Wednesday, June 29, 2022

1952 CLEVELAND BROWNS: "Complain About The Present, And Blame It On The Past"

By TJ Troup 
Otto Graham

Lately have been playin' the hell out of Don Henley's solo work, and of course his songs with the Eagles...thus the title for today's saga on the '52 Browns.
Beginning in 1949 with a return to two-platoon football; strategy is changing on offense as teams game plan on how to attack the 5-3-3 defense. Yes, there are teams that attempt to play the 6-2 at times, and of course the Giants and Steve Owen fashion an early 4-3 or 6-1. The Eagles are the first team to deploy four men in the secondary almost every down. 

The 1950 season set a new standard with 55 passing attempts a game, but in 1952 passing attempts per game rises to 56. Otto Graham also sets a new record for most passing attempts in a season with 364. We will begin with the Cleveland offense that led the league in total offense with 4,352 yards. 

Lou Groza earns a pro bowl berth and is the starter at left offensive tackle. He is consistent in all facets of offensive line play. Abe Gibron joins his teammate in Los Angeles for his performance at left guard. Very quick, and combative he pulls often on both running and passing plays. 
Lou Groza
Frank Gatski continues to do yeoman's work at center, while John Sandusky does his job at right tackle. Lin Houston and John Skibinski share the right guard position, often bringing in plays—it does not really matter who is listed as the starter since they probably played equally. Both men are adequate in technique and performance. Ed Sharkey will get some playing time at guard, while both Bob Gain and Jerry Helluin fill in at tackle. Overall, as a group, they are just a shade better as run blockers than pass blockers, but there are times Graham holds the ball too long, and since he set the record for most pass attempts in a season those men held up well against the pass rush. 

Cleveland backs combine to help the Browns finish third in the league in total yards rushing. Halfback Dub Jones aligns at flanker, halfback, and sometimes even goes in motion. He must be accounted for on every play since he scored six offensive touchdowns. Early in the season, Sherman Howard played well at halfback, but down the stretch it is Ken Carpenter luggin' the leather at an impressive 5.7 per carry. Harry Jagade late in the season starts at fullback and demonstrates he can run with power inside, and off tackle. Rookie Ray Renfro also gets an opportunity to showcase his talents late in the campaign. 

Watching film of Marion Motley is always a joy, yet he is not the focal point of the offense due to his recurring knee injuries. Marty Glickman in the New York Giants highlight film calls Motley the "Big Train"...and he sure is a locomotive roaring down the tracks. He still has speed for a big man, and no one, and I mean no one runs with more power. Ask Roy Barni of the Cardinals? Motley is a capable receiver when called upon, and is a ferocious pass blocker. 
Marion Motley
Graham does not run as often as in the past; simply because he does not need to. His 20 touchdown passes ties Jim Finks for the league lead, but he does throw 24 interceptions—which also leads the league. Graham has superb touch on his passes and is accurate most of the time. 

Since Dante Lavelli is injured early in the campaign, rookie Darrel Brewster gets an opportunity along with punter Horace Gillom at right end. When Lavelli returns the Browns passing game is back to being one of the best in the league. Lavelli is excellent on double-cut routes, and not only is sure-handed.....he can make the spectacular catch. Seven times in '52 a Cleveland receiver gained over 100 yards receiving in a game as again a new standard has been set with 43 one hundred yard receiving games. 
Dante Lavelli
Mac Speedie does not go to Los Angeles for the Pro Bowl, but he does lead the league in receptions with 62. His speed and sharp cuts terrorize right corners throughout the league. Many times you see him open on stop patterns making the catch, and then gaining yardage after the catch since corners played "off" of him. His best pattern is the post, and when Graham lofts the ball deep you see the opposing safety quickly headed over to help the corner attempt to defend Speedie. Mac Speedie would be my choice for offensive MVP. The New York Giants 17-9 victory in October sets the stage for another dog fight to win the division and has established that this is the best new rivalry in pro football. 

Bert Bell sure did no favors for Paul Brown since Cleveland has to play both Detroit and Los Angeles the first half of the season. The Lions hard-fought victory on November 2nd shows one and all that this is by far the best Detroit team in many years. Cleveland rebounds to win two straight for the third time already in '52. When the Eagles beat the Browns at Municipal Stadium on November 23rd we have a three-way tie for the division crown. Though all three teams have a chance to win the division, there is no doubt the Browns can win when it counts. 

After beating Washington easily the Browns shut out the Cardinals 10-0. Four times in 1951 Cleveland shut out an opponent on their way to the title game. Since the Browns have again recorded a shut-out, let's take a long look at the Cleveland defense. Many teams still aligned in a 5-3-3 defense, but the Browns version has very subtle and very effective nuances to their alignments. 

Left corner is manned by tough, quick, and opportunistic Warren Lahr. He is an excellent tackler and backs down from no receiver in man coverage. Right corner is held down by Tommy James most of the time, yet Rex Bumgardner and late in the season Don Shula also get playing time there. James shined on opening day against the Rams as he played the ball in flight in textbook style. Cleveland ranked 3rd in the league in the defensive passer rating category with a mark of 50.1 (league average was 57.7). Cleveland linebackers must be able to help on pass defense in both man and zone coverages. 

Rookie safety Bert Rechichar had to cover ground, and always be in position to make a play. Though he lacked great speed, he took proper angles in pursuit, and in playing the ball in flight. Rechichar ranked among the league leaders in interceptions with six. At times opponents were able to complete the deep ball since Rechichar had so much ground to cover, yet his rookie year was sure a success overall due to his ability to tackle, and take the ball away

Hal Herring starts at right linebacker all year, and though he does not stand out he is consistent. Acquiring Walt Michaels from Green Bay was a key in '52 as he played all-around inspired football. Michael's would red dog, along with his pass defense responsibilities (twice he intercepted two passes in a game). The youngster has a bright future in Cleveland since he also played the run so well. Tommy Thompson did not go to the Pro Bowl, yet he had a Pro Bowl-caliber season. Savvy, instinctive, and a top-notch tackler, he would align shaded away from the gap that Bill Willis is responsible for. Sometimes he would even go down in a three-point stance as a defensive tackle in a 6-2 defense. 

These three men helped the d-line finish third in the league in stopping the run. Starting at left defensive end was George Young, and he had a fine campaign against sweeps on his side, and rushing the passer. John Kissell started at left defensive tackle most of the year, yet Bob Gain also got some playing time there. Jerry Helluin started a handful of games at right defensive tackle, and due to his size, he was sure difficult to move. Neither Kissell nor Helluin was much of a pass rusher. 

The nominal starter at right defensive tackle was Darrell Palmer. He just might be the most underappreciated d-lineman in the league. Tremendous strength, excellent at shedding blocks, and a disruptive force in pillaging the pass pocket—Palmer is just flat-out one damn fine football player. 

Len Ford led the league in sacks in 1951, and since he began '52 in much the same fashion he just might have registered 31 sacks over a nineteen-game span. You might want to read that again? From his stand-up stance the big man powers and/or rockets into the offensive backfield while also being a force against the weakside sweep. Len Ford definitely earned his pro bowl berth. The Browns were one of six teams that recorded at least 42 sacks in '52. No, that had never been done before, as the pass rush for the first time ever averaged 310 yards per team. 

