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Archive for January, 2010

HOF 2010: Shannon Sharpe

Posted by Chase Stuart on January 14, 2010

Previous HOF 2010 Bios: John Randle; Roger Craig; Russ Grimm; Steve Tasker; Aeneas Williams; Art Modell; Terrell Davis; Dermontti Dawson; Tim Brown/Cris Carter/Andre Reed; Chris Doleman, Kevin Greene and Charles Haley; Cortez Kennedy; Don Coryell; Ray Guy; Cliff Branch

On Friday, the HOF annoucned the fifteen finalists for the Class of 2010. We continue the profile today, with a look at Shannon Sharpe. Part I of this post is a re-post of something I wrote last year:

Part I

It took Art Monk eight years to make the Hall of Fame. While his career numbers were terrific, Monk's biggest problem was the lack of statistical single season dominance. He only ranked in the top 10 in receiving yards three times -- finishing fourth in '84, third in '85 and tenth in '89. But arguably Monk shouldn't have been compared to the star receivers of NFL history. As argued by Sean Lahman in the Pro Football Historical Abstract:

Even though Monk lined up as a wide receiver, his role was really more like that of a tight end. He used his physicality to catch passes. He went inside and over the middle most of the time. He was asked to block a lot. All of those things make him a different creature than the typical speed receiver.... His 940 career catches put him in the middle of a logjam of receivers, but he'd stand out among tight ends. His yards per catch look a lot better in that context as well.

9 Comments | Posted in HOF, Player articles

Checkdowns: Everyone At Hospital Already Hates Wes Welker (NSFW)

Posted by Neil Paine on January 13, 2010

Courtesy of The Onion, who checked in on Welker's progress at Mass General:

"Though injured New England Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker has only been in the hospital for five days, doctors, nurses, support staff, and fellow patients told reporters Thursday that the extremely passionate and determined Welker has already annoyed the hell out of everyone.

'That guy is just the worst,' Welker's orthopedic surgeon Dr. Henry Myles said after a diagnostic checkup Tuesday. 'He suffers a torn MCL and ACL in his left knee, he can barely walk, and he just keeps saying things like, "When am I going to get back in there, doc?" and "Just tape it up, I'll be fine." This whole obsession with showing us how intense and driven he is 24 hours a day really has to stop.'

'I get it, okay? The guy has a lot of heart,' Myles added. 'But yesterday we had to put him in restraints because he wouldn't stop trying to do jumping jacks. And before we could sedate him, his screams of "I'm a competitor!" woke up the entire wing.'"

And that was before the Pats lost to Baltimore.

3 Comments | Posted in Checkdowns

Tecmo Super Bowl NFC Playoff Game of the Week: Cardinals at Saints

Posted by Neil Paine on January 13, 2010

Courtesy of Matt Knobbe and the Tecmo Super Bowl Repository, here's your Tecmo Super Bowl NFC Game of the Week for the Divisional Round, featuring the New Orleans Saints and the Arizona Cardinals. The highlights:

(How did we do this? Matt and the other dedicated folks at the Knobbe.org message board have spent a lot of time over the years updating this classic Nintendo football game, including the introduction of a 32-team ROM a few seasons ago. Sounds complicated, but don't worry, it's easy for you to enjoy the fruits of their labor: just get yourself an NES emulator, download the 2009 version of Tecmo here, and play to your heart's content. And be sure to check back at Matt's site for roster updates and more Tecmo-related goodness all season long.)

1 Comment | Posted in Tecmo Super Bowl

Tecmo Super Bowl AFC Playoff Game of the Week: Ravens at Colts

Posted by Neil Paine on January 13, 2010

Courtesy of Matt Knobbe and the Tecmo Super Bowl Repository, here's your Tecmo Super Bowl AFC Game of the Week for the Divisional Round, featuring the Indianapolis Colts and the Baltimore Ravens. The highlights:

(How did we do this? Matt and the other dedicated folks at the Knobbe.org message board have spent a lot of time over the years updating this classic Nintendo football game, including the introduction of a 32-team ROM a few seasons ago. Sounds complicated, but don't worry, it's easy for you to enjoy the fruits of their labor: just get yourself an NES emulator, download the 2009 version of Tecmo here, and play to your heart's content. And be sure to check back at Matt's site for roster updates and more Tecmo-related goodness all season long.)

5 Comments | Posted in Tecmo Super Bowl

Rerun: Does the bye week increase home field advantage?

Posted by Jason Lisk on January 12, 2010

This is a re-post of something that ran two years ago, before the 2007 playoffs began. I'll note that since this was written, the home team has gone only 3-5 in the divisional round.
======================================================

There seems to be a generally held belief that teams with byes in the first round of the playoffs have an increased advantage in the semifinals. For example, since 1990, the home teams in the semifinals have won 77.9% of games, compared to 69.1% in the wildcard round, and 58.8% in the championship games. Not only has the winning percentage been higher, there have been more noticeable blowouts in the semifinals than any other round.

