Saturday, January 30, 2021

Rams, According to Rumor, Make a Splash by Trading for Matthew Stafford

By John Turney 
This CBS Tweet says it all
Last year when the Rams acquired Jalen Ramsey we posted that the Rams have never been shy about making big-time deals. If the InterWeb rumors are accurate they have pulled the trigger on another blocked buster trade once again. 

Many sources are reporting that the Detroit Lions are dealing QB Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for two future first-round picks, a third-round pick plus QB Jared Goff.

So, they get: Matthew Stafford

They give up: Two #1s and a #3.

The Rams paid a heavy price for Jared Goff in dollars and in draft capital. 

In 2019 Goff signed a four-year, $134 million contract with $110 million of that guaranteed. In 2016 the Rams traded a bundle to get Goff. We've detailed it before but here it is again—

In April of 2016, the Rams sent a 2016 first-round pick plus two second-round picks and a third-round pick plus another first-round pick (2017) and a 2017 third-round pick to the Titans in exchange for the #1 overall pick, a fourth-round pick, and a sixth-round pick.  With that #1 overall the Rams took Jared Goff.

So they got: The #1 overall (Jared Goff), a #4, and a #6

They gave up: Two #1s, two #2s, and two #3s.

The Rams 2016 Draft chart looks like this
(round, overall, player, pos, school)
1 #1 Jared Goff, QB, Cal
1 #15 (Choice to Tennessee)
2 #43 (Choice to Tennessee) Pick from Philadelphia for Sam Bradford
2 #45 (Choice to Tennessee)
3 #76 (Choice to Tennessee)

4 #110  Tyler Higbee, TE, Western Kentucky
4 #113 (to Chicago) from Tennessee
4 #117  Pharoh Cooper, WR, South Carolina (From Chicago)

5 # (155)   (Used for Isiah Battle in Supplemental draft)
6 #177 Temarrick Hemingway, TE, South Carolina St. (from Tennessee)
6 #190  Josh Forrest, MLB, Kentucky
6 #206  Mike Thomas, WR, Southern Miss (from Chicago)
7 #235 (Choice to Tennessee for Case Keenum)
The top of the 2017 draft looks like this
(round, overall, player, pos, school)
1 #5 Choice to Tennessee for Jared Goff
2 #37 (Choice to Buffalo plus #149 for #44 and #91)
2 #44 Gerald Everett, TE, South Alabama (Choice from Buffalo)
3 #69 Cooper Kupp, WR, Eastern Washington
3 #91 John Johnson, S, Boston College (Choice from Buffalo)
3 #100 (Choice to Tennessee) Compensatory pick for Janoris Jenkins

The Rams got Goff and the fourth, which the split, in essence, and got Pharoh Cooper and Mike Thomas. A good little draft move, a Les Snead special, getting two for one, and both were good special teams players but neither could play wide receiver in the NFL and both are gone. They used the sixth-rounder on Temarrick Hemingway. But what can be expected from a late-rounder? Hard to criticize that, really.

To get the extra second-rounder and third-rounder the Rams used the draft capital they got for sending Sam Bradford to the Eagles and the compensatory pick they received when  Janoris Jenkins signed with the Giants.

So, all told, outgoing picks are four #1s, two #2s, and three #3s

Incoming players are Matthew Stafford in 2021, Jared Goff (#1 overall in 2016), Pharoh Cooper, Mike Thomas, Temarrick Hemingway.

And now the "outgoing column" adds Goff to Cooper, Thomas, Hemingway (and Jenkins and Bradford two premium picks that could have been used elsewhere). 
Stafford in Rams uniform--Photoshop via Twitter

So, all of that falls on Stafford, himself a 2009 #1 overall pick. Invested in him in this trade string are the 2010 #1 overall pick (the Rams got Foles and a #2 for Sam Bradford and some change) the 2016 #1 overall pick (which the Rams paid and additional #1 and two #3s to swap their own 2016 #1 pick for) for a total draft capital of the four #1s, two #2s, and three #3s we mentioned.

Ironically, due to other trades for Brandin Cooks and Jalen Ramsey, the last time the Rams drafted in the first round was in 2016 when they grabbed Goff, though in 2019 they could have but they traded out of the first round to gather additional picks. Now, it seems it will be 2014 before they do so again unless they trade back into round one the next few years which certainly is possible for Trader Les.

They are rivaling Washington's run of not having a first-round pick from 1968 (when they took Jim Smith who lasted a year) until 1980 when they took Art Monk who went to the Hall of Fame. That's eleven years in the desert for Washington...if the Rams do draft in the 2024 first-round as they are currently scheduled it will be just seven years out of the premium round. 

Stafford is a good fit. He's always impressed with his toughness (playing on that hurt shoulder as a rookie. It was a gutty performance that sold us). He still has a great arm but is he going to be productive from 33-35, 36, 37, and on like Brady or Rodgers? 32 is the new 29 for quarterbacks, and the way they are protected Stafford should be okay, health-wise. 
Bert Jones in 1982

But what are they going to use to draft premium players to protect him or to give him the weapons he needs? Not to mention other needs that always seem to come up. It's hard to always plug them with second-rounders or third-rounders. 

But, the Rams are just being the Rams. Go big or go home. They hit a homer on SoFi Stadium, it's amazing and t looks great. They swung big on the uniforms and struck out. 

