Friday, August 31, 2007

The Aerial Assault of the 1972 Miami Dolphins

Most people think of the legendary 1972 Miami Dolphins as a team that won thanks to a great rushing attack and a disciplined stifling defense. And those people would not necessarily be wrong. The Dolphins led the league in both offense and defense that year and Miami rushed for more yards than anyone that year while finishing only 19th (out of 26 teams) in passing yards. However, Miami may not have thrown for many yards but when they did they were ruthlessly efficient. That greatest of websites, The Cold Hard Football Facts, has compiled a list of the greatest passing teams of the Super Bowl Era ranked by Yards Per Attempt, and the 1972 Dolphins clock in at 18th all-time. Miami averaged 8.63 yards every time they threw the ball. Of all the teams that have made a Super Bowl, the '72 Dolphins rank as the 9th best passing attack. Of the 41 Super Bowl champions, the 1972 Miami Dolphins rank 5th.

Much of the credit for this must go the man who took over as QB for the Fins in game five after future Hall of Famer Bob Griese broke his ankle. Griese led the Dolphins to a 4-0 start and I'm convinced they would not have won the title had Griese not returned in time for the AFC Championship game, but credit where credit is due. Earl Morrall may well be the worst quarterback in Super Bowl history but in that magical '72 season he compiled a QB rating of 91.0 and a YPA of 9.07. Griese dragged the team numbers down with his 71.6 passer rating and 6.58 YPA. Griese got off to a slow start (his numbers were far better in 1971 and 1973), but 4-0 is 4-0 and we remember that team for its 17 wins and 0 losses, not for its great passing. But that YPA number doesn't lie. Morrall played at an MVP level, future Hall of Famer Paul Warfield was still in his prime, Howard Twilley and Marlin Briscoe were quality WR targets, and Miami also had a fine pass-catching back in Jim Kiick and solid TE's in Jim Mandich and Marv Fleming. That adds up to one of the greatest passing attacks of the last 41 years.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Brett Favre, Retire Already (Part II)

One more thing to consider: Favre’s thrown over 600 passes for two consecutive seasons now. Only two other QB's have ever done that: Drew Bledsoe and Warren Moon. For what it’s worth Moon had a terrible injury-plagued season and was never that effective again following his consecutive 600-attempt years, while Bledsoe threw for a third consecutive 600-attempt season and had the best year of his career in the process. Given his age and decreased effectiveness might Favre suffer from a tired arm in 2007? Well, I found some evidence suggesting that all those throws are wearing Favre down. Dividing his 2005-2006 seasons into quarters, here’s Favre’s QB ratings for each quarterly period:



Favre starts out mediocre, plays very well in weeks 5-8, collapses in weeks 9-12, and the bottom falls out in weeks 13-16. Here are the seasonal splits:



The more he throws, the worse he gets. He needs a strong running game now to rest his arm but that looks like a real longshot this year. If you happen to draft Favre for your fantasy football team, the data strongly suggests getting rid of him after midseason.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Brett Favre, Retire Already

The Green Bay Packers selected Tennessee defensive tackle Justin Harrell in the 2007 NFL Draft. The Pack's defense was pretty poor last year so the pick would seem to be an uncontrovesial one. Yet, as soon as the selection was made, I heard Steve Young ask, "What does this do for Brett Favre?" Yes, the experts all immediately wondered why Green Bay wouldn't draft an offensive weapon or O-lineman to help Favre. And they also wondered what Favre must be thinking. Why wouldn't the team do what was necessary to help him succeed? But what I want to know is the opposite. What is Brett Favre doing to help his team? Like actually retiring! He's played horrifically the last two years and Green Bay's got a QB, Aaron Rodgers, a first-round draft pick, rotting away on the bench for the third-straight year now. What is the point of rolling Favre out there again except to see him break some records. He's not helping his team by playing in 2007. He's hurting it. The numbers don't lie:


At the age of 38, it'd take a real leap of faith to think Favre's turning that around this year. No, the decline is real. Accuracy down, yards per attempt extremely low, fewer TD's and more INT's. Now two significant differences exist between Favre’s 2005 and 2006 seasons: completion percentage and interceptions. Last year his completion percentage dropped 4% to a career-worst 56.0%. However, he reduced his total from 29 to 18, causing a slight uptick in his below-average QB rating. So while his accuracy may have diminished at least he made better decisions right? Not really. Inside the pages of this year's ESPN Fantasy Football Magazine, K.C. Joyner, “The Football Scientist”, counts up every QB’s Near Interceptions and guess who led the NFL in that category in 2006? Of course, Brett Favre. Joyner credits Favre with an incredible 44 Near Interceptions last year. Just two other players even topped 25 Near INT’s: Rex Grossman (37) and Carson Palmer (33). Even accounting for Favre’s large number of passing attempts, he still ranked second in Near Interception Percentage to Grossman.