The catalyst for the Browns defense is middle guard Bill Willis. He may be the lightest middle guard in the league, but he is strong, and when he explodes out of his frog-like stance into his assigned gap responsibility he is a nightmare for centers. He uses his hands well to shed blocks, and his pursuit angles and quickness get him to the ball carrier time and time again. 
Middle Guard Bill Willis for a run stuff

Willis is an excellent pass rusher and coupled with Ford they can dominate a game all by themselves. He would be my choice for defensive MVP, and yes he joined Len Ford at the Pro Bowl. 
Middle guard Bill Willis with excellent pass rush for a sack
 There were seasons in NFL history where the total amount of field goals was less than twenty, and in 1952 Lou Groza pumps 19 football's between the uprights for a new record. What a weapon to have when drives stalled! 

The return game was average at best, with the exception of Ken Carpenter's outstanding punt return performance against the Redskins. The Browns were adequate in covering kick-offs, but as the season progressed were vastly improved in punt coverage. Horace Gillom led the league in punting even with having one blocked. The kicking game overall was a Cleveland strength.

 Philadelphia could tie the Browns for the division title with a victory over Washington, and a Cleveland loss to the Giants. This becomes moot as the 'Skins upset the Eagles, yet the final game of the season for the Browns was one of those games you can just watch over and over again.

Cleveland scored just 46 points in their five previous regular-season games against New York, but the Giants had scored just 53 points in winning three of the five games played. No one expected a 37-34 barn burner. This game had everything. A hook and ladder pass play touchdown. A team that played virtually error-free football as NYG did not allow a sack, did not turn the ball over, and was penalized only 15 yards. After the Browns scored late, they still had a chance if they could recover an onside kick. NYG aligned in a double wing, the -A-formation, the T-formation, and a version of the spread. Controlling the tempo was key though the Giants were outgained. Overall one helluva game to watch. 

We all know that Detroit won a hard-fought title game fight, yet the 1952 Cleveland Browns were sure a fascinating team to research. If you don't believe that listen to Don Henley sing "Get Over It".

Friday, June 24, 2022

GEORGE PREAS: "Thinking One Thought Only"

By TJ Troup 
Today is Jeff Beck's birthday, and the innovative and brilliant guitarist sure found just the right tone and sound on the classic Yardbirds song "Heartful of Soul". Tomorrow would have been George Preas's 89th birthday, and then on Sunday is one of my fav singer-songwriters b-day—Mr. Chris Isaak who took the tune Heartful of Soul to another level; thus the title for the story today. Possibly you folks will play either or both tunes as you read this. 

Every NFL team has a history, yet some teams history is just more damn compelling than others. During visits to NFL Films, my discussions with Steve Sabol on Colt history were always a highlight. Let us begin with leadership and teaching the game shall we? 

Weeb Ewbank was the tackles coach for Paul Brown, and he knew the traits needed to play the position, and how to teach the skills necessary. Much has been written about the Baltimore draft in 1955, and George Preas was part of that draft and played in every game. Pro Football Reference lists Preas as starting one game that season, but when I did the research for my book "THE BIRTH OF THE MODERN 4-3 DEFENSE" do not have him starting any games (could be an error on my part), but do have him playing some at right guard. 

The improved Colts of '55 open the season of '56 with a victory over the Bears, and starting at left offensive tackle is Preas. He starts almost every week and is rock solid in technique. Offensive lineman are taught to keep their fists under their chin, elbows up and wide, with their hips flexed and a wide base when pass blocking. 

Preas has excellent technique and his feet are nimble, and he moves well in sliding to his right to push pass rushing defensive ends past the quarterback, or joust with them at the line of scrimmage. Joining the Colts for '57 is future Hall of Famer Jim Parker, and he is one of the best offensive lineman of all-time, and when you see him on film you just shake your head at how well he could dominate most defensive linemen. The exception, of course, were his legendary battles with Doug Atkins of the Bears. The Colts are contenders in '57 and with the focus on the stars of the team...yeah you know all the names, how much is going to be written about the starting right offensive tackle George Preas? 

He adjusts quickly to playing the right tackle position and starts all but two games. One of the most dramatic games in '57 is the Colts come-from-behind victory over the Redskins. Gene Brito is an all-pro left defensive end for Washington and a nightmare for tackles to handle. Early in the game Brito beats Preas's block and takes down Johnny Hightops. For the rest of the game film study shows George battling Brito to a standstill. No more sacks allowed, and a solid game in blocking for the run. 

When you watch film you get a sense of how teams run their plays. Preas, at times, is asked to drive block the defensive end in front of him, or down block on the defensive tackle, and the guard will pull and take out the defensive end. Preas is more than adequate at both skills. His assignment on wide running plays to the left is to release and quickly get downfield and block. 

Preas is outstanding in doing so. Surprisingly quick, and taking the proper angle he is effective many times in getting his man, or at least getting in the way. Think this is easy? By far one of the most difficult assignments for a tackle. The winning touchdown in the greatest game ever played is Ameche going over right tackle to score, and that right tackle was? George Preas! 

Baltimore repeats in '59, and there is every expectation that will win it again in '60 since they win six of the first eight games of the year. The game in Wrigley in November is still one of the most dramatic in Colt history, and watching Unitas pump fake and hit long-legged Lenny in the end zone to win the game is just damn fun to watch (even for a Bears fan), and that Baltimore o-line gave him the time to deliver the winning throw. Very, very little is written about him in the football publications; in fact, in Don Schiffer's Football Handbooks for '59, '60, and '61 there are 55 bio's and nary a one on Preas. Some other publications state he is a steady player and of course the starter. Baltimore is just not the same team in 1961 and '62, and there are games where Preas struggles in pass protection. Dan Colchico in October of '62 sacked Unitas twice in the 49er victory. 

When a team loses 57-0 at home you know changes are coming. Don Shula was a former teammate of Preas and he not only understands defense----he has his own ideas on how he wants the offense to operate. Unitas and Shula were not always on the same page, Opening day '63 vs. NYG he faces Jim Katcavage and the man who would lead the league in sacks got nary a one against Preas and the Colts.  Baltimore finishes strong in '63 and no doubt believe they can give Green Bay and Chicago a battle in '64 for the Western Conference crown. Parker is now at left guard, as Bob Vogel entrenches himself at left tackle. 