Maybe this will be the trade home run? Will Stafford be more Brady's is now with the Bucs or like others who have left their original team and done well. Peyton Manning comes to mind, and there are others. 

Or, will he be more than Bert Jones? One short stint and then the Rams have no quarterback. 

In all cases, that's a lot to pay for a quarterback. It didn't seem that Jared Goff was THAT bad. We thought we saw him in the Super Bowl in February 2019. That's just two years ago, right? Just checking.

As for Goff being told he's been traded to the Lions has to be like this—

SATURDAY SAGA: Interceptions for a Touchdown in Ram History

TJ Troup

Since there are no games this weekend, there will not be a "Tuesday Tidbits" next week, rather today to celebrate Nolan Cromwell's 66th birthday some detailed statistical info on Ram history. First up though, a thank you to Mr. John Steele for responding to last week's article. 

Have been asked more than once who would be my receivers in a four-wide alignment with a single back in the backfield? Jerry Rice, Lance Alworth, Paul Warfield, and the fourth is always a toss-up for me...the finalists are Raymond Berry, Steve Largent, and Marvin Harrison. Mr. Steele mentioned Warfield, and when evaluating receivers and you watch film of Alworth or Warfield you see the complete package. Name a trait that you want in a receiver and these two men had it. 

The Cleveland Rams had a record of 6-21 before putting a winning streak together in late 1939 under coach Dutch Clark, and on December 3rd in a victory over the Eagles linebacker Jerry Dowd returned a Philadelphia pass 24 yards for a touchdown. 

No doubt Jerry Dowd in his only year in the NFL did not realize how many more times a Ram would return an interception for a score.

How many you ask? Why 139 and counting—by far the most of any team in history, and many teams have not even recorded 100 pick-sixes—let alone 139. 

How many in victory you ask? An impressive 117 (84.2%).

The Rams have had so many outstanding defensive backs in team history, yet surprisingly very few have been finalists for the Hall of Fame. Cromwell will likely never get in though he was the best of the early 1980s of all the safeties in the NFL (Bud Carson, at the time, called him the NFL's best-ever free safety). 

The only other Ram that should get real strong consideration is Eddie Meador as a senior candidate. Eddie and LeRoy Irvin hold the team record for most interceptions returned for a touchdown in team history with five. Cromwell is one of a handful with four. 

Years ago worked with Ryan Anderson in "correcting" errors in the Ram guide, and he was a joy to work with. Since Anderson now works for Carolina the Ram front office has no one to correct the errors that still exist. You want an example? Page 264 of the 2008 Media Guide lists the most opponent fumble recoveries in team history, and at the top is Johnnie Johnson with 19 but that errantly includes a few offensive recovers and are not "opponent fumbles recoveries" thus that is stat is incorrect as the team record is held by Eddie Meador. 

Closing this saga with thoughts on the final game of the season as the Buccaneers and Chiefs battle for the Silver Trophy. 

Last weekend both of these teams displayed an impressive pass rush; which raises the question of which of these two teams can continue to sack the quarterback. Though Tampa Bay and Tommy B. were able to survive turnovers last weekend if he turns the ball over to the Chiefs next Sunday night they will lose. Statements about the Buccaneers playing at home just might be meaningless since the won/lost record this year for home teams was not near as strong as years past. 

We all have can list aspects to the game we believe are vital for success and will end this with two. Travis Kelce caught 13 passes against Buffalo, and if the talented tight end comes anywhere near that number the Chiefs win. 

Second, will the Chief's secondary play as well as they did against the Bills? 

Andy Reid has an opportunity to put his name with some of the coaching legends of the game with back to back SB wins...will he join that elite group? Yes. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

TUESDAY TIDBITS: The 1963 World Championship Game, The 2000 Club, and "Bad Henry"

By TJ Troup

We are down to two teams for the Silver Trophy, and tied to the two teams that are playing is a background story. Successful coaches need experience (sometimes hard lessons), and a valid reason for what they call. 

You are not about to read about my playing career, yet having played both corner and safety there is no doubt the inherent challenges in playing both positions. As a young coach had a thirst for knowledge and relished the on-the-job training on both the practice field and game day/night. 

Can never thank coach Tom Hayes enough for his guidance in 1981 and answering my many questions on coverages----especially all aspects and variations of Cover 2. Now the background story; summer of '82 and in a passing league game my dedicated, smart, and disciplined Mater Dei secondary played "lights out" pass defense all night against a strong team coached by a man who had won more than 200 games. 

They have a chance to win but must go deep. My secondary knows what I will call, and WHY....and we have practiced this situation. We are in man under two deep, as I never, EVER played "prevent" or man with a single high or free safety in this situation....just too much field to cover. I can hear the parents and booster club screaming at me before the snap....which of course I ignored. 

The young quarterback lofts the ball deep and is accurate to the end zone. My corner is trailing the receiver yet is arms-length from him, and my cover 2 safety is coming forward to perfect position to play the ball....incomplete, and victory. The successful head coach asked Wayne Cochrun who was the d-coordinator and secondary coach, and we walked off and he asked me pertinent questions; did I always call this coverage? did we practice this situation? did I have prevent? After my answers, he smiled, shook my hand, and told me emphatically that I would have a long successful coaching career, and don't ever change. Thanks, Bob Lester! 

