Tuesday, January 31, 2023

TUESDAY TIDBITS: "You Play to Win the Game"

By TJ Troup 
There are a handful of men who have been employed by both teams, thus the title of this narrative from Herman Edwards. 

When the merger happened in 1970 the league and schedule makers decided to have each team play three games from the other conference. Since each conference had thirteen teams, would take four years plus before each team had played ALL of the different teams from the opposing conference. Ed Khayat took over the Eagles during the '71 season for Jerry Williams who had struggled in the win column. Philadelphia finished strong in '71. 

Street & Smith's 1972 publication picked Philadelphia to finish third in the very strong NFC east, though many questions remained of just how good was Philly? Especially at quarterback. 

John Reaves was drafted to be the savior, while Pete Liske would have to improve dramatically to keep the job. The 1971 Kansas City Chiefs had a memorable playoff loss to end their season, but had plenty of talent, and as such Street & Smith's picked them to win the AFC west over a tough, and talented Oakland Raider team. 

The Chiefs win three of their first five games in '72 and are at home to take on the winless Eagles in the first-ever regular season match-up of these two teams. Philadelphia's schedule to open '72 is a daunting one, and though they are 0-5. How many other teams could have beaten the likes of Dallas, Cleveland, NYG, Washington, and Los Angeles? 

So let's take a closer look to the first time these two teams met. 

Pete Liske is back as the starting quarterback on a cool, cloudy day in Kansas City. Liske rolls left on the Eagles first possesion and rifles the ball to running back Po James in the middle of the field. Mike Sensibaugh of the Chiefs breaks up the pass attempt, but as he loses his balance and is falling the pigskin bounces off his lower leg toward the sideline. The ball is high enough for veteran receiver Ben Hawkins to run to, grab the ball, and dash to the end zone and still has his chin strap unfastened to score on the 67-yard play. 
Ben Hawkins
Later in the quarter fleet Harold Jackson (he has a monster year in '72) easily runs past Marsalis up the right sideline and catches the well-thrown Liske pass for the second Philadelphia touchdown. 

Second quarter and Super Bill Bradley punts to Marshall, who fumbles—Eagle ball on the forty-one. Liske finds a wide-open Jackson near the Kansas City end zone for touchdown number three....who would have predicted a 21-0 Philadelphia road lead? Liske finishes the first half 7 of 8 for 193 yards (second half he is 1 of 4 for 16 yards). 

The Chiefs fight back and narrow the gap to 21-20, but that is the final score. This Week in the NFL shows highlights of the game, and a key play during the second half is the Podolak fumble where a number of Eagles and Chiefs have a chance of recovery before Len Dawson comes out of the pile on a play that loses 29 yards.

Veteran Don Hultz keys a strong Eagle pass rush with two sacks. Gee wonder if we will see a Philadelphia pass rush on February 12th, 2023? 

Hawkins and Jackson both catch 3 for 93 yards in the Eagle victory, is the law firm of Smith & Brown listening? Based upon where you finished in the standings, and since Philadelphia is in a five-team division (this affected scheduling) these two teams met only three times from 1970 through 2000! Since then they have played six times. 
The Chiefs lead the series 5-4, and the points scored are 219-218. If this is an indicator for the upcoming game we should see a VERY CLOSE battle. Much will be written about Andy Reid, yet Edwards, Dick Vermeil, and Carl Peterson all had success with both franchises. Enjoy the game, and my next column will be in mid-March.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Playoff Judgments III

 By Clark Judge 
Patrick Mahomes
Credit: NFL Game Pass
After what we just witnessed from Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, it’s hard not to like them as your next Super Bowl champions. Except history … and maybe common sense … offers a different message.

It tells us to beware.

First, let’s deal with the common sense. The Eagles are loaded -- offense, defense, special teams, coaching, you name it. Everywhere you look, they’re stacked with talent … and the results speak for themselves. They won a franchise-record 14 games this season, were the NFC’s top playoff seed and just shredded two playoff opponents by a combined score of 69-14.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, that last item is significant. Only four other teams in NFL playoff history won division and conference championship games in the same season by at least 21 points each … and all four won Super Bowls. Moreover, the last time the Eagles allowed seven or fewer points in consecutive postseason games was 1948 and 1949.

They won league titles both years.

But wait a minute. Kansas City has Mahomes, Kelce and a quick-strike offense, right? Correct. In fact, they’re the fourth team in the past 10 years to lead the league in total offense and reach the Super Bowl. The others were Denver in 2013, New England in 2017 and the Chiefs in 2020 … and quick now, tell me what those three have in common?

Uh-huh, all of them lost.

That covers the history portion of today’s lesson. Now for the common sense. I’ve said this before and it’s apparent now more than ever: Philadelphia is the most complete football team anywhere. Entering this season, the one question mark about the Eagles involved their quarterback, but all Jalen Hurts has done is win 16 of his 17 starts, including the playoffs, and evolve into an MVP candidate.

That award almost certainly will go to Mahomes, and it should. But one individual won’t determine the outcome of Super Bowl LVII. One team will, and the Eagles have the defense, the offense, an MVP-worthy quarterback and a head coach who’s taken them to the playoffs twice in two years.

In short, they’re covered everywhere.

Defense wins championships, we’re constantly reminded, and Philadelphia this season led the league in pass defense and led it in sacks -- setting a franchise record with 78, including the playoffs. That’s why I didn’t think it mattered who won Sunday’s AFC championship game. The Eagles would beat either team.

Then why did oddsmakers make Kansas City an early one-point favorite? Good question. My guess: It’s all about Mahomes and Reid and their Big Game experience. It’s their third Super Bowl in four years. But I don’t trust the odds. I trust history. And history tells us that defense will prevail … just as it did the last time Mahomes and Kansas City reached the Super Bowl vs. Tampa Bay.

Super Bowl LVII may be the Andy Reid Bowl, but my guess is that when it’s over, it will read more like that T-shirt that former Eagles’ star Brian Dawkins wore Sunday.

It said: “It’s a Philly Thing.”


