Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Pro Football Hall of Fame Final 15 Predictions

 By John Turney 
Tomorrow the Pro Football Hall of Fame will announce its 15 Finalists out of which five will be voted into the Hall in January and announced Super Bowl Week and they will compose the modern candidates for the Class of 2020.
The 15 will come from this list of 26—
Cornerback Eric Allen
Defensive end Jared Allen
Offensive tackle Willie Anderson
Cornerback/safety Ronde Barber
Wide receiver Anquan Boldin
Offensive tackle Tony Boselli
Safety LeRoy Butler
Running back Eddie George
Wide receiver/kick returner Devin Hester
Wide receiver Torry Holt
Wide receiver Andre Johnson
Defensive end Robert Mathis
Linebacker Sam Mills
Defensive tackle Richard Seymour
Wide receiver Steve Smith
Wide receiver/special teams Steve Tasker
Running back Fred Taylor
Linebacker Zach Thomas
Wide receiver Hines Ward
Linebacker DeMarcus Ware
Running back Ricky Watters
Wide receiver Reggie Wayne
Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork
Linebacker Patrick Willis
Safety Darren Woodson
Defensive tackle Bryant Young

Here are our guesses as to the list, assuming there are no tied that will take the list
to 16 of 17, which is possible—
 1.  Richard Seymour
 2.  LeRoy Butler
 3.  Zach Thomas
 4.  Tony Boselli
 5.  DeMarcus Ware
 6.  Reggie Wayne
 7.  Torry Holt
 8.  Bryant Young
 9.  Patrick Willis
10. Sam Mills
11. Ronde Barber
12. Jared Allen
13. Willie Anderson
14. Hines Ward
15. Devin Hester

In less than 24 hours we'll let you know how well we did.

In addition to the Finalists Dick Vermeil, Cliff Branch, and Art McNally will be voted on in mid-January as well.

This post was edited 12/30/21

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

TUESDAY TIDBITS: "The Autumn Wind is a Raider"

By TJ Troup 
Later in this saga will dig deep into the famous Steve Sabol quote, and the Silver & Black, yet as have for past few weeks we begin with the NFL standings. 

Last Saturday night the Colts took on the "only super team in the league" (quote from a dumbass writer earlier in the year) the Cardinals. During the '50s the Chicago Cardinals did not play the Rosenbloom Colts of Baltimore, and also did not play very often in the '60s. Since the merger a few games, but this could never be viewed as a rivalry past or present. Mr. Taylor and the Colts o-line have pounded their way into the playoff picture. 

The season of 2009 both Colts and Cardinals were beaten by the Saints in the play-offs(only four times both teams have made the playoffs in the same year). Watching the Rams win in Minnesota on Sunday brought back plenty of memories from past December 26th games between these two teams. 

Friends shared with me during the decade of the '70s that they hated the Vikings and Cowboys, and we all know why. Minnesota is 4-0 when they have a 100-yard rusher against the Rams; while the Rams are 6-2 when they have at least one rusher go over the century mark. Yes, that includes Akers on Sunday. 

Will examine the new head coaching hires when appropriate, but as all of you know my allegiance to the Bears and the fact they are nineteen games under .500 in the past decade with Smith, Trestman, Fox and Nagy as coaches. My disdain for the McCaskey family is well documented, and when an organization is as unprofessional as they have been in dealing with me...don't have an expectation of a phone call asking me to come out of retirement and coach the team. 

Shifting back to the positive based upon the last three weeks the Eagles & Dolphins have forged their way into the discussion about playoff-caliber teams. We all can state emphatically the players we believe should have been chosen/selected/voted to the Pro Bowl rosters. 

The Eddie Meador-led Ram secondary of 1968 led the NFL in the defensive passer rating category with a mark of 47.1. How many of the white & blue clad Coliseum Warriors were chosen for the Pro Bowl? Yes, this is a TEAM efficiency statistic, yet having watched my boy George Allen coach these men, somebody should have been chosen. 
Eddie Meador

Poyer of Buffalo is my choice for oversight of the year, and since the Bills led the league by a wide margin in the defensive passer rating category, can make a case for his selection. 

 Having so many excellent sources for a story on the 1976 Raiders has made the rest of my column both a challenge and a joy. 

How much should be written about all the aspects of this team? Should I begin with some background? Hell yes! When Oakland dominated in 1967 and earned their first Super Bowl berth no one that really understood the inner workings of the Raiders believed coach Rauch was the man responsible. The merger and re-alignment of the conferences in '70 would not deter the silver and black from being yearly contenders for the game for the silver trophy. 

Will go to my grave knowing/believing that the '73 Dolphins were a juggernaut, and in the AFC title game Oakland actually gave Miami a game. Home for the AFC title game in '74 the Raiders knew they would beat the Steelers just like they did in the '73 play-offs....wait a minute, the Raiders not only lost but were physically destroyed in the game? Watch the film, look at the stats. Chuck Noll's o-line blocked the hell out of Dan Conners, and coach John Madden knew a change had to be made. John Madden? That big fat buffon roving the sidelines, and screaming at referees? Al Davis coaches the Raiders. 

Yesterday in an insightful phone conversation with Mr. Neil Zender of NFL Films he stated that Madden was not viewed in the proper light as a coach. Madden was smart and had a deep understanding of the game in all facets. Thanks for the time and comments Neil! John Madden played community college football at San Mateo and later after his one injured season on the Eagles roster he began his coaching career. 