Will Redmond failed his teammates in Green Bay on Sunday, and boy oh boy when you actually have a chance at an interception, don't drop the damn ball. The touchdown by Tommy B. was dead spot-on accurate, and the easily beaten corner had no help? Will Mike Pettine have a job for 2021? Will he call the same coverage? Only time will tell. 

"Not so fast, says Troup"

Have been asked before about the Chargers vs. Bears in the first "mythical" AFL-NFL Championship Game, and though there are gonna be some folks very unhappy, here is the breakdown. 

The 1963 Chicago Bears defense has been pared down by George Allen, and he has painstakingly eliminated fronts, blitzes, and coverages that Clark S. ran that are suspect in design. You assign responsibilities as a coach to players that can be done and done well. 

George Allen and his defense

The Bears have the individual talent and relished playing for Allen after the profane, vulgar, disrespectful way they were treated by Shaughnessy. The 1963 Chicago Bears allowed one touchdown in the first quarter all season...that's right—ONE. That touchdown came in their only loss. San Francisco had a powerful ground attack and gained 333 rushing in the two games against the Bears, so in the other twelve Chicago allowed 91 yards a game rushing. 

Much has been written about the Bears ability to pursue, hit, force, and takeaway the ball from opponents, and yes that is why they won. San Diego hired Walt Hackett to coach the defensive line, and as such Chuck Noll is now in his second year coaching the secondary. 

When you go to websites that are supposed to have accurate starting line-ups, and then watch film and see the websites are not accurate? Noll faced a dilemma that Allen did not in that the Chargers best defensive back was injured during the season, and is a key to this game. 

Bud Whitehead did not start all 14 games at left corner, but yes he was the starter most of the time. Rookie Dick Westmoreland started many games at right corner, and received a baptism by fire, until former starter Dick Harris took over. Harris also started at left corner, and played some at right safety. George Blair started each week at strong or left safety. 

Though all of these men had their moments, each of them was deficient in at least one area of secondary play. The key man for the Chargers and one of the best of his era is Charlie McNeil. Though undersized, the fleet instinctive former Grambling free agent was a ballhawk and an effective tackler. 

Gary Glick lost his job in Pittsburgh, Washington, and Baltimore, but who else could Chuck Noll have taken off the streets to play? Glick once intercepted Unitas three times in a game and was a willing tackler, but he was woefully slow, and way past whatever prime he once had. Blair and Glick would be responsible for Mike Ditka, and the deep pass. 

Sid Gillam, offensive genius

Watching the Chargers offense, and especially the talents in their personnel is a joy. Let's start with the running game; Lincoln & Lowe gained 404 yards rushing in the first four weeks, but the last 10 games gained 1,432. Any attack that has two men averaging 143 a game on the few carries they got is not only productive, but quickly gets a d-coordinators attention. 

Rote and Mix

Charger o-line is rock solid, and has an all-time great in Ron Mix. San Diego has a balanced attack. Tobin Rote had played against the Bears defense many times, and from 1955-59 he went against the Sid Gillman Rams. He may be in the twilight of his career, but he can make every throw, and understands coverage.....but can he "read" the disguised coverage that Allen had and was the best in the NFL? 

Don Norton was once an all-star, but now is just average, and though Dave Kocurek is talented, he was not utilized much in '63, and is matched against Richie Petitbon----a major advantage for Chicago.

Lance Alworth

In the first twelve games of '63 Lance Alworth caught 57 for 1,173 (20.6), but in the last two games four catches for just 32 yards? Not sure why. Alworth makes my roster as one of the four all-time best when using that alignment. McRae against Alworth is a worthy match-up, but Gillman is much too smart to align Lance flanker right. 

Doug Atkins

Split end left (he was aligned there when he beat Bob Suci) he goes against Davey Whitsell. Whitsell will need help from First-team All-NFL right safety Roosevelt Taylor. Both teams have a defensive end who is a nightmare for offensive tackles; either Bob Wetoska or Steve Barnett would have to try and block Earl Faison, and Ernie Wright draws the "meanest man in football" Doug Atkins. 

Earl Faison

Many of the other match-ups are fairly even. Though Chuck Allen is rock solid playing for Noll, the outside linebackers for San Diego are pedestrian at best and shared the position during the season. The Green Bay Packers are the only team that has a trio of linebackers that compares with Chicago. Larry Morris (who played for Gillman), Joe Fortunato, and legendary Bill George are a veteran gang of hardbitten savvy men who can "red dog", drop into zone or man coverage and fill any gap in the running game. 

They had better be at their best since they face one of the best tandems in all of football in the law firm of Lincoln & Lowe. Sid Gillman fired George Allen after one season in Los Angeles. Allen was motivated no matter the situation, yet maybe some revenge? Gillman went 2-8 against the Bears from '55-'59, but possibly that is even more motivation for El Sid? 

Billy Wade

San Diego in their three losses allowed 125 points when opponent passing attacks were very successful. The kicking game favors San Diego on placements since Roger LeClerc is "iffy" at lest, and Blair is rock solid. Bobby Joe Green gives Chicago a decided advantage since we know the Bears will have to punt. Finally, the Bears so-called attack. Billy Wade has adjusted his game, and can make every throw(he also had played for Gillman), and he is very effective on rollouts to the right and quarterback sneaks. 