1.       Arrowhead is not “Burrowhead.” Prior to Sunday, Joe Burrow was so successful in Kansas City (3-0) that his teammates called the Chiefs’ stadium “Burrowhead.” Big mistake. That didn’t go down well with the Chiefs, who last week vowed to set the record straight when the two teams met Sunday. They did with a 23-20 victory.

2.       Burrow- Mahomes is this decade’s Brady-Manning. They’ve gone mano-a-mano four times, with each game decided by three points. Mahomes is 27, Burrow is 26. Do the math. You have at least another decade of head-on collisions with these two.

3.       Kyle Shanahan is not a genius. If he were, the 49ers’ head coach never would have left a backup tight end to pass block Haason Reddick. “That injury (to Brock Purdy) is on Kyle,” said former Bay Area columnist Lowell Cohn. Bingo.

4.       The NFL should dress three quarterbacks for games. It did until 2011. It should again. The 49ers-Eagles game demonstrated why. “Not having three bona fide quarterbacks available for each team is a terrible look for the sport,” said former Jets’ GM Mike Tannenbaum.

5.       Andy Reid is Hall of Fame worthy. He has more playoff victories (21) than everyone not named Bill Belichick (31) and just advanced to his third Super Bowl in four years. That puts him in rarified air. Throw in 10 conference championship game appearances (five in each conference), and he’s a slam dunk for Canton. But now it’s all about the legacy. With another Super Bowl victory, he takes a giant step forward and starts to be compared with some of the all-time greats.


1.       So much for Mahomes being impaired by playing on one leg. He accounted for 323 of the Chiefs’ 357 yards.

2.       Not sure who had a worse day in Philadelphia: Brock Purdy or the refs.

3.       I guess Joe Cool is not Joe Cold. Until Sunday, Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow was 8-0 in games where the temperature at kickoff was below 40 degrees. It was 22 in Kansas City when the game started, and 23-20, Chiefs, when it was over.

4.       Good to see Reid call out a “phenomenal” job by Steve Spagnuolo’s defense. Mahomes will get the headlines for his courageous performance, but it was the Kansas City defense that kept Burrow and the Bengals at bay. It produced five sacks (including four in the first half), two turnovers and forced a punt on Cincinnati’s last meaningful possession.

5.       And while we’re on the subject … welcome back, Chris Jones. Hard to believe, but he’d gone 13 playoff games without a sack. Then he terrorized Burrow, with two sacks, five quarterback hits and three tackles for losses. In fact, it was Jones who dropped Burrow with 41 seconds left to force that Cincinnati’s punt.

6.       Love this take from Darin Gantt: “Let this be a lesson for NFL teams looking to replicate the Eagles’ formula: If you want to make a Super Bowl, what you really need to do is make sure your opponents run out of quarterbacks.”

7.       Now we know there’s one thing that Jalen Hurts can’t do. Sing.

8.       Miami just hired Vic Fangio as its defensive coordinator. Smart move.

9.       It’s one thing to lose. It’s another to lose discipline and poise. The 49ers did both.

10.   Get ready to hear plenty from Donna and Ed Kelce the next two weeks. Their sons, Travis and Jason, are the first two brothers to oppose each other in a Super Bowl.

11.   Memo to Andy Reid: Reserve two game balls for Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor and defensive lineman Joseph Ossai. Taylor took an unnecessary timeout with 48 seconds left that wound up costing him, while Ossai outdid his head coach with an out-of-bounds hit on Mahomes that drew a flag and set up the game-winning field goal. “Stupid is as stupid does,” that esteemed philosopher, Forrest Gump, once reminded us. Someone pass the word to the Bengals.

12.   Great note per Rick Gosselin: Since the Cowboys’ last appearance in a conference championship game (January, 1996), 26 of the other 31 teams have been there. Carolina and Jacksonville are expansion franchises that date back to 1995, yet they’ve been to seven combined.

13.   Tell me again how Carolina let Haason Reddick and Christian McCaffrey go.

14.   Coming soon to Pay Per View: Trent Williams vs. K’Von Wallace.

15.   San Francisco’s DeMeco Ryans was on a lot of short lists of teams seeking new head coaches, and he should have been. But what about Jonathan Gannon? He’s the Eagles’ defensive coordinator, and that’s the unit that knocked two quarterbacks out of Sunday’s game … forced three turnovers … and put the 49ers in a fetal position the entire second half. In two playoff games, Gannon’s defense surrendered just 14 points, and, yeah, I think that merits a call.

16.   Memo to Kyle Shanahan: When a receiver bounces up from a “catch” and calls for a quick snap, you might want to think about calling for a review. Just sayin.’

17.   The Super Bowl will be a challenge for referee Carl Cheffers. His crew was the only one this season to call more than 200 penalties, the ninth straight season it topped 200. The NFL likes to cut back on flags in the playoffs. Cheffers doesn’t like to cut down on flags, period.

18.   Miami GM Chris Grier believes Tua Tagovailoa is no more prone to concussions than anyone else, but how would he know? Miami is the team that kept pushing Tua on to the field after he was first hurt.

19.   Mahomes called Tom Brady last week for advice, and whatever he said must have worked. But what can Brady tell him about the Eagles? When he faced them in Super Bowl LII, he threw for 505 yards and three TDs. He also lost, 41-33.

