Tuesday, November 30, 2021

TUESDAY TIDBITS: "Luggin' the Leather, and Passing the Torch"

By TJ Troup 
Curley Culp

Recently read that Curley Culp has left us, and though had not initially planned to write about him today; just cannot pass up the opportunity to share thoughts on this Hall of Fame lineman. 

Time for revisionist history, and the Broncos have the foresight to start Culp at defensive tackle as a rookie. Culp is not traded to the Chiefs, and coach Joel Collier moves Culp to nose tackle and though Rubin Carter was a fine player, he pales in comparison to Culp. 

The Denver 3-4 with Culp, Gradishar, Jackson, Alzado, Thompson, Wright, and the rest would have been even better! Autumn of 1967 (my junior year in high school), and was coached by Roger Stahlhut. We built a coach/player relationship that am still proud of, and we later coached together. 

Asked him about his time as a starting guard at Oregon, and who was the toughest, best opponent he ever faced (attempted to block), and Roger did not hesitate as he described his battle with Curley Culp. Roger stated emphatically that Culp was by far the strongest man he ever attempted to block. RIP Curley Culp...you are a true Hall of Famer. 

The results of this past weekend's games has created a long jam for the final wild card berth in both conferences, and as such so many games really have meaning down the stretch. Time to go back and revisit November 28th games historically. 

My book This Day in Football lists Ernie Nevers, and Fred "Dippy" Evans for significant performances, but am going to take us to Pittsburgh for the traditional match-up of the Steelers vs. Browns. Cleveland is in first place in attempting to defend their title, and leading the way is of course the greatest running back of all-time. 
Six times already in '65 Jim Brown has gained over 100 yards rushing, and today he will add to his league leading total by gaining 146 yards on 20 carries. The big man follows the blocks of his excellent offensive line and motors down the left sideline for his season long run of 67 yards. 

Brown in his ninth campaign still retains the physical gifts the Lord bestowed on him. The strength, power, speed, and balance needed to break tackles has taken him to the promised land many times already in '65 as he looks to break the record for touchdowns in a season. Brown actually does break Lenny Moore's record of 20 touchdowns, but someone else can also find the promised land called "paydirt"! 

Today will be the first time that veteran Jim Brown and rookie Gale Sayers both gain over 100 yards rushing on the same day. Much has been written about the Kansas Comet, and having watched the 1965 Bears highlight film over and over the past few days—the real story of Sayers as a ballcarrier needs to be told. Being in the Coliseum in September saw Sayers score the only time he ran from scrimmage. 

Gale sweeps left and pulls up to throw the left handed option pass, but instead takes off to the right, weaving, and sprinting into the end zone on an 18 yard run. Why Halas benched Sayers remains a mystery, and in the coming weeks Gale when granted an opportunity scores touchdowns receiving, rushing, and returning a kick-off. Three times the Bears are on "NFL Play by Play Report (NFL Films game of the week) before November 28th. 
The Bears have caught fire and are trying to catch the Packers and Colts in the west, and are in the "Big Apple" taking on the Giants. Sayers has carried the ball eight times for thirty-nine yards so far in the game which brings his season total to 122 carries for 480 yards...time to grab that pencil or calculator...he is averaging 3.93 a carry. 

He has shared time with veteran Jon Arnett at halfback, while Ronnie Bull, and young Andy Livingston also get chances to run. The Bears offense in '65 has undergone a few subtle adjustments in alignments. Wider offensive line splits, with the backs split, or even set in a "trips" wing set. Bob Wetoska, and Mike Pyle are having excellent seasons paving the way for Sayers, while the rest of the lineman are more than adequate at opening holes. 

Why the change you ask? Boy oh boy would I relish having the answers, though will surmise that outstanding offensive backfield coach Chuck Mather played an important roll. Chicago beats the Giants and on his last five carries Sayers gains 74 yards. Have never seen film of his 45 yard touchdown run, and that run was a key play in the victory. 

The final three weeks of the season Sayers gains 313 yards on just 39 carries? Why he was not given the ball more we will never know? Gale continues to find the end zone as he establishes a new record with 22 touchdowns. Though the youngster has blazing speed, and surprising strength for a 195 lb. back it is ability cut quickly effortlessly, and then accelerate that sets him apart. 

Jim Brown knew the torch was about to be passed to the Kansas Comet, and he praised Sayers when he spoke about him. The painful September loss to the Rams cost the Bears an opportunity to win the west, and since all of you know that I will be buried in navy blue & burnt orange would have relished seeing the Browns play the Bears in Wrigley Field on CBS television for the title. Brown vs. Sayers! Bears vs. Browns! 

Oh well, we know the rest of the story. Jim Brown retires, and the Bears even with Sayers and Butkus never again win as many as eight games in a season. In closing, and to whet your appetite....next week will take a historical look at the Cardinals.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Packers Steal One Against Rams at Lambeau Field

 By Eric Goska

Rasul Douglas is a leaper.

The Packers cornerback returned an interception for a touchdown in Green Bay’s 36-28 win over the Rams at Lambeau Field. The six-pointer gave the Packers their largest lead and provided some much-needed cushion as Los Angeles outgained and outscored them in the final 15 minutes.

A virtual unknown two months ago, Douglas has been making noise. Signed off the Arizona Cardinal’s practice squad in early October, the 6-foot-2 defender is the team’s second leading tackler (36) over the last seven games behind only linebacker De’Vondre Campbell (50).