Marconi and Bull don't make mistakes but pale in comparison to the Charger duo. Casares is past it, but he can pass block better than any other back on the field, and that leaves Willie the Wisp.....he has proven to be a game-breaker as both a runner, and receiver, and that is the final piece as Galimore makes a play as a receiver against the inadequate Charger outside linebackers or safeties. Final score you ask? Of course you ask...Chicago 24 San Diego 19. 

Still believe was very fortunate to see so many of the all-time great baseball players of the late '50s and decade of the ''60s. For me being a member of the 2,000 club is the ultimate hitting fraternity. Only four men amassed at least 2,000 total bases over the course of six consecutive seasons in the last 65 years. Frank Robinson, Ernie Banks, Willie Mays, and Henry Aaron. 

Simple to explain, you have to be durable, hit for power, for average, and not get many walks. Many folks relish the study of the history of baseball and was honored by SABR to speak in Los Angeles years ago. Very impressed by the other men that spoke that afternoon, but back to the subject at hand. Milwaukee won the pennant in '57 and '58, but let's go back to the second to last day of '56. Henry Aaron goes 3 for 5, yet the score is tied 1-1 going into the 12th. 

Rip Repulski doubles home Musial to beat the Braves (Spahn tried to go the distance), and as such Milwaukee finished a game behind Brooklyn. The playoff in '59 was all Dodgers, but if, somehow the Braves would have won the pennant in '56 and '59 Mr. Aaron would have been the center of attention in baseball. During 1959 Hank Aaron had a 22 game hit streak (April 23rd through May 18th) where he got 44 hits in 94 at-bats with 9 homers. 

Though he could not maintain that production, multiple by seven, and see what you get? The last four games of '63 the Braves won twice when Aaron hit a home run and stole a base—he finished with 44 homers, and 31 steals. Listening to a broadcast when Bobby Bonds became a member of the "30/30" club...the announcer raves that Bonds is the first to do it? Geez, look at Aaron? 

July of '67 saw Aaron play twice in person, first as the starting centerfielder for the National League in the all-star game, and then one week later in Wrigley when the Cubs beat the Braves. Drysdale and Koufax gave Henry Aaron his nickname, and the stories you read about how they attempted to pitch to him are sure fun to read..."Bad Henry" hit 7 home runs off of Sandy, hit .372, and had a slugging percentage of .664. 

Aaron hit number 715 off of a Dodger left-hander, but how come no one ever mentions that "Bad Henry" hit 14 home runs off Dodger left-hander Claude Osteen? He was one of the few/rare hitters ever that changed his stance, and style during a career, and continued to be elite. Watch the film of him in Milwaukee, and then in Atlanta, and you will see him go from line drive to pull power to left and the quest for 715. His dignity, class, and dedication rank him with every so few. RIP Hank. 

As for my historical narrative of past football games, the only game of January 24th worth mentioning was San Francisco against Cincinnati...and man was that a damn fun game to watch. 

Monday, January 25, 2021

Third Down Gets Tampa Going in Win at Green Bay

 By Eric Goska
.Tom Brady threw for 157 yards on third down against the Packers

Tom Brady needs another Super Bowl appearance as much as he needs another fistful of dollars.

The greatest quarterback to ever play the game will get both as Tampa Bay fended off the Packers 31-26 at Lambeau Field. Green Bay’s supposed home-field advantage failed to materialize as the Buccaneers, who never trailed, secured the right to play into February.

Some athletes never seem to be denied. Sprinter Usain Bolt is an eight-time Olympic gold medalist. Tennis ace Rafael Nadal captured 12 French Open singles titles. Hurdler Edwin Moses prevailed in 122 consecutive races.

Brady, despite throwing picks on three consecutive second-half possessions, has now ascended to the league’s greatest stage for a record 10th time. He will be the first quarterback to compete for the Vince Lombardi trophy on his home field. And, according to Athlon Sports, he and his teammates will receive $59,000 apiece for having won the NFC championship game.

All is right in the universe.

The 43-year-old’s stat line on Sunday’s was far from other-worldly. In compiling a passer rating of 73.8, the former Patriot completed 20 of 36 passes for 280 yards while pitching three touchdowns and three interceptions.

But it was Brady’s mastery of third down in the first half that gave Tampa the upper hand. He torched Green Bay as never before in the postseason.

Brady converted three third downs on the Buccaneers’ opening drive. He floated a 27-yarder to Mike Evans on 3rd-and-4, he hit Chris Godwin near the sideline for 14 on 3rd-and-9, and he lofted a 15-yarder to Evans over cornerback Kevin King for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead.

The ageless wonder then converted one third down on each of Tampa’s next three advances. Godwin was his accomplice each time, hauling in a long of 52 that set up Leonard Fournette’s 20-yard touchdown run that sent the Buccaneers out front for good at 14-7.

Those third-down connections made up for deficiencies elsewhere. Drops by Fournette and others became immaterial. A running attack limited to just one gain of more than four yards in the first half never became a liability.

Brady’s third-down string ended with just over two minutes remaining in the second quarter. With linebacker Za’Darius Smith bearing down, Brady failed to hit tight end Cameron Brate near the Packers’ 40-yard line. Bradley Pinion then punted for a second time.