His first year at Hancock Community College his team was competitive, but his outstanding coaching job in '63 at Hancock is never really discussed. John Madden was 27 years old and ready for his next step up the coaching ladder. Before going any further, why does coach tj often relate stories about Junior College football? Simple, my years as a Community College football coach impacted my life in many ways, and would not trade any of those seasons...losing, or winning for anything! John Madden is hired by Don Coryell at San Diego State to coach the defense for the Aztecs.
Joe Gibbs at a coaching clinic years ago enlightened and entertained all of us coaches with stories of life on the practice field with Coryell and Madden. John goes from assistant to head coach by the end of the decade of the '60s as Al Davis allows Madden to have much more responsibility than Rauch. Why you ask? He earned those responsibilities with his ability to teach, relate to players on a human level, and news flash —his understanding of all facets of the game. The defending Super Bowl champion Steelers of 1975 were battle tested, tough as hell, and talented, and earned the home field for the AFC title game vs. Oakland. 

No one is going to beat Pittsburgh, right? Oh, the Raiders won't back down? Icy field, turnovers aplenty, but also both teams knocked the hell out of each other, and on the final play Branch's catch positions the Raiders with a chance to win, if, they had time for one more play. The Colts of '76 are vastly improved over their play-off team of '75, and are very well-coached by Marchibroda. The Patriots of '76 are a powerhouse that have finally found out how to win under Fairbanks. 

The Steelers of '76? Two-time defending champions and still young, talented, nasty, and in their minds...invincible. Will go to my grave knowing that this is the four strongest teams from one conference ever during the era of eight teams in the playoffs. 

My book on the '50s details all the starters for a team, and though that will not be done here, many of the players will be discussed, and evaluated. Let's begin on defense shall we? Oakland was 12th in points allowed, and tenth on defense in yards allowed rushing. Oakland led the entire NFL in the defensive passer rating category in 1975 with a mark of 37.2! Oakland drops to 15th in 1976 with a mark of 68.8 (league average is 67.0), so as a team they are average against the pass. Why the drop-off? Herbert Furlow states in the Pocket Book of Pro Football that "George Atkinson can be a bad actor". Atkinson still hustles, but film study shows him late to the tackle too many times, and he does not record an interception. 

Dr. Death Skip Thomas was outstanding in '75 and very average in '76. Old Man Willie Brown can still make a play, yet this is year fourteen for him. Jack Tatum is still a force to be reckoned with due to his hitting and speed. Phillips and Colzie do get playing time but do not improve on their rookie seasons. 

Some teams in the '70s moved/adjusted to a 3-4, and with injuries to the d-line—Madden has his excellent d-line coach Tom Dahms teach a new alignment to his players. Sistrunk is more than adequate at right defensive end, but the man that needs to be discussed/detailed is Dave Rowe. 

Page 294 of the 1976 Sporting News Football Register has Dave Rowe's background. Earns a Pro Bowl berth with the 1968 Saints, yet is traded to the Oilers, then traded to New England, then traded to the Chargers, then traded to the Raiders on September 23rd, 1975. Not sure why, yet will surmise that he was not viewed as a key man in the defense of those teams, or possibly there were issues with coaching or management. 

Look up the record of the '72 and '73 Patriots, the '74 Chargers. Dave Rowe no doubt did not miss playing for those teams. Like so many, he found a home in Oakland. Zany renegades? Light of the jukebox misfits? Madden did not care as long as you "were on time, paid attention, and played your ass off". Dave Rowe did that in 1976 as the starting middle guard of the Raiders. 

John Matuszak had played for the Oilers and Chiefs, and was viewed as an underachiever, but gave the Raiders consistent play at left defensive end. 

Willie Hall was released by the Saints(a losing team) in September of '74, and the Raiders after signing him in 1975 waived him to the Lions, but was released three days later. Oakland takes Willie back in November. Was this his last chance? Maybe, and while not an All-Pro, Hall is a hustling consistent player in 1976. He is one lucky man when you examine the three linebackers he lines up with in 1976. 

Paul Zimmerman told me that Ted Hendricks' season in 1974 as a Packer was on par with the best years a strongside linebacker ever had. Yes, that includes my boy Jack Ham, and the legendary Bobby Bell. Oakland paid a high price for Ted, and his season on the bench in '75 is mystifying ...until he plays in the game vs. the Bengals in the '75 playoffs. Ted Hendricks plays the right or weakside in '76, yet if a tight end did align that side, "Kick'em in the Head Ted" could handle him. Besides blocking kicks, and stonewalling sweeps his side, this future Hall of Famer was a force on the blitz, and excellent in coverage. 
Game of the week in '76 between the improved Bears and the Raiders...Hendricks sacks Avellini and intercepts. Possibly Bob Thomas missed field goal attempt that hit the upright would have been blocked by Ted if the kicker had followed through properly? Finally, the defensive MVP of the Raiders...Phil Villapiano. Besides being a fascinating interview many times for the folks at NFL Films, this overshadowed strongside linebacker is the complete package. 