Sunday, Douglas defensed a game-high four passes. Despite not having played in the Packers’ first five games, he is tied for second place on the team with Darnell Savage (8) for the most passes defensed trailing only Eric Stokes (11).

Douglas, of course, came up with a game-saving interception in Arizona a month ago. Against the Rams, he added a pick-6 to his resume.

Faced with third-and-seven from his own 28 late in the third quarter, Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford threw short for Cooper Kupp. Douglas jumped in front of the wide receiver, secured the ball and hot-footed it 33 yards to pay dirt.

For Douglas, it was the first TD of his professional career. He celebrated with a Lambeau Leap.

For the Packers, who went up 36-17, the return all but spelled victory.

 “Rasul Douglas has stabilized the ship defensively for the Green Bay Packers this year,” Fox Sports game analyst Troy Aikman said. “You mentioned it – Jaire Alexander not able to play, Kevin King missed time – and yet he (Douglas) comes in and he’s been able to make plays and he makes a big one here. There’s still a lot of time, but that one might have just sealed this game.”

Sealed, indeed! Anyone who knows football history knows that.

Pick-6s and the Packers have a 100-year relationship. On Nov. 6, 1921, Billy DuMoe and Nate Abrams crossed the goal line as aerial thieves in Green Bay’s 43-6 thumping of the Evansville Crimson Giants.

In the years since, the results have been pretty much the same. Come up with a pick-6 and come away a winner.

Since 1921, 91 Packers players have returned a total of 145 interceptions for touchdowns in the regular season. The team’s record in those games is 115-14-2 (.885).

Green Bay’s winning percentage at Lambeau Field is even better. Since 1957, the club is 33-3 (.917). Only Bobby Dillon (1958), Johnnie Gray (1976) and Charles Woodson (2009) came out on the losing end.

Since 2000, the Packers have returned 43 interceptions for touchdowns. That’s the third highest total behind the Bears (50) and Buccaneers (49) according to Pro Football Reference.

This isn’t the first time the Green and Gold has gotten to Stafford. Woodson (2009), M.D. Jennings (2012) and Chandon Sullivan (2020) all set sail for the end zone with his handiwork.

Green Bay has picked on only two other quarterbacks to that extent. It returned five Joey Harrington passes for touchdowns and did the same to Jon Kitna on four occasions.

For as well as he played, Douglas let a possible second pick-6 slip through his hands on the Rams’ next drive. Stafford overthrew Odell Beckham Jr. near midfield, and Douglas – despite having both hands at the ready – couldn’t snag the errant throw.

Had Douglas pulled it in and navigated the roughly 49 yards needed for six points, Green Bay would have been golden. The team is unbeaten (14-0) in games in which it lugs back two pick-6s.

Off Target
Since 1921, the five opposing quarterbacks who threw three or more pick-6s against the Packers.
    No.    Quarterback              Record
       5       Joey Harrington               0-5
       4       Jon Kitna                           0-3
       4       Matthew Stafford             0-4
       3       Johnny Unitas                  0-2
       3       Jim Plunkett                     2-1

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

The Chargers Names on Back Of Jerseys—Not One Style

 By John Turney
In his first season with the San Diego Chargers (1972), most of the season, Deacon Jones wore his first name (nickname actually) on his nameplate. It was against the NFL uniform rules and the Chargers were told to change it. It was cool-looking for a while. 

When they changed it, they gave him "D. Jones" while his teammate Ray Jones had "Jones, R."—
Ray Jones, First Initial in Back

Deacon Jones, First Initial in Front

Here is a 1972 anomaly, Dave Costa going out on the field with no name on back. With Bob Babich with his normal last name on back and just ahead of him is Deacon Jones with his first name on back, this game has to be the only one with that trio of NOBs ever—assuming it was the only game Costa played sans a nameplate. 

In the preseason of 1973, Deacon Jones became "Jones, D" sans the period. 

But in the regular season, however, it returned to "D. Jones"

And the other Jones, Clint, was "C. Jones"
As Paul Lukas from Uniwatch.com has noted the Chargers went to the first initial in back for a time in the mid-1970s

However, in 1977 with Joe Washington joining the club they stacked the names on back for him and Rush Washington. We can only guess it was because of the length of the name "Washington" but we don't know that for certain. Joe Washington's NOB is a tight fit, but Big Rue's broad shoulders give plenty of room. 

Eventually, the Chargers went to the first initial in front but Billy Ray Smith got the privilege of getting his middle initial in front as well—
All a bit interesting to the few into uniform oddities. And we are.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

TUESDAY TIDBITS: "The Gibbs Theory—Aggressive, Consistent, Physical"

By TJ Troup 
My column last week brought about comments and questions; and thanks for those! First off to JHoltgym...was not a "nitpick", and sure appreciate the correction. As for an All-Time team? Over the years have worked on this difficult task, and yes have one, yet depends on the offense, defense, and substitutions. Just might list mine someday, and of course, explain why each man was chosen. 

Brian Wolf—no doubt Derrick Brooks is one of the best outside linebackers ever, but he almost always played "weakside". 

Mr. Gary Najman—Donnie Shell was ready by 1977 to be a starter for the Steelers, and Glen Edwards did not have play as well as years past. Shell maximized his talents on the field, just not sure he is a Hall of Fame player? Mike Wagner was a favorite of mine, and he sure was a vital part of the Steel Curtain defense. 
Keep the questions, and comments coming!

