Tuesday, October 31, 2023

TUESDAY TIDBITS: "When You Have the Best Pass Protection in Pro Football"

By TJ Troup 
We are approaching the mid-way point of the season, and would sure enjoy hearing from all of you with your thoughts on which teams look strong enough to earn a postseason berth? 
Are you Jets going to find a way to win enough games to get one of those berths? Which team wins the AFC North, and is there going to be a wild card team from that division? Who finishes with a winning record and wins the NFC South? 

November the 21st in my column with address the Moore/Tomlinson record, and the abysmal failure of announcers to find a copy of the record and fact book, and state what the record is for most consecutive games scoring a touchdown. 

Shall we take a journey down the historical NFL path for a look back on games played on October 29th? 

Here we go! 

Cleveland had beaten the Steelers in Pittsburgh earlier in the season, and on this October Sunday at Municipal Stadium, Marion Motley will set a standard for lugging the leather that would stay in the record books until December of 2002. 
Marion Motley
Watching the complete game film over and over again everyone you would come away realizing how well the Browns were coached, how effective the o-line of Cleveland was, and when given a chance to rumble through the Pittsburgh defense Mr. Motley was an express train (188 yards on 11 carries). Motley's 69-yard third-quarter touchdown jaunt is impressive, but so were the other ten carries for 119 yards. 

The trap plays, the powers, and his ability to keep his balance, and explode is why this man was truly one of the greats. Motley will gain 577 yards rushing on just 83 carries (6.95 a carry)in the final six games of the season to win the rushing crown. Oh, and Cleveland will win all six (they needed to). 

This past Sunday Howell of the 'Skins ... oooppss! the Commanders gained 397 yards passing against the Eagles, yet these two teams played on October 29th, 1961 and Mr. Sonny Jurgensen passed for 436 yards on 27 completions. The come-from-behind victory kept Philadelphia in the race in the eastern division by winning 27-24. 

Though Pete Retzlaff sure had a fine game it is Tommy McDonald with less than a minute remaining winning the game with an eye-popping play on a crossing route, snagging the ball, and dashing through the Redskin secondary. 
George Blanda
There are 21,000 fans at the War Memorial in Buffalo to watch the Bills take on the Oilers. George Blanda gains 464 yards on 18 completions—no folks that is not a misprint—over 30 yards a completion.  

The title of today's narrative is a quote from Blanda, and to finish the quote, "(A)nd the best end (Hennigan) you know you will beat the defense more often than not, so you just keep throwing to him and eventually you have the big six." Charlie Hennigan, in one of the greatest seasons ever for a receiver, gains 232 on 9 catches in the 28-16 win. 

There is plenty more to the saga of the 1961 Oilers than this game and just might revisit them later in the season in this column. 

Stay tuned. 

What is significant is that this is the first time two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks gain over 400 yards passing on the same day. Jurgensen and Blanda will face off just once in their careers—1970 with Sonny playing for the 'Skins, and George playing for the Raiders. 

See ya next week.

Monday, October 30, 2023

QB Leads RBs in Loss to Vikings

 By Eric Goska

Jordan Love (10) paced all runners with 34 yards rushing
at Lambeau Field Sunday.
(photos by Eric Goska)

Jordan Love’s feet delivered more than yards Sunday. The quarterback’s scrambling provided a measuring stick as to where the Packers stand in terms of running, both for and against.

Love paced all ground gainers in Green Bay’s 24-10 loss to the Vikings at Lambeau Field. That a Packers quarterback emerged as the game’s leading rusher is a rarity worth investigating.

Love bolted from the pocked four times and gained 34 yards. That he earned more on the ground than Aaron Jones (7 for 29), Alexander Mattison (16 for 31), Cam Akers (9 for 19) or AJ Dillon (6 for 11), speaks to the ineffectiveness of Green Bay’s running game and to the success of its run defense.

Remove Love’s output and Green Bay ran 13 times for 40 yards (3.1 average). Only once – that a 6-yard burst by Jones in the second quarter – did the Packers tally a rushing first down.

Forty yards and a single first down doesn't equate to many victories in the NFL.

Love’s day was equally as unsatisfying. He failed to move the sticks on any of his four takeoffs. His long, 15-yard desperation dash on fourth down, came up a yard short at the Vikings’ 6 with four minutes, 46 seconds remaining. That he could not get past safety Harrison Smith effectively ended any shot at a Packers’ comeback.

Historically, Green Bay fares poorly when its quarterback leads the team in rushing. Since 1947, the first year the Packers operated primarily out of the T formation, the team is 11-41 when its signal caller leads the way on the ground.

For Love, this is the second time he has been here. His 39 yards led all runners in the Pack’s 18-17, come-from-behind win over the Saints in late September.

That Love’s modest total could not be surpassed by any Viking underscores how well Green Bay defended the run. Minnesota averaged a scant two yards per carry (31 for 62) with a long of 10. That’s the Packers’ best effort (per carry) since holding the Lions to 64 yards on 33 trips in November 2017.

Though the Packers did permit Akers to come away with Minnesota’s first rushing touchdown of the season – a 6-yard scoot that put the Vikings ahead 7-0 late in the first quarter – it proved stingy otherwise. Four times did Green Bay dump ball carriers for loss (excluding kneel-downs), and four other times held runners to no gain.

Its running lanes clogged, the Vikings leaned heavily on Kirk Cousin’s arm. And, love him or loathe him, No. 8 delivered.

Cousins started for the 11th time against the Packers and improved to 6-4-1. His two second-half TD passes put Minnesota up 24-3.

At Lambeau, Cousins completed 23 of 31 throws for 274 yards without an interception. He was particularly deadly in the third quarter – 9 of 11 for 98 yards and two scores – and on third down – 12 of 13 for 139 and a TD.

In amassing his haul before suffering what has been reported as a season-ending Achilles tear in the fourth quarter, Cousins became the fifth player to throw for more than 3,000 yards against Green Bay in the regular season. The quarterback leapfrogged Tommy Kramer, John Brodie, Drew Brees and Jay Cutler to settle in at No. 5 all-time in passing yards earned at the expense of the Packers.