20.   Is it me, or did Philadelphia’s Lane Johnson commit numerous false starts Sunday that weren’t flagged? Nope, it wasn’t me. Not a good weekend for officials.


n  Jalen Hurts now has 15 rushing touchdowns this season, including the playoffs. That’s an NFL record for quarterbacks.

n  Kansas City is 12-0 when scoring first.

n  With 13 playoff TDs, Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce rank second all-time in quarterback-receiver duos. Only the Tom Brady-Rob Gronkowski combination has more with 15.

n  At 27 years, 134 days, Mahomes is the youngest quarterback to reach 10 playoff victories.

n  Philadelphia’s 39 rushing touchdowns are the most ever in one season, including the playoffs. The previous record of 37 was set by the 1962 Green Bay Packers. They won the NFL championship.

n  The Eagles’ 78 sacks are the third most in league history. Only the 1984-85 Bears had more, with 82 in 1984 and 80 the following season.


n  “Losing feels awful. But, yeah, this one was worse.” – San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan.

n  “My arm just feels like it stretched out. It felt like a lot of shocks all over from my elbow down to my wrist.” – San Francisco quarterback Brock Purdy.

n  “My joy comes in winning. I know the job isn’t done.” – Philadelphia quarterback Jalen Hurts.

n  “This is the most physical defense in this league.” – Philadelphia coach Nick Sirianni.

n  “He has nothing to be sad about. He’s the reason we got to this game.” – San Francisco linebacker Fred Warner on Brock Purdy.

n  “I got some words for that Cincinnati mayor. Know your role and shut your mouth.” – Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce.

n  “We expect to be back there, and I think they do, too.” -  Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow on losing to the Chiefs.

n  There were plenty of plays that we left on the field that could’ve put us in better position.” – Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Darren Woodson—Taking His Place in the Hall of Fame Queue

By John Turney 
This year, Dallas Cowboys safety Darren Woodson was voted into the Final 15 list for the Pro Football Hall of Fame after six previous years of being on the semifinalist list of 25. It is a jump into the "room" as the voters like call making the Final 15, though these days it is making it to the "Zoom" call rather than the proverbial room.

He deserves to be there.

Woodson was drafted in the second round of the 1992 NFL draft by Dallas and after spending his rookie season year as a nickelback, usually playing in the slot (where he was All-Rookie), Woodson took over the strong safety position in his second season and was a vital cog in defending the Cowboys' 1992 Super Bowl crown. 

A couple of years later Woodson was part of a secondary that featured Deion Sanders who got most of the limelight but there is little doubt that the contributions Woodson made were invaluable in the Cowboys winning their third Super Bowl in four years.

That secondary was a strength of the Dallas defense that from 1992-97 allowed the fewest points and the fewest total yards in that span. The secondary and linebackers allowed the fewest passing yards in the NFL, the second-fewest passing touchdowns, and the fifth-lowest defensive passer rating.

Even with "Prime Time" drawing much of the national attention from 1995 on, Woodson got plenty of notice himself earning All-Pro honors four times, three of them consensus, and was voted to five Pro Bowls. 

Woodson was 220 pounds and possessed rare speed (sub 4.4 forty time) for a player that size and that made him a unique defensive back. He had the size of a smaller linebacker and the straight-line speed of many cornerbacks and was a very sure tackler, he just rarely missed and was always among the team leaders, even leading the team in tackles in 1995.

Cowboys defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt took full advantage of that size-speed combination utilizing him in a variety of ways and playing him in several spots within his scheme. 

In addition to playing strong strong safety in the base defense, when an opponent would line up the flanker in the slot position- the same side as the split end - it would leave the tight end on the opposite side of the formation. In those situations, Woodson would line up over the slot receiver and the cornerback would cover the tight end on the other side rather than take the tight end, which is what most strong safeties would do in that situation.

Then, in Dallas's nickel defense, almost always Bill Bates would come into the game and play the middle linebacker and Woodson would play another linebacker spot and would play a zone or maybe take a running back in man coverage, depending on the call. 

Of course, Woodson was not the first safety to play multiple roles in a secondary on a defense. Prior to him, players like Donnie Shell of the Steelers and the Rams' Nolan Cromwell, and others did similar things but they were smaller athletes, 190 to 200 pounds or so - Woodson had twenty to thirty pounds on them. 

In 1996, Dave Wannstedt's successor as the Cowboys' defensive coordinator, Dave Campo, told Sports Illustrated, "Darren is the total package. He has a combination of size, speed, and lateral movement that is rare in a strong safety. In fact, he covers one-on-one so well he could be a corner. He is the kind of guy coaches like to build a team around." 

About that same time Joel Buchbaum, Pro Football Weekly's professional football analyst, ranked Woodson as the NFL's top strong safety, and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones made Woodson the highest-paid safety in league history. 

There is little doubt Woodson's game was appreciated.

He was a precursor to players that are all over the NFL now. Hybrid types like Minkah Fitzpatrick or Derwin James or even Tyrann Mathieu but again he's bigger than most of those All-Pro safeties and there is little doubt he'd fit right into today's NFL and that cannot always be said of players from a generation ago. 

That skill set matched with his rings and his post-season honors vaulted him in front of some other safeties that have been on the semifinalist list with him the past few years but have not advanced.

It will be interesting to see how quickly Woodson moves up in the Hall of Fame queue. 

One issue Woodson will have to have concerning his eventual election to the Hall of Fame is that there have been a lot of safeties voted in recently and it is possible that voters may feel the safety backlog has been cleared to some degree. 

Since 2017, including senior committee nominees and centennial class selections, there have been eleven safeties inducted into the Hall of Fame—LeRoy Butler, Steve Atwater, John Lynch, Donnie Shell, Cliff Harris, Troy Polamalu, Ed Reed, Brian Dawkins, Johnny Robinson, Bobby Dillon, Ken Easley. 

When comparing Woodson to some of those players and their post-season honors he fits in nicely. He was First-team All-Pro as many times as Butler, Polamalu, Harris, and Easley (four each) and more times than Shell (three times), Lynch, and Atwater (twice each).

He has more Super Bowl rings than all of them except Shell. He does have fewer interceptions than any of them but his total (23) is just one behind Atwater and three behind Lynch so that cannot be any kind of issue.

It does appear that he is on par with the recent eleven safeties. 

Will Woodson's induction make it a Dirty Dozen?

Career stats—

Career post-season honors—

Friday, January 27, 2023

Ken Riley's Imminent Hall of Fame Induction May Bode Well for Jim Marshall's Chances

 By John Turney 
A few days prior to the Super Bowl in Glendale, Arizona, Ken Riley's name will almost certainly be among those announced as part of the Class of 2023 for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, that is unless that is the full committee rejects Riley's nomination which emerged from Hall's Senior committee process. And there is almost zero chance of that happening. That has only happened a few times and this, almost assuredly won't be one of them. At least we hope not. 