The outcome of the games last weekend just added to where the league is headed this year. Seventeen games, and now seven playoff teams just add to the intrigue. Still relish the old rivalries, and of course division games, and as such this coming weekend we have the Bears at Detroit on Thanksgiving. Once upon a time as far back as the 1930s these two teams clashed. 
My question for all of you; if the Lions earn their first victory is the coffin nailed shut on Matt Nagy? 

Next up are the Steelers on the road at Cincinnati—does the loser of this game still have a chance to earn a playoff berth? 

The Rams head to Lambeau in what promises to be a fascinating game for many reasons and will have my Dr. Pepper's and smokehouse almonds ready. At one point in their rivalry, the Vikings and 49ers had played thirty-four regular-season games, with San Francisco leading 17-16-1—but Minnesota has won six of the last eight, and since both teams are finally playing rock-solid football, this game should be a dandy, and again, does the loser of this game still have a chance to earn a playoff berth? 

Though could spend hours detailing so many of the games between Minnesota and San Francisco—will mention just one. NFL Films game of the week in 1965 did not use the title of "Game of the Week". 

Was called NFL Play by Play Report, and the October 24th game remains a favorite of mine since both teams would score over 400 points during the campaign. Tarkenton and Brodie led their offenses up and down the field as the two teams combined to gain 987 yards! 

The ebb and flow of the game, with both teams moving the ball signaled that though there were some outstanding defensive players on the field...overall the poor play on defense dictated changes for 1966. 

Norm Van Brocklin and Jack Christiansen had some memorable moments when facing each other on the field in the '50s, and now as head coaches trying to stay in the western conference race with a win at Kezar in attempting to keep pace with the Colts and Packers. 

When a man finally gets his chance to be a head coach he focuses on his team, and the job at hand. Doubt if any coach ever began by dreaming of being enshrined in the Hall of Fame, and after five games in 1981 Joe Gibbs was probably focused on the Bears, and not thinking about Canton.

Washington finished strong in '81, yet there were three teams in the eastern conference in the playoffs, and as such the publications for '82 all had the 'Skins as a fourth-place team. 
When George Allen arrived in 1971 the culture in Washington changed dramatically. Winning games and earning a spot in the playoffs was what my coaching guru was all about. From 1971 through 1977 Allen compiled a record of 39-17 against the rest of the eastern division. 

The next four years Washington broke even at 16-16 against the East, and nary a playoff berth. Can Gibbs beat the east? Street & Smith states "few teams in the National Football League are more anonymous than the group from the Nation's Capital". That certainly changed as they hoisted the silver trophy to become champions for the first time in forty years. My favorite quote from the magazine was prophetic..."Gibbs likes to use all kinds of formations involving runners and receivers, so he is happy to have plenty of depth behind Joe Washington". 

Prolog magazine published by NFL Properties poses a question "Can the fast finish in 1981 carry over"? The first statement in the evaluation is "a team in search of its identity—and a playoff berth". "The offensive line is young; only tackle George Starke had any appreciable experience among the 1981 starters. 
But youngsters Joe Jacoby, Russ Grimm, and Mark May each flashed potential". Was never a big fan of that word "potential" as a player or as a coach. Joe Bugel understood offensive line play, and Joe Gibbs's background in this area was key, but the NFL rule changes in '78 had brought about more passing. Gibbs played for Coryell at San Diego State, thus he also knew the passing game. 

The opening day win over the Eagles 37-34 in overtime is just what Gibbs needed. Week two also has the 'Skins on the road against a Buccaneer team that is attempting to defend their central division title. This is the day that the offensive line begins to establish its identity and the teams'. First-half fullback John Riggins carries 17 times for 49 yards against the heralded Tampa Bay defense. 

The Buccaneers score a touchdown to cut the Washington lead to 18-13, but the final score of the game is a Mark Moseley field goal. John Riggins gained 87 yards rushing in the second half on 17 carries, and his long run of the day was just 19 yards. Bet you can see where this is going. Rainy, drizzly day and the 'Skins control the clock, the ball, and are now 2-0. 
John Riggins. Art: Merv Corning
The long 57-day strike impacted some teams more than others in a negative way, but in America's Game chapter on the '82 Skins Joe Theismann details how the players stuck together. November 21st, 1982, and Washington is again on the road. This time it is the New York Giants, and their sparkling defense waiting in Meadowlands. The 'Skins lead 21-3 at half-time and leave still in first place with a 27-17 win. Riggins carried the ball 28 times in the game, and the hard-hitting G-men no doubt put some lumps on the veteran fullback. 

The next four weeks Washington scores just 50 points, yet wins three of the four! Mark Moseley made 37 of 63 field goals during 1980 & '81, but he sets a league record for accuracy in '82 by making 20 of 21 field-goal attempts with his prehistoric straight-on kicking style. 

Defensive coordinator Richie Petitbon learned his lessons well from George Allen and has developed his own unique style of substitution for a suddenly strong defense that allowed only 98 yards a game rushing in the teams eight victories. The Redskins allowed only 16 offensive touchdowns in nine games, and with an offense that was versatile and had now found an identity they were ready for the tournament. 

The America's Game chapter on the Champion 'Skins of 1982 is unique, and fun to watch, much like this team. Anyone who watched Washington literally "run" through the tournament to earn the Lombardi Trophy can detail John Riggins and the Hogs, but on November 21st the victory over the Giants was a statement game. 

Next week will go back in time to discuss the "passing of the baton".

