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|