Given the actual number of total NFL INT’s thrown in 2006 compared to near INT’s, with average luck Favre might have been expected to toss 28 or more INT’s last year rather then his actual 18. Favre finished 30th in QB rating last year (counting QB's with 160 or more attempts). That's pretty bad. Look at who he was able to beat out: Charlie Frye, Brad Johnson, Drew Bledsoe, Jake Plummer, Joey Harrington, Vince Young, Bruce Gradkowski, Aaron Brooks, and Andrew Walter. That's some competition. Other than Young, who was a rookie and added a ton of rushing yards, and Harrington, pressed into service this year by Michael Vick's love of dogfighting, none of those guys will even be starting in 2007. Charlie Frye's who we're comparing Favre to now?

And it could have been worse. Had just 10 of those 44 near interceptions found their way into the hands of NFL defenders, then Favre would have finished second to last, ahead of only the hapless Andrew Walter. Favre played worse than his stats show! Green Bay fans look at him and see the 1995-1997 Favre but he's not that guy anymore; he's just not a quality starting NFL QB now. Sorry, it's true. As long as he plays he'll keep hurting his team. Retire already!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

It's Alright To Cry

Rosey Grier, a six-foot-five, 285-pound mountain of a man (huge for his time), played defensive tackle for two of the NFL’s all-time great defenses. Playing alongside the likes of Sam Huff and Andy Robustelli, Grier won a championship with the 1956 New York Giants and then in the 1960’s Grier became one of the Rams’ famed Fearsome Foursome. In his 11-year career, Grier faced the greatest offensive lineman of his day, but one opponent was always tougher than all the rest. Total Football II informs us that his “toughest battles were with his weight, which sapped his stamina as the season progressed. In training camp, he was a permanent member of the 'fat man' table, suffering through endless meals of lettuce and Jell-O salads as he tried to lose weight." Despite his ongoing battle of the bulge, Grier's fierce play earned him three Pro Bowl trips. As great as Grier may have been though, all that came before my NFL-watching days began. To me, Rosy Grier’s no ex-football star but rather a beloved TV performer. Actually, most of the Fearsome Foursome achieved a measure of television success. Who could forget Deacon Jones encouraging Peter Brady to raise his voice in song and slough off his schoolmates taunts of “canary”? Should their cruel mocking continue Deacon would just have to head-slap their asses into oblivion! And no doubt thanks to owning some incriminating photos of Michael Landon, Merlin Olsen had recurring roles on television for years. But the greatest Foursome performance of them all hands down has to be Mr. Roosevelt Grier on Marlo Thomas’ now-legendary/insufferably preachy 1974 TV Special “Free To Be, You And Me” (and the earlier 1972 record album). Rosy stole the show with his performance (singing and playing) of “It’s All Right to Cry”. My buddy Lewis and I thought this was one of the greatest things we’d ever heard in our entire lives (then and now). It changed us. Ever after, one of us need but sing the title phrase to detonate hysterical laughter in the other. For who could ignore this powerful message, delivered in song by this gentle giant, this ferocious football player, needlepoint aficionado, ordained minister, actor-singer and bodyguard to the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy? Nobody that’s who! Clearly the song’s simple honesty overwhelmed Lew and I and we covered up our childhood insecurities by derisively laughing in the face of truth. You doubt? Well, thanks to YouTube you can listen for yourselves. Do it now. It might make you feel better.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Fun NFL Facts 2

In every year but one between 1958 and 1968, either the Green Bay Packers or the Baltimore Colts played in the NFL Championshp game. Only the 1963 title game (Bears vs. Giants) interrupted the streak. The Packers made the title game 6 times and won 5, while the Colts made it 4 times and won 3 (but lost Super Bowl III after winning the 1968 NFL Championship Game).

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Most Overrated Rivalry in Sports

