Thursday, November 30, 2023

Jayden Reed and His 30s

By Eric Goska

(photo by Eric Goska)

Jayden Reed is not 30 years old. He’s 23, but the talented rookie does have a connection to the larger number in this, his first season with the Packers.

Green Bay selected Reed in the second round (50th overall) of last April’s draft. The decision to partner with the 5-foot-11 receiver occurred on Reed’s birthday.

Seven months later, the Western Michigan and Michigan State product has made his presence known. Reed leads the Packers in receiving yards (497) and is second in receptions (36) and receiving TDs (5) behind Romeo Doubs (41; 7).

Reed, one of the youngsters who populates Green Bay’s roster, has received his share of attention. Against the Lions on Thanksgiving, Reed (4 catches for 34 yards) paced a rookie class that has caught more passes (107) than any other in team history.

Some of Reed’s accomplishments have been documented in the Packers Dope Sheet, a packet of information made available to the media and fans before each game. It is from this sheet that our story begins.

As noted in the Dope Sheet (see below), Reed has snagged a fair number of catches that have carried for 30 yards or more. His seven this season, according to the Packers, are the most by a Green Bay rookie since 2000.

Before proceeding, one error must be addressed. Greg Jennings did not have five receptions of 30-plus yards as a rookie in 2006. He had four. The Packers mistakenly gave him credit for a 42-yarder against the Vikings on Nov. 12. On that play, Brett Favre passed to Jennings for 12 who then lateraled to Donald Driver for 30 more. A sizable gain, but not a 30-yarder for Jennings as only a dozen yards were added to his receiving total.

Greg Jennings did not have 5 receptions of 30+ yards as a rookie.

With Jennings out of the picture, that leaves Reed and Marquez Valdes-Scantling as the only Packers this century to have recorded more than four 30-yarders as rookies. That says something.

Why the cutoff at 2000? We can’t answer that, but at Pro Football Journal, we open the floor to all players, even those who did not wear facemasks or helmets. We want to know how Reed’s numbers stack up against every rookie who suited up for the Green and Gold, not just those in the last 23 years.

And if Reed tops the list after that, more power to him.

Reed’s long gains have measured 30, 30, 44, 31, 34, 35 and 46 yards. His first catch as a pro went for 30 at Chicago in the opener. His 30-yarder against the Saints set up the go-ahead TD in Green Bay’s amazing fourth-quarter comeback.

His longest advance put the Packers in scoring territory with under a minute remaining in Pittsburgh. That Jordan Love was intercepted on the game’s last play doesn’t diminish Reed’s contribution.

That 46-yarder, his seventh of 30-plus, was Reed’s 28th catch of 2023. In the last 100-plus years, how many Packers rookies counted seven such gains among their first 28 receptions?

The answer is zero. And that says even more about Reed’s inaugural campaign.

Some notable rookies could not come up with even one such catch. Antonio Freeman (8 catches) and Jordy Nelson (33) never got out of the twenties. Donald Driver (3) had a long of 12.

Reed stands alone. His seven is one ahead of Bill Howton who had six after his first 28 receptions in 1952.

Howton, however, was not done. The Texan piled up 53 catches for 1,231 yards and 13 TDs in 12 games, totals which included a dozen catches of 30-plus yards.

Reed needs six more to best Howton. And if those half dozen were to materialize among his next 16 receptions – an unlikely prospect – he would not only snap Howton’s record, he would do so having made one fewer catch.

Taking Flight
Most receptions of 30-plus yards by a Packers player in his first 28 catches as a rookie.

No.        Receiver                                      Year
7              Jayden Reed                                   2023
6              Bill Howton                                    1952
5              Don Hutson*                                  1935
5              Max McGee                                    1954
5              Boyd Dowler                                  1959
5              Marquez Valdes-Scantling          2018

*Hutson had 18 catches as a rookie.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

TUESDAY TIDBITS: "Needing a Win to Sew up the Central Division Title"

By TJ Troup  
Another week of interesting, and sometimes even fascinating games. Since the AFC has 10 teams with at least six wins, we just might see tie breakers come into play at the close of the regular season. When the league puts the schedule out in the spring and I look at it....always try and figure out games that just might have real meaning. 

Did not focus at all on Denver playing Houston on December the 3rd as a meaningful game, and yet now it is. The NFC has 6 teams with six or more wins, and of course we have the NFC South, and again will ask all of you, who wins that division? The game of the week, or possibly the game of the year brings the Niners and Eagles into a battle for supremacy, and possible home field advantage. 

Would relish any and all comments on the game; low score since we have physical defenses that can rush the passer? High scoring since both teams have versatile attacks with plenty of men who can make a big play? 

Historically these teams have met 36 times in the regular season in the past 73 years, and there are three games that standout to me. Steve Young detailed how the '94 clash changed him and his focus during that championship season. The September of '59 game that featured two teams on the rise, oh not many of you remember that game? Guess that means I am damn old. 

The September of '89 game still stands out to me, and watched Joe Montana shred the Philadelphia secondary, though he was pressured and sacked all afternoon by the relentless Eagle pass rush. Historically November 26th has been significant in Green Bay Packer history, and the title of today's saga is a quote from the distinguished Mr. Eric Goska from his must have book "Green Bay Packers: A Measure of Greatness". 

Packers won on the 26th of November in 1931, as they were on the verge of a third consecutive championship, and no I did not attend the game. Packers won on the 26th of November in '44 rebounding from the loss to NYG and setting up the re-match with the Giants. Packers won on the 26th of November in '50 as the winning touchdown pass came with just a few seconds left in the game. Speaking of touchdown passes, the Packers won on the 26th of November in 1995 as Favre carved up the Buccaneers. 

There are two Packer games played on the 26th of November that stand out least for me. We are in Wrigley Field for the final time that Halas will face Lombardi. The Bears are inconsistent on offense but have a defense led by Butkus that can keep them in any game, and a secondary that is playing outstanding team pass defense. Green Bay with a record of 7-2-1 opens the game with Starr completing to Dale for 48 yards, yet the drive quickly stalls. 

Jeter intercepts Concannon, and Starr again on first down gains big yardage in the air with a completion to Dowler for 42, and yet again the drive stalls with the Bear pass rush taking down Bart twice. Concannon is intercepted again, this time by Dave Robinson. The short touchdown drive culminates in Starr whistling a strike to Dowler. Kicking away from Sayers, the Bears begin with excellent field position and two running plays have the Bears on the Packer forty-three. 