Preas is still the starting right tackle. Not sure how often Marchetti and Preas faced off against each other on the practice field, but there are other left defensive ends in the Western Conference that play the game at an elite level. David Jones of the Rams, Carl Eller of the Vikings, and Willie Davis of the Packers earn recognition each year for their exploits at defensive end. How much recognition did Preas ever get you ask? He is voted second-team All-Pro in '64 (one of nine offensive tackles). His tenth year in the league and finally one of the unsung heroes of the Colt offensive line gets some recognition, yet watching him on film in '64 he is just not the same guy. His blocks are not as crisp, and he does not move near as well? 
Preas had become a master at his trade by 1958 and through 1963 he was consistent and certainly did his job. Did he ever allow a sack? Oh yeah, a few, and he did not always overpower the defender he was assigned to block on running plays, yet overall he was the type of player you win with. He looks to be back to his old self in '65, and at times he is asked now to pull and lead a play! An eleven-year veteran out front on sweeps! NFL Films Play by Play Report (game of the week if you will) at Memorial Stadium in December of '65 against the Bears is another classic. Unitas is injured when the Bear pass rush gets to Unitas and he is injured. Preas man (Evey) is not one of the culprits. So many outstanding players in this game for both teams; and here he is again doing yeoman's work in the O-line. Losing the game to Green Bay must have been devasting to the entire team, but Baltimore ends on a high note with the 35-3 play-off bowl victory over Dallas. George Preas ends his career on a winning note.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

The Best Defensive Players of the 1970s

By Joe Zagorski 

I was recently challenged by a friend to comprise a list of the best defensive players in the NFL during the 1970s. Far be it from me to avoid such a challenge, and believe me, this is indeed a challenge.  There were so many great defensive players in pro football during that decade, that narrowing my list down to the best 11 on the defensive side of the ball is quite a chore. I know that I will leave a bunch of really great players off this list, some of them Hall of Famers. But this is a completely subjective list.  

I decided to establish the criteria that a player must have played for at least five years during the decade of the 1970s to be considered for this list. Why five years? I just felt that it was a good number for overall inclusivity. Most of the players on this list also played a portion of their careers in the 1960s or the 1980s as well. Rest assured, I admit my fallibility in this discussion, and I know that most of you won’t agree with some (or many) of my selections. That is fine. That is what makes for a good debate.  So, in my book, the best defensive players in the NFL during the 1970s are now ready to retake the field.  

Here they are:

Defensive Ends: Carl Eller and L.C. Greenwood.
Carl Eller is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and L.C. Greenwood should be. Both men were similar in physical stature. Eller stood 6-foot-6 and weighed 247. Greenwood also stood 6-6 and weighed 245.  Both of their weights are considered very light for their position today, but we are talking about the 1970s here. Back then, everybody weighed less than they do today.  Both Eller and Greenwood would terrorize pass pockets anytime a pass play was called, and seldom were these two giants handled by just one blocker.  
Eller made the All-Pro team five times during his career. Greenwood made his best statements in the biggest games. In Super Bowl IX, he batted down three Fran Tarkenton passes, as the Steelers won their first Super Bowl ever over Eller and his Vikings, 16-6.  As is the unfortunate case with all defensive linemen during the 1970s, the NFL did not acknowledge quarterback sacks as an official statistic during that decade.  If they did, both Eller and Greenwood would stand out in the eyes of the league and the fans as even more impressive.

Defensive Tackles: Joe Greene and Alan Page.

Another couple of Vikings and Steelers here, I know.  But both Greene and Page are extremely worthy of this honor. Greene was known for his power, strength and determination.  Page was known primarily for his quickness. Both players knew how best to penetrate into an offensive backfield, based on their own abilities and physical gifts. Both Greene and Page presented opposing offensive coordinators with plenty of problems when trying to get their personnel to match up against these two All-Pros. 
Just like Eller and Greenwood, Page and Greene were similar, but in another aspect…that of their awards. Page became the first defensive player in NFL history to win the league’s Most Valuable Player award in 1971.  Greene was the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in both 1972 and 1974.  Both men played in four Super Bowls, and both have a bust in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 
Outside Linebackers: Jack Ham and Bobby Bell.
The NFL began to see strategies shift in the 1970s to a more passing-oriented approach to advancing the football. Perhaps no outside linebacker in the history of the sport has ever been as effective in covering tight ends and running backs than Pittsburgh’s Jack Ham. Few were the quarterbacks who were able to fool Ham whenever the former Penn State grad drifted backwards into both zone and man-to-man coverages. Ham could do it all when it came to thwarting opposing passing attacks.  He ended his Hall of Fame career with 32 pass interceptions, 21 fumble recoveries, claimed four Super Bowl rings, and made eight consecutive Pro Bowl appearances.  

Bobby Bell of the Kansas City Chiefs, on the other hand, played most of his 12-year career in the 1960s. Bell managed to pick off 26 passes in his time in the AFL and the NFL, and he scored nine touchdowns as well.  But where Bell stood out the most was in stopping opposing running plays.  Bell was simply the greatest open-field tackler in the game while he played. He is still regarded by most experts as such, even though he retired before the start of the 1975 season. Regardless of how fast, shifty, or strong an opposing running back was, if the plan was to run sweeps to the right, they had better have at least two blockers to keep Bell from making the tackle. Like Ham, Bell is also a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 
Middle Linebacker: Jack Lambert.
As with a lot of names on this list, plenty of great players (including Hall of Fame players) did not make this list. One player who seemed to personify defensive football – and the Pittsburgh Steelers – during the 1970s, did make the grade. That guy was Jack Lambert. Jack Freaking Lambert. A Kent State University product, Lambert personified fury and desire. He was not a smooth defender.  Rather, he played the game in a perpetual state of angry fervor, seldom more so than in the second half of Super Bowl X.  

If you ask many fans today what play they remember most from that game, some might say the play where Lambert grabbed Dallas safety Cliff Harris and threw him down like a rag doll.  True, it inspired his teammates immensely. But few fans remember that Lambert spent every moment after that incident playing with a rage that pushed him into superstar status. 

With Joe Greene suffering an injury and sitting on the bench, Lambert took it upon himself to lead the Steelers defense. He did that to the tune of effectively shutting down the Cowboys offense during the final two quarters. Pittsburgh prevailed for a 21-17 win, their second consecutive Super Bowl triumph. Lambert, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1976, and he played in nine Pro Bowls in his 11-year pro career.

Cornerbacks: Mel Blount and Ken Riley.
This was a very tough one, because there were several very good cornerbacks in the NFL during the 1970s. But I chose Mel Blount of the Steelers, and Ken Riley of the Bengals.  Blount is in the Hall of Fame, and Riley should be. Perhaps no cornerback other than Blount played the position with more vigor and ruthlessness than Blount. He was a terror, and no wide receiver who ever went up against him man-on-man would disagree with that. Blount ended his 14-year pro career with 57 interceptions, four Super Bowl titles, and was named the NFL defensive MVP in 1975.  

The case for Riley to make the Hall of Fame is unfortunate.  He finished his 15-year career with 65 interceptions.  At the time of his retirement (1983), that statistic ranked as the fourth-most in the history of the league. But Riley played all of his years in Cincinnati, which was not a major media market during the 1970s. Another factor that is possibly keeping him out of the Hall of Fame is the fact that his Bengals never won a Super Bowl. Despite this, Riley, like Blount, was extremely difficult for opposing passing attacks to deal with all decade long.  

Safeties: Cliff Harris and Jack Tatum.
Rounding out this list are the safeties.  Like most of the other positions, plenty of others could rightly be considered right alongside the two defenders that I have chosen here.  But because there were usually only two safeties on the field during any given play in the 1970s, so too will there be only two safeties on my list here. Both Cliff Harris of the Dallas Cowboys and Jack Tatum of the Oakland Raiders were first and foremost consummate hitters. Many wide receivers in the league who were required to go over the middle when playing against these two intimidators would inevitably spend plenty of time dealing with numerous bruises and on occasions, concussions. Both Harris and Tatum inflicted such pain by just exploding into their opponents.  
Of the two, Tatum was the most vicious. Harris had more speed. But both were free safeties, which meant that both often had free reign to roam the defensive secondary in zone coverages, which made the most of their talents. Harris finished his 10-year Hall of Fame career with 29 interceptions, while Tatum also played 10 years, and recorded 37 thefts. Both Harris and Tatum were members of Super Bowl championship teams. Both men had great defensive back nicknames too.  Harris was known as “Captain Crash,” and Tatum had the moniker “The Assassin.”  Both tags were appropriate for these two hitmen. 