The problem with these numbers is that they do not control for matchup. To (try to) answer the question of whether the bye week increases home field advantage, I will use the regular season SRS ratings going back to the AFL-NFL merger, and look at the average expected results, based on regular season ratings, and average actual results in the playoffs for the home team. (I did exclude the two strike seasons of 1982 and 1987, but included every other year from 1970-2006).

3 Comments | Posted in General

Vinny Testaverde was better than you think

Posted by Jason Lisk on January 11, 2010

Vinny Testaverde has virtually no chance of making the Pro Football Hall of Fame, even though he ranks seventh all-time in passing yards. The common perception of his career is that he was a late bloomer and a compiler who stuck around long enough to put up an occasional good season. He played in only two pro bowls, with the first coming at age 33. He stuck around to throw over 700 passes after turning 40 years old.

I'm here to tell you that Testaverde actually aged very much like a typical quarterback, peaking in ability and performance in his late 20's and early 30's. Oh, and he was probably every bit as good as the collective group of Hall of Fame contemporaries that played during the course of his career and in the generation before he arrived.

As impossible as it may be, I want you to wipe away any pre-conceived notions you have of Testaverde and his career. Let's pretend like we are talking about a hypothetical quarterback. All you know is the following:

1. This quarterback signed with a national collegiate power that was the quarterback factory of the time period.

2. Our hypothetical quarterback won the Heisman trophy and was the first overall pick in the NFL draft.

3. He played until he was 44 years old, and threw 6,701 passes in his career.

So, how good was our hypothetical quarterback? You would pretty guess he was a Hall of Fame caliber player with that info before and at the completion of his career. And the funny thing is . . . you might be right. When quarterbacks get up for their induction speeches in Canton, they always thank their teammates . . . and they should. Because, but for the grace of God, they could have been Vinny Testaverde instead.

I wish I could tell you how Vinny Testaverde would have done with an elite offensive unit, so we could compare him to the Hall of Fame quarterbacks. I can't though, because Testaverde never came close to playing with the offensive players that those others did. Here are the average career AV's of the ten other starters for each year that Vinny Testaverde was the primary starter for a team. I also list my current passer rating of choice, the adjusted net yards per attempt index, for Testaverde each of those seasons.

age year team teammates ANYA index
25 1988 tam 29.0 75
26 1989 tam 27.7 89
27 1990 tam 35.6 97
28 1991 tam 33.3 78
29 1992 tam 34.0 96
30 1993 cle 41.0 116
31 1994 cle 42.7 98
32 1995 cle 41.2 119
33 1996 rav 52.9 117
34 1997 rav 41.0 99
35 1998 nyj 59.0 129
37 2000 nyj 46.3 96
38 2001 nyj 50.7 97
41 2004 dal 48.0 99

How bad were Vinny Testaverde's teammates early in his career? Well, Mark Carrier was a starting wide receiver, and he had a solid career. Paul Gruber was a rookie left tackle in 1988, and would go on to start for 12 seasons in Tampa, but never made a pro bowl. After that, well, there wasn't much that could be considered more than replacement level now that we can look back at history and see what those players did (or in this case, didn't do) for the rest of their careers. None of the quarterbacks who started their career since 1970 and made the Hall of Fame played a single season with a starting offensive group as bad as those first two in Tampa for Testaverde. Steve Young played for the same organization two years earlier, and with an offensive group with a 37.3 career AV average (slightly better than any Testaverde played with in Tampa), posted an 83 ANYA index score at age 25. You might be tempted to think that Dallas in 1989 was worse. They weren't good, but that offensive team had a 37.8 career AV average, and Aikman was far worse as a rookie than Testaverde was over his Tampa career.

Okay, so we can't really compare Testaverde's early part of his career because no Hall of Famer played with so many bad players during his career. We also can't see what Testaverde would have done if he played a team like the Air Coryell Chargers or the San Fransisco 49ers of the late 80's and early 90's, because he never played with a team that approached that many Hall of Famers or near Hall of Famers at the other offensive positions. That leaves us with what's left, the other seasons for Testaverde in his prime (Cleveland, Baltimore and the Jets) compared to Hall of Fame quarterbacks in seasons where they had similar supporting casts to Testaverde during their primes. I'm going to define "prime" as seasons between the ages of 26 and 35 for Testaverde as well as the following quarterbacks: Terry Bradshaw, Ken Anderson, Dan Fouts, Joe Montana, John Elway, Jim Kelly, Dan Marino, Steve Young, Troy Aikman, and Brett Favre. Everyone but Anderson and Favre is in the Hall of Fame, and I'm including Anderson since he seems to be everyone's choice for Hall of Fame snub. I didn't feel I could include guys like Manning and Brady since their prime years are still occurring, and we don't have an accurate gauge on the careers of their teammates since so many are still active.