He did earn a pro bowl berth with his open-field tackling, his ability to defend the strong side sweep, his ability to cover man to man and go to his area of responsibility in zone, and finally when asked he could blitz. Phil Villapiano brings the esprit de corps for the Raider defense. The consummate teammate, and vocal leader...he wanted the Steelers to beat the Colts and come to Oakland Alameida on December 26th. That covers the defense, right? 
Oh, left someone out? Almost forgotten, unless you are luggin' the leather...Monte Johnson was the soul of the Raider defense. He played solid football as a rookie in '75 but when you watch and study film of him in '76 he is one of the most improved players in the league. He filled the gaps, made the tackles, pursued with a vengeance, and recorded seven takeaways! Jack Lambert had a season for the ages in '76, but Monte J. also played the game the right way. There is no need to detail the offensive line, pick up a publication, listen to the pundits—the Raider strength on offense is the consistency of the o-line. Size, technique, and ability to both run and pass block puts these five men at the head of the class. 

Raider running backs are rock solid, kinda by committee though Mark van Eeghen eventually stood out till the Super Bowl. He was an excellent lead blocker for Davis when asked. Charismatic Ken Stabler had become pre-eminent in 1974, but his balky knee in '75 limited him. He is ready in '76 at the age of 31 (he turned 31 the day before the AFC title game). His accuracy, and ability to inspire have been well documented, yet it is his decisiveness that set him apart in 1976. He knew who to throw to, and delivered, and he knew when to run, and delivered. 

Quoting Harry Kalas in the NFL Films game of the week against New England..."Never count out the Snake". Before going any further, it is time for a stat! Oh, coach tj does that on occasion? Five teams between 1946 and 1975 averaged at least 46 rushing plays a game. The '48 Bears, '49 Eagles, '73 Rams, '75 Raiders, and '76 Steelers stand out as the most prolific run teams in history based upon attempts. Oh yeah, the composite record of those teams was 54-12! 

The Silver & Black run first, then throw. Though they run alot in '76, just not as much as in '75, and there is a reason why. The most complete receiving corps in the league. Ken Stabler is the teams' offensive MVP, yet the Snake would be the first to tell you about the traits of his receivers. 

Fred Biletnikoff had some knee issues in '75 but is now completely healthy, and in year 12 he still can confound every secondary, and rival defensive back. Feisty, resilient, competitive, and unparalleled since Raymond Berry with his ability to catch every ball thrown his way, I mean EVERY ball. 

Cliff Branch was a work in progress that gave the Raiders the mystique they cherished...we take what we want. Throw deep, as Branch outruns the corner, but he also has improved as a route runner, and is much more consistent in latching onto passes. 
Bob Moore was a solid player at tight end, yet after languishing on the bench for two seasons, and beating out the much more heralded Ted Kwalick.....Mr. Dave Casper not only wins the job, he wins ball games. One of the best blocking tight ends in league history, he is athletic, runs his routes to perfection, learns to read coverage. Casper makes the tough catch, and he is money, I repeat MONEY in the red zone. 

Prolog for 1977 stated, "Casper helped to invigorate the Raiders offense with a blend of pass catching and blocking". Fourteen regular season games and a record of 13-1, not even the Steelers had done that! NFL Prolog for 1976 discussed the team's pass rush of 55 sacks, and stated, "A Super Bowl contender as usual". 

Street & Smith's stated "are the fates stacked up in a goal line defense against the Oakland Raider d-line"? Then the premier publication details all the strengths of the teams, yet also attempts to explain why they had lost three straight AFC title games. Opening day and the home come from behind win over the black & gold opened a few eyes, but with the demoralizing loss at Foxboro, and a handful of hard-fought close victories the Raiders after nine weeks were 8-1 but had outscored the opposition just 195-184...please read that again. 

The Raiders are not dominant, they are winning yes, but have yet to reach their peak. The six previous seasons the Raiders had lost just six times to their division rivals, those teams just did not measure up. The Broncos, Chiefs, and Chargers were going to be swept in '76 by the silver and black. The last five games of the campaign the Raiders outscored the opposition 155 to 53. 

Am not going to review any of the regular season games, yet one game does deserve mention. Dick Vermeil in his first year as coach of Eagles lost to John Madden and the Raiders. Ok, so what you ask? Dick Vermeil was the backfield coach of the San Mateo Bulldogs in 1963. When is the last time two San Mateo Bulldogs faced off in the regular season and went on to win a Super Bowl title in their coaching careers? Steve Grogan had a passer rating of 120.5 in the October victory over the Raiders, and Sam Cunningham gained 101 rushing yards but in the play-off rematch Grogan's efficiency fell to 72.2, and Cunningham gained 68. 

The Patriots have been set home and for the fifth consecutive year the silver and black play the black and gold in the playoffs. Though many times statistics can tell the tale, this game the tale is told by watching film. The Raiders had adjustments ready if needed for the Pittsburgh offense that would revert to single back, but this game comes down to Ken Stabler and his play calling. A superb mixture of run and pass, and the use of varied alignments, and formations that did not allow Bud Carson's defense to dictate the tempo of the game. Ten consecutive dominating defensive victories by Pittsburgh fall by the wayside with a 24-7 Oakland win. 

The Raiders controlled the ball as they held possession of the ball for 52 of the first 81 plays of the game! Oakland leads 10-7 with just nineteen seconds left in the half as the Raiders align in a three-tight end formation on the Pittsburgh four-yard line. Pittsburgh replaces two linebackers anticipating run. The Snake fakes a run to the right and flips a touchdown pass to former Steeler Warren Bankston in the left part of the end zone. 

