA) and his senior year at Antioch he was All-Everything. he made All-County, All-League, All-Metropolitan, All-Northern California, and an Honorable Mention All-America selection. 

He was drafted by the Oilers in the 1st round (15th overall) of the 1969 NFL Draft. In the Oilers' mind, he was going to bookend George Webster for a decade and dominate under the Astrodome lights.

But as fate would have it they never started a full season together. The two first-round bookends never got a shot to show what they could do. Asa rookie Pritchard played some but was not a starter, though his playing time increased throughout the year. 

In 1970 Pritchard was the "rush" linebacker and Webster was the cover guy, with some exceptions, of course. Webster could dog when asked and Pritchard was quick enough to cover backs or pickup who came through his hook/curl zone. 

But Webster was hurt in 1970 and 1971 and in 1972 both were traded away at midseason. Webster brought Dave Smith to Houston and Pritchard was exchanged with Charlie Joiner for Bengals running backs Paul Robinson and Fred Willis.

So the trio of Garland Boyette (pro football first African-American middle linebacker, edging Willie Lanier) at MIKE, Webster at SAM, and Pritchard at WILL lasted just about a season over the four years all were with the team and starting at their usual positions. 

After Pritchard was traded he filled in for injured Bengals linebackers after playing the first half of the season at middle linebacker for the Oilers.
He beat out Bengals right linebacker Ken Avery for the staring right-side linebacker job in 1973 but went down to an injury in the tenth game.

Pritchard rebounded nicely in 1974 totaling 122 tackles a career-high. Certainly, tackles can be subjective and looked at closely, however, the Bengals scorekeepers, in our view, were fairly reasonable and while one can question the exact totals, we think it is likely that a couple things are accurate that he had a lot more tackles than in past years and that aside from that he had a helvella year. 

Maybe Bill Bergy being gone caused some change in scheme and play asking Pritchard to cover more ground? 

In 1976 Pritchard hurt a knee and missed more than half of that year. He had trouble recovering and missed the 1977 season for all intents and purposes. He had two more surgeries on the knee and in 1978 the Bengals, though they found his knee to the stable (tighter than the non-inured knee) did offer Pritchard (his contract had expired) a 1978 contract which Pritchard didn't sign.

The saga was outlined in a May 31, 1978, Cincinnati Enquirer article—

In early July Pritchard was traded the Raiders for a draft pick which the Bengals never received, in late August Prichard left the Raiders camp—the knee had had it. 

Pritchard was also a professional wrestler in his offseasons and continued it some after his career giving it up in 1981.

In the early years, Pritchard could run very well and had good size. When the Oilers were criticized in mid-season 1969 for not taking Calvin Hill or Ron Johnson (the NFL's leading rushers at the time) general manager Don Klosterman defended the pick saying that "Pritchard was the best all-around athlete" and that he thought the organization was right in taking in seeing how he is "coming around".

However it was clear that OPilers fans and Houston media and likely the Oilers brass themselves were hoping for Pritchard to start as a rookie and when he didn't, the criticism Klosterman faced emerged.

We are not suggesting Pritchard was great, but when you see him he does move well, plays his position but he was no Webster, he was more of a potential Jim Lynch, Chris Hanburger or Andy Russell type, the right-side linebacker who could dog and be effective and be somewhat of a factor in coverage. He had the ability but for whatever reason, the Oilers gave up on him in 1972, as they did with Webster and even Boyette (who was a little older). 

Boyette was benched in early 1972 (for Pritchard), then retired after the season and began as a coach with the Oilers the following year. He was coaxed out of retirement (and the coaching staff) in camp in 1973 but was subsequently waived. He went on to play two seasons in the WFL in 1974-75.

So, while no star, Pritchard was, however worthy of Second-team All-AFC, and the numbers in this case back up that honor, again even if it was just a couple of voters who noticed his play in 1970 and 1971.

Career stats—