Cousins' rating of 106.7 is second best (minimum 100 passes attempted) behind that of Brees (112.6).

Club 3000
The five passers who threw for 3,000 or more yards against the Packers in the regular season (per Stathead.com).

Yards   Passer                      Games     Rate
5,976     Matthew Stafford           21            90.2
4,978     Fran Tarkenton              28           74.6
4,145     Johnny Unitas                 22           70.4
3,299     Vinny Testaverde           15            79.1
3,010     Kirk Cousins                   11           106.7

Sunday, October 29, 2023

2023 Run/Pass Stuff Leaders At Midseason

 By John Turney 
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah

Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Browns; Kenny Moore, Colts; Ernest Jones, Rams and Bobby Okereke, Colts are the top four on the run/pass stuffs leaderboard.

A run/pass stuff is a tackle or a loss on a run or a pass play counted the way sacks are. Stats Perform (then Stats, Inc., began tracking this stat in 1993 but they did not include passing plays. It was only runstuffs.

The NFL via NFLGSIS counts passing plays in their tackle-for-loss (TFL) stats but they include solo tackles and lead tackles but not assisted tackles. 

NFLGSIS also does not include plays when the tackler forces a fumble. They DO include sacks but not if there was a fumble forced and not if it is a sacks (1/2) sack. 

So the NFL TFL accounting method misses some big plays.  

Because of those two differences run/pass stuffs is a better overall measure of plays in the backfield other than sacks.

The leaders through week eight, excluding tomorrow's Monday Night Football game.

The 2023 New York Giants Offense—Stuck in Neutral

 By John Turney 
Through eight games in 2023, the New York Giants have scored 95 points. That is an average of 11.9 points per game. 

Eleven point nine.

That is the lowest average per game since 1940 and it's tied for ninth-worst in franchise history. All eight Giants teams with a lower PPG played from 1925 (the team's inaugural season) through 1937. 

The 1929 Giants scored more than the current iteration of the Giants offense. That was the year Benny Friedman (unofficially) threw for 20 touchdowns -- a mark Daniel Jones has not surpassed since his rookie season. 

It's astonishing that in the 21st century, with all the rule changes and points of emphasis that are advantageous to scoring that have been implemented, there can be offenses this unproductive. 

But there have been.   

Since the major rule changes that occurred in 1978, there have been ten teams with a lower point per game average than this year's Giants. The last was the 2009 St. Louis Rams and the lowest (8.8) was the 1992 Seattle Seahawks -- so there have been worse.

Not by much, though.

It's not a lack of talent that can be the culprit. The Giants have former first-round picks Jones, running back Saquon Barkley, tackles Andrew Thomas and Evan Neal on the roster. 

They probably do lack elite talent at wide receiver but 11.9 PPG? Really?

Here are the bottom twenty Giants scoring (totals include any defensive and special teams scores) teams since 1925 when the franchise joined the NFL—

The legendary Jim Thorpe played for the 1925 Giants that scored 10.2 points a game. However, it was fifth best (out of 20 teams), not last. In other words, they were at least decent for the era.

It's not decent for Brian Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka. It's less than good. Nightmarish, even.

The irony is not lost on Kafka's surname.

To wit. From Google Dictionary—

characteristic or reminiscent of the oppressive or nightmarish qualities of Franz Kafka's fictional world.

Yep. Only this nightmare is not fiction. It's real for fans who sit through games at MetLife Stadium or who stream or watch. 
Jim Thorpe 
Hall-of-Fame tailback Benny Friedman's 1929 Giants team scored 20.8 points per game. His 1930 offense scored an average of 18.1 points. Both dwarf what the 2023 Giants are doing.
Benny Friedman
Harry Newman,  Bo Molenda,  Ken Strong and Dale Barnet (pictured) were together in the Giants' backfield from 1933-35. In 1933 they averaged more points a game than the current Giants have with nine games to go.
Bo Molenda, Dale Barnet, Ken Strong, and Harry Newman in 1933

The 1976 Giants with Craig Morton and Larry Csonka were more efficient than 2023's.
Larry Csonka and Craig Morton
The 1976 Giants scored 12.1 PPG
Certainly, sharing a list with teams that played 98, 90 or 80 years ago is not where you want to be.  Midseason (or does nine games mark midseason?) does not a season make. 

There is time for them to ship and pour on some points. They are capable. Last year they averaged 21.5 per game, good enough to be tied for 15th in the NFL -- middle of the pack rather than last. 

It was enough for them to go 9-7-1 and make the playoffs in head coach Brian Daboll's first season in the Big Apple. 

They will need to get a move on however or they will have to face the dubious distinction of having the production of a 1920s NFL team. 

Eleven point nine.


Saturday, October 28, 2023

How Roger Staubach Injured His Shoulder, Preseason, 1972

 By John Turney 
AP photo
"I tried to run over Marlin McKeever," Dallas Cowboys Hall-of-Fame quarterback Roger Staubach said, "and that was a big mistake."

That is how he missed most 1972 regular season, not making an appearance from the third preseason game against the Rams in Los Angeles until the tenth game of the regular season in Philadelphia. 

He got some snaps for the next three regular season games and a divisional playoff game (leading a great Cowboys comeback against the San Francisco 49ers) until he got the starting nod in the NFC Championship game in Washington.

Dallas lost that game 26-3 and the Redskins advanced to the Super Bowl.

Here is the play he was injured in August of 1972. 
As you can see from the above clip right defensive end Jack Youngblood comes free on a rush and as Staubach was adept at doing, ducked low enough to escape and flushed to the left for a good gain.

His mistake was presenting his right shoulder at the three-yard line to try and run over Rams middle linebacker Marlin McKeever.

The play landed Youngblood in hot water with his head coach Tommy Prothro. In a team meeting a day after the game Prothro blurted out, "Youngblood, Tom Landry hates you."

