Tag Archives: Bucs

Remembering Garo Yepremian

Garabed Sarko Yepremian was a grand old name. Not as melodious, perhaps, as Cassius Marcellus Clay, but resonant in its own Old World way. Alas, Garo is gone — struck down by cancer at 70 — and his death raises a question: Will pro football ever see a story like his again?

By that I mean: Will there ever be another player who plays in the first NFL game he’s ever seen — and sets a league record in his fifth?

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Why don’t we start at the beginning?

Jim Murray, the Los Angeles Times jokester, thought Yepremian should, by all rights, have hailed from Ypsilanti (Mich.) Garo’s background was much more unusual than that, though. Born in Cyprus, he’d fled with his family to London in the ’60s when the bullets began flying between the Turks and Greeks. (His Armenian ancestors had escaped to the Mediterranean island decades earlier, seeking refuge from Turkey’s genocidal lunacy.)

Yepremian might have spent the rest of his life in the U.K. — been an Un Known, in other words — if his older brother Krikor hadn’t come to this country to play college soccer. In the summer of 1966, Garo went to visit him in Indianapolis, and for fun they’d head to a nearby field with a football. Krikor would hold, and Garo, a weekend soccer player back home, would kick.

Little Brother got so good so quickly that Big Brother convinced him to seek a college scholarship. Indiana and Butler expressed interest, but there was a hangup: Garo didn’t have a high school diploma — another casualty of the turmoil in Cyprus. So Krikor wrote letters to several pro teams in hopes of getting him a tryout.

In Week 6 the Falcons, a first-year expansion team in need of almost everything, gave him a look — and were impressed. “He’s not a very big guy — 5-foot-8, 165 pounds — but he was knocking them [through] consistently from 55 yards,” coach Norb Hecker said afterward. Atlanta reportedly made him an offer, but he’d promised the Lions he’d work out for them before he signed with anybody. The next day he was in Detroit, leaving the coaches and players there just as slack-jawed.

According to one report, Yepremian made 19 of 20 tries from the 45-to-50 yards. In those days, that was ridiculous. Consider: NFL kickers converted a mere 55.7 percent of all field goal attempts that season. Even Wayne Walker, the Lions’ incumbent kicker, had to give him his due. “The best . . . I’ve ever seen,” he said.

And a soccer-styler to boot (if you’ll pardon the expression). In 1966, you see, “sidewinders” were still very much a novelty. There were only three in pro ball, all in the NFL — the two Gogolak brothers, Pete (Giants) and Charlie (Redskins), and Yepremian.

Traditionalists weren’t sure quite what to make of them. On one level, they were horrified that these Non-Football Players were trying to move in on the “foot” part of the game. Walker, after all, was a Pro Bowl linebacker, and other kickers, like the Browns’ Lou Groza, were former position players. The diminutive Yepremian, meanwhile, looked like he’d taken a wrong turn on the way to elf practice.

“No longer does the kicker have to be a heavy-duty performer who is part of the team,” The New York Times’ Arthur Daley lamented around that time. “He can be a man apart, and the only time he experiences rude contact is just before a roughing-the-kicker penalty.”

Then there was Yepremian’s unorthodox style, which made use of his instep rather than his toes. That took some getting used to, too. As the Oakland Tribune described it: “Garo uses only a skip and two short steps to get off his kicks. According to the laws of physics, his instep covers a greater area than the American toe kickers [enjoy] and helps boot the ball a greater distance. Also the whiplash of a sideway kick gives the leg greater speed.”

Or something like that.

Heck, these guys weren’t even Americans. Yepremian was from London . . . or Cyprus . . . or somewhere, and the Gogolaks had sneaked off to America amid the Hungarian Revolution. Indeed, it’s remarkable how the upheaval in Europe during and after World War II changed — in a huge way — the game of football. Fred Bednarski, believed to be the first college sidewinder — for Texas in 1957 — was a Polish refugee who’d spent some time in a Nazi labor camp. And Walt Doleschal, an early soccer-styler for Lafayette, was a displaced Czechoslovakian.

(That’s why, whenever somebody wonders why soccer isn’t a bigger deal in the U.S., I always say, “It is a big deal, a very big deal. It’s just been incorporated into football.”)

Once the sidewinders began infiltrating the sport, kicking became much less of a hit-or-miss proposition, especially from long distance. What was the success rate on field goals last season, 84 percent? (From 50 yards and beyond, it was 61.) Nowadays, anything inside the 40 is, in the fan’s mind, a veritable PAT. Best not miss too many of those.

Anyway, Lions coach Harry Gilmer was forward thinking enough to get Yepremian’s name on a contract before the rest of the league became aware of him. The Motor City also had something going for it that Atlanta might not have: an Armenian church Garo could go to. The newest Lion, then 22, hustled back to Indy to gather up his clothes, then rejoined the club in time to make the trip to Baltimore for the next game. Oops, almost forgot: He had to obtain a work permit before he could suit up.

At first, Yepremian just handled kickoffs; Walker did the rest of booting. Against the Colts, Garo knocked one into the end zone and the other to the 5-yard line. This, by the way, was a familiar arrangement for the Lions. In the ’50s they’d often split the job between a Short Guy (e.g. Bobby Layne) and a Long Guy (e.g. Jim Martin) — as had other teams. The ’63 Bears, in fact, won the title with Roger LeClerc (field goals) and Bob Jencks (extra points) sharing the duties.

Besides, Yepremian had enough to worry about that first week. Never mind the strange surroundings and the large, sweaty men looking askance at him, he didn’t even know how to put on his uniform. Shoulder pads were a total mystery to him, and he “had no idea whether the sweat socks went inside or outside the long stockings,” the Oakland paper said. He also had yet to receive any instruction in the fine art of tackling. If the returner comes your way, he was told, “try to get an angle — and then fall in front of him.”