When you watch Sayers 43 yard touchdown run you see why he is in the Hall of Fame. Percival kicks off, and here comes the other kickoff return man who can go the distance in  Travis "The "Roadrunner" Williams. 

When you watch my boy Rosey Taylor make the tackle and absorb the collision ... this is why Pro Football in the '60s became known for the physical style of play; even on special teams. Anderson scores early in the second quarter, but just before the half Percival kicks a 10 yard field goal after a staunch goal line stand by the two time defending champion Packers. 

When Sayers fumbles an Anderson punt that would have given Chicago excellent field position, Starr runs and passes the Packers to position Chandler for the field goal. Green Bay 17 Chicago 10. The Bears first possession of the 4th quarter is a sustained thirteen play drive of 75 yards that again culminates with a short Percival field goal. 

This drive signifies what the Packers and Bears were all about in this decade, as the Bears ran the ball eleven consecutive times. Pounding away at the Green and Gold defenders, but this is a team of destiny, and though giving up yards to Sayers and Piccolo ... the Packers still lead 17-13. Starr responds with another long completion to Dowler, but when Chandler's field goal attempt is blocked by massive Frank Cornish there are only 31 seconds left. Concannon is not Sid Luckman, or even Billy Wade and the Packers are victorious. 

Five years have passed and much has changed in the NFL. 

The merger, the death of Lombardi, but in '72 out of nowhere is a Packer team that with one significant trade, and an improving young defense can finally dethrone the hated Vikings from their Central division perch. Bob Oates in "Street & Smith's" is quoted with "Green Bay slumped into undisputed possession of the cellar for the first time since '58". 

Oates does state that Lane is better suited to pair with Brockington than Anderson was, and he also states that Gillingham and Lueck are the best pair of blocking guards in the league. Again quoting Oates, "The defensive backfield looks better"... now that is the understatement of the year! Green Bay is 7-3 and journeys to RFK on November 26th to take on the first place juggernaut known as the Washington Redskins. 

The 'Skins under the enthusiastic leadership of George Allen ("40 men together can't lose") have won seven straight with the basic formula of consticting team defense as they have allowed just 82 points in the win streak, and an offense that ... well. 

Let's just say that Larry Brown is convinced he can pound his way to a 1,400 yard season, and Kilmer can play action pass to Taylor, Jefferson and Smith for the big play. The game unfolds like you would expect, as both teams attempt to run the ball, sustain drives by wearing down the opponent, and play hard hitting team defense. 
Larry Brown fumbles the ball to the Packers on his first carry, yet the 'Skins dodge the bullet when they block Marcol's field goal attempt. Lane, and Brockington hammer away all afternoon, yet except for a couple runs of 10 or 11 yards, they cannot break loose. Larry Brown gets his carries, but the Packer defense is also resilient as he gains just 69 hard fought yards on 25 attempts. The difference in the game you ask? 

Man coverage is a challenge when you face receivers as physically gifted as Jefferson and Taylor, and as such Ellis and Buchanon cannot stop the 'Skins receivers the entire game. 

Final: Washington 21 Green Bay 16. 

Both teams win their division, and sets up a rematch that is significant in the coaching strategy of a Hall of Fame coach in Allen and a flawed and narrowed minded one in Dan Devine. But that is a story for another day. See ya next week, enjoy the games, and to whet your appetite -- think of all the rookie passers in league history that standout.

Friday, November 24, 2023

DON CURRIVAN: Career Re-visited:

By TJ Troup 
Don Currivan at Boston College
Good morning, one and all, some interesting football on Thanksgiving. 

Eric Goska has already written a splendid article on the Packer road victory, and watching the Niners last night was both insightful and fun. This is going to dovetail with John Turney's superb recent article on Pope and Currivan. Was in the Coliseum to watch Pope in '64 against the Bears, and he sure looked like he was going to have a long productive career, yet want to focus on Don Currivan. 

The Cardinals took him with the 18th pick in the draft, and as someone who relishes revisionist history, why did the Redskins not take him with the 10th pick in the draft? Jack Jenkins was a solid pro at fullback in his short career in Washington, but cannot help but wonder what my boy Slingin' Sam would have done with Currivan. 

Especially when the 'Skins drafted Taylor in '47. That would have been a pair of ends that would have been productive, effective, and highlight reel material. When you go to Pro Football Reference you can access the game logs for each player for each year, but many of Currivan's receptions are missing. 

There are some men who can do real research, and there are some that are just lazy. Currivan's game logs in '47 are incomplete at Pro Football Reference, yet I have his COMPLETE game by game logs for that year, and what stands out besides the fact he was the best deep threat in the league, is that he caught AT LEAST ONE PASS IN EVERY GAME. 

How many players accomplished that in 1947, and how many players in league history caught at least one pass in every game, yet caught less than 25 total in a season? John Turney has a couple film clips of Currivan touchdowns, and the last touchdown catch of his career came against the NY Bulldogs. 

The Rams first possession of the 4th quarter Los Angeles is still on a drive that began late in the 3rd quarter. Waterfield directs the Rams 95 yards for the score, that ends with a 15 yard pass to Fears. Next Ram possession and rookie Van Brocklin is at the helm, and not to be outdone by Waterfield, the Dutchman drives Los Angeles 80 yards in seven plays. 

First and ten on the Bulldog forty yard line, and you see the film clip of Van Brocklin expertly leading Currivan across the field on the post for 40 and the touchdown. Just a side note . . . Van Brocklin's last two touchdown passes of his career on December 18th, 1960, went to another receiver who could get open deep, a little guy named McDonald. 

See ya next Tuesday.

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Packers Display Fourthitude in Win at Detroit

 By Eric Goska

Preston Smith (left) and Luke Van Ness (right) helped make
key fourth-down stops against the Lions on Thanksgiving.
(photos by Eric Goska)

No guts, no glory.

Detroit dared. Green Bay came prepared.

On this Thanksgiving, the Lions didn’t shy away from fourth down. The fact that they came up short every time, save one played a major role in their 29-22 loss to the shorthanded Packers at Ford Field.

