Cliff Branch Belongs In The Pro Football Hall of Fame

John Madden once told NFL Films “Cliff Branch was so skinny when he walked his back pockets would fight.” Yet no one put fear in NFL secondaries when it came to getting beat deep during the 1970’s. When someone says close your eyes and picture the Oakland Raiders of the ’70’s, one of the first visuals you’d have would be Stabler launching a bomb in Cliff’s direction.

BranchBWDrafted out of Colorado in 1972, Branch was a football and track star in college. Oakland had been without a true deep threat since Warren Wells departure a few years earlier. His baptism by fire would come as he learned the game from Hall of Famer WR Fred Biletnikoff and going up against Hall of Fame CBs Willie Brown and Skip “Dr Death” Thomas in practice.

Going against those 2 big physical corners, Branch grew up in a hurry. When he was unleashed on an unsuspecting NFL as a 1st time starter in 1974, Branch blazed for 60 rec 1,092 yards and 13 TDs. Pedestrian by today’s standards until you realize he was 4th in receptions and led the league in yards and touchdowns.

It was the 1st of 4 straight Pro Bowl and All Pro seasons. He was the #1 weapon on a team that finished in no less than the AFC Championship in each of those campaigns. His best season capped off the Raider’s Super Bowl XI championship when he caught 46 passes for 1,111 yards and 12 touchdowns. Why was it his best? He led the league in TDs and was 2nd in yards losing to Roger Carr by 1 yard on arguably the most powerful NFL champion of the 1970’s.

One aspect of Branch’s game that makes him an all timer is how he played in big games. When everyone marveled at Hall of Famer Jerry Rice as he was breaking all time NFL post season records, whose records did you think he was breaking? When Rice caught 3 TDs in Super Bowl XXIV, he was breaking the Super Bowl record for touchdowns in a game when Branch set it with 2 against the Eagles in XV. When Branch retired after the 1985 season, he was the NFL’s All Time postseason reception (73) and yardage (1,223) leader before Rice broke them some 9 years later. He had broken the previous records set by fellow Raider WR Biletnikoff, who was now his coach.

However records and numbers only tell a part of the story. How much space did defenses give him in respect to his speed that opened up opportunities for Biletnikoff and Hall of Fame TE Dave Casper?? Do you realize he was the only skill player on all 3 Raider Super Bowl champions?? Against the Eagles in Super Bowl XV it was his 2 scores that broke the game open 21-3…winning it 27-10.

In Super Bowl XVIII when the Raiders held a precarious 7-0 lead over Washington it was Branch who blew that game open too. The Raiders first score was a blocked punt. In the 2nd quarter, a 35 year old Branch beat Anthony Washington and Darryl Green on a 50 yard bomb to put the silver and black in scoring position. A few plays later Branch scored from 14 yards out to give the Raiders a 14-0 lead. This took John Riggins out of the game and forced the Redskins to pass into the teeth of a secondary led by Vann McElroy, Lester Hayes, Mike Haynes, and Mike Davis. A 38-9 triumph won him his 3rd championship ring.

For his 14 year career he caught 501 passes for 8,685 yds and 67 touchdowns. His fellow receivers Biletnikoff and Casper have each made “The Hall.” This August his original quarterback, Ken Stabler will be enshrined posthumously. His original coach John Madden and the late Al Davis have both been enshrined. Once Tom Flores and Cliff Branch are voted in, it will close this chapter on Oakland /L.A. Raiders football.

For enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I present to you Cliff Branch.

Drew Pearson Should Be In The Pro Football hall of Fame

When you think of the great NFL teams of the 1970’s, the team that usually comes to mind first are Tom Landry’s Dallas Cowboys. Now Pittsburgh Steeler fans will argue they were the team of the decade and most fans and pundits should think of their team first. Yet think about it… Whenever the 1970’s Steelers are brought up, everyone points to the 2 Super Bowls when they defeated Dallas. Very rarely are the Super Bowls brought up over the Rams or Vikings. Therefore, Dallas was the most visible team. One of the most visible performers on the NFL’s most visible team was standout WR Drew Pearson.

pearson1To the casual observer, Pearson only had two 1,000 yard seasons, 3 All Pro & Pro Bowl seasons. In 1974, only Drew and Cliff Branch topped 1,000 yards that year in receiving. Yet if you were cheering against the Cowboys, as many of us were in those years, no one struck more fear in you when the game was on the line.

From playing every year on Thanksgiving, to numerous appearances on Monday Night Football, and annually making the playoffs, we were always watching the Cowboys. The moment Pearson burst onto a nation’s conscience was the 1974 Thanksgiving tilt vs the hated Washington Redskins. Roger Staubach had been knocked from the game thrusting rookie Clint Longley into his 1st significant action.

In a nationally televised game, the Cowboys appeared headed for a loss down 16-3 in the 3rd quarter. Then out of nowhere Longley and the offense got hot. Two touchdown marches gave the Cowboys a 17-16 lead before the 4th quarter began. What gave the game a unique quality was the fact a rookie QB and Pearson, in only his 2nd season, were drawing up plays in the dirt. It was not Landry’s intricate precise passing game leading the charge.

After a Duane Thomas touchdown put the Redskins back on top, Landry’s unknown players had a chance to win it late. As they had turned this game around playing shoot from the hip football, Longley and Pearson drew up another play in the dirt with just seconds to go in the game. George Allen’s Redskins and Landry’s Cowboys coaching staff’s had been in place for 5 years at this point. They knew each other’s playbook. It took Pearson making an adjustment on a “16 Route” in Cowboys terminology, to what amounted to an in and up. The safety bit and Pearson blew by as Longley hit him with a last minute 50 yard bomb and a 24-23 triumph.

Millions of fans digesting Thanksgiving turkey fell out of their Lazy Boy’s as they watched a game still revered in Cowboy lore. Pearson had 5 rec. 108 yards and the game winning touchdown. Bolstered by the heroics performed and notoriety of this game, Pearson was voted All Pro and made his 1st Pro Bowl. In 1975 Pearson was a marked man and had less receptions and yardage yet combined with Staubach for 8 touchdowns during the regular season.

So what makes Drew Pearson Hall of Fame worthy?? The moments. To turn in clutch performances in the final minutes when many players shrink at the moment of truth. How many times have you heard a coach describe how they have to get their player into the game with play calling to keep him engaged?? Well the 10-4 wildcard Cowboys of 1975 made the trip to play the Minnesota Vikings in an NFC Divisional Playoff Game. Against one of history’s best defenses and on target to play in their 3rd straight Super Bowl, the Vikings had held Pearson without a catch. With the game on the line… it was 4th and 17 from their own 25 down 14-10 with :44 left when…

The Hail Mary to win the ’75 playoff in Minnesota not only propelled the Dallas Cowboys to Super Bowl X, it marked Pearson as one of the NFL’s best clutch performers. The next two seasons he was voted to the Pro Bowl and the All Pro team. The second of which the Cowboys won Super Bowl XII to conclude the 1977 season.

As the late ’70’s beckoned, Pearson shared more of the spotlight with newcomers Tony Dorsett and fellow wideout Tony Hill. His numbers suffered but they were a better team as they appeared in back to back Super Bowls in 77 & 78. Everyone thought the magic would be over with the retirement of Hall of Fame QB Roger Staubach after the 1979 season. Pearson had a mediocre season in ’80 (43 rec 568 yds 6TDs) as the Cowboys adjusted to new QB Danny White. Yet when the 12-4 wildcard Cowboys found themselves down 27-17 to the favored Atlanta Falcons in the divisional playoffs, it was Pearson to the rescue again. First he scored to close the gap to 27-24 midway through the 4th quarter.. then this happened with :49 left in the game.

Unfortunately this miracle touchdown didn’t propel the Cowboys to the Super Bowl as they fell in the first of 3 straight NFC Championships. However if you’re keeping count, from 1975-1982 Dallas played in at least the NFC Championship in 6 of 8 seasons and Pearson was the only featured performer on all 6. Staubach was only there for 3 of them. They played in 3 Super Bowls in a 4 year span and Pearson was able to make magic moments happen with 3 different quarterbacks.

Over the length of Drew’s 11 year career, he only scored 48 touchdowns. Yet he seemed to always score the money touchdowns that ruined opponent’s seasons. His career ended after a horrific car accident after the 1983 season and the Cowboys were never the same. In fact the very next year (1984) marked the first non playoff season for Dallas since 1974. In an era where the Dallas Cowboys became America’s Team, how can you talk about that era without mentioning his heroics??

For induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I present Drew Pearson.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

 

 

 

Missing Rings: 1979 Houston Oilers – Luv Ya’ Blue

When the gun sounded to end Super Bowl L, much of the attention turned to Peyton Manning and his upcoming decision to continue playing or retire.  Pundits waxed philosophical on where Denver’s defensive performance placed them in history and Manning’s overall legacy. However a small contingent thought of Wade Phillips and the culmination of another legacy. That of the coaching family he hailed from and his father…the late Bum Phillips.

Coach Phillips and Eddie Biles giving instruction to standout linebacker Robert Brazile.

Coach Phillips and Eddie Biles giving instruction to standout linebacker Robert Brazile.

It’s a rich legacy with Bum Phillips and the late 70’s Houston Oilers. Where a father gave a young Wade his first NFL job in 1976 coaching the defensive line. Bum had arrived the year before to resurrect a moribund franchise that hadn’t made the postseason in nearly a decade. Aside from back to back AFL championships in 1960 & ’61, the team mired in mediocrity without any players of distinction.

In an era where most NFL coaches were still emulating the status quo fire and brimstone approach of a Vince Lombardi or a Don Shula, Phillips was more of a player’s coach. Opting for reasoning and taking more of a personable approach, Bum got to know his players and was known for having laid back practices.

Phillips was one of the first to employ the 3-4 defense as a full time tactic which the Miami Dolphins had made famous during their Super Bowl years in the early 70’s. Shula and Bill Arnsparger used the defense part time to maintain an edge when they were ahead. It was actually a variation of the old Oklahoma 5-2 of the 1950’s however the defensive ends were replaced with quicker outside linebackers.

To make it lethal the Oilers drafted Robert Brazile to man the weakside linebacker spot. He was a 5 time all pro between 1976 and 1980 along with his defensive rookie of the year award. He was the prototype size and speed of the 3-4 outside linebacker the Giants made famous 5 years later with Lawrence Taylor. He was the focal point to a defense that led the Oilers to a 10-4 record in ’75 where they narrowly missed the playoffs.

In ’75 QB Dan Pastorini and WR Ken Burrough each made the Pro Bowl. However over the next two years the offense bogged down without a serious running threat. They struck gold in 1978 when they drafted Heisman Award winning running back Earl Campbell out of Texas. Now they had a focal point on the offensive side of the ball. A one man wrecking ball that punished defenses while toting the rock 30 times a game. 

dan_pastorini_drew_brees_nflpa_08302011Having to look up in the AFC Central standings to the perennial champion Steelers, the Oilers seemed to be ready to make their move. They finished 2 games behind the Steelers in ’77, yet it looked like Pittsburgh had come back to the pack having failed to reach the AFC Championship for the first time in 4 years.

The NFL was abuzz with the exploits of Campbell, who was leading the league in rushing, and the state of Texas seemed to be gravitating to this new team on the block. Midway through the ’78 campaign, winners in 4 of their last 5 including a 24-17 win in Pittsburgh, the Oilers played their signature game of the era. A Monday Night match-up with Don Shula’s Miami Dolphins.

This Monday Night matchup would become the showcase where the Oilers proved they belonged among the NFL’s elite. Also it would solidify Earl Campbell’s chances to win rookie of the year honors. After all he came into this week 12 contest with 944 yards rushing.

In one of the transcendent games of the ’70’s the Oilers prevailed 35-30. Campbell became the first rookie to lead the NFL in rushing (1,450 yds) since Jim Brown in 1957. The Oilers finished 10-6 to make the playoffs as a wild card. There they beat the Dolphins in Miami 13-7 and beat New England 31-14 to make it to the AFC Championship Game. There they fell to the eventual Super Bowl champion Steelers 34-5 who taught them how far they had yet to go.

Yet make no mistake… with the strides they made in 1978 it looked like ’79 would be their year.

The verve and spirit were still there the following season yet this team had the weight of expectation upon them. Campbell again led the league in rushing with 1,697 yards and 19 TDs. They stood toe to toe and slugged it out with the Steelers for supremacy of the AFC Central and wrested control with a 20-17 win in week 15. However a loss in the final week gave the Steelers (12-4) the division and the Oilers would have to go in as a wildcard at 11-5.

A shadow of doubt crept in as the Oilers were right back where they had been the season before. Except this time they would have to play the AFC Divisional against the high flying San Diego Chargers. In the wild card round they lost QB Pastorini, Campbell, and WR Burrough. Without their top passer, rusher and receiver they had to face the #5 defense to go along with San Diego’s #1 offense on the road. What would happen??

In The Chancellor of Football’s estimation, Oiler Safety Vernon Perry turned in the greatest defensive performance in NFL history. Perry wound up making 8 tackles while grabbing a playoff record 4 interceptions and blocking a field goal returning it 57 yards. The Oilers needed every one of these plays to escape with a 17-14 upset. One of the biggest in NFL playoff history.

Surprise! The Oilers would be headed to Pittsburgh for the AFC Championship for the 2nd straight year. Unlike the ’78 game where the Oilers were overwhelmed playing in their 1st championship game, this one they were embroiled in a dog fight. With the Steelers up 17-10 and the Oilers driving late in the 3rd quarter, Dan Pastorini lofted a pass for Mike Renfro when…

Sentiment finally came full circle when the refs admitted to the blown call in private but the company line was towed publicly. On that day, a young Chancellor learned about momentum and why the ’79 Championship was tainted by the referee’s blown non call. The officials weren’t allowed to view instant replay in the stadium where we at home clearly saw Mike Renfro in. It lead to a rule change when six years later instant replay was instituted in the NFL.

However that was too late for the Oilers who fell 27-13 that day in which they were clearly cheated. It cast a pall on a day when it seemed as though the game wasn’t settled on the field.

To make that call even more painful, the Oilers never threatened for a Super Bowl again. The following season saw the Oilers deal away starting QB Dan Pastorini for the late Kenny Stabler in an attempt to “kick it in.” This was the adopted slogan for the 1980 season to finally kick the championship door open and make it to the Super Bowl.

Ironically it was Pastorini who won a Super Bowl ring as an injured member of the ’80 Oakland Raiders. In a twist of fate, their first postseason step was a 27-7 win over Stabler and the Oilers in the wildcard round.

It was the last hurrah as 3 losing seasons followed. Bum Phillips had been dismissed in the aftermath of the ’80 Wild Card loss to Oakland. The magic was gone and an era of “Luv ya’ blue” faded into lore. An improbable team with the unlikeliest of characters is still revered in a city where the Oilers left to become the Tennessee Titans, and a new Houston team occupies the city. However the heart of the city of Houston will forever remain with that team of the late 70’s.

“Luv ya’ blue” a legacy indeed…

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

SUPER BOWL XXXV RUNNER UP 2000 NEW YORK GIANTS

Remember as Super Bowl XLVIII was approaching and the apprehension for a cold weather Super Bowl in New York?? What happened the last time there was a game played in late January in the Meadowlands?

xxxv1New York could hang their hat on the 2000 NFC Championship game…a 41-0 whoopin ‘ of the Minnesota Vikings in Dennis Green’s last game.  The first thing you’ll say is “Oh the Vikings only had 132 yards of offense!”  Gee that’s funny, but in the same weather Kerry Collins (who?) yeah Kerry Collins threw for an NFC Championship game record 5TDs in the game and was on fire from the word go.  He wasn’t throwing to Jerry Rice, Andre Reed, Sterling Sharpe or Michael Irvin either…

Joe Jurevicius, Ike Hilliard, Amani Toomer, and FB Greg Comella (who?) Greg Comella!! Tiki Barber was used as a decoy.  So don’t make it seem like you can’t pass when the temperature goes down because these guys were the greatest show on grass for one game.

35.4They had been called the worst #1 seed ever going into the playoffs. After a 20-10 emotional win against the Eagles, they wandered into the NFC Championship game as a home underdog to the high flying Minnesota Vikings. When Offensive Co-Ordinator Sean Payton struck with this masterpiece:

A very stout Giant defense where MLB Michael “Bam Bam” Barrow joined with college teammate Jessie Armstead (The U ) to form an inspired bunch after coming over from Carolina.  Jason Sehorn and Dave Thomas (won with Cowboys in 93) were big physical corners…Strahan and Keith Hamilton were anchoring the line…and if you remember that Super Bowl against the Ravens, the Giants got jobbed when they called Hamilton for defensive holding negating Jessie Armstead’s interception for a touchdown that would have tied it at 7.

35.3This defense was stronger than the team that won in 2007, they just ran into the Ravens…but they crowned the up & coming Eagles and Vikings to get there.  As for playing a Super Bowl in the elements?  Buck up and go do it…it’s been done before so don’t make any excuses!!

This is a forgotten champion in New York’s history.

SUPER BOWL XXXV CHAMPION 2000 BALTIMORE RAVENS

One of The Chancellor of Football’s all time favorite teams!

35mainRay Lewis (The U) was most valuable player in a defensive game for the ages 34-7 over the NY Giants.  Ravens allowed 165 points for the season and would have won more if they would have stayed with a 4-3 defense and kept Trent Dilfer in 2001…yet I digress

What was crazy about this was the team meeting at the beginning of the offseason where Billick had Jim Brown talking to the team and he pulled Ray Lewis up.  Ray proceeded to address the team and told them he saw them winning the Super Bowl in a vision during his tumultuous off-season.  He gave an impassioned talk, in a grey t shirt and wearing a fishing hat, to his team of the need to be great and that he had to fulfill that prophecy in getting to Tampa. Wow!

Consider this is a team that had never been to the playoffs to that point. Not even close in their first 4 yrs from being borne of the Cleveland Brown ashes. Art Modell (Red Right ’88 /The Drive/ The Fumble) was supposed to be snake bitten. He carried the baggage of all the heartache from Cleveland playoff meltdowns.

35sideBoth Trent Dilfer and Tony Banks, the teams QBs, were cast off from other teams.  This was a true free agency Super Bowl champion with players who brought any real playoff experience was limited.  Corey Harris (couple with Packers early 90s), Tony Siragusa (95 Colts run), Rod Woodson (mid 90s Steelers), Dilfer (97 Bucs/injured for 99) and the only player on the team I can think of with a Super Bowl ring was backup WR and special teamer Billy Davis (95 Cowboys)!! And head coach Brian Billick had been hired for his offensive acumen after leading the 1998 Minnesota Vikings to the NFL record of 556 points in a season.

The Chancellor of Football loved watching this team win it all because they did one thing…understood who they were and stayed with that belief.  I get so sick of teams copying “oh we’re running the west coast offense” blah blah blah…blow me! Develop who you are and game plan based on your personnel!! Defeat someone with something different than playing their same playbook!!

This team didn’t have the Vikings fleet receivers that Billick had in Minnesota, nor the quarterbacks. They learned early on “Hey we’re a running team and we have to play good defense and keep the score down.” Sam Adams, Tony Siragusa plug up the guard/center/guard and allow Sugar Ray (did I mention he’s from The U) to roam tackle to tackle and smash, Jamie Sharper smacking TEs…yikes!  Was there a better CB tandem on a Super Bowl champion than Starks and McAllister? Really? Woodson and Kim Herring were great as a tandem.  There just were no holes!