The basis for Ken Riley's inclusion will be that he's tied for fifth all-time in interceptions with 65 and that is the most ever for a cornerback. Yes, Hall of Famer Night Train Lane has 68 picks and he was mostly a cornerback but in 1954 when he had ten interceptions he played far more safety than corner (called a defensive halfback in the verbiage of the era) so for his career, he had fewer than 65 interceptions playing outside in the secondary than Riley. But that is a story for a different day.

Riley did garner some post-season honors, he's not totally lacking in that category or "box" as some voters may call it. He was First-team All-Pro in 1983 and was Second-team All-Pro in 1975 and 1976 as well as Second-team All-AFC selection in 1981. He was never voted to a Pro Bowl. However, that is on the light side for a Hall of Famer. 

The average Hall of Fame corner was a First-team All-Pro just under five times and a Pro Bowler just under eight times. That matters because post-season honors, historically, have been a major part of non-skills players (linemen, linebackers, secondary) Hall of Fame "resumes" if you will.

Riley's induction will change that a good deal. Dick LeBeau's career was similar to Riley's but his candidacy was considered to be a combination of his playing career and his coaching career. Riley's induction will be solely as a player.

How does this affect Jim Marshall

Well, his case is similar in that it would also be built more on statistics and longevity than post-season honors that have historically been looked at by voters as vital Hall of Fame criteria. In fact, it is what has kept him out for so long. His fellow linemates Alan Page and Carl Eller, Hall of Famers both were many times All-Pro and many times Pro Bowlers in addition to checking the longevity box and some statistical boxes.

Marshall, a longtime Minnesota Viking defensive end who is a big part of NFL lore was also not a much-decorated player in terms of All-Pros and Pro Bowls. he was more of a legend in terms of his consecutive games played streak which held from 1979 until  2005 when a non-position player, Jeff Feagles, a punter, broke it. In 2009 quarterback Brett Favre surpassed it for position players.

In addition, Marshall recovered 30 fumbles in his career, the most defensive recoveries in NFL history. 

Those two things are the bulk of Marshall's case for the Hall of Fame. Recently, sack totals have been published by Pro Football Reference and they show that marshall had 130.5 in his 20-year career.

Marshall was Second-team All-Pro in 1964, 68, and 69 and Second-team All-NFC in 1971. he was a Pro Bowler in 1968 and 1969. So he received post-season honors in four seasons, the same as Riley and they were similar sans the First-team All-Pro nod Riley got in his final season—Marshall never was First-team All-Pro.

No longer can anyone argue that Marshall's career does not measure up to Hall of Fame standards in terms of All-Pros, etc. since Riley's career is more-or-less the same and a new precedent is soon to be set.

Vikings fans can then buttress Marshall's case with a comparative analysis between the two and that could shed some new light on his situation which can only help. If it's fair for Riley's case should be fair for Marshall's.

We shall see if Riley's induction changes the dynamics of what a Hall of Fame player is. It just might.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

G.O.A.T. Return Specialist Devin Hester Gaining or Losing Momentum?

 By John Turney 
Last year Devin Hester became eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame having waited the mandatory five years and he zoomed through the semifinalist list of 25 and Final 15 into the Top 10 like he zoomed through punt and kick coverages during his 11-year NFL career.

Will he advance this year to the top five and get 80% affirmative votes to be inducted in 2023? 

Unknown at this point.

What we do know at this point is that he's generally regarded as the top punt return specialist of all time and the top overall return specialist of all time.

Even big fans and supporters of both Rick Upchurch and Bill "White Shoes" Johnson would probably agree. Both Upchurch and Johnson were big-time return specialists with Hall of Fame credentials themselves. Upchurch was the First-team returner on the 1970s All-Decade team and Johnson was the same for the 1980s. 

Johnson led the NFL in punt return average in 1975 and 1977 and Upchurch in 1976, 78, and 82.  Johnson was First-team All-Pro in 1975, 77, and 83. Upchurch held the same honor in 1976, 78, 79, and 82.

For his career, Johnson averaged 11.7 yards on punt returns and Upchurch 12.1. Johnson took six punts to the house and Upchurch eight. 

Combined they had 14 touchdown returns.

Fourteen. That's how many Devin Hester had. He had four more than anyone else on the all-time list. On a play that is extremely hard to achieve, a punt return for a touchdown, having four more than the next guy is really impressive. For comparison, on kickoff returns the all-time leader, Cordarrelle Patterson, is ahead of the next player on the list by a single touchdown. It's close. With Hester's total, it's not close, relatively speaking.

In total kick/punt returns for scores, it's the same narrative. Hester has 19. The next closest is Brian Mitchell with 14. Hester has five more.

Is Hester the best kickoff returner of all-time? No. That would be someone else but Hester was a great kick-returner nonetheless. The numbers, in context, show he was excellent at kick returns as well.

First, he took five kickoffs back for touchdowns which is the most important number for a returner. It is what makes them a threat to opposing teams and a nightmare to opposing special teams coaches. Only eight players in NFL history have more than Hester (he's tied for ninth).

Second, it's how Hester had to achieve his numbers and this can only be proven through the eye test, not what is on paper. Teams avoided kicking the ball to Hester for much of his career. Dribble kicks, directional kicks, and semi-squib kicks. You name it. 

When watching Bears games, many times Hester would have to pick the ball up at the say, five- or eight-yard line and try to make yards with just a fraction less time than if he could field the ball in the air. 

This happened on kickoffs far more than punts because the way to deal with a dominant punt returner is through hang time or kick the ball near a sideline or even out of bounds.

You can't kick out of bounds on a kickoff because you'll get penalized and adding additional hangtime is tougher on a kickoff than a punt so the way to deal with a dominant kick returner is to kick a touchback or to try to break his routine—make him chase or field an unusual ball, anything to allow your coverage to get closer to him than on a normal kick. That is what happened scores of times with Hester.

