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29 Jul 2010

The Jim Mora All-Stars

by Aaron Schatz

Two weeks ago, we started a weekly series on "coaching all-stars," the best players in the history of some of the NFL's best (and most-travelled) head coaches. This week's article mixes a great defense from 20 years ago with a great offense with 10 years ago, then spices things up with a few players from the good old USFL. Ladies and gentlemen, your Jim Mora All-Stars!

"SKILL PLAYERS"

QB: Peyton Manning, 2000 Colts
RB: Edgerrin James, 2000 Colts
WR: Marvin Harrison, 2001 Colts
WR: Eric Martin, 1988 Saints
TE: Irv Smith, 1995 Saints
TE: Marcus Pollard, 2001 Colts

Quarterback, running back, and wide receiver are really not tough here. For the other wide receiver spot, we'll give Eric Martin the nod over Quinn Early's 1995 season because Martin had similar numbers in a tougher offensive environment.

One of the hardest things about a Jim Mora All-Star team is figuring out what to do about the fullback position. In the first half of his career, Mora had some excellent fullbacks. Craig Heyward was an old-school fullback who actually split carries with the halfbacks. When Heyward left for Chicago in 1993, the Saints used their fourth-round pick on a kid named Lorenzo Neal. (By the way, Neal only played two games as a rookie, but carried the ball 21 times for 175 yards. As a fullback.) But over the second half of his coaching career, Mora generally used a two-tight end base offense. He had Irv Smith and Wesley Walls, then Ken Dilger and Marcus Pollard. It's really hard to choose between Smith and Walls in 1995, but we'll go with Smith's higher DVOA on fewer passes in a more traditional tight end role. Pollard led all tight ends in DYAR in 2001.

OFFENSIVE LINE

LT: Willie Roaf, 1996 Saints
LG: Brad Edelman, 1987 Saints
C: Bart Oates, 1984 Stars
RG: Derek Kennard, 1992 Saints
RT: Irv Eatman, 1984 Stars

Oates was named to the all-USFL team in 1984, and the only Pro Bowl center that Mora had in the NFL was Joel Hilgenberg in 1992. We'll take him over a young Jeff Saturday. Like Oates, Eatman had a long NFL career after the USFL folded, primarily with Kansas City. He was USFL's "Man of the Year" in 1984. Was that an award for doing charity work, or a combination of actions on and off the field? Honestly, I have no idea.

Trying to figure out guards was difficult. In 15 years as an NFL coach, Mora had only one guard ever make a Pro Bowl roster: Edelman as a reserve in 1987.

FRONT SEVEN

DE: Wayne Martin, 1992 Saints
DT: Jim Wilks, 1989 Saints
DE: William Fuller, 1985 Stars
OLB: Rickey Jackson, 1986 Saints
ILB: Sam Mills, 1992 Saints
ILB: Vaughan Johnson, 1990 Saints
OLB: Pat Swilling, 1991 Saints

Here's another position where Mora surprisingly never had any stars: defensive line. Only one lineman ever made the Pro Bowl, Martin when he had 10 sacks in 1994. But linebackers? All you have to do is look at his New Orleans teams and then try to cherry-pick each player's best year. Hard to go wrong with any of those guys.

Mora ran a 4-3 in Indianapolis and his later years in New Orleans, but a 3-4 in New Orleans, and it looks like his USFL "Doghouse Defense" was a 3-4 as well. We'll go 3-4 here because Mora had so many more stars at linebacker than defensive line. For the spot opposite Martin, I chose Fuller, who went on to have a long and successful NFL career, over Chad Bratzke with the 1999 Colts.

SECONDARY

CB: Eric Allen, 1995 Saints
CB: Robert Massey, 1989 Saints
FS: Mike Lush, 1985 Stars
SS: Brett Maxie, 1991 Saints

Robert Massey had a huge impact on the NFL, considering he's a guy that most of you have probably never heard of. Why was he so important? Robert Massey was Drew Rosenhaus' first client. He signed just a two-year contract when New Orleans took him in the second round of the 1989 draft. Massey was a very promising cover corner, but didn't like the organization, so he demanded a trade during the 1991 offseason. Rosenhaus engineered a deal that sent Massey to Phoenix for Kennard (listed above) and a late-round draft pick. Massey didn't do much in 1991, but ended up making the Pro Bowl in 1992. He also set an NFL record that year, returning two interceptions for touchdowns in a single quarter in a game against Mark Rypien and the defending champion Redskins.