Rams-Packers Game Will Be Schematic Mirror Image

 By John Turney

Matt LaFleur was the offensive coordinator for Sean McVay in 2017 (and both, along with Kyle Shanahan worked in Washington under Mike Shanahan) and LaFleur uses a lot of the same concepts as McVay with a quarterback with a great arm who can throw from, as they say, "various platforms", meaning sidearm and other angles. They like (usually) play-action, though McVay has gotten away from it as of late.

In other words the offense are more similar than different. 

Defensively, Raheem Morris is running the Brandon Staley defense (with is origins in the Vic Fangio scheme), as is Joe Barry who was with Staley last year. Barry also has been a defensive coordinator before and like Morris has experience in various schemes but when you watch the All-22 you see that they are running the Staley scheme. 
The fronts are the Penny/5-1 (33 nickel personnel) and sometimes the 6-1 (pro 4-3). They show a cover-2 shell and play a match zone which former TE and now Fox analyst Greg Olson described as a zone defense with man principles. They play 'off' and then read the routes and try and make great breaks on the ball and challenge the catch.

It is designed to limit deep, over-the-top plays and chunk plays in the seams or middle-of-the-field. The pre-snap "shell" disguises the coverage and the teams play a lot of match quarters or and Cover-6 mixed in with some "robber" concepts were one of the safeties will rotate to the middle of the field or the "hole" to stop in-breaking routes. 

Neither are aggressive man-type coverage teams but they are aggressive when the pattern or route reveals itself and then the defenders breaks to the ball/receiver to break up the play and if it is caught to tackle well. The weakness is if a quarterback is hot, as Cousins was Sunday, this kind of defense can give up long drives, especially if the pass rush is lacking. 

When the opponents (like the 49ers vs the Rams last weekend and the Vikings this weekend vs the Pack) both teams will play their base 3-4 or even a 6-1, which is really the old  "pro 4-3" but it's a 7-man box and sometimes a safety may walk up. 

This will be an interesting matchup with both teams knowing each other's blueprints very well and we get to see how each team will counter to attack the weaknesses. 

It has the makings of a terrific matchup.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

High Ratings Let Packers Down in Minnesota

 By Eric Goska

Aaron Rodgers lost for the 10th time against the Vikings Sunday.
(screenshot from NFL Game Pass)

Leave it to the Minnesota Vikings.

Aaron Rodgers posted one of the highest passer ratings of his career yet still came up short at U.S. Bank Stadium. Even with a second-half that qualified as perfect, the Packers quarterback could do nothing more than watch as Minnesota prevailed 34-31 on the game’s final play.

Rodgers and efficiency have gone hand-in-hand for years. In 2010, his third season as a starter, the sharpshooter became the highest-rated passer in NFL history.

Though since surpassed by Patrick Mahomes (106.3) and Deshaun Watson (104.5), Rodgers (104.1) remains in third place. He is one of just four players – Russell Wilson is the fourth – to have a career mark above 100.

Allow Rodgers to post a 110 or more in a game and it’s usually lights out. According to Pro Football Reference, prior to Sunday, Rodgers had been 71-8 (.899) in the regular season when surpassing that number (minimum 15 pass attempts).

Care to guess which Packers opponent bucked that trend most often? The Vikings, of course, who triumphed for a fourth time Sunday despite another 110-plus from No. 12.

Statistically, Rodgers shined. He completed 23 of 33 passes for 385 yards and four touchdowns.

His rating of 148.4 was the sixth-highest of his career. In 199 previous starts, he had been untouchable (31-0) when clocking in above 132.

For as high as he finished, Rodgers had to work through a tough first half. He twice missed Marquez Valdes-Scantling on deep routes. He was almost picked by cornerback Bashaud Breeland on a throw intended for Davante Adams. Three times he chucked the ball away to avoid pressure.

In the opening two quarters, Rodgers completed 13 of 22 passes for 188 yards, a touchdown and a rating of 102.1. The TD arrived on his final throw of the half, a 25-yard dart to tight end Josiah Deguara that cut the Vikings’ lead to 16-10.

That connection was a preview of coming attractions.

In the second half, Rodgers directed three scoring drives and capped each with a TD throw. A 10-yarder to Adams pulled Green Bay to 17-23 late in the third quarter, an 18-yarder to Adams put the Packers up 24-23 midway through the final period and a 75-yard bomb to Valdes-Scantling knotted the score at 31 with two minutes, eight seconds remaining.

Rodgers's lone second-half incompletion occurred on the play before Adams’ second touchdown. With safety Harrison Smith draped around him, Rodgers threw into the turf with Randall Cobb the closest to the ball.

In completing 10 of 11 passes for 197 yards and three scores after the break, Rodgers maxed out with a passer rating of 158.3. It was the 10th time he has thrown three TDs in the second half of a game without an interception.

Five players have chalked up a perfect second-half passer ratings (minimum 10 attempts) in Packers history. Rodgers became the first to do so in a losing cause.

From Tobin Rote to Bart Starr to Brett Favre and Matt Flynn, Green Bay had always won when buoyed by such a strong second-half showing. And the Packers might have continued that run had Darnell Savage hung on to an interception just before the two-minute warning.

But he didn’t and the Packers went down with him. Minnesota ensured Rodgers’ afternoon was over when it used seven plays and Greg Joseph’s 29-yard field goal to burn up the remaining time.