The Snake faced 4th and one at the Steelers twenty-four in the 3rd quarter. He goes back to Bankston again, and no one, not even Bud Carson or Chuck Noll would have anticipated that strategy. The play gains seven yards, first down Oakland, and eventually a Banaszak touchdown run. The Super Bowl is over by half-time as Oakland led 16-0. 

Quoting Gene Upshaw..."We don't worry about our plays. We have complete confidence in Stabler". NFL Films America's Game chapter on the '76 Raiders lists Oakland as the 10th best team of all-time. Not sure how many folks realize how powerful they were that special season.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Fast Starters, Strong Finishers—NFL Quarterbacks

 By John Turney 
Russell Wilson
We certainly understand that the QB passer rating is not the only or best statistic to measure a quarterback's performance, but it has been around since 1973, and football fans who what it means in general and it can give a thumbnail sketch of a quarterback's efficiency.

As Steve Young once told is, "It's hard to do well in those categories, to avoid interceptions and to be accurate and to throw touchdowns". Amen. So the stat does have some value. 

That said here are the first 8 games (essentially the first half of the season, bye weeks don't always line up to divide it by weeks) and the last 7 games—

Charts via Stathead: HERE

Russell Wilson, Matthew Stafford, Kyler Murray, Dak Prescott, Tom Brady were all tearing up up the first half of the season. In the nearly finished second half (two games to go) Wilson's passer rating is 21st, Stafford's is 19th, Murray's is 24th, Brady's is 18th, Dak's is 12th with a big boost last night.

In the last de facto seven weeks Mahomes' rank was 18th in the first half to 4th in the second half. Jimmy Garoppolo went from 19th to second. Jared Goff went from 26th to 6th.

On the consistent tip was Aaron Rodgers went from 7th to 1st. Joe Burrow 6th to 5th. Justin Herbert went from 11th to 8th. Josh Allen was 13th then jumped two spots to 11th. 

This doesn't mean a ton, we don't think, but it does show that Mahomes and his Chiefs are rolling as are the Packers with Rogers at the helm. In a "what-have-you-done-lately" league when the playoffs roll around what someone did in September or October may not matter as much as what they did in November and December.

Much football is yet to be played. But we've seen things to keep an eye on—Mahomes, Garoppolo, Rodgers, Burrow, are getting hot and will be tough "outs" in the playoffs. It should be a scary proposition for AFC teams for Mahomes to be "righted" just in time for the playoffs. 
Joe Burrow is a wildcard—he's Joe Namath. 

Aaron Rodgers is Aaron Rodgers. He is the front-runner for MVP. though we have other ideas (Cooper Kupp, cough, cough). In all fairness the Packers, at this point seem like the team to beat in the NFC. But they were the last two years, too.

The 49ers are hot. They will go as far as the defense can take them along with a power running game and a now accurate, quick release Jimmy Garoppolo. They are a true wild card. Could do well or might not make the playoffs. 

We saw the first-half Stafford that performed at a very high level then saw a nosedive. But he's always been streaky. If, in the playoffs, he can play like he did in the first eight weeks, the Rams have a chance to go far—they can beat anyone. If he plays like he has the last seven-week stretch, specifically in the games where he gives away points like they are candy, then it will be a problem. 

The Rams chances rest with Stafford. Good Stafford—they could win the NFC. Any one game of bad Stafford in the playoffs, they are out. 

Dak Prescott and the Cowboys, ah who knows?

This year reminds us of 1980 in terms of how wide-open it is so expect surprises in the playoffs, just like that season. Or, we could be totally wrong. 

Sunday, December 26, 2021

NBC Boots It On The Tackle Eligible Tonight. Kind Of.

By John Turney 
Rayfield Wright

In the 42-7 Halftime score there is a lot going on if one is a Cowboys fan. Among the first-half highlights, Terence Steele's touchdown reception was certainly one of the highlights. 

After the score NFC's research team informed him (presumably) that the least touchdown by a Cowboy lineman was Hall of Fame tackle Rayfield Wright in 1968—

However few remember that Wright was a tight end in early1968 (1967 as well) and didn't switch to tackle until later in the season, around mid-season though we did see evidence that Wright got work at tackle in the preseason. 

Wright #85 from there 1968 Cowboys team photo

This is the Cowboys roster and depth chart from the 1968 Week Five clash with the Eagles, the game he caught the touchdown pass (which was 15 yards)—

In Week 8 Wright was moved to the backup right tackle position behind Ralph Neely.

In Week 13 he filled in for Pettis Norman and started at tight end.

In the playoffs, Wright was listed as a tackle in the depth chart and on the roster—

So, it is fair to say he was a backup tackle in the latter part of the 1968 season, but he was a backup tight end for the first half then closed the season with a start at the tight end position, though if something happened to one of the tight ends in the playoffs he would have likely stepped in.

As for the touchdown in week five. He was, as the roster and depth chart showed, a tight end. And the catch went for 15 yards, not the stuff of a tackle-eligible (usually they are for a yard or two), and he was wearing uniform #85, so he was already eligible, not a lineman. 