Then things started happening in a hurry for Yepremian. In his second game, in San Francisco, Walker got ejected in the second quarter — one of the hazards of being an Actual Football Player — and Garo had to do it all. He didn’t exactly ace the test, making just one of four field goal tries, a 30-yarder, and going three for three on point-afters. But hey, at least he was on the scoreboard.

Three weeks later, when he got his next big chance, he was ready. Fran Tarkenton, the Vikings’ Hall of Fame quarterback, had his problems that day, throwing five interceptions, and Yepremian was the main beneficiary. The Lions offense had trouble punching the ball in, so Gilmer kept sending him in to kick field goals — six in eight attempts. That broke the NFL record of five set 15 years earlier by Rams great Bob Waterfield. (Garo’s four three-pointers in one quarter, the second, were another mark.)

Detroit’s first 18 points in a 32-31 victory came on Yepremian boots of 33, 26, 15, 20, 28 and 32 yards. Granted, there weren’t any long ones, but the sports world was amazed nonetheless — amazed that this nobody from another hemisphere, this abbreviated kicker with a quirky technique, had hijacked an NFL game.

6 FG headline

Murray thought it was hysterical that Yepremian played for Detroit, an old-fashioned team that hit hard and partied harder. To him, the Lions were an unlikely franchise to steer pro football into the future. (Frankly, Jim shuddered to think of them behind the wheel of any moving vehicle.)

“They lead the league in airport fights, lawsuits, barroom brawls,” he wrote. “The team emblem should be a swizzle stick. Or a camel. They’re the thirstiest team in the game. The water boy carries olives.

“Other teams have a rugged line of defense. The Lions have a rugged line of defendants. Others have a team trainer on the bench. The Lions have a team bail bondsman. They spend half their time going over their plays and the other half going over their constitutional rights. . . .

“All of which is why — when they signed a native of the island of Cyprus to play for them — a lot of us thought they wanted him to stomp grapes.”

You can imagine how welcoming that Detroit locker room must have been to a Cypriot kicker of Armenian extraction who spoke four languages — none of which was Football. Veterans in that era were notoriously hard on rookies, and the Lions were among the league leaders in the hazing department. In his Yepremian appreciation a few days ago, Dave Hyde of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel wrote that Garo “was hung by his jersey on a locker’s hook by [Lions defensive] tackle Alex Karras.” If so, he got off easy.

Even after Yepremian set the record, the media struggled to get his name right. It wasn’t just the “Yepremian,” either. The very next week, the Baltimore Sun referred him as “Gary” Yepremian. (Those poor linotype operators. Decades of muscle memory must have made it awfully hard to override the “y” and type G-a-r-o.)

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 11.02.53 PM

A strong finish left Yepremian with 13 field goals in 22 tries, the sixth-best percentage in the two leagues (59.1). Not bad for a guy who began the year in England, almost ended up playing college ball that fall, didn’t go to an NFL training camp, wasn’t signed until Oct. 12 and, oh yeah, was new to the game.

It was another four seasons before Garo caught on with the Dolphins and went from being a curiosity to one of the top kickers in the league — and one of the most clutch. But it all began with the Lions in ’66, when he showed the disbelieving masses he could do a lot more than crush grapes. He also could crush footballs.

Source: pro-football-reference.comYepremian 6 FG photo

 

The draft and the Canton Factor

It’s great to have the first pick in the NFL draft — as the Bucs have on five occasions, including this year. But it’s almost as great to have the sixth pick, believe it or not. And you’d be amazed at how much mileage teams have gotten out of the 34th pick.

Walter Jones, the last of the 11 No. 6 picks voted to the Hall.

Walter Jones, the last of the 11 No. 6 picks voted to the Hall.

Let me explain myself. I’m talking about the number of Hall of Famers each pick has yielded — its Canton Factor, if you will. That’s what everybody is trying to do at the top of the draft, right? Hit a home run. Find a player for the ages. And there’s no pick like the first pick for that. An even dozen players taken No. 1 are in the Hall, 12 in 79 drafts (with more, such as Peyton Manning, to come).

This, of course, is hardly surprising. Drafting may be an inexact science, but general managers and scouts aren’t complete dullards. Give them first crack at the available college talent, and they can usually find a guy who can walk and chew gum, sometimes all the way to Canton.

What is surprising is some of the other stuff my research turned up. For instance, the second-best pick for Hall of Famers is the sixth (11). The 34th pick (4), meanwhile, has produced more HOFers than the seventh (1!) and ninth (3)* picks and as many as the 10th. Here are the selections with the highest Canton Factor:

PICKS THAT HAVE YIELDED THE MOST HALL OF FAMERS

● 1st (12) — QB Troy Aikman (Cowboys, 1989), DE Bruce Smith (Bills, ’85), QB John Elway (Broncos, ’83), RB Earl Campbell (Houston Oilers, ’78), DE Lee Roy Selmon (Bucs, ’76), QB Terry Bradshaw (Steelers, ’70), RB O.J. Simpson (Bills, ’69), OT Ron Yary (Vikings, ’68), RB Paul Hornung (Packers, ’57), C-LB Chuck Bednarik (Eagles, ’49), RB Charley Trippi (Cardinals, ’45), RB Bill Dudley (Steelers, ’42).