There is little doubt that Hester was an extraordinary game-changer even among his peers and kicking to him too often would get you burned. Burned badly.

All things considered, it is reasonable to believe he's the G.O.A.T. of return guys overall when taking into account the volume of kicks. There are some players back in the day with higher averages but they did return punts and kicks as a specialty, they did it as part of their overall job in an era that didn't really employ specialists.

And there's the rub. 

Will voters ever vote for a player who was just a returner? It's a philosophical question, not one of who the returner should be that gets in the Hall of Fame first but a question of if a return specialist should be in the Hall of Fame at all.

That specialist question has been answered in terms of kickers and punters, specialists themselves when kicker Jan Stenerud was inducted in 1991. Ray Guy, a punter,  and Morten Andersen, another kicker, followed suit later on. It's presumed that Adam Vinatieri will perhaps join them at some point.

But a returner? One who was not a Gale Sayers or Jack Christiansen? Those are two players who would be in the Hall of Fame even if they were not tremendous return men. 

With Hester, he wouldn't. He was not a star at defensive back or receiver, though, for a few years, he got snaps at receiver and averaged about 40 catches and 500 yards and three touchdowns a year in that role. It's not great but it's not a failure either. 

No, it's clear Hester is in the Final 15 for the second year in the role as a specialist alone, as White Shoes Johnson and Rick Upchurch would have been had they ever gotten a shot since they were both so-so receivers with their clubs, averaging roughly similar receiving numbers per year as Hester.

The "is a return specialist worthy of a Gold Jacket" debate is one the voters may have for more than two years. Maybe more than that.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

TUESDAY TIDBITS: "On the One Side, Truth Towers Like a Cliff"

By TJ Troup 

Once upon a time, there was a magical sound coming out of LA. The sound of McGuinn's 12-string Rickenbacker sure caught my attention, and the harmonies and voices of the singers in the Byrds catapulted them to stardom. 

The title of today's narrative comes from a song David Crosby and Graham Nash wrote, and the night they performed at the Greek Theater under the stars in 1976 was just damn awesome. 

Speaking of truth, will begin with my tried and true—the defensive passer rating. 

The Cincinnati Bengals for the first time ever led the league with a mark of 80.1. There have been many a secondary that took the field with one stellar defensive back, yet his secondary mates were less than capable of covering anything but their own ass and were strafed by opposing quarterbacks. 

This is a TEAM efficiency stat, and the Cincinnati secondary has improved during the year. Can and will they stop or limit Mahomes? Does Chad Henne ride to the rescue? 

Stay tuned. 

The Chiefs secondary finished with a mark of 95.3 in this category (the league average was 89.1) thus Bengal fans believe young Mr. Burrow will continue to shred the Kansas City defense. Especially since opposing passers threw 33 touchdown passes against Kansas City. 

As someone who once upon a time played defensive back, and was bailed out by a fierce pass rush; will the Chiefs pass rush pressure Burrow? 

 Dak Prescott learned why the 49er secondary was ranked fifth in the defensive passer rating last Sunday, and of course they will be challenged by the Eagles passing attack. 

Mr. Jones of NYG finished last weekend's game with a passer rating of 53.8, and the Philadelphia secondary which finished 3rd in the league with a mark of 81.6 looks forward to taking on young Mr. Purdy and his talented teammates. 

Every team looks to improve their roster in the off-season, and when the Eagles signed James Bradberry for 2022 an area of weakness became a strength. Slay is rock solid, yet for me sure enjoy watching Bradberry play corner more. 

Since both the Eagles and 49ers can move the ball on the ground we may have a game that finishes under three hours? 

Since the merger, Philadelphia and San Francisco have played twenty-five times, and of course, will meet again next year. The one time they met in the playoffs the Niners dominated as Steve Young had one of his strong performances both running and passing, while the San Francisco defense led by Bryant Young throttled Detmer and the Eagles. 

 They first battled in 1951, but the game that really intrigued me was opening day at Kezar in 1953. Both teams had winning seasons in '52, and both thought they could win a division title in '53. The 49ers led 17-7 at the half as Joe Perry behind an excellent o-line ran through, and around the Eagle defense. Write-ups of the game mention that it was "chippy" out on the gridiron that afternoon, as tempers flared. 

The legendary Hardy Brown delivered the "Tulsa Hump" into Toy Ledbetter's cheekbone. Bobby Walston and Charley Powell engaged in fisticuffs, and Joe McTigue and the 49er band not only played the National Anthem in an attempt to calm everyone down, the horn section also joined in the merriment. The final score was 31-21 49ers. 

Will end this narrative by going back in time 75 years to the first Eagle team to advance to the title game. 

From 1944 through 1946 the Eagles played winning football, but could not win the game they needed to for a division crown. The Bears dominated the Eagles in '44. 

The late-season loss to the Giants in '45, and the three-game losing streak in November of '46 had convinced the Eagle faithful they just were not championship material. Would relish listing all the starters on both sides of the ball for the '47 Eagles, but just don't have enough film to do justice in evaluation. 

Byron Saam does a fine job narrating the Eagle highlight film and watched the November 2nd, 1947 film over and over. 

So who played well for the Eagles in 1947 you ask? And was there a difference-maker in '47? 

You want answers? 

Here we go! The league is still single-platoon football, though many men come off the bench to play both ways due to fatigue. Twelve rookies make the team in '47, but almost all of them are substitutes or don't finish the year with Philadelphia. 

Neill Armstrong was selected with the 8th pick in the draft, and the swift rookie rotates in with veteran left end Black Jack Ferrante. They combine to catch 35 passes for 538 yards and 6 touchdowns. 

Baby-faced lean defensive end Johnny Green comes in to spell Pihos on defense and demonstrates he will be a factor for years to come. Skinny lightning-fast Pat McHugh flashes ability both running the ball, and range at safety. 

