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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.

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.

How good was Gronk’s postseason?

Rob Gronkowski, finally healthy again, was worth a touchdown a game to the Patriots in the playoffs. That’s not an average or an approximation. He caught a TD pass against every opponent as the Pats made off with their fourth Lombardi Trophy.

A postseason trifecta like that is rare for a tight end. The only other one who’s done it Gronkowski’s way — division round, conference title game, Super Bowl — is the 49ers’ Brent Jones in 1989. Interesting parallel, don’t you think? After all, Gronk’s quarterback was Tom Brady, who was in the process of winning his fourth ring, and Jones’ quarterback was Joe Montana, who was in the process of winning his fourth ring in ’89.

Just four tight ends have had touchdown receptions in three games in a single postseason. Here’s how they compare:

ROB GRONKOWSKI, PATRIOTS, 2014

Opponent Rec Yds Avg TD Length
Ravens 7 108 15.4 1 5
Colts 3 28 9.3 1 5
Seahawks (SB) 6 68 12.3 1 22
Totals 16 204 12.8 3

DENNIS PITTA, RAVENS, 2012

Opponent Rec Yds Avg TD Length
Colts 2 27 13.5 1 20
Broncos 3 55 18.3 0
Patriots 5 55 11.0 1 5
49ers (SB) 4 26 6.5 1 1
Totals 14 163 11.6 3

DUSTIN KELLER, JETS, 2009

Opponent Rec Yds Avg TD Length
Bengals 3 99 33.0 1 45
Chargers 3 19 16.3 1 2
Colts 6 63 10.5 1 9
Totals 12 181 15.1 3

BRENT JONES, 49ERS, 1989

Opponent Rec Yds Avg TD Length
Vikings 3 24 8.0 1 8
Rams 4 46 11.5 1 20
Broncos (SB) 1 7 7.0 1 7
Totals 8 77 9.6 3

Gronkowski’s postseason certainly measures up to any of these. But in terms of total touchdowns, Dave Casper’s 1977 and Vernon Davis’ 2011 are still the gold standard in the playoffs, even though neither got to the Super Bowl. Their game-by-games:

DAVE CASPER, RAIDERS, 1977

Opponent Rec Yds Avg TD Lengths
Colts 4 70 17.5 3 8, 10, 10*
Broncos 5 71 14.2 2 7, 17
Totals 9 141 15.7 5

VERNON DAVIS, 49ERS, 2011

Opponent Rec Yds Avg TD Lengths
Saints 7 180 25.7 2 49, 14*
Giants 3 112 37.3 2 73, 28
Totals 10 292 29.2 4

*game winner

Davis, amazingly, had three of the four longest touchdowns scored by these tight ends — 73, 49 and 28 yards. That explains his equally ridiculous 29.2-yards-per-catch average.

As for Casper, his game against the Colts in the ’77 playoffs — when they were still in Baltimore — was one for the ages. In addition to his three TDs, the last in the second overtime period to give the Raiders a 37-31 win, he also had a 42-yard catch late in regulation that tied it up.

That’s the famous Ghost to the Post play (Ghost being the pale-white Casper’s nickname). Watch:

Casper had a classic quote about his touchdown in OT:

The final play was K-17 and was designed for me all the way. We wanted to do something they didn’t expect. The cornerback was doing his job, protecting against the run. He was in a tough situation.

I faked inside and went outside. Any stiff could have done it. I’m glad I’m the stiff that did it.

The video:

So, yeah, Gronkowski had a terrific postseason — and unlike some of the others, he has a ring to show for it. But he didn’t go quite as wild, touchdown-wise, as Casper and Davis did, and he didn’t have a signature moment like Casper’s Ghost to the Post (or Dave’s overtime TD, for that matter). Perhaps that’s still to come. I mean, the guy’s only 25.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski beats Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright for a 22-yard touchdown in the Super Bowl.

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski beats Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright for a 22-yard TD in the Super Bowl.

2014 running backs: plus/minus

In case you were wondering, the NFL’s plus/minus leaders this season — running backs division — were the Ravens’ Justin Forsett (1,235-yard increase over his 2013 rushing total) and the Vikings’ Adrian Peterson (1,191-yard decrease, thanks to the “off-field trouble” that limited him to one game).