● 6th (11) — OT Walter Jones (Seahawks, ’97), WR Tim Brown (Raiders, ’88), WR James Lofton (Packers, ’78), RB John Riggins (Jets, ’71), DE Carl Eller (Vikings, ’64), CB Jimmy Johnson (49ers, ’61), RB Jim Brown (Browns, ’57), QB Y.A. Tittle (Lions, ’48), C-LB Alex Wojciechowicz (Lions, ’38), QB Sammy Baugh (Redskins, ’37), T Joe Stydahar (Bears, ’36).

● 2nd (10) — RB Marshall Faulk (Colts, ’94), RB Eric Dickerson (Rams, ’83), LB Lawrence Taylor (Giants, ’81), RB Tony Dorsett (Cowboys, ’77), DT Randy White (Cowboys, ’75), OG Tom Mack (Rams, ’66), OT Bob Brown (Eagles, ’64), LB Les Richter (Dallas Texans, ’52), RB George McAfee (Eagles, ’40), QB Sid Luckman (Bears, ’39).

● 3rd (10) — DT Cortez Kennedy (Seahawks, ’90), RB Barry Sanders (Lions, ’89), OT Anthony Munoz (Bengals, ’80), LB Dick Butkus (Bears, ’65), WR Charley Taylor (Redskins, ’64), DT Merlin Olsen (Rams, ’62), RB Ollie Matson (Cardinals, ’52), RB Doak Walker (N.Y. Bulldogs, ’49), QB Bobby Layne (Bears, ’48), DE Claude Humphrey (Falcons, ’68).

● 4th (9) — OT Jonathan Ogden (Ravens, ’96), LB Derrick Thomas (Chiefs, ’89), DE Chris Doleman (Vikings, ’85), DE Dan Hampton (Bears, ’79), RB Walter Payton (Bears, ’75), OG John Hannah (Patriots ’73), DT Joe Greene (Steelers, ’69), RB Gale Sayers (Bears, ’65), QB Otto Graham (Lions, ’44).

● 5th (8) — LB Junior Seau (Chargers, ’90), CB Deion Sanders (Falcons, ’89), CB Mike Haynes (Patriots, ’76), TE Mike Ditka (Bears, ’61), QB Len Dawson (Steelers, ’57), T George Connor (Giants, ’46), WR Elroy Hirsch (Rams, ’45), RB Steve Van Buren (Eagles, ’44).

● 8th (6) — OT Willie Roaf (Saints, ’93), OG Mike Munchak (Oilers, ’82), DB Ronnie Lott (49ers, ’81), RB Larry Csonka (Dolphins, ’68), WR Lance Alworth (49ers, ’62), OL Jim Parker (Colts, ’57).

● 11th (5) — WR Michael Irvin (Cowboys, ’88), WR Paul Warfield (Browns, ’64), DE Doug Atkins (Browns, ’53), RB Frank Gifford (Giants, ’52), DT Leo Nomellini (49ers, ’50).

● 18th (5) — WR Art Monk (Redskins, ’80), FS Paul Krause (Redskins, ’64), RB John Henry Johnson (Steelers, ’53), T Bruiser Kinard (Brooklyn Dodgers, ’38), RB Tuffy Leemans (Giants, ’36).

● 10th (4) — DB Rod Woodson (Steelers, ’87), RB Marcus Allen (Raiders, ’82), OT Ron Mix (Colts, ’60), RB Jerome Bettis (Rams, ’93).

Jack Ham: One of four 34th picks who are in Canton.

Jack Ham: One of four 34th picks who are in Canton.

● 34th (4) — LB Jack Ham (Steelers, ’71), CB Lem Barney (Lions, ’67), DB Yale Lary (Lions, ’52), OT Mike McCormack (New York Yanks, ’51).

*The only Hall of Famer drafted seventh is C Bulldog Turner (Bears, ’40). The only HOFers who went ninth are OG Bruce Matthews (Oilers, ’83), RB Lenny Moore (Colts, ’56) and RB Hugh McElhenny (49ers, ’52).

Some other discoveries:

● The 24th and 25th picks haven’t given us any Canton-quality players — yet. In the case of the 24th, that figures to change whenever Ed Reed (Ravens, 2002) and Aaron Rodgers (Packers, 2005) come up for consideration, but nobody taken at 25 seems very Hall-worthy . . . or is even likely to get endorsed by the Veterans Committee. In fact, 25 has been a virtual black hole. The best selections at that spot: NT Ted Washington (49ers, ’91) and WRs Stanley Morgan (Patriots, ’76) and Boyd Dowler (Packers, ’59).

● Second-round picks might be good values salary-cap-wise, but they don’t produce nearly as many Hall of Famers as first-round picks. The breakdown:

HOFers drafted from 1 through 32: 121

HOFers drafted from 33 through 64: 32

● That said, the 48th pick yielded a Hall of Famer two years in a row in the 1980s: C Dwight Stephenson (Dolphins, ’80) and DE Howie Long (Raiders, ’81). The second round of that ’81 draft, by the way, had three players who wound up in Canton: LB Mike Singletary (38th, Bears), Long and LB Rickey Jackson (51st, Saints). By that measure, it’s the best second round ever.

● I love this: The third pick in the ’48 draft was QB Bobby Layne (by the Bears). The third pick in ’49 was RB Doak Walker (by the New York Bulldogs, though he ended up with the Lions). Both are in Canton, but even better, they were high school teammates at Highland Park in Dallas. (Another high selection who played at Highland Park: Lions QB Matt Stafford, who went No. 1 in 2009.)

FYI: The Jets are sitting with the sixth pick (good karma), the Bears with the seventh (bad karma, though they did get Turner there), the Panthers with the 25th (really bad karma) and the Bucs with the 34th (really good karma, especially since it’s a second-rounder).

Yup, Tampa Bay has the first selection and the 34th. Pretty sweet.