If they were still playing Super Bowl XXXV (15 yrs later) I still don’t think the Giants would have scored a touchdown yet on offense. By the time they reached the Super Bowl it was too late to derail them. It was facing the defending AFC Champions in Tennessee is where many experts thought would be an issue.

By the way… Tom Jackson took Tennessee that day on NFL Countdown… don’t let him fool you

It was beyond too late when they made the AFC Championship in Oakland as well

To watch them bludgeon their way to the Super Bowl was artful. I remember betting 3 friends at Fullerton Dodge that in the AFC championship that not only would the Ravens win, but they’d be the first team since 1970 to hold the host team without scoring a TD in their own stadium.  I won both bets! Lional Dalton claims I owe him money plus interest and it shut up Raider fans…Andre Rison pushed off and it was offensive pass interference.

35logoStrong team, strong character, and staying the course are what this team taught.  Even had a string of 22 quarters or so without an offensive touchdown…just keep going!

2000 Baltimore Ravens-powerful Super Bowl champion!

SUPER BOWL XXXIV RUNNER UP 1999 TENNESSEE TITANS

The Jacksonville Jaguars were well on their way to achieving a Super Bowl as a part of their 5 yr plan from expansion. An upset win over Denver in the 96 playoffs was the launching pad and after a few roster improvements were ready to do it in 1999!! They were loaded and would steamroll…*huh?*…I’m supposed to be talkin’ about who?*…alright tell Eddie George I’ll call him back…*ahem*

34titanWell everything was going according to plan when they traveled north to play their rivals Tennessee Titans with a lot on the line in a week 15 match-up. With the chance to gain homefield advantage, cement that they were the dominant team in the AFC Central (South not created yet), and with only 169 points given up were within striking distance of  the NFL record of 187 points given up by the ’86 Bears.

Man what an asswhoopin’!! The Tennessee Titans lit into them like the Jaguars had stolen something from their mother’s house. A 41-14 destruction that ruined the psyche of the Jacksonville franchise while sending a clear message that Tennesse would be a force themselves come playoff time, but surely they wouldn’t see them again…would they??

Oh the agony when I see this ring being a Buffalo fan…sigh   The Music City Miracle was a damn forward lateral…yet I digress. **deep breaths** ahem… where was I?

Ahh yes the 1999 AFC Champion Tennessee Titans.  This team totally derailed the Jacksonville Jaguar franchise.

Although they finished with a 13-3 record, they were the wildcard behind the AFC Central champion Jaguars at 14-2. The two best records ever for two teams in the same division which came with a unique twist: Although the Jaguars lost only 2 games all year, they were both to Tennessee. The Titans finally had a home they could call their own after 3 yrs of wandering the desert once they left the Houston Astrodome in moving to Nashville.

34titan2The Titans were powered on offense by Eddie George from Ohio St. who bludgeoned defenders with his running style for over 1,300 yards.  Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews & John Runyan were leaders on a very physical line.  The late Steve McNair was a developing quarterback who had his struggles in 1999 but was a legitimate running threat himself. In that 41-14 thrashing he threw for 5 of his 12 TDs for the season. He had a short to intermediate passing game that complimented their running game.

However the story of this team was defense. Led by Blaine Bishop at SS, Barron Wortham LB, Marcus Robertson FS, and who could forget the rookie season of Jevon “The Freak” Kearse DE, who set the league record for sacks as a rookie with 13 1/2.  This team came off the ball with a physicality the AFC hadn’t seen since the Pittsburgh Steelers earlier in the 90s.

Going into the ’99 playoffs there was a changing of the guard.  Gone were the two time champion Broncos and with the upstart Colts in the playoffs there was an air of parity on the AFC side of the ledger. The Titans first step was the wildcard tilt over Buffalo at home. Behind with :22 left and the Bills having just pulled ahead 16-15…*I can get thru this*…. then the kickoff where Frank Wycheck throws the ball across field to Kevin Dyson who takes it to the endzone with :08 seconds left.

34logoIt was a miracle finish of epic proportions and the energy and momentum sent the Titans hurtling through the heavens where they took down the favored Colts in Indianapolis the following week.  Which earned the Titans an all expenses paid trip to Jacksonville for the AFC Championship Game. Even though they ran over Miami 62-7 in the playoffs, they were still fearful of Tennessee.

No way the Titans could come in and outhit them again.  Well by virtue of a 30-14 thrashing.  The Titans owned the Jaguars who were never the same after that ’99 Championship.

Now we know they go on to play a competitive Super Bowl against the Rams and came up one yard short but don’t forget that injuries are a part of the game.  The Titans lost FS Marcus Robertson to injury in the AFC Championship Game after a 1st half interception, and Blaine Bishop SS fell to an injury in the 3rd quarter of the Super Bowl.  Why am I bringing this up??  Kurt Warner’s 73yd touchdown to Isaac Bruce to pull ahead of the Titans 23-16 was his ONLY completion of the 4th quarter, and it was thrown on TWO backup safeties in Perry Phoenix and Anthony Dorsett.

McNair, in a display of immense heart, willed the Titans downfield on a last second drive to bring Super Bowl XXXIV to a crescendo. On the last play with :07 left from the 10, McNair hit Kevin Dyson hoping for another miracle finish. This time Ram Linebacker Mike Jones brought down an outstretched Dyson at the 1 as time ran out.

So did they come up a yard short or a few injuries short??

This is the jewel for their fine season….and it WAS a forward lateral….*sigh*

This article is dedicated to the memories of Steve McNair and owner Bud Adams.

SUPER BOWL XXXIV CHAMPION 1999 ST LOUIS RAMS: One of the greatest of NFL champions

Wanna hear a strange fact? In week 3 of the 1999 season the Bengals hosted the Rams and these teams were tied for the most losses in the NFL for the 1990’s.  This game was a tiebreaker that the Bengals lost and “won” the title of the losingest team of the decade…the Rams …uh…well…they went in a different direction..

xxxivThe 1999 St Louis Rams…one of the best teams in history!  Greatest Show on turf!!  Everyone is so focused on the turnaround of this team that they don’t remember the feats performed during that year.  The NFL fan base was still reeling from the retirements of John Elway and Barry Sanders. The latter of the two we were used to serious moves and highlights since he was still at the height of his greatness just 2 years removed from his 2,000 yd season….enter Marshall Faulk.

I followed the trade from the Colts as “wow what’s going to happen to him?” yet had a feeling it was football karma’s reversing the Eric Dickerson trade.  You knew history would judge the Colts decision between what happened between he, and Edgerrin James.  The Rams won. Marshall replaced Barry Sanders as the league’s highlight reel and played his way into the Hall of Fame with 60TDs in 3 years, 3 Offensive Player of the Year awards, and an NFL MVP in 2000.  Oh, I almost forgot 2 Super Bowl appearances and this championship.

So the ’99 Rams explode onto the scene and compile a 13-3 record:

  1. This team’s AVERAGE MARGIN of victory at home (YES 8-0) was a whopping 25 points a game during the regular season…Yikes!! Get this, of a possible 480 minutes in 8 home games; they were only behind for 4:24 seconds of it.
  2. Had the 6th best defense in the league with the leading sack artist in Kevin Carter with 17. Led the league with 8 defensive touchdowns that year and was #1 against the run!!!

*** IT WAS 2000 WHEN THEY HAD DEFENSIVE PROBLEMS…NOT 1999! ***

  1. Had the best kick return team in the league with Tony Horne taking 2 KO TDs back & Az-Zahir Hakim taking back a punt for a TD

xxxiv1CONSIDER THIS BEFORE

  1. Kurt Warner threw for 4,300 yards (this generations Johnny U) & became the story of the league and became the second quarterback in history to throw for more than 40 TDs with 41. This hadn’t been seen since 1986, although Brett Favre had thrown 39 in an MVP Super Bowl season, same here. Threw for a Super Bowl record 414 yards and a 73 yard game winning score.
  2. Marshall Faulk’s ridiculous year where he became the second 1,000yd rusher/1,000yd receiver in the same season to join Roger Craig.  Craig had 1,050 yards rushing, & 1,016 yards receiving.  Marshall blew by that with 1,381 yards rushing and 1,048 receiving! And he sat out nearly 3 quarters in the last game at Philly and countless blowout 4th quarters!
  3. Broke Barry Sanders total yards from scrimmage record with2,429 yards from scrimmage…yikes!  Now, Chris Johnson broke Marshall’s record on a team that kept feeding him the ball, had Faulk not sat out 3qtrs of the last game in Philadelphia where the Rams still scored 31.  Nor sat out several blowout 4th quarters, how high would Faulk have REALLY PUSHED THIS RECORD??
  4. The Rams were #1 in offense, #1 in scoring and the highest scoring league champion ever with 526 points.

 

* They would become the first team ever to score 500 pts in multiple seasons with 3 straight. In doing so became the highest scoring team ever over a 3 year period averaging 32 points per game.*

xxxiv3The turnaround can be attributed to Dick Vermeil’s adjusting to the practice habits of modern coaching.  He stopped overworking his team before the 1999 season after two underwhelming seasons in St. Louis.  He learned from other coaches and had a staff of Mike White, Jim Hanifan, and Al Saunders who were all NFL former head coaches.

That’s before bringing up offensive coordinator Mike Martz who would become the Ram’s coach in 2000 replacing Vermeil. That’s a staff of FIVE NFL Head Coaches!! They honed the Rams lethal speed into a precise machine that the NFL hadn’t seen before in a league champion. Defenses feared going into the Trans World Dome. It was great to see Vermeil be rewarded for taking a new approach.

This 1999 team was a one of a kind meteor that was one of the best in NFL history for a season…more potent than any 80’s 49er team, more spectacular blowouts than the 70s Steelers teams.  They rank up with the 1985 Bears, 1972 Dolphins, and 1994 49ers as one of the most dominant teams in history for one season.  Just look at the numbers!!!!

 

SUPER BOWL XXXIII RUNNER UP 1998 ATLANTA FALCONS

What a ride….What a nice ring too!!  Some teams are like machinery that keep chugging along and others are like comets…not to be seen again.  This 1998 Atlanta Falcon team was not a comet, however they did get in the way of one.

xxxiii11Were they one of the best that didn’t win a Super Bowl?  It’s debatable. The Falcons rode a workhorse in Jamaal Anderson and channeled a “win one for the Gipper” emotion after Dan Reeves open heart surgery, to make the most magical season happen in Falcon history.  To go from 7-9 in 1997 to 14-2 in 98 was quite an accomplishment.  In taking down the Minnesota Vikings 30-27 in overtime for the NFC Championship, they are seen as pulling off a monumental upset when if you look at the tale of the tape, maybe it wasn’t such a big upset after all.

Upon further review, the 1998 NFC Championship pitted the best records EVER to meet for a conference title. The Minnesota Vikings at 15-1 were hosting the 14-2 Atlanta Falcons in the Metrodome. The combined 29-3 records was equaled in 2004 by the Patriots and Steelers. The Vikings were the sexier team since they broke the scoring record (556 pts. breaking Redskins record of 541) which included Randy Moss’ electrifying rookie season with 1300 yards and 17 TDs. Couple this with NFL Comeback Player of the Year in MVP Randall Cunningham. Add future Hall of Famer Cris Carter, HOF John Randle and Robert Griffith (All Pro Safety) wow…the Vikings were a meteor.

xxxiii8Yet you have to understand where the spirit of the Atlanta Falcons came from.  To do that let me welcome you to “The Second Chance Saloon”.  All the principles of this football team were retreads that were unsuccessful at becoming a champion elsewhere yet combined with others in the same position, & melded into a tremendous fighting force.

First you had Chris Chandler, a career journeyman who played for 5 teams before landing in Atlanta.  Outside linebacker Cornelius Bennett, who had been a pro bowl player and perennial Super Bowl runner up with the Buffalo Bills, found new life in Atlanta once his tenure ended with the Bills.  Wide receivers Tony Martin (66 rec. 1,181 yds  6 tds) and Terrence Mathis (64 rec. 1,136 yds 11 tds) were castoffs of the Chargers and Jets respectively.  Martin was the deep threat that scored the deciding touchdown in the Charger’s 94 AFC Championship win over Pittsburgh. Mathis was a serviceable 3rd receiver for the Jets who finally became a starter in Atlanta.

Morten Anderson the Saints all time leading scorer.  Ray Buchanon, the cornerback who had spearheaded the ’95 Colts run to the AFC Championship, came along with his spirited attitude along with Colt teammate CB Ashley Ambrose. Eugene Robinson the veteran safety had played in the last two Super Bowl seasons with Green Bay was a steadying force at FS.

Rich Brooks the former St. Louis Rams coach who replaced Reeves as the interim coach during his time away recovering from heart surgery. Reeves? Well…

The casual football fan will remember Reeves as coach of the Denver Broncos for most of John Elway’s career. He had come from the Tom Landry coaching tree after his playing days with the Dallas Cowboys. After failing to win it all in 3 attempts with the Denver Broncos the team took a new direction in 1993. His former QB Coach then Offensive Co-ordinator was Mike Shanahan.

xxxiii15The Falcons rode a bruising running game by Jamal Anderson, who had over 1,700 rushing yards that year, to bludgeon defenses.  Chris Chandler played efficiently, new deep threat Tony Martin coupled with Clarence Mathis to form a complete offense.  They were more steady than spectacular.

As many sporting events and teams go…emotion and playing for a cause greater than themselves propelled them into the playoffs where they ran into Minnesota and one team HAD to lose.

The most important play of the game came during the late 2nd quarter when the high flying Vikings got too greedy. Up 20-7 the Vikings, at their own 20 with just seconds left in the first half, decided to come out passing. Chuck Smith had a sack and forced fumble that kept the Falcons within striking distance at the half, down 20-14. The Falcons would go on to win 30-27 in OT

Two great stories approached the 1998 NFC Championship Game with the winner to take on the defending champion Denver Broncos, in Super Bowl XXXIII.  One of the greatest NFC Championship games took place and an upset that may have kept a sexier matchup of high powered offenses from meeting in the Super Bowl but wasn’t as big an upset as others make it out to be.

 

SUPER BOWL XXXIII CHAMPIONSHIP 1998 DENVER BRONCOS

Talk about a curtain call.  How many of us had a former boss that we wanted to show them what we were about??  Super Bowl XXXIII was John Elway’s last game and it came courtesy of Dan Reeves…yikes.

xxxiii12I still thought the 98 Vikings were the best team that year but guess what?  History doesn’t care what The Chancellor thinks so after a 34-19 win over the Falcons; this was the crowning jewel for becoming back to back champions! And just like what happened with the early 90’s Cowboys we’re left with the glut of never ending questions when we’re drinking and talking football…”Would they have three-peated if___?”  In this instance had John Elway come back….would they have?  Well that wasn’t rhetorical, what do you think?

xxxiii3After 36 seasons and 4 other failed Super Bowl appearances the Broncos were champions.  Elway was now a champion and didn’t have to answer those questions anymore.  The organization, city, everyone celebrated the triumph in XXXII over the Packers. They were supremely ripe for a letdown.  Yet once the press conference to announce Elway’s return for his 16th season came, it seemed like the Broncos would be a good defending champion.  Who knew they would go on to be one of the strongest ever??

They leaned on their celebrated running game that had matured thru the previous post season.  Terrell Davis came into 1998 running strong. The Achilles heel from the season before was stopping the run, the best thing to do was to get an early lead and impose your running game on your opponent while forcing them to pass.  The Broncos did this with great aplomb as Davis became the first 2,000 yard rusher in the AFC since OJ Simpson in 1973.

So the Broncos went from defending champion to a team that threatened to run through the season undefeated.  The champagne on ice the ’72 Dolphins put away until the last team loses was ice cold as the Broncos raced out to a 13-0 record.  There was a strange feeling when the Broncos entered Giants Stadium during that 14th game. They had already wrapped up the AFC West Division where they had been a wildcard entrant the year before.

For the first time in the latter half of 1998, Denver faced a team that was not intimidated by them.  The Giants pulled off the upset when Kent Graham hit Amani Toomer with a late game touchdown 20-16.  The dream of the undefeated season had melted away, and after a Monday night loss to the Dolphins, there was concern the Broncos had lost their edge.  The playoffs beckoned yet Shanahan started resting his players. Countenance turned to anguish as some Denver fans remembered the ’96 finish and upset to the Jaguars at home in the playoffs.

xxxiii15Uh….well Denver faithful didn’t need to worry.  Something about that embarrassing loss brought the fire out of the Broncos who ran roughshod over the Jags 42-14.  Next up were the Cinderella New York Jets, who came in with Bill Parcells trying to become the first coach to take 3 teams to the Super Bowl.  In Elway’s last game at Mile High Stadium they prevailed 23-10 in a defensive struggle.

Next up, Super Bowl XXXIII and an old ally in former coach Dan Reeves.  In the end, Elway threw for 336 yards in an MVP performance in his last game.  Elway retired 4 months later and left us to ask that proverbial question…Would they have three-peated had Elway played another year??

What do you think??

 

 

SUPER BOWL XXXII RUNNER UP 1997 GREEN BAY PACKERS

Super Bowl XXXII between the Denver Broncos and the Green Bay Packers was a classic case of over coaching in Denver’s 31-24 upset win.  Was it really an upset??  The years of free agency made the AFC as physical as the NFC.

xxxii4In the previous Super Bowls you saw the AFC getting more physical in their Super Bowl representative. San Diego in XXIX, Steelers in XXX, and Patriots in XXXI.  They weren’t like my Buffalo Bills in 3 of the previous 4 Super Bowls before that being beaten on the lines and out hit.  Yet Green Bay was set to defend their title with Reggie White, Gilbert Brown, Santana Dotson and that defensive front.

What happened? The ’97 edition of the Packers were stout and were more in harmony as an offense. Edgar Bennett had been lost to injury. No worries, Dorsey Levens picked up the slack and had a career year with nearly 1,500 yards rushing.  A powerful runner that gave Green Bay a stronger running game than they had in ’96.  Robert Brooks was healthy and teamed with Antonio Freeman to give Favre the perfect set of receivers to go along with Pro Bowl TE Mark Chmura.  Freeman had become a star in ’97 and could be found on the end of many of Brett Favre’s 35 TDs thrown that year.  Brett was Co-MVP of the league and first time a player won it 3 straight years.  They were better X’s and O’s but what was missing?

Desmond Howard and Keith Jackson were missing.  Howard we’ll get to later, yet Jackson was the long time tight end who had come over as a free agent, had retired after the championship the previous year.  The Packers would use a little more two tight ends with Chmura and Jackson which kept teams honest. This protects an offense from overload blitzes a majority of the time.

xxxiii6The Packers also could split either TE away from the line so that formation wise they could keep a defense deployed in base personnel and back a few teams out of a blitz.  Evidenced by Keith Jackson’s huge game in the NFC Championship in ’95 v. Dallas with over 100 yards receiving in that game.  Yet here they were 13-3 again and headed to the Super Bowl looking to become a dynasty.