Second-Half Perfection
Since 1932, the 5 Packers passers who compiled second-half passer ratings of 158.3 (minimum 10 attempts).
Date                          Passer                  A-C-Yds-TD         Opponent           Result
Nov. 21, 2021         Aaron Rodgers          11-10-197-3            Vikings                  GB lost, 31-34
Oct. 20, 2019         Aaron Rodgers          12-10-228-2            Raiders                 GB won, 42-24
Dec. 23, 2012         Aaron Rodgers          13-12-190-2            Titans                    GB won, 55-7
Jan. 1, 2012            Matt Flynn                  15-12-200-3            Lions                    GB won, 45-41
Dec. 26, 2010         Aaron Rodgers          14-11-188-2            Giants                   GB won, 45-17
Dec. 5, 2010           Aaron Rodgers           10-9-142-2             49ers                     GB won, 34-16
Nov. 11, 2007         Brett Favre                  15-13-196-3            Vikings                 GB won, 34-0
Nov. 4, 2007          Brett Favre                  15-12-207-2            Chiefs                   GB won, 33-22
Nov. 3, 1996          Brett Favre                  12-10-152-2            Lions                     GB won, 28-18
Sept. 19, 1965        Bart Starr                     11-9-150-2             Steelers                 GB won, 41-9
Dec. 4, 1960           Bart Starr                     10-9-148-2             Bears                    GB won, 41-13
Oct. 17, 1954         Tobin Rote                 *16-13-221-2           Rams                     GB won, 35-17
*yardage of 221 may be slightly off.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Cornerback Stuffs—Jalen Ramsey Moving Up

 By Nick Webster 
Jalen Ramsey
With teams playing more and more nickel defenses in the past 20-30 years and teams often playing their top corners in that role at least part of the time they are in a position to blitz from that position and also get involved in the running game and takedown ball carriers or even receivers on passes behind the line of scrimmage.

Here are the single-season leaders we've tracked in run/pass stuffs, which does not include sacks, which is a separate category. 
So far Jalen Ramsey had 8.0 run/pass stuffs in ten games and is on pace for 13.5 which would smash the cornerback mark I have tracked and would be an excellent number for a linebacker or defensive end so it's pretty remarkable what he is doing from his nickel or "Star" position while also tied for 9th in the NFL in interceptions. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

TUESDAY TIDBITS: "Still Forged in Steel"

By TJ Troup 

Each week look forward to writing this column; and some weeks have so much to share that my dilemma(which is solvable), where to start? That said, let's begin with ESPN and the NFL, and when you go online there are a number of writers, but sometimes there is no name on the byline? 
A column last week at ESPN online predicted that Jared Goff would throw for 300 yards against the Steelers defense. Wow! Outlandish? Foolish? or just plain stupid? My choice would be "D" on the multiple-choice exam, all of the above. 

At halftime Goff was 4 of 7 for 11 yards, so he JUST need 289 yards passing in the second half. Second half he went 10 of 18 for 103 yards, and his longest completion was for 30 yards, thus Goff just missed gaining 300 yards by 186. Yes, folks wanted to begin with comedy. Will not detail the two failed attempts by ESPN to hire me. 

That is a long story, and most of you would be bored with the details. Last night was very motivated to watch MNF, since it is one of my favorite rivalries. At one point in the rivalry, the 49ers led 68-67-3, but have now won five straight. Are the San Francisco 49ers a playoff team in 2021? Would relish hearing from all of you with your thoughts on their chances. 

Predictions are not my cup of tea anymore, since I don't gamble, but always relish digging deep on analysis, maybe ESPN should try some of that? Every week there are games that enlighten us on who really is playing strong football, and won't miss a play of Dallas vs. Kansas City. Add to that the most bitter rivalry in the NFL, and though some of you might not agree—ask a Vikings or Packer fan who they would most like to beat. Are you ready for some humor? Hope so, 'cause this next part is a beauty. 

My library has many, MANY books, and some of them are treasured, and some contain statistical info that has been used as a resource. Yes, sports fan, statistical information is key for me, and my ability to analyze stats opened the door for my relationships with Steve Sabol & Paul Zimmerman. Wrote my first book in 2009 at the age of 58. 

Don't write unless you really believe you have something to say, and that first book This Day in Football was easy to write. The book did not sell very well, and at one point you could buy the book online for a PENNY. Had a book signing, and the price went up to about a buck forty. No longer in print, and yesterday checked to see if anyone could still purchase a copy, and there is one new copy available for $877.00. 

Ok, now that the comedy aspect of today's saga is over...the history lesson for November 14th, and on pages 101 & 102 of This Day in Football is the amazing day of Sid Luckman against the Giants and Sammy Baugh against the Lions in 1943. No doubt there will be quarterbacks that shred defenses during the last half of 2021, but how many of today's gunslingers will throw six or seven touchdown passes. Luckman and Baugh are members of the Hall of Fame, and not just for what they did on 11-14-'43, yet when you watch them on film they truly sparkled. 

Today we are going to revisit the Steelers of 1976. Chuck Noll hired Bud Carson to help him coach the defense, and specifically work with the secondary. Carson did his job so well, he became the defensive coordinator. No one knows who "invented" Cover 2, or as was known then "Double Zone", and even more important, which team or teams used it the most, and what kind of success did the defense have when they called this coverage? Even someone like myself who takes pride in understanding the history of pass defense, CANNOT determine when and how often? 

The four-man defensive line of the Steelers was able to mount an impressive pass rush from 1972 through 1975, and as such the linebackers rarely blitzed, and all three were outstanding pass defenders (especially when Lambert joined the team). The secondary mixed zone and man coverages and as stated above were the best at Cover 2 (Miami was a close second).