You don’t necessarily have to read a lot into this. Maybe a player just got an opportunity (and his yards shot up), or maybe he just got hurt (and they went down). In other words, it’s less a measure of how well a back played and more a matter of his production compared to the year before. (Just one of the ways I keep myself entertained in the offseason: by looking at numbers from all sorts of angles.)

BIGGEST GAINERS

Running back, Team 2013 2014 Gain
Justin Forsett, Ravens     31 1266 +1235
C.J. Anderson, Broncos     38   849   +811
DeMarco Murray, Cowboys 1121 1845   +724
Arian Foster, Texans   542 1246   +704
Jonathan Stewart, Panthers   180   809   +629
Mark Ingram, Saints   386   964   +578
Denard Robinson, Jaguars     66   582   +516
Le’Veon Bell, Steelers   860 1361   +501
Matt Asiata, Vikings   166   570   +404
Lamar Miller, Dolphins   709 1099   +390

Note: The first five backs all made the playoffs (and three played for teams that didn’t make it the season before).

BIGGEST DECLINERS

Running back, Team 2013 2014 Drop
Adrian Peterson, Vikings 1266   75 -1191
Ryan Mathews, Chargers 1255 330   -925
Knowshon Moreno, Broncos 1038 148   -890
Reggie Bush, Lions 1006 297   -709
Maurice Jones-Drew, Raiders   803   96   -707
Zac Stacy, Rams   973 293   -680
C.J. Spiller, Bills   933 300   -633
DeAngelo Williams, Panthers   843 219   -624
Bilal Powell, Jets   697 141   -556
Stevan Ridley, Patriots   773 340   -433

Obviously, most of these backs were injured, forcing their teams to scramble a bit at the running back position. Some of the clubs (Broncos, Lions, Panthers, Patriots) dealt with the situation better than others. But then, Denver, Detroit and New England weren’t that dependent on the running game to begin with.

Next: receivers.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

The Ravens' Justin Forsett rushed for an NFL-high 1,235 more yards than in 2013.

The Ravens’ Justin Forsett rushed for an NFL-high 1,235 more yards than in 2013.

12-4 . . . and out the door

The Broncos and John Fox went their separate ways this week — despite 40 wins the past three seasons and a trip to the Super Bowl a year ago. What doomed the marriage, general manager John Elway said, is that “two years in a row, it didn’t feel like we went out kicking and screaming because of . . . the way we played the last game.”

Elway thinks the team was “right there,” that Fox had all the necessary ingredients to win a title. Of course, GMs tend to think like that. They’re the ones who gather the ingredients. He’s also disappointed, no doubt, that Fox couldn’t do with Peyton Manning what Mike Shanahan did with him late in his career: add a ring or two to his otherwise glowing resumé.

What Elway might be forgetting is that it’s much harder to win the AFC in the 2000s than it was in the ’80s and ’90s, when he played. Back then it was very much the junior conference, and its best teams often got manhandled in The Big Game by the 49ers, Redskins and the rest. (During the 16–year stretch from 1981 to 1996, the AFC won exactly one Super Bowl — and John’s Denver club lost three of them by an average of 32 points.)

It’s different now. The Patriots are on an historic 14-year run that has seen them win three championships and reach the conference title game nine times. The Steelers and Ravens, meanwhile, both have won two Super Bowls since 2000. Then there are the Colts, who knocked off the Broncos last week and might have several rings in their future as long as Andrew Luck remains ambulatory. Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco, Luck — it’s just a more treacherous course to navigate, even if you do have Manning on your side.

But Elway, in the NFL tradition, is convinced Denver should have done better. Just win, baby. If it makes Fox — who has already found a new job with the Bears — feel any better, he’s hardly the first coach this has happened to after a successful season. In fact, in the ’40s, two were fired after taking their teams to the title game (and losing). The details:

● Marty Schottenheimer, Chargers, 2006: Went an AFC-best 14-2 in his final season, but bombed out in the playoffs against the Patriots. Club president Dean Spanos initially said

Marty Schottenheimer during his Chargers days.

Marty Schottenheimer during his Chargers days.

Schottenheimer would return the next year, then changed his mind after Marty turned down a one-year contract extension — he still had a year left on his deal — and lost four assistant coaches (one of whom he wanted to replace with his brother Brian, which didn’t please management at all). Just as problematical, according to Spanos, was Schottenheimer’s “dysfunctional” relationship with general manager A.J. Smith.