By then, the damage had been done. Brady’s six third-down passes accounted for 141 of Tampa’s 235 first-half yards. In less than 30 minutes of game time, he had accumulated more passing yards on that down than any other quarterback had in 59 previous playoff games against Green Bay.

Then, for good measure, Brady struck once more. He found rookie receiver Tyler Johnson for 16 on third down early in the fourth quarter.

In all, Brady completed seven of 11 third-down throws for 157 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Cornerback Jaire Alexander came away with the pick on Brady’s final third-down attempt.

Brady joins Daunte Culpepper (106), Don Meredith (101) and Matt Ryan (101) as the only players to have thrown for 100 or more yards on third down in a playoff game against the Packers. He is the first to have completed his first six throws.

Brady’s proficiency meant Tampa gained more yards on third down (160) than it down on first (118) or second down (67). The two other teams to have done that against Green Bay in the playoffs – the Giants in 1962 and the 49ers in 1997 – both lost.

Speaking of third down, Aaron Rodgers enjoyed a decent outing as well. The veteran connected on 8-of-11 throws for 129 yards and two touchdowns.

With those scores, Rodgers became the first Packers player to throw two TDs on third down in more than one postseason outing. He also fired two against Dallas in a 26-21 win at Lambeau Field on Jan. 11, 2015.

Unfortunately, Rodgers became the only Packer to have launched two in defeat. The others – Arnie Herber (1936) and Lynn Dickey (1983) – did so in victory.


Quarterbacks who passed for 100 or more yards on third down in a playoff game against the Packers.
Yards     Name                            Team                     Date                   Result
  157         Tom Brady                   Buccaneers         Jan. 24, 2021       GB lost, 26-31
  106         Daunte Culpepper        Vikings              Jan. 9, 2005        GB lost, 17-31
  101         Don Meredith               Cowboys             Jan. 1, 1967         GB won, 34-27
  101         Matt Ryan                     Falcons               Jan. 22, 2017       GB lost, 21-44

Saturday, January 23, 2021

And Now For Something Completely Different, Part II

 By John Turney

The passing of Hank Aaron certainly was sad and gave me great pause because like millions and millions I watched on television as he hit his 714th and 715th home runs, trying and breaking Babe Ruth's vaunted record. 

In reviewing his career it was clear that he was the better hitter between himself and my favorite baseball player—Willie Mays. In the late-1960s Mays just got old, he slowed down, got injured. And with the Mets he was a part-time player who slumped early and late in both 1972 and 1973 (though his mid-season stats were decent). 

So, while Hank was still hammerin' and Willie fell behind.

However, that is a topic for another day. 

A couple of weeks ago a Twitter account I followed asked to post great seasons for athletes 40 years of age and older (in reference to Brady and Brees and other older quarterbacks). My response was Willie Mays' 1971 season with 18 home runs and 23 stolen bases.

What I didn't do is look at that 1971 season in-depth, comparing it to other MLB seasons of players 40-and-older.

Here is an in-depth look with charts from Stathead Baseball

After all these years, Mays' 18 home runs at age 40 in 1971 is still tied for 20th all-time for players 40 and over. At the time it was third. 

Mays' 23 stolen bases are tied for eighth all-time for players of 40 and over. 

His stolen base percentage is second-best all-time for players 40 and older—

Mays had five triples in 1971, tied for 13th best-ever. And eight ahead of him are not really comparable due to eras. In the integration and live-ball era, he ranks much higher. 

Mays led the NL in walks and that total is 4th best ever among old guys.

Mays also led the NL in on-base percentage and that, among 40+, ranks in the top six ever—

For slugging percentage, over 40 with 350 or more plate appearances Mays is 15th. For 500 or more plate appearances he's sixth. 

His OPS is ninth—

No, we've buried the lede—His WAR is the best all-time for the geriatric crowd.

And his power-speed number is also tops -definition from BR

There are probably more stats. But 1971 was truly an A-Mays-ing year for Willie. The Giants won the West and lost to the Pirates in the NLCS.  He played a lot at first base and as can be seen at 40 he did a lot of things (power, speed, getting on base) than a lot of younger players couldn't and didn't do.

Not only that Willie sported orange-striped Adidas spikes, the first time he wore something other than all-black in his career, and the looked great (see photos at top of this post)

In the age of Drew Brees and Tom Brady, here is a tip of the glass to the Sey Hey Kid.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Interesting Nugget on Clay Matthews

By John Turney
Yesterday the Hall of Fame committee met and discussed and voted for the HOF Class of 2021. Among the Final fifteen moderns players discusses was Clay Matthews. 

As has been widely discussed on the Internet and especially social media Matthews was All-Pro Just once and went to Pro Bowls in four other seasons. He had (according to us, using play-by-plays as a source) 1,440 tackles and 82.5 sacks. Good, but to what you'd call over-the-top numbers. He didn't have a ring and wasn't All-Decade. His biggest "hook" was that he was a man out of his time, he was the 1970s or 1990s player in the 1980s, when linebackers were rushing the passer all the time and he was an all-around linebacker, rushing some, covering a lot, and playing the run well. 

We don't know if he will be inducted into the Hall or not, that will be announced Super Bowl Saturday.

However, we did want to discuss one aspet of his career we thought was pretty cool.