Now we just have to wait for Roger Goodell to say, “Gentlemen, start your draft boards.”

Ndamukong Suh’s next 5 years

The Dolphins just handed Ndamukong Suh the key to their safe-deposit box: a 6-year, $114 million deal ($60 million guaranteed) that dwarfs his original 5-year, $60 million contract ($40 million guaranteed) with the Lions. (And let’s not forget: His rookie contract, under the old CBA, enabled him to earn a lot more than the second pick in the draft can now.)

In situations like this, the Albert Haynesworth Effect — a player getting buried in free-agent dollars and suddenly losing his enthusiasm for his job — is always a concern. There probably isn’t a team in the NFL that doesn’t have a horror story like that.

But an equally pertinent question is: What’s the likelihood Suh’s next five years will be as good as his first five? Because by paying Suh franchise-quarterback money, the Dolphins are saying, unequivocally: We think this player is still ascending. We think he’ll be worth more — substantially more — from 2015 to 2019 (and even 2020, if it comes to that) than he was from 2010 to 2014.

Here’s the thing, though: If you look at the top defensive tackles in recent years, you’ll see that’s rarely the case — in terms of sacks, at least. Granted, there are many ways to evaluate a player at Suh’s position, but certainly pass pressure is a big part of it. In today’s game, especially, a DT had darn well better get to the quarterback (if he wants to have much value of the free-agent market, that is).

Anyway, check out these well-known defensive tackles — and the sack totals they posted in their First 5 Years vs. their Second 5:

SACKS IN THEIR FIRST 5 YEARS VS. THEIR SECOND 5 YEARS (DT DIVISION)

Years Defensive tackle Teams(s) 1st 5 2nd 5 Diff.
1985-93 Keith Millard Vikings/3 others 51.0   7.0  -44.0
1990-99 John Randle Vikings 48.0 58.0 +10.0
1983-92 Bill Pickel Raiders/Jets 43.5 12.5  -31.0
1997-06 Trevor Price Broncos/Ravens 42.5 34.5    -8.0
1995-04 Warren Sapp Bucs/Raiders 42.0 37.5    -4.5
1996-05 La’Roi Glover Saints/2 others 42.0 29.5  -12.5
1988-97 Michael Dean Perry Browns/Broncos 41.5 19.5  -22.0
1992-03 Dana Stubblefield 49ers/Redskins 39.5 14.0  -25.5
1993-04 Bryant Young 49ers 37.0 29.5    -7.5
1992-01 Chester McGlockton Raiders/2 others 35.0 12.5  -22.5
2003-12 Kevin Williams Vikings 34.0 22.5  -11.5
1987-96 Henry Thomas Vikings/Lions 34.0 38.5   +4.5
1994-03 Dan Wilkinson 49ers/2 others 32.5 17.5  -15.0
1990-99 Cortez Kennedy Seahawks 32.0 25.0    -7.0

Suh has 36 sacks through his fifth season, so I limited the list to guys who were in that neighborhood at that point in their career. I also didn’t include erstwhile Eagle Andy Harmon (38.5 sacks) — because he didn’t last much more than 5 years. At any rate, we’ve got two gainers (Randle, Thomas) and 12 decliners (ranging from -4.5 to -44) — not the most encouraging odds for the Dolphins.

Of course, every player is different, particularly in the Internal Wiring Department. Maybe Suh will prove to be one of the exceptions. But chances are better Miami will be glad that “only” $60 million is guaranteed.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

The Dolphins are betting $114 million that  Ndamukong Suh will keep doing this to quarterbacks.

The Dolphins are betting $114 million that Ndamukong Suh will keep doing this to quarterbacks.

DeMarco Murray’s odometer

Football folks have begun to worry about rushing attempts the way baseball people fret about pitch counts. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying these things aren’t important. It’s more a question of: How much weight do you give them?

The Cowboys' DeMarco Murray, stiff-arming all doubters.

The Cowboys’ DeMarco Murray, stiff-arming all doubters.

When evaluating the free-agent value of the Cowboys’ DeMarco Murray, for instance, observers are likely to mention his 392 carries in the 2014 regular season. For one thing, it’s tied for the seventh-highest total in NFL history. For another, it isn’t particularly conducive to a back’s long-term health and productivity — especially if he’s piling postseason carries on top of it, as Murray did (44 more).

In a piece for ESPN.com, Kevin Seifert pointed to the 392 figure and added: “All six of the most recent [backs with that many attempts] fell short of 1,000 yards in the following season.” This isn’t entirely accurate. One of the six, Eric Dickerson, did rush for 1,000 yards the next season (1,288 in 12 games). And another of the six, Ricky Williams, retired after the season and didn’t return to the NFL until two years later (and only after serving a drug suspension). I’m not sure Ricky should even be part of the conversation.

Then there are Eddie George (403 carries in 2000) and Terrell Davis (392 in 1998). To me, their drop-offs weren’t the result of one workhorse season, they were the cumulative effect of years of overuse. George had 1,898 rushing attempts in his first five seasons (playoffs included) — tops in the league in that period by 147. As for Davis, he had 481 carries in 1997 and another 470 in ’98 (again, playoffs included). Those are first- and third-highest totals of all time.

My point is simply this: There are other things that should be factored into the Murray Equation. Yes, he was a busy back last season, but that hardly means his decline in imminent — or even near. With him, it’s more a matter of “How good is he?” than “How much tread does he have left on his tires?”

Consider: 70 running backs since 1960 have had more rushing attempts before their 27th birthday than Murray (928) did. For a back at this stage of his career, he’s fairly low-mileage.