 Entering 1976 Pittsburgh has won back-to-back Super Bowls and is still a young team. When a team starts 1-4 with the talent the Steelers had, questions arise, yet there is no panic in Pittsburgh. The AFC in 1976 has three outstanding teams that as the season wore on were no doubt gonna make the playoffs—Oakland, New England, and Baltimore. Thus the winner of the AFC Central would be the fourth. 

October 17th the Steelers beat Cincinnati 23-6, and the Pittsburgh defensive passer rating for the game was 23.1. October 24th the Steelers beat the Giants 27-0, and the Pittsburgh defensive passer rating was 33.8. October 31st the Steelers beat San Diego 23-0, and the defensive passer rating was 30-26. November 7th the Steelers beat the Chiefs 45-0, and the Pittsburgh defensive passer rating was 24.8. 

Entering the game on November 14th the Steelers are now over .500 with a mark of 5-4, and the key question is...can they keep it going, run the table, and earn the division title? The Steelers beat Miami 14-3, and the defensive passer rating was 59.2. 

The composite defensive passer rating for this five-game stretch was 29.9. If you attempt one pass, and it is incomplete your passer rating is 39.6. Having a virtual ton of film on these five games allowed me to answer all of the questions; what questions are those you ask? Why, the basics, were the Black & Gold still a basic 4-3 team dropping seven into a variety of coverages? Since nary a touchdown was allowed, who is playing lights out football for this defense? 

Ready for the answers? Here goes! 

The Steeler front four while still playing the run very well, and could still get a sack once in a while is not the dominating part of the defense. Bud Carson has evolved and added a very special blitz mixture to the pass rush, while still using his mixture of zone and man coverages. 
Joe Greene. Credit: Merv Corning

Everyone and I mean EVERYONE contributed to the success of the defense. Charting the sacks, Joe Greene (led the team for the year with just 6), Greenwood, Holmes, and Banaszak got to the passer during the five-game stretch. Carson now used his safeties including nickel safety Donnie Shell on the blitz on occasion. Shell was credited with a sack for a loss of 20 yards against Griese and the Dolphins. We all can venture an opinion on who is the best of all-time at a certain position and will go to my grave believing Jack Ham is the best strongside linebacker EVER. 

He had proven himself so adroit in coverage, that he could cover a tight end all over the field in man coverage, or drop quickly and expertly into his zone and make a play on the ball. Jack Ham records a sack in three consecutive games during the streak. 

His quickness, and ability to get to the quarterback is something new for him, and he is again having an All-Pro year. Andy Russell was not a Pittsburgh Pirate in 1940, though some of his teammates probably thought so, and now at the end of his career he records a two-sack game against the Bengals on October 17th but is injured and replaced by very valuable backup Loren Toews. 

The youngster sacks Morton of the Giants, and records 13 tackles for the game...talk about depth! Russell does return and continues to play outstanding, but Toews has proven himself, and he now rotates in the remainder of the year. Loren is the heir apparent at right linebacker. 
Mel Blount. Credit: Merv Corning

Mel Blount coming off a tremendous year in '75 continues to punish receivers, and blanket them when asked to play man. J.T. Thomas is physical, and now in his fourth year has let it be known that attacking me is a mistake, and while he is not Mel Blount (who is?), he is just a notch below. Wagner and Edwards take care of the double zone, play the run, and Wagner gets a sack against the Chargers. There have been middle linebackers that earned AP Defensive Player of Year and reached legendary status for their play. 

Jack Lambert in 1976 has a season for the ages. Joe Greene stated "he is so mean he doesn't even like himself"....ok, Mean Joe, Lambert is nasty, yet is that all he is? Sideline to sideline, scrape the c-gap. Drop into coverage, and finally, he also blitzes. Lambert against the Bengals recorded an interception, fumble recovery, and a sack. The baton has now truly been passed from Butkus to Lambert in the pantheon of middle linebacking play. Jack has become not only a vocal leader but a man who leads by example. 
Jack Lambert Credit: Merv Corning

Closing the saga, yes the Steelers run the table, and yes they do win on the road in the division round of the play-offs. Later this autumn will detail December 26th, 1976, just to whet your appetite. 

Finally, read that Robert Lee Huff has passed on. Sam Huff was fascinating to watch on film. So much bullshit has been written about him and his role as a middle linebacker. Just once, and I mean just once would like to read the "TRUE" story on Huff as a rookie, and would relish being interviewed on the subject. The rumor is, there is a book out there call "THE BIRTH OF FOOTBALL'S MODERN 4-3 DEFENSE". See ya next week.
Sam Huff. Credit: Merv Corning

Monday, November 15, 2021

Russell Wilson's Return a Low-Rated Affair

 By Eric Goska

A pair of Packers fans recite "Tim the Diehard Packer Fan"
ahead of Green Bay's game with Seattle.

The Green Bay Packers did a number on Russell Wilson.