Lions coach Dan Campbell is not one to back down. Prior to Thursday’s game, his team had attempted to gain a first down rather than punt a league-high 100 times on fourth down in the regular season since he became head coach in 2021.

Only one other club – the Cardinals with 92 – employed that strategy more than 85 times.

Declining to punt after three can signal desperation. Or, such a move can be interpreted as a vote of confidence for an offense.

With Campbell, one gets the feeling he breathes positivity.

Detroit went for it five times on fourth down against the Packers. Only once, on its last attempt, did the Motor City 11 convert.

Credit Green Bay for turning the Lions away four times.

Kingsley Enagbare was credited with two solo tackles against the Lions.

The Packers are not accustomed to being tested five times on fourth down. That they held up as well as they did suggests they came ready to meet this challenge.

Since *1923, only 27 regular-season opponents have let it ride five or more times on fourth down against the Green and Gold. This victory over the Lions was just the fifth time Green Bay held the competition to a single conversion when tested five or more times.

  • 2nd quarter, fourth and 4 from the Green Bay 35: Jared Goff in shotgun, the Packers rush four—Rashan Gary, T.J. Slaton, Kenny Clark and Preston Smith. Smith gets past OT Penei Sewell and hits Goff’s arm causing Goff’s throw to fall harmlessly to the turf. Detroit trails 23-6.
  • 3rd quarter, fourth and 4 from the Detroit 23: In punt formation, Jalen Reeves-Maybin takes the snap and is buried by Luke Van Ness and Karl Brooks for no gain. Lions behind 23-14.
  • 4th quarter, fourth and 7 from the Green Bay 31: Goff in shotgun, Green Bay sends four—Gary, Clark, Brooks and Smith. Gary slips past OT Taylor Decker to sack Goff for a loss of eight. Detroit in arrears 29-14.
  • 4th quarter, fourth and 7 from the Green Bay 12: Goff in shotgun, the Pack rushes four—Gary, Clark, Slaton and Smith. Goff fires for TE Sam LaPorta who, covered by LB Quay Walker, cannot come down with the ball in the end zone. The Lions trail 29-14.
  •  4th quarter, fourth and 1 from the Detroit 33: Goff in shotgun, the Packers dispatch four—Gary, Devonte Wyatt, Brooks and Smith. Goff tosses short to RB Jahmyr Gibbs who picks up seven and a first down. Detroit down 29-14 at the two minute warning.

In all, the Lions gained minus-1 yards on their fourth-down attempts.

Overall, Green Bay has won 19 times with one tie in the 27 games in which its opponent attempted to cash in on fourth down five or more times. It is 5-0 when limiting the competition to a just one first down.

Fourth and Fizzle
Since *1923, the lowest conversion percentage by a Packers opponent that went for it at least five times on fourth down in a regular-season game.

    Pct.     Made-Att.     Opponent              Date                        Result
    .200             1-5             Lions                          Nov. 23, 2023         GB won, 29-22
    .200             1-5             Yellow Jackets         Oct. 18, 1931           GB won, 15-0
    .200             1-5             Lions                          Oct. 7, 1945            GB won, 57-21
    .200             1-5             49ers                         Nov. 24, 1963         GB won, 28-10
    .200             1-5             Steelers                     Sept. 27, 1992        GB won, 17-3
    .286             2-7             Rams                         Oct. 17, 1948          GB won, 16-0

*3rd and 4th down data is unavailable for 51 games between 1923 and 1953.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Don Currivan and Bucky Pope—The 30.0 Yards Per Catch Club

 By John Turney 
Don Currivan and Bucky Pope
For players with twenty-four (the minimum to qualify for the "NFL Record & Fact Book") or more receptions in a single NFL season, there have only been two in league history that have ended a season with an average yard per catch of 30 or more yards.


They are Don Currivan and Bucky Pope.  
Yards per catch record, per the "2023 NFL Record and Fact Book"

Currivan was a star at Boston College and had his big year with the Boston Yanks in 1947. That year he caught 24 passes for 782 yards and nine touchdowns. His average catch was 32.6 yards.

Pope burst onto the NFL scene in early 1964 and went on to catch bomb after bomb from Rams quarterbacks Roman Gabriel and fellow rookie Bill Munson. Pope ended the year with 786 yards on 25 catches for  31.4 yards per catch. Ten of his receptions went for touchdowns.

Pope was one of Steve Sabol's favorite players, based on his great year and his nickname --  the Catawba Claw -- derived from the college he attended.

Currivan and Pope were fast -- but we're not talking about Bob Hayes or Cliff Branch's speed -- but they were faster than most defensive backs at the time -- and both used it to get deep. 

Currican was a star at B.C. during the early 1940s when they had a run of success going to two Bowl games while he was an All-American playing there. 

He was drafted by the Chicago Cardinals in the third round of the 1943 draft. After being inducted by the U.S. Army he didn't fight in World War II. He was honorable discharged due to high blood pressure, an ailment physicians felt would keep him from being able to serve.

So the next year played with the Cardinals and then the merged Cards-Steelers and was all set to coach the ends at his alma mater, Boston College when the Boston Yanks came calling. Currivan was not getting a lot of playing time so he was about ready to hang the cleats up.

The Yanks and Cardinals agreed to a trade consisting of a couple of players and cash and he went on to have his best years in Beantown including the year in question.

The year after his record-setting season he slumped and the Yanks sold him to the Los Angeles Rams where he ended his career. His last, in 1949, he was a defensive back and a very good one.

During the 1950 season when the Rams were scoring record points and the defense was giving up quite a few on their own the LA media lamented the loss of Currivan in the secondary. In fact, before the season the Rams tried to talk him into another season in Los Angeles but they never came to terms and Currivan stayed with his fledgling insurance business.

There was some talk of him joining the Boston College coaching staff but like I'm 1946 it didn't materialize. 

In his seven-year career, Currivan averaged 23 or more yards a catch five times, though in a couple of those seasons he caught less than ten passes. Of his 78 career catches and 24 went for touchdowns - almost one-third. His average of 25.4 yards a reception is first all-time among players with 75 or more receptions.

No, he wasn't prolific but he did the most with his relatively few opportunities. 

Tragically several years later Currivan collapsed playing in the Cape Cod Pro-Am golf tournament and died of a cerebral hemorrhage approximately four hours after fire rescue transported him from Oyster Harbors, a goldfclub near Hyannis.  