"Excuse me?" replied the second-year defensive end. "That's right," the coach continued, "If you hadn't screwed up that pass rush, if you'd tackled Staubach like you were supposed to, he wouldn't be injured today."

Youngblood recalls being punished for the missed tackle by having to work on his tackling after practice every day for a week. 

For years Youngblood has maintained that Prothro hated him and this episode is among the stories he uses to illustrate why he thinks that. 

Youngblood probably has a point -- Staubach did this to a lot of pass rushers. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Big Daddy Lipscomb—Triumph and Tragedy

By John Turney 
Big Daddy Lipscomb with the Rams, Colts and Steelers
All-Pro defensive lineman Eugene "Big Daddy" Lipscomb twice as a modern-day finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame (1970, 1977) and wasn't elected. OK, so it happens. But since then, he hasn't been able to get back on the voters' radar, and that's a shame.

Because he should.

He has the credentials to be a Hall-of-Famer -- a four-time All-Pro (twice consensus AP, UPI and NEA), with his last two by the NEA alone. That's significant because it was the "Players' All-Pro team" determined not by the media but by a poll of NFL players who knew what "Big Daddy" could do. And they considered him among the best of his era.

But his legacy was tainted by off-the-field pursuits that eventually cost him his life ... and, in all likelihood ... a chance for election to reach Canton.

"If he hadn't died tragically," said former L.A. Times writer and Hall voter Bob Oates, "he would've been in (the Hall of Fame) already."

But he's not. And he probably never will be.

Pro football's first athletic big man, Eugene Allen Lipscomb was a marvel for his day. He stood 6-feet-6, weighed 320-pounds at his peak (though listed weights varied, starting at 280 pounds and up to 306) and could run like a much smaller man with speed. But his nickname of "Big Daddy" had nothing to do with his size and everything to do with his memory. He had trouble remembering names. So he called everyone "Little Daddy"... which, in turn, made him "Big Daddy".

Or so the story goes.

When he played football, he ruled by intimidation, hitting so hard that Hall-of-Famer Jim Brown -- who said he feared no one -- admitted that he was "very aware of what damage Lipscomb could do." So was Hall-of-Fame offensive lineman Forrest Gregg. As a rookie guard with Green Bay, he couldn't block Lipscomb. So he resorted to holding him, which irked his opponent.

"Hey Forrest," Lipscomb said one afternoon. "Let's make a deal. If you don't hold me, I won't kill you."

Gregg agreed. He refrained from holding the rest of the game.

 A legendary NFL figure, Lipscomb was so effective that he once said he'd tackle everyone in the backfield until he found the one who held the football.

"Him, you keep," he said. 

"He pursued better than any big man I ever saw," said Baltimore quarterback John Unitas, a teammate of Lipscomb's. "When he tackled you, you stayed tackled."

But Lipscomb wasn't just a football player. He was someone with a myriad of interests and larger-than-life appetites. He wrestled professionally in the offseasons. He tried to play basketball with the Baltimore Bullets of the EBA before NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle prevented him. He was enamored with America's space program and wanted to become an astronaut after retiring.

"I wonder if those cats up there on the moon have a football team," he said. "If they do, 'Big Daddy' would have himself a ball. And when those scientists ... see somebody making tackles all over the surface, they'll be able to say, 'There's a man on the moon, and it's 'Big Daddy' Lipscomb."

But he also enjoyed drinking -- sometimes in legendary amounts -- and seeking the attention of women. He was married and divorced three times. The lifestyle he led has been described as extravagant, which is another way of saying he flirted with trouble. And that trouble eventually ended his life.

He died in Baltimore in May, 1963. That much we know. But the circumstances are unclear. It was ruled a heroin overdose, but those who knew him are more than skeptical. They think he could've been the victim of a homicide.

"He couldn't stand needles," said former Pittsburgh teammate Clendon Thomas. "You couldn't get close to him with a needle. In the locker room, if something was hurting ... you could shoot him in the muscle, and there was no way you could get anything deadened. He wouldn't take a vitamin shot."

Another teammate, Hall-of-Famer Lenny Moore noted that needle marks were found on Lipscomb's right arm, which made no sense. He was right-handed, the former Colts' star said, which meant Lipscomb would've had to inject himself with his left hand.

"Big Daddy' never took dope in his life," said another former teammate, cornerback Johnny Sample.

Sample admitted that "Big Daddy" was a heavy drinker. But he speculated that after a night of partying with associates, someone injected a large amount of heroin into an inebriated Lipscomb and robbed him of considerable cash.

The Hall had no morals clause when Lipscomb was a modern-day candidate, so it's not only possible ... but plausible ... that what was determined as a drug overdose influenced Hall-of-Fame voters and kept Lipscomb from gaining a Gold Jacket.

But his accomplishments and place in history deserve another look.

After an extremely difficult and troubled childhood (his mother was murdered -- stabbed 47 times by a man on a street corner), Lipscomb joined the United States Marines out of high school and played football -- as an offensive end -- at Camp Pendleton (Cal.). It was there that he drew the attention of Rozelle, then with the Rams' public relations department, who liked what he saw and passed his report to the team's head scout, Eddie Kotal.

Kotal liked what he saw, too, and the Rams not only signed Lipscomb but put him on the field when his military hitch expired in 1953 -- with Lipscomb playing the final two games of that season at defensive end (in a wide-9 alignment, no less!) and starting his first game against his future team, the Baltimore Colts. 
Lipscomb at left defensive end - split on the open side
outside the tight end in 9-technique on the closed side
The following year he was moved inside to a more natural position of defensive tackle. Usually, he was the right defensive tackle, where he could beat up left guards and anyone else who got in his way. But his role changed in 1955 when the Rams fired head coach Hamp Pool and hired Sid Gillman, whose philosophy clashed with Lipscomb's performance.
Lipscomb at nose tackle in a 3-4 (upper left) and 5-2 (upper right)
Then at right defensive tackle in a 4-3 (lower left) and 5-2 (lower right)
Gillman liked disciplined players; Lipscomb was more prone to free-lancing -- dominating his opponent before chasing down ball carriers. The result? Lipscomb played less under his new coach. Nevertheless, he played well enough that the Times' Oates chose him as one of the defensive tackles on his all-time L.A. Rams' team -- remarkable for someone who played just a little over two seasons in Los Angeles.