We cannot category rule it out because we have not seen the play all we know is it was 4th and one on the Eagle 15-yard line and it was called a "quick pop" by flanker Lance Rentzel.  It was a short-yardage and goal line-type play. But common sense dictates he was not an eligible tackle catching a touchdown on that play and according to the story we located Wright was lined up next to Neely. 
In the parlance of the day, it was called a "tight end look-in".

We suspect some did a quick search and saw that some places list Wright as wearing a tackle's number in 1968 but we find no evidence of that and the NBC crew maybe relied on that. 

Anyway, congrats to Terence Steele. Well done. 

Baker Mayfield Plays Santa at Lambeau Field

 By Eric Goska

Baker Mayfield played Santa Claus Saturday.

The Cleveland quarterback tossed three first-half interceptions, gifts which the Packers parlayed into three touchdowns on their way to 24-22 victory over the Browns.

Mayfield was activated off the reserve/COVID-19 list the day before the two clubs met. He took a private jet to Green Bay, touching down around 9 a.m., roughly six-and-a-half hours before game time.

Perhaps rusty, perhaps not, the first pick in the 2018 NFL draft definitely helped the Packers’ cause. He fired two interceptions in the first quarter and another in the second.

Darnell Savage came up with the first on a deep ball intended for Donovan Peoples-Jones. Chandon Sullivan snagged the second when Mayfield overthrew Jarvis Landry deep in Packers’ territory. Rasul Douglas pilfered the third when he jumped in front of a throw slated for Landry.

Green Bay converted each turnover into a touchdown. Rogers found Allen Lazard from 11 yards out, and twice connected with Davante Adams.

Capitalizing on those mistakes, the Packers led 21-12 at halftime.

Interceptions aside, Green Bay did little to slow the Browns in the opening two quarters. Not counting Mayfield’s kneel-down to end the half, Cleveland piled up 203 yards on 26 plays (7.8 average).

Color the Packers fortunate. It is not often they come up with three picks before halftime.

Since 1945, Green Bay has come away with three or more in a first half just 34 times in the regular season. The team is 19-14-1 when doing so.

Call the Packers opportunistic. Saturday was the first time in team history – dating to 1921 – in which the Green and Gold produced three touchdowns as the result of interceptions in the first half of a regular-season game.

And Green Bay needed every one. Mason Crosby’s 32-yard field goal was all the scoring the club could muster after the break.

Fortunately, the defense rose up once more. Douglas grabbed his second pick on a third-down throw earmarked for Peoples-Jones with 43 seconds remaining. From there, Green Bay ran out the clock.

Saturday was the 30th time in the regular season under head coach Matt LaFleur that the Packers have had fewer turnovers (they had zero against the Browns) than their opponent. The team’s record in those games is 30-0.

Grand Theft Larceny
Since 1921, the seven regular-season games in which the Packers scored 14 or more points as the result of three or more first-half interceptions. Green Bay won all seven games.

    Pts.  Opp.        Passer(s)                                                                                     Date
      21   Browns    Baker Mayfield (3)                                                                       12-25-2021
      14   Pirates     John Turley (1), Heinie Weisenbaugh (1), Johnny Gildea (1)      10-06-1935
      14   Pirates     Ed Matesic (2), Johnny Gildea (1)                                                10-25-1936
      14   Rams       Bob Snyder (1), Stan Pincura (1), Dick Tuckey (1)                      10-30-1938
      14   Rams       Parker Hall (2), Marty Slovak (1)                                                  10-13-1940
      14   Eagles      Rick Arrington (3)                                                                         10-25-1970
      14   Raiders    Carson Palmer (3)                                                                          12-11-2011

Note: It is possible the Packers came away with 14 in a 42-7 blowout of the Rams in 1944.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Harry Jacobs, "Quarterback of the Defense" on Buffalo's Great Teams of the Mid-1960s, Passes Away

 By Jeffrey J. Miller

The Buffalo Bills of the mid-1960s were a powerhouse, earning three trips to the American Football League championship game and two league championships.  They had some pretty good players on the offensive side of the ball, names that we all recognize like Jack Kemp, Cookie Gilchrist, Billy Shaw, Elbert Dubenion, and many more.  However, most fans, and the players themselves, will tell anyone willing to debate that it was the Bills’ defense that propelled the team to its pinnacle between 1964 and 1966.  Boasting such names as Tom Sestak, Ron McDole, Butch Byrd and Mike Stratton, Buffalo’s defense was formidable indeed.  Yet the most important figure on that unit was a relatively unsung middle linebacker named Harry Jacobs.  It says here that Jacobs was just as important a figure in the team’s success, if not more so, than quarterback Kemp.  After all, Jacobs was the man calling the defensive formations during the halcyon days when the Bills put together a three-year run in which they won 31 games while losing just nine times, and gifted Buffalo the only major league sports championships the city as ever known (1964 and '65).

The 1965 Buffalo Bills.  Harry Jacobs stands 
in the back row, sixth from the right.

It was with tremendous sadness that we learned that Jacobs had passed away last week (December 17, 2021) at the age of 84.  His loss was a big one for Western New York and the Bills’ long-time fans, for Jacobs was not only a really good football player, but he was also an extraordinary human being.  Jacobs had been battling dementia for several years but remained a steadfast supporter of the team and its alumni, even attending the reunion of the Bills’ championship teams in 2015.  He had always been a very active member of alumni activities and charitable events.  During his days as an active player, Jacobs was a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and remained a devout witness for Christ right to the very end. 