Testaverde's best supporting cast was easily in 1998 at age 35 with the New York Jets. That offensive starting team had a career AV average of 59.0. Curtis Martin was the best back that Testaverde played with, Keyshawn Johnson was the best lead receiver he had, and Kevin Mawae was at center. The Jets also had Keith Byars as a veteran receiving fullback, a solid complement at the other receiver position in Wayne Chrebet, and the best tight end (Kyle Brady) that Testaverde would play with until he was a 41 year old throwing to a 21 year old rookie Jason Witten in Dallas (let that sink in). Overall, it was a pretty good offensive group though not historically elite. With that group, at age 35, Testaverde went 12-1 in the regular season and the Jets advanced to the championship game, and Testaverde posted a 129 ANYA index rating. To explain what that is, 100 is an average performance. Every 15 points above or below 100 is equal to one standard deviation better than or worse than the league average. Thus, Testaverde was almost two standard deviations better than the league average in 1998.

How did the elite quarterbacks do with a similar supporting cast to the 1998 Jets during their primes? Here is every season by those quarterbacks with an offensive team career AV average within 3 points of the 1998 Jets.

player year team age ANYA index
anderson 1983 62.0 34 108
bradshaw 1979 61.7 31 119
kelly 1993 61.6 33 106
bradshaw 1978 61.4 30 127
montana 1984 61.0 28 137
anderson 1984 60.8 35 104
aikman 1997 60.8 31 100
fouts 1979 60.5 28 119
aikman 1998 60.0 32 122
bradshaw 1981 59.9 33 124
bradshaw 1982 59.9 34 111
fouts 1984 59.1 33 111
moon 1990 57.9 34 127
anderson 1980 57.4 31 85
fouts 1980 57.3 29 124
bradshaw 1975 57.3 27 114
kelly 1994 57.0 34 99
moon 1991 56.1 35 110
HOF AVERAGE 59.5 31.8 113.7

Of those 18 comparable seasons, the only one with a higher ANYA score was a 28-year old Joe Montana in 1984. Testaverde was almost three years older than the average player in this group, and over a full standard deviation better. This is only one season, though, so let's dig further.

The second best supporting cast that Testaverde played with during his prime was the 1996 Baltimore Ravens (the first season in Baltimore). The reason this season stands out above the other Cleveland/Baltimore years is because the Ravens dug up a 34 year old Earnest Byner at RB, and added rookie Jonathan Ogden along with Tony Jones on the left side of the line (they would let Jones go the next year and move Ogden to LT). The receiving corp of Derrick Alexander and Michael Jackson was very good for Testaverde's career standards, but not for other elite quarterbacks. Still, with this group, at age 33, Testaverde posted a 117 ANYA rating. When Football Outsiders went back and broke down the play by play from the 1996 season, they concluded that Baltimore had the #1 offense that season (and the second worst defense). So, how did the Hall of Famers do with a similar supporting cast to that 1996 Baltimore team?

player year team age ANYA index
marino 1992 54.9 31 117
marino 1994 54.9 33 118
aikman 2000 54.5 34 82
marino 1993 54.4 32 133
fouts 1977 54.0 26 113
moon 1988 54.0 32 128
aikman 1999 53.8 33 105
favre 2002 53.2 33 107
moon 1987 53.1 31 108
kelly 1987 52.5 27 106
marino 1995 52.1 34 119
anderson 1975 51.8 26 129
fouts 1985 51.7 34 127
fouts 1986 51.6 35 98
moon 1989 51.5 33 116
kelly 1986 51.2 26 109
favre 2001 50.4 32 125
montana 1982 50.2 26 117
marino 1990 49.8 29 113
favre 2000 49.6 31 102
bradshaw 1980 49.6 32 112
marino 1991 49.2 30 117
favre 2004 49.2 35 119
favre 2003 49.1 34 107
HOF AVERAGE 51.9 31.2 113.6

You might notice that the two seasons that Testaverde made a pro bowl coincide with the two seasons that, according to career AV, he had his two best offensive starting units. He wasn't quite as dominant this season compared to the Hall of Famers, but he still outperformed the average and was almost two years older than the average HOF with a similar supporting unit.

In the other four seasons, in Cleveland and Baltimore, his offensive teams might generously be described as slightly below average. There were some good parts and also some holes, and certainly no Hall of Famers. Tony Jones, and one season of a disgruntled Andre Rison, were the best players according to career AV that Testaverde played with before he turned 33. In those four seasons (1993-1995, 1997), he posted two basically average statistical years, and two very good ones where he was more than a standard deviation better than the league. The average ANYA index score for those four seasons was 108, or about half a standard deviation better than average. Very few of the Hall of Famers played with offensive units that were this mediocre, and here's how they did:

player year team age ANYA index
favre 1999 45.4 30 100
anderson 1976 45.2 27 112
marino 1989 44.9 28 112
favre 1998 44.9 29 110
favre 1995 44.8 26 130
elway 1986 44.6 26 110
elway 1988 44.5 28 96
moon 1985 44.3 29 91
anderson 1978 43.7 29 90
favre 1996 43.1 27 121
elway 1993 42.3 33 117
elway 1992 40.9 32 86
moon 1984 38.9 28 103
elway 1991 38.8 31 103
HOF AVERAGE 43.2 27.1 105.8

Yet again, Testaverde was older than the HOF comparables, and outperformed them slightly when playing with similar supporting casts.