The Philadelphia o-line has unique line splits as there is a vast space between some and only a sliver of daylight between others, but it works. When you have the best runner in football you are motivated to give that man running room. Lindskog, Kilroy, and Wistert are all skilled blockers. 
Al Wistert
When evaluating film of Rosey Brown of NYG in the '50s was astonished at how often, and how well he pulled from his left tackle position. Brown was truly the best ever at this technique (Gifford was quoted many times about how fast Rosey was), yet Al Wistert was pulling from his right tackle post, and leading Steve Van Buren sweeps in'47. 

Wistert was quick, agile, and would cut block defenders right off their feet. Al played defensive right end, and he continually knifed through blockers to pressure passers, and pursue. Why this man is not in the Hall of Fame is a mystery? Bosh Pritchard and Van Buren besides lugging the leather played corner on defense. They were adequate on defense, but we all know of their offensive exploits. 

On October the 5th in the win over the Giants twelve men carry the ball—TWELVE! Everyone gets a few carries, though Van Buren is gonna get the bulk of the carries. None of the backs distinguish themselves at the corner position, but swift Ernie Steele shines at safety.
Steve Van Buren
If the league chose an All-NFL defense Steele would most likely have been a First-team selection. Ben Kish and Joe Muha play fullback and left linebacker, and they both are hard-nosed quality players. Additionally, Muha is an excellent punter. 

Earle "Greasy" Neale aligns his defense in both a 6-2, but also for the first time a 4-man secondary—the beginning of the 5-2-4. This of course means the linebackers have to shed blocks quickly, pursue, and disrupt pass routes when aligned on a flexed offensive end. Alex Wojciechowicz came from the Lions in '46, and now in his first full year in Philly he must lead the young Eagle defenders. 

Hugh "Bones" Taylor of the Redskins has a monster opening day in the heart-stopping 45-42 blockbuster win over Washington as he caught 8 for 212 yards. 
Hugh Taylor
In the rematch Wogey aligns on Taylor's nose and as such Bones catches just two for 29! Though Roy Zimmerman had his moments as an Eagle, the man who runs the Philly T-formation attack is Tommy Thompson, and he is probably the most improved player in the league. Superb at ball handling, faking, and his touch on play-action passes is top-notch. 

The Eagles are no doubt a running team, yet the passing attack with Thompson's accuracy helps produce 350 points. Finally the answer to the above question—was there a difference maker and who was he? 

Drafted by the Eagles while he was in combat in Europe under General Patton, rookie Pete Pihos gives Philadelphia a man who relishes blocking and does this so well it allows Wistert to pull, and his quickness coming off the ball gives Thompson another weapon in the Eagle arsenal. 

Pihos scores the first and last regular season touchdown for the Eagles in '47, while also playing left defensive end. During the November 2nd victory over the 'Skins he makes the special teams play of the year as he literally takes the punt off of Sammy Baugh's foot and dashes 31 yards for a touchdown (league scoring manual lists at 26... oops!) 

During the playoff victory over the Steelers, he again blocks a punt to set up a score. 

Melissa, are you listening? Your dad was the final piece to the Philadelphia championship puzzle. Seems like just yesterday that the DVD on Eagles history was popped into the player (2004), and have watched it many times, and an aspect of the history is the poignant, insightful, and fun lines by Mr. Ray Didinger, "All the legitimacy of a floating crap game". Ray your lines are treasured. 

Didinger discusses the beginning of the tight end middle screen, and Pihos's ability to rumble downfield with the ball. His unique style of catching the ball above the waist not putting his little fingers together, but backhanding the ball with one hand while cupping the ball with the other. 

Are you ready for an NFC championship clash between these two hard-bitten teams? 

I sure am.

Monday, January 23, 2023

Jared Allen—The Next Edge Rusher in Line?

 By John Turney 
Of course, anything is possible but it is impossible to think of a scenario where DeMarcus Ware does not receive his Pro Football Hall of Fame Gold Jacket this Summer. He had a chance to be a first-ballot guy last year but fell a bit short, making the final ten but not reaching the final five to make the final stage of the yes-no 80% vote. We've predicted he is a virtual lock to make it this year. We'll see.

Jared Allen has been on the Final 15 three times but has stagnated, never making the final 10. That may or may not change this year—last month, in our annual prediction post, we guessed he'd make the top 10 this go around. Again, we'll see.

Aside from Ware, who will take up all the edge rusher oxygen in the room, there is first-time eligible edge rusher  Dwight Freeney who will certainly have support among the voters which will compete with Allen. In fact, Hall of Fame voter Bill Polian drafted him and another Hall of Fame voter Tony Dungy coached him. That will help him.

But, Allen will have his chance. Probably not this year, but perhaps next year if he does advance to the top 10.

He's certainly qualified.

However, looking back it is a minor miracle his career made it past his first few seasons. During that time he had a serious problem with alcohol abuse that led to a pair of DUI arrests and a suspension for violation of the NFL's substance abuse/alcohol policy. 

His career path was not unlike that of current Raider edge rusher Maxx Crosby except Crosby's DUI suspension was at the collegiate level and only occurred one time. Like Crosby, Allen persevered and turned things around, but again, unlike Crosby, it was not in college. 

Allen was off to a terrific start as a defensive end for the Kansas City Chiefs. He was an All-Rookie pick in 2004 and led the team in sacks and came back for an even better second season forcing six fumbles and recording eleven sacks and 54 hurries.

In 2006 he was named to the USA Today All-Joe team, a team that recognized players who were outstanding but not named to any Pro Bowl or All-Pro teams. Allen had 7.5 sacks, forced five fumbles and had 10.5 run stuffs that year and another stuff on a pass play.

His breakout year was 2007. It was the season he was suspended and missed the first two games but still led the NFL in sacks with 15.5 and was First-team All-Pro. 

After that season Allen and the Chiefs were unable to agree on a contract so he was given the franchise tag and was traded to the Vikings (first a first-round and two third-round picks and change) and for a while was the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history, signing a six-year, $73 million deal in 2008.