A brawl in a 1956 preseason game that stemmed from a "Big Daddy" late hit on Unitas, combined with domestic issues (he had two ex-wives by the age of 25), ended his Rams' career, with the team releasing him. That's when Baltimore coach Weeb Ewbank decided to give him a second chance and claimed him off waivers for $100.

It was a wise decision.

After recovering from broken ribs and a strained knee sustained in the Unitas fracas, Lipscomb became a starter and led the team in tackles with 137 in 1957. The following year, he led the Colts in tackles again with 118 and was voted All-Pro for the first time.

But wait. How could a defensive tackle lead a team in tackles? Easy. It was Lipscomb's style of play.

With the Colts, he was not a penetrator; he played more sideline-to-lineline -- sometimes lining up as a linebacker to give the Colts a quasi 3-4 look. His unique abilities gave him the range to do it. Furthermore, he occasionally dropped into zone coverage, too, especially when Baltimore played the 49ers and their shotgun offense.
Lipscomb in various alignments with the Colts including linebacker
nose tackle, right defensive tackle on the ball and flex off the ball
He was the perfect complement to Hall-of-Famers Gino Marchetti and Art Donovan, who comprised the left side of the Colts' defensive line, and the combination of Don Joyce and Ordell Braase, who split time to his right. That group formed the best defensive line in the game and contributed mightily to the Colts' back-to-back NFL championships in 1958-59 by harassing passers and flattening running backs. 

Ewbank thought that Lipscomb had the ability to become one of the greatest defensive tackles in the history of the game, while John Bridgers, the Colts' defensive line coach, went one step further -- saying he was the greatest.

But within a year, the Colts had floundered, and  Ewbank became so concerned with Lipscomb's excessive off-the-field habits that he feared he was "losing control" of him. By then, "Big Daddy" was more vocal about how poorly black players (and the black population in general) were treated in Baltimore, while his forays into pro wrestling and basketball didn't set well with the Colts' hierarchy.

So they traded him to Pittsburgh in 1961 as part of a five-man deal.

The move wasn't just a change of scenery for "Big Daddy;" it was a change in assignments. Rather than have him serve as a piano player (playing left and right), Steelers' coach Buddy Parker wanted Lipscomb to play up-the-field in an attacking role --creating chaos as he used his enormous size to overwhelm smaller guards.

And he did.

Recent reviews of NFL gamebooks reveal that Lipscomb had 17-1/2 sacks (per Pro Football Reference) in his first year as a Steeler -- though sacks from that era are unofficial. Official or not, though, it's a mind-boggling total for an interior lineman in that -- or any --era.

"Last year was my best rushing the passer," Lipscomb said then. "With the Colts, I didn't rush much. But here I had the chance, and I just love to rush the passer. It's my bread-and-butter, and it's a lot of fun."


He didn't have as many sacks in 1962, but he was dominant in the Playoff Bowl and played so proficiently that football insiders felt it may have been his finest season. Happy, confident and secure, "Big Daddy" was said to be looking forward to contract talks, a significant raise and a fourth marriage before his untimely death the following spring. 

"(P)eople always remember you by the last thing you did," Lipscomb once said.

He was prophetic. The complicated man with an outgoing public personality and private fits of depression and sadness likely had his legacy tarnished by the last day of his life. After failing to reach the Hall in 1977, he's never been back as a senior candidate.
Lipscomb at right tackle in a 4-3 with the Steelers
And that raises the question: Shouldn't there be room for a flawed man who was respected by his peers and who five times received some sort of postseason honor -- either All-Pro or Pro Bowl? Who possesses two NFL championship rings? And who worked his way out of dire circumstances into one of the most well-known and beloved football players of his day?

There should be.

"Big Daddy" Lipscomb deserves to have his case heard at least one more time with a fresh set of eyes. The Hall's seniors committee should make that happen. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

TUESDAY TIDBITS: "One Play On, One Play Off, Then When"

By TJ Troup

The title of today's column comes from Paul Lionel Zimmerman who would have turned 91 yesterday, and this quote ends with "When they're in the four-man rush, he's on the bench sucking on an orange". There was no one quite like Dr.Z, and his way of telling us his views on pro football. 

We sure could use him now as there are men like John Breech who have jobs telling us when records have been broken, and not being correct/accurate. 
Breech tells us, "Sam Howell got sacked six times against the Giants, which means he's now been sacked 40 times on the season. That's the second-highest total in NFL history through seven weeks, trailing only David Carr, who was sacked 43 times through seven games in 2002."

However, when Van Brocklin became head coach of the Falcons in '68 here inherited an offensive line that could not pass block, and as such they allowed 42 sacks in the last seven games of '68. 

Van Brocklin began '69 with five new starters, and in the first seven games of '69 Atlanta allowed 42 sacks. That's 84 in a fourteen-game stretch. 

Why does anyone hire guys like Breech? This would not have been a long research project, which tells me Breech is just damn lazy.

Since Washington was mentioned let's pay tribute to the 1991 Redskins (still like the name) and their offensive line. The 'Skins that year allowed just 4 sacks in the first seven games of the year, and at one point went eight straight games without allowing a sack. 

Possibly coach Rivera could have one of the hogs of '91 come to practice and demonstrate how to pass block? 

Next Monday night the Lions host the Raiders, and if the Silver & Black gain 355 yards in the first half against Detroit then Aaron Glenn might be looking for a new job. 

The Ravens gained 355 yards in total offense this past Sunday in the demolition of Detroit. Before taking us on our trip back into history, want to mention a player that has gotten my attention with his ability to tackle. 

