Are the best defenses against play action the best against regular passes too? How much impact does play action really have in an NFL game, and does it correlate from year to year?
05 Aug 2010
by Doug Farrar
Of all the coaches we’ll profile in this series, Dick Vermeil might be the most interesting from a personnel perspective. Vermeil’s long stretch between coaching tenures (from 1983 through 1996) makes an All-Star team with his name on it an exercise in era-jumping. One of our linebackers (Bill Bergey) began his career in 1969, the same year that another (Mike Jones) was born. Whether in Philadelphia, St. Louis, or Kansas City, Vermeil had an innate ability to turn teams around quickly. His own emotional burn rate -- and the weight of emotions on his soul at times -- may have kept him from even greater things, but his successes are genuine.
QB: Kurt Warner, 1999 St. Louis Rams
RB: Marshall Faulk, 1999 St. Louis Rams
WR: Isaac Bruce, 1999 St. Louis Rams
WR: Harold Carmichael, 1978 Philadelphia Eagles
TE: Tony Gonzalez, 2004 Kansas City Chiefs
TE: Keith Krepfle, 1979 Philadelphia Eagles
With all due respect to Jaws and Trent Green, quarterback was the second-easiest pick on this list. Faulk had some murderous competition from Priest Holmes and the underrated Wilbert Montgomery. I almost went with Holmes because he had more great years with Vermeil as his coach (he led all running backs in DVOA and DYAR in both 2001 and 2002), but then I put together the All-Vermeil offensive line. I’m not saying that Holmes was helped by his line at a Shaun Alexander level, but I think Faulk did just a bit more with less. Torry Holt was one of many Rams players who either came of age or were acquired right after Vermeil retired – it’s safe to say that he left the team a bit early.
The 6-foot-8 Carmichael was a treat to watch, especially when matched up against 5-foot-9 cornerback Pat Fischer of the Redskins. Gonzo is the obvious tight end choice with Krepfle’s 41-catch season in 1979 added by default. A Vermeil All-Star Team should probably have one fewer tight end and an added RB/WR position – after all, with this line, we won’t require many six-man sets. Put Holmes in the backfield, split Faulk out wide once in a while, and make things interesting. And yes, Kansas City’s Tony Richardson would be on here with a FB designation – should we go with his 2000 season, which was the only one he had with over 1,000 yards from scrimmage, or the 2002-2004 era, when he was blocking the living crap out of everything that moved (yet another reason I have to put Faulk above Holmes)?
LT: Orlando Pace, 1999 St. Louis Rams
LG: Brian Waters, 2003 Kansas City Chiefs
C: Casey Wiegmann, 2003 Kansas City Chiefs
RG: Will Shields, 2003 Kansas City Chiefs
RT: Willie Roaf, 2004 Kansas City Chiefs
Well, good luck getting defenders past this group on a regular basis. Pace is the rock star here; one of the Holy Trinity of linemen coming out of the late 1990s along with Jonathan Ogden and Walter Jones. Because of Pace’s greatness, we’ll move Roaf over and give that right side a very formidable look. Wiegmann is now back in Kansas City after making the Pro Bowl in 2008 with Denver’s great offensive line.
LDE: Kevin Carter, 1999 St. Louis Rams
NT: Charlie Johnson, 1980 Philadelphia Eagles
DT: D’Marco Farr, 1999 St. Louis Rams
RDE: Carl Hairston, 1979 Philadelphia Eagles
OLB: Donnie Edwards, 2001 Kansas City Chiefs
MLB: Bill Bergey, 1978 Philadelphia Eagles
OLB: Mike Jones, 1999 St. Louis Rams
Unfortunately, London Fletcher and Leonard Little really blew up just after Vermeil left the Rams; obviously, they’d both be on this list otherwise. Hairston started the Eagles’ Super Bowl XVI loss to the Oakland Raiders, led the NFC with 15 sacks in 1979, and subsequently coached the 1999 Rams defensive line that ranked third in Adjusted Line Yards and 12th in Adjusted Sack Rate. Therefore, he gets a special nod as the only person on the team to show up in both Vermeil eras.
Johnson excelled in 3-man fronts, but he’ll be our 4-3 nose alongside Farr, who had 8.5 sacks and four forced fumbles in 1999. Bergey was an absolute force for the Eagles and Bengals; and never more so under Vermeil than in 1978, when he picked off four passes. I searched a while for the third linebacker on this defense – the primary reason I thought a 4-3 made sense – and I’m going with Mike Jones. Jones didn’t just make the tackle that finalized Vermeil’s lone Super Bowl win; he had four interceptions and ran two back for touchdowns that year.
We have to save a place for Herm!, especially the Herm! who had seven interceptions in 1978 and a fumble recovery for touchdown at the Meadowlands that same year; perhaps you’ve heard of it. Lyght had that one six-pick Pro Bowl year in 1999, but he was no one-hit wonder. He just happened to put up solid numbers through the mid-90s when the Rams were awful. For our safeties, we’ll take Woods and Wesley from the best Chiefs team Vermeil ever had. Their overall pass defense was nothing to brag about, but Woods made the Pro Bowl and Wesley had six picks in 2003.
Hall was by far the easiest choice on this list. He let the NFL in all-purpose yards in both 2003 and 2004, and was getting serious MVP talk among some prognosticators at the time. Vermeil never had what you would call exceptional kickers, but Andersen did a nice job of booting all those extra points for the Chiefs in 2002 and 2003; we’ll put the 2002 version in for his slightly higher field goal percentage. Finding a punter was tougher. I was surprised to see how many of Vermeil’s punters were below league average in yards per punt (hey -- give me a break -- in some cases, we're not just talking pre-DVOA, we're discussing guys that played around the time when the creator of DVOA was born), and Rick “Rootin’” Tuten was the best of a bad bunch.
As far as overall patterns go, Vermeil’s teams always had outstanding and versatile backs – people know all about Faulk and Priest Holmes, but Wilbert Montgomery was one of those guys, like Chuck Foreman, who seem to be forgotten when people want to insist that Roger Craig was the first complete rushing/receiving threat.
He always had great quarterbacks, and none of them were what you’d call obvious picks -- there’s Warner’s Cinderella story, and Jaws was an undistinguished 1973 second-round pick of the Rams, who spent three years backing up James Harris, Pat Haden, and John Hadl before getting his best shot in Philly. Trent Green was drafted in the eighth round (in 1993, back when there was an eighth round) by the Chargers. Of course, Green’s real claim to fame is as the Don Majkowski to Warner’s you-know-who. Defense became more of an issue through Vermeil's career, and it may surprise some who only remember his hotshot Rams and Chiefs teams that the 1980 and 1981 Eagles each led the NFL in scoring defense.
Through his St. Louis and Kansas City turns, Vermeil just missed out on a lot of great defensive players – he left St. Louis before Aeneas Williams came on board, and missed Derrick Thomas by two years in K.C. We already discussed Fletcher and Little. As a result, many of his defensive All-Stars are lesser-known players who had career years at the right time.
I would compare Vermeil to Bill Walsh in one way – both men retired after a Super Bowl win, and I think both men regretted the decision in the end. Well, Walsh made his regret public; the regret for Vermeil may be mine. As much as he did to turn the Chiefs around, I wonder if the Rams would have extended their ride with Vermeil on board for a few more seasons. Another Super Bowl win? That many more winning seasons? That’s the great unknown in the career of a coach I greatly admire.
34 comments, Last at 09 Aug 2010, 12:13pm by Dean