One can't help to wonder if the ailment that kept him out of the Army was a contributing factor in his premature death. Juts a cursory Internet search does suggest a connection between the two.

Currivan was inducted into the Boston College Athletic Hall of Fame

Here are two long touchdowns against the Los Angeles Rams in 1947, one for 47 yards and the other for 51. The first one is tipped. Who says a little luck isn't part of an NFL record?

Here are a couple clips of two long scores when he was with the Rams. The first was in 1948 against the Chicago Cardinals and the second against the New York Bulldogs in 1949.

Bucky Pope was from Pittsburgh but began his collegiate career at Duke but finished at Catawba  -- a small college in North Carolina where he starred in football and basketball. He didn't meet his academic requirements as Duke so he had to make other plans and Catawba was the place. 

He got the attention of pro scouts when he caught 66 passes for 1197 yards in his last two seasons in college (making All-Carolina Conference). But the man most impressed at Rams general manager Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch. Back then GMs did some of their own scouting. On Hirsch's recommendation, the Rams took Pope in the eighth round of the 1964 draft.

In fact, it was Crazy Legs that tagged Pope with the nickname "Claw". 


He used his slim (195ish pounds) 6-foot-five inch frame and good speed to beat defensive backs and could fight for deep balls like they were basketball rebounds. Now they call it "high-pointing" the football.

In his rookie year, he tied for the NFL lead with 10 touchdown catches and that fabulous 31.4 yards per catch average. He was voted All-Rookie, along with eventual Hall-of-Fame wide receiver Paul Warfield and future All-Pro and NFL receiving triple crown winner Dave Parks. 

He seemed destined for a great NFL career but it was derailed his sophomore season when he hurt a knee in the 1965 preseason versus Dallas and he missed the entire year.

He joined the Rams late in 1966 due to a staph infection and rookie head coach George Allen didn't play him much. Pope thought that Allen didn't rotate receivers enough for him to get playing time. "Allen plays one quarterback, one split end and one flanker. There isn't room for anyone else."

As a result, Pope didn't think he had a future as a Rams player. So in 1967 he played out his option, taking a ten percent pay cut and even relatively healthy he didn't play much. Only when Jack Snow or Bernie Casey truly needed a breather or were nicked.

In 1968, Pope, now a free agent signed with the Falcons. He noted that he signed for enough to get his 1967 pay cut back but the Falcons coaches didn't particularly like what they saw. He wasn't the same guy they were hoping for -- a redux of the 1964 Catabaw Claw.

Prior to the season, the Falcons sent him to Jim Finks and Bud Grant on a conditional deal. The Falcons would get compensation if Pope made the team.

He didn't. 

So, the Claw sat around for most of the season until he got a call from the Green Bay Packers. They worked him out and signed him and he played three games for the reigning World Champs.

However, his time with the Packers was short. He was cut in the 1969 preseason and that ended his career.

He didn't have it anymore.  "The knee—I'd lost the speed, couldn't make the cuts," Pope later said.

Unlike Currivan, Pope has lived a long life and is 82 years old in work related to the steel industry, back home in Pittsburgh.

Here are a few clips of Bucky Pope in 1964—

Pope's 28.0 average gain is the best-ever for anyone with 30 or more receptions. Second is Currivan. No, that's not many catches, only enough to make him one of the NFL's top one-year wonders.

Currivan was more than that but still, not a guy who had a long career.

Both are tied together, though. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

TUESDAY TIDBITS: "He Quickly Developed Into a Brilliant Defensive Back"

By TJ Troup 
This past Sunday afternoon Brock Purdy had one of those games all quarterbacks dream of, victory and perfection. His 158.3 passer rating puts him on a list with all the other passers who for one afternoon found open receivers, and delivered strikes that resulted in yards and touchdowns, without throwing an interception. 

The list of other passers will not be examined today, yet one of them is a guy named Montana. The 1989 San Francisco 49ers again took home the silver trophy and during that championship campaign and Joe achieved perfection. We don't know if any other quarterback this season will achieve perfection, but if that does happen, no doubt will be written about. 

Shifting to a team that the Niners might play against in the NFC playoffs the Lions I want to pose a question to all of you? Will Dan Campbell be voted coach of the year? If not, who should get the award? The Lions have now won 16 and lost 4 in their last twenty games, and a victory over the Packers on Thanksgiving is on the horizon. 
Dan Campbell
Since they play in two days, and read an article earlier today by some guy named Jared Ramsey, wanted to again rail against writers who read, and accept historical articles, but don't watch film. Ramsey in the article talks about Milt Plum, and his success that year. Folly, pure folly! 

The team MVP was Gail Cogdill, and was so honored years ago to talk with him, and we went back and forth about the famous game in '62, and the passers that threw to him in his time in Detroit. He had very little to say about Plum (that speaks volumes). Ramsey eventually mentioned Shula and the Lion defenders, but never once mentioned the alignments, and strategy of Detroit on defense in '62. Film study of this team is fascinating on many levels. 

How I wish there would have been a long sitdown discussion with coach Shula on how he arrived at his defensive game plan for the victory over Green Bay in November of '62. 

Every year there is a team that leads the NFL in team pass defense, and some of you might cringe since the defensive passer rating will be mentioned again and is my go-to stat. Leading the league so far this year is Cleveland at 71.6, and of course, they may falter, but until they do they? 

Who is the most improved defensive back in the league this year you ask? Why none other than Martin Emerson of the Browns. Over the last three weeks, Cleveland has allowed opponent passers to complete 39 of 71 for 387 yards, with just 1 touchdown allowed and 4 intercepted. 

Emerson has been a key factor, along with his counterpart at the other corner Mr. Ward. Is this the second coming of Dixon & Minniefield? Since team pass defense has been mentioned, it is time to go back in history to detail two secondaries that stood out. 

November 19th, 1961 the Chargers gain just three yards rushing, yet win 24-14 over the Dallas Texans. San Diego at this point in the season is 11-0 and has recorded 43 interceptions, of which 8 were returned for touchdowns. Are the '61 Chargers the best ever at team pass defense? 

Would relish all of you telling me who you think ranks at the top. Come on now, don't be shy. The title of today's saga comes from Barry Gottehrer and his superb book "The Giants of New York", and he is telling the reader about former Fullerton Junior College defensive back Howie Livingston. 