In 1996, at age 40, Clay Matthews played a new role one he had done before—right defensive end in the Falcons nickel defense. It was his final year and in that role, he totaled 6.5 sacks. 

Maybe you don't think that is an impressive number, and maybe it isn't, even for a 40-year old converted linebacker. 

But consider this:
The 6.5 sacks--the most ever for a 40-year old.  And that's more sacks in his final year than these players—
  • Bruce Smith (5.0 sacks), who was a nickel end for the last half of his final year.
  • Reggie White (5.5).
  • Deacon Jones (3.0), who was a nickel left end for Washington in 1974.
  • Claude Humphrey (3.0) was a nickel left end for the Eagles in 1981.
  • Fred Dean (3.0) was was nickel right end for 49ers (elephant) his final season.
  • Richard Dent (4.5) played nickel right end for Eagles his last year.
  • Charles Haley (3.0) Was the Elephant nickel end for 49ers.
  • Lawrence Taylor (6.0) in his final year. 
  • Howie Long (6.0)
  • Carl Eller (3.0)
  • He had the same number of sacks Elvin Bethea had in Elvin's last FIVE years (6.5)
So, for those who were situation pass rushers, he did a better job than they did though it was relatively new to him and he was older than all of them except Bruce Smith. And he had more than some players who were still starting. And that is just among Hall of Fame edge rushers. This list would be much longer if non-HOF edge rushers were included.

We are not suggesting one year makes him a Hall of Famer, of course, but it does suggest the man was a football player who could do what was asked of him—at any age and that is one piece of the puzzle or one extra intangible few others have on their Hall of Fame resume. 

Just food for thought. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

TUESDAY TIDBITS: 50 Years of Championship Games

By TJ Troup
Bernie Kosar

Going to begin with some responses and statements before digging into the upcoming title games. 

Yes, Kaimac 77 there are defensive stats for the late 1940s and the decade of the 1950s. How do I know this? My library has them due to due diligence called research. Every interception, and now with recent research every opponent fumble recovery. 

Pass rush statistics are not as complete, though there are two men; John Turney & Nick Webster who started me on that path, and have film, and play by plays to add additional info. Have read more than one article concerning when the first Super Bowl should have been with the Chargers taking on the Bears, but 1964 should have been the year with Gilchrist vs. Brown. So, Brian Wolf imagines those two standing toe to toe eyeing each other, and not saying a word before kick-off. 

For those of you who steadfastly read this column, you have been inundated with statistics. Efficiency ratings for passers and defense, but more importantly—when a team does this or that what percentage do they win? When a team returns an interception for a touchdown in a regular-season game that teams wins just about 80% of the time. One team has a 100-yard rusher, and their opponent does not, the team with the 100-yard rusher wins 77% of the time in the regular season. 

Well, the regular season is over, and the following is not a complete play-off history(though that has been done)—we have had 50 years of championship games since the wildcard was brought into play with the merger in 1970. How do those stats compare to the regular season?

There have been 424 sacks in the 100 championship games with 249 by the winning team (58.7%), just not sure how much of a factor the pass rush will be Sunday? There have been 442 turnovers in those 100 games, with 305 takeaways by the winners (69%). 

Now that is a key element we all can wrap our heads around. There have been 15 interceptions returned for a touchdown, with 14 in victory (93.3%)—a 13% increase, and boy oh boy imagine if the team you are cheering for has a player returning the ball through the maze of offense players and headed to the end zone. Game-changing! 

Though how the game is played has undergone an evolution over the past 50 years with the passing game, will go to my grave still believing you can win when you run the, no.....not run the ball-----RUN THE BALL. 

There have been 33 one hundred yard rushers in title game history, and the breakdown is as follows. Twice both teams have had a 100-yard rusher, so we throw those out based upon my criteria. Of the remaining twenty-nine; 27 have been by the winning team or 93.1%—16% higher than the regular season. Wow! Now that has meaning. 

Years ago combined both together—when a team has a 100-yard rusher and returns an interception for a touchdown they win about 91% of the time. Only three times this has happened in a championship game, and will surmise readers you would like to know who? 

The first was when the Cowboys are in the Coliseum in January of '79 with Dorsett gaining 101, and Hollywood Henderson returning an interception for 68 in the demolition of the Rams. 

Thomas Henderson returning a pick 6 vs the Rams in 1978 NFCCG

The stands at RFK rocked as the Washington fans chanted "we want Dallas" and the next week Darryl Grant returned an interception 10 yards to score, while Riggo pounded away relentlessly behind the hogs for 140. 

Darryl Grant returning an interception for a touchdown in the 1982 NFCCG

The last time came on January 20th, 1991, a day of celebration for Buffalo fans when outside linebacker Darryl Talley scored on his 27 yard return, and Thurman Thomas gained 138 in the destruction of the Raiders. The odds are long that this last stat will happen—with only three of one hundred, but you never know? 

Darryl Talley with the pick 6 versus the Raiders in the 1990 AFCCG

Every announcer this week will state that teams need to get off to a fast start, yet you never have a number to go with it? Scoring the first touchdown (the hell with field goals) is monumental. Only one title game without a touchdown (Rams over Bucs)—so for the other 99? 

AFC is 38 of 50 meaning 76% of the time the team that scores the first touchdown wins. NFC is 37 of 49 meaning 75.5% of the time the NFC team that scores first wins. Ok, you have what is the tried and true, looking forward to seeing how the games this weekend fit into this narrative. 