I can still see the Packers ripping off 13 yd runs by Levens, and 13 yd passes by Favre in this the Super Bowl where the NFC was on a 13 game winning streak.  I can still see that pretty pass from Favre to Freeman to end the first drive with a TD and a 7-0 lead.  The Packers were off and runnin’…yet took the ball out of Dorsey Levens hands when he was running wild on the worst run defense, by ranking, to make the Super Bowl up to that point.  This led to Favre being under more pressure from a blitzing Bronco defense.

After a Steve Atwater sack and forced fumble led to the Packers being behind 17-7, the Broncos had wrested strategic control from Green Bay.  Dorsey Levens was a pass blocker and part time receiver now that they were playing catch-up.   Denver on the other hand had Terrell Davis to keep running north /south on the Packers defense tiring them out.  So is that great scouting by the Broncos or over coaching on the Packer’s part?

The Chancellor of Football thought over coaching since they took the ball out of Levens hands first when he had 11 carries for 62 yards at the half, including 5 runs of 7 yards or more. He was averaging 5.6 yards per carry yet Holmgren put the game in Brett Favre’s hands instead.

xxxii7In 1997 the defending champion Packers were a juggernaut and in many ways were just as strong as their 1996 champion.  They didn’t have Desmond Howard as the game breaking catalyst and it didn’t come back to haunt them until the late 3rd quarter when Antonio Freeman fumbled a kickoff that fired up the Broncos, then tied at 17.  Ironic was the fact that roughly at about the same point in XXXI, Desmond took the kickoff the distance to deflate the Patriots.  Here it sent a shot of confidence and excitement through the Bronco sideline.

Yet this team did win the NFC Championship in San Francisco with a 23-10 win to end Steve Mariucci’s rookie season.  The week before they held off the upstart Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the divisional game 21-7 in a game made famous by the back and forth taunting between Brett Favre and Warren Sapp.  That was a transcendent game yet Tampa didn’t have a ready for primetime offense that sank them.  This team should have repeated.

Tactically they gave it away.

SUPER BOWL XXXII CHAMPION 1997 DENVER BRONCOS: Curse of the 1983 Draft

Thirteen losses in a row??  Are you kiddin’ me?? Hard to believe but from 1983-1997, the AFC lost every Super Bowl and many in decisive fashion.

xxxiiThe NFC’s dominance in the Super Bowl had reached an embarrassing level and let’s face it the Green Bay Packers were poised to become back to back champions.  Brett Favre, at the height of his powers, having collected his 3rd straight MVP trophy was leading an offense that was stronger than the one that won the Super Bowl the year before.

Dorsey Levens was having a career year in rushing with 1,435 yards.  Reggie White, had former Philadelphia Eagle Seth Joyner join him with Green Bay in a quest to get a ring like White, Sean Jones, Keith Jackson, Andre Rison, Desmond Howard, and Eugene Robinson had the year before.  This team had just run roughshod over the San Francisco 49ers 23-10 in Candlestick to take the NFC Championship…What happened?

First, let’s take you back to 1983. The great quarterback class that brought Jim Kelly, John Elway, Dan Marino, Tony Eason, Ken O’Brien, and Todd Blackledge all to the AFC.  From that time on the conference made personnel moves and strategies based on being downfield passing attacks.  Subsequently the teams also geared their defensive personnel to stop that kind of attack.  They had thinner, lankier linemen to pass block and defenders to rush the passer and cover running backs.

Their less fortunate Earth bound NFC brethren stayed rooted in running the football, were stouter in the types of linemen they kept and played stronger at the line of scrimmage.  How do we know this?  From 1983-1997 there were really only two running backs that led the NFL in rushing from the AFC: Marcus Allen ’85, Eric Dickerson in ’88 after being traded from Rams, and Christian Okoye in 1989. In Okoye’s case, he carried the ball 90 more times and only outrushed Barry Sanders by 10 yards.  On the last day of the season with Okoye’s day completed, Sanders was 10 yards away in a late game with several minutes to go, yet was uninterested in the rushing title.

xxxii2When you think back to the Super Bowls during the 13 game losing streak, what became apparent was how much more physical the top NFC teams played. They simply overpowered the AFC Champions on the line of scrimmage.  This was the curse of the great quarterback class of 1983. Yes they made it to the top of their conference yet it wasn’t a coincidence that they were a combined 0-9 in the Super Bowl during that stretch.  So what did they need to do?  Well…to get John Elway a Super Bowl ring, Denver had to build him an NFC team.

Since the advent of Free Agency in 1993 the physicality of the NFC started to have an effect on the AFC as players switched sides.  The teams were getting more physical by the year and if you look at the 1997 Denver Broncos, a significant number of new players on their roster had come from NFC camps. CB Tim McKyer, LB Bill Romanowski, FB Howard Griffith, WR Ed McCaffrey, OL Mark Schlereth, OL Brian Habib, RB Dereck Loville, and DE Alfred Williams to name a few, had come over to give Denver a stronger more physical team.  They drafted Terrell Davis, a north/south NFC power-type runner more suited to the NFC East than the pre Mike Shanahan Broncos.  The AFC began to change & starting with the ‘95 Steelers, the AFC Champion arrived much stronger on the front lines than their predecessors in previous Super Bowls.  The inability to control the line of scrimmage is what doomed the AFC in those 13 previous Super Bowls.

Couple that with the sentimental favorite to win it all, John Elway. We forgot that it had been 8 years since Elway was called “The Duke”, a nickname of late 80s fame when he had gone to 3 Super Bowls in 4 years.  We kept waiting for THOSE Bronco teams in orange jerseys to show up with a pedestrian running game.  Unfortunately so did the Green Bay Packers who woke up in the second half of Super Bowl XXXII tied 17-17, and were facing Terrell Davis running north and south on them. This brought the linebackers up and allowed Elway to complete several choice seem passes to Ed McCaffrey and Shannon Sharpe which led to the famous diving, helicopter spinning, run of Elway’s that told Bronco nation that THIS Super Bowl was going to be different.  Much different!!

The galvanized Broncos, from that point on were physically punishing the Packers defensive front and Davis controlled the rest of the 3rd quarter and most of the 4th after Brett Favre had driven down to tie it at 24.  Everyone seems to forget that the Broncos were on the verge of blowing out the Packers. After Terrell Davis scored to give the Broncos a 24-17 lead, Tony Veland forced Antonio Freeman to fumble the subsequent kickoff and Tim McKyer recovered at the Packer 17 yard line.  Only Eugene Robinson’s timely interception at the goal line kept Green Bay in it.

As for Howard Griffith, the fullback who led Terrell Davis into the endzone on his 3 TD runs, go back and look at his blocking in that 4th quarter on that last drive.  Go back and watch on one play where not only did Griffith block two different Packers on a sweep to the left but WR Ed McCaffrey absolutely “de-cleat” Packer linebacker Brian Williams as Davis ran for a big first down that demoralized the Packer defense. Why do I say this?  This was the point that Green Bay realized their defense was dead.  The next play after Davis went left (again) thru a gaping hole for 17 yards to the 1 yard line, Coach Holmgren told the defense to “let them score” knowing they were powerless and give Favre some time.  Denver held them on downs and the celebration began.

xxxii3To win “This one’s for John”, Denver Bronco’s first Super Bowl triumph, they had to build Elway an NFC team to do it.  They played and looked like the Giants, Redskins, and 49ers that had manhandled them on the front lines in previous Elway led Super Bowls.

So yeah, Super Bowl XXXII was different, much different.  It actually featured 2 teams from the NFC…just ask the Packers front line…

SUPER BOWL XXXI RUNNER UP 1996 NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

The casual football fan may or may not remember when the NFL had a period where the NFC won 13 Super Bowls in a row. True free agency didn’t come to the NFL until the 1993 season yet the disparity between the two conferences in terms of physicality was pronounced.

31patsOr at least it had been leading up to the mid 1990s. However a series of long time NFC Head Coaches started to switch conferences beginning with Bill Parcells. Coaches look to sign players they are most familiar with.

The ’96 Patriots roster was populated by players from the NFC, Keith Byars (Eagles), S Willie Clay (Lions), CB Ricky Reynolds (Bucs), DE Mike Jones (Cardinals), DT Mark Wheeler (Bucs), and starting G William Roberts with reserve G Bob Kratch from the New York Giants. They drafted NFC style players in LB Chris Slade and DE / LE Willie McGinest.

31pats2Before there was the draft question of Ryan Leaf or Peyton Manning, the first was Drew Bledsoe or Rick Mirer. Bledsoe had come into his own having led the Patriots to the playoffs in just his 2nd season in 1994. Now in his 4th season he threw for 4,086 yards and 27 touchdowns leading New England to the Super Bowl.

However the Patriots in ’96 had 2nd year runner Curtis Martin. During the season they forgot to give him the football as his stats fell from 368 carries for 1,487 yards to 314 attempts gaining 1,152. This trend continued in the Super Bowl as Martin had just 11 rushes for 42 yards in the game. One of which was the 18 yard touchdown in the 3rd quarter where he broke 4 tackles.

super-bowl-logo-1996This touchdown set up Desmond Howard’s 99 yard kick return to ice the game for the Packers. New England could have won had they fed Martin the ball. This would have kept Bledsoe’s passing lanes open. Instead Bledsoe’s 4 interceptions, 3 in the 2nd half sealed New England’s fate.

How different would Bledsoe’s career and legacy been had New England won Super Bowl XXXI?

2015 NFC Championship Preview: Larry Fitzgerald

When Larry Fitzgerald took off on his 75 yard reception in last week’s overtime win over Green Bay, how much did that play have to do with his legacy?? In The Chancellor’s view he may have played his way into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

fitzWith the score tied at 20 in overtime, and league mvp candidate Carson Palmer at the end of a skittish performance, it was Fitz who made the decision to go win the game. Once he caught the pass you saw where he turned up-field and it looked as though he would head out of bounds at the 50. At that moment he turned back to the middle of the field, went by Clay Matthews and intended to win the game.

The flash popped in my mind immediately of his 64 yard touchdown in Super Bowl XLIII to take the lead with 2 minutes to go.  As though he was running for destiny. Who else to make that play?

Earlier this year, Fitzgerald was being interviewed on the radio when asked if he could put up the old numbers he once did now that he is playing in the slot. His answer was no and he was being honest. So now after a bounce back season in which he put up a career best 109 catches for 1,215 yards and 9 TDs… who else to make that play?

Today’s NFC Championship he will have to outfox Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. These ‘backers don’t come off the field and will clog Fitzgerald’s intermediate routes. If the Cardinals can isolate him on #20 Coleman, Arizona would have a match-up. With Pro Bowl corner Josh Norman out on Michael Floyd, Fitz has to come up big today to get his team to Super Bowl L.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

2015 Divisional Playoff: Panthers v, Seahawks

Now we get the big boy pads on as the 15-1 Carolina Panthers host the 10-6 Seattle Seahawks. Over the last few years these have been the most physical teams and defenses in the NFC. Seattle finished #2 in defense to the Panthers finished just outside the top five ranked 6th. Against the run Seattle finished #1 and Luke Kuechely’s unit is right behind at #4.

Can the Seahawks repeat?? Absolutely

Can the Seahawks repeat?? Absolutely

 

This game will be won on the line of scrimmage in an old fashioned, slobber-knocking physical way. No easing into a street fight as Marshawn Lynch and Jonathan Stewart are powerful backs. We won’t know if Lynch can carry the load coming back for the first time since mid November. Both backs were kept from the average of 4 yards per carry in the October meeting won by Carolina.

This is Newton's chance to shine in the playoffs.

This is Newton’s chance to shine in the playoffs.

However we don’t want to overlook two of the great young quarterbacks in the game. Taylor Blitz Time’s MVP Cam Newton has had a great season passing for 3,837 yards 35tds with just 10 ints. He won it on the basis of his leadership, those passing numbers and adding 636 yards and 10 more touchdowns.

In his last two games against the Seahawks he ran for 30 and 37 yards respectively. The Seahawks are athletic enough to keep him contained and get to him whether in pass rush mode or when Newton takes off. He needs the running game to be more productive then it’s been. They get back Jonathon Stewart but he’s been out the last 3 games.

Russell-Wilson-Seattle-SeahawksNow we get to one of the TBT MVP runner-ups in Russell Wilson. He has had a tremendous season with 4,024 yards 34 touchdowns with only 8 interceptions. This season has seen further maturation as he developed his downfield touch with WR Doug Baldwin and his receiving corps. He has run efficiently this year with 553 yards and his penchant for not turning the ball over is why this team has been in the last two Super Bowls.

Baldwin (78 rec. 1,069 yds 14 tds) lines up everywhere and we have to see if Panther CB Josh Norman is going to shadow him.

Where this game changes is the fact the Panthers are missing CB Charles Tillman (IR) from the beginning of the season and they have plugged in Cortland Finnegan and retreads in the secondary. With Wilson playing lights out from week 9 on…this will be where the difference will be.

The winner of this game will also go on to win the Super Bowl. Seattle will win this game today by the way they have been playing lately and their experience… 29-24.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

2015 NFC Divisional Round Predictions

Green Bay Packers @ Arizona Cardinals

cardinals_vs_packersIts time for the rubber to meet the road here in Glendale Arizona. The Packers just lost 3 weeks ago 38-8 to the Cardinals in this building so what has changed? They went on to lose to the Vikings who took the NFC North from them 20-13 in Lambeau. The saving grace is last week’s wildcard win over Washington.

Last week saw a rebirth of the running game as Eddie Lacy and James Starks combined for 100 yards and 2 touchdowns. This helped settle a schizophrenic Rodgers down who started the game being sacked for a safety and throwing off his back foot. He found his rhythm in the 2nd half. Can he repeat that against Arizona?

Carson-PalmerThe Packers come into this game with the NFL’s #6 passing defense. If you look at the stats, Palmer only threw for 265 yards 2 TDs and 1 interception. Pedestrian numbers until you remember Aaron Rodgers was bludgeoned for 8 sacks and 4 turnovers. Palmer, an MVP candidate, can do this without a short field. He threw for 4,671 yards and 35 touchdowns comes in this game hot. With Larry Fitzgerald (109 rec/ 1215 yds /9 Tds) John Brown ( 65 rec / 1003 yds /7 Tds) and Michael Floyd (52 rec / 849 yds / 6 Tds) they are averaging 28 points per game at home.

If the Cardinals rushing attack stays productive, the Cardinals should repeat their week 16 performance and wins today 40-17.

NFC Wildcard Predictions

How can we top that Cincinnati Bengal v Pittsburgh Steelers for drama? You have to love the NFL playoffs and its time to get into day 2 with both NFC games on the same day.

nfl-iphone-wallpaper-2First game up is the Washington Redskins hosting the Green Bay Packers in the nation’s capital. All year long you’ve heard The Chancellor of Football state the Packers are a flawed football team. They have gone 4-6 down the stretch and have the NFL’s 23rd ranked offense. Twenty third?? Not only that, the supposed great Aaron Rodgers and the Packers passing game ranks 25th. No team has won with more smoke and mirrors than Green Bay.

What this game will turn on is Kirk Cousins and the 11th ranked passing attack facing the 6th best passing attack of Green Bay. The reason the Packers rank so high against the pass is they have been run on all year…ranking 21st. Also the fact they have gone 6-2 at home and won 5 of their last 6, the Redskins will win 31-17 sacking Rodgers 5 times.

As for the Seattle Seahawks vs Minnesota Vikings it is nostalgic to have this game outside. Teddy Bridgewater will make it to the divisional round…next year. Today in below zero weather is not the time to develop your downfield passing. Seattle gave up 125 yards to the Vikings  in week 13. Too many match-ups Seattle won on the line of scrimmage. The Seahawks will win this 27-13. It will be closer than the last time due to the cold.

There you have it…thanks for reading and please share the article.

AFC Wildcard: Cincinnati Bengals v Pittsburgh Steelers

When you talk about the Bengals when the season began, everyone would scoff “wait til’ the playoffs.” That held true for the team and certainly Andy Dalton. Now here we are again and Dalton has his thumb in a cast. The Bengals have to place their hope on back-up AJ McCarron.

giovanniAlmost 10 years to the day that Kimo Von Oelhoffen knocked Carson Palmer out of the 2006 wildcard, again they get to face a back-up in the playoffs.  Ironically Pittsburgh knocked out Dalton late in the regular season.  Now they are missing DeAngelo Williams who injured his ankle in the season finale.

Can AJ McCarron throw caution to the wind and look long for AJ Green (86 rec. 1,297 yds 10 TDs). Pittsburgh’s defense is 21st overall and 30th against the pass. In previous playoff games Dalton played way too cautious. They need to run solid between the 20s with Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill and take their shots for touchdowns when they get in close. No Dalton playoff checkdowns. McCarron needs to be daring.

One of the NFL's most electrifying players.

One of the NFL’s most electrifying players.

The shifting point is the loss of DeAngelo Williams. He had more than adequately replaced LeVeon Bell with 997 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns. The full dimension Steeler offense that streaked down the stretch now has questions. Can RB Fitzgerald Toussaint (who?) keep the Bengal defense honest? Cincinnati’s defense is 7th against the run and 20th against the pass.

In this game Ben Roethlisberger is going to be the difference. He challenged Martavis Bryant (50 rec. 765 yds and 6 TDs) and we’ll see how he responds. With 2 Super Bowl rings and a 3rd appearance, Roethlisberger’s mettle is what you can hang your hat on. Bryant needs to come up big because the Bengals will be paying most of their attention on MVP candidate Antonio Brown. With 136 rec. 1,834 yards and 10 touchdowns, he has to be the focal point of the Bengals coverage schemes.

In the end… you have to go with Big Ben and that passing game in a 27-24 game. It will be close but the Steelers will win.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

Madison Square Garden can seat 20,000 people for a concert. This blog was viewed about 69,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Madison Square Garden, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

SUPER BOWL XXXI CHAMPION 1996 GREEN BAY PACKERS

Reggie White, Mike Holmgren, and Brett Favre brought the term “Titletown” back to Green Bay when they beat New England 35-21 in Super Bowl XXXI.  It was fun to actually have a champion Packer team in my lifetime because it had a great feel to just say it. The championship had been gone from the land of Lombardi for 29 years.

xxxi3One of the strongest teams of the 1990s and maybe the strongest team in Packer history.  This team had absolutely no holes and overcame injuries to receivers Robert Brooks, and Antonio Freeman (playing the latter half with a plate in his arm). With Brett Favre throwing a conference record 39 TDs. They wound up becoming the first team since the ’72 Dolphins to score the most points (456) while allowing the fewest (210). Although they were 13-3 with Brett Favre coming of age, they needed that signature game which would show the league they were going to win it all. In came the perennially strong San Francisco 49ers for the divisional playoff.

The NFC Championship was fitting in that it pitted the Packers (NFL’s richest tradition) against the NFC’s newest team in the Carolina Panthers.

I’m normally an underdog guy, but not this time. Especially after watching the 1995 Packers get jobbed with a ton of bad calls in the Championship game in Dallas. Talk about a twelfth man…damn! That game left you feeling like the best team didn’t win but set the course for this team to dominate 1996 from start to finish.

xxxi2Possibly the first true champion of the free agent era. Reggie White (Eagles), DE Sean Jones (Oilers), FS Eugene Robinson (Seahawks), Mike Prior (Colts), TE Keith Jackson (Dolphins), WR Andre Rison, and KR Desmond Howard (Jacksonville) gave the Packers a veteran group that added to the team’s sense of urgency. Not bad for an organization that was used arguing against free agency. It was expressed the Packers wouldn’t attract black players if true free agency came to the NFL. Once they nabbed Reggie White, the rest was history.