So there you have it…11 men.  The best of the best on defense in pro football during the 1970s, in my opinion.  The debates and disagreements regarding this list are sure to follow.  But those debates are important, in getting fans to at least recall the great exploits of the men who played pro football during the 1970s.  Those players deserve to be remembered and lauded, even five decades later.

Sources Used: 
Siwoff, Seymour.  The 2014 Official NFL Record & Fact Book.  New York, NY: Time Home
Entertainment, Inc., 2014.

Joe Zagorski is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Pro Football Researchers Association. He runs a Facebook page entitled The NFL in the 1970s. He has written five pro football books, and he is currently working on a biography of former Miami Dolphins Hall of Fame offensive guard Larry Little.

Monday, June 20, 2022

The Los Angeles Rams Run Tampa-2 in 1971

 By John Turney

We've seen precursors to lots of things that were credited to one coach or another done prior to them entering the NFL.

Don Shula is has been called the godfather of Cover-2 not because he invented it but because he ran it (then called double zone) with the Dolphins a lot and it took them to a lot of success the early 1970s. 

When Bud Carson became the Steelers defensive coordinator in 1972 he was credited with a lot of the changes, especially when Jack Lambert became the middle linebacker in 1974. Lambert was athletic enough to run with a tight end or run "the pipe" or the "hole" in the middle of a Cover-2 defense, protecting the safeties that each had one-half of the field in the deep zones.

That was the roots of the Tampa-2.

Tony Dungy was on those Steelers teams and always credited Carson with the scheme even with any tweaks Dungy may have added when he became an NFL coach and especially when he became the
head man with the Buccaneers and the moniker of "Tampa-2" stuck.

But last year we showed an example of a Tampa-2ish coverage from 1951 that was interesting. It even had a zone blitz component to it.

Today we are sharing an All-22 shot of the 1971 Rams playing Tampa-2 against the division rival the San Francisco 49ers.
The Rams run it (Tom Catlin was the play caller, a holdover from the George Allen staff) from an overshifted front.

The 49ers run play action and it causes the outside linebackers to bite but when pass shows they fall to their underneath zones, Isiah Robertson and Jim Purnell have the hook/curls and the middle linebacker Marlin McKeever has the hole. Once pass shows he turns and runs to the middle of the field, deeper than the corners in the flats and the LBers in hook/curl. 

Brodie hits the split end Gene Washington in what Jon Gruden calls the "turkey hole" for a nice gain on an out-and-up route. The flanker ran an out to the far flat and the running backs and the tight end block ... so it turns out to be just a two-man route. 

Because of that Purnell the Sam 'backer (Stub in Rams terminology) stays on the tight end, fighting off the block since the fullback and running back are coming his way ... he drops a little late, more than likely.

Here are a few stills—

Even before this teams ran this on occasion prior to the Carson-Lambert marriage but it wasn't yet a "thing"—something a team does often as a predominant call. They'd do it on occasion not a regular call so it takes nothing away from Carson's contributions to football, it's just that there were some who did similar things earlier than he did.

Nothing wrong with that -- but before Carson it was just a change-up, something to make the quarterback think a little bit, to make it look a little different than the usually Cover-2 (double zone) or even Cover-2 latch—which is four under and two deep but the Sam linebacker takes the tight end man to man everywhere he goes . . . he "latches" to the tight end.

Anyway, hope you enjoyed this nugget. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

1952 PITTSBURGH STEELERS: "Don't Confront Me With My Failures"

By TJ Troup 
Tomorrow is Iain Matthews's birthday, and his rendition of Jackson Browne's "These Days" gives us the title for today's saga. A saga that was able to dig real deep on research due to having so many sources. Since there are so many sources, where to begin? 

How about a quote? David Neft & Richard Cohen in their Pro Football: The Early Years on page 200---"(T)he Steelers came out of the dark ages this year, led by a coach from the 1930's". Joe Bach left the Pittsburgh Pirates since he would rather coach at the college level. 

Since Micholesen failed in '51 the "Chief" Art Rooney brought him back. Chuck Cherundolo and Walt Kiesling coached the lineman and linebackers, but not sure who was the architect of the defense? Keith Molesworth helped coach the backfield, yet the key assistant coach use to employ Joe Bach in Detroit when he was head coach. That man Gus Dorais had a deep understanding of the passing game, and especially how to use backs as receivers along with the ends. 

Dorais and Bach would never complain, but both men had severe health issues. Thirty-six men suited up for the Steelers in '52 (only 35 are listed on roster sheets), with 12 of the 35 in their last or only year. The Steelers never had an opening day like September 28th of '52 as the Eagles and Steelers combined to gain 536 yards passing! When did Pittsburgh ever become involved in a passing game shootout to begin a campaign? 
On opening day at home against the Eagles the Pittsburgh defense was aligned in a 5-3-3. George Hays will start five games at left defensive end in his last year with the team. Hays always gives an effort but is not what you need in a strong side defensive end against either the run or pass. Rookie George Tarasovic starts at right linebacker for the first two games of the campaign, yet when he is moved to left defensive end he has found his niche. 

Powerful, surprisingly quick for a big man, and quickly learns the nuances of the position. He is always around the ball, is a hitter supreme, and demonstrates pass-rushing ability. Big George will go on to have a long and distinguished NFL career. Lou Ferry starts at left defensive tackle every week and battles hard. His long fumble return against the Cardinals is featured in the highlight film. He is not much of a pass rusher, and at times struggles shedding blocks, but is able in pursuit. 
Bow-legged lean Dale Dodrill mans the middle guard post and is asked to shoot gaps while playing against much bigger men. He is one of the many Steelers who contributes in the kicking game; as his blocked field goal touchdown return is also showcased in the highlight film. Fireplug d-tackle Alex Smail starts opening day against the Eagles, and then is released. 

The man who plays right defensive tackle for Pittsburgh is Ernie Stautner. His technique is interesting to say the least, yet much more important is his undeniable effort down after down. He is a relentless but not very effective pass rusher, but his ability to pursue is a key for any Steeler success on defense. Ernie earns his first pro bowl berth. 
Bill McPeak also earns his first Pro Bowl berth at right defensive end. Bill gives maximum effort, and though you see him on film closing in on the passer, he sure is not in the class of Len Ford in taking down quarterbacks. Dick Fugler plays some right d-tackle, and some offensive tackle in his only year in Pittsburgh. Since the Steelers record only 220 yards in sacks, the men in the secondary are sure under fire. 
Jack Butler finished his rookie year in 1951 playing well at right corner, but he starts slow in '52, and just not sure how many plays he misses the first few weeks of the year (especially opening day against the Eagles). Jack records just one interception the first seven games, and the highlight film shows him getting beat in man coverage, and being called for interference. Butler is a fierce run defender, and as the season progresses he begins to show what he will become—just one damn fine right corner—he was also the only player in the league that caught a touchdown pass, and intercepted a pass in the same game in the 1952 season.