What conclusions can we draw from this? I suspect that saying that Testaverde was better than Hall of Fame contemporaries like Jim Kelly and Troy Aikman would feel controversial. At some level, we know that teammates matter, and that quarterback statistical performance is highly variable precisely because there are so many other moving parts that contribute to the final numbers. But I'm not sure that we will be fully comfortable with the results if we could ever more accurately measure those contributions.

Testaverde never played with a receiver better than Keyshawn Johnson, let alone a receiving combo like Rice/Taylor or Rice/Owens or Reed/Lofton or Joiner/Winslow/Chandler. He got one year of Curtis Martin (and we saw how he performed), whereas a lot of the Hall of Famers played with elite running backs for a good chunk of their primes. He got one season of Jonathan Ogden as a rookie (and we saw how he performed), whereas almost all of the Hall of Famers played with lines that had four or five linemen that would prove to start 10+ years in the league, during those quarterbacks' best seasons.

I don't think Testaverde peaked late--I think he just had his best teammates late in his career. At age 26, he took a historically bad offensive unit, and put up merely below average passing stats. He was probably already pretty good by then. In his last year in Tampa Bay at age 29, he took a clearly sub-par offense and put up almost league average numbers. Still, the quarterback gets blamed and he was sent away, though history shows that he was clearly not the problem. His first year in Cleveland at age 30, he took a below average offensive cast and produced a well above average passing performance, and in my opinion, that was his peak year once we account for his teammates. Over the next several years, he would continue to produce numbers that, once you account for his teammates, shows a very good quarterback. And when he got to finally play with above average offenses that had multiple good players, he was among the league leaders, despite being at an age when some of his Hall of Fame contemporaries were slowing down when their offenses went from elite to merely above average.

I submit that Testaverde didn't discover some fountain of youth or manage to delay the aging process. He was just really good. And when you are really good at age 30-35, you can afford to lose a little and still be able to play in the NFL to age 40. I can't help but wonder what would have happened if Testaverde had managed to end up with an offense that had a few more good players when he was entering his late 20's. My guess is that he would be practicing his Canton speech.

30 Comments | Posted in Player articles

2010 Hall of Fame Finalists Announced

Posted by Jason Lisk on January 8, 2010

As expected, Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith are finalists. We've held off on doing an article on both of those players since we figured we could wait after the announcement date.

Three other players who we have not written about yet also made the list of finalists. We were pretty sure that Shannon Sharpe would be among the finalists, and Richard Dent has been a finalist on multiple occasions. Rickey Jackson also made the finalist cut for the first time, and deservedly so. Look for articles on those three players in coming weeks as well.

In addition, we will break down the two Senior nominees, Dick LeBeau and Floyd Little.

Among the players and contributors already profiled on the blog, the following made the cut:

In what I think is a mild shock considering it means four wide receivers among the finalists, Tim Brown/Cris Carter/Andre Reed each made the cut.

Don Coryell was the only non-player contributor to make the cut.

Both John Randle and Cortez Kennedy are finalists at the defensive tackle position.

Roger Craig is the only running back selected as a modern finalist. (Which means Terrell Davis did not make it).

Dermontti Dawson and Russ Grimm were both selected as finalists at offensive line.

Nothing should surprise me, but I'm mildly surprised that Charles Haley made the cut, but both Doleman and Greene did not, among the pass rushers.

21 Comments | Posted in General, HOF

NFL Season Prediction Contest Results

Posted by Jason Lisk on January 8, 2010

The season prediction contest results are in. Congratulations to JT for winning the contest, in a tiebreaker over Jim A based on group 2 wins. Shattenjager actually had the lead coming down the stretch, but Houston and Dallas wins in week 17 were costly. If the Giants had shown up in Minnesota and won, Jim A would have won. Notably, JT was the only contestant to use both playoff team wildcards in the first two groups.