In Minnesota, Allen did not disappoint. In six seasons, he was All-Pro three times (twice consensus) and went to four Pro Bowls. He was voted the NFL Alumni Defensive Lineman of the Year in 2009 and was the NFC Defensive Player of the Year in 2011 by the Kansas City Committee of 101 and Sporting News.

He was an ideal fit as an edge rusher to pair with the Williams Wall - interior linemen Kevin and Pat Williams that were tremendous run pluggers. They took care of the middle and Allen got after quarterbacks and the Vikings were playoff contenders for the first few years Allen was with the team.

Allen averaged 14.3 sacks a season in Skol country, leading the NFL with 22.0 in 2011, his second-league title in five years most followed by his iconic calf roping celebration. All of which led to his inclusion into the Vikings Ring of Fame along with other great Vikings defensive linemen Alan Page, Carl Eller, John Randle, Chis Doleman, Jim Marshall, and Kevin Williams.

After his deal expired with Minnesota his career wound down with the Bears and a stint with the Panthers, ending his twelve-year career during which he was the quintessential blind side rusher that was arguably the best in the NFL and if not the best, clearly in the top two.

He played from 2004-15 and during that span no one in the NFL had more sacks or QB hits and that includes DeMarcus Ware. During his peak years from 2005-13 (which eliminates his rookie year and his wind-down years) he also had the most sacks and QB hits.

No matter how the numbers are sliced Allen comes out on top in his personal era.

Along the way, Allen recovered 19 fumbles and picked off six passes, and had six defensive scores including four safeties to go with his 136.0 sacks which rank as the 12th-most in NFL history (since 1982 when sacks became an official statistic), 32 forced fumbles, and 58 deflected passes.

When scouting reports are added it further enhances the 6-6, 270-pounders case. One scout's report stated, "First five years a top initial all-around start for 40E. Blue rusher, blue pursuit & neutralize run blocks. Remained blue rusher through 2014."

So for Allen, it is a matter of timing for his call to the Hall. There is some competition with Ware and Freeney and also with Julius Peppers becoming eligible next year but with his resume, he will eventually get the recognition he deserves for his Hall of Fame-worthy career.

Career stats—

Career honors—

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Playoff Judgments II

By Clark Judge 
Patrick Mahomes
Credit: NFC/NFC Game Pass

It can’t get much worse for Kansas City than Patrick Mahomes suffering a high-ankle sprain. But it just did.

Cincinnati and Joe Burrow are coming to town.

The Bengals beat the odds Sunday by also beating … no, by burying … Buffalo to reach the AFC championship game for the second straight season vs. top-seeded Kansas City. That’s good for Cincinnati; not so good for Mahomes or the Chiefs.

The reason: Simple. Burrow and the Bengals are 3-0 vs. Mahomes.

Plus, they won all three in the same calendar year when the Chiefs’ quarterback wasn’t playing on one leg … and that’s more than unusual. It’s downright extraordinary. It makes Burrow the only quarterback to face Mahomes multiple times and not lose. It also makes him one of only two quarterbacks to win three games vs. the presumptive league MVP.

The other is Tom Brady (3-3).

I think you get the idea. This is no ordinary Joe we’re talking about. It’s Mahomes’ kryptonite, and more on that later.

First, the central question in front of everyone is: How damaged is Mahomes? Answer: No one really knows how much of St. Patrick we get now. High-ankle sprains are serious, normally sidelining injured players several weeks. Nevertheless, Mahomes insists he’ll play next Sunday.

That should come as no surprise. But how comprised will he be? Stay tuned.

In the meantime, there are no mysteries about Burrow and the Bengals. They just dominated a Bills’ team that also beat Mahomes & Co. this season, and they did it from start to finish – outscoring, outplaying and outcoaching their overwhelmed opponent.

That wasn’t supposed to happen, not only because Buffalo hadn’t lost a home playoff game with Josh Allen at quarterback (4-0), but because the Bills seemed driven by the Jamar Hamlin story. But it did, and it did because the Bengals had the better quarterback, the better offensive line, the better defensive line and the better game plan.

In short, the better team.

“If this was a boxing match,” former quarterback and CBS analyst Phil Simms said, “we’re not going to the scorecard. This was a knockout.

Oddsmakers make the Chiefs a 1-point favorite next Sunday, and that doesn’t make sense. Mahomes is hurt. Burrow is not. History isn’t with the Chiefs. It’s with the Bengals. Plus, Kansas City’s not the hottest team in the AFC. Cincinnati is. The Bengals won their last 10 and are 14-2 over their last 16 starts.

Oh, and one more thing: Cincinnati also won its last three road playoff games. One was at Arrowhead.

“Anyone who doubts this team needs to have his head examined,” said Bengals’ offensive line coach Frank Pollard.

I’d pay attention. This marks the fourth time in franchise history the Bengals advanced to the AFC championship game. They won the previous three.


1.       Jalen Hurts is more than OK. He went into last weekend saying he was “less than 100 percent” with an injured right shoulder. OK, well … tell that to the New York Giants. Hurts sliced, diced and spliced what was supposed to be a decent defense, throwing for two TDs and running for a third in a game that was over by the half. Bottom lin: He looked like the MVP candidate that he is. “To have him out there,” said coach Nick Sirianni, “it’s like having … I know I shouldn’t even go there … but is like having Michael Jordan out there.” He’s right. He shouldn’t go there. Jordan won six league titles. Hurts hasn’t been to one … yet.

2.       Playoff seeds held. Three of the top four seeded teams (Kansas City, San Francisco and Philadephia) advanced to conference championship games, with Cincinnati the only outlier. But full disclosure: The Bengals were the AFC’s third seed and were last year’s champion. Now, good luck to top-ranked Kansas City and Philadelphia … because history tells us they’re going to need it. Only two of the last eight No. 1 seeds advanced to the Super Bowl (Kansas City in 2020 and San Francisco in 2019).

3.       Don’t sleep on Chad Henne. Jacksonville did, and you saw what happened. He led the Chiefs on a 98-yard TD drive, the longest in franchise playoff history. With Mahomes hurt, there’s a chance … maybe even a likelihood … we see his backup again. All I know is the last two times Henne made playoff appearances, he saved a victory two years ago vs. Cleveland and helped win Saturday’s game vs. the Jags.