Now let’s be honest, this team should have gone back to back but Holmgren over-coached against the Broncos in Super Bowl XXXII in 1997.  Dorsey Levens was ripping off 13 yd runs repeatedly in the first quarter and Holmgren took the ball out of his hands. Which fed right into the blitzing Broncos and the Pack was having a problem picking them up which forced the fumble and interception that forced Green Bay to play catch-up.  Further taking the ball out of Dorsey Levens hands….of course that’s just my opinion I could be wrong.

super-bowl-logo-1996The 1996 Green Bay Packers were a meteor that you could see coming from a year away. A game New England Patriots team tried to stop them and narrowed the score to 27-21 when Desmond Howard brought the house down with a 99 yard return. Game…set…match 35-21 and the Lombardi Trophy returned to Green Bay.

This article is dedicated to -Fritz Shurmur, Reggie White, Wayne Simmons, Pete Rozelle, Vince Lombardi, & Brad Jewell

 

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

SUPER BOWL XXX RUNNER UP 1995 PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Three yards short… just 3 yards short of the 1994 AFC Championship. That loss to the San Diego Chargers haunted the Pittsburgh Steelers for nearly a full year. They had fought to unseat the Bills and Oilers in an AFC ruled by open offenses during the early 90s. In 1994 with each foe not making the playoffs, Pittsburgh would coast to Super Bowl XXIX, right?? After all Greg Lloyd, Kevin Greene, Levon Kirkland, Rod Woodson and the rest of the Blitzburgh defense would be back intact.

sbxxxpLOL Uh huh that’s ectly what everyone thought when on a rainy, gray, dreary, ominous day in Three Rivers Stadium, the Steelers welcomed the San Diego Chargers in what was going to be a Steelers coronation and they’d be off to win that elusive “one for the thumb”, fifth Super Bowl title. However trailing late in the 4th quarter 13-10, on a 3rd and short, Stan Humphries play faked and went up top for Tony Martin for a 43yd touchdown with a few minutes to go in the game.

The Steelers weren’t known for their passing offense or good at a two minute drill. Frantically the Steelers raced down field when they were caught 3 yards away from the goal line facing a 4th down. The season rested on one play… Neil O’Donnell threw for Barry Foster yet Dennis Gibson knocked the ball down to preserve a 17-13 upset. Prozac prescriptions skyrocketed in western Pennsylvania.

So the mantra going into the ’95 season was to get those “3 more yards”. It was emblazoned on banners, t-shirts, terrible towels, you name it. They were determined not to be denied again.

In the offseason the Steelers said goodbye to free agent TE Eric Green and farewell to Barry Foster. Foster who had led the AFC with 1,690yds rushing in 1992 was the heart of the offense since Coach Bill Cowher had come to the Steel City. Yet unlike when the team lost Hardy Nickerson and Thomas Everett in recent years, Green and Foster represented the offenses identity and personality. So when they lost their most decorated player, cornerback Rod Woodson in week one, staggered to a 3-4 start, it looked like 1995 would become a lost season.

nfl_woodson-rings_600x600Enter Kordell Stewart. The mid-round draftee QB from Colorado made famous for his hail mary pass that beat Michigan in 1994, was languishing on the Steelers bench. Several receivers were injured and he was pressed into duty as a receiver in practice where he proved to be more athletic than the regular receivers. Stewart electrified in practice. Cowher started to insert Stewart into the lineup in several packages and a now wide open Steelers offense was born.

The big play along with 3, 4, and 5 receiver sets were run with regularity, for the first time. Teams did not have any film to study they’re new approach nor ANY film to recognize where or how they would use Stewart.

With this new weapon, “Slash” helped the Steelers break their predictable play calling and a bolder offense went from scoring 21 to 27 points per game. They went on an 8 game winning streak and for 6 straight games scored in the last two minutes before the half. Stewart scored 4 of those touchdowns. They took the momentum into the half with them in the process. Retooled with new enthusiasm the ’95 Steelers screamed into the playoffs.

super-bowl-logo-1995How different was this team? In their first playoff win over Buffalo, the Steelers scored the most points ever in a home playoff game winning 40-21. The AFC Championship against the upstart Indianapolis Colts was a slugfest that echoed the 1994 championship in many ways. The most eery was when Harbaugh duplicated the exact same scenario, throwing a late 4th qtr bomb to Floyd Turner to take a 16-13 lead. You want to talk about a hush falling over a stadium, my goodness you would have thought you were at a funeral…lol and we were. After all they had overcome to get back to the championship game and they were in the same position again?? Are you kidding me??

So what had changed?? The season long development of their passing game is what had.  Not only were they able to initiate a march, they actually faced the team’s motto during the drive. Facing a 4th and 3 near midfield with their season on the line, O’Donnell hit Andre Hastings to keep the drive alive. “To hell with a tie!”

Nearing field goal range for a game tying kick, this bolder Steeler offense went for it all when O’Donnell found a streaking Ernie Mills down to the 2. They scored on the next play to take a 20-16 lead. Now it was up to the defense to hold off the Colts who had come from behind many times that season. Harbaugh brought them to within a failed hail mary of pulling off the upset.

So with a collective sigh of relief they were off to Super Bowl XXX. They literally got those three more yards. Although they lost to Dallas, they thoroughly outplayed them from the middle of the second quarter on. They held Dallas to 61 total yards in the second half, fewest ever for a Super Bowl winner.

They were the first to kick an onside kick without being under 5 minutes to go. Something the Saints copied in Super Bowl XLIV. A couple errant interceptions by O’Donnell robbed this team of its rightful place in history as a Super Bowl champion. Yet the magnificence of their effort in trying to achieve their goal was to be celebrated. Tremendous lesson to be learned from these men is a simple one. To achieve what you want, you may have to change how you do things to get there.

This was the crowning jewel for becoming AFC Champions in 1995.

 

SUPER BOWL XXX CHAMPION 1995 DALLAS COWBOYS

One year after the San Francisco 49ers won a record fifth Super Bowl the Dallas Cowboys equaled that feat. The hardest pill to swallow for Dallas was the lost chance to 3-peat when the 49ers dethroned them in Candlestick Park that January day in the NFC Championship.

sbxxx3Ironically that 38-28 loss was easily one of the greatest games in Cowboys history.  During their championship years they had never been challenged like that, faced so much adversity, yet kept fighting on valiantly when all seemed to be lost. The game concluded the greatest series of championships between two teams.

Let’s take you back to January 15, 1995. The league was still reeling from the surprise departure of Jimmy Johnson (The U) and although Barry Switzer was there at the press conferences, we were waiting for the April fool’s joke to end.  It was Jerry Jones insistence that any coach could win with the talent the Cowboys had that led to the hiring of Switzer without any changes to the rest of the staff. That was plain goofy.

After losing Pro Bowlers Thomas Everett, Ken Norton, Jimmy Jones, Kevin Gogan, and sparkplug special teamer Kenny Gant to free agency, the Cowboys still marched to a 12-4 record.  Emmitt Smith was still the engine of the offense.

Aikman, Novacek, Irvin (The U), and Harper still posed a formidable passing attack. Charles Haley, Tony Tolbert, Darren Woodson, Russell Maryland (The U), James Washington, and Darrin Smith (The U) anchored one of the league’s best defenses despite the personnel losses. They marched into the 1994 playoffs with the chance of equaling Lombardi’s Packers in winning 3 straight championships.  So what happened??

The 49ers treating the 1993 Pro Bowl as a college recruiting trip is what happened.  The 1994 season was to be the first with free agency and it was actually Dallas’ fault that the 49ers coaching staff was there in the first place.  Back then the team that lost the conference championship to get to the Super Bowl is the coaching staff who coached that year’s pro bowl squad.  Going into the ’93 NFC Championship game, then coach Jimmy Johnson called into a radio show proclaiming “We will win the ballgame, and put it in 3 inch headline!” which irked the 49ers brass and players.

The Cowboys had prevailed in the ‘92 championship game also over the 49ers and it was a declaration that Dallas IS now the heavy between the two.  Oh you gotta love that “U” swagger! The 49ers came unglued getting roped into a pregame fight and behaved completely out of character.  They lost the game in a very boisterous embarrassing fashion 38-21.  On a quiet elevator ride down amidst the din of a celebrating Texas Stadium, Eddie DeBartolo turned to Carmen Policy and said simply “We must never be embarrassed like this again”

super-bowl-logo-1995Carmen Policy accompanied the 49er coaching staff to the Pro Bowl and went to work on specific changes the Niners needed to make to dethrone Dallas. Stealing Ken Norton from the Cowboys, whispering in the ears of  Bart Oates (Giants), Charles Mann (Redskins), Ricky Jackson (Saints), Richard Dent (Bears), and Deion Sanders (Falcons) ‘Pssstt, you know if you helped us on defense, we have the offense to knock off Dallas and we can get you a ring.’  I can so picture Policy saying that with a used car salesman smile / smirk and it worked. The 49ers were going to field an NFC Pro Bowl defense to stop Emmitt, Aikman, and Irvin and it came to full fruition January 15, 1995.  Each had a specific assignment.

Both teams came into that game extremely fired up. This time it was the 49erswith the bravado and starting the pre-game shoving matches and was the more intense team.  First assignment was fooling Dallas into thinking Deion Sanders was going to cover Irvin, when he was there to cover Harper.  Harper had become the playoff all time yardage per reception leader based upon his games against the 49ers. This confused Dallas into the first interception that made it 7-0. The offense was not only unprepared for that they benched Harper to try to figure it out. Two more turnovers ensued in that confusion and the white hot 49ers scored to make it 21-0 in the first quarter.

It was from this point on that the Cowboys showed a determination not shown in collecting the two championships from the seasons before.  They were in hostile territory, hopelessly behind, against an all star team put together piece by piece to defeat them and halt their progression into history.

They valiantly tried to stay in the game; Aikman threw for a career high 350 yards (first 300 yard game of career), Irvin set the team post season reception record with 12 for nearly 192 yards and 2 TDs while providing leadership. Emmitt Smith scored twice before his bad hamstring forced him out of the game.  In the end it wasn’t enough but the fight they showed for 3 quarters was tremendous to say the least.  To defeat the Cowboys the 49ers had to buy an all star defense with 5 pro bowl defenders. The 38-28 defeat provided the springboard into the next season.

After a few more free agent defections it became clear that this was the last hurrah for the team that Jimmy Johnson had built. They had been withered away in the two years of free agency however in the spirit of cold war double agent dealing, they wrested Deion Sanders away from the 49ers to return the favor of stealing Ken Norton from them.  An 8-1 start pointed that the Cowboys were clearly the team to beat yet a 38-21 loss to the 49ers brought them back down to Earth.

Another late season loss and it seemed the chance to win 3 out of 4 was going down the drain like the dream of a 3-peat. Then came the famous 4th down failures in a late season loss to Philadelphia 20-17. Yet Emmitt Smith, who went on to lead the league with 1,773 yards rushing kept chugging along and carried this team on his back.  He went on to set the record with 25TDs for the year. Going into the playoffs everyone thought they’d face the 49ers for the 4th straight season but the Green Bay Packers put an end to that.  Playing the Packers in the NFC Championship at home gave the Cowboys an edge as they won 38-27 to advance to Super Bowl XXX. For a more visceral feel:

There they outlasted the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-17 to become the first team to win 3 Super Bowls in 4 years and the first franchise to win the Super Bowl with 3 different coaches.  The Steelers punched the Cowboys square in the star but MVP Larry Brown’s interceptions sealed the game for Dallas.

The Cowboys of the early 90’s was the first champion to be besieged by free agency.  How many times would they have won if Jimmy Johnson’s original squad been able to stay together as the Dolphins, & Steelers of the ‘70s did?  I think they would have won 5 or 6 titles…What do you think?

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

 

 

SUPER BOWL XXIX RUNNER UP 1994 SAN DIEGO CHARGERS

Talk about a surprise conference champion…no one saw the 1994 Chargers making it to the Super Bowl yet when I see this ring I think of Dennis Gibson knocking down Neil O’Donnell’s last pass from the 3 yard line touching off the Charger AFC Championship celebration.

29.1I think of the bomb to Tony Martin in the 4th quarter that alerted Pittsburgh that they were in for a dog fight for this game even though it was played in old Three Rivers Stadium. All was right with the world…except one of the greatest conference championship contestants, possible 3peat chance Dallas Cowboys or a free agent laden San Francisco team built to take down the Cowboys.

29.3Funny how this team navigated its way to the Super Bowl where those of “Air” Coryell lore would have been better suited to face Steve Young and company.  The upset of the Miami Dolphins in the divisional round was what threw the 94 playoffs for a loop.  Natrone Means, Stan Humphries, Junior Seau, were on a mission thru the AFC playoffs to prove they DID belong and that the turnaround from a losing season to a winning one wasn’t going to be like 1991-1992.

After a 4-12 record in 1991 they hired Bill Arnsparger and the defense took off and they turned around their fortunes to an 11-5 season.  Many pundits didn’t believe they were real and when they lost 17-0 to the Kansas City Chiefs at home in the wildcard round, they learned they hadn’t garnered any respect.  After a losing season in 1993, San Diego used the same formula, a last place schedule and defense to have another miracle turnaround from a losing season.  The ’94 Chargers swore to make 1994 different…they just ran into the 49ers.

sb29They at least have this glistening bauble as AFC Champions for 1994.

SUPER BOWL XXIX CHAMPION 1994 SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

In the eyes of The Chancellor of Football, this was the best 49er team ever! Think of a mythical game between the 1989 49ers and the 1994 49ers…Who would win?

xxix1Think about, if the 89 Niners version of Jerry Rice being covered by the ’94 NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year Deion Sanders, than zone off the rest of the defense to cover Craig, Taylor, Rathman, and Jones? The 94 Niners beat them…why am I talking about this? Well the Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX just shouldn’t have been there.

Pittsburgh took them lightly in the AFC Championship and when they realized they were in a game it was too late and lost 17-13.  Am I wrong?

Anyway, the 89 49ers didn’t have the LB speed to cover Watters out of the backfield (Romanowski, Keena Turner, Matt Millen or Michael Walter) and had Deion to shut down Rice. Quietly one of the best teams in history, in fact they had to beat one (Cowboys of 1991-1995, 3 Super Bowl wins) just to get there.  The Niners lost their mojo, when they let Ricky Watters leave via free agency. Yet for that 1994, give it up to one of the best ever.

If football were a different kind of commercial business, they’d be Microsoft.  All the innovations and ideas to stay atop the league should be applauded.  The smartest move EVER was what they did after losing the second NFC Championship in a row to Dallas in 1993.

Back then the loser of the Conference Championship game’s coaches would coach the conference’s Pro Bowl team.  With free agency being new, how to approach players hadn’t really been an exact science.  Having lost Ronnie Lott and other defensive greats over the last few years, the defense didn’t have punch to match their offense, and certainly couldn’t handle Dallas.

What did the 49ers do?  They treated the 1993 Pro Bowl as a college recruiting trip… LOL  I can still picture George Seifert and Carmen Policy whispering to Ricky Jackson, Richard Dent, Bart Oates, Charles Mann, Ken Norton, and Deion Sanders “Pssst, you know we can beat Dallas and get you a ring if you sign with us…we already have the offense.”

Not only did they get players, they had specific designs for them.  Deion Sanders (’94 NFL Defensive player of the year) was to shut down Alvin Harper (all time leading receiver in yards per catch in postseason history) who had lit up the Niners for big plays in the last two conference finals.

sb29First up, Ken Norton Jr.; to take a key cog off the Cowboy defense and had faced Dallas in practice, and he would know their strength and weaknesses and light a fire on that side of the ball.  Richard Dent, Charles Mann, and Ricky Jackson were to be pass rushers that would be able to get to Troy Aikman because Artie Smith, Troy Wilson were “tweeners” that got manhandled by Cowboy tackles. Neither Larry Roberts nor Dennis Brown were effective enough.

Bart Oates helped solidify the offensive line and knew how to play the Cowboys stunting tackles having played against them in New York.  Throw in a rejuvenated Gary Plummer and this was a team with no holes in it!! I put this team against any in history and struggle to find who they’d lose to.

…and by the way, I did say Deion Sanders for Alvin Harper and not Michael Irvin.  How do we know this? Microsoft…I mean the 49ers were great at poker…they didn’t show their hand in the regular season matchup with Dallas in their use of Deion.  Yet when they stepped on the field for the NFC Championship game,  Deion (speed player) was on Alvin Harper (speed player) and could zone and cover Michael Irvin (The U) who wasn’t that fast.  They fooled Aikman into the interception returned for a touchdown on the 3rd play of the game by Eric Davis.  You know the 21-0 lead…and the rest.

Most notable was on Dallas 3rd possession Dallas took Harper out of the game! He came back a possession or two later but Deion’s coverage of him not only sapped his confidence and shook up the coaching staff on how to attack San Fran.  So decisive was this that you can trace the decline of Alvin Harper’s career from that exact point.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

SUPER BOWL XXVIII RUNNER UP 1993 BUFFALO BILLS

The jewel for 4th AFC Championship ….after beating Kansas City with Joe Montana, Marcus Allen, Neil Smith, and the late Derrick Thomas 30-13 to make it to Super Bowl XXVIII.

xxviiibRemember the chant going around Rich Stadium “Piss ’em off and go for 4??” It brings back goose bumps.  It was on T-Shirts, Jim Kelly said it on the air…was a great rallying cry.  USA Today had a headline please don’t let the Bills make it to the Super Bowl…etc…

xxviiib1I remember they asked Stephen Hawking right before Super Bowl XXVIII to calculate how long would it be for a team to make it to 4 Super Bowls in a row again.  He gave his explanation with the current (then) landscape of 28 teams and projected free agency, it wouldn’t happen again for another 46 years.  I wonder how that number is skewed now with 32 teams with the advent of the Texans, Ravens, Jaguars, and Panthers.

xxviii3Still its a feat to be celebrated.  I wish we would have brought home the BIG ring but my boyz were still a team to be lauded for their resilient effort.  Isn’t that the essence of sports and life?  Once you get knocked down get back up and go after it again…that’s the axiom!  Of course you’d like to win but its your effort that’s celebrated.

xxviiib2One final look back takes us to Jim Kelly’s debut back in 1986. His inspiring fans to think of a brighter future for long suffering Bills fans.

In a strange way its because MY Buffalo Bills kept getting up and going after it is why I remember them with such reverence even more so had they just gone to 1 and won it.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

SUPER BOWL XXVIII CHAMPION 1993 DALLAS COWBOYS

xxviiiJimmy Johnson’s last ring with Dallas after the 1993 season besting MY Buffalo Bills 30-13 in Super Bowl XXVIII, but don’t forget, he and that coaching staff was from  the [[_]]. The Cowboys were on the brink of becoming one of the NFL’s greatest dynasties.