rank contestant points Group 1 Group 2 Group 3 Group 4 Group 5 Group 6 Group 7 Group 8 Group 9 Group 10 Group 11 Group 12
1 JT 61 1300 1111.5 1232 672 693 450 660 280 576 180 45.6 15
2 Jim A 61 1820 792 960 731.5 819 440 360 405 315 240 15.2 80
3 shattenjager 60 1820 1287 960 940.5 392 990 315 240 75 121.6 72 120
3 Don 60 1287 1170 1078 768 720 990 228 441 40 225 38 160
5 Scott Kacsmar 59 990 2002 720 988 756 693 280 900 180 152 80 12
6 Mr Shush 57 1040 1260 924 1358.5 630 704 567 100 225 45 121.6 96
6 ProZach 57 1560 1694 720 819 598.5 150 693 640 240 240 34.2 40
6 Jonathan Comey 57 900 728 912 880 1053 693 504 616 375 76 144 10
6 JWL 57 1560 1008 1287 760 80 693 450 577.5 216 243.2 56 75
10 Jason W 56 990 864 2366 1210 332.5 525 504 240 576 180 76 12
10 Iain 56 1300 396 1287 570 1260 924 576 200 273.6 147 32 75
10 Jim 56 1053 1200 784 880 427.5 1430 448 472.5 396 75 60.8 24
13 Neily 55 1260 1560 836 880 729 168 1001 224 360 225 40 38
13 Vince 55 1820 720 836 924 693 936 190 270 210 72 100 96
13 Eddo 55 1260 819 968 400 1482 560 77 324 375 273.6 160 36
13 Dan 55 1210 1859 729 504 400 855 136.8 640 160 336 49 75
17 BigCheese 54 819 1144 990 1260 1026 448 440 40 630 240 90 38
17 SB 54 1170 1694 560 1040 1056 175 567 304 675 114 16 108
19 Bill M. 53 1040 810 1170 336 882 380 336 550 495 121.6 22.5 176
19 jiffy 53 1430 495 1512 720 616 1111.5 900 448 84 19 360 40
19 Red 53 1820 936 567 484 880 608 120 630 315 135 30.4 200
19 Gary 53 720 1232 864 630 1210 598.5 1521 300 212.8 75 24 80
19 pmac 53 936 400 1404 1078 720 940.5 693 750 121.6 112 20 90
24 Joseph 52 1820 560 1053 660 836 792 196 90 114 337.5 64 240
25 BLM 49 630 576 1026 1521 1120 133 495 256 495 330 350 8
26 ammek 46 520 693 1386 504 910 427.5 90 152 880 160 108 240
27 Felden 42 1820 441 960 440 72 1358.5 60.8 225 693 90 450 384
28 Jason McKinley 41 1820 392 450 792 96 418 543.4 270 180 472.5 80 480

21 Comments | Posted in General

Tecmo Super Bowl NFC Playoff Game of the Week: Eagles at Cowboys

Posted by Neil Paine on January 6, 2010

Courtesy of Matt Knobbe and the Tecmo Super Bowl Repository, here's your Tecmo Super Bowl NFC Game of the Week for the Wild Card Round, featuring the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles. The highlights:

(How did we do this? Matt and the other dedicated folks at the Knobbe.org message board have spent a lot of time over the years updating this classic Nintendo football game, including the introduction of a 32-team ROM a few seasons ago. Sounds complicated, but don't worry, it's easy for you to enjoy the fruits of their labor: just get yourself an NES emulator, download the 2009 version of Tecmo here, and play to your heart's content. And be sure to check back at Matt's site for roster updates and more Tecmo-related goodness all season long.)

3 Comments | Posted in Tecmo Super Bowl

HOF 2010: Cliff Branch

Posted by Chase Stuart on January 6, 2010

Previous HOF 2010 Bios: John Randle; Roger Craig; Russ Grimm; Steve Tasker; Aeneas Williams; Art Modell; Terrell Davis; Dermontti Dawson; Tim Brown/Cris Carter/Andre Reed; Chris Doleman, Kevin Greene and Charles Haley; Cortez Kennedy; Don Coryell; Ray Guy

In my All-Decade team of the 1970s article, I noted how several wide receivers were very good during that decade but no one receiver truly stood out. Harold Jackson, Cliff Branch, Gene A. Washington, Fred Biletnikoff, Harold Carmichael, Drew Pearson, Paul Warfield, Charley Taylor and Lynn Swann all could make arguments that they were the best receiver of the decade. The Hall has largely ignored the receivers of the '70s, with only Swann (the less said, the better) and players who also starred in the '60s -- Biletnikoff, Taylor, and Warfield -- getting in. Steve Largent, John Stallworth and Art Monk started their careers in the '70s but were really stars of the '80s. The one HOFer whose career should have lined up perfectly in the decade of the '70s was Charlie Joiner, but he wasn't one of the best receivers of the decade (his top two yardage seasons were in the '80s) and is the most glaring error by the HOF committee at the wide receiver position.

It's difficult to see why Branch should be inducted but not Carmichael or Jackson or Washington or Pearson. Why has Branch made it this far when Carmichael and Jackson have more yards and touchdowns? Why Branch when Pearson and Washington have similar production and All-Pro honors? It's difficult to see why Branch deserves the honor of being called a HOFer while his peers who produced just as much and were just as well regarded do not. If they all deserve the honor, it's likely that none of them do, because there's no way the Hall is about to induct five receivers (or more) from the '70s. I'm also surprised Branch got this far this season, because starting in the HOF Class of 2011, Branch will be eligible as a Senior's nominee. Branch has never so much as been a finalist for induction, so perhaps there is some push to get him chosen this year. And while Branch wouldn't be a poor selection, I don't see anything particularly special about his case.