And that number was one of the lowest in the illustrious 10-year career of the Seattle quarterback.
The Packers’ defense came up stout in holding the Seahawks to a season-low 208 yards at Lambeau Field. In pitching a 17-0 shutout, the unit gave up a paltry 20 yards in plays run beyond midfield.
Oft-maligned, Green Bay’s defense has clamped down of late. It yielded 3.76 yards per play in a 13-7 loss to Kansas City and was even stingier (3.52) in blanking the Seahawks.
Not since 2012 had the unit held back-to-back opponents to fewer than four yards a play.
Wilson ran smack dab into that improvement. He completed 20 of 40 passes for 161 yards with two interceptions. In failing to find the end zone, he finished with a passer rating of 39.7.
For comparison’s sake, any one of the 78,235 patrons in attendance could have taken the field, thrown incomplete and come away with a rating of 39.6.
To be fair, Wilson was coming off a significant finger injury that forced him to miss three games. His last pass had come against the Rams on October 7.
That said, this is Russell Wilson, the fourth highest-rated passer of all time. You know, the guy leading the league in passer rating (prior to Sunday) with a mark of 125.3.
Green Bay kept him well below that lofty figure. After peaking at 87.7 in the second quarter, Wilson’s rating trended downward.
End-zone interceptions by Kevin King and Adrian Amos torpedoed that number even further. Coming into the game, the quarterback had been picked off just once in 125 attempts.
Only once did Wilson complete more than two passes in a row, that a run of four late in the first half. Only once did Wilson come away with more than 20 yards, that a 28-yarder to Will Dissly in the second quarter in which 24 yards were tacked on after the catch.
Twice Seattle went backward on passes. A short throw to Dissly on a flea flicker lost six when linebacker De’Vondre Campbell halted the tight end. Then, on what was essentially a forward handoff to D’Wayne Eskridge, the wide receiver was upended by cornerback Rasul Douglass for a 4-yard loss.
In holding the Seahawks to 133 net yards passing, Green Bay defensed a season-high seven passes with safety Adrian Amos coming away with three. The Packers also dumped Wilson three times, with Preston Smith, Rashan Gary and Whitney Mercilus each getting a sack.
The Packers made life miserable for Wilson beyond midfield. On Green Bay’s side of the field, he completed five of 16 attempts for 24 yards with two picks to compile a rating of 1.04.
Attempting an abundance of passes is not the best route to victory over the Packers. Green Bay is 101-32-2 (.756) when an opposing quarterback throws 40 or more.
When those 40 fail to include a touchdown toss, the odds get worse. Wilson became the 23rd opposing quarterback to throw that often without reaching the end zone. Green Bay is 21-4-1 (.827) when that happens.
Down 17-0 with less than two minutes remaining and virtually no chance to win, Wilson played on. Perhaps the quarterback was hoping to avoid being shut out for the first time in 150 starts. Perhaps he was hoping to put together something on which the team could build in the coming weeks.
Whatever the rationale, Wilson completed 5 of 11 passes for 51 yards to close out the game. It was not enough to boost his rating past 40, a number he had failed to surpass only three times previously in 149 regular-season starts.
Forty Below
The nine quarterbacks who attempted 40 or more passes in a regular-season game against the Packers and were held to a passer rating of less than 40.
   Rate       Player                      Team               Date                            Result
    17.9        Scott Mitchell             Lions                  Nov. 2, 1997               GB won, 20-10
    22.3       Jake Plummer            Cardinals          Sept. 24, 2000           GB won, 29-3
    30.5       Matthew Stafford      Lions                  Nov. 26, 2009            GB won, 34-12
    32.6       Rich Gannon              Vikings              Oct. 28, 1990              GB won, 24-10
    34.1       Jim Everett                 Rams                  Sept. 5, 1993              GB won, 36-6
    34.2      John Brodie                49ers                  Nov. 19, 1967              GB won, 13-0
    37.0      Joey Harrington         Lions                  Sept. 14, 2003            GB won, 31-6
    38.3      Karl Sweetan              Lions                  Oct. 30, 1966              GB won, 31-7
    39.7      Russell Wilson           Seahawks          Nov. 14, 2021              GB won, 17-0

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

TUESDAY TIDBITS: The Cowboy's Star Finally Shines

By TJ Troup

Well, here we are; basically, the mid-point of the season and the most important question to answer is simple...what have we learned? Past history has told us that being at home is an advantage, right? Oh, not so far in 2021 as road teams are leaving stadiums with a "W". While the Patriots & Rams are both 4-0 on the road, the Cardinals with five road triumphs lead the list. 

The standings tell us that the AFC North and West should be dog fights into January. Have read a couple very boring articles on who is going to be the MVP this year.
Nick Chubb
How about we all settle down, and just enjoy the games, and performances. Last week the main focus of my article was the battle for Ohio, and when Chubb broke loose for 70 yards to score at the 8:00 minute mark of the 3rd quarter no doubt all of you thought back to November 23rd, 1975 when Greg Pruitt gained 121 yards rushing, and veteran safety Jim Hill dashed down the right sideline on a 56-yard interception return for a touchdown. 

The Chubb touchdown "gave" the Browns a 91% chance of winning! How do I know this? Well, youngsters, it is called research. The term that I coined with the help of Steve Sabol is "Apocalyptic Horsemen". The team has a 100-yard rusher, and an interception returned for six, and that team wins 91% of the time. 

When Tennessee took advantage of Stafford's errant throws the Titans moved to the head of the class in the AFC, though is it possible a rematch could be in the SB just like 1999? 
The history lesson for today takes us back to November 7th, 1971, and the division clash between the Cardinals and Cowboys. During the second half of the '65 season Tom Landry's Cowboys finally learned how to win, and as such became a contender each subsequent year before the merger. 

Though Dallas played strong winning football they always fell short, and left their fans wondering when do we hoist the Silver Trophy? The merger brought a fresh new look to the play-offs with the "wild card" and the Cowboys earned two hard-fought victories in the play-offs before the strange "blunder bowl" against the Colts. 