Though the Giants earned a playoff berth in '43, they are even better in 1944. Paschal leads the offense in his "A"-formation power runs, yet it is the defense that carries the Giants to a division title. Opponent passers in the eight games New York won completed 101 of 226 passes, and allowed only ONE touchdown pass, while intercepting 30. 

The defensive passer rating for the Giants in victory that year was 21.7. No, that is not a misprint. Ward Cuff continued to play outstanding pass defense, but when Livingston joined the team the Giants soon became the best in the league at shutting down opponent passers and receivers. 
Mel Hein picks off a pass
Watching film of the 21-all tie against the Eagles we see Coach Owen align his defenders in varied 5-3-3 and 6-2-3 defenses. Since New York has tied and lost to Philadelphia the margin for error is simple—you cannot lose another game. 

A very strong Green Bay Packer team comes to the Polo Grounds on November 19th in what looks to be the game of the year. The best weak-side linebacker in the first 30 years of the NFL is without a doubt Mel Hein, and his ability to drop deep into the area in front of the Alabama Antelope restricts Irv Comp and the other Packer passers to get the ball to the best of his generation in Hutson. 

Livingston is a willing run defender when called upon, but today he drops deep, at times very deep, and when the ball is lofted in the air, there goes Howie! Twice he pilfers the pigskin and gains more yards on his two interception returns than Hutson gains receiving. Have watched this game film many times, and the defensive strategy is cutting-edge. 
Howie Livingston intercepts a pass 
in the 1946 title game vs the Bears
Ten New York Giant defenders stop the run, and the best in the league—Hein not only stops the run, but helps Livingston limit Hutson. New York wins the East, while Green Bay holds on in the West....setting up the rematch in the title game. That is a story for another day—Eric Goska are you listening? 

See ya next week.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Rookies on a Roll as Packers Edge Chargers

 By Eric Goska

Members of the Tundra Line performed before the Packers-Chargers game.
(photos by Eric Goska)

On Thanksgiving Day, Green Bay’s rookie pass catchers could make history in front of a national television audience.

Newbies have played a major role in the Packers’ passing game this season. Their importance was again on display as the Green and Gold outlasted the Chargers 23-20 at Lambeau Field.

Six rookies hauled in at least one pass as Green Bay posted its highest point total since mid-September. Each catch proved vital as the Packers didn’t pull ahead of Los Angeles for good until late in the fourth quarter.

Youth is at the heart of Green Bay’s receiving corps. Ten of the 14 players with a reception this season are in their first or second year in the league.

Seven are rookies. And that septet is making an impact in Titletown.

Luke Musgrave (33 catches for 341 yards), Jayden Reed (32-463), Dontayvion Wicks (20-331), Tucker Kraft (5-43), Emanuel Wilson (4-23), Ben Sims (2-14) and Malik Heath (1-7) have accounted for 97 of Green Bay’s 204 completions and 1,222 of its 2,345 passing yards. The group has amassed six receiving touchdowns (Reed 4, Musgrave 1 and Wicks 1).

Six of those seven – Sims was not targeted by Packers quarterback Jordan Love – combined for 15 receptions and 213 yards against the Chargers. They came away with 10 of Green Bay’s 16 receiving first downs and four of its six passing gains of 20 or more yards. 

Packers fans had reason to cheer Sunday.

Wicks, with catches of 29, 27 and 35 yards, led all Packers with 91 receiving yards. Reed (4 catches for 46 yards) and Musgrave (4-28) tied second-year wideout Romeo Doubs for the most targets with six.

Wilson (1-9) and Heath (1-7) aided a 16-play, 71-yard advance that knotted the score at 10-all just before halftime. Kraft (2-32) tight-roped along the sideline for 27 to set up a Love-to-Christian-Watson TD pass that put Green Bay up 16-13.

And in crunch time, his team down by four, Wicks drew a 24-yard pass interference call on Asante Samuel that erased third-and-20. Two plays later, he gained 35 to set up the game-winning score, a 24-yard connection from Love to Doubs with two minutes, 33 seconds remaining.

With 15 catches, Musgrave and Co. came within one catch of Green Bay’s single-game record for rookies. That mark of 16 was set Max McGee (9), Joe Johnson (6) and Gary Knafelc (1) on Dec. 12, 1954 in Los Angeles and tied by Sterling Sharpe (8) and Keith Woodside (8) against the Lions in Milwaukee in 1988.

With 213 receiving yards, Reed et al. came up 11 yards short of the yardage record for rookies. That standard (224) was established by Bill Howton (200), Bill Reichardt (16) and Bobby Jack Floyd (8) in Los Angeles in 1952.

A week ago in Pittsburgh, Reed (84), Musgrave (64), Wicks (51) and Kraft (6) gobbled up 205 yards. This is the first time in team annals that rookies have hit or exceeded 200 yards in back-to-back games. 

Jordan Love had his first 300-yard passing game (322) of his career.

So, what can this group of seven do for an encore? How about eclipsing a couple of longstanding season records?

Kraft and his colleagues need just seven catches to break the single-season rookie record of 103 catches put in place by Ray Pelfrey (38), Carlton Elliott (35), Fred Cone (28), Dick Moje (1) and Ace Loomis (1) in 1951. Further, the group needs an additional 157 yards to top the 1,378 of Howton (1,231), Floyd (129) and Reichardt (18) in 1952.

With the way these youngsters and their quarterback have been playing, both benchmarks could fall in Detroit.

Rookies Rule!
Most receptions by Packers rookies in one season.

   No.   Yards   TDs    Year    Rookies
   103     1,114       10       1951      Pelfrey, Elliott, Cone, Moje, Loomis
     98     1,193        3       1988     Sharpe, Woodside, Bolton, Collins
     97     1,222        6       2023     Musgrave, Reed, Wicks, Kraft, Wilson, Sims, Heath
     88     1,118       11       2022     Doubs, Watson, Toure
     82     1,023        5       1987     Neal, Lee Morris, Paskett, Scott, Harden, Fullwood, Willhite
     80        928        2      2007     Jones, Jackson, Wynn, Hall

Note: Packers rookies combined for 80 receptions in 2007, not 110 as stated in the team’s Dope Sheet released prior to the Chargers game. The team erroneously included 30 catches by Ryan Grant who was a first-year player – he spent all of 2005 on the Giants’ practice squad – and not a rookie that year.