34 Comments | Posted in HOF, Player articles

HOF 2010: Ray Guy

Posted by Jason Lisk on January 6, 2010

Previous HOF 2010 Bios: John Randle; Roger Craig; Russ Grimm; Steve Tasker; Aeneas Williams; Art Modell; Terrell Davis; Dermontti Dawson; Tim Brown/Cris Carter/Andre Reed; Chris Doleman, Kevin Greene and Charles Haley; Cortez Kennedy; Don Coryell

No semifinalist this side of Art Modell stirs as much passion and disagreement as Ray Guy. Modell moved the Browns from Cleveland; all Ray Guy did in comparison was punt a football for fourteen seasons. Ray Guy's candidacy has two layers to it. The first is whether a punter--any punter--should be in the Hall of Fame. There are those, not that I know any personally, who don't think that punters are real football players and thus should not be in the Hall. I know it's a matter of semantics, but the game is called "football." By definition, punters are football players. I happen to fall in the camp that considers the Hall of Fame should be able to accurately portray the history of the game. For almost fifty years now, the punter has been a unique and specific position in the game, and I'm not sure you can accurately portray it without reference to place kickers and punters. If you disagree on this specific issue though, I don't think there is much I can do to sway you.

This is not to say that I think the Hall of Fame should be overrun with punters. Another, more logical, approach to punters not being in the Hall of Fame is that they don't generate enough value to justify inclusion. This is a similar argument to that facing a player like Steve Tasker who is most known for his special teams work. While a punter can be an important aspect of a particular game, and a good one can perhaps be more valuable than marginal or decent players at other field positions, it is true that a player who participates in perhaps 70 plays over the course of a season does not have as much impact as one who participates in 70 over the course of a game. This value issue is doubly amplified when we are looking at the Hall of Fame candidates, because we are not looking at average field position players. We are looking at players who were well above average for, in many cases, a decade, and participated in over 800 plays a season. Ray Guy, in contrast, punted the ball 1,049 times in the regular season over the course of 14 years and 207 games. Though there is a faction out there that thinks Ray Guy was one of the most valuable players in football, I'm not going to take that position.

The best response for the pro-Guy camp is that it is the Hall of Fame and not the Hall of Value. While they are sometimes parallel, that is not always true. Punting is a part of the game of football, and being the most famous punter (to the point of having the college award named after you) may lead to being more famous than being the 40th best outside linebacker, even if we could show that the linebacker who was the 40th best of all-time was more valuable for a team over the course of a career.

24 Comments | Posted in HOF, Player articles

Tecmo Super Bowl AFC Playoff Game of the Week: Ravens at Patriots

Posted by Neil Paine on January 6, 2010

Courtesy of Matt Knobbe and the Tecmo Super Bowl Repository, here's your Tecmo Super Bowl AFC Game of the Week for the Wild Card Round, featuring the Baltimore Ravens and the New England Patriots. The highlights:

(How did we do this? Matt and the other dedicated folks at the Knobbe.org message board have spent a lot of time over the years updating this classic Nintendo football game, including the introduction of a 32-team ROM a few seasons ago. Sounds complicated, but don't worry, it's easy for you to enjoy the fruits of their labor: just get yourself an NES emulator, download the 2009 version of Tecmo here, and play to your heart's content. And be sure to check back at Matt's site for roster updates and more Tecmo-related goodness all season long.)

Comments Off | Posted in Tecmo Super Bowl

HOF 2010: Don Coryell

Posted by Chase Stuart on January 5, 2010

Previous HOF 2010 Bios: John Randle; Roger Craig; Russ Grimm; Steve Tasker; Aeneas Williams; Art Modell; Terrell Davis; Dermontti Dawson; Tim Brown/Cris Carter/Andre Reed; Chris Doleman, Kevin Greene and Charles Haley; Cortez Kennedy

The 1966 San Diego State Aztecs went 11-0. It's safe to say they were coached pretty well. Joe Gibbs served as the team's offensive line coach. John Madden was the defensive coordinator. Those two men answered to Don Coryell, who won 84% of his games during his first stint coaching football in the city of San Diego. By that point, being associated with future Hall of Fame coaches was old hat for Coryell. Before coming to SDSU, Coryell was the head coach at tiny Whittier College from 1957 to 1959. Whitter needed a new coach after George Allen left the college but stayed in the city when he joined the Los Angeles Rams staff.

Coryell's innovative coaching coupled with his success with the Aztecs caught the eye of the NFL; he was hired as head coach of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1973 following his time with San Diego State. The Cardinals had gone 4-9-1 in three of the previous four seasons, and would repeat that record during Coryell's ifrst year. Whether it was good fortune or good coaching, Coryell inherited three young linemen who would become stars in the mid-'70s: Dan Dierdorf, Conrad Dobler and Tom Banks. Jim Hart, Jim Otis and Mel Gray -- the main passer, rusher and receiver during the Coryell years in St. Louis -- were all in St. Louis when Coryell arrived, as well. But Coryell would make one big addition during his first season in St. Louis. In the third round of the '73 draft, he selected Long Beach State star and JKL's hero, Terry Metcalf.

In '71 and '72, the Cardinals had offensive SRS ratings of -4.0 and -4.5, respectively. The Cardinals ranked 23rd in points and 25th in yards in a 26-team NFL in 1972. Over the next five seasons, St. Louis would rank in the top half of the league in points scored and yards gained every season, and average an OSRS rating of +2.8. From 1974 to 1976, St. Louis won double digit games each season despite sharing the division with two of the league's powerhouses in Dallas and Washington. From '74 to '77, the Cards would sent 28 players to the Pro Bowl, with a minimum of five players each year. The Cardinals haven't had five players make the Pro Bowl in a single season since.