Foyesade Oluokun must rank as one of the best tacklers in the past few years and is a joy to watch him hustle, hit, and TACKLE. Dick Butkus is smiling from linebacker heaven every time this youngster makes a tackle. 
Foyesade Oluokun
The 1960 San Francisco 49ers ended their season by playing strong football and posted a winning record. The optimism for '61 had reached a fever pitch when they journeyed to Wrigley Field with a 4-1 record (offense had scored 167 points) to take on a 3-2 Bears team. 

This game marked the last time that Clark Shaughnessy completely out-coached an offensive coordinator. He aligned the Bears in a way that the Niners simply could not adjust to, and though Chicago did not record a sack, there was immense pressure on the San Francisco trio of tailbacks. Much was written about Bill George as he shot gaps and knifed into the Niner backfield, yet film study shows he had plenty of help—especially from Joe Fortunato. 
Many teams make half-time adjustments, and Red Hickey's team gained 7 yards rushing on 12 attempts in the 2nd half, and the Niner passers completed just 1 of 10 for minus-3 yards.

Dr. Z would take detailed notes during a game and write them in the margin. He regaled us with comments about the 49ers fans and their distaste for Red Hickey later during the season. 

Earlier this year the Dolphins scored 70 points, and this past Sunday marked the 73-year anniversary of the Rams scoring 70 on the Baltimore Colts on October 22, 1950.

Let's take a detailed look at the first quarter shall we? 

Captain Naumetz of the Rams wins the toss, and the Rams take the ball. Kalmanir returns the kickoff to the Los Angeles forty-two. 

Glenn Davis on a halfback option pass pitches to Hirsch for 58 yards and the opening salvo. Baltimore responds with five running plays for 25 yards before Adrian Burk fires to Billy Stone for 55 yards and the tying touchdown.  
Glenn Davis
Verda "Vitamin T." Smith returns the ensuing kickoff 95 yards to put Los Angeles back in the lead 14-7. 

The Colts can't move and punt, but the Rams after another impressive drive do not score when Rip Collins intercepts Van Brocklin in the endzone. Baltimore is on their own six-yard line and Burk fumbles (recovered by Gil Bouley) on the four-yard line. 

Fullback Dick Hoerner carries four straight times and punches it into paydirt. Rams 21 Colts 7. Hirsch intercepts—yes folks, many players in this era still went both ways, but wait a minute? pass interference is called, and the Colts keep the ball. Billy Stone dashes 36 yards to set up Burk's sneak for a score. 
Dick Hoerner
Rams 21 Colts 13 (extra point attempt was wide). Rams drive into Baltimore territory, but Waterfield misses a 36-yard field goal attempt. Baltimore is moving the ball again as the quarter ends. 

The NFL Record and Fact Book states that the most combined points scored in the first quarter in league history is 35, with no mention of what teams held the record before. 

You see the picture of Waterfield on one of his classic naked bootleg runs to score just before the half after Woodley Lewis had pilfered a pass and returned deep into Colts territory to set up the Waterfield run.  
Bob Waterfield
Half-time score Los Angeles 35 Baltimore 13. 

This Ram team is consistent as they score 35 points in the second half also, but the next week against Detroit the Rams cannot maintain this kind of scoring pace, and score "only" 65 in the win over the Lions.

See ya next week.

Monday, October 23, 2023

Another Slow Start, Another Loss for Green Bay

 By Eric Goska 

Emanuel Wilson (31) - here in a preseason game in
 August - led Green Bay with 19 first-half rushing yards.
(photos by Eric Goska)

Glaciers move faster.

Drying paint provides more excitement.

Hyperbole aside, the Packers have a first-half problem. If their performance in Denver is any indication, this shortcoming could persist.

The Broncos outgained Green Bay by a substantial margin in the opening two quarters at Empower Field at Mile High Sunday. Though the Packers rallied, a fourth-quarter field goal propelled Denver to a 19-17 win.

Win or lose, Green Bay’s offense has finished with fewer yards than its opponent every time this season. Here is the damage to date: Chicago (+47), Atlanta (+94), New Orleans (+16), Detroit (+261), Las Vegas (+42) and Denver (+109).

Opponents (1,138 yards) have doubled the Pack’s output (569). And those measly 569 yards are the third-fewest through six games by Green Bay since 1944 (541 in 1974 and 547 in 1975).

Perhaps this best sums up the deficiency. Never before in the past 100 seasons (1923-2022) has the Green and Gold been outgained in the first half of each of its first six contests.

Certainly that is a low to which coach Matt LaFleur and his team did not want to sink.

LB Isaiah McDuffie
led the Pack with 10 tackles
Jordan Love and the offense ran 25 first-half plays and gained an even 100 yards. Only twice – a 14-yard screen pass to receiver Romeo Doubs and a 14-yard run by Emanuel Wilson to end the half – did the Packers gain more than 8 yards on a single play.

Only once in the opening 30 minutes did Love fire deep with the intention of hitting a receiver. He failed to connect with Jayden Reed about 22 yards downfield late in the first quarter, a play that would have been wiped out by a face mask penalty on tackle Rasheed Walker had the throw been successful.

Perhaps this best sums up how conservative Green Bay was with the pass: Love completed 10 of 13 first-half passes for 47 yards. In the past 100 seasons, only one Packer player had fewer yards on his first 10 completions in a game: Aaron Rodgers with 41 in a 37-8 blowout loss at San Francisco in 2019.

Only two others had fewer than 50: Brett Hundley 49 in 2017 and Don Majkowski 49 in 1989.

Denver had little trouble moving the ball. It ripped off nine plays of 10 or more yards in amassing 209 by halftime.

The Packers lack of yardage has translated to a lack of points. Green Bay has been outscored 78 to 26 in the opening two quarters including a whopping 63 to 6 in the last four games.

Doubs and Reed are the only Packers to have registered a first-half touchdown this season.

The Packers need a wake-up call. They need it now. No more hitting snooze until the second half begins.

Through six games, Green Bay is averaging 4.3 first half points per game. The last time they did that over the course of an entire season was 1927, the Stone Age of football.