The Rams Use a Four-Safety Look Versus Seattle

 By John Turney 
Today, in a 17-16 squeaker of a win against the Seattle Seahawks the Rams used a four-safety defense they used a bit the game before against Green Bay. But it was more of a "thing" in today's game, appearing more than a dozen times whereas it was less than ten against Green Bay. 

Nickelback Cobie Durant was out with an injury so defensive coordinator Raheem Morris made some adjustments. At safety, Quentin Lake started at right safety in place of Russ Yeast but that only lasted a series. After that veteran John Johnson III took over at right safety. 

In the nickel package Lake played one slot and Russ Yeast came off the bench and played dime linebacker or "moneybacker", the Rams term for that position.  A review of the All-22 film that comes out tomorrow will yield some more information, no doubt, as to who did exactly what. 

Against Green Bay, it was Johnson III and Lake in the box or in the slot with Yeast and Fuller deep so essentially Yeast and Johnson II exchanged roles against the Seahawks. 

But here is a screenshot of the first time the four-safety scheme was used yesterday and below it are two shots of a couple of times in the past the Rams have also used four safety schemes—1985  and 1990.

In 1985 against the Cowboys in the Divisional Playoff Game, the Rams used Jerry Gray (then a safety -- he converted to cornerback the next season) in the slot and Vince Newsome as a linebacker with the starting safeties Nolan Cromwell and Johnnie Johnson deep.

In 1990 Fritz Shurmur used the "Big nickel" against the San Francisco 49ers in a 28-17 win. There he used Anthony Newman in the slot and Michael Stewart as the linebacker with Pat Terrell and Vince Newsome as the safeties. 

Then there was 1980. The Rams defensive coordinator Bud Carson had a couple of different looks. Here in the 1980 Wild Card game in Dallas (the Rams lost in a blowout), he used Ivory Sully as a linebacker and Jeff Delaney as a middle-of-the-field safety in his dime package. The starting safeties, Nolan Cromwell and Johnnie Johnson would play slots or one might play deep one-half with Delaney.

In this first shot, Sully is out on the tight end who is in the slot. Johnnie Johnson is back with Delaney. Cromwell is off-screen in the slot. 

Here Sully is the linebacker, Johnson the slot on near, Cromwell slot up top and Delaney (out of shot) at deep safety. LeRoy Irvin (usual starter Pat Thomas was out as he was in the playoff game that appears in the shot above) and Rod Perry are the corners and Joe Harris is a linebacker in the 4-1-6 package.

In 2011 the Rams used four safeties some. Craig Dahl, James ButlerQuintin Mikell, and Darian Stewart were the four with Mikell and Butler the deep players and Dahl and Stewart closer to the line of scrimmage. Stewart was often the dime 'backer and Dahl the slot in this package but there was variation. Dahl also played a ton of nickel linebacker in the three-safety package. In that, he was basically a linebacker and played that role for the Rams for several years.

Head coach Steve Spagnuolo, the defense's architect though not the coordinator, called for this package a little over 30 times.

Here Stewart and Dahl basically changed spots—

The conversion of safety Mark Barron to linebacker when the Rams acquired him from the Buccaneers in 2014 does raise questions. 

Was he a linebacker? A safety? Well, both, depending on the year, we'd suppose.

This is 2015. Barron started as a linebacker most of the year. This is a third-and-long and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has him and three other safeties on the field. But he's playing deep in this situation. Maurice Alexander is the "linebacker", not Barron. Cody Davis is deep along with Rodney McLeod is in his usual free safety position. 

Is Barron a linebacker here? Is this four safeties? Three safeties and a linebacker? Three safeties and a hybrid? You choose. 

Here is 2017, he'd been converted to linebacker so this one probably does not really count. But you can see Lemarcus Joyner, the starting free safety as a slot and (out of the shot) and Cody Davis is in the middle of the field. Maurice Alexander is a strong safety. However, in the spirit of what the defense is doing it's similar to what a four-safety defense is in terms of skill set and alignment. Essentially defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is doing the same thing as all the other examples here.

Perhaps the Rams' most famous use of four safeties on the field at the same time is the 1979 Playoff Game in Dallas, a 21-19 victory over the Cowboys. 

In that game, the Rams used their seven-defensive back "Dollar" package. There were three cornerbacks (one playing linebacker) and four safeties (one playing slot corner and one playing linebacker).

The safety who played linebacker was Sully, the same guy as the example in 1980 earlier in this post but in this case, he was the MIKE, not the dime backer. Nolan Cromwell was playing slot -- again same as in 1980. The 1979 safeties were Dave Elmendorf and Eddie Brown

The cornerback who played dime linebacker was Dwayne O'Steen.  In reality, it was a nickel defense with two defensive backs playing linebacker. 

Here is a shot of the Dollar defense—

Earlier in the year the Rams used four safeties against the Chargers. They lost the game badly so it didn't fool Dan Fouts at all. We have not done a snap count but the Rams used this sub-package quite a few times that day.

It's 4-1-6 personnel in a 4-2-5 alignment with Jim Youngblood as the MIKE and has Sully as an outside linebacker.

One of the big plays in the 40-16 loss -- a 65-yard touchdown pass from Fouts to John Jefferson was against that personnel grouping. 

There have been some others and we'll update as we go through games to find some still shots to illustrate them. 

Friday, November 17, 2023

The Top Twenty Single Seasons by Titans/Oilers Running Backs

By John Turney 
The Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans franchise has had one of the best running-back rooms in NFL history, with some of the league's top seasons produced by stars like Earl Campbell, Derrick Henry, Eddie George and Chris Johnson.

But who had the best year?

Henry and Johnson each ran for over 2,000 yards in a single season. Campbell was close, while Oilers' star Billy Cannon (remember him?) set a league record that stood for 34 years.

So who was it? Taking the best season by each notable back and ranking each via a mix of criteria -- including rushing and receiving statistics, postseason honors, team success and the "eye test" -- I've come up with a list of my Top 15.

20. LenDale White, 2007—The six-foot-one, 238 (or more)-pound USC Trojan ran for 1,110 yards after being often ridiculed about his weight the previous year when he showed up at the combine out of shape. 