Just for fun, let’s look at the backs who’ve had the most carries before turning 27 (one final time: playoffs included) — and see how many attempts they still had in them:

MOST RUSHING ATTEMPTS BEFORE 27TH BIRTHDAY

Seasons Running back Team(s) Pre-27 High Post-27
1990-04 Emmitt Smith Cowboys/Cardinals 2,286 451 2,472
1999-09 Edgerrin James Colts/Cardinals 1,972 408 1,274
1993-05 Jerome Bettis Rams/Steelers 1,893 423 1,785
1989-98 Barry Sanders Lions 1,826 365 1,327
1995-05 Curtis Martin Patriots/Jets 1,792 418 1,908

(Note: “High” = most carries in a season before turning 27.)

Interesting, no? Smith and Martin actually had more rushing attempts after their 27th birthday. Bettis, meanwhile, had almost as many and it might have been the same for Sanders if he hadn’t retired at 30 (after a 1,491-yard season). At any rate, next to these guys, Murray’s workload seems pretty modest.

Note, too, that four of them had 400-carry seasons before turning 27 — but still had plenty of gas left in the tank.

Now let’s look at the backs who had the most carries after their 27th birthday:

MOST RUSHING ATTEMPTS AFTER TURNING 27

Seasons Running back Team(s) Post-27 High Pre-27
1990-04 Emmitt Smith Cowboys/Cardinals 2,472 366 2,286
1975-87 Walter Payton Bears 2,435 427 1,583
1971-85 John Riggins Jets/Redskins 2,239 462    928
2000-11 Thomas Jones Cardinals/4 others 2,064 376    739
1977-88 Tony Dorsett Cowboys/Broncos 2,050 380 1,188
1972-84 Franco Harris Steelers/Seahawks 1,984 374 1,365
1995-05 Curtis Martin Patriots/Jets 1,908 408 1,792
1982-97 Marcus Allen Raiders/Chiefs 1,871 259 1,418
1993-05 Jerome Bettis Rams/Steelers 1,785 355 1,893
1997-08 Warrick Dunn Bucs/Falcons 1,671 297 1,134

(Note: “High” = most carries in a season after turning 27.)

Eight of the 10 in this group had more rushing attempts before they hit 27 than Murray (978) did — in many cases a lot more. So why is everybody so concerned about DeMarco’s longevity? Sure, he had some nicks earlier in his career, but nothing major. He might have some very good years ahead, just as these backs did. Heck, Payton, Riggins and Martin still had a 400-carry season in their future.

It’s something to think about as free agency approaches. There isn’t anything ominous, necessarily, about rushing the ball 392 times in a season (436 counting the playoffs). But you certainly don’t want to do it year in and year out — and it’s doubtful Murray will, no matter what team he winds up with. Coaches these days are much more aware of human limits than they used to be.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

The Super Bowl-winning offense

Before the season I posted a chart that looked at the 21 Super Bowl-winning offenses in the Free-Agent Era (1993-present). Almost all had a Top 10 quarterback (rating-wise), which shouldn’t surprise anybody. But it was striking how many didn’t didn’t have a running back and/or receiver who ranked that high (in terms of yards).

I bring the subject up again because the 2014 Patriots fit this same model. Tom Brady ranked fifth in the NFL in passer rating, but the Pats’ leading rusher, Jonas Gray (48th!), and leading receiver, Rob Gronkowski (15th), finished quite a bit farther down the list at their positions. This made New England the eighth NFL champion in the last 13 that didn’t have a Top 10 running back or Top 10 receiver. The details:

RECENT SUPER BOWL CHAMPS WITHOUT A TOP 10 RUSHER OR TOP 10 RECEIVER

Year Champion QB, Rating (Rank) Top Rusher, Yds (Rank) Top Receiver, Yds (Rank)
2014 Patriots Tom Brady, 97.4 (5) Jonas Gray, 412 (48) Rob Gronkowski, 1,124 (15)
2012 Ravens Joe Flacco, 87.7 (14) Ray Rice, 1,143 (11) Anquan Boldin, 921 (27)
2009 Saints Drew Brees, 109.6 (1) Pierre Thomas, 793 (T24) Marques Colston, 1,074 (18)
2008 Steelers B.Roethlisberger, 80.1 (24) Willie Parker, 791 (26) Hines Ward, 1,043 (15)
2007 Giants Eli Manning, 73.9 (25) B. Jacobs, 1,009 (T15) Plaxico Burress, 1,025 (21)
2005 Steelers B.Roethlisberger, 98.6 (3) Willie Parker, 1,202 (12) Hines Ward, 975 (22)
2003 Patriots Tom Brady, 85.9 (10) Antowain Smith, 642 (30) Deion Branch, 803 (32)
2002 Bucs Brad Johnson, 92.9 (3) Michael Pittman, 718 (32) K. Johnson, 1,088 (16)

As you can see — and as I noted in August — it’s more about Spreading the Ball Around these days. Not that it isn’t nice to have a DeMarco Murray or an Antonio Brown on your team; it just isn’t necessary. Far from it, in fact.

You can win the Super Bowl without a 500-yard rusher or a 1,000-yard wide receiver, as the Patriots just demonstrated. (Julian Edelman led their wideouts with 972.) You just need contributions from a lot of people — along, of course, with quality quarterbacking, It’s something to think about as the free-agency period approaches and owners get ready to whip out their checkbooks. More doesn’t necessarily mean more.