Had Jimmy and Jerry Jones been able to suppress egos this team was primed to win 5 or 6 Super Bowls in the 1990’s. Michael Irvin had just finished his 6th year, Emmitt his 4th, & Troy Aikman his 5th. A slew of defensive starters had come onto the ball club from 1991 on including Russell Maryland, Dixon Edwards, Darren Woodson, Kevin Smith, and Larry Brown. They had just added a rookie star in LB Darrin Smith off the Miami Hurricanes (the [[_]]).

Did you know Hall of Famer Charles Haley didn’t make the Pro Bowl in 1993?? However 10 of his teammates did including 3 members from The Great Wall in Nate Newton, Mark Stepnoski, and Erik Williams. This team was stacked… yet Jimmy and Jerry left us wondering “what if?” which rages on to this day.

**Taken from another Taylor Blitz article comparing the Cowboys and the Patriots who each won 3 titles in 4 years**

xxviii3The Patriots remind me of what I think of the early 70’s Dolphins.  They’re not perceived as stronger, or faster..etc  They were always a step smarter when they needed to be and more physical than you expected. Just ask the Steelers who they beat twice in AFC Championships IN PITTSBURGH in both 2001 & 2004.  They kept Peyton Manning hogtied for years when he faced them. In winning their 3rd in 4 years the question came up “Who was better between the 90s Cowboys or the 00’s Patriots?”  Hmmmm at first glance…its no question the Cowboys were….but lets think about this a second…each team suppressed future super bowl winners…

*Cowboys held back Packers and 49ers who went on to win 29 and 31 respectively

*Patriots hed back the Steelers and the Colts who went on to win 40 and 41 respectively

Dallas defense was built on speed and the best way to attack it is to run right at them.  Corey Dillon was that type of back. The Cowboys strength was running right at their opponent with that offensive line and Emmitt Smith. Well the Patriots had some beef up front with Vince Wilfork (The U) Richard Seymour and Ty Warren.  Ty Law covering Michael Irvin(the U). Troy Aikman vs Tom Brady…Darren Woodson and Rodney Harrison hard hitting safetys for both teams…damn they’re more alike than originally thought!!

xxviii2I’ll have to go with the Cowboys in a close game 30-20.  Charles Haley and Tony Tolbert would have several sacks. Haley had sacks in 4 of the 5 Super Bowls he won…so he would get to Brady. Emmitt and Corey would each rush for 100 yards. Alvin Harper takes Tyrone Poole or Assante Samuel deep a couple times and “Moose” Johnston and Novacek would beat on Patriot linebackers for key first downs.  Deion Branch would do work on Kevin Smith and Larry Brown but other receivers would be swallowed by Darrin Smith (the U) and those fast linebackers. This is before i bring up FS Thomas Everett for any errant throws over the middle.

**No Deion Sanders—using the 93 Cowboys as a model because the 1993 Cowboys would kick the 95 Cowboys ass! Jimmy Johnson would be the coach not Barry Switzer**

So upon further review the Cowboys would win…

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

SUPER BOWL XXVII RUNNER UP 1992 BUFFALO BILLS

Now that is a nice AFC Championship ring for the 3rd AFC Championship…

Man I should have been at Super Bowl XXVII in Pasadena.  Got robbed in a sales contest at the dealership I worked in…had the tickets and airfare right there and.. Phukk Aaron…yet I digress.

 

xxvii23The Greatest comeback in history a few weeks before in the wildcard..41-38 over Houston.  Then bested Pittsburgh 24-3 in Bill Cowher’s first playoff game as Steelers coach.  Then beat the arch rival Dolphins, in Miami, for the AFC Championship game 29-10! I can remember many Bills fans torn about who should we start at quarterback: Frank Reich, who orchestrated those first 2 playoff wins or Jim Kelly!  I was torn myself thinking maybe go with Reich to shake things up a bit since we lost two Super Bowls prior and Dallas would have limited film to study..hmmmm what if?

Yet one of the strongest Bills team ever and I know I’m not alone in celebrating how euphoric it was winning that greatest comeback in history 41-38 over Houston. Celebrating that as a fan was like we had won a SuperBowl. Marv Levy was quoted in ’92 “Where it feels surreal and is this really happening? Most of the time when you’re making history you don’t realize it at the time. In this instance we did.”  I must have watched that game 10 times that week. That was the most uplifting game ever..work was great for the next few weeks, my girlfriend kissed better..etc…I don’t think you could find a Bills fan that didn’t feel that way also.

xxvii2Back to back Super Bowl losses had many fans and pundits writing off the Bills. How would they recover?? Yet all these players were in their prime and led by unsung leaders like LB Darryl Talley, they dusted themselves off and came right back in 1992. During this season they were 4-0 against the NFC west including a 38-35 win in San Francisco vs. the 49ers who went 14-2. Good enough for homefield advantage in the NFC. Going into the final week the Bills were ready to clinch homefield in the AFC for a 3rd straight year when:

So in 6 quarters the Oilers had outscored the Bills 62-6 before the comeback if you included the previous week.The Bills were playing with house money the rest of that postseason. The 52-17 loss to the Cowboys was painful but the euphoric high all Bills had been on for the previous month tempered the pain.  No one shared what we had felt because no other team had ever come from that far down when it looked like the season was over.  It left all Bills fans optimistic going into 1993.

That wildcard win was a gift from the football gods.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

SUPER BOWL XXVII CHAMPION 1992 DALLAS COWBOYS

The Dallas Cowboys championship for Super Bowl XXVII. I wished Jimmy Johnson would have had this on when I met him and the entire Cowboy coaching staff at Houlihan’s in Columbus, Ohio on St Patrick’s Day 1993.

27winThey had just visited Ohio State University and tested out players before the draft.  Standing room only in this bar on St Patty’s and havin’ a drink with an off duty police officer at the door and in they came right between us…”That S.O.B. looks just like Jimmy Johnson?” is all I could blurt out…I was drinking gang…articulation isn’t a strong suit at a time like that.  Never mind being a fan of the Miami Hurricanes, etc. Talking to him was cool…slapped me on the back and said sorry about Buffalo…lol.  This was 1 1/2 months after the 52-17 Super Bowl win Dallas had over the Bills.

Anyway, think about the ridiculous strength of this 1992 Cowboy team. Everyone has lionized Emmitt, Irvin, Troy, and lauded the trade for Charles Haley.  Bill Bates was injured, Darren Woodson (Cowboys all-time leading tackler) didn’t even start. Jimmy Smith (wideout for Jacksonville Jaguars of nearly 1000 catches) was also on this team and injured.  How many Super Bowls would Dallas have won had Jimmy stayed in Dallas?  I say they would have become the first 5 or 6 time winner of Super Bowls in a decade.  So what was the move that put the Cowboys over the top?  The Charles Haley trade?  No it was the trade for S Thomas Everett who had been a holdout for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

xxvii2You say, huh? Thomas Everett?  Think of it like this…going into the 1992 season the Cowboys Achilles’ heel was their secondary.  Their draft tells you that picking up SS Darren Woodson, CB Kevin Smith, and CB Clayton Holmes in the first few rounds. In 1991, Dallas had lost to 4 run and shoot teams including a 38-6 drubbing to Detroit in the divisional round of the playoffs. The biggest blowout loss of any NFC team in the 1990’s. They had some coverage issues but Everett solidified the secondary, put players in good spots and made several plays that defined the Super Bowl XXVII rout of my Buffalo Bills.  He helped turn the secondary into a team strength.

In the 2nd quarter when Buffalo was threatening to take the lead, Dallas had a goal line stand where Buffalo went for it on 4th down from the 1. Who intercepted the ball in the endzone to totally deflate the Bills? Thomas Everett. After halftime down 28-10 and fired up to get back into the game in the 3rd quarter, who read a short route and jumped it returning an interception to Buffalo’s 10 to end the competitive phase of the game?  Yup Thomas Everett!

xxvii3Funny he only played for Dallas in 1992 and 1993 and was a Pro Bowler who didn’t get his due for what he meant to that defense.  Without Haley in 1991, they made it to the Divisional round of the playoffs yet were destroyed by Detroit’s passing game.  Everett made sure that no one would do that in 1992.

This was the best of the Cowboys teams of the 90’s. Everett got his due in ’93 with a Pro Bowl berth.  One of the reason’s they didn’t three-peat in ’94 I believe started with Jimmy Johnson’s (the [[_]]) departure and the other was losing Thomas Everett to Tampa.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

The 2015 MVP Candidates Not Named Brady

As the NFL season winds down, talk invariably turns to awarding the top players for peak performance. The national pundits have clamored all year how Tom Brady will be NFL MVP as though it’s been decreed on high. Completely overlooking deserving candidates turning in career seasons.

Carson-PalmerCarson Palmer: Do you realize Palmer is 19-3 as the Cardinals starting QB dating back to the beginning of 2014?? Of course the MVP is for this year’s performance, yet show The Chancellor who has outplayed him. The Cardinals have the NFL’s #1 offense and the #4 passing attack. With today’s performance, Palmer leads the NFL with 29 TDs to just 9 interceptions and 3,693 yards of real estate gobbled up this season.

The Chancellor has always said it isn’t just about the numbers.. it’s about leadership, performance vs expectations, and how would his team fare without him? For Palmer we saw last year when Arizona collapsed after a 9-1 start when he went down. Before he did, he spearheaded a win on the road in Seattle. The signature win of this season came in the 39-32 win in Seattle on Sunday night a few weeks back. They knocked down the NFC West bully when the world was watching. Then followed up with a 34-31 win over a Cincinnati team vying for home field advantage in the AFC.

With the Cardinals fighting tooth and nail with Carolina for home field in the NFC, you can start the MVP conversation with Palmer.

One of the NFL's most electrifying players.

One of the NFL’s most electrifying players.

Antonio Brown: Absolutely the best receiver in football. Unlike Julio Jones, he has had to perform with 3 different quarterbacks and has amassed 85 receptions for 1,192 yards and 5TDs. Keep in mind we’re talking about 5 complete games with Landry Jones and Michael Vick under center. Those stats and there are still 5 games for Brown to play!! He’s on pace to catch 123 receptions for 1,723 yards as the Steelers make a late season playoff push. He’s currently 2nd in receiving yards. Keep your eye on him making big plays down the stretch.

Adrian Peterson: Although he is leading the NFL in rushing, today’s 8 carries for 18 yards in a 38-7 home blowout loss to Seattle hurts his MVP cause. This was a big game against a good defense in a game with wild card playoff implications. These are the games an MVP has to show up in. Just two weeks ago in a battle for 1st place in the NFC North, he disappeared with a 13 carry 45 yard day. The defenses cascaded in and killed a young Teddy Bridgewater without a running threat. These two losses are the difference between leading the NFC North and being embroiled in a fight for a wildcard. Peterson is still leading the league with 1,182 yards rushing.

From?? Boise St!

From?? Boise St!

Doug Martin: With Peterson coming back to the pack, light has been shed on the league’s #2 rusher with 1,133 yards and has protected his young QB. Martin exploded back into a nation’s consciousness when he destroyed the Eagles with a 230 yard performance a few weeks ago. It was the best single game rushing performance since…well Doug Martin‘s 264 yard masterpiece in 2012.

Jameis Winston is growing during this rookie season and one of the players he has to thank is Martin. Doug is only one of two running backs averaging over 5 yards per carry at 5.0. The other isn’t Adrian Peterson by the way. As a team the Buccaneers rank 2nd in the NFL in rushing , just 39 yards behind Seattle. He’s on pace to have a career 1,500 yard season as the 6-6 Bucs make a wild card push. Five of their six wins are against NFC teams and their last 4 are all within conference.

Cam Newton: Now you would think the starting quarterback for a 12-0 football team would be an automatic. In Cam Newton’s rise many pundits have been reluctant to admit his candidacy on the level of other elite QBs, just as they don’t believe in the Carolina Panthers ability to keep winning. When the Panthers lost WR Kelvin Benjamin in the preseason, no one thought the Panthers would even equal last 7-8-1 division championship last year. Newton has emerged as a true leader who now has 25 TDs passing to just 9 interceptions for 2,797 yards. By the time you add his 476 yards rushing and 7 more touchdowns this is the MVP of the league.

camThe fact that most of his touchdown passes have come in the 4th quarter can’t be underscored. It was his 4th qtr go ahead TD that slayed Seattle 27-23 on the road. This was a big game and the Seahawks 1st loss with Kam Chancellor back avenging their playoff loss in ’14. Cam killed them from the pocket. Today he out-dueled the NFC South’s preeminent quarterback in Drew Brees in a 41-38 shootout. He was almost knocked out of the game, yet stayed and threw for 5TDs where the lead changed hands 4 times in the 4th quarter alone. It felt like a changing of the guard as Brees couldn’t hold off the young lion.

When Taylor Blitz Times offers our first NFL MVP… we have to include Tom Brady in the mix but our front runner leads the Carolina Panthers.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

SUPER BOWL XXVI RUNNER UP 1991 BUFFALO BILLS

Man was I nervous going into Super Bowl XXVI…I remembered the last game of 1990 (the year before) when Buffalo rested many starters yet were manhandled on the line of scrimmage in a loss to the Redskins 29-14 in old RFK Stadium. It was surrrreal with the Super Bowl in freezing Minneapolis the following season.

 

xxviThe Buffalo Bills were the scourge of the AFC, with NFL MVP and Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas. 1991 was an excercise in getting back to the SuperBowl.  Fellow Hall of Famer Jim Kelly and the “K-Gun” was operating at full speed with Hall of Famer James Lofton, and soon to be H.O.F. Andre Reed this was the “Greatest Show on Turf” before the “Greatest Show on Turf”.  Kelly threw for nearly 4,000 yds and 33 TDs, while Thomas led the NFL with 1407 yds rushing and led the NFL with total yards from scrimmage on his way to leading in that category 4 yrs in a row to break Jim Brown’s record of 3 straight.  Add to that 2 different 1,000 yd receivers and this team was scoring like Madden football on rookie.

super-bowl-logo-1991The Bills were second to only Washington in scoring which was perfect since Bruce Smith was injured most of the year with a bad knee (missing 11 games). Without the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year the defense dropped to no. 19 in total defense yet still posted a  13-3 record.  Cornelius Bennett and Darryl Talley picked up much of the slack with each having All Pro seasons. The 1991 season saw the AFC take steps to catch the fast paced Bills but couldnt’ do it as the Chiefs and Broncos fell during the playoffs.  The Bills lost SS Leonard Smith with a knee injury before SuperBowl XXVI just as Bruce Smith was returning from his.

Alas the defense couldn’t hold up against the Hogs and the Redskins top scoring offense and fell 37-24 in Minneapolis. Coming up short in back to back Super Bowls normally sees a team descend quickly from the elite. Buffalo would be different. This championship ring was the jewel earned for that stellar, almost super season.

SUPER BOWL XXVI CHAMPION 1991 WASHINGTON REDSKINS

When it comes to the strongest single season NFL champions, they rarely come from dynasties that rule a decade. Most are borne from the ashes of a playoff loss the previous season. Whether the team hadn’t quite peaked despite being in the playoffs, or an effort that comes up short against the eventual champion provides the motivation fueling the season to come.

wash26Washington Redskins best team…1991 Super Bowl XXVI champions 37-24 over MY Buffalo Bills!! Congratulations Wilber Marshall, Darryl Green, and Earnest Byner formerly of the Cleveland Browns. It was good to see him get a ring.

This team had no weaknesses. Mark Rypien also had RB Gerald Riggs and a prolific receiving corps in Gary Clark (70 rec / 1,340 TDs /10 TDs)  Ricky Sanders (45 rec / 580 yds / 5 TDs) and Hall of Famer Art Monk (71 rec / 1,049 yds / 8TDs). Byner was a 1,000 yard rusher while Riggs was the battering ram at the goal line, evidenced by his 11 touchdowns with just 248 yards rushing. Washington finished 4th offensively and 3rd in defense despite yardage gained in garbage time in 9 blowouts. This might have been Coach Joe Gibbs’ masterpiece.

After winning Super Bowl XXII, the Redskins slipped down to a team that was just under the league’s elite. Gone was Super Bowl MVP Doug Williams, Timmy Smith and the aging vets that carried the team through the late 80’s. With the signing of LB Wilber Marshall in ’88, they pulled a coup as he became the first free agent to switch teams in a decade. They retooled with middle round draft picks and trades as they stayed competitive 1988-1990. In ’91 Marshall had arguably the best season for a non Pro Bowl player with 135 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 5 interceptions and 4 forced fumbles. It was Marshall who also changed the way players were voted to the Pro Bowl. Pundits and writers argued players couldn’t leave their animosities before entering the voting booth. A few years later the fan vote was included.

wash26.2They were close in 1990 but weren’t quite ready for primetime.  They upset the Eagles in the wildcard (Buddy Ryan’s last game) 20-3 then tried to upend the 49ers in the divisional round but Rypien was intercepted twice in the endzone to thwart drives and lose 21-10.  Rypien was a steady veteran QB but could he win in the postseason?? However the 2 best NFC teams in 1990 were the New York Giants and the San Francisco 49ers, who was trying to three-peat. However both had peaked and would need to retool. The Redskins along with the experts thought 1991 was going to be different.

super-bowl-logo-1991In starting out 11-0, the ‘Skins outscored opponents 361-139 which included 3 shutouts. This team was stronger than any of Gibb’s other Redskin teams.  The 83 squad scored on everyone but everyone was scoring on them too…as evidenced by losing a game 48-47 to Green Bay and losing to Dallas 31-30 in the opener and allowing 38 in the Super Bowl loss to the Raiders.  The 82 team was more smash mouth and the ’87 squad was good but benefitted from the strongest 49er team in history being upset in the playoffs that cleared the path.

This team finished 14-2 as Gibbs utilized the full roster through situational substitutions. Every player had a designated role and they hit the playoffs running. Knocking off Atlanta 24-7 before clobbering the Detroit Lions 41-10 in the NFC Championship Game.  In Super Bowl XXVI they overpowered Buffalo 37-24 in a game that wasn’t that close. They led at halftime 17-0 and after 3 plays of the 3rd quarter were up 24-0 before Buffalo scored.

Joe Gibbs’ charges only had 1 more playoff season the following year before the team slid into obscurity. The team became a step too slow with many of their players aging. The Redskins wouldn’t make the playoffs in the next 7 years. By then Gibbs Hall of Fame career would be over as well as this championship era in Washington. Yet 1991 saw one of the strongest champions in league history.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

’15 Midterm: Oakland Raiders

As the 2015 season has moved toward the midway point one thing has become evident. The Oakland Raiders are blossoming into an up and coming football team. Not only do they pass the eyeball test but you can see the game slowing down for a series of young players. Most notably 2nd year QB Derek Carr.

Carr looks like the real deal out in Oakland.

Carr looks like the real deal out in Oakland.

As you observe young quarterbacks in the NFL, many have the penchant for throwing rocket balls late relying on arm strength. They use this to compensate for reading the defense late thinking they can squeeze in passes, which leads to getting picked off by the underneath coverage. Carr has learned the touch to throw over linebackers into the space just before the secondary converges.

The only real late throw he had in a point of regression was the pick six against the Broncos in week 5. The Raiders lost 16-10 and easily could have won that game. However they sit at 4-3 and Carr is putting together a Pro Bowl year. Right now he is 150 of 229 (65.5%) for 1,793 yds 15 touchdowns to just 3 interceptions.  He’s on pace to throw for 34 TDs to 7 ints. Hmmmm… with the season Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck are having, show The Chancellor who should beat him out for a trip to Hawai’i if he continues playing at this pace. The growth he has shown just going back to last year is immense.