After a wasted rookie year, his career year of 2007 was good enough for 20th on this list.

19. Rodney Thomas, 1995—Thomas had a solid rookie season in 1995, rushing for 951 yards and catching 39 passes. Solid -- but had some fumbling problems early on. He did bring some explosiveness to the Oilers' rushing attack. 

When he broke a 43-yard run early in the season it was the longest the Oilers had in three years. Later, he had a 74-yard run. It was the longest since 1983. 

It was enough to rank his season as 19th.

18. Larry Moriarty, 1984—A solid back on a poor team, Moriarty performed better than the broken-down Earl Campbell who was traded midseason to the New Orleans Saints. After Campbel as traded the 6-foot-1, 240-pound former Notre Dame Golden Domer averaged 76.9 yards rushing and three receptions a game. That would put him roughly on pace for a 1,300-yard, 30-catch 17-game season if prorated to 17 games.

Not bad.

17. Ronnie Coleman, 1975—Coleman's numbers were not stellar for a team that was just starting to turn the corner (going 10-4 in the NFL's toughest division) his 790 yards rushing were vital. He was not a big back (5-foot-10, 196 pounds) but he ran hard. He went undrafted in 1974 out of Alabama A&M because he was deemed too slow for the NFL.

He held the Oilers' starting running back position for three years until the Oilers drafted a guy named Earl Campbell.

16. Mike Rozier, 1987—One of college football's greatest players he never was a big star in pro football. 

He did have one very good USFL season and a couple of good ones in the NFL. In 1987 and 1988 he ran the ball well for the Oilers. 

In 1998 he ran for more touchdowns but in the strike-shortened 1987 he was second-team All-AFC and including the playoffs ran for just over 1,000 yards. So 1987 is the selection.

15. Fred Willis, 1973—How does a guy with 579 rushing yards end up in the top 15? Well, when you play for a 1-13 team that has a line that can't run block, takes a few shots to deep threat Ken Burrough but mostly dumps the ball off to your backs, it makes sense. The Oilers did that, with Willis leading the AFC in receptions to become the first non-end to lead a league or conference since John (Shipwreck) Kelly did it in 1933 for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Willis began a trend. For the next seven years, a running back led either the NFC or AFC in receptions. So, taking all things into consideration, it was a good year for the fullback.

The ever-confident Willis then went into the 1974 season asking owner Bud Adams for a $100,000 contract. Adams balked before finally offering $80,000, but Willis rejected the proposal and later was injured. So, the ordeal ended in a standoff, and Willis played the 1974 season without a contract -- having to take a 10 percent pay cut from his 1973 salary per the CBA

Suffice it to say: Willis was overconfident. He didn't get the money and didn't have a season close to 1973 again.

14. Ode Burrell, 1965—Burrell's numbers were similar to Willis, but at least he was recognized by being named to the AFL All-Star game -- the AFL's version of the Pro Bowl. Though he ran for 528 yards, he caught 55 passes for 650 yards -- a yardage total that still is the second-best in franchise history.

The NEA also gave him its "Third Down Trophy," emblematic of the Oilers' MVP in a poll of his teammates. He won by the biggest margin of any AFL player that season, demonstrating what the Oilers thought of his contributions.

13. Travis Henry, 2006—In his career year, Henry gained 1,211 yards rushing and had a 4.5 yards-per-carry average. His 86.5 yards rushing per game are 14th best in club annals. 

The former Buffalo Bills' second-round pick even garnered a few votes for NFL Comeback Player of the Year in '06 after returning from an injury the previous season.

12. Sid Blanks, 1964—A rookie who never did much after 1964, Blanks began his career by tying for the league lead in rushing touchdowns, running for 756 yards and catching 56 passes for 497 more yards. he was second-team All-AFL and went to the AFL All-Star game.

He also was in contention for the AFL Rookie of the Year award, placing second in the AP poll and fourth in the UPI.

His 91-yard touchdown run on Dec. 13 against the Jets was the longest touchdown run in club history until Chris Johnson tied it in 2009. Not bad for a running back drafted by the Oilers to play defensive back.

11. Chris Brown, 2004—The 2003 third-round pick had plenty of potential but couldn't stay healthy -- never playing a full schedule in his six-year NFL career. That includes his career year of 2004 when he played only 11 games but still rushed for 1,067 yards -- an average of 97.0 per game, still seventh in team history.

Only the second running back in NFL history to gain 100 or more yards in his first three starts (he didn't start as a rookie), Brown battled through ankle and shoulder injuries and a painful turf toe in 2004. Nevertheless, his 4.9 yards-per-carry were third in the NFL and first among players with 200 or more carries. Michael Vick was the league leader, and Rams rookie Steven Jackson backed up Marshall Faulk that year.

When healthy, in his first eight games Brown gained 810 yards on 166 carries, including three games of 147 yards or more.

10. Gary Brown, 1993—Brown rushed for 1,002 yards in his career year, but he did it in just 195 carries and eight starts. Playing on special teams the first half of the season, he finally carried the ball in Week Eight and then started the final eight games. 

During that span, he was twice the AFC Player of the Week and the AFC Player of the Month for November when he ran 91 times for 499 yards. With Brown's explosive runs in the second half of the season, the Oilers rebounded from a 1-4 start to finish 12-4.

It would be great to combine Gary Brown's last half of 1993 with the first half of Chris Brown's 2004 season.

9. Charley Tolar, 1962—The low-to-the-ground fullback (Tolar stood just 5-feet-6) was the first 1,000-yard rusher for the Oilers and the only player under 5-7 to accomplish that feat in pro-football history. All other 1,000-yard rushers have been taller than 5-6.

"The Human Manhole Cover," as he was sometimes called, helped the Oilers reach their third consecutive AFL championship game. They won in 1961 and 1962 but lost by three points in overtime to the Dallas Texans in 1963.

Tolar led the AFL in rushing attempts and was second-team All-AFL, third in the AP and UPI Player-of-the-Year voting and named to the AFL All-Star game.

8. DeMarco Murray, 2016—An All-Pro with Dallas just two years earlier, he was on his third team in three years. The Titans traded for him after a contentious season with the Philadelphia Eagles.

An elite athlete (6-feet-1, 220 pounds and a 4.4 40-yard dash time), Murray helped improve the Titans from a poor rushing team in 2015 to a top-three club in his career year when they went from a record of  3-13 to 9-7.