Statistical curiosities of 2014 (Part 2)

The Broncos might have bombed out in the first round of the playoffs again, but — sorry if this sounds like a Holiday Inn Express commercial — they did have two 1,400-yard receivers. Demaryius Thomas finished with 1,619 and free-agent addition Emmanuel Sanders with 1,404, making them the fourth such tandem in NFL history. Here’s what the group looks like:

TEAMS WITH TWO 1,400-YARD RECEIVERS IN THE SAME SEASON

Year  Team (W-L) Receivers, Yards Result
1995  Lions (10-6) Herman Moore 1,686, Brett Perriman 1,488 Wild card
2000  Rams (10-6) Torry Holt 1,635, Isaac Bruce 1,471 Wild card
2005  Cardinals (5-11) Larry Fitzgerald 1,409, Anquan Boldin 1,402 Missed playoffs
2014  Broncos (12-4) Demaryius Thomas 1,619, Emmanuel Sanders 1,404 Won division

Also, for the first time this year, the NFL had three 1,000-yard rookie receivers. That makes eight rookie receivers with 1,000-plus yards since 2003. Why is this notable? Because there were only 12 in all the seasons before that (AFL included).

            1,000-YARD ROOKIE RECEIVERS SINCE 2003

Year   Receiver, Team Rec Yds Avg TD
2014  Odell Beckham, Giants 91 1,305 14.3 12
2014  Mike Evans, Bucs 68 1,051 15.5 12
2014  Kelvin Benjamin, Panthers 73 1,008 13.8 9
2013  Keenan Allen, Chargers 71 1,046 14.7 8
2011  A.J. Green, Bengals 65 1,057 16.3 7
2006  Marques Colston, Saints 70 1,038 14.8 8
2004  Michael Clayton, Bucs 80 1,193 14.9 7
2003  Anquan Boldin, Cardinals 101 1,377 13.7 8

What this suggests is that quarterbacks aren’t the only players coming out of college these days who are more advanced in the passing game. Their receivers are, too — and like the QBs, are capable of making a more immediate impact in the pros.

Consider: Since 2003, there have been eight 1,000-yard rookie receivers and 15 1,000-yard rookie rushers. From 1932 to 2002 — which is as far back as statistics go — there were 12 1,000-yard rookie receivers and 46 1,000-yard rookie rushers.

In other words, where before it was much more common for a rookie to rush for 1,000 yards (an almost 4-to-1 ratio), now it’s only somewhat more common (slightly less than 2-to-1). And as time goes on, given the devaluation of the running game, the gap may continue to shrink.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

How long before the 1,000-yard rookie receiver is more common than the 1,000-yard rookie rusher?

How long before the 1,000-yard rookie receiver is more common than the 1,000-yard rookie rusher?

Marvin Lewis and the perils of January

The Bengals have made the playoffs in six of Marvin Lewis 12 seasons. You’d think congratulations would be in order — first for surviving a dozen years in any coaching job, and second for steering his team to the postseason so often. But Lewis’ 0-6 record in the playoffs has folks wondering, rightfully, whether he’ll be working in Cincinnati much longer. This is, after all, the Not For Long League. It’s not enough to just win, baby. You have to keep on winning, baby, into January and beyond.

Not that he’ll take any comfort in this, but Lewis is hardly the first coach to trip over that final hurdle. Heck, there are guys in the Hall of Fame who tripped over that final hurdle — and several others who rank high on the all-time victories list. Indeed, if there were a Misery Index for coaches, it might look something like this:

100-WIN COACHES WHO HAD A LOSING RECORD IN THE PLAYOFFS

Span Coach (Titles) Teams Regular Season Playoffs
1986-01 Jim Mora Saints, Colts 125-106-0, .541 0-6, .000
2003-14 Marvin Lewis Bengals 100-90-2, .526 0-6, .000
1955-74 Sid Gillman (1) Rams, Chargers, Oilers 122-99-7, .550 1-5, .167
1931-53 Steve Owen (2) Giants 151-100-17, .595 2-8, .200
1966-77 George Allen Rams, Redskins 116-47-5, .705 2-7, .222
1984-06 Marty Schottenheimer Browns, Chiefs, 2 others 200-116-1, .613 5-13, .278
1973-86 Don Coryell Cardinals, Chargers 111-83-1, .572 3-6, .333
1992-06 Dennis Green Vikings, Cardinals 113-94-0, .546 4-8, .333
1973-94 Chuck Knox Rams, Bills, Seahawks 186-147-1, 558 7-11, .389
1967-85 Bud Grant Vikings 158-96-5, .620 10-12, .455
1994-14 Jeff Fisher Oilers/Titans, Rams 162-147-1, 524 5-6, .455
1996-08 Tony Dungy (1) Bucs, Colts 139-69-0, .688 10-12, .455

(Note: If you want to be technical about it, Grant won the NFL championship in 1969, then lost the Super Bowl to the AFL’s Chiefs. Also: Schottenheimer’s other teams were the Redskins and Chargers.)

That’s 12 coaches with 100 regular-season victories who have lost more playoff games than they’ve won. Four are in Canton (Gillman, Owen, Allen and Grant) and another has been a finalist (Coryell) and may eventually get elected. Clearly, then, a poor postseason record doesn’t have to be a reputation-killer for a coach. (And yes, Gillman’s and Owen’s situations are much different from the others’. All but one of their playoff games was a title game — back when that was the extent of pro football’s postseason.)

The biggest problem for Lewis, obviously, is the goose egg. Aside from Mora, everybody else in the group had at least one notable postseason. Owen, Gillman (AFL) and Dungy won titles; Grant, Allen and Fisher reached the Super Bowl; and Schottenheimer (three times), Coryell (twice), Green (twice) and Knox (four) all made multiple trips to the conference championship game.

As for Lewis and Mora, well, Jim probably said it best:

Source: pro-football-reference.com

Le’Veon Bell breaks out

Le’Veon Bell, the Steelers’ second-year running back, was having a nice little career for himself heading into the Titans game three weeks ago. Now, though, such adjectives as “nice” and “little” no longer seem to apply. Three straight games with 200-plus yards from scrimmage will do that for you.