Since 1944, the most yards the Packers have been outgained in the first half by their opponents through six games.

Yards       Year   Record after 6   Final record
-569           2023                2-4                            ?
-506           1986                0-6                        4-12
-450           2017                4-2                          7-9
-432           1976                3-3                          5-9
-419           1956                2-4                          4-8

Kareem Jackson Latest To Be Ejected Twice In The Same Season

 By Nick Webster 
Mean Joe Greene
Kareem Jackson was ejected from his second game of the season yesterday.  I have a long -- though imperfect -- accounting of historical ejections.

Jackson joins Quay Walker, Tyji Armstrong, Jim Osborne, Joe Greene and Henry Schmidt as players ejected twice in the same season.

The list and the year they had two—
Year        Player                        Career ejections
1963 Henry Schmidt, SD             2
1969 Joe Greene, Pit                    4
1972 Jim Osborne, Chi                3
1994        Tyji Armstrong, TB            2
2022 Quay Walker, GB                2
2023 Kareem Jackson, Den         2

Joe Greene is tied with Len Ford for the most in a career. Ford, though never had more than one in a season.

As always this is the best information available at this time. As more records are searched there could be others added.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Updates: Rams Keep on Defensive Pace and Lose; Browns Do Not and Win

 By John Turney 
Here is an update to two posts from last week with an interesting turn of events.

Here are links:
Browns Defense of to Great Start - Tuesday, October 17, 2023

LA Rams Secondary Off To Good Start - Thursday, October 19, 2023

Cleveland Browns 
The Browns' defense was off to a terrific start to the 2023 season in terms of yards allowed. After five games they'd only given up 1,002 total yards which was third-best in NFL since the 1970 merger. 

They pulled off a win in Indianapolis on a one-yard 4th and goal run by Kareem Hunt with just :15 seconds left in the game. As the 39-38 secure suggests they didn't keep pace with their start allowing 456 yards to the Colts' offense. 

They did score on a sack/forced fumble/fumble recovery in the end zone so the defense did contribute but their yards per game average jumped to 243.0 which will still rank first in the NFL (so far) but knocks them out of being noteworthy. 
Myles Garrett with a strip sack that was recovered for a Cleveland TD
Video clip: CBS Sports
It was fun while it lasted. Whenever you can mention Carl Eller and Bubba Smith in the same post with Myles Garrett it's kind of cool. 

Los Angeles Rams
Contrary to the Browns the Rams didn't allow a touchdown pass to keep their season total at four. But the Pittsburgh Steelers rolled into SoFi and beat the Rams 24-17.

They ran for three touchdowns and didn't allow a touchdown pass. 
A questionable defensive pass interference call on Rams CB Ahkello Witherspoon
Video clip: Fox Sports
By keeping their season total at four they now have allowed the fewest in team history after the first seven games of a season.

Like the Cleveland streak it's great to look back at some of the defenses the 2023 unit is rubbing shoulders with. Some were great defenses, others were not some were in the middle.

The only thing that is fair to say at this point is that the young secondary is outperforming expectations. No cornerback or safety is going to the Pro Bowl but they've held up their end on a defense that is better than most expected given how young they are—essentially it's Aaron Donald and a bunch of question marks

Today was interesting in that defensive coordinator Raheem Morris threw a couple of twists at the Steelers. In the base defense, Cobie Durant started and played outside in the base defense on the left side and Ahkello Witherspoon moved to the right. 

In nickel Witherspoon played the boundary and a couple of different nickel packages were used and they were to the field. One had Derion Kendricks outside and Durant as the slot. Another kept Durant outside and used safety Quentin Lake in the slot in a "big nickel". 

This is the first time the Rams have deployed their secondary this way. Lake has been playing as a moneybacker (nickel linebacker) in previous weeks and did so again but the slot wrinkle with Durant outside was new. 

Good stuff.

It's not known if these packages were going to be part of the game plan all week or if  Kendrick's reduced role was because he was arrested last Monday morning when police found a concealed gun in his car after a traffic stop. 

Regardless, they will start giving up touchdowns very soon—it's inevitable. However, looking at partial seasons is still a worthy topic. It allows us to enjoy things in the moment. Tomorrow will take care of itself but as of now every Rams team has allowed five or more touchdown passes seven games into a season except the 2023 iteration.

Well done. We'll see if it can last another week. 

Friday, October 20, 2023

Top Twenty Seasons by Saints' Defensive Ends

 By John Turney 
The New Orleans Saints have had plenty of accomplished defensive ends since the club originated in 1967, but few outside of Louisiana or the Saints' fan base know about them - and look no farther than the team's success for an explanation.

There wasn't much.

Not in the beginning, there wasn't. The Saints went 20 years without a winning record before breaking through to a 12-3 finish in the strike-truncated 1987 season. As a result, some outstanding individual achievements could ... and did ... fly under the radar.

But I'm here to correct that. To familiarize you with them, I examined individual production, postseason honors and the familiar "eye test." to compile a list of the 15  top seasons -- career years, if you will -- by Saints' defensive ends, with only one season per candidate allowed.

The result? Keep reading:

20. Andy Dorris, 1976—Prior to coming to the Saints he was the cocky kid that challenged Hall-of-Fame tackle Bob "Boomer" Brown by trying a swim move. Brown broke the cocky rookie's ribs with a shot with his casted thumb.

Lesson learned. Dorris was not the first cocky rookie to try that and not get away with it—just ask jack Youngblood who admits he did the same thing in his first preseason.

After his time with the Saints, in the late 1970s, Dorris was a very good player for Oilers teams that challenged the great Steelers teams for AFC Championships. His time in New Orleans was in between. No, 1976 was not a great season -- he was a part-time starter --  but his 31 tackles and 5-1/2 sacks (plus a forced fumble, pass deflected) were solid enough to round out the top twenty. 

It edges 1975 when he was a full-time starter and made 60 tackles but didn't get much pass rush not getting many hurries or any sacks. 