The Raiders are on pace to have a 1,000 yd rusher in Latavius Murray (534 yds / 3tds), 2 -1,000 yd receivers in rookie Amari Cooper (38 ec. / 553 yds / 3tds) & Michael Crrabtree (40 rec./ 483 yds / 3tds) & Carr passing for 4,000 himself. Add Marcell Reese’s 3 scores with the 2 to Andre Holmes last week, tell us where the focal point is to stop this attack. In short, this is giing to keep rolling.

Khalil Mack is the next Derrick Thomas.

Khalil Mack is the next Derrick Thomas.

As for the defense, the Raiders are 31st against the pass and 26th overall. Yet heady play by S Charles Woodson (5ints / 33 tackles) Khalil Mack (4 sacks ) and former Seahawk Malcolm Smith (3 sacks) have kept the defense above board. Going into the 2nd half of the season, if Aldon Smith can turn a corner and veteran Justin Tuck can step up their games, this unit can make it into the teens in terms of ranking. This will be enough to be a playoff contender this year.

When it comes to veteran leadership, Malcolm Smith, Justin Tuck, and Charles Woodson have Super Bowl rings won in the last 6 years. You don’t think what these vets can teach the young guys will go unheeded?

You better recognize what is happening in Oakland. This set of young bucks are learning their way up the ladder. Two of their three losses are to the undefeated Cincinnati Bengals and undefeated Denver Broncos. This team is just learning how to win. The Chancellor of Football  has a saying:  At some point you have to believe what your eyes are showing you. This team is growing week to week. With the Steelers losing LeVeon Bell, this team is going to grow and fly under the radar. They will be hell to deal with come playoff time. All you have to do is get there and take your shot….this team has enough leadership to teach the young pups what they need to know. Stay tuned….

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

 

Is Cam Newton Having an MVP season??

One old adage that comes to mind when I’m watching football is: there comes a time where you have to believe what your eyes are showing you. There is a propensity to stay with preconceived teams and players you predicted would do well. All the while ignoring what is actually happening in front of you on a week to week basis. Enter Cam Newton.

camWhen the news came down wideout Kelvin Benjamin was lost for the season, immediately most pundits wrote the Carolina Panthers off for 2015. Newton and the Panthers are 6-0 with the 22nd ranked offense and 9th ranked defense. What the stats won’t tell you is the physical will they are beating out of their opponents.

Newton has matured into Carolina’s undisputed leader  which was on full display last Sunday in Seattle. The confidence emanating from him filled the rest of the football team. Four 80 yard touchdown drives in the 2nd half in Seattle against the league’s most feared defense.

This had been the house of horrors dating back to last year’s 31-17 divisional playoff loss. Or if you’re keeping score at home, Carolina was 0-3 against Seattle in the last two years. So when a confident Cam rifled the winning touchdown to TE Greg Olsen with less than 2 minutes left, it marked a possible changing of the guard in the NFC. The preeminent power rushing defensive minded team that has been to the last two Super Bowls looked helpless as Carolina won a signature game.

nfl-iphone-wallpaper-2With Steve Smith having been in Baltimore for 2 seasons, DE Greg Hardy gone to Dallas, it’s Cam’s locker room and his team. The team has fed off his confidence and solid play. For the season he’s only completed 55.8% of his passes for 1,275 yards 9 touchdowns to 7 interceptions. However without Benjamin, who has done more with less?? With DeAngelo Williams gone he has pitched in with 245 yards and 4 rushing touchdowns. Thanks to wins over Tampa, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Seattle they have head to head tie breakers even if they slip to the wild card round.

However with a 6-0 record, Newton and the Panthers are eyeing a division title and would like to be home for the playoffs. There is a lot of football to be played but with a win tonight over Andrew Luck and the Colts, even Newton’s biggest detractors have to put him in the NFL MVP race.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

 

 

 

Jason Pierre Paul’s Hand

While Jason Pierre Paul was resting in the hospital, news of his right hand damaged in the fireworks explosion were slow to leak. There was mixed information up until Adam Schefter was able to illegally get a hold of JPP’s medical record stating his index finger had been amputated. Once that news went viral a ton of questions entered The Chancellor’s mind…

This is the right hand of JPP.

This is the right hand of JPP.

How can a defensive end lift weights with a damaged thumb and missing index finger to maintain his strength and heft?? How can a defender who needs his fingers to grab and pull on an offensive linemans jersey, arms, or hands be effective?? When the Giants sent him home without signing his franchise contract, The Chancellor thought his days as an NFL’er were over.  Now looking at the damage that was done to his right hand, this is definitely going to be an uphill battle.

 

The first true test is to see how sensitive the nerve endings are in his hand and if his pain threshold will be high enough.When in a pile will other players go after that hand in an attempt to slow him down??  Many questions remain and for a pass rusher coming off the right side… we will have to see how this goes. From the looks of it, The Chancellor doesn’t see a player returning close to form. He will have to club crack back blockers instead of a full hand to grab and swim. What happens if a running back is breaking to the outside where he has containment?? Will a swing with a club bring down a power runner?? He is going to have to put that hand in harm’s way and this won’t be an easy task.  Jason Pierre Paul….sigh….we’ll be watching.

SUPER BOWL XXV RUNNER UP 1990 BUFFALO BILLS

As the 90’s dawned we had a few teams that had been playoff staples during the 80’s and a few new teams coming of age. In the Buffalo Bills you had a team come of age as blue chip talent had been stockpiled in recent years. In the pre-free agent era you had to build a team through the draft. Just like the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys of the 1970’s, the Bills sought to construct a champion brick by brick.

sb xxv2Defensive End Bruce Smith and WR Andre Reed came aboard in 1985. Jim Kelly agreed to terms after the USFL dissolved in 1986. Linebackers Shane Conlan and Cornelius Bennett were added along with CB Nate Odomes joined ranks in ’87. Aggressive veteran SS  Leonard Smith came in with 2nd round RB Thurman Thomas in ’88 as the Bills made the playoffs for the 1st time in 7 years.

The ’88 season saw a 12-4 Bills team with the NFL’s #4 defense make it to the AFC Championship Game. Although they lost 21-10 to Cincinnati, they were definitely a team on the rise. Yet injuries and infighting nearly brought the team down in ’89 as they became known as the “Bickering Bills”. They only finished with a 9-7 record and lost 34-30 to Cleveland in an amazing divisional playoff game.

sb25gnts2However a light went on for the ultra conservative Bills offensively. In week 3 they fell behind big in Houston. Kelly brought the Bills back with a 5 TD performance, a 47-41 win. In his USFL days, Kelly ran a Run & Shoot with the Houston Gamblers and looked most comfortable playing this style with a No Huddle offense. They unveiled it late in the season and won the AFC East before falling to Cleveland.

Kelly threw for 405 yards and 4 TDs. Thomas had come of age in the playoff loss with a record 13 receptions for 150 yards and 2 TDs. It capped a breakout year that saw Thomas run for 1,244 yards and 6 TDs. In 1990, several vets were let go and Darryl Talley, Kelly, Smith, Reed, Thomas, Lofton, and Bennett would have to take on leadership roles for the departed DE Art Stills, NT Fred Smerlas, OT Joe Devlin, then RBs Robb Riddick and Larry Kinnebrew. Would their new “No Huddle” K-Gun keep scoring at will?? After a 13-3 record secured home field advantage:

Alas Scott Norwood’s field goal sailed wide right and the best team the AFC had in years fell 20-19. The only team to lose the NFL championship by 1 point. However the Bills were a young team in their prime and they would be back. They would go on to be one of the league’s most galvanized teams. The infighting of ’89 was in the distant past.

Head Coach Marv Levy, GM Bill Polian, QB Jim Kelly, RB Thurman Thomas, WR Andre Reed, WR James Lofton, and DE Bruce Smith all made the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Epilogue: When a long sought after quarterback finally joined the Bills in 1986, starved fans chanted for Jim Kelly to take the lowly Bills to the Super Bowl.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

SUPER BOWL XXV CHAMPION 1990 NEW YORK GIANTS

Super Bowl XXV: Giants 20 Bills 19…My Bills that is….sigh  OK here goes…be fair..not a fan…be fair…*gasp*  The Giants made it to Tampa on the heels of one of the greatest NFC Championships ever played in their 15-13 defeat of the two time champion San Francisco 49ers. The team the Giants were built to defeat.

sb25gntsWhat was beautiful was how the Giants and 49ers each steamrolled toward  the ’90 NFC title tilt like two tractor trailers headed for a head on collision. Each had won 2 playoff games against the other in head to head during the 1980’s. Yet the Giants had won the last two in 1985 and 1986.  The latter was a 49-3 destruction which took place in the ’86 divisional round. A game made famous when Joe Montana was knocked from the game with a severe concussion by Giant Jim Burt (from the[[_]]).

The Giants were built by the late GM George Young. Yet it was Bill Parcells and DC Bill Belichick who designed his defense to throw off the timing of the 49ers offense, mainly though disrupting the receivers by knocking them off their routes.

sb25gnts2Enter Mark Collins, who was drafted in 1986 from Cal State Fullerton. He was the best cornerback that covered Jerry Rice on a continual basis.  Bumping him at the line of scrimmage and getting a good re-route that makes the cover 2 defense go…funnel the receivers in to the linebackers and safeties.  This team had some big safeties in Myron Guyton and Greg Jackson….couple these guys with the aging yet effective Everson Walls and this was a solid secondary.

Did I forget the linebackers off this team? Linebacker and New York Giants just go hand in hand don’t they?  Pepper Johnson (5 rings), Gary Reasons, Carl Banks, and Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor were stout.  Stopped the run…rushed the passer and for one game against the 49ers in the NFC Championship in 1990 they flip flopped Lawrence and Carl Banks so that Taylor was rushing on Steve Wallace and had Leonard Marshall work against Bubba Paris…uh…we’ll get to that.  Then you had the front line in a 3-4 that was just beefy in Erik Howard (who replaced the departed Burt) Eric Dorsey, and future Hall of Famer Leonard Marshall.  Immovable on the point and still could collapse the pocket.

What’s funny is that the 49ers in the ’89 playoffs, were on their way to repeat as champions and they caught a huge break.  While they were beating Minnesota, the Giants were locked in a dogfight with the L.A. Rams and were tied at 13 in overtime.  First, the Giants were flagged on a very questionable pass interference by Sheldon White that moved the Rams into field goal range.

The next play Mark Collins breaks his ankle and the Rams rushed to the line of scrimmage and sent Flipper Anderson (Collins was covering) on a go route to end the game 19-13. The Giants would have stopped that 89 ‘Niner team.  Of course friends wouldn’t listen and everyone was talking 3 peat. I told everyone the Niners aren’t built to handle the Giants and each team came in on a mission steamrolling to 10-0 start to the season, the both of them.  Met on a Monday night each 10-1 and proceeded to beat the hell out of each other in a defensive struggle so good it was artistic.  The Niners won 7-3 but could they win the rubber match??

Yes Everson Walls got to celebrate a big win in Candlestick Park… this was only the 2nd road team to win the NFC Championship in 11 years dating back to 1980. OJ Anderson, from The [[_]], was a workhorse and won Super Bowl MVP honors.

I didn’t think they could bounce back from such a dogfight within one week yet they did and held down MY BILLS with a power running game and kept the ball for 40 minutes.  It’s still painful to think of the kick Norwood missed..and many folks say that the 86 Giants were better…but look at the two teams they had to beat to get this ring: The almost 3-peat 2 time Super Bowl champion 49ers and a juggernaut Buffalo Bills team that won the AFC Championship 51-3, were up 41-3 at the half and the starters were on the bench before the 4th quarter. San Fran played in the 2 Super Bowls previous and Buffalo would play in the next 3.

The '90 Giants just had their 25 year reunion.

The ’90 Giants just had their 25 year reunion. Great team… Great men

That is much stronger than defeating a wildcard 10-6 Redskin team in the ’86 NFC Title and Denver in XXI. In fact the ’90 run they had to beat 1 Hall of Fame Coach in Marv Levy and 9 Hall of Fame players on the 49ers and Bills. The 2 championships in ’86 had just Joe Gibbs and 3 Hall of Famers on the Redskins and Bronco squads.

I’d have to put this 90 team over the 86 team because of the strength of opponent to achieve both NFC and Super Bowl titles were stronger…that’s my take…what do you think??

Lost NFL Etiquette: Player Curtain Calls

As the NFL is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Super Bowl this year it causes you to look back at the NFL of yore. Many items changed due to knee jerk reactions instead of thinking the entire item through. One lost art is the player introductions before the Super Bowl. That moment of anticipation as you looked into players eyes as they came out before the big game. The intensity, inner desire, fear, and all the emotions you wanted to feel coming from that player at the moment of truth. Much like the camera that zooms in on boxers staring each other down when the referee gives the instructions.

John Riggins curtain call after the '82 playoff win over Minnesota.

John Riggins curtain call after the ’82 playoff win over Minnesota.

Another lost art is the curtain call for a quarterback who has just become league champion or a player after a great performance. Let the player come off the field alone to the applause of the crowd. This one is on the coaches.

I salute John Harbaugh for giving Ray Lewis his curtain call, platooning him for the Ravens’ last offensive play in the 2012 Wild Card win over Indy. The PSI Net crowd went nuts when he trotted on the field and were even louder after the kneel down and Lewis broke into his signature dance. How much did that emotional moment have to do with the Ravens winning Super Bowl XLVII 4 weeks later??

One of the greatest moments in NFL history happened in a 1982 NFC playoff as the Washington Redskins were putting the finishing touches on a 21- win over the Minnesota Vikings.

This curtain call along with John Riggins subsequent bow and the frenzied reaction by the RFK crowd propelled them through Dallas to Super Bowl XVII. The “We want Dallas!! We want Dallas!!” chant went on for the better part of 15 minutes. You just heard Russ Grimm talk about the moment being ‘electric’ and “brings the hair up.” That emotion and confidence set the tone for the NFC Championship to come for a town and a team. The next day Dexter Manley told the media he hated Dallas and the madness didn’t stop until an argument broke out in the House of Representatives the following Friday.

When it comes to great performances, coaches need to be aware of the moment and set it up for the player to hear the fans appreciation at the end of the game. Every moment may not be as catalytic as these moments were but these strengthen the bond between player, team, and fan. Today’s coaches shouldn’t lose sight of this.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

Chip Kelly Must Go!!

When chronicling the NFL there is always a new genius coach coming in to revolutionize the game of football. The game of pro football has been around and this is the 96th year. Everything the game is down to it’s essence has been done already. The only approach you can bring to the game at this point are gimmicks. In this league gimmicks are exposed for not being complete systems. Enter Chip Kelly.

Chip Kelly is even losing the battle for race relations.

Chip Kelly is even losing the battle for race relations.

Remember all that talk of “The Ole’ Ball Coach” when the Washington Redskins hired Steve Spurrier back in 2000?? Then just as now The Chancellor knew these would be hires that would backfire. This is a league for grown men and a coach has to be able to relate and motivate his charges. Autocrats coming from the collegiate ranks can lord over their players on scholarship with the threat of revoking it if they get out of line.

With the dismissal of WR DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Macklin, and RB LeSean McCoy, Kelly gutted the playmakers from his offense. Accusations flew that Kelly had moved on from all the outspoken black players in his locker room. When CB Cary Williams spoke out about the team playing on ‘tired legs’ from being warn out, he became a casualty when he was released in March. Even two of his coaches abandoned ship and maybe not for greener pastures. CB Coach Todd Lyght, who is black, left for the same position at Vanderbilt University. That is not a top program and his alma mater is Notre Dame… yet I digress

nfl-iphone-wallpaper-2Before we get into that side of things, lets remember this is an offensive genius. He traded away starting QB Nick Foles for the often injured Sam Bradford and released Pro Bowl G Evan Mathis. Why is this being brought up?? Did you know the Eagles are 29th in total offense after 4 weeks?? Did you know the Eagles are 27th passing the football?? After signing last year’s NFL rushing champion DeMarco Murray, did you know the Eagles are 29th  rushing the football?? By the way… they are 31st in yards per rush also with a paltry 3.1 yards per attempt.

This is what happens when you become so arrogant you believe your system will be successful no matter who you have playing it. While running the uptempo style on offense he has overexposed his defense. They have been on the field for 290 plays in 4 games, 80 against the Redskins last week. Washington drove over 90 yards to score the go ahead touchdown on an exhausted defense. The Eagle defense is on pace to be on the field for 1160 plays. Almost 200 more than the what the league average is. What was that Cary Williams said about playing on tired legs.  Then you draft often injured LB Kiko Alonso into this??

Then you have the ultimate gaffe in signing CB Byron Maxwell to a huge contract and asking him to play man. Everyone knows the Seattle Seahawks are basically a Cover 3 football team. Another misguided decision. So now you leave this guy out long enough to get exposed, bring in Alonso who has missed time already, and your defense is on pace to play 19 games worth of plays in a 16 game season. Hmmmm??

Which should be fired first?? Chip Kelly the coach or Chip Kelly the GM?? He’s been so unsuccessful Owner Jeffrey Lurie should fire him twice. One week fire him as GM and the next week as coach. Folks its that bad in Philadelphia. Kelly shouldn’t last the season. There will be another mutiny and Kelly will go to jettison the player only to realize he has none left. Darren Sproles is all he has as DeMarco Murray doesn’t fit his system. The team needs to rebuild from the ground up. May as well start with the genius coach.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

The Soul Of The Game: Willie Davis

Hall of Fame President David Baker presenting Jim Taylor and Willie Davis new PFHofF rings.

Hall of Fame President David Baker presenting Jim Taylor and Willie Davis new PFHofF rings.

One of the truly great moments in recent years have been the Hall of Fame rings given to the new inductees. David Baker, who is the President of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, has been presenting rings to those previously enshrined in tributes at early season games. Back in September Willie Davis along with Jim Taylor received new rings from the Hall of Fame.

However the television execs only allow us glimpses of these presentations instead of hearing Mr.Baker’s presentation or the players themselves. We’re truly missing the opportunity to share the history of the game to a new generation.

Willie Davis with his Hall of Fame presenter... the legendary late Grambling Head Coach Eddie Robinson.

Willie Davis with his Hall of Fame presenter… the legendary late Grambling Head Coach Eddie Robinson.

Hopefully some kid asked his Father, Uncle, or Grandfather who Willie Davis was. A youngster could learn how Davis was one of the best Defensive Ends in pro football history. A living legend dating back to the legendary Green Bay Packer teams of the 1960’s.

Although fellow Hall of Famers Ray Nitschke, Willie Wood, and Dave Robinson were on that team, it was Davis who made the biggest defensive plays during their dynasty. Remember the “million dollar fumble?” Well that is just one… take a look

Willie Davis was definitely A Soul of the Game defender who showed up in big games. An interesting aspect to Davis’ career was the fact he was the Defensive End to the strong side of the offense. He was only 240 lbs yet took on the double team of the Tackle and Tight End and had to play the run as well as the pass. Yet you saw he recorded sacks in the 1965 NFL Championship as well as Super Bowls I & II. Most of the time you think of light pass rushing ends they’re predominant weak side rushers. Not Mr. Davis.