Record with the Chargers: 47-35, .573 (0-2 in the playoffs). Replaced by Norv Turner, who took San Diego to the AFC championship game in his first season and had a 59-43 (.578) record in his six years with the Bolts.

● George Seifert, 49ers, 1996: Went 12-4 in his final season, 1-1 in the playoffs (losing to the eventual champion Packers in the second round). Resigned after the club told him it wouldn’t extend his contract beyond the next year, making him a lame duck.

Record with the 49ers: 108-35, .755 (10-5 in the playoffs), two titles (1989, ’94). Replaced by Steve Mariucci, who lasted six seasons (60-43, .583) and led the Niners to one NFC championship game.

● Ted Marchibroda, Colts, 1995: Went 9-7 in his final season, but came within a Hail Mary pass in the AFC title game of reaching the Super Bowl. (Jim Harbaugh threw it, wideout Aaron Bailey

Ted Marchibroda came this close to the Super Bowl in 1995.

Ted Marchibroda and the Colts came this close to the Super Bowl in 1995.

nearly caught it.) When the team offered Marchibroda only a one-year deal — he was 64 and at the end of his contract — he rejected it and opted to become the first coach of the Ravens (the transplanted Browns).

Record with the Colts (in his second tour of duty): 32-35, .478 (2-1 the playoffs). Replaced by offensive coordinator Lindy Infante, who was fired after just two seasons when Indianapolis nosedived to 3-13 in ’97.

● Bum Phillips, Oilers, 1980: Went 11-5 in his final season, losing in the first round of the playoffs to the Raiders, who won it all. The previous two years, Houston had reached the NFC championship game but couldn’t get past the Steelers. Owner Bud Adams wanted Phillips to hire an offensive coordinator — he was the only coach in the league who didn’t have one — but Bum balked. His “adamant refusal to even consider that the offense needs some fresh blood and input weighed heavily in my decision,” Adams said. (And, truth be known, the Oilers’ attack was awfully conservative: pound away with Earl Campbell and throw to tight ends Mike Barber, Dave Casper and Rich Caster.)

Record with the Oilers: 59-38, .608 (4-3 in the playoffs). Replaced by defensive coordinator Ed Biles, who didn’t make it through his third season (8-23, .258).

● Chuck Knox, Rams, 1977: Went 10-4 in his final season, losing in the first round of the playoffs to the Vikings. This followed losses in three straight NFC title games. The year before, Knox had flirted with taking the Lions job, which didn’t exactly endear him to owner Dan Reeves. Both men were ready for a change, and Reeves was particularly interested in the Cardinals’ Don Coryell. But when St. Louis asked for a first-round pick as compensation, he decided to rehire George Allen, who had just left the Redskins. What a disaster. He ended up firing Allen during training camp — the players rebelled at his strict regimen — and promoting offensive coordinator Ray Malavasi.

Record with the Rams: 57-20-1, .737 (3-5 in the playoffs). Malavasi got the Rams to the Super Bowl in his second season — the Steelers beat them 31-19 — but was just 43-36 (.544) in his six years at the helm.

● George Allen, Rams, 1970: Went 9-4-1 in his final season, missing the playoffs (in the days before wild cards). Reeves talked about having philosophical differences with his coach, but it was more a matter of Allen’s postseason failures and the fact that neither man was easy to work with. “I was willing to cooperate with him,” George said, “but it is not my philosophy to be a ‘yes man.’”

Record with the Rams: 49-19-4, .708 (0-2 in the playoffs). Replaced by UCLA coach Tommy Prothro, who was gone two years later (14-12-2, .536).

● Clark Shaughnessy, Los Angeles Rams, 1949: Went 8-2-2 in his final season, losing in the title game to the defending champion Eagles. Reeves — there’s that name again — got rid of him the

Clark Shaughnessy, one of the fathers of the T formation.

Clark Shaughnessy, a father of the T formation.

following February, citing “internal friction between Shaughnessy and his assistants, players and others associated with the Rams.” Shag (as he was called) was stunned. “Inasmuch as this was the first time during my two years as a head coach that any expression of dissatisfaction relative to my services was made to me by any official of the Rams organization,” he said, “it leaves me at a loss for words.”