For fans of the AFL-era Bills, of course, Jacobs will always be remembered primarily as the man who put personnel in position to make the plays on defense, or, as he was commonly referred, the Quarterback of the Defense.  Defensive coordinator Joe Collier was the mastermind behind the Bills’ sophisticated defenses, tinkering with myriad formations, blitzes and stunts, but worked closely with his middle linebacker to make Buffalo’s unit the best in the American Football League by 1964.  Jacobs was acknowledged as a full-fledged member of the defensive game-planning team, often studying film alongside Collier and devising schemes that were to be used against upcoming opponents.

Jacobs confers with defensive coach Joe Collier 
prior to the 1965 AFL Championship Game.

“Joe broke films down,” Jacobs recalled in an interview with this writer for the book Rockin’ The Rockpile: The Buffalo Bills of the American Football League.  “He was the first person to my knowledge that really worked at breaking down each of the plays so I could see how first, second, third, every down and position, what they use, and then make a choice in that situation on the field.  In order to do that, I had to know what everybody else did.”  This knowledge allowed Jacobs full authority to make all the defensive calls without need of consultation with the Bills’ sideline.  He was the one who called the line stunts (called “exits”) or sent George Saimes in on the safety blitz.  He is also the one credited with putting linebacker Mike Stratton in position to inflict the famous “Hit Heard ‘Round the World” tackle on Keith Lincoln in the 1964 AFL Championship Game.  If the Buffalo's defensive record between 1964 and 1966 is any indication, the coaching staff’s faith in Jacobs was more than justified.   

Jacobs was born and raised in Canton, Illinois, and attended Canton high School.  He was a two-way star at Bradley University in nearby Peoria, playing guard on offense and defensive end on defense.  After his senior year, Jacobs was selected to play in the Chicago Tribune All Star game, where his coach was Lou Saban of Northwestern.  He went undrafted, and had unsuccessful tryouts with the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears, both of which wanted him to play guard.  “Fortunately for me,’ said Jacobs, “the AFL had just started, and Lou Saban stepped in.”  Saban had been hired as the coach of the Boston Patriots franchise in the new American Football League, and brought Jacobs in to play defensive end and middle linebacker.  Things were going well in Boston until Saban was let go and replaced by Mike Holovak. 

Jacobs card from the 1961 Fleer set.

“I liked it in Boston,” Jacobs recalled.  “Holovak took over and they drafted Nick Buoniconti from Notre Dame.  He was not—in my opinion—better than I was, but Mike put him in there.  Nick turned into a great linebacker, but at that point, he wasn’t.  That was really frustrating to me, so I was very pleased to come to Buffalo.”

The Patriots sold Jacobs to the Bills on July 19, 1963, where he was reunited with Saban and defensive coordinator Joe Collier.  Jacobs was installed as the starting middle linebacker and held down the position for the next seven seasons.  Often referred to as the Baby-Faced Assassin for his youthful looks, Jacobs pulled a complete Jeckyl-and-Hyde routine when he put his helmet on and trotted onto the field.  Though he stood only six-foot, one inch, and tipped the scales at a mere 226 pounds, Jacobs was a solid performer at the Mike (middle linebacker) position, missing just ten games due to injury during his Buffalo tenure.  He was part of a linebacking corps (along with outside backers John Tracey and Mike Stratton) that started 62 consecutive games, a pro football record.  He was also the leader of a defensive unit that between 1964 and ’65 went 17 straight games (16 regular season and one playoff) without surrendering a rushing touchdown—another record that still stands.  Jacobs also served as a mentor for Marty Schottenheimer, the Bills’ backup middle linebacker who went on to great success as a head coach in the NFL. 

Jacobs discussing strategy on the Bills' sideline with
backup middle linebacker and future head coach
Marty Schottenheimer (57).  November 10, 1968. 

His greatest game might have been the 1965 AFL Championship Game, played December 26, 1965, at Balboa Stadium against the San Diego Chargers.  In a rematch of the previous year’s title game, the Chargers were heavily favored, with their explosive offense that included the likes of Lance Alworth, Keith Lincoln, Paul Lowe and John Hadl.  But with Jacobs calling the shots, the Bills’ defense pitched a shutout (23-0), with Jacobs contributing an interception in the rout.   

Jacobs in action versus San Diego in the 1965 AFL 
Championship Game.  December 26, 1965

He remained with the Bills through the 1969 season, in which he was voted into his first AFL All-Star Game (he had played in the 1965 classic, but as a member of the entire Bills squad that faced the rest of the league’s stars).  Jacobs was traded to the New Orleans Saints and played one last season (1970) in the Big Easy.  He was the only player to have participated in the very first and the very last games in AFL history, and is one of only 20 players to have played every season of the league’s ten-year existence.

Jacobs's card from the 1970 
Kelloggs set.

Jacobs was also a successful businessman, founding the firm The Jacobs Team in the Buffalo suburb of Hamburg.  The Jacobs Team, as he explained it, “Our business is helping businesses build succession for the future.  It means building teams within the confines of an organization so that when they shift owners (through retirement, for example), they have built a team inside of the business that will sustain the business.”   