Ed Kissell plays top-notch safety the first half of the season and ranks among the league leaders in interceptions. Strong in pursuit and a fine tackler, he is sorely missed the second half of the year. Rookie Claude Hipps starts at right corner opening day and also starts at left corner during the first half of the campaign. He is the starting safety the second half of year, and has the game of his life in the victory over NYG as he pilfers three passes. Claude is an average tackler at best, and he is out of position too many times to count. 

Veteran Howard Hartley usually is the starter at left corner. Hartley is never going to be selected for the Pro Bowl, but he is consistent. When a team in this era aligns in the 5-3 the linebackers have varied responsibilities against both the run and pass. Though he booed at times in his last year Frank Sinkovitz is the starter at right linebacker. He hustles, yet he rarely is a factor when the Steelers are playing strong defense. 

The middle linebacker is stumpy Darrell Hogan, and his responsibilities against the pass are sure unique. When Pittsburgh anticipates a pass due to down and distance Hogan leaves the middle and is aligned the left flat. Does this make him a corner? No, not really, and can only surmise he is to take the flanker or back out of the backfield man to man or play the short zone. Hogan does make some interceptions, yet he is out of position or beaten too often to count. He does not shed blocks well, and is an average tackler at best. 

Lou Levanti comes off the bench against the Browns in November in his only year and stands out on film due to his effort, and physical play. Surprised that another team did not give Lou a chance in '53? Levanti came in to replace Jerry Shipkey at left linebacker. He is again chosen for the pro bowl in his last year as a Steeler, and he ends his time in Pittsburgh playing linebacker the way it should be played. Savvy, strong, skilled in all facets of linebacker play...Shipkey is by far the best defensive player on the Steelers. Overall Pittsburgh ranked 11th in yards allowed, and ranked 10th in the defensive passer rating category with a mark of 62.2 (league average was 57.7). 

When the Steelers won it was simply because the offense was productive and scored enough. The Browns traveled to Forbes Field for a Saturday night game in week two, as Cleveland held on to win. Losing the return match to a vastly improved Eagle team in week three buried the Steelers in the American conference basement. 

The last play of the game Bobby Walston lined up to attempt his fifth successful field goal, but a bad snap denied him tying the record. There were four lead changes, yet here they are in last place. Returning home to take on a Redskin team that no one would mistake as a contender—the Steelers are beaten 28-24. 

Quoting Rich Tandler is his book " Paul Lipscomb ended a Steeler drive with a shoestring tackle of Ed Modzelewski at the Washington 45 and the Redskins soon had the ball back. An eight-yard pass from LeBaron to Gene Brito kept the drive alive by converting a third and six. As the clock ran down to two minutes, Washington faced a fourth and three at the Pittsburgh 34. LeBaron appeared to be trapped as he faded back to pass, but eluded several would-be tacklers and zipped a pass across the field that Julie Rykovich caught and then the receiver successfully fought for the first down. 

After that, The Washington drive was a success—even though it didn't result in any points—as the Redskins drove to the two before allowing time to run out". Over the course of the next three weeks the Steelers are outgained 1,197 yards to 680, but they win two of the three. The Black and Gold are being pummeled by Cleveland in the second meeting, but this is a team that has a never say die attitude as Jim Finks engineers 28 points, yet alas they fall short by a point. Shall we take an in-depth look at who played for Pittsburgh on offense? 

Before leaving for the military rookie Rudy Andabaker started at left guard for the first five games. Though undersized he was excellent at the trap block, and battled much bigger d-tackles as a pass protector. John "bull" Schweder began the year as the starter at left offensive tackle and then moved to left guard to replace young Rudy. Schweder was not as effective as Andabaker at pulling or trapping, yet was consistent in performance all year. In his last year Earl Murray took over at left tackle. Murray was adequate at best as either a pass protector or drive blocker. 

Bill Walsh was no longer a Pro Bowl center, yet his experience and savvy were sorely needed. Pete Ladygo started at right guard all year, and was joined on the right side by George Hughes. Hughes was selected for the Pro Bowl in '51 and '53, but not this year. Pittsburgh finished dead last in team rushing with just 1,204 yards. Opponent pass rushers took down Pittsburgh passers for 313 yards (league average was 302). 

Simply stated the Steeler o-line was a consistent yet very average group. Since the Steelers finally scored 300 points in a season, the firepower had to come from somewhere, and the offensive backfield was talented, productive, and made an abundance of impressive plays during '52. First-round draft choice Ed "Big Mo" Modelewski ran hard, blocked, and could catch, yet he just did not provide much overall. 

Opening day he gained 45 yards rushing on just nine carries, and the rest of the year you ask? Why 150 yards on 73 carries. Veteran Fran Rogel got plenty of playing time, and as always ran hard straight ahead, and caught a few passes. Jack Spinks was granted an opportunity in the fourth week of the year, and gained 84 yards on just 17 carries over the course of two games, and then played sparingly. The rotation at fullback did not help the Steelers in offensive production. Tom Calvin played some halfback and defensive back early in the year and then was basically a special teams player. 
The two halfbacks in Pittsburgh both earned a Pro Bowl berth, and were deserved. Ray Mathews and Lynn Chandnois would run inside when asked, yet that was not the strength of their game. Mathews would be flanked out as a receiver, sometimes go in motion, and ran the sweep play very well. He ranked among the league leaders in receiving all year, and though he dropped a pass sometimes, he was swift enough to get open deep and make big plays. 

Ray also had the most productive rushing game by a Steeler all year when he gained 76 yards in the loss to Washington. Lynn Chadnois would usually be aligned as a halfback in the backfield, though once and a while would be flanked out or aligned as a wingback. This alignment gave Pittsburgh a single back look, and stretched the opponent defense in attempting to cover both of the fleet Steeler backs. Chandnois had a 100-yard receiving game against the Lions, and was effective on circle routes or up the sideline on deep routes. 
The last few weeks of the year he was much more involved and productive in the Steeler ground game. Chandnois was a willing blocker, but Mathews was never going to be asked to do this. Jim Finks will tie Otto Graham for the league lead in touchdown passes with 20, and film study shows he is ready to lead this team from the T-formation, or the "spread" when Bach & Dorais wanted to attack opponent defenses from this formation. 

Jim Finks was also chosen for the American Conference team for the pro bowl. He could and did rifle the ball when needed, and he displayed touch on his passes while having the requisite arm strength to go deep. Finks and Mathews even took a few turns in the secondary when asked. Rookie George Sulima and Dick Hensley shared the left end post for Pittsburgh. Sulima caught some passes the first half of the year, but down the stretch the position belonged to Hensley. Dick had a game for the ages against NYG in late November in his only year in Pittsburgh. Veteran right end Elbie Nickel was the captain of the team and sparkled all year. Nickel was a polished route runner, and just never ever dropped a pass. 

The visual of him with his short choppy strides breaking open to nab a Finks pass was the highlight for this team all year. Week twelve Pittsburg now with a record of 5-6 was in Los Angeles to take on a Ram team that also became rejuvenated and could earn a playoff berth with a win. Nickel before the largest crowd to ever see the Steeler play (74,130) caught 7 passes for 154 yards in the second half(he grabbed 3 for 46 in the first half). 