Vince Lombardi stealing Davis from Paul Brown’s Cleveland team could have been the difference between the Packers ruling the 60’s instead of the Browns.

We may not have been able to hear from him during that Monday Night telecast but we could at least bring you his retirement speech from 1969.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

2015 Lessons Through Week 4: Buffalo Bills

With only one of its teams taking the field on this continent in week 4, the Buffalo Bills had the perfect opportunity to continue their  defensive success. After a big 41-14 win over Miami, they welcomed the Giants with the league’s 21st ranked offense. Eli Manning and the Giants hadn’t sustained offensive continuity the first 3 weeks. However with 17 penalties committed, the Bills played undisciplined allowing the Giants to sustain drives in a 24-10 loss.

bills v giantsIn the NFL there are games where a team can just come out flat. The Bills and QB Tyrod Taylor fell prey to that yesterday. This is a young team that needs to learn to bring it all four quarters no matter the competition. Also what has happened to the defense?? Last year the Bills were the NFL’s 4th best unit yet currently ranked 22nd and giving up 23 points per game. Sure the figures are distorted thanks to the 40 points and 507 yards the Patriots put up in week 2. Yet what did the Giants score in Sunday’s tilt? Twenty four points so the Bills have to shore up their defense and CB Leodis McKelvin will be available in 3 weeks to help.

The upside is the Bills have yet to hit their stride offensively. LeSean McCoy hasn’t been healthy enough to play a full game at any point in this season. He missed Sunday’s game along with WR Sammy Watkins. Once established they can sneak Percy Harvin in the mix better where now defenses know to key on him when he’s in the game.

Bills v Giants

One issue of concern is the propensity of Tyrod Taylor to scramble back and then brake containment rather than climb the pocket. That added 10 yards increases the recovery time of the defense to react to his throws and minimizes his running effectiveness. When the rush is coming and he steps up in the pocket, he’s able to dash for a quick 5 to 7 yard gain if the play breaks down. He did so Sunday on a 32 yard TD scramble that was called back but that is where he can add to the structure of the offense. Buffalo just has some growing up to do.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

 

2015 Lessons Through Week 3: AFC North

Every NFL season takes on its own unique shape. With so many moving parts between player movement, player maturation & coaching changes, the landscape doesn’t change every year..it changes every week. By the time we sprinkle injuries in this cauldron it’s nearly impossible to forecast. This is what makes NFL football great.

Bell and Williams will power the Steelers in 2015.

Bell and Williams will power the Steelers in 2015.

Take the Pittsburgh Steelers for instance. Coming into the season they had to figure how to get through the first few games while LeVeon Bell served a 2 game suspension. With a defense being rebuilt they would have to lean on one of the NFL’s best offenses for success in 2015. Insurance policies were signed in former Carolina RB DeAngelo Williams and former Falcon / Eagle QB in Michael Vick. Williams paid off handsomely with 206 yards rushing and 3 TDs, which is good enough for 6th in the league going into week 4. Now they have a 1-2 punch that is second to none with Bell’s return.

Yet Bell’s first game back against the Rams in week 3 saw Ben Roethlisberger go down with a knee sprain. Vick is the next man up and has to produce in the 4 weeks Big Ben is expected to be gone. Vick can’t just hold the fort down in Ben’s absence. The Steelers, with all their offensive weaponry, rank 5th offensively and 14th defensively. If this insurance policy doesn’t pay off and the Steelers find themselves punting more and come back to the pack, they will  expose their defense. Tomlin’s defense needs to grow up in a hurry. Michael Vick your mission, should you choose to accept it…

Time to play Manziel.

Time to play Manziel.

In Cleveland its as if Head Coach Mike Pettine is trying hard to look for work next year. The upside to Josh McCown is he is a journeyman quarterback that will minimize mistakes. The downside is he is not a playmaker that can win you games. Just as he did with his game ending interception to Charles Woodson in their 27-20 loss to Oakland last week.

However a closer look at the numbers and Johnny Manziel has a 99.7 passer rating to MCown’s 83.2. Did you know through 3 games of this season Manziel has 3 touchdown passes of 50 yards where the rest of the NFL has 6?? That is called playmaking and is the difference between the Browns being 1-2 v. 0-3. To bookend Manziel’s week 2 heroics you have the Woodson interception and before that, the fumble at the goal line when McCown got himself knocked out against the Jets. Come on son…

It’s time to play Manziel and see what you have. If the Browns can’t turn it around they could be looking for a new Head Coach and quarterback next season. Like it or not Mike Pettine, your job’s future lies in the success of this 2015 campaign. Especially in a down year for the division, better to tie it to a playmaker like Manziel than a losing game manager like McCown.

bengals tComing in with the NFL’s 2nd best offense and 12th ranked defense is the 3-0 Cincinnati Bengals. The conversation for the Bengals is the same as the last few years. They beat the teams they should beat and come up empty against the best the AFC has to offer. The combined record of the Raiders, Chargers, and Ravens was 3-6 before Thursday Night’s game. We’ll talk about this team in 3 weeks when they host Seattle then go on the road to Buffalo. They come through that 2-0 we have something to talk about.

The Baltimore Ravens won last night to earn their first win of the season. However it isn’t a season saving victory as many of the t.v. pundits would have you believe. The Pittsburgh Steelers lost that game last night due to terrible kicking with Josh Scobee and even worse play calling late in the 4th quarter. Justin Forsett broke out with 150 yards rushing but the Steelers have given up 373 yards on the ground in the last 3 weeks. This team has middle of the road rankings offensively and defensively and new playmakers have to emerge on the defensive side of the ball.

Thanks goodness they get to play against Cleveland next week, especially if Pettine stays the course to get fired starting McCown. After that they go on the road to San Francisco and Arizona. The 49ers aren’t as strong as they once were for certain.  However neither were the Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos as the Ravens started 0-2 on the road traveling west. These next few weeks will definitely tell the tale.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

Hispanic Heritage Month: Joe Kapp

With it being Hispanic Heritage Month, I have always found it hard to believe how Joe Kapp seems to be forgotten among Hispanic football fans. Not one time has The Chancellor met a hispanic Minnesota Viking fan or a Viking fan because of Joe Kapp. In a historic sense, Tom Flores and Jim Plunkett’s exploits are remembered more fondly and that is sad for Kapp’s contributions were just as great.

Joe Knapp Minnesota Vikings Quarterback July 20, 1970 X 15038 credit: Heinz Kluetmeier - contract

Joe Knapp Minnesota Vikings Quarterback
July 20, 1970
X 15038
credit: Heinz Kluetmeier – contract

Flores was the first QB of Mexican descent that won a Super Bowl. Yet he did so as the backup to Len Dawson on the Super Bowl IV champion Kansas City Chiefs. The first Mexican-American quarterback who led his team to the Super Bowl as a starting quarterback was Kapp who was across the field for the Minnesota Vikings.

Although he spent the bulk of his career in the CFL, Bud Grant brought him down to play for him in 1967. He had won several Grey Cups and was known for being a fiery leader. That and the fact he threw some of the ugliest wobbly passes from not using the football’s laces.

In 1968 Kapp led the Vikings to the first playoff game in the franchise’s history. However they lost to the Baltimore Colts 24-14. The Colts set the NFL record that year only allowing 144 points and were lauded as the best in history. Only a loss in Super Bowl III diminished their impact. They had defeated Joe Kapp….right?

In 1969 the Vikings lost the first game of the season 24-23 to the New York Giants. Kapp didn’t start or play in that game. However he was available for the week 2 rematch with Baltimore.

The NFL record for most touchdown passes in a game has Kapp’s name on it with 7. It would take rule changes and another 44 years before Payton Manning tied this record in 2013. The Colts loss to Joe Namath’s Jets in Super Bowl III strained Don Shula’s relationship with owner Carroll Rosenbloom, this 52-14 loss broke it. The next season he would be gone to Miami where he became the NFL’s winningest coach. Joe Kapp had a hand in that.

Starting with the week 2 win over Baltimore, Kapp led the Vikings to 12 straight wins. The longest win streak in the NFL in 35 years. Keep in mind the NFL was only in its 50th season. No quarterback would win 12 straight regular season starts in the same season until Tom Brady in 2003, some 34 years later. Finishing with a 12-2 record the Vikings went on to Super Bowl IV where they lost to the Kansas City Chiefs 23-7.

He left the Vikings after a contract dispute and joined the New England Patriots where he only played the 1970 season. Was he not afforded the respect of prominent white quarterbacks of the time?? Why wouldn’t they sign him?? The 1969 Vikings broke the NFL’s defensive scoring record allowing only 133 points on their way to Super Bowl IV. If Kapp stayed to lead the offense would they have made it to Super Bowl V?? Last year I did a series on the best ever defenses, where it was discovered the ’70 Vikings gave up the fewest yards per game for every defense since. Yes they would have…

  • 1970 Minnesota Vikings – #1 overall / 200.2 yds all. / 143 points given up / 28 int

Joe Kapp only played 5 seasons in the NFL but he was a trailblazer. Tom Flores was the first Mexican American starting QB with the AFL’s Oakland Raiders and was a Kansas City Chief across the field in Super Bowl IV.  Yet Kapp played with distinction and set several records on his way there. He’s a cult hero who should be celebrated for his contributions to the game. He led his teams to championship games at Cal, the CFL, and the NFL. The very definition of a champion. To complete this circle for Hispanic Heritage Month… Who was the quarterback drafted #1 by the New England Patriots in 1971 after Joe Kapp?? Some guy named Jim Plunkett…

One day I hope to walk by and see a Hispanic kid with a Vikings jersey with the number 11 on it. That would be the coolest thing. Don’t forget Joe Kapp.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

2015 AFC Predictions

Before we get into the heart of this conversation, The Chancellor of Football is going to take you back to a simpler time. The year was 1999 and the St Louis Rams were gearing to take on the NFC West bully on the block San Francisco 49ers. The Rams won the 1st game of the 1990’s between the two then lost the next 17 straight. They were the laughingstock of the league and beating the Bengals, to go 3-0 broke the tie between St Louis and Cincy as to which team had the most losses in the decade.

For the Rams to be taken seriously, they had to beat their long time division bully. A young Chancellor of Football explained to my friend Allan Kennedy – if the Rams can win this game they will make the playoffs. If they beat them handily they can make it to the Super Bowl. He looked at me as though I was crazy. When a team builds and the animosity permeates the entire roster, when its good enough, it goes looking for that bully. Do you realize with a win today Buffalo will have beaten the two teams that faced off in last year’s AFC Championship Game??

buffalo bills2015 AFC East Champions: Buffalo Bills

2015 AFC North Champion: Cincinnati Bengals

2015 AFC South Champion: Indianapolis Colts

2015 AFC West Champion: San Diego Chargers

Wildcards: New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers

AFC Champion: Buffalo Bills

This is what sits before the Buffalo Bills today as they take on their nemesis in the New England Patriots. The confidence gained from knocking down a conference heavy is what cements a team on the rise. In 1980 the Bills beat the Dolphins for the first time after losing all 20 games to them in the 1970’s. They made the playoffs andnearly the AFC Championship Game.

The Indianapolis Colts will win the South but Andre Johnson looks extremely slow in a Colts uniform. They need to establish Frank Gore and gain some physicality on the offensive side of the ball. Luck is a growing quarterback but struggles against Defensive Coordinators that give different looks. Do they have enough defense to get to Super Bowl L?

Phillip Rivers will have a great 2015.

Phillip Rivers will have a great 2015.

The team that is growing steadily is the San Diego Chargers under Mike McCoy.  Phillip Rivers and his Charger teammates in the past have played up and down to their competition. This is the year they break the hex the Denver Broncos have over them and win the division. Last year Rivers threw for 4,286 yards 31 touchdowns and just 18 interceptions. Once they can get rookie Melvin Gordon running the football and Antonio Gates back from suspension, this team could be 3-1.

They fielded the NFL’s 9th best defense and added Jacoby Jones to bolster their return game. Their solid at every position on their roster now the young talent needs to mature and Rivers can’t have down games. He’s 33 now and a veteran that should put it all together this season.

The AFC is wide open this year and the Steelers and Patriots have serious deficiencies on defense. These units will grow and mature but not in time to to serious damage this season. Malcolm Butler is a Super Bowl hero but he got torched by Brown of the Steelers in week 1. If corners Brandon Browner and Darrelle Revis gave the Pats a championship pedigree defense, then losing them reduces them to the latter half of the league.

Taylor is prepared to lead the Bills into the playoffs.

Taylor is prepared to lead the Bills into the playoffs.

Which brings us back to the Bills who return the 4th best defense in football. Rex Ryan the season before had the 6th best defense when he ran the New York Jets and the Bills have better personnel. Now that DT Marcell Dareus is back to join Mario Williams this team can be lethal if they can play with a lead. They will finish as the #1 defense and have a stable of backs. LeSean McCoy and Percy Harvin are the wildcards to keep Tyrod Taylor from feeling like he has to make all the plays. Rex will play him like the AFC version of Russell Wilson. If you get through the first two reads and aren’t comfortable, take off for 5 yards.

Ryan used the formula of power running, solid defense, and a quarterback minimizing turnovers and made it to back to back AFC Championship Games in 2009 and 2010. That was with a rookie in Mark Sanchez at quarterback. Tyrod Taylor has a Super Bowl ring from his days in Baltimore as he learned the NFL going against the Ravens defense in practice. he is not overwhelmed and will do fine.

Tyrod Taylor celebrating at the end of Super Bowl XlVII.

Tyrod Taylor celebrating at the end of Super Bowl XLVII.

As for the intro?? The St Louis Rams blew out the San Francisco 49ers in that 1999 match-up 42-20, went on to sweep them for the season and won Super Bowl XXXIV. Buffalo will win handily today over New England.

If they can get to Super Bowl L as The Chancellor of Football thinks…. they’ll run right into a former Buffalo Bill playing running back for the NFC Champion.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

2015 NFC South Predictions

When the Carolina Panthers lost wideout Kelvin Benjamin for the season, everything changed for Carolina Panther QB Cam Newton. Instead of coming into a second season with Benjamin and fellow 1,000 yard receiver in Greg Olsen, the offense regresses with Ted Ginn Jr becoming a starter. Ginn doesn’t fight for the football and hears footsteps on in routes. This further stunts Newton’s growth as he will have to run for his life again with a pedestrian receiving corps.

Falcons-590x9002015 NFC South

  1. Atlanta Falcons 10-6 *
  2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 9-7
  3. Carolina Panthers 7-9
  4. New Orleans Saints 6-10

The heat is on for Jameis Winston especially after that first game performance losing 42-14. He was badly outplayed by Marcus Mariota and his head is definitely out of the clouds now. Yet he can turn and give the ball to the shifty Doug Martin and settle into a balanced offense.

Martin looks set to have a good 2015.

Martin looks set to have a good 2015.

Tampa has weapons in WR Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson also. Two big physical receivers that will collect all of the intermediate passes if Winston is inaccurate. The biggest lesson Tampa should have learned is to not give Winston too much of the playbook yet. Lean on the running game and expand the sophistication of the passing game as the game and season wear on. Doug Martin had a great preseason and needs to be reestablished.

New Falcon Head Coach Dan Quinn will get more out of the defense than former coach Mike Smith. Offensively this team has had the firepower to make a Super Bowl run yet came up short on the other side of the ball. Matt Ryan is in his prime and needs to mature fully as a quarterback. What is keeping him from being great are his 3rd quarter flame outs that necessitate 4th quarter heroics. Great quarterbacks keep the pressure on the opponent to keep scoring with them. The Falcons rarely get up 2 to 3 scores on opponents.  So now its up to Quinn’s defense to make up the difference.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

 

 

 

2015 NFC East Predictions

One of the most perplexing aspect of picking the NFC East is what is going on with Jason Pierre Paul’s hand?? How damaged is it?? Is he really missing his thumb?? Today he showed up to the facilities and is about to sign his contract yet we haven’t been shown what his hand looks like. As the Giants “alpha dog” on defense, without him being what he had been could have a ripple effect on the Giants as a whole.

dez2015 NFC East

  1. Dallas Cowboys 9-7 *
  2. Philadelphia Eagles 8-8
  3. New York Giants 7-9
  4. Washington Redskins 4-12

The Dallas Cowboys will come down a peg now that they are running by committee. This is the first time since 1946 when the NFL’s leading rusher switched teams the following year. Here at Taylor Blitz Times we made mention of “The Great Wall II” and an offensive line is great for an era. We stand by that but we have to see how the often injured Darren McFadden and Joseph Randle will perform.

Cowboys brass has to have some reservations or they wouldn’t have traded for Christine Michael from Seattle. The penchant is there to revert back to the pass happy era we saw earlier in Tony Romo’s career. At least in a few games this can happen. The defense begins the season with Rolando McClain, Kevin Hardy and Orlando Scandrick beginning the season suspended and on the reserved injured list doesn’t bode well. Dallas will have a sloppy start to this season as they try to establish their running game and find defensive continuity.

.

Sanchez will have to play for Bradford several times this season.

Interestingly the Eagles are coming into 2015 with something old and something new. The old?? Chip Kelly jettisoning off top shelf talent. Gone is RB LeSean McCoy to Buffalo and WR Jeremy Macklin to the Chiefs. The something new is swapping QBs Nick Foles for Sam Bradford from the Rams.

The often injured Bradford won’t remain on his feet for the entire season. We saw the hit Terrell Suggs put on Bradford in the pre-season. Chip Kelly’s offense will expose Bradford too additional hits and Sanchez will have to take his place several times this season. This kills offensive continuity and we know Kelly’s too arrogant to change his play calling.

Not only will the Eagles wear down but the Giants will remain too inconsistent to take the division. Eli Manning just inked a new contact extension and will play loose. However Victor Cruz is still rounding back into game shape and Odell Beckham is getting the business from defenders set to get after him in his sophomore season.

If Jason Pierre-Paul had showed up with 10 fingers the Giants win the division. With his being sent home without signing his contract something is definitely up. And without an index finger he’s rendered one of his hands to be useless to pull on jerseys in pass rush hand fighting techniques. Pierre-Paul won’t be the same player and the defense will take a big step back without it’s dominant pass rusher. Remember he was their franchise player… not any more.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

2015 NFC North Predictions

Whenever I think of the NFC North, I still envision the old black and blue division which was the NFC Central. The new division has given way to the new NFL and the heavy emphasis on passing.  With the reigning NFL MVP in Aaron Rodgers averaging 41 TDs thrown over his last 3 complete seasons, you either take to the air or find a way to ground Green Bay. Over the last decade, this division has been the Packers to win or lose. However a small storm is blowing in from the northwest

minnesota-vikings-jerseys-uniforms-unveiled-22015 NFC North

  1. Minnesota Vikings 11-5 *
  2. Detroit Lions 11-5
  3. Green Bay Packers 8-8
  4. Chicago Bears 4-12

Armed with the return of the league’s best back in Adrian Peterson and a growing young QB in Teddy Bridgewater, the Vikings are poised to steal the division. Head Coach Mike Zimmer is a defensive wiz whose pass defense ranked 7th in the NFL. Peterson controlling the clock is the recipe needed to ground the Packers and Lions and vault Minnesota to the top of the division.