Seven weeks into the '71 campaign and though Dallas has a winning record at 4-3, they just are not accomplishing what many believed they should-----dominant football. St.Louis had beaten Dallas badly in 1970 and on a cold windy afternoon lead the Cowboys 10-3 at the half. Dallas has outgained St. Louis yet cannot get into the end zone? Tom Landry has changed strategy with a much more conservative offensive game plan starting with Roger Staubach at quarterback. 

When outside linebacker Chuck Howley recovered a fumble on the Dallas fourteen-yard line the offense began to bring Landry's strategy to life. A punishing 86 yard drive with the excellent o-line opening holes for Garrison and Thomas, while Staubach ran three times for 23 yards to keep the chains moving. Dallas takes the lead 13-10, but the Cardinals respond with a field goal and we are tied. The Cowboys with Staubach's inspired leadership marches 54 yards and Tony Fritsch delivers a 26-yard field goal for the victory 16-13. 

Watching the final drive noticed that Dallas would align in slot right formations with Lance Alworth in the slot and making two key receptions. Though Bambi does not have much speed left after 10 grueling seasons, he is a proven winner and can be trusted to deliver on his well-run routes. The victory over St.Louis is the first of ten straight as the Doomsday Defense, and Staubach-led offense will finally reach the pinnacle and the Cowboy Star finally shines.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Bounce-Back Win a Must after Green Bay Falls in KC

 By Eric Goska

Packers head coach Matt LaFleur
(NFL Game Pass screenshot)

Matt LaFleur’s pursuit of Paul Brown is in jeopardy.

The Packers’ head coach has never lost two regular-season games in a row. But with the Chiefs having ended his team’s seven-game winning streak with a 13-7 victory Sunday and the Seattle Seahawks on tap, his extraordinary accomplishment is in peril.

The loss in Kansas City was just the eighth time LaFleur has tasted defeat in the regular season since he assumed control in January 2019. Green Bay followed each of its previous seven losses with a win.

This time is different if for no other reason than LaFleur may be without his future Hall of Fame quarterback for a second straight week. Jordan Love, not Aaron Rodgers, got the nod against the Chiefs after Rogers tested positive for Covid-19 earlier in the week.

Now, it’s possible Rodgers may be back in time to face the Seahawks. And, if not, it’s possible Love might play well enough in his second career start for the Green and Gold to prevail.

But coming out on top is far from assured despite Seattle’s (3-5) struggles of late.

The contest against the Chiefs was the 41st regular-season game coached by the 42-year-old LaFleur. After two-and-a-half years on the job, his record is an impressive 33-8 (.805).

It bears repeating: his charges have never lost consecutive regular-season games. Who does that?

The list is short, and it includes some of the greatest names in the NFL’s long and storied history.

Stick around long enough and any coach, regardless of talent or pedigree, will lose. The question is how soon and how often.

For many – even some of the most revered in the business – coming up short happened right away. Tom Landry, Andy Reid, Jeff Fisher, Tom Coughlin, Mike Holmgren, Bud Grant, Joe Gibbs, Tony Dungy, Mike McCarthy, Marvin Lewis, and Mike Ditka all won more than 100 games. All eleven were handed Ls the first two times their teams took to the field.

Not LaFleur. As a rookie coach, his team won three times to open the 2019 season. In the time since, his club has fashioned winning streaks of four, nine, two, five, and seven games in a row.

Some of the seven setbacks – Chargers (11-26), 49ers (8-37), Buccaneers (10-38), and Saints (3-38) – were brutal. But in each case, the team bounced back.

Only four coaches have held out longer than LaFleur: Brown (49 games), Guy Chamberlain (47), Red Miller (46), and Allie Sherman (44). Another three – George Seifert (38), Steve Mariucci (38), and George Halas (37) – pushed past 35.

Chamberlain captured four NFL titles. Miller guided the 1977 Broncos to a Super Bowl. Sherman directed the New York Giants to three consecutive championship games (1961-63).

Brown led the Cleveland Browns to four consecutive titles (1946-49) in the All-American Football Conference. Then, after Cleveland was absorbed into the NFL in 1950, his hirelings appeared in six consecutive title games (1950-55), winning three.

At that time, the NFL regular season consisted of 12 games. Brown’s outfit didn’t drop two straight until losing to twice to the Eagles, once in the 1953 finale and again in the 1954 opener.

For LeFleur to get to 50 and surpass Brown, Green Bay would need to prevail against the Seahawks and not commit a two-step misstep until 2022 or beyond.

So, let’s be upbeat and say that happens: the Packers win Sunday and they avoid a two-fer for the remainder of the season. How far does LaFleur have to go to get the record for longest start to a coaching career without three straight losses?

Get ready for a long haul. Seifert, who coached the 49ers (1989-1996) and the Panthers (1999-2001), didn’t suffer his first three-game losing streak until his 164th regular-season game.

Saying No to the Two-Step Misstep
Head coaches who coached more than 35 regular-season games before sustaining their first two-game losing streak.

  Game      Coach                                   Years              Final Record
      49          Paul Brown                         1950-1954              166-100-6
      47          Guy Chamberlain              1922-1925                58-16-7
      46          Red Miller                           1977-1980                40-22-0
      44          Allie Sherman                    1961-1964                57-51-4
      42*        Matt LaFleur                      2019-2021                       
      38          George Seifert                   1989-1991               114-62-0
      38          Steve Mariucci                  1997-1999                72-67-0
      37          George Halas                     1920-1923              318-148-31

*If the Packers lose to Seattle on November 14.