Captain Elbie was also one of the seven Steelers selected for the pro bowl, and he would be my choice for offensive MVP. Ed Kissell was the kicker to begin the year, but was not very accurate as a field goal kicker, and was replaced by backup rookie quarterback Gary Kerkorian. Gary got some playing time as the triggerman, and his unique short punch style as a kicker was effective as he made a few field goals. 

Left-footed Pat Brady was a superb booming punter, and even completed a pass from punt formation in the blowout win over NYG. Mathews on punt returns, and Chandnois on kick-off returns were valuable weapons in the Steeler arsenal. Pittsburgh was adequate in covering kick-offs, and as the year progressed improve dramatically in punt coverage. Opponents returned 23 punts for just 176 yards in the five Steeler victories.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Jeff Kerr: "The 10 Greatest Defensive Players of All-time"

By TJ Troup 
Jeff Kerr at CBS Sports recently listed the 10 greatest defensive players of all-time. Wow! That is truly a difficult assignment, and no doubt Kerr saw every Hall of Fame defensive player from 1950 through 2021 play in person, right? Oh, he did not? 

Well then he studied hours of film of these men, and based his evaluations upon having played and coached this game of passion? Oh, he did not? 

Rather than continue to challenge his list, how about you folks that read the Journal listing your top ten, and you might want to add a short phrase or two to explain what put this man on your list. For me, that would be entertaining, and insightful. 

Steve Sabol did NOT have Jeff Kerr as one of the members of his "Blue Ribbon Panel" to select the 100 greatest players of all-time. Bet all of you can guess who was on the Blue Ribbon Panel. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Playing to Win

 By Eric Goska

Vince Lombardi is one of six men to produce
a winning record while coaching the Packers

Win. It’s the goal of every coach, player and team in the National Football League.

Win. It’s what the Green Bay Packers have been doing since their earliest days.

Now, all that hard work by the Pack might pay off in a uniquely satisfying way. Green Bay – at the expense of its oldest rival, the Chicago Bears – has a chance to become the winningest team in NFL history.

The Packers enter the 2022 season with 782 regular-season wins. The Bears have 783.

Should both teams post records similar to what they have over the past three seasons, the Green and Gold will supplant Chicago at No. 1.

This run at the record has been a long time in the making. Chicago has been king of the mountain for just over 100 years.

The Bears are one of two remaining teams (Cardinals) that were part of the original NFL (then called the American Professional Football Association) in 1920. Chicago posted the most or second most regular-season wins in 19 of the first 30 years of league play (1920-1949).

A number of teams, most notably the Buffalo All-Americans and the Akron Pros, challenged Chicago for supremacy in those first two years. But after Dutch Sternaman booted a third-quarter field goal to down the All-Americans 10-7 on Dec. 4, 1921, Chicago moved out front for good.

The Packers joined the APFA in 1921. Though they produced winners in 26 of their first 27 seasons, the team could not catch the Bears.

Second fiddle – or worse – for a century, Green Bay is poised to wrest the mantle from their longtime nemesis. What’s amazing: 30 years ago this would have been unthinkable.

Back then, the Packers were coming off a 4-12 record. That dismal showing cost head coach Lindy Infante his job.

In the 24 seasons between Vince Lombardi’s departure as coach and Mike Holmgren’s arrival at the helm, Green Bay suffered through 15 losing campaigns. The team’s regular-season record during that time (146-201-9) hardly inspired confidence.

As 1992 dawned, the Bears had 561 regular-season wins to 476 for the Packers. Chicago was up by 85 wins.

The turnaround engineered by the Green and Gold after that low point has been nothing short of remarkable. That the resurgence could possibly enter a fourth decade boggles the mind as well.

Over the last 30 years, the Packers have gone 306-173-2 during the regular season. The Bears are 222-259-0. That’s a difference of 84 victories.

Only one team – the New England Patriots – won more games during a 30-year stretch.

Green Bay has been fortunate that each of its last six coaches – Holmgren (75-37), Ray Rhodes (8-8), Mike Sherman (57-39), Mike McCarthy (125-77-2), Joe Philbin (2-2) and Matt LaFleur (39-10) – all finished .500 or better over that span. That’s rare in this business.

Furthermore, the team has had two world-class quarterbacks – Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers – for most of that stretch. Favre (160-93) and Rodgers (139-66-1) were the starters for 299 of those 306 wins.

And so Green Bay enters the 2022 season having won 13 regular-season games in each of its last three seasons. The Bears have not had a winning record during that time.

Based on that, expect the Packers to pull ahead of the Bears sooner rather than later, maybe even when Chicago comes to Lambeau Field on Sept. 18 in Week 2. What not to expect: Green Bay to hold onto the record for as long as the Bears did.

Extra Points

  • The Packers already have the highest regular-season winning percentage (.572) in NFL history ahead of the Cowboys (.571).
  • Green Bay has also posted more winning seasons (64) than any team. The Bears are second with 58.

Stacking Wins Across the Decades
The 10 teams with 550 or more regular-season wins in NFL history.
     No.        Team                                                      Years
     783        Chicago Bears                                      1920-2021
     782        Green Bay Packers                             1921-2021
     706        New York Giants                                1925-2021
     652        Pittsburgh Steelers                            1933-2021
     617        Washington Commanders                1932-2021
     599        Los Angeles Rams                              1937-2021
     594        Philadelphia Eagles                            1933-2021
     577        Arizona Cardinals                               1920-2021
     570        Detroit Lions                                        1930-2021
     561        San Francisco 49ers                           1950-2021

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Connor and Lane Each Pick off Two

 By TJ Troup and John Turney 
George Connor stiff arms Vitamin T. Smith 

October 26th, 1952. 

In the 2nd quarter, Curley Morrison has punted to Woodley Lewis early in the 2nd quarter, and Rams begin on own 35. Rams lead at this point in the game 3-0. Towler had thundered off tackle for 29, and one first down Bob Waterfield completed to Smith for 9, so on 2nd and one at the Bears twenty-seven George Conner intercepts and returns 22 going from his own ten to thirty-two. 

In the third quarter as Bears lead 7-3 and Night Train Lane intercepts Steve Romanik on Bear thirty-nine and rambles 20 yards to nineteen. Rams have 4th and 9 on the eighteen, and instead of kicking field goal, Bob Waterfield is again intercepted by Conner, this time on six, and he returns 9 yards. Not 100% sure, yet believe this is where the photo comes from, as Big George stiff arms Smith on return. Bears advance to mid-field as the quarter ends.

George Blanda is short on 51-yard field goal attempt, and the 4th Q is all Rams. The "lights are turned on" at the Coliseum after Quinlan's touchdown run, and Romanik on first down is intercepted again by Night Train on the Bear thirty-four and he weaves his way to four-yard line. 

So in this game, we have George Conner's only two-interception game of his career and the Night Train's first two-interception game. The player roster lists him as an end, not a back. Believe this is just his second start at right corner...he did NOT start the first three games...Pro Football Reference has this listed incorrectly 

Also on this date, and is significant, the best pass-rushing day in NFL history as the Texans & Niners combine for the most sack yards ever in a game, and Norm "Wild Man" Willey & Pete Pihos take down Connerly and Benners for 127 yards on 14 sacks—Paul "Dr. Z" Zimmerman attended and charted the game and insisted that Willey had 8 sacks on the day. 