It’s unusual enough, after all, for a back to have two games in a row like that. Only seven others have done it in the 2000s — and no back has had three in a row since Bears Hall of Famer Walter Payton in 1977. The details:

BACKS IN THE 2000S WITH 200 YARDS FROM SCRIMMAGE IN CONSECUTIVE GAMES

Year Back, Team Opponents (Yards) Total
2014 Le’Veon Bell, Steelers Titans (222), Saints (254), Bengals (235) 711
2012 Doug Martin, Bucs Vikings (214), Raiders (272) 486
2007 Ronnie Brown, Dolphins Jets (211), Raiders (207) 418
2003 Deuce McAlister, Saints Falcons (237), Eagles (232) 469
2002 Ricky Williams, Dolphins Bills (235), Bears (216) 451
2002 Marshall Faulk, Rams Seahawks (235), Cardinals (235) 471
2000 Mike Anderson, Broncos Seahawks (209), Saints (256) 465
2000 Eddie George, Titans Bengals (214), Jaguars (209) 423

Now let’s compare Bell’s run to Payton’s. Le’Veon first:

VS. Rushing Receiving Total
Titans 33-204-1 2-18-0 35-222-1
Saints 21-95-1 8-159-0 29-254-1
Bengals 26-185-2 6-50-1 32-235-3
Totals 80-484-4 16-227-1 96-711-5

And now Walter:

VS. Rushing Receiving Total
Chiefs 33-192-3 1-29-0 34-221-3
Vikings 40-275-1 1-6-0 41-281-1
Lions 20-137-1 4-107-0 24-244-1
Totals 93-604-5 6-142-0 99-746-5

Awful close. Note that Payton set a single-game rushing record (since broken) when he went for 275 against the Vikes. But other than that . . . there isn’t much difference between them volume-

Le'Veon Bell cuts upfield.

Le’Veon Bell cuts upfield.

wise. Walter had three more touches and 35 more yards.

Note, too, that both had a 100-yard receiving game during their streak. If you’re going to pull off something like this, it helps to have some pass-catching ability.

Thanks in large measure to Payton, by the way, the Bears made the playoffs that season for the first time in 14 years (when they won their last title under George Halas). And Bell, of course, has the 8-5 Steelers pointed in the same direction. (He’s also on pace to finish with 2,368 yards from scrimmage, which would be the fifth-highest total of all time.)

At any rate, the word is out about him now — if it wasn’t before. This is one dangerous (and durable) back.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

Trading draft picks for coaches

There were more reports over the weekend that the 49ers might trade Jim Harbaugh after the season — perhaps to the Raiders, perhaps to some other desperate team. If it happens, it’ll be fascinating to see what the going rate is for a top coach. After all, Harbaugh has guided his club to the NFL’s Final Four three years running; the list of guys who’ve done that isn’t very long.

I’ve dug up nine cases of head coaches being dealt for draft picks — all since the 1970 merger. The moral of the story seems to be this: If you think you’re going to get much in return for a coach, you’re kidding yourself. Pennies on the dollar is more like it. The coaches generally do well with their new teams, but the picks are another matter.

By my count, these nine coaches have been traded for a total of 19 selections — five first-rounders, five second-rounders, five third-rounders and four later-rounders. The vast majority of them are/were utterly forgettable players who did little to improve the club that drafted them. Indeed, only two were ever voted to the Pro Bowl — DE Shaun Ellis and KR Leon Washington, once each. (Ellis made it a second time as an alternate.)

A breakdown of the 10 deals:

● 1970 — Don Shula from the Colts to the Dolphins for a 1971 No. 1 (22nd overall). Shula took Miami, then a fifth-year franchise, to five Super Bowls, winning two. He’s now, of course, in the Hall of Don McCauley cardFame.

Who the Colts drafted: RB Don McCauley, who rushed for 2,627 yards in his 11 seasons in Baltimore, many of them as a short-yardage back.

● 1978 — Don Coryell from the Cardinals to the Chargers for a 1980 No. 3 (81st). Coryell returned San Diego to relevance with his Air Coryell offense and led the Chargers to back-to-back AFC title games (1980-81). He’s been a semi-finalist for Canton the last four years.

Who the Cardinals drafted: LB Charles Baker, who spent his entire 8-year career with St. Louis and started 62 games.

● 1997 — Bill Parcells from the Patriots to the Jets for four picks. Parcells turned a 1-15 Jets team into an AFC finalist in two seasons.

Who the Patriots drafted:

1999 No. 1 (28th) — LB Andy Katzenmoyer: 13 starts in two seasons, 3.5 sacks.

1998 No. 2 (52nd) — WR Tony Simmons: nine starts in three seasons, 56 catches.

1997 No. 3 (61st) — RB Sedrick Shaw: one start in two seasons, 236 rushing yards.

1997 No. 4 (97th) — OG Damon Denson: four starts in three seasons.

● 1999 — Mike Holmgren from the Packers to the Seahawks for a 1999 No. 2 (47th). Holmgren guided Seattle to its first Super Bowl and fielded six playoff teams in 10 seasons.

Who the Packers drafted: DB Fred Vinson. Vinson spent one year in Green Bay, then was sent to Seattle (and old friend Holmgren) in exchange for RB Ahman Green. So if you want to look at it that way — that the Packers got Green for Holmgren — go ahead. Injuries kept Vinson from playing a single down for the Seahawks. Green, on the other hand, went to four straight Pro Bowls in Green Bay and set a franchise record by rushing for 1,883 yards in 2003.