With the Titans, he made his third Pro Bowl and was All-AFC after running for 1,287 yards and catching 53 passes.

7. Lorenzo White, 1992—A solid back in the Oilers'  "Run and Shoot" offense, the former Michigan State Spartan had only one great year -- and that was 1992. He ran for 1,226 yards, had a healthy 4.6 yards-per-carry average and caught 57 passes for 641 yards. He was also a good pass protector when Houston went to six-man protections.

No, he's not an all-time Oilers great, but for his 1992 season deserves recognition.

6. Hoyle Granger, 1967—A poor man's Jim Taylor, the hard-running, 225-pound fullback could get tough yards, catch passes and block. And while he wasn't up to the Hall-of-Fame level of Taylor, he was second-team All-AFL and an AFL All-Star game participant in his career year.

In Week 16 that season, he ran for 160 yards and one touchdown and caught a long pass for another score in a 41-10 blowout of Miami. For that performance, he was voted the AFL Offensive Player of the Week.

He finished the season with 1,194 yards on 236 carries (a 5.1-yard average) and six touchdowns. He also caught 31 passes and threw a lot of blocks for halfbacks, one of whom played in the AFL All-Star game with him.

Granger (pronounced Gron-JAY) led the AFL in yards from scrimmage with 1,494 yards and only fumbled once.

5. Billy Cannon, 1961—One of the AFL's first stars, Cannon was first-team All-AFL in 1961 when he led the league in rushing and rushing average. He also was a big part of the Oilers' passing game, catching 43 balls for 586 yards and nine touchdowns and led the AFL in all-purpose yards with 2,043.

In a Dec. 10 game vs. the New York Titans, Cannon set a single-game record with 373 all-purpose yards, a mark that held for 34 years and included 330 yards from scrimmage -- the most ever until the Rams' Flipper Anderson bested it in 1989.

His 216 rushing yards that afternoon are the second-most in AFL history, and his five touchdowns were one of only three times an AFL player scored that many in one game.

A star at LSU, Cannon was a complete back who was a big factor in the Oilers' back-to-back AFL championships in the first two seasons of that league's existence. Sadly, he hurt what he called "the girdle in my back" a couple of years later and lost his lateral movement. With limited effectiveness as a runner, he was converted to a tight end later in his career.

4. Eddie George, 2000—Which season do you pick? 1996? 1997? 1998? 1999? 2000? Any of those would do.  But his first-team All-Pro year of 2000 was his best regular season. He had his best year in terms of rushing yards (1,509) and receptions (50), while his 1,962 yards from scrimmage were fourth in the NFL.

He was named the Week 16 AFC Offensive Player of the Week for his 34-carry, 176-yard, three-touchdown performance against the Browns.

It's hard not to pick 1999 when his playoff run contributed to the Titans' Super Bowl appearance, and he was the main cog in the Titans' offense. But in 2000 he was a marked man and still got his yards ... and the Titans still got their wins, finishing 13-3.

3. Derrick Henry, 2020—King Henry's 2020 season was his career year, a season where 2,027 rushing yards and 17 rushing touchdowns speak for themselves. Henry was a consensus All-Pro and the AP Offensive Player of the Year. He was also the AFC Offensive Player of the Month for October and the AFC Player of the Week twice (Weeks 6 and 18).

Like Eddie George, the season before his career year (2019) was also stellar because of playoff performances. But in a year when he had three 200-yard performances, he was the closest thing to Earl Campbell the team has seen.

Not only did he lead the NFL in rushes, rushing yards and rushing touchdowns; he had a career-high 5.4 yards-per-carry average and a league-leading 2,141 yards from scrimmage, the second-most in team history. So, while the team was more successful the previous year and Henry was brilliant in the playoffs, 2020 is the pick in a close call.

2. Chris Johnson, 2009—Johnson's 2009 season was more special than most people realize. Not only did he rush for 2,006 yards, but he had 503 receiving yards, too. His league-leading 2,509 yards from scrimmage are the best in team history -- by a wide margin -- and made it tempting to make him first on this list.

Not only that, but they're the most single-season yards from scrimmage in NFL history. How many people remember that?

The 5-foot-11, 195-pound speedster was unlike the pounders who dominate this list. There was no running over people or stiff-arming them to the ground. Defenders just couldn't catch him, mostly because he had sub-4.3 speed. 

Along with that record and 2,000-yard season (the sixth player to achieve that mark), he was a consensus All-Pro and the AP Offensive Player of the Year. He was also the November AFC Offensive Player of the Month and Pro Football Weekly's NFL Offensive Player of the Week for weeks Two, Eight and Ten.

Amazingly, his 5.6 yards-per-carry were only third in the NFL, but the two players ahead of him (Jamaal Charles and Felix Jones) combined for 306 carries. Johnson had 358, so he more than doubled their load and still was just three-tenths of a yard behind.

1. Earl Campbell, 1980—Campbell was not an automatic pick nor was his 1980 season. Both 1978 and 1979 were considered for the same reasons that Eddie George's 1999 and Derrick Henry's 2019 were. Chris Johnson's 2009 season couldn't be dismissed, either, simply because Earl Campbell is ... well, Earl Campbell. 

But given everything, in the final analysis Earl's 1980 season wins the big prize.

Campbell was a one-man show, with his 1,934 rushing yards amazing given how much he was targeted week in and week out. In 1980, the "Tyler Rose" had four 200-yard rushing games, the most by any player in a single season in league history. He even threw a 57-yard touchdown pass and cut his fumbles in half. 

For his Week Eight performance of 27 rushes for 202 yards (7.5 yards a carry!) and two touchdowns, he was Pro Football Weekly's NFL Offensive Player of the Week. For the third consecutive year, he was the NEA MVP (one voted on by players), a consensus All-Pro and Pro Bowler for the third straight year and the NFL AP Offensive Player of the Year for the third year in a row.

After winning the AP MVP (voted on by a media panel) in 1979, he was second to the Browns' Brian Sipe in 1980. It was the third consecutive year he was second or higher for that award.

Talk about being on a roll.

"Earl may not be in a class of his own," said coach Bum Phillips, "but it don't take long to call the roll."


And on this roll call for career years by Oilers/Titans' running backs, he's at the head of the class.