Friday, June 3, 2022

The 1951 Washington Redskins: "Two Hundred Million Guns are Loaded, Satan Cries 'Take Aim'"

By TJ Troup 
Gene Brito being tackled by the Bears, including #22 George Blanda

When the saga of the 1950 New York Yanks was completed, I thought to myself is there a team pre-1953 that could be evaluated, and written about that there is enough film to capture who they were, and how well they played? 

Hell yes, there is since thanks to Steve Sabol & Chris Willis at NFL Films have plenty of footage of the Redskins from 1951. The title of this saga comes from Mr. John Cameron Fogerty and one of his classic songs. This is not a team that is playoff bound, yet they are part of a very significant era in league history. 

The significance is the transition on defense in the NFL, and almost as important, how quarterbacks and coaches tried to exploit the adjustments and alignments on defense. A team with a rich history is going to have books written about them, and boy oh boy have plenty to quote in this story. 

Ready? Here goes—

Redskins on defense: opening day against the Lions on the road and Bobby Layne leads a Detroit team that Buddy Parker believes will be a contender to a 35-17 victory. Washington coached by Herman Ball has a number of new starters on defense; especially in the secondary. 

Rookie Ed Salem starts the first seven games at left corner, and though he ranks among the league leaders in interceptions early in the year he cannot keep his starting post the whole year. He hustles, and is a willing run defender but he ends his only year in the league on the bench. Bill Cox starts at left safety when the 'Skins are in a 5-2-4 defense. Cox is an adequate tackler who usually takes proper angles in pursuit, yet many times on film he is beaten on pass defense. 

When Washington is in an eight-man front he is the single safety, and he is being asked to do more than he is capable of doing. The right safety for the 'Skins is a revolving door as many men play the position, and of course,

some are better than others. Billy Cox does get some playing time here, yet Harry Gilmer, Bill Dudley also get a chance to play this spot. The two men though that get the bulk of the playing time are Harry Dowda, and Jack Dwyer. Dwyer moves to left corner late in the year to replace Salem. 

Dwyer is combative, and a decent tackler in his last year in Washington. Dowda is a hitter, hustler, and will play for a number of teams in his career—especially at both corner positions. Neil Ferris is the nominal starter at right corner, and much like Salem he is willing and hustles; he just does not make many plays. Washington ranks 8th in the league in the defensive passer rating category with a mark of 64.0 (league average is 55.6). 

The 'Skins win five games during the campaign and the defensive passer rating is 53.9 in those contests, while 69.3 in the seven losses. These numbers and the revolving door in the secondary tells us the secondary is not a team strength. The home opener on October 7th brings long-time rival NYG to town. Just under 24,000 fans watch a strong contending Giant team physically whip the Skins. 

Lean Ed Berrang plays left defensive end for the second and last time in this game. He is replaced by Jim Peebles. Walt Yowarsky becomes the starter at left defensive end, and while is not very effective on wide running plays he has a future in the league due to his athleticism. He probably led the team in sacks, just ahead of Lipscomb, and Hendren. 

Lou Karras is the starter at left defensive tackle all season, and the second-year man battles one and all. He is not an effective pass rusher, but since the team recorded only 147 yards in sacks, that begs the question who was? Middle guard in either the 5-2-4 or 5-3-3 defense is split between massive Jim Ricca and John Badaczewski. Neither man was strong at stopping inside runs. 
Washington in a 6-2 Double Eagle alignment with the
linebackers outside the defensive ends
Right defensive tackle is held down by the best player on the defense; Pro Bowl-bound Paul Lipscomb. Excellent technique coupled with strength, and his ability to shed blocks and pursue were a bright spot during the campaign. When Herman Ball is dismissed after three games George Preston Marshall wants to hire Bears assistant Hunk Anderson. 

George Halas demands that Lipscomb be part of the deal, thus there is league-wide respect for big Paul. Any defensive end who stands 6'8'' inches tall stands out on film, thus Bob Hendren in his last year is easily seen and can be evaluated. Big Bob records a few sacks, and attempts to play the sweep his side, but he is not very quick or effective, and as the year goes on veteran Joe Tereshinski takes over. Tereshinski also plays plenty on offense. 

The Redskins align in a 5-2-4, 5-3-3, and early in the year a 6-2 defense. Add to the mix that in games where they are struggling to stop opposing offenses they even align in a couple strange/exotic alignments. The 'Skins try, they just aren't very consistent. 
Washington, versus the New York Giants, in a more traditional 6-2
with linebackers inside the defensive tackles
Since they have multiple alignments, the linebackers must make adjustments in the varied alignments. Ed Quirk in his last year plays in six games, and in the past he was a rock-solid player, but this year he is a detriment, and rarely makes a play. George Buksar is an excellent pass defender at right linebacker (some at left linebacker), and is an adequate run defender. Al DeMao is listed as the starting center at the Pro Football Reference site. He was not. DeMao is the starting right linebacker most of the year. Experienced and savvy he makes play against both the run and pass, and can be aligned in all defenses and handle his assignment. 

Second-year man Chuck Drazenovich will play fullback on offense early in the year, but he is the key to the defense. Usually, the starting left linebacker in the 5-2, he moves to the middle in the 5-3-3. Charley Cro misses three games (more on that later in this saga), but when he is on the field he is a difference-maker. He has stardom written all over him, he just needs experience. 
       Chuck Drazenovich (#36) forces a fumble
David Elfin's book the Washington Redskins the Complete Illustrated History has a quote from Drazenovich from Jack Clary's book "I always had a good grasp of the game"...boy oh boy did you ever Charley Cro! The defending league champion Browns are playing their home opener on October the 14th, and watching the game film is like watching the varsity scrimmage the JV' Cleveland wins handily 45-0. 

The Washington defense has allowed 115 points in three loses, and has a record of 7-22-1 their last thirty games. Is a change coming? Is George Preston Marshall is racist/bigot? Dick Todd understands football and was part of the 'Skins success in the '40s and though he probably spent more time working with the offense, he was a fine defensive back in his playing career, and attempted to solidify the defense. 

Todd's first game as head coach is against the Chicago Cardinals, and watching a 7-3 victory might sound boring, but the 'Skins turn away Trippi and the Cardinals time and time again in the red zone to win. Washington has lost to Philadelphia four consecutive times at Shibe Park, so the 27-23 victory had to taste mighty sweet to Coach Todd and his newly invigorated Tribe. 

Washington returns home to play a Chicago Bears team that is fighting for first place in the National Conference. Drazenovich misses this game, and attempting to play middle linebacker is offensive guard Herb Siegert in his last year. The Bears pound away for over 300 yards running the ball. Siegert is a guard and certainly not a linebacker as the film shows. Ricca has his ass kicked by Bulldog Turner, and no one on defense played a consistent strong game. 

The 'Skins even aligned Buksar behind Siegert for additional strength up the middle to no avail as the Bears went around, and through Washington in a 27-0 loss. The Redskins travel to the Polo Grounds to take on the Giants on November 11th, and are beaten 28-14. Thus the American Conference standings have Washington in sixth place at 2-5 with virtually no chance to win the division title as Cleveland and New York are simply the class of the conference. 