Even before the injury to wideout Jordy Nelson, it was clear the Packers needed to score to cover defensive deficiencies. After defections in LBs AJ Hawk, Brad Jones and reserve/suspended listing of DEs Letroy Guion and Datone Jones to start the season, Green Bay’s defense has yet to find itself. The Eagles thoroughly undressed Dom Caper’s defense in a 39-26 home loss in the 3rd preseason game. It looks like a season long odyssey as Rodgers will have to outscore opponents all year.

Stafford &Megatron

Stafford &Megatron

Returning the league’s second best defense is the Detroit Lions. Gone is Ndamukong Suh who has been replaced by former Baltimore Raven Haloti Ngata to anchor the front 7. The pass rush looked more than formidable as they knocked RGIII from the starting lineup in the most physical preseason game of 2015 vs the Redskins. Matthew Stafford was one blown call away from his 1st playoff win in Dallas.  the Lions will make a return trip in 2015.

Stafford has a new weapon in rookie Ameer Abdullah out of the backfield. His explosive quickness on 3rd downs will move the chains. Where “Megatron” Johnson is the big offensive weapon, it’s Golden Tate that brought a gritty attitude to a finesse offense. The player that would make the tough block to spring a teammate or fight through Linebackers to get first downs.Tate is the catalyst to catapult the Lions back to the playoffs in the return of The Black and Blue Division.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

 

2015 NFC West Predictions

The 2015 NFL season is upon us! The first thing we have to do is get to the season after a tumultuous offseason for what had been the best division in football.  The Seahawks were reeling from a shocking Super Bowl defeat when holdouts and contracts threatened team chemistry. The St Louis Rams traded often injured Sam Bradford for Nick Foles at QB. However the story of the division was the devastating fallout from retirements, suspensions, and player defections after Jim Harbaugh’s dismissal. Easily the worst off-season for one team in NFL history.

Seattle Seahawks alternate logo.

Seattle Seahawks alternate logo.

2015 NFC West

1. Seattle Seahawks 13-3 **

2. St Louis Rams 10-6

3. Arizona Cardinals 7-9

4. San Francisco 49ers 6-10

After spending time in the spring with Kurt Warner, it doesn’t seem as if Colin Kaepernick’s mechanics have changed that much. He is still holding on to the football and taking to long to get through his progressions. Now he has to find chemistry with new receiver Torrey Smith with Michael Crabtree’s defection to Oakland. After the worst off-season in NFL history, this was the least of their worries.

Bowman is back and his knee looked good in the preseason.

Bowman is back and his knee looked good in the preseason.

Now another off-field issue could cause a suspension for LB Ahmad Brooks. Along with Aldon Smith’s latest transgression, the notable defenders that didn’t leave or retire wont be on the field much of the season. Navorrro Bowman is back to provide toughness and leadership. It will be a season of growing pains as the 49ers need new leaders to emerge with the loss of Justin Smith and Patrick Willis.

Carson Palmer has come back healthy as has scatback Andre Ellington. As was the case last year, they still can’t run the football. The Cardinals signed former Titan RB Chris Johnson to bolster their anemic running game. We have yet to see much from rookie runner David Johnson, and the offensive line is having problems. Free agent signee G Mike Iupati could be gone until week 7 due to injury. RT Bobbie Massey faces suspension after a DUI arrest and LT Jared Veldheer was terrorized by the Raiders Kahlil Mack in the 3rd preseason game. Mack looked like the second coming of the late Derrick Thomas, but Veldheer has to be able to hold his own.

Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu lead a reamped defense. How will they fare without DC Todd Bowles?

Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu lead a reamped defense. How will they fare without DC Todd Bowles?

An offensive line needs cohesion and missing two of the five starters projected will set back an offense that already can’t run. Now this puts more onus on the Cardinal’s passing attack. Palmer, who is returning from a knee reconstruction, has to go to work behind this patchwork line?? This is not a recipe for returning to the playoffs.

In St. Louis, not only did Jeff Fisher rid the Rams of the team’s former face in Sam Bradford, but he may have forged their new identity in drafting RB Todd Gurley. At 6’1 and 231 lbs. the team has a game controlling back whose been brought along slowly this summer. Fisher has already gone on record saying he would be better than Eddie George.  You remember George was the power source for Tennessee’s offense during Fisher’s tenure there.

Now Tre Mason can be used as the change of pace, 3rd down back type, he’s more suited for. After being pounded by Gurley, defenders are going to hate Mason darting in and out of holes when they’re exhausted. Especially if they interchange both backs from the same formations. New quarterback Nick Foles should have a great year in his new surroundings. He will be able to ease into his passing rhythm as this team will not fall behind in many games.

Alec Ogletree will be a Pro Bowl performer in 2015

Alec Ogletree will be a Pro Bowl performer in 2015

With DE Robert Quinn, DT Aaron Donald, and a healthy Chris Long, this defensive line will be dangerous playing with leads. Although many pundits have lauded the play of Linebacker James Laurinitis, it will be Alec Ogletree who will emerge as the new NFC super backer. Last year he forced 4 fumbles, gathered 2 interceptions to go with his 110 combined tackles and is a favorite for Taylor Blitz Times NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

The Rams will make the playoffs this year as a wildcard.

Yet still on top of the division and the NFC for that matter are the Seattle Seahawks. The team is being chipped away as players like Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner are being rewarded with lucrative deals. SS Kam Chancellor is holding out and could affect the play of the defense at the start of the season. With Marshawn Lynch back to punish defenses it will mask early offensive line struggles. In the preseason teams didn’t honor the read option and just teed off on Wilson. That won’t happen with Lynch on the field. Now we add in the intermediate play of new TE Jimmy Graham and you see why they are the odds on favorite to make a 3rd straight trip to the Super Bowl.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

 

The Soul Of The Game: Jack Lambert

In the history of pro football no position calls for hitting like Middle Linebacker. Whether facing the line of scrimmage and scraping to meet a runner, taking then shedding the Center, or defeating a Fullback. Jack Lambert of the Pittsburgh Steelers was a different breed drafted in 1974 to patrol in a different game. Against the run nothing had changed but against the pass, the NFL had just narrowed the hash marks necessitating the need for MLB’s to cover more space against the pass.

Lambert swallowing Lydell Mitchell in the '76 playoffs.

Lambert swallowing Lydell Mitchell in the ’76 playoffs.

Backing behind the Steel Curtain allowed Lambert to “clean-up” runners held up at the line of scrimmage. He was an aggressive tackler and a ferocious hitter. In what has blasphemously become known as the “Tampa 2 Defense” is nothing but what the Steelers did with Lambert dropping him deep between 2 safeties. This caused many downfield collisions.

Lambert’s aggressive playing style meshed with the front four to anchor one of the best defenses in NFL history. Although there wee other great players, Lambert tied it all together patrolling the middle.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

 

Charles Haley Makes The Pro Football Hall of Fame

The Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2015 is one where players had to wait a good while before being enshrined. Officially the enshrinement ceremony takes place on Saturday, however Charles Haley and his class mates received their “Gold Jackets” in a gala event Thursday night.

Charles Haley receives Hall of Fame gold jacket from Eddie DeBartolo

For years there had been a great debate concerning Haley’s worthy of Hall of Fame consideration. His contributions to the game have more to do with being one of the driving forces in two of the NFL’s modern dynasties. In winning 5 Super Bowl rings Haley did more than just show up. He recorded sacks in 4 of those games providing the turning point in Super Bowl XXVII and solidifying the Cowboys momentum in Super Bowl XXVIII with a huge 3rd quarter sack of Jim Kelly.

You’d be surprised how many defensive stalwarts whiffed on the biggest stage. Lawrence Taylor won two Super Bowls and never recorded a sack in either game.  The great Bruce Smith played in 4 Super Bowls and only recorded a sack in the first he played in, XXV. Haley had big momentum swing sacks that turned games in his team’s favor.

Over the course of his career, Haley had 100 sacks and 26 forced fumbles with his best season coming in 1990. His 16 sacks set the tone for a 49er team going for the 3-peat and the offense struggled during the season. In the ’90 NFC Divisional Playoff against Washington, the exclamation point had Haley slam into Mark Rypien just as he threw. The ball popped up and NT Michael Carter snared it and rumbled 61 yards for the touchdown. They won 28-10 and were hosting the New York Giants in the NFC Championship the following week. Haley played well in the 15-13 loss to the Giants recording a sack but his career took a turn dealing with the break-up of that team in the off-season.

In this ’99 interview with the late Steve Sabol you get to understand Haley and his personality best. He was one of the great players on his team but he did just as much to keep those teams loose going into high stakes games. You can’t discount that fact. So it will be interesting to hear his induction speech and which former teammates come to represent him. I hope to see a large contingent for him Saturday. Charles Haley take a bow… you deserve it and soak in induction weekend.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

Fritz Shurmur’s Eagle Defense: The Birthplace of the Zone Blitz

NFL Guru: Defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur

The NFL has had several geniuses when it comes to coaches. Yet when it comes to coordinators many have not received their due nor have any made the Pro Football Hall of Fame based on their contributions. One such coach that did receive Hall of Fame consideration was Dick LeBeau (enshrined in 2011 as a player), who as a long time defensive coordinator has been credited (with Dom Capers) for creating the zone blitz in the modern NFL. Yes Pittsburgh became Blitzburgh but the true zone blitz, as a scheme, came from the mind of Fritz Shurmur. Another assistant deserving enshrinement in Canton.

In 1989, Shurmur was the defensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Rams. When the team suffered multiple injuries along the front line, yet had all their linebackers healthy, necessity became the mother of invention. His team employed a 3-4 defense that featured Kevin Greene, who had back to back 16.5 sacks in 1988 and 1989 (thanks Kevin), coming off the corner. Yet going into the wildcard matchup as an underdog, Shurmur decided  to go with emphasizing his linebackers over his linemen and came up with a 2 down lineman 5 linebacker set up to confuse Randall Cunningham.

You have to understand that this was Randall Cunningham at the height of his career, in fact the next year 1990,  he was the NFL’s MVP. However in 1989 he was on his way to stardom when he electrified a national audience on a Monday night by shaking off a hit by New York Giant Carl Banks, and throwing a touchdown to TE Jimmie Giles. He was a threat that ran for nearly 1,000 yards in the following year. He was John Elway 2.0 and the league was having serious problems in defending against such an athletic talent at QB.

In 1989 he led the Eagles in rushing with 621 yards while throwing for 3,400 yards 23 TDs and only 16 interceptions. The Eagles had won 5 of their final 6 games in 1989 and wanted to make amends in the playoffs for their 1988 playoff Fog Bowl loss in Chicago. Although they lost a toe to toe battle with the defending champion San Francisco 49ers in the regular season, the Eagles believed they could play with anyone and wanted a rematch with Joe Montana and company. But first they had to get through a wild card battle with the Los Angeles Rams, whom they taunted in the papers heading into the game. How would Shurmur defend Randall??

Shurmur opted for speed and confusion. One of the first items for a quarterback to determine is who the Mike (Middle) linebacker is. This is to set not only the blocking schemes but where the focal point to how the offense could attack the defense. Well the Rams shifted into their “Eagle” defense where OLBs Kevin Greene #91, Mel Owens #58, and Mike Wilcher #54 manned the outside with ILBs Larry Kelm #52, and Fred Strickland #53 were supplemented by either Brett Faryniarz #51 or George Bethune #57.

You have to understand the Rams weren’t doing this as a nickel defense, they were doing this on first and second downs also. Strickland would take the role of ‘nose-backer’ sometimes lining up as a nose tackle 1 yard off the ball and then would stand up to join the other four linebackers in a stand up position. They played a cat and mouse game as to who was the Mike on most plays.

Along with the outside linebackers taking a page out of Buddy Ryan’s 46 defense and stacking two OLBs over the tight end.  The Rams jumped on the Eagles  14-0 in the first quarter forcing Philadelphia to pass. There were plays where Los Angeles would have as many as 4 linebackers lined up on one side of the formation yet only rushed  one with a blitzing DB.  Along with confusing Cunningham from an alignment standpoint, Shurmur drew up defenses that had DE Mike Piel #95 either dropping or spying.

With an array of blitzes off the corner and so much speed on the field  to chase Cunningham, once he scrambled, had one of his worst days. The Eagles had little continuity and one of the reason the offense couldn’t adjust was the untimely death of Eagle quarterback coach Doug Scovil just a week prior to the game. Without his working confidante, Randall and Buddy Ryan’s offense couldn’t adjust as Kevin Greene recorded 2 sacks and hurried him into a 24 of 40 for 238 yards, 1 interception performance and no splash plays whatsoever.

Once the game was over and the Rams danced out of Philadelphia’s Veteran’s Stadium 21-7 winners, the league took notice of Shurmur’s masterpiece. Every other coordinator running a 3-4 during that time employed some of the same tactics Fritz pioneered. At the time it was thought by pundits that they couldn’t employ that gimmicky type of defense against a down hill running team.

In fact their next opponents would be exactly that style of offense and many waited for the Rams to sign a DL during the week, and when they didn’t, knew they’d see the defense again. An underdog for a second consecutive playoff game they traveled to the Meadowlands where Ottis “OJ” Anderson and the New York Giants would run into the belly of the Rams “Eagle” defense. No way could they win a second cold weather road game…right??

In this first vignette, you see the Eagle defense against the Giants on a sweep play. Notice how Shurmur has “nose backer” Strickland #53 off the ball? A concept borrowed from Tom Landry’s defensive tackle position in his Flex Defense, allowing Strickland to use his speed and agility against New York center Bart Oates.

On this play you recognize the cat and mouse game Shurmur’s defense is playing with Phil Simms. Not only does ‘nose backer’ Fred Strickland #53 line up over center in a 3 point stance, he then stands up to give the Rams 4 standing linebackers from the center to the weak side of the formation. Who’s coming?? Who’s dropping?? Simms is so rattled at this point he overthrows Lionel Emanuel and the boo birds were out in the Meadowlands.

On this play you’ll notice that SS Michael Stewart is up on the line to the strong side yet Shurmur still employed twin outside linebackers to the top of the screen in Mel Owens #58 and Mike Wilcher #54.  With the two linebackers up near the line of scrimmage they have to be accounted for by the Giants front line. You’ll notice they engage the OL which kept them from sliding their blocking attention to Kevin Greene who runs over FB Maurice Carthon #44.

Since they were in a 2TE max protection, the only outlet for Simms to throw to as he scrambles to his left is Ottis Anderson #24, yet the aforementioned Owens (who backed off after engaging Giant T Jumbo Elliot) and ILB Larry Kelm were sitting right there. With nowhere to throw the ball, time was up and Greene was right there for the sack. You can clearly see the confusion in the Giants offense. Look at Zeke Mowatt #84 who completely does a 360 and didn’t help Carthon on Greene. Why?? SS Stewart was there to occupy him. Genius

The Rams had been losing 6-0 when the Giants, late in the second quarter, uncharacteristically threw into the teeth of the Eagle defense and an interception set the Rams up to take a 7-6 lead at the half. The biggest play in the game and the turning point that allowed the Rams to upset the Giants 19-13. On this final play DE Mike Piel #95 drops off in the weak flat along with LB Strickland, lined up in 3 point stance in front of Giants guard William Roberts, who also drops.

George Bethune #57, takes over as the ‘nose backer with Brett Faryniarz #51 rushing from the weak-side along with Greene #91 on the strong side. Since Strickland’s first step is forward, Roberts #66 has to honor his charge and not help out LT Jumbo Elliot.  He has no one to block!! Greene and Faryniarz’s rush is so strong Simms has to get rid of the ball and Jerry Gray, zoning away from RB Dave Meggett,  tips the pass that Michael Stewart intercepts. You also notice that Meggett’s “scat” route was to his right and away from the DE that dropped in the weak flat.  Shurmur fielded ONE DL and didn’t rush him!! In a nickel defense?? Think about that for a second…

This was a masterpiece performance by a true NFL genius in Fritz Shurmur. The ’89 Rams fell to the eventual Super Bowl champion San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship and this defense never got the attention the 46 defense, the Steel Curtain, or the Ravens defense did because they didn’t win it all. Had they beat the 49ers and then the Broncos to win Super Bowl XXIV, this defense would have gone down in history. Yet what is interesting is this defense had it’s prime note taker in Giant defensive coordinator and current Patriot coach Bill Belichick.

How do we know this??

He used the 2 man front 1 year later in Super Bowl XXV to stop the Buffalo Bills to win that trophy. Just last year he used the defense with 5 standing players to force NY Jet QB Mark Sanchez into several interceptions. He used it against Tim Tebow also in both the regular season win and again in the playoffs. What Shurmur started in the 1989 playoffs live on to this day in a few 3-4 defenses. One centerpiece to this defense was Kevin Greene who moved on to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1993 to help form Blitzburgh.  Surely Greene took his playbook with him to Pittsburgh and may have shared some of these principles with Steeler coaches.


EPILOGUE: As for Shurmur, he moved on to become a champion defensive coordinator with the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXI with Mike Holmgren. You want to hear about the ties that bind?? From the late 80s into the early 90’s, Mike Holmgren was the offensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers while Fritz Shurmur was his nemesis counterpart within the division for the Rams. Trust us…going into that 1989 NFC Championship it wasn’t a forgone conclusion that the Niners would win.

In fact, in ’89 the Rams won game 2, 13-12 in Candlestick and even though the Rams lost the NFC Championship to SF, they returned to San Francisco the following year. In that game the ‘Niners were 10-0 and the Rams were 3-7 when the Rams hammered them 28-17 when the Niners were trying to 3peat. So when Holmgren took the head coaching job in Green Bay he took Fritz Shurmur with him. Shurmur followed Holmgren to Seattle in 1999.

However he passed away before the 1999 season. Yet now as the Cleveland Browns GM, Holmgren hired current head coach Pat Shurmur, who is the nephew of Fritz.  Shurmur developed other defenses that we will give mention to in the near future yet this 1989 run with his “Eagle defense” was his masterpiece. Even though he went on to coach a 4-3 in Green Bay, his use and expertise to adapt to personnel turned his 3-4 into a juggernaut that nearly stole an NFL title.

This article is dedicated to the memory of Leonard Frank “Fritz” Shurmur (July 15, 1932 – August 30, 1999)

Thanks for reading and share the article. Coaches don’t forget to adapt to your personnel instead of forcing your plays down the throat of a group that may not be able to run it.

Death Becomes the Run & Shoot on a Monday Night

If you google ‘Wes Hopkins hits Drew Hll” did you know this article will pop up before Ray Didinger’s article on the same subject for http://www.philadelphiaeagles.com?

Taylor Blitz Times

Single outside receiver site adjustments from the Run and Shoot

Whatever happened to the Run & Shoot as a pro offense?? You remember in the early 90s, when several downtrodden franchises looked to this offense to gain a tactical advantage on the competition.  Atlanta, Detroit, Houston, and Seattle deployed 4 receivers who ran their routes according to how defenses were playing them.  Borrowing on a concept from Bill Walsh’s offense, it was up to both the receiver and quarterback to read the defense, then adjust the route accordingly.

The truth of the matter is for each team with 4 receivers; the 3rd and 4th receivers were better than the opposing 3rd and 4th defensive backs that were normally platooned to cover them.  These teams started racking up yards by the bushel and along with Buffalo’s “K Gun offense”, the zenith of the Run & Shoot was 1991 when each team…

View original post 2,479 more words