Record with the Rams: 14-8-3, .620 (0-1 in the playoffs). Replaced by line coach Joe Stydahar, who guided L.A. to the next two championship games, splitting them with the Browns (30-28 loss, 24-17 win). So maybe Reeves’ move wasn’t the worst in NFL history. But Stydahar (19-9, .679) wasn’t given much rope, either. The year after winning the title, he was dumped following a season-opening 37-7 defeat at Cleveland. As I said, his boss was a hard guy to satisfy.

● Dud DeGroot, Redskins, 1945: Went 8-2 in his final season, losing by a point (15-14) in the championship game to the Cleveland Rams (on a wickedly cold day by The Lake). George Preston Marshall, an owner not known for his patience, forced him out — DeGroot technically resigned — after just two years. The most interesting explanation I’ve come across is that Marshall wanted the Redskins to switch to sneakers during the ’45 title game because the field was frozen, but Dud refused because he and Rams coach Adam Walsh had agreed beforehand to stick with cleats. (I kid you not.)

Record with the Redskins: 14-6-1, .690 (0-1 in the playoffs). Replaced by line coach/Redskins legend Turk Edwards, who was axed at the end of his third season. (16-18-1, .471).

You can see the pattern here: Postseason misery, difficult owners, stubborn coaches and — in many cases, perhaps — unrealistic expectations. You also can see The Next Guy wasn’t usually much of an improvement over The Guy Who Preceded Him.

Anyway, John Fox, after four seasons of fine work in Denver, is off to Chicago to try to get the Bears’ house in order — and to find happiness where he can, fleeting as it is in pro football.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

Road warriors

After Saturday’s 30-17 crunching of the Steelers, John Harbaugh’s Ravens are once again taking bows for their road exploits in the playoffs. They’re now 7-4 in such games under Harbaugh,

Ravens coach John Harbaugh

Ravens coach John Harbaugh

which would be an impressive record in any postseason venue.

Before anybody builds any statues, though, allow me to point out what the Chiefs — and their predecessors, the Dallas Texans — did in the ’60s. Not only did they go 3-0 in AFL championship games in those years, all three were on the road. Better still, in each of those postseasons they had to beat the defending champions on their own turf en route to the title. To review:

● 1962 — Beat the Oilers, 20-17, in double overtime at Jeppesen Stadium. Houston had won the previous two AFL championships.

● 1966 — Beat the Bills, 31-7, at War Memorial Stadium. Buffalo had won it all in ’64 and ’65 (the last two years before the Super Bowl).

● 1969 — The coup de grace. In the first round they beat the Jets, the defending titlists, 13-7, at Shea Stadium. Then they beat the Raiders, winners of the ’67 championship, 16-6, at Oakland Coliseum.

So they were 4-0 in the playoffs in those seasons, all four games on the road, and three of them against the defending champs, two of whom were the two-time defending champs.

The Super Bowl, of course, is played at a neutral site. But Harbaugh’s Ravens, let’s not forget, are 1-2 in AFC title games on the road, losing to the Steelers in 2008, the Patriots in 2011 and defeating the Pats the next year.

Anyway, just thought I’d throw that out there. You can go back to what you were doing now.

A triumphant Hank Stram after the Chiefs took down the Vikings in Super Bowl III.

A triumphant Hank Stram after the Chiefs took down the Vikings in Super Bowl III.

One Easy Pick

You’ve gotta love the interception Terrell Suggs made in the fourth quarter Saturday night to help the Ravens beat the Steelers, 30-17.Screen Shot 2015-01-04 at 2.34.24 AM

How did he do it, you ask? I’m guessing he got a pep talk at halftime from Jack Nicholson:

FYI: That’s part of a classic scene from the 1970 movie, Five Easy Pieces (in case you’ve never seen it).

Unanimous AP all-pro

The words wash by you as you wade into the story about this year’s selections: “Watt, Gronk unanimous AP all-pros.” What exactly does it mean, this Unanimous Thing? How often has it been achieved — and by whom?

Answer: For starters, it’s pretty rare, which makes sense when you stop and think about it. After all, how often can you get 50 media folk to agree on anything? In 2007, for instance, the Patriots’ Tom Brady had one of the greatest quarterbacking seasons ever: 50 touchdown passes, 8 interceptions, a 117.2 passer rating and, oh yeah, a 16-0 record. But some yo-yo still felt obliged to split his vote between Brady and the Packers’ Brett Favre, who threw about half as many TD passes (28), about twice as many picks (15) and had a 95.7 rating. (He/she must have had Favre on his/her fantasy team or something.)