Massey and Allen aside, this is another unit that's hard to pick, because once again we've got a unit where Mora rarely had stars. His Saints defenses were built around linebackers, without big names in the secondary. His Colts defenses had a lot of guys that Bill Polian brought over from the Panthers, including defensive backs Tyrone Poole and Chad Cota. At free safety, I picked Lush and his 10 picks over former cornerback-turned-safety Dave Waymer of the 1989 Saints, although Lush wasn't one of the USFL stars to make an impact in the NFL -- he played one season as a backup for Indianapolis and Minnesota in 1986, was a strikebreaker for Atlanta in 1987, and then never played again.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Morten Andersen, 1992 Saints
P: Sean Landeta, 1983 Stars
RET: Tyrone Hughes, 1993 Saints

I'm not sure which of Sean Landeta's USFL seasons was the best, so we'll go with the year he was chosen as Rookie of the Year and had his highest gross punting average (41.9 yards). At kicker, I decided to take a Morten Andersen year after the NFL started keeping track of kickoff distance. Andersen hit a league-leading 85 percent of his field goals in 1992, and was second in the league with 38 touchbacks. Hughes made the Pro Bowl with two punt return touchdowns in 1993.

Now that we've reached the end, you may notice a bit of a surprise: There are no Colts picks on these teams except for offensive "skill players." I had a couple of guys who I considered -- Bratzke, Saturday, left guard Steve McKinney, outside linebacker Marcus Washington -- but to be honest, those Colts teams were almost entirely powered by Manning, James, and Harrison. (Tarik Glenn was a good left tackle, but come on, who are you going with: Glenn or Willie Roaf?) The 1999 team probably has the biggest gap between DVOA and win-loss record of any team we've ever measured, ranking just 17th despite a 13-3 record. And two of Mora's four Colts teams were also the only two teams in Manning's career to win fewer than 10 games: the 3-13 team of his rookie season, and the 6-10 team in 2001. That team was hurt by the injury to Edgerrin James, but still finished eighth in offensive DVOA. The bigger problem was a horrendous defense, the worst Colts defense of the DVOA Era. It's not really easy to take a linebacker off that defense and move him ahead of one of those great mid-90s Saints linebackers.

Mora may have the clearest trends of any coach we've done so far. His teams generally had excellent backs and receivers, quality tackles, a good center, and strength at linebacker. They were weaker at guard, defensive line, and in the secondary. And until Manning, he didn't really have great quarterbacks. Stars quarterback Chuck Fusina was a Tampa Bay Bucs reject, and Saints quarterbacks included the decidedly average (Bobby Hebert), the past their prime (Jim Everett), and the never met their potential (Steve Walsh).

Next week: Doug Farrar sits in to look at the Dick Vermeil All-Stars.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 29 Jul 2010

34 comments, Last at 30 Jul 2012, 11:22am by turbohappy

Comments

1
by Joseph :: Thu, 07/29/2010 - 8:45pm

That was always the problem with those great Saints teams of the late 80's/early 90's. Great defense/special teams, never enough offense to do well. Got to the playoffs multiple times, but never had the offense to keep up.

2
by Thok :: Thu, 07/29/2010 - 9:08pm

Quarterback, running back, and wide receiver are really not tough here.

1998 Marshall Faulk is at least ponderable as an alternative to 2000 Edgerrin James; I'd think I'd prefer 98 Faulk on obvious passing downs.

3
by Raiderjoe :: Thu, 07/29/2010 - 10:03pm

correcitons to Robert Massey seciton

drafted in 1989 not 90

also was with phoneix cards in 91. So No-Cards trade take place after 90 season but before 91 seoans

4
by Aaron Schatz :: Thu, 07/29/2010 - 10:07pm

Thanks Joe. Fixing that above.

5
by Raiderjoe :: Thu, 07/29/2010 - 10:28pm

Stars defense coached by gerat defensive minds. Obviouslly, Mora great defensive coach. LB coahc at stanford in 60s, then colrado buffs, ucla, wash huskies, seahakws, Patriots amnd then go to stars.
So stars had Mora as head coach but also had Vince tobin as def. coorrdinator and had dom capers cocaching d backs . John pease and Vic fangio other d coaches

6
by Bobman :: Thu, 07/29/2010 - 11:05pm

Great points, RJ, that is a pretty stocked D sideline. But keep in mind that it was Vic Fangio who finally cost Mora his job in Indy (much to Colt fans' joy) when Polian/Irsay said Fangio had to go and Mora said no. "Okay, we'll fire you both and bring in this Dungy guy... he seems to be looking for a job."