4.       In a passing game, running still matters. The NFL is supposed to be all about the quarterbacks, and it usually is. But not so much in the playoffs. An effective running game still makes a difference … and this weekend’s winners were the proof. Philadelphia shredded the Giants for 268 yards. Cincinnati had 172. Kansas City dissected Jacksonville for 144, while San Francisco put up 113 on Dallas -- including 86 in the second half. The four averaged 4.97 yards per carry, with only one more TD passing (6) than rushing (5).

5.       Cincinnati’s offensive line is deeper than advertised. The Bengals were supposed to be crippled up front by the loss of three starters. They weren’t. In fact, they dominated both sides of the line of scrimmage from beginning to end. But the surprise was how well Burrow was protected by his subs. A year ago, the Bengals’ offensive line was a major headache, with Burrow sacked 70 times (including the playoffs). On Sunday, he was sacked only once and hit three times. Time for Frank Pollack, Cincinnati’s offensive line coach, to take a bow.


1.       According to reports, the NFL is considering neutral sites for future conference championship games. Please tell me they’re wrong. As former Packers’ exec Andrew Brandt pointed out on Twitter, “it sounds preposterous and a money grab by owners.” Check. Not only is it a poke at hometown fans; it’s a competitive disadvantage for higher seeds. There should be a reward for finishing with the best regular-season records, and home-field advantage is that reward. That makes sense. This idea does not. However …this is the same league that ships games overseas each year, another blow to competitive advantage and hometown support. So don’t say you weren’t warned.

2.       Key number for San Francisco rookie quarterback Brock Purdy: Zero. He’s had no turnovers in the playoffs and none in his past three starts. But now comes the hard part. “There’s no tougher place to play than playing in Philadelphia,” said Hall-of-Fame quarterback and FOX analyst Terry Bradshaw. He’s right.

3.       As shaky as Brett Maher was, the kicker wasn’t the story for Dallas. The quarterback was. For the sixth time this season, including the fourth time in the last seven games, Dak Prescott threw multiple interceptions. He had two, including one at the San Francisco 12 that not only short-circuited a sure Dallas scoring drive but led to a Robbie Gould field goal.

4.       Tell me again why Joe Burrow couldn’t start for Urban Meyer at Ohio State.

5.       Don’t let people tell you there’s no place for defense in today’s NFL. The NFC’s top two defenses this season were San Francisco and Philadelphia.

6.       When the NFL went to replay as an officiating tool it was never meant to overrule something like that Ja’Marr Chase “touchdown” catch. In most universes where they play football, that’s a score. Replay was supposed to correct egregious calls, not dissect minutiae. So do it.

7.       George Kittle or Travis Kelce?

8.       Now you know why coaches emphasize ball security. The weekend’s four winners committed one turnover (San Francisco). Their opponents had six.

9.       Look at it this way, Cowboys’ fans: You now have time to join owner Jerry Jones on Terry Bradshaw’s Getaway Vacation.

10.   I’m beginning to get the feeling that Lamar Jackson will push Aaron Rodgers for Best Actor in an Offseason Drama.

11.   Coming soon to FOX’s “Alert: Missing Persons Unit:” The entire Buffalo Bills defense.

12.   Quote of the day goes to Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow. Asked what he thought of last week’s sale of tickets for a Buffalo-Kansas City neutral site, he said: “Better send those refunds.”

13.   How come we don’t hear more about Lou Anarumo? He’s Cincinnati’s defensive coordinator, and he just put the kibosh on Josh Allen. Of course, that begs the question: If the Bengals can hit Allen eight times, what happens when they attack Patrick Mahomes on one leg?

14.   You gotta feel for Tony Pollard. That might be the last time we see him in a Cowboys’ uniform.

15.   What’s the deal with Kansas City’s Chris Jones? One of the game’s fiercest pass rushers, he still doesn’t have a sack in 13 playoff games. You can look it up.

16.   Stefon Diggs left the locker room in a huff, and I don’t blame him. He had one second-half catch for 8 yards Sunday and only four receptions and no scores for the afternoon. That makes it no TDs in Diggs’ last five playoff games. Stefon. Diggs. Hard to believe.

17.   Just wondering: Is “Knock at the Cabin” a movie about the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s incoming Class of 2023?

18.   Now more than ever, Minnesota’s playoff loss to the Giants looks worse.

19.   The NFL’s definition of delay of game should be canned. This isn’t exactly rocket science, fellas. If the clock strikes zero, it’s a penalty. Pretty simple.

20.   Saquon Barkley says he can’t “envision” Saturday’s game as his last with the Giants. Maybe that’s because the Giants can’t either.


n  Robbie Gould hasn’t missed a field-goal attempt in the playoffs. Ever. He’s 29 for 29.

n  Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor is 5-1 in the playoffs.

n  The 49ers haven’t lost a game since Christian McCaffrey took over as a starter. They’re 12-0. According to ESPN, three of the previous four teams to enter conference championship games on winning streaks of 12 or more won the game.

n  This is the fifth straight year that Kansas City hosts a conference playoff game, the longest streak in NFL history.

n  Mike McCarthy is 0-4 vs. the 49ers in his playoff history.


n  “No excuses. They beat us. They ‘out-physicaled’ us.” – Buffalo coach Sean McDermott.

n  “Our goal is to win a Super Bowl or world championship, and we didn’t accomplish that. So everything that happened in the season is kind of null and void in our minds, and it sucks.” – Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen.

n  “Joe started 9-for-9 in his sleep. What more could you ask for?” – Cincinnati’s Ted Karras on Joe Burrow.

n  “Go win it.” – Buffalo cornerback Tre’Davious White to Burrow after the game.

n  “We’re sick. Just sick.” – Dallas owner Jerry Jones.

n  “Playoff football is never easy, but we’re moving on.” – San Francisco quarterback Brock Purdy.