By my count, 15 players have been unanimous AP all-pros in the 2000s, three of them twice (Watt, Peyton Manning and LaDainian Tomlinson). So it’s happened 18 times in 15 years — roughly once a year. As you scan down the list, you’ll realize that just about every one of these guys is either in the Hall of Fame, a lock for the Hall of Fame or beginning to move strongly in that direction.

UNANIMOUS AP ALL-PROS IN THE 2000S

● 2014 (2) — Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski, Texans DE/DT J.J. Watt. Gronkowski, now fully recovered from a blown-out knee, had a typical Gronk year: 82 catches for 1,124 yards and 12 TDs in 15 games. (Bill Belichick held him out of the last one.) Watt had an even better season: 20.5 sacks, two defensive TDs, a safety and three TD catches on offense.

● 2013 (1) — Broncos QB Peyton Manning. At 37, Manning had a career year, breaking NFL season passing records with 55 TDs and 5,477 yards as Denver went 13-3, best in the AFC.

J.J. Watt makes another impression on a QB.

J.J. Watt makes another impression on a quarterback.

● 2012 (2) — Vikings RB Adrian Peterson, Watt. Peterson: 2,097 rushing yards (8 off Eric Dickerson’s mark of 2,105, which has stood since 1984). Watt: 20.5 sacks, 16 passes defended (more than many starting DBs).

● 2011 — Nobody.

● 2010 (1) — Patriots QB Tom Brady. There are all kinds of numbers I could throw at you, but the best one is: Brady didn’t throw an interception in the Patriots’ last 11 games (a record streak of 319 attempts that was stretched to 335 the next season).

● 2009 (1) — Titans RB Chris Johnson. Rushed for 2,006 yards, topped 100 rushing yards in the final 11 games and set a mark – which may not be broken anytime soon – with 2,509 yards from scrimmage.

● 2008 (1) — Ravens FS Ed Reed. League-leading nine interceptions and three defensive TDs, including a 107-yard INT return, the longest in NFL history.

● 2007 (2) — Chargers RB LaDainian Tomlinson, Patriots WR Randy Moss. LT wasn’t quite as sensational as he’d been the year before, but he still rushed for an NFL-high 1,474 yards, scored 18 TDs and threw for another TD. Moss, in his first season with Brady, caught a record 23 TD passes, one more than Jerry Rice totaled in 1987 (in 12 games).

● 2006 (3) — Tomlinson, Dolphins DE Jason Taylor, Broncos CB Champ Bailey. This was LT’s ridiculous 31-TD year. Enough said. Taylor: 13.5 sacks, two interception returns for scores. Bailey: 10 INTs (nobody has had more since 1981), 21 passes defended.

Antonio Gates in the open field.

Antonio Gates in the open field.

● 2005 (1) — Chargers TE Antonio Gates. The first 1,000-yard season of Gates’ great career (89 catches, 1,101 yards, 10 TDs).

● 2004 (1) — Manning, Colts. Even though he blew off the last game except for a few snaps, Peyton set season passing marks with 49 TDs and a 121.1 rating (both of which have since been broken).

● 2003 — Nobody.

● 2002 (1) — Colts WR Marvin Harrison. His 143 catches (for a league-leading 1,722 yards) is still the NFL record . . . by 14.

● 2001 (2) – Rams RB Marshall Faulk, Giants DE Michael Strahan. Faulk: 1,382 rushing yards, 2,147 yards from scrimmage, 21 TDs. Strahan: A record (with the help of Favre) 22.5 sacks.

● 2000 – Nobody.

To recap, Faulk and Strahan are already in the Hall, and the rest — with the exception, probably, of Johnson — could well be headed there. (Peterson, of course, will be an interesting case, depending on where his career goes from here.)

Conclusion: Being a unanimous AP all-pro says a lot about a player, a lot more than just: he had a really, really good year. We’re talking about the best of the best here.

Rodgers, Romo and the shadow of Montana

As the NFL cranks up for the playoffs, it’s hard not to notice that Aaron Rodgers and Tony Romo are playing quarterback about as well as it can be played. Romo’s 113.2 passer rating for the Cowboys this season is the sixth highest in history; Rodgers’ 112.2 for the Packers is ninth. They’ve had their way with almost every defense they’ve gone up against (even, in Tony’s case, the Seahawks).