Whenever you see a list of the all-time greatest sports rivalries, invariably the Bears-Packers rivalry is near the top. You know, up there with Yankees-Red Sox, Celtics-Lakers, and Ohio State-Michigan. Why? I suppose it’s the fact that these have played each other consistently since 1921 and because both teams have so much history. You know the names: Halas, Lombardi, Lambeau, Nagurski, Hutson, Luckman, Nitshke, Butkus, Sayers, Starr, Payton, etc. But when these two teams play every year you know who really cares? Packer fans, Bear fans, and Chris Berman. That’s it. I know I don’t care unless I have a Packer or Bear on my fantasy football team. A great rivalry’s supposed to interest all fans everywhere. Are Chicago-Green Bay games getting great ratings every year? Seems unlikely. Now what about a Patriots-Colts game? Are you watching that? Damn right you are. So I reject Green Bay-Chicago as some kind of classic rivalry. The NFL’s not college football. The league’s greatest rivalries have always been temporary ones involving the best teams of the era battling each other for a shot at the title. Think Pittsburgh vs. Oakland and Pittsburgh vs. Dallas in the 1970’s, Dallas vs. San Francisco in the 1990’s, and New England vs. Indianapolis right now. Remember those great games? The Immaculate Reception, the 1975 AFC Championship Game, Super Bowls X and XIII, the 1992 NFL Championship Game, and last year’s AFC Championship Game. Classics all. Now what classic games do you remember from the Bears-Packers series? Well, the only time the two teams squared off in the postseason was the 1941 divisional playoff (Chicago rolled 33-14). I’m sure you remember that. The two teams did repeatedly fight it out in the leagues’ early decades before anybody really cared about pro football but in the post-war era when one team’s been good the other stinks. When the Bears dominated in the mid-1980’s, Green Bay was below-average. Vice-versa in the mid-1990’s. The Bears are now Super Bowl contenders once more while Green Bay’s rebuilding. Only once in the last 50 years have the Green Bay-Chicago games really meant anything big. In 1963 the two-time defending champion Packers faced off twice against George Halas’ last great Bears team. Chicago swept Green Bay (Green Bay’s only two losses all season), edged them out by half a game for the Western Conference title, and Halas won his final championship as coach. That was football and that was pretty much the last time that series captivated the attention of your average NFL fan. Compare that to last year’s “memorable” season-ender. The number-one seed Bears going through the motions. Favre, once again pretending like he might retire (just do it already!). Not exactly one for the ages.

Honestly, I can’t remember one classic or meaningful Green Bay-Chicago game. I’ll take the Dolphins-Jets rivalry any day. Now that’s a rivalry. Both teams and fan bases hate each other’s guts. And think of all the classic games over the last 25 years. The Monday Night comeback (ugh), the 51-45 OT shootout in 1986 (the pain), the Fake Spike game (yeah!), the 1982 AFC Championship game in a torrential downpour (sweet). No way Chicago-Green Bay measures up to that. Bronko Nagurski and Don Hutson aren’t lining up anymore. I appreciate the history they’ve got going but a great rivalry grabs the attention of every NFL fan, not just those of the two teams playing. By that measure this “rivalry” fails the test of greatness. Nobody cares. It’s a fraud.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

No Relatives Need Apply

The Miami Dolphins recently signed former Oakland Raiders' Tight End Courtney Anderson. Nothing earth-shattering but probably a good move. The real interest here is that to make room for Anderson, Miami cut David Lofton, the son of former NFL receiving great James Lofton. As Jeff pointed out to me, this continues a recent of pattern of the Dolphins giving chances to and then quickly giving up on other relatives of previously successful NFL players. Last year, Miami cut Gerald Riggs' son Gerald Riggs, Jr. Of course they also kicked Bob Griese's son Brian to the curb a few years ago. And most recently the Dolphins got rid of Marcus Vick, brother to the infamous dogfighter. Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas are brothers-in-law. Could you count them as successful Dolphins relatives?

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Too Many Quarterbacks?

Are too many quarterbacks being picked for the Hall of Fame? You couldn't be blamed for thinking that lately. Eight QB's have been inducted in this decade so far, six in the last three years alone! But really, Hall of Fame voters have been putting in quarterbacks at the same rate as they always have. If you assign each QB to a specific decade you get the following:

1950's: Otto Graham, Bobby Layne, Y.A. Tittle, Norm Van Brocklin
1960's: Bart Starr, Johnny Unitas, Sonny Jurgensen, Joe Namath, Len Dawson
1970's: Roger Staubach, Fran Tarkenton, Terry Bradshaw, Bob Griese
1980's: Dan Fouts, Joe Montana, Jim Kelly, John Elway, Dan Marino
1990's: Steve Young, Troy Aikman, Warren Moon

There were some judgment calls to make. Several guys straddled decades so in those cases I generally went with the decade the player had his best years. And with Marino and Elway counting as 80's guys I had to put Kelly there too since they all turned went pro the same year. Anyway, Brett Favre will surely join the 90's group if ever actually retires (big assumption, I can see Zombie Favre continuing to play long after the rest of us are all dead), and nobody else is on the horizon after that. The only two active QB's besides Favre right now are Peyton Manning and Tom Brady and they'd have to be considered 00's. So we can see the Hall has selected four or five quarterbacks per decade. Maybe that's too many but at least the voters have been consistent. The reason for the recent "surge" has been the retirement of so many great QB's in a relatively recent time period. Elway in 1998, Marino and Young in 1999, and Moon and Aikman in 2000 (plus the old-timer selection of Benny Friedman in 2005). Again making the huge leap that Favre stops playing football in the next few years, he'll go into the Hall in the mid-2010's. And it will be a long wait for another QB. If Manning and Brady look like they could keep going for years, so I doubt we see another QB elected after Favre until near the end of the next decade, 2017 at the earliest. Looks like all the other positions will have their chance for recognition in the coming decade.