19. Renaldo Turnbull, 1990. A rookie who was a first-round draft by the Saints. He started six of 16 games was was used on passing downs in the other ten. He made 31 tackles but in limited snaps totaled 9 sacks forced one fumble and recovered one and had one pass deflected. 

Not big (248 pounds on a 6-foot-4 frame) but ran a 4.62 forty. Eventually became an All-pro at outside linebacker replacing Pat Swilling who signed a free agent contract with the Lions.

He made most of the All-Rookie teams. Like Dorris not a spectacular year, but good enough for the 19th best in team annals. 

18. Marcus Davenport, 2021—Davenport could never stay healthy. He was plenty talented but he never played a full season with the Saints. However in 2021, in eleven games to totaled 9 sacks and forced three fumbles. 

At 6-foot-6, 265 pounds and 4.58 speed he's one of the top athletes they have ever had at his position in the Big Easy. He was the 14th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft but other than 2021, he was mostly a disappointment. 

He's now playing as an edge rusher with the Vikings signing with Minnesota as a free agent in March of 2023.

17. Richard Neal, 1972—The second-round pick out of HBCU Southern in 1969 Neal had seven and made 55 tackles. He was also solid in 1971 when he had eight sacks and fell on four fumbles but he had a season-long ankle injury that year. On the positive side, he gutted through it and it impressed his coach J.D. Roberts. 

 He was noted for having a world of talent and the Saints probably expected more and was eventually sent to the Jets for a second- and third-round pick after they'd acquired Billy Newsome.

16. Billy Newsome, 1973—Newsome became a Saint in the deal that allowed the Colts to draft Bert Jones. Newsome, a fifth-round pick by Baltimore, had been effective in his three years there.

In 1973 he had made 58 tackles, 8 sacks and forced a pair of fumbles and deflected four passes. When he first reported to the Colts he was about 22-5 pounds but by the time he was playing his best ball, he'd put on weight and packed 250 pounds on his 6-foot-five frame.

Eventually, he was traded to the Jets where he started opposite Neal as their bookends on the defensive line in 1975.

15. Jim Wilks, 1984—The 6-foot-5, 266-pound Wilks played a few positions for the Saints, moving to nose tackle late in his career after serving as a 3-4 defensive end who played inside on passing downs.

He had twin seasons in 1983 and 1984 with 8 and 7-1/2 sacks respectively, but the latter season (1984) was the choice when he totaled 72 tackles, had two deflected passes and even blocked a kick.

14. Frank Warren, 1989—For the first seven seasons of his 14-year Saints' career, he was a third-down rusher. But in 1989 he was in his second season as a starter, and he responded with a career-high 9-1/2 sacks. He also had 50 tackles, four deflected passes and a career-best three sacks in a big Monday night win over Philadelphia in December -- with one of the sacks going for a safety.

At 285 pounds, Warren was heavier than Wilks and big for his rear. Even so, he was a little better pass rusher.

13. Elois Grooms, 1979—There wasn't much remarkable about Grooms before 1979. But with the Saints playing well and getting momentum that season, he had a career year. 

With 51 tackles and 12 sacks (tied for team lead), Grooms may be the least known of any player who had a double-digit year in sacks (per Pro Football Reference). Nevertheless, he was dominant in a game vs. Washington when he lived in the backfield, getting Joe Theismann all day.

A better athlete than advertised, he was described as "built like a tank but runs like a Ferrari." He built up his strength by hitting the weights ... in a weight room he built in his garage.

12. Darren Howard, 2000—Howard was a rookie in his best season. He seemed to make plays all year, benefitting from playing on a line with All-Pro La'Roi Glover and Pro Bowler Joe Johnson. His final numbers were 52 tackles, 11 sacks seven passes defended, and an interception he took to the house. 

Howard started his NFL career on a high note, as he was named Defensive Rookie of the Month for September. By year's end, he was All-Rookie and second in the AP Defensive Rookie-of-the-Year voting.

11. Charles Grant, 2004—Grant totaled 80 tackles and had a career-high 10-1/2 sacks in his top season when he also forced three fumbles, defended seven passes and had an interception.

The 6-foot-3, 282-pound former first-round pick out of Georgia ran a 4.67 40 and, as a testament to his athleticism, showed good strength at the 2002 NFL scouting combine.

10. Joe Owens, 1973—Originally a Saint, Owens played minor-league ball for a year before he was traded to the Chargers where he had a good season. However, the Chargers waived him the next year, and the Saints grabbed him. 

A backup his first two years, he became a full-time starter in 1973 and recorded 8 sacks, 8 run/pass stuffs (tackles behind the line of scrimmage), 49 tackles, three passes defended and a blocked kick. He even intercepted a John Hadl pass.

At 6-2 and 245 pounds, Owens was undersized, but he was tenacious and quick enough to beat NFL tackles from his right defensive-end spot. However, after his top year he became a designated pass rusher in 1974-75 when the Saints moved more to 3-4 fronts. Still, his 1973 season was really good, one of the top 10 performances by a Saints' defensive end.

The Saints lost him to the Seahawks in the 1976 expansion draft. Hank Stram left him unprotected mainly because of an ailing knee which was a primary cause he didn't make the club. Late in the year the Oilers signed him but he did little there.

9. Bob Pollard, 1974—Caught on some poor teams in his time on the Bayou, Pollard began as a defensive tackle. But as the Saints began to mix in more 3-4 fronts, he played defensive end in 1974 when he wasn't playing inside in passing situations.

He was remarkably consistent, but 1974 was the choice for his career year when he made 98 tackles -- a high for a defensive lineman -- had 9 sacks, forced a pair of fumbles and recovered two.

"Bob seldom has a bad game for us," said Saints' coach John North. "Week after week, he does an outstanding job for us."

Had he played for a winning team he'd have been invited to some Pro Bowls. 

8. Don Reese, 1979—A troubled soul who fought drug addiction, Reese ran afoul of the law -- even serving jail time -- and was released by Miami. But he gained a second chance with the Saints in 1978 and was solid a year later when he recorded 12 sacks.