There have been so many outstanding games on January 16th or 17th, had a difficult time which game to choose? For all of you, would relish which games historically on either of those dates you would have chosen, but for me, the game that stands out is January 17th, 1988. 

My favorite quarterback of all-time is Bernie Kosar and always enjoyed watching John Elway do his magic; thus the rematch of "the drive". Dick Enberg was a joy to listen to as an announcer, and his partner at that time Merlin Olsen while very astute and knowledgeable would sometimes lack emotion in his analysis. Not so on this Sunday. 

Not just Denver jumping out to a 21-3 lead, and not just because Bernie brought his boys back into the game with a 28-10 rally to tie the game at 31. The ebb and flow for me was compelling and had me so focused, not sure how many Dr. Peppers I had that afternoon as the action came across the screen. Have watched that game more than once. Championship Sunday is coming in five days—cannot wait!

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Four Productive Quarters Send Pack to NFC Championship Game

 By Eric Goska

Fans tailgated near Lambeau Field
ahead of the Rams-Packers divisional playoff game. 

The Packers’ offense took no quarter…off.

Green Bay spread the wealth from start to finish as it dismantled Los Angeles and its top-ranked defense 32-18 Saturday at Lambeau Field. In doing so, the Packers established a first in franchise playoff history.

This divisional playoff matchup was billed as irresistible force (GB’s offense) meets an immovable object (LA's defense). That led to the question: Which would prevail with a ticket to the NFC championship game on the line?

No team allowed fewer yards per game (281.9), fewer passing yards per game (190.7), or fewer points (296) during the regular season than did the Rams. No club boasted a higher-rated passing attack (121.5) or scored more points (509) than did the Packers.

Something had to give.

Green Bay commandeered 484 yards and 28 first downs in prevailing by 14 points. It controlled the ball for 36 minutes and 12 seconds while going 8-for-12 on third down.

But those totals don’t speak to the consistency with which the team operated. By quarter, the Green and Gold amassed 108, 135, 129 and 112 yards.

Never in 58 previous playoff games had the team hit or surpassed 100 yards in all four quarters.

How steady was the Pack? They held the upper hand in time of possessions in each 15-minute period. They produced 7, 9, 6, and 6 first downs.

Green Bay ripped off one play of more than 25 yards in each quarter. Those gains – Equanimeous St. Brown (27-yard reception); Robert Tonyan (33-yard grab); Aaron Jones (60-yard run); Allen Lazard (58-yard catch) – all occurred on scoring drives.

Aaron Rodgers and his mates put up points on each of the team’s first five drives, the best start to any postseason game in team history. Then, following consecutive punts, the offense clicked for a touchdown and closed out the game by holding the ball for the final 4:59.

Only five other playoff teams this century registered a four-pack of 100s. The Patriots, with 613 yards of offense in their Super Bowl loss to the Eagles, were the last.

In being so unerringly relentless, Green Bay prevented the Rams from doing the same. Los Angeles failed to gain more than 75 yards in any quarter.

Thus, the Packers became the first playoff team this century to have four 100s while holding their opponent without one.

Even during the regular season, this idea of have and have not has been exceedingly rare. Green Bay has turned the trick just twice since 1944.

The Packers (122, 115, 112, 106) thrashed San Francisco (5, minus-5, 88, 75) by a score of 41-14 on Oct. 23, 1960. Twenty-five years later, the Green and Gold (105, 131, 120, 156) shut out Tampa Bay (21, 22, 9, 13) in the Snow Bowl.

And that’s it. Just twice in the last 77 years have the Pack held four of a kind while their opponent went bust.

Knowing that, don’t expect a repeat performance as Green Bay hosts the NFC championship game. Asking lightning to strike twice in consecutive weeks is asking too much.

The 400 Club

Playoff games in which the Packers gained 400 or more yards.

   Yards     By Quarter                   Date               Opponent      Result
     493       (13-123-184-166-7)     Jan. 10, 2010       Cardinals         GB lost, 45-51 (OT)
     484       (108-135-129-112)       Jan. 16, 2021       Rams                GB won, 32-18
     479       (92-179-151-57)           Jan. 12, 1997        Panthers          GB won, 30-13
     466       (-5-108-216-147)         Jan. 16, 1983        Cowboys          GB lost, 26-37
     442       (80-188-130-44)          Jan. 15, 2011        Falcons            GB won, 48-21
     425       (64-80-156-125)          Jan. 11, 2015        Cowboys          GB won, 26-21
     414       (151-81-98-84)             Jan. 15, 2017        Cowboys          GB won, 34-31
     408       (142-88-126-52)          Jan. 12, 2008       Seahawks        GB won, 42-20
     406       (7-140-125-134)           Jan. 8, 2017         Giants              GB won, 38-13
     403       (107-108-87-101)        Jan. 3, 1999         49ers                GB lost, 27-30
     401       (81-100-101-119)        Dec. 26, 1960       Eagles              GB lost, 13-17

Defensive Scores, Most All-Time

 By John Turney 
For regular season only this is the list for the most defensive scores (scoop and scores plus pick sixes and defensive safeties).
It's a four-way tie at the top with thirteen. If you want to break the tie, then give it to Ronder barber who had a pick-6 in the 2002 playoffs to give him 14 and Aeneas Williams had two interceptions returns for touchdowns in the 2001 playoffs (both in the same game versus the Packers) so he jumps to 14 as well.