The question now becomes: Can they keep playing at this ridiculous level in the postseason? Or more to the point: Can they — or anybody else, for that matter — ever do what Joe Montana did 25 years ago?

When you talk about a quarterback “playing the position about as well as it can be played,” you have to start with Joe Montana in 1989. During the regular season, he compiled a 112.4 rating, which was the record at the time. Then he actually turned it up a notch in the playoffs and posted a rating of 146.4, which is still the record in the Super Bowl era (and only 11.9 points shy of a perfect score, 158.3).

Among Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks, Montana’s 1989 playoff performance is the gold standard by a sizable margin, as you can see:

TOP POSTSEASON RATINGS BY SUPER BOWL-WINNING QBS

Year Quarterback, Team G Att Comp Pct Yds TD Int Rating
1989 Joe Montana, 49ers 3 83 65 78.3 800 11 0 146.4
1986 Phil Simms, Giants 3 58 38 65.5 494 8 0 131.8
1992 Troy Aikman, Cowboys 3 89 61 68.5 795 8 0 126.4
2012 Joe Flacco, Ravens 4 126 73 57.9 1,140 11 0 117.2
1994 Steve Young, 49ers 3 87 53 60.9 623 9 0 117.2
2009 Drew Brees, Saints 3 102 72 70.6 732 8 0 117.0
1988 Joe Montana, 49ers 3 90 56 62.2 823 8 1 117.0
1982 Joe Theismann, Redskins 4 85 58 68.2 716 8 3 110.7
2010 Aaron Rodgers, Packers 4 132 90 68.2 1,094 9 2 109.8
2004 Tom Brady, Patriots 3 81 55 67.9 587 5 0 109.4
1996 Brett Favre, Packers 3 71 44 62.0 617 5 1 107.5

In the regular season and postseason combined, Montana had a rating of 119.4. That’s the record by a healthy margin, too. Here’s how the other quarterbacks in the above chart compare to him:

REGULAR SEASON AND POSTSEASON COMBINED

Year Quarterback, Team G Att Comp Pct Yds TD Int Rating
1989 Joe Montana, 49ers 16 469 336 71.6 4,321 37 8 119.4
1994 Steve Young, 49ers 19 548 377 68.8 4,592 44 10 113.5
2009 Drew Brees, Saints 18 616 435 70.6 5,120 42 11 110.8
2010 Aaron Rodgers, Packers 19 607 402 66.2 5,016 37 13 103.1
1996 Brett Favre, Packers 19 614 369 60.1 4,516 44 14 97.2
1982 Joe Theismann, Redskins 13 337 219 65.0 2,749 21 12 96.2
1992 Troy Aikman, Cowboys 19 562 363 64.6 4,240 31 14 95.4
2004 Tom Brady, Patriots 19 555 343 61.8 4,279 33 14 95.0
2012 Joe Flacco, Ravens 20 657 390 59.4 4,957 33 10 93.4
1988 Joe Montana, 49ers 17 487 294 60.4 3,804 26 11 93.3
1986 Phil Simms, Giants 19 526 297 56.5 3,981 29 22 81.6

Montana’s victory lap, if you want to call it that, really began in the ’88 playoffs. That’s when he started a streak of eight postseason games in which he had a rating of 100 or higher (three in ’88, three in ’89 and two in ’90). Check out his numbers for the 19-game stretch beginning in the ’88 postseason and running through the end of ’89. (Note: He missed three games in ’89.)

MONTANA’S STATS FROM 1988 PLAYOFFS THROUGH 1989 PLAYOFFS

G (RS/PS) Att Comp Pct Yds TD INT Rating
19 (13/6) 559 392 70.1 5,144 45 9 119.0

His ratings in those six postseason games, by the way, were 100.5, 136, 115.2, 142.5, 125.3 and 146.7 — against the best competition the NFL had to offer. How’s that for quarterbacking? And let’s not forget, the rules weren’t nearly as QB-friendly then. The league-wide passer rating in ’88 (70.6) and ’89 (73.3) was much lower than it was this year (87.1).

Montana has set the bar very high, perhaps impossibly high. Anyway, that’s what Rodgers and Romo are up against as they try to “play the position about as well as it can be played.”

Source: pro-football-reference.com

Will anybody ever play quarterback better than Joe Montana did 25 years ago?

Will anybody ever play quarterback better than the 49ers’ Joe Montana did 25 years ago?