(Note: Holmgren also was traded for a second-round pick in 1992, when the Packers hired him. But he was the Niners’ offensive coordinator then, not a head coach.)

● 2000 — Bill Belichick from the Jets to the Patriots for three picks (the Pats receiving two lower selections as change). In New England, Belichick has

Shaun Ellis

Shaun Ellis

finished what Parcells started, transforming the Pats into the Team of the 2000s. Under him, they’ve won three Super Bowls, lost two and appeared in eight AFC championship games.

Who the Jets drafted:

2000 No. 1 (16th) — The Jets moved up to 12 to get Ellis, a mainstay at LDE for 11 seasons.

2001 No. 4 (101) — DB Jamie Henderson: three seasons, one start, one interception.

2001 No. 7 (206) — DE James Reed: five seasons, 32 starts, seven sacks.

● 2001 — Marty Schottenheimer from the Chiefs to the Redskins for two picks. Schottenheimer lasted just one season in Washington, going 8-8 (with eight wins in his last 11 games). Owner Dan Snyder fired him after trying — and failing — to get Marty to replace one of his assistants.

Who the Chiefs drafted:

2001 No. 3 (77th) — WR Snoop Minnis: two seasons, 34 catches, one touchdown.

2002 No. 3 (84th) — You’ll love this: They sent the third-rounder to the Rams as compensation for coach Dick Vermeil, who took the Kansas City job in ’01. So you had one pick being used two acquire two different coaches.

● 2001 — Vermeil from the Rams to the Chiefs for two picks. Vermeil posted a 44-36 record in his five seasons in K.C. but failed to win a playoff game.

Who the Rams drafted:

2001 No. 2 (42nd) — LB Tommy Polley: four seasons, 49 starts, four interceptions.

2002 No. 3 (84th) — RB Lamar Gordon: two seasons, 526 rushing yards.

● 2002 — Jon Gruden from the Raiders to the Bucs for four picks and $8 million. With Gruden — complemented by a great defense — Tampa Bay went to its first Super Bowl in ’02 and blew out Oakland. He didn’t win another playoff game with the Bucs, though, and was dumped after seven seasons with a barely-over-.500 record (60-57).

Who the Raiders drafted:

2002 No. 1 (21st) — CB Phillip Buchanon (after trading up to 17): three seasons, 11 INTs.

2002 No 2  (53rd) — OT Langston Walker: five seasons, 33 starts.*

2003 No. 1 (32nd) — DE Tyler Brayton: five seasons, six sacks.

2004 No. 2 (45th) — C Jake Grove: 5 seasons, 46 starts.

*Returned to Raiders for two more seasons (2009-10) at the end of his career.

● 2006 — Herman Edwards from the Jets to the Chiefs for a 2006 No. 4 (117th). Edwards went due south in his three years in Kansas City – 9-7, 4-12 and 2-14.

Who the Jets drafted: Washington, who in four seasons rushed for 1,782 yards and returned four kickoffs for TDs.

And now there’s a chance Harbaugh may be on the market — though everybody’s denying, denying, denying at this point. The thing is, 12 years ago, the Bucs were insisting they wouldn’t give up draft picks for Gruden, as you can see here:

Jan. 22, 2002 AP story

Jan. 22, 2002 AP story

Three weeks later, the deal got made.

"I'm not angry. I'm not yellin'."

“I’m not angry. I’m not yellin’.”

Sources: pro-football-reference.com, prosportstransactions.com.

J.J. Watt, scoring machine

Make that five touchdowns this season for the Texans’ J.J. Watt, the defensive end with a nose for the end zone. His latest — and third TD catch — came Sunday on a 1-yard pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick in Houston’s 45-21 win over the Titans.

How can I put Watt’s feat in perspective? Maybe this way:

RUNNING BACKS WHO HAD 350 TOUCHES IN A SEASON AND FEWER THAN 5 TDS

Year Back, Team Rushing Receiving Touches TD
1998 Barry Sanders, Lions 343-1,491 37-289 380 4
2009 Steven Jackson, Rams 324-1,416 51-322 375 4
2003 Curtis Martin, Jets 323-1,308 42-262 365 2
2005 Reuben Droughns, Browns 309-1,232 39-369 353* 2
1994 Jerome Bettis, Rams 319-1,025 31-293 350 4

*Includes five kickoff returns.

Or maybe this way:

RECEIVERS WHO HAD 85 CATCHES IN A SEASON AND FEWER THAN 3 TDS

Year Receiver, Team Rec Yds TD
2001 Keyshawn Johnson, Bucs 106 1,266 1
2013 Kendall Wright, Titans 94 1,079 2
2009 Jason Witten, Cowboys 94 1,030 2
1985 Art Monk, Redskins 91 1,226 2
2013 Harry Douglas, Falcons 85 1,067 2

OTHER NOTABLES

Year Receiver, Team Rec Yds TD
2007 Donald Driver, Packers 82 1,048 2
1998 Michael Irvin, Cowboys 74 1,057 1
1996 Henry Ellard, Redskins 52 1,014 2

For the record, there have been 43 1,000-yard backs who scored fewer touchdowns than Watt has. (I’m not talking about fewer rushing touchdowns; I’m talking about fewer total touchdowns.) There also have been 13 1,000-yard receivers who had fewer TD catches than he has.

If you weren’t impressed with Watt before, you’d darn well better be now. I mean, if this keeps up, he’ll start drawing double coverage.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

Texans defensive end J.J. Watt scores his fifth TD of the season -- and third receiving -- Sunday vs. the Browns.

Texans defensive end J.J. Watt scores the fourth of his five TDs this season vs. the Browns in Week 11.