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HOF 2010: Cortez Kennedy

Posted by Chase Stuart on January 4, 2010

Previous HOF 2010 Bios: John Randle; Roger Craig; Russ Grimm; Steve Tasker; Aeneas Williams; Art Modell; Terrell Davis; Dermontti Dawson; Tim Brown/Cris Carter/Andre Reed; Chris Doleman, Kevin Greene and Charles Haley

Outside of Seattle, the Seahawks are a blip on the radar of most NFL fans. The Seahawks are one of the youngest franchises in the league, one of the most geographically remote, one of the least successful, and have been one of the most devoid of star power. They've had only five superstars since Seattle entered the league in 1976. Steve Largent is the only Seahawk in the Hall of Fame and was one of the greatest wide receivers in league history. Safety Kenny Easley had his Hall of Fame-like career derailed due to injuries and kidney disease. Walter Jones and Shaun Alexander - both of whom may be Canton bound - helped form one of the most potent offenses in the NFL in the middle of this decade, and earned Seattle an NFC Championship. Bridging the gap between Largent and Easley of the '80s and Jones and Alexander of the '00s, was Cortez Kennedy.

If you weren't paying attention, it would have been easy to forget about the Seahawks while Kennedy was there, with the Seattle sports scene dominated by the likes of Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez and Randy Johnson, Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton. The most memorable football moments of the '90s from the Pacific Northwest are the split National Championship the Huskies won in 1991, Drew Bledsoe becoming the first pick in the 1994 draft, and Ryan Leaf taking Wazzou to its first Rose Bowl in 57 years.

Despite playing in Seattle for eleven seasons, Kennedy's teams played in just one playoff game during his tenure. But to forget the easily-forgettable '90s Seahawks would be to throw the 305-lb baby out with the bathwater. After starring at "The U" during its prominence -- Kennedy's Hurricanes went 45-3 during his time there -- Kennedy was the #3 pick in the 1990 NFL draft. He lived up to expectations quickly: his 1992 season is easily one of the most uniquely incredible seasons any defensive player has ever had.

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HOF 2010: Chris Doleman, Kevin Greene and Charles Haley

Posted by Jason Lisk on January 3, 2010

We'll talk about these three men together because they were contemporaries in the late 80's and early 90's, and regardless of their nominal position--outside linebacker in a 3-4, defensive end in a 4-3, they filled the same role throughout their careers: pass rush specialist. As I noted last year when talking about Derrick Thomas for the Hall of Fame, there were only six outside linebackers (now seven) who began their careers since 1950 who are in the Hall of Fame. More defensive linemen are in, but these three players are part of the generation that came of age right after the sack became an official statistic and began to define and quantify pass rushers.

In the last decade, we have seen two dominant all-around defensive ends who racked up high sack totals, Reggie White and Bruce Smith, go into the Hall. In the last two years, Derrick Thomas, Fred Dean and Andre Tippett have also been selected. These three players were not slam dunks, and they certainly don't give us enough precedent to know how the selectors are going to handle the post-1982 generation of pass rushers.

How will they view players who were known at times in their career as one-dimensional and focused on their sack totals? What will matter more, high peak, or longevity of getting consistent sack totals? How much will rings and post-season success outweigh raw sack totals?

Doleman, Greene and Haley's chances depend on the answers to those questions. All three were, at various times, game changers for the opponent to plan around, and team changers because they caused a few too many headaches in their own locker room or groused over their contracts. Like wide receivers who needed the spotlight, these three represent a new breed of pass rusher that came with the official tallying of taking the quarterback to the ground, and their tradition is carried forward by the various dances of the sack specialists today.

Here is a statistical summary of these three players:

Player GP Sacks Tackles Assists Ints FF PB AP
Chris Doleman 232 150.5 707 268 8 44 8 2
Kevin Greene 228 160 600 133 5 23 5 2
Charles Haley 169 100.5 396 102 2 26 5 2

We'll start with Charles Haley. If rings are the things, then we all know that Haley accumulated the most, and between the 1988 and 1995 seasons, he was on a Super Bowl champion team five times. Still, when we look at sack totals and tackle totals, Haley comes up well short of Doleman and Greene. Was this a case of Haley's contribution not being fully captured by his sack totals, and injuries robbing him of tacking on sack totals late in a career, or was he just in the right place at the right time?

