Tag Archives: defense

Ram-bunctious defense

Earlier in the week we were talking about the Rams posting two straight shutouts, a rare feat. Now we’re talking about them going three games without allowing a touchdown, another rare feat. Five teams have done it in the 2000s:


Year Team (W-L) Opponents (Score) PA
2014 Rams (6-8)* Raiders (52-0), Redskins (24-0), Rams (L, 12-6) 12
2011 Dolphins (6-10)* Chiefs (31-3), Redskins (20-9), Bills (35-8) 20
2008 Dolphins (11-5) Rams (16-12), Bills (16-3), 49ers (14-9) 24
2000 Titans (13-3) Bengals (35-3), Browns (24-0), Cowboys (31-0) 3
2000 Steelers (9-7)* Jets (20-3), Bengals (15-0), Browns (22-0) 3

*missed playoffs

The thing about the Steelers’ streak is that it kept going. They extended it to five games before giving up a touchdown to the Eagles. (Where have you gone, Jeff Thomason? He was the guy who scored it.)

In all, the Steelers allowed six field goals during this stretch. And they didn’t make the playoffs! Their 9-7 record left them in the First Alternate position. In fact, three of the above teams failed to earn a postseason berth (and the two that did were one-and-done). Go figure.

The Rams have a chance to match the Steelers’ run, but it won’t be easy. They have the Giants (home) and Seahawks (away) left on their schedule, and it doesn’t look like Seattle will be in a position to mail-in the last game, not with the division title — and possibly home-field advantage in the NFC — at stake.

Still, it’s been an impressive display of defense, even if the Rams haven’t exactly faced a Murderer’s Row of quarterbacks (Derek Carr, Colt McCoy, Drew Stanton). That’s usually how it is with these streaks — hot defenses squashing less-than-quality competition (and their club being fortunate enough not to give up any return TDs, of course).

One final note: Two of these teams (2014 Rams, 2000 Titans) had Gregg Williams as their defensive coordinator. Gotta be more than just a coincidence, don’t you think?

Source: pro-football-reference.com

"That's Gregg with TWO G's."

“That’s Gregg with TWO G’s.”

R. C. Owens’ one-of-a-kind field goal block, revisited

History, as we all know, is a living thing. More information — better information — comes along, and the record gets revised. Earlier this week I published a post (and photo) about the Colts’ R. C. Owens blocking a field goal try in 1962 in a unique way: He stood back by the goal posts, jumped as high as he could and re-jected a kick attempted by the Redskins.

The newspaper accounts said it was an NFL first, and in all my research I’ve never come across another play like it. (I do remember seeing — on TV — a 1970 game between the Chiefs and Raiders in which Morris Stroud, the Chiefs’ 6-10 tight end, played “goalie” in the closing seconds and nearly blocked a 48-yarder by George Blanda (a boot that left the bitter rivals in a 17-17 deadlock). The Associated Press reported: “The ball barely made it over the crossbar and above the hands of . . . Stroud, who was stationed at the goal line.”

Reader/Facebook buddy/fellow blogger Jack Finarelli brought up another candidate in a comment: Erich Barnes, a six-time Pro Bowl cornerback with the Bears, Giants and Browns from 1958 to ’71. Wrote Jack: “I think I remember [him] doing this also in a game about 1961 or 1962. As I recall, it was considered a ‘blocked field goal’ and was open for recovery.”

So I did a little investigating. Turns out Barnes did do something like that — in 1969, when he was playing for Cleveland. (He may have done it as a Giant, too, but my search of The New York Times archive turned up nothing. It did, though, produce a photo of him blocking a field goal in the conventional fashion against the Rams in ’61.)

Screen Shot 2014-08-30 at 4.41.46 PM


Here’s the link to the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s story on The Game in Question. The relevant passage is as follows:

The Eagles got on the board in the second quarter after a freak play. Erich Barnes, who also was injured late in the game and may have a cracked rib, leaped high to deflect Sam Baker’s field goal bid.

Erich was playing right in front of the goal posts. He touched the ball and it bounced back in the playing field, where it was recovered by [Philadelphia’s] Tim Rossovich.

So the Eagles had a first down on the Cleveland 2-yard line. They took it into the end zone on two smashes by Tom Woodeshick.

Maybe that’s why Barnes’ play has been forgotten: because, unlike Owens’, it didn’t prevent the opponent from scoring. In fact, it cost the Browns four points — the difference between a field goal and a touchdown.

There’s also uncertainty about whether Baker’s boot would have gone through the uprights. According to United Press International, he “was short on a 44-yard field goal attempt, and Barnes, leaping high at the goal post in a bid to deflect the ball, batted it back on the playing field.”

Which is why it was a live ball — and why the Eagles were able retain possession. Had the kick gone into the end zone, as it (presumably) did in Owens’ case, it would have been ruled a touchback.

What we don’t know — because we don’t have the game film handy — is what UPI meant by “short.” It could have just meant the ball would have barely made it over to the crossbar. Or . . . it could have meant Barnes’ block was superfluous.

I’d like to think this blog can do this kind of stuff often — that is, try to get the facts as straight as we can. The truth, after all, is in the details.