7
by John (not verified) :: Thu, 07/29/2010 - 11:42pm

Good point, Bobman. Yes, we were blessed by Mora's loyalty. As a Colts fan, I cannot imagine a better turn of events.

20
by Independent George :: Fri, 07/30/2010 - 11:41am

I didn't know the story behind that. It's unfortunate for Mora, but I admire him all the more for it. He could have been the only coach with both a USFL AND NFL title.

22
by Bobman :: Fri, 07/30/2010 - 12:52pm

IG, At least one of the factors was the D--which was putrid despite them spending a couple years focusing on it. Upper management blamed it on Fangio and a complicated scheme which left guys out on the field thinking and not reacting, and therefore playing slow, missing gaps, and allowing yardage and points in record amounts (plus side: it forced Manning to be a super-prolific "stat whore" in the minds of some, who ignored the issue of the D surrendering 30 pts a game--what choice do you have as QB?).

Mora felt things were better than that and either he (1) was truly loyal to Fangio or (2) drew a line in the sand to establish his power or (3) felt they were wrong and they were just one player away (if you recall the Colts putrid D mid 2006 when they allowed 375 yds rushing to Jax and Dungy said "we close" and 8 weeks later they won the SB, you can see the logic there.). Maybe a combination of the three.

So not entirely sure where all the backgrould lies, but in general, it was "fire Fangio" and mora said no. Dungy was expected to be available, Irsay really liked and admire him.... things just fell together.

Loyalty is good, to a point, and patience is often required, but they are paid to win. Similar situation with Dungy's loyalty to the ST coordinator who oversaw some really putrid ST play, and who was shown the door minutes after Dungy left the building (figuratively speaking). I don't know any Colt fans who mourned the departure of --bah! oh happy day, I already forget his name!

27
by Monkey Business (not verified) :: Fri, 07/30/2010 - 1:28pm

I'm pretty sure Russ Purnell was literally shown the door minutes after Dungy left the building. I remember the 2007 San Diego game where the Chargers had 7 points of total offense, and 14 points off special teams. That game was the one where Freeney got hurt. It was just a nightmare from start to finish.

Dungy hitting the market absolutely hastened Mora's departure. The Colts knew they had to surround Manning with talent, and the only way to do that was to surround him with expensive first round picks, the kind of picks that would normally go into Fangio's defense. With Dungy on the market, the Colts had an option for bringing in a guy that specialized in building a fast, cheap defense, which would allow them to do what they needed to on the offensive side of the ball.

29
by tuluse :: Fri, 07/30/2010 - 4:37pm

Calling a QB a stat whore has to be the laziest criticism ever.

That said, it does seem that the offense changed in 2005 or 2006 from trying to score as many points as possible to a more ball control offense, and it seems to have helped them win more games. Could just be my imagination though.

34
by turbohappy (not verified) :: Mon, 07/30/2012 - 11:22am

More to do with how defenses played them IMO. They started focusing hard on taking away the big plays they scorched the league with in 2004.

23
by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) :: Fri, 07/30/2010 - 12:59pm

"He could have been the only coach with both a USFL AND NFL title."

Perhaps, but it wasn't going to happen with the Colts. The defense was atrocious and he refused to make changes. More importantly, he lost the locker room in 2001, including Peyton Manning. The fact that a well-regarded defensive-oriented coach unexpectedly hit the market may have hastened Mora's departue, but he was on the way out anyway.

8
by melseroad@hotma... :: Fri, 07/30/2010 - 12:36am

Nice job Aaron.

How 'bout a Dick Vermeil team next? His team would have an offense that would make Don Coryell's best look like the O of the 1977 Buccaneers. 1999 Kurt Warner at qb, with a choice of 1999 Marshall Faulk,2001, 2002 or 2003 Priest Holmes, 2005 Larry Johnson or 1978, 1979 or 1981 Wilbert Montgomery as your starting tailback. Your starting rb following Pro Bowl fullback Tony Richardson. How 'bout the entire 2002-2005 Chiefs O line? 1999 Isaac Bruce and 1979 Harold Carmichael at wideout with 2004 Tony Gonzalez at te?

2003 Dante Hall running back kicks to give that O short fields?

Yowsa! That team would be something else.

9
by DavidL :: Fri, 07/30/2010 - 12:38am

"Next week: Doug Farrar sits in to look at the Dick Vermeil All-Stars."

I think you might get your wish!

10
by melseroad@hotma... :: Fri, 07/30/2010 - 12:55am

Sorry. I missed that.