Though very few folks would ever state that the Steelers and Skins were one of the better rivalries during this era, many of their games were hard-fought, and gripping with tension down to the wire. The 'Skins have beaten the Steelers the last two years at Forbes Field, and are ultra-impressive in the 22-7 win. Washington was behind 7-6 at the half thanks to Ray Mathews brilliant punt return score for the black and gold, but the second half is all burgundy and gold as Bill Dudley knocks through three field goals, and fullback Rob Goode scored a late touchdown. Washington returns home to take on the poweful Los Angeles Rams. 

Were the Rams looking ahead to their match-up with the Bears, did Los Angeles just not think the 'Skins were any good? Sure wish I had the complete game film of the 'Skins 31-21 win, but do have a couple of quotes. Rich Tandler in his book "The Redskins Chronicle" states "the Redskins racked up 371 yards rushing in the course of thumping the Rams in a game that was not nearly the contest the 31-21 final score might indicate". Since the 'Skins offense was the reason for victory let's take a long hard look at the Washington offense? 

Coach Todd must have believed that his team could run the ball, and as such that is emphasis when they had the ball. Harry Gilmer was suppose to be the next great quarterback when he entered the league, and he began the year as the starter. Three losses and back in the saddle is Slingin' Sam. Washington will align in the t-formation, and also utilize the spread, and versions of a double wing. Baugh has lost his fastball, and there are games he is picked off, but so was Gilmer who had a rocket arm, and throw the ball a country mile. Baugh in year fifteen almost never has to run, and of course that was never part of his game. 
Sammy Baugh hits Gene Brito (#80) 

Gilmer actually was ranked in the top ten in rushing after three weeks, and had the speed, and elusiveness to get you yards. Did he struggle reading coverage, or being patient? Film study tells us that he would pull the ball down and take off at a moments notice. Baugh still could take his team down the field to victory, and in the upset over Philadelphia he gained 203 yards on his eight completions. The next week though he gained 247 against NYG he was picked off six times—ouch! 

Early in the year Bob Hendren and Gene Pepper got a chance to nail down the right offensive tackle post, but both are found wanting, and as such Coach Todd turns to veteran end Jim Peebles. He is the nominal starter at right offensive tackle the rest of the year. Quoting John Turney "He is athletic, good feet, and his height was an advantage". Both Pepper and Hendren will still get to play some. The starting right guard is Casimir Witucki...otherwise known as "Slug". Listed at 5'11'' 245 he actually looks shorter. Adequate at inline blocks, and pulling on traps and sweeps, he stands out in pass protection since he battles so hard. Again, quoting John Turney, "Harry Ulinski is their best offensive lineman". This is his only year in Washington, and he was the starter all season at center. 

Herb Siegert started at left guard, and was asked to trap, and lead counter plays, and he did this well. Drive blocking and pass protection he is adequate at best. Buddy Brown played both guard positions, and even some d-line. The starting left tackle is Laurie Niemi and quoting John...."Average at best". He struggled in pass protection due to footwork, and was not the pile driver you want on inside running plays. Laurie Niemi was selected for the Pro Bowl, and just not sure how that happened? Later in his career, he played on the defensive side of the ball. 

When the 'Skins did decide to pass there were capable receivers in the Tepee to help Baugh and Gilmer. Left end Bones Taylor began the year among the league leaders with 12 catches for 188 yards after just three games. Since Washington became a running team Taylor was still part of the game plan, just not as often. During the victory over Pittsburgh he did not even catch one pass. Taylor would be split out, but more often than not he was aligned at tight end left, and never ever blocked anyone. 
Again, Baugh to Brito
The right end is 17th round rookie draft choice Gene Brito (in Jack Clary's book great teams, great seasons on page 158 he states Brito was a number one draft pick") oops Jack do some research. A punishing blocker with excellent technique and a never say die attitude, he also was effective and productive as a receiver. Usually on short routes, yet he did make a few long receptions, and a couple were spectacular. His ability run after the catch was also impressive. 

A bright, bright future for this dedicated youngster. Filling in was veteran Joe Tereshinski, and when Joe was aligned at right end, Brito would move to left end, and as sure as your born, the play was a run to Brito's side, and he made the block. Bill Dudley was asked to pass when the tailback in Pittsburgh, but those days are long gone. 

Bullet Bill threw one pass all year. Frigid day in the snow against the Steelers and Bill was on the mark for 13 yards to Brito. Since he does not pass anymore, what does he do? He had his moments running the ball both off tackle, and outside. Washington defeated the Cardinals twice and in those victories Dudley gained 195 yards on just 25 carries! His greatest value though was as a receiver out of the backfield. Surehanded, and an excellent route runner he gained 94 yards receiving in the loss to the Giants. Thirty-eight times during the season of '51 a receiver in the league had a 100-yard receiving game, but nary a Redskin accomplished this achievement—the only team without a 100-yard receiver. 

The rest of the backs caught a pass here or there, with George Thomas the only deep receiving threat. Thomas had speed, yet his longest run from scrimmage was 17 yards. Leon Heath also was given a chance to show what he could do, but besides his outstanding game against the Rams he did very little. Someone had to carry the load, but after three games Rob Goode had gained 96 yards on 30 carries, and Washington was winless. 

Todd changed the focus of the offense and Goode responded. Seven times he gained at least 100 yards rushing in a game, and just three times in his 208 carries did he have a run of longer than 25 yards. Goode was adept running inside following trap blocks, and equally adept at bouncing off tacklers and getting outside. He ended the season with 571 yards rushing in his last five games of the year. How many runners previous to him ever gained that many yards to close a season? Since Washington is 4-5 after the win over the Rams. 

The question is a simple one, can this band of warriors continue to win? They stumble at home in the rematch with Philadelphia, but eke out a win over the Cardinals at Comiskey. Finishing the season at .500 may not seem like much, but considering the start of the season, going 6-3 would be quite an achievement. December 16th at home with a snow-covered field and frigid temperatures will take on a Steeler team that has won just three times, and scored just 163 points all year. 
Rod Goode (#21) carries in snow-covered field in game vs Steelers
The game has been written about due to Jim Finks taking the Steeler offense out of the dark ages as he completes second-half passes to Minarik and Chandnois. Twenty-fourth quarter points puts a "W" in the win column for Pittsburgh, and both teams end with a season total of 183 points scored. The game is chock full of turnovers for both teams. Chuck Drazenovich sparkles against both the pass and run, yet the game belongs to Finks and his receivers. Rob Goode pounded out 107 yards rushing for the 'Skins, yet he loses the rushing title to Eddie Price. 

On page 291 of the NFL Encyclopedia the text states "Rob Goode of Texas A&M became the closest thing the Redskins ever had to a 1,000 yard runner". Where do the 'Skins go from here you ask? Quoting Richard Whittingham's Washington Redskins Illustrated History on page 127; "it proved to be Sammy Baugh's last year as starting quarterback, even though Gilmer again failed to show the greatness he had as a college player". The draft will bring in a couple of quarterbacks, and one of them proves to be a fascinating part of Redskin history in diminutive Eddie LeBaron. That is a story for another day.