Jacobs embraces teammate Booker Edgerson at the 
reunion of Buffalo's AFL championship teams, held 
in 2015.  Photo courtesy of Mark Palczewski

Harry and his wife of 63 years, Kay, who survives him, remained in Western New York until his death.  He was enshrined in the Greater Peoria Sports Hall of Fame in 1982, and the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame in 2012. 

2021 Allmost All-Joe

 By John Turney 
Last year, as an homage to Vinny DiTrani and Larry Weisman we chose a team of non-Pro Bowlers and All-Pros that deserved recognition.

In the early 1970s, DiTriani began this practice and we collected all those teams over the years and we thought they were very insightful and were great reads. Many great players he mentioned were chosen for All-Pro or the Pro Bowl the next year.

Weisman began his All-Joe team for USA Today later and was named for Joe Phillips—A nose tackle who was tough and gritty and who was someone who'd never make a Pro Bowl based on this position and lack of stats. So, Weisman began picking his own non-"All" team.

So, though it is a bit early, here is our team. Now, take note, you will see some missing guys that didn't get named to the Pro Bowl that should have, just a hint:  We may be saving them for our own All-Pro team that will come out in about 2½ weeks. 

Allmost All-Joe

Wide receivers
Terry McLaurin of Washington fits this team to a "T". Not great numbers for a key to their offense. Sadly Chris Godwin went down this week with an ACL injury, he was having a great year. Adam Thielen just scores touchdowns. 

Hunter Renfrow of Vegas and Michael Pittman of the Colts deserve special mention as well.

Tight End
Dallas Goedert of the Eagles is our pick and the honorable mention is T.J. Hockenson of the Lions.
Dallas Goedert

Lane Johnson has some personal issues that were more important than football. It takes a tough ham to take the time to deal with them, especially during the season. Well done. We hesitated to pick him because he might take up one of our All-Pro of All-NFC slots. We will have to see.

The other? Why not Andrew Whitworth at age 40? he was not one of the three best tackles in the NFL this year and didn't deserve to go the Pro Bowl, but he was still very good and deserves to get at least some recognition.

Joe Thuney of the Chiefs and Rodger Saffold of the Titans. Thuney is one of the NFL's best guards. Saffold is now in that old pro" section of his career where he's solid, sometimes stellar. But his career has been marked with a lot of nicks, missed time, injuries mostly minor. Kind of odd.

Brian Allen of the Rams. A classic All-Joe-type. And Allmost All-Pro. And would be an All-Madden-type guy, too. he was a starter, then had a major injury. Came back the next year was the first NFL player to catch COVID in 2020, it did a number on him and his rehab. He worked, sweated, got stronger, and won the center job and this year was highly rated by Pro Football Focus and was an alternate to the Pro Bowl.
Brian Allen

Josh Allen. Not sure how he didn't make the Pro Bowl. This year and last year are not all that different in terms of his personal play. But he's a fit for this team anyway.

Running backs
Austin Ekeler, an all-around type is our pick for running back. Jakob Johnson is our fullback—the old "guard-in-the-backfield" type of fullback.


The Titans Harold Landry and the Panthers Haason Reddick. In a league saturated with edge rushers these two were excellent but there was a lot of competition and not everyone can get the golden ticket to the Pro Bowl. Sam Hubbard is an honorable mention, though he's more of a pure defensive end while Landry and Reddick are linebackers in base and edge rushers in nickel. 

We are picking the Williams'. Leonard of the Giants and Quinnen of the Jets. Toiling in poor programs and still playing well. They both play a lot of positions, 5-technique, 4-tech, 3-tech, 1-tech. Have even seen Quinnen head up on the center. They are quintessential defensive linemen that are difficult to block and can also gets excellent push in the middle. 
Leonard (l) and Quinnen Williams (r)
The Rams nose tackle Greg Gaines is another Joe Phillips-type. He began the year as a rotational player but when Sebastian Josepth-Day went down Gaines became the starter and he impressed everyone, likely even himself. He can get his big body moving, he plays two-gap and gap-and-a-half well, and he can get some good pressure when pass shows. Good for the big boy. Larry Ogunjobi is a solid honorable mention.

Kyle Van Noy or the Patriots and Quincy Williams of the Jets (brother of Quinnen). Van Noy was a jack-of-all-trades, can cover, run, play off-the-ball, one the TE. All of it. Williams is a missile. When he's on the field he makes tackles for loss, forces fumbles. An up-and-comer.

As an inside 'backer we are going with the Texans Kamu Grugier-Hill. He's hurt now but hope he can be okay. He's a converted outside linebacker who has found his home inside with Houston. He makes a lot of tackles, gets pressure on the QB when asked to blits (3 sacks 5 QB hits), has a pick 6, and has forced a couple of fumbles. In a bigger market maybe people would know his name because when we've watched he sure stands out.
Kamu Grugier-Hill

A.J. Terrell of the Falcons had a great year. And we just love Chauncey Gardner-Johnson's game. When we watch the Saints and he's covering the slot receiver he's in that guy's face, nothing him, knocking down balls, A feisty slot corner who can also blitz as well.  He missed time and started only 11 games but was still very vital to the Saints defense.