Reese made 54 tackles, deflected five passes and forced a fumble as the Saints enjoyed their first non-losing season ever, going 8-8. That wouldn't have happened without the pass rush Reese and the defensive line provided -- one that set a team record for sacks with 46. 

7. Trey Hendrickson, 2020—Hendrickson was All-Pro (PFWA) in 2020 when he totaled 13 sacks and applied constant pressure on quarterbacks with 25 hits. He was a work-in-progress prior to his career year, but from the beginning, the club knew they had a winner in the third-round pick from Florida Atlantic.

"Trey was a good technician when we got him," Saints' defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen said prior to Hendrickson's second season. "(He needed) a little fine tuning. He needed to add some strength. Improve his lower-body explosiveness. If he stays healthy, Trey has a chance to be real good in this league."

Fortunately for the 6-foor-4, 270-pound defensive end, his career year happened to be a contract year, and he performed well enough to earn a four-year, $60-million contract with the Bengals in 2021.

6. Will Smith, 2009—The Saints' first-round choice in the 2004 NFL draft, the former Buckeye was unusually strong (30 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press at the NFL combine) and plenty quick (4.60 in the 40). He showed promise early in his career, forcing six fumbles as a rookie and going to the Pro Bowl in 2006.

But it was 2009, the year after Smith signed a six-year, $70-million contract, that he was a big part of a Saints' defense that went to ... and won ... a Super Bowl. He had 13 sacks that year and an equally significant 26 quarterback hits (tied for second in the NFL).  He also deflected three passes, forced three fumbles and made 49 tackles.

Tragically, after his career was over, Smith was shot and killed in an altercation following a traffic accident.

5. Wayne Martin, 1992—Like others on this list, Martin was a base 3-4 end who became a nickel defensive tackle in four-man lines in passing situations. He totaled 70 tackles (53 solo) and 15-1/2 sacks in 1992, while deflecting five passes, forcing three fumbles and producing 5-1/2 run/pass stuffs.

He also had a seven-tackle, four-sack performance vs, Atlanta in December that earned him NFC Defensive Player of the Week.

His sack total ranked fifth in the NFL, earning him second-team All-Pro (NEA) honors. But that was his sole post-season recognition. Earning All-Pro acclaim in that era was tough because of the competition, with Reggie White, Bruce Smith, Chris Doleman and Richard Dent -- all Hall of Famers -- eligible.

So Martin didn't gain as much notice as he deserved.

After the year, he was signed by Washington to a four-year $10.1-million offer sheet, but New Orleans matched the offer and kept him from leaving. The Saints were glad they did. A couple of years later when they switched to a 4-3 scheme, Martin moved inside and excelled at that position.
4. Bruce Clark, 1984—A Pro Bowler, Clark was a 3-4 defensive end in base defense but moved inside on passing downs. He made 90 tackles and had 8-1/2 sacks, with one interception, two passes defended two and 6-1/2 run/pass stuffs.

With a strong, low-to-the-ground build, Clark had good "base" with leverage that allowed him to be a solid all-around end. In fact, he was one of the most underrated defensive linemen of the 1980s, except to those who study the game.

Former coach Bum Phillips was one of them, calling Clark's 1984 season "as good a year as I've seen a defensive lineman have." Another was Bill Parcells, who two years later said Clark was "one of the five best players at his position in football."

3. Joe Johnson, 1998— Though Johnson had more sacks in 2000 when he went to his second Pro Bowl, 1998 is the pick. He made more plays vs. the run that season, yet still was a dynamite pass rusher.

Granted, he missed three games that year, but he still totaled 70 tackles, 12-1/2 stuffs, seven sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery that he returned for a touchdown. He was also voted to his first Pro Bowl.

A ruptured patellar tendon and back surgery sidelined him the following season, but he came back strong in 2000 and was voted AP Comeback Player of the Year. Alas, injury problems followed him to Green Bay after he signed a six-year-$33 million deal in 2002, and he was forced to retire after two seasons there. 

Like Clark and Martin, Johnson was an underrated player and the epitome of a classic Saints' defensive end -- someone who was more the total package than an edge rusher.

2. Doug Atkins, 1968—The old man was dominant in his penultimate NFL season and voted to the Pro Bowl ... though you wouldn't know it. A fractured knee cap kept him from playing, and it wasn't until 1979 that injured players voted to the team were credited with Pro Bowl recognition.

However, he was second-team All-Pro and All-Eastern Conference.

His 13 tackles against Cleveland on opening day earned him AP NFL Defensive Player of the Week, and he finished the season with 56 tackles and 12-1/2 sacks in 11 games. Atkins won a slew of local awards, including team MVP and PFWA (Wisconsin Chapter) winner of the Vince Lombardi Dedication Award.

At 39, the 6-foor-8 Atkins was still leaping blockers, throwing them to the outside and getting into quarterbacks' faces as he had the previous 15 seasons. His Saints' career year was the last of the great seasons in a Hall-of-Fame career.

1. Cam Jordan, 2017—A perennial Pro Bowler (named as recently as last year) and legitimate Hall-of-Fame candidate, Jordan is the complete defensive end, not just a pass rusher. He can play the run, outmaneuver tackles and even drop into coverage to disrupt shallow crossing routes by receivers.

Remarkably consistent, Jordan produced a handful of seasons that could be considered for his career year. In the final analysis, however, 2017 is the selection --mostly because he was arguably the best defensive end in the NFL, named first in one independent scouting firm's ranking of 4-3 defensive ends.

Additionally, he was first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowler.

He applied consistent heat on quarterbacks all season, with Pro Football Focus crediting Jordan with 75 total pressures (a combination of sacks, quarterback knockdowns and hurries) and Football Outsiders putting the figure at 80. Either total is remarkable, ranking among the NFL leaders according to both analytics sites.

He also made 66 tackles, 13 sacks, deflected 11 passes and forced two fumbles. Jordan's 2017 season was the best of his career and the best by a defensive end in Saints history.