Jason Taylor is the only defensive linemen represented and the top linebacker is Bobby Bell.
Chart: PFJ search using PFR
We will add one caveat, there may be a player with six scores who scored defensively in the playoffs and would be at the bottom of this list, but we didn't go down that far with the playoff scores.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Question: How Many Touchdowns Did Malcolm Butler Allow?

By Nick Webster
Malcom Butler

A few years back Malcolm Butler was the man who saved the Super Bowl for the Patriots famously jumping the route on the game’s decisive play and bursting onto the scene from relative anonymity.  

This year he will be known – consistently – as the most targeted CB in the NFL. Just look where everyone else does on Pro Football Reference (PFR) of Pro Football Focus (PFF) and you will learn he was the most picked on. PFR will tell you that Butler was Targeted 127 times in 2020, allowing 80 Completions for 873 Yards and 5 TDs. Now PFR does not compile these numbers they merely present these ‘Advanced’ defensive stats which are compiled by Sportradar. 

However, if PFF is your preferred source you will agree that he was the most targeted, but nothing else. PFF credits Butler with 116 Targets, 73 Completions for 892 Yards and 4 TDs.  

Now spiritually the numbers are similar as the PFR rating is 83.2 and the PFF rating is 83.7; nobody cares about this difference (it's close enough for rock and roll)  but when we look closer and some interesting questions arise.

It’s tempting, evaluating Butler’s numbers to suggest that Sportradar simply credited him with being in primary coverage on 11 plays where PFF did not. On those plays 7 were completions and 1 was a touchdown; however, somehow PFF has credited Butler with allowing 19 more receiving yards than Sportradar

The only way this can happen is if there were more than 11 targets and 7 completions that were differently assigned, there must have been at least one more Target not assigned to Butler and one that Sportradar assigned to someone else assigned to Butler which went for big yardage. Likely, it was not just one incrementally not assigned to Butler and one incrementally assigned to him but more.

Plotting the number of Targets Sportradar and PFF credited each top CB you see an extremely strong relationship. In fact, the R^2 of .92 suggests that one can ‘explain’ 92% of the other. However, our observation about Butler suggests that the gap is actually larger than that as Targets can be misassigned in both directions.

Interestingly, if you generally compare the Sportradar tracked Targets versus PFF they tend to be high.  Note the below chart which shows, for every CB Targeted at least 32 times in 2020 their Sportradar Target figure minus their PFF Target figure.  

Any of the Blue bars represent Sportradar having more targets than PFF—as you move in the direction of the Blue arrow Sportradar reflects more and more until you get to Steve Nelson, Rasul Douglas, and Tre Flowers, each credited with 22 more targets by Sportradar as PFF.  

The Black bar on the chart has them showing the same number of targets and the two sources agree on just 7 of 113 qualifying CB’s. Finally, the Green bars represent PFF compiling more Targets than Sportradar, increasing in the direction of the green bar until you reach Mackenzie Alexander and Chandon Sullivan with 11 more targets by PFF than Sportradar.

There’s a clear bias for Sportradar to have more Targets than PFF. Of the 113 qualifying CB’s, 89 or 79% have more Targets credited by Sportradar and just 17 or 15% have more Targets by PFF. On average Sportradar documents 5.4 more Targets than PFF does, which raises an interesting question, where are all the other passes?  

Possibly when coverage is totally blown Sportradar credit the CB who blew it and PFF just classifies it as an open receiver or a blown coverage. What about double coverage, maybe one credits both players as in coverage and the other, likely PFF, requires that the assignment be credited to a single CB.  Perhaps things like screen passes or hot-routes to RB’s are treated as uncovered by one and covered by another. We just don't know for sure we just know there is a statistical difference.

So, if PFF and Sportsradar cannot agree on Targets, then certainly they cannot agree on other aspects of pass coverage. And in fact, Targets are where the two sources agree most with the highest R^2 of any other metrics tracked . . . the worst, believe it or not, is Touchdowns.  

The following are the charts for the other data points in the individual defensive passer rating formula—

Somehow Sportradar (SR) and PFF were so different in their views of coverage responsibility that the former accounted for Troy Hill giving up 4 TD passes in 2020 and the later just 1. Given how important TD’s are as part of passer rating this means Hill’s SR passer rating is 91.2 and PFF rating is 74.3.

Fortunately, at the level of the top performers, there is general agreement. Of the Top 10 CBs—ranked by Passer Rating against 5 occupy the exact same position in the rankings. Of Sportradar’s Top 10 ranked CB’s 8 are also Top 10 in PFF
What does this tell us?  It tells us that these stats are generally reliable and a reasonable indicator, but they are not perfectly accurate either. We should not be splitting hairs between a completion here and there or a couple point s on passer rating.  

But we can probably say that, for example, Marcus Peters with Ratings of 78.9 and 88.1 by SR and PFF was probably better in 2020 than Patrick Peterson at 98.2 and 100.8.  

It also reminds us that as much as we love to follow the numbers, they are just one piece of player evaluation, always trust the tape by watching it yourself—"The Eye in the Sky Does Not Lie".