Jalen Thompson of the Cardinals is very fun to watch. A good tackler and good range and a nice compliment to Budda Baker. Antoine Winfield, Jr. is a terrific player, too. There were lots of safeties we could have picked—Johnathan Abram of the Raiders comes to mind. It's a safety-driven league on defense with so many of them playing hybrid linebacker positions and in the slot, all over the place.
Jalen Thompson

Punter and Kicker
Logan Cooke of Jacksonville has been excellent, very high in the metrics we like to look at when choosing punters. The same goes for Nick Folk or New England. He's the kicker.

Agree or disagree, let us know in the comments section.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Fair or Unfair There May Be Voter Fatigue for Aaron Donald

 By John Turney 
Aaron Donald
Aaron Donald has won the AP Defensive Player of the Year (AP DPOY) three of the last four years. He is certainly in the running this year but there is competition if you follow social media, especially Twitter. 

Donald is as dominant as ever, his stats are similar, the sacks, the pressures, quarterback hurries, the holds he draws (called or uncalled). He passes every eye test when you watch him play. He draws the double-teams and sometimes gets three hats on him. He's strong, slippery, and is also coming on strong at the end of this season.

Will it be enough? Maybe. Maybe not.
Micah Parsons
Dallas fans and media are pushing rookie Micah Parsons who is making a big impact in Cowboys games. he's totaled 12 sacks (Lawrence Taylor totaled 9.5 in his rookie season when he won his first AP DOPY award). We are not, of course, comparing Taylor's career with Parsons, just their initial seasons.

Parsons is an off-the-ball linebacker in the Cowboys base defense with run-stopping and coverage responsibilities but in passing situations he lines up on the edge, or in a joker spot, rushing from the interior as a blitzer. He's got plenty of hurries, pressures from all the services that track them.
Trevon Diggs
The cornerbacks in play are Jalen Ramsey and Trevon Diggs (10 picks). Diggs has given up a lot of yardage but Dallas plays more man coverage than the Rams, who are mostly a zone team. Ramsey has played a lot of nickel or "star'" as they call it and has 8.5 stuffs—tackles behind the line of scrimmages to go with his three picks. But,. he does not get challenged that much.
Jalen Ramsey
As for the pure edge rushers, three stand out—T.J. Watt, Myles Garrett, and Nick Bosa.
T.J. Watt
Bosa gets the least ink (pixels) but his numbers and eye test are as good as the other two. He has 15 sacks, four forced fumbles, and 45 pressures (source: PFR). He also has five stuffs.
Nick Bosa
Garrett also has five stuffs, 45 pressures, one forced fumble and 15 sacks. T.J. Watt leads the NFL with 17.5 sacks though he's missed time has 42 pressures (again according to PFR), four forced fumbles, and has recovered three.
Myles Garrett
There are others having good years, but we've outlined what we think are the front-runners.

In our view, the award will be won in the next games, whoever has the best stretch run will get it. There is not enough to separate anyone in terms of numbers. The edge guys are neck-and-neck with maybe Watt having a slight lead. The corners are different one a shutdown type the other a ballhawk in the Everson Walls category. 

Then there is Donald. A marvel.

As for Donald, we think most would concede he's the best defensive player in the NFL. The question is does the best player always have the best year? And if so is Donald having the best year of all those players? Not up to us, the voters make that decision.

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, the best players in the National and American leagues were Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle. Mays won two MVP awards and Mantle three. If one looks back to their careers with the 20/20 vision of metrics like the several versions of WAR or WARP, Win Shares, Total Player Rantings and so one you'll see mays and Mantle were qualified to have won many more MVP awards—

However, back then being on a winning team was important to the baseball writers who voted on the MVP.  Also, historical achievement played a part. Mays lost out to Maury Wills in 1962 in part because Wills stole 104 bases, breaking Ty Cobb's record of 96.

Sometimes Mays had a great year and the Giants (late in their New York days) were not very good. So he wasn't even in the consideration for the MVP. Obviously, the writers had their own metrics and it didn't include WAR.

Mantle, of course, lost out to Roger Maris and his 61 homers in 1961. So it goes.

Donald may very well win his fourth. We've concluded that he's the GOAT of his position, either way. He's completed eight seasons and his peak has been amazing, equal to the Mount Rushmore of defensive tackles, Bob Lilly, Joe Greene, Merlin Olsen, and Alan Page. Those players, however, had very solid post-peak years and it is there we may get some pushback.

It begs the question—How many years of service does Donald need for others to agree with us? Ten, twelve. A totally fair question. 

But we have Jim Brown, still, as the number one running back with nine years in. Dwight Stephenson is our number one center with eight. Butkus is still our number one MLB with nine.

People could say Mike Webster, 17 years, and Ray Lewis, also 17 years, deserve the number one spot because they played so much longer and they would not be wrong. Reasonable people can disagree. It's a question of peak vs. longevity. We mostly go with peak—quality over quantity when you must choose between the two. 

So, right or wrong, Mount Rushmore of defensive tackles now has five faces.

Back to voter fatigue. we could be totally wrong. We're just reading tea leaves. Or Tweet leaves. We will see in February but as mentioned, really, there is work to do for all of the top defenders and someone could legitimately earn it and Donald will be a Mays/Mantle where he is the best, but someone just had a better season. And there is no shame in that. After all Ernie Banks, Frank Robinson, Sandy Koufax, and Roger Maris had some wonderful seasons, too.