Sources: newspaperarchive.com, The New York Times archive, Cleveland Plain Dealer archive, pro-football-reference.com.

Putting a magnifying glass on Points Allowed

The fewer points an NFL team allows in a game, the better its chances to win, right? Not necessarily. And believe me, I’m as stunned by that revelation as you are.

Just out of curiosity one day, I went to my favorite research site, pro-football-reference.com, and started wearing out the Play Index. I wanted to know exactly how often a club won when it gave up a specific number of points. Not something nebulous like “17 or less,” but 2 points, 3 points . . . all the way up to 50. (For the record, nobody has won allowing more than 48 points.)

The results caught me off guard. In my statistical naiveté, I envisioned a steadily descending line graph from 2 to 50, but that’s not what I got at all. No, I got plenty of ups and downs, some of which could be attributed to small sample size — how often does a team allow 18 points? — but not all.

My findings — I looked at regular-season games since the 1970 merger — are at the bottom. These are the bullet points:

● Teams have won more often when they’ve given up 14 points (.814) than when the’ve given up 9 (.794). Likewise:

21 (.564) vs. 16 (.520)

28 (.316) vs. 23 (.299)

32 (.225) vs. 26 (.206)

39 (.115) vs. 34 (.110)

48 (.055) vs. 37 (.052)

There you have it, folks. Conclusive evidence that it’s not always in a club’s best interest to “Hold that line!”

● This is why the whole “when a team allows 17 points or less” business (or 21 points or whatever) is misleading. The “or less” skews it, because lower point totals have really high winning percentages. Consider:

17 points or less: .789 (8,606 games/6,761-1,787-58 W-L-T)

21 points or less: .719 (11,311/8,097-3,138-76)

But . . .  exactly 17 points = a .625 winning percentage (.164 lower than “17 points or less”) and exactly 21 points = .564 (.155 lower than “21 points or less”). Big differences.

● The highest point total that would still give you a 50-50 chance to win: 21 (.564). FYI: At 19 (.442) and 20 (.465) the odds are still against you.

A 1-in-3 chance: 25 (.351).

A 1-in-4 chance: 28 (.316).

A 1-in-5 chance: 32 (.225).

A 1-in-10 chance: 39 (.115).

● In some cases, you wonder whether what’s most important isn’t the points but the number of scores you allow. For instance, 16 points is probably four scores (a touchdown and three field goals), while 21 is probably three (touchdowns). Does that help explain why teams that give up 21 points win more often than those that give up 16? Do four scoring drives tend to consume more of the clock than three, giving the opponent less time of possession (and thus, less opportunity to score itself)?

Or how about this: Does allowing 21 points suggest the opposition might have missed a field goal try — since it’s rare a team doesn’t have at least one during a game? Missed field goal tries can cause major momentum swings, almost like turnovers. I’m just spitballing here. Heck, maybe it’s a quantitative thing: four scores amount to more “negative feedback” than three, regardless of their point value. Whatever the explanation, it’s fascinating. You wouldn’t think the reason would be sample size, because the total games aren’t dramatically different — 688 (16) vs. 899 (21).

You could raise the same questions for 28 (.316) and 23 (.299) — or: four TDs (usually) vs. two TDs and three field goals.

Anyway, it’s fun to speculate about. Maybe there’s a mathematical genius out there — or a psychiatrist — who can sort all this out for us. (I think I’ve already established I’m not that guy.)

The raw data, in case you’re interested:

Pts Win Pct Games W-L-T
0 1.000 447 447-0-0
2 1.000 7 7-0-0
3 .989 545 539-6-0
5 .923 13 12-1-0
6 .936 439 409-26-4
7 .962 879 844-31-4
8 .929 28 26-2-0
9 .794 286 227-59-0
10 .869 1,230 1,060-152-18
11 .818 33 27-6-0
12 .706 177 125-52-0
13 .720 1,065 762-293-10
14 .814 1,089 884-201-4
15 .580 150 87-63-0
16 .520 688 356-328-4
17 .625 1,530 947-567-14
18 .548 84 46-38-0
19 .442 394 174-220-0
20 .465 1,328 611-703-14
21 .564 899 505-390-4
22 .438 217 95-122-0
23 .299 810 239-565-6
24 .371 1,267 469-796-2
25 .351 114 40-74-0
26 .206 360 73-285-2
27 .241 990 238-750-2
28 .316 630 198-430-2
29 .179 156 28-128-0
30 .124 490 61-429-0
31 .185 831 153-676-2
32 .225 71 16-55-0
33 .124 194 24-170-0
34 .110 565 61-502-2
35 .133 309 40-267-2
36 .140 86 12-74-0
37 .052 251 13-238-0
38 .069 360 25-335-0
39 .115 26 3-23-0
40 .025 79 2-77-0
41 .060 199 12-187-0
42 .015 134 2-132-0
43 .000 29 0-29-0
44 .012 84 1-83-0
45 .016 124 2-122-0
46 .000 9 0-9-0
47 .040 25 1-24-0
48 .055 55 3-52-0
49 .000 37 0-37-0
50 .000 12 0-12-0

Source: pro-football-reference.com