Haley played outside linebacker in a 3-4 system with the San Fransisco 49ers. Through age 26, Charles Haley was a dominant pass rusher. His 56.5 sacks by that age ranks tied for fourth all-time for players since the sack became an official stat. In 1991, he had his first single digit sack season in four seasons with San Fransisco, and he also wore out his welcome with his surly behavior in the locker room. He was traded to the up and coming Dallas Cowboys before the 1992 season, and moved to defensive end in the 4-3 system that Dallas operated. While he gained notoriety as a ring maker in his first two seasons in Dallas, as the Cowboys knocked off his old teammates in two straight NFC title games, his sack totals continued to plummet. He ranked outside the top 12 on the team in tackles both years, and only third on Dallas both seasons in sacks, behind the other less renowned defensive end, Tony Tolbert, and Jim Jeffcoat, by then a veteran pass rush specialist. Haley was slowed in the second season in Dallas by a back injury, and he bounced back in 1994 and 1995 to record double digit sacks in both seasons. That was basically it for Haley, as an injury felled him in 1996, and he would start only 5 games and record only 4 sacks after 1995. Though he was the youngest of the three, he didn't last as long. In a survey conducted before the '95 season about future Hall of Famers, only a small minority of those writers polled had Haley as a Hall of Famer. As he didn't add much to his resume after that season, I'm not sure if that one additional season was enough to change minds, or if the passage of time has softened people's views of his personality. He was on pace for a Hall of Fame career, but the three consecutive seasons with low sack totals at ages 27-29 (ironically, two of which resulted in Super Bowl victories and cemented his legend as a championship player) probably leave him just lacking. If he had been more dominant through age 30, then I think the voters would forgive his quick demise and focus on the rings. As it is, I'm not sure he did quite enough to make the rings make up the difference.

Whereas Haley was an early peaker, Kevin Greene withstood age and continued to find employment in different cities as a pass rush specialist well into his thirties. With his noticeable flowing blonde locks and over the top personality that included friendships with Ric Flair and a sideline scuffle with a position coach, Greene was a true character of the game. He was often enamored with his own sack totals and knew what he needed to reach milestones. If this were baseball, his career sack totals and longevity would be a milestone that would get him in the Hall. But it's not, so he is not guaranteed a place in Canton based on numbers alone.

Still, where Charles Haley fell off when changing teams, Greene thrived in numerous roles and situations. He didn't record his first double digit sack season until age 26, but would get at least 9 sacks in every season he played after turning 30, for four different organizations. Haley may be well-known for his five rings, but Greene's teams played in five conference championship games. Considering that he didn't exactly play with 2010 HOF Semifinalists Jerry Rice (okay, yes he did play with Rice for one season in 1997) and Emmitt Smith on the other side of the ball, I don't think post-season accomplishments are a negative for Greene.

In 1992, Greene played one season as an OLB in a 4-3 scheme, and Dr. Z named him as an all-pro OLB, noting that "[Greene] had more coverage responsibility than ever before, and he did just fine. He was a consistent pass rusher." Dr. Z's selection, hardly a no brainer at the time, proved prescient, as Greene would be THE consistent pass rush specialist of the next five years. Later, Dr. Z would name Greene as one of the top ten pass rushers of all-time, on a list that included players from before 1982.

Greene isn't a lock, and his persona may turn some off, but I don't much care if he was focused on getting sacks and concerned about his numbers and showboating. Sacks are important and help teams win, and for a stretch, Greene did a lot of helping teams win even if he was focused on marketing himself as well.

The last player of this group, like Greene and Haley, also eventually wore out his welcome and changed teams despite his sack proclivity. If Haley was early success and Greene was consistent longevity, then Doleman has the highest peak going for him. In the late 1980's, he teamed with Keith Millard to form the best inside/outside combination at defensive line. In the 1987 playoffs, the duo helped destroy the Saints, and then manhandled the feared 49ers to the point that Joe Montana was benched halfway through in favor of some guy named Steve Young. Two years later, Doleman reached 21 sacks in the regular season. He recorded over 90 tackles in three straight seasons from 1989 to 1991, showing that he wasn't just all about sacks and nothing else. From 1987 to 1993, he played in six pro bowls and was on at least one publication's all-pro or all-conference team in six of those seven seasons. After 1993, though, the Vikings traded their star defensive end to the Atlanta Falcons. His stay in Atlanta was somewhat disappointing initially, and it remains about the only tarnish on his otherwise illustrious career. He was selected to a pro bowl for the seventh time in 1995 as the Falcons reached the playoffs as a wildcard. After that, he was pretty much a pass rush specialist, finishing his career with three seasons in San Fransisco (including with Greene in 1997) and returned to Minnesota for his final year. All told, Doleman's teams made the playoffs ten times during his career, but he never reached the Super Bowl and only played in a conference championship game twice.

These three players are likely going to be viewed together during this selection process, and with such a strong class of candidates headlined by two slam dunks, it's doubtful that more than one would get consideration in 2010. Three pass rushers have gone in over the last two years, so there may not be the urgency to induct one of these guys right away. Doleman has the career comparables that suggest he will end up in Canton. Greene has the numbers. Haley has the rings. I think Haley is out, and Doleman and Greene are decent candidates, but not mortal locks, based on who else is in.

Chances that one of them is selected in 2010: Collectively, average to below average, with Doleman having the best chance.

Chances that Chris Doleman eventually gets selected: Very Good
Chances that Kevin Greene eventually gets selected: Average to Good
Chances that Charles Haley eventually gets selected: Below Average

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