11
by Independent George :: Fri, 07/30/2010 - 1:45am

'99 Marshall Faulk beats all of the other RBs by a wide margin. And he could block, too.

It's the entire Chiefs Offensive line, PLUS Orlando Pace; Willie Roaf gets moved over to the right side.

13
by justanothersteve :: Fri, 07/30/2010 - 8:48am

I also wondered how you could leave off Orlando Pace. You get your choice of Tony Gonzalez years in KC (2004 with 102 catches?) with Isaac Bruce and either a young Tory Holt or Harold Carmichael. And let's not forget those Eagles defenses with Herman Edwards.

28
by melseroad@hotma... :: Fri, 07/30/2010 - 2:18pm

The Bill Bergey-led 1980 Eagles defense would compliment Warner & the boys pretty nicely.

But with a loaded offense like that, along with 2003 Dante Hall returning punts & kicks, you could probably use the 2002 Chiefs defense and totally dominate the opposition.

Espiecally if the Vermeil All-Stars played their home games at the RCA Dome.

30
by melseroad@hotma... :: Fri, 07/30/2010 - 4:48pm

In the 2007 Pro Football Prospectus, Aaron ranked the greatest running back seasons using a standard deviation formula that was similar to what Rob Neyer and Eddie Epstein used in their book Baseball Dynasties and Epstein later used in his chronicle of of great NFL seasons titled Dominance. Aaron called his measurement Z-scores.

Anyway, according to Aaron's Z score methodolgy, Marshall Faulk's 1999 season was rated the second best rb season ever, trailing only OJ Simpson's stellar 1975 campaign.

If Doug goes by Aaron's Z score methodology when he makes his selections, then 1999 Faulk would be the starting tailback on the All-Vermeil team. But Priest's 2001, 2002 and 2003 seasons were nothing to sneeze at. Wilbert Montogomery's 1978, 1979 and 1981 seasons were great too. (I believe ol' Wilbert missed 3 or 4 games in Philly's 1980 NFC championship season).

Torry Holt is undoubtably a great player, but he had less than 1000 yards receiving in 1999, his rookie season. Holt didn't really take off until 2000, after Vermeil left the Rams. Harold Carmichael's 1979 season is better than Holt's rookie season, espiecally considering that it was tougher to pass in 1979 than it was 1999, that it's easier to pass in a dome than at the old Vet and Warner was much better in 1999 than Ron Jaworski was in 1979. (As an aside, I wonder what Carmichael's +/- rating in 1979 would have been. It probably would be pretty high.)

I also wanted to give a "Shout Out" to Neyer and Epstein and their work in the 2 earlier books I mentioned. Baseball Dynasties and Dominance were my first exposure to advanced stats.

12
by Duff Soviet Union :: Fri, 07/30/2010 - 2:07am

How about the Tony Dungy all-stars. Between that Bucs D and the Colts offense, you could get a pretty good team. Is it cheating to move Roaf to right tackle? I was wondering how to choose between him and Pace. I'd also take Faulk over Holmes. Holmes struck me as a fantasy football hall of famer rather than the real thing. Tons of players could have averaged 5ypc behind that line.

14
by loneweasel (not verified) :: Fri, 07/30/2010 - 10:25am

13 posts in and nobody mentioned "Playoffs?!" yet? Internet law, people.

15
by Noah of Arkadia :: Fri, 07/30/2010 - 10:58am

Playoffs? ...Playoffs??? TC hasn't even started yet and you're talking about playoffs?

24
by Bobman :: Fri, 07/30/2010 - 1:11pm

Playoffs? Playoffs!?!? I'm just trying to write an article here and you're talking playoffs?!?!

16
by dryheat :: Fri, 07/30/2010 - 11:13am

You...don't...know.....and you never...will.

17
by JSA (not verified) :: Fri, 07/30/2010 - 11:27am

It would be cool if you could run a simulated "Playoffs!" among these various teams.

25
by Bobman :: Fri, 07/30/2010 - 1:12pm

head... exploding... oh the pain. The wonderful, joyous pain.....

18
by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) :: Fri, 07/30/2010 - 11:30am

"Now that we've reached the end, you may notice a bit of a surprise: There are no Colts picks on these teams except for offensive "skill players.""

Speaking as someone who has followed the Colts a long time, that is not even remotely a surprise. I'd expect to see a couple of Colts defenders on the Dungy all-stars (even with that Bucs D). But the Colts of Mora's time really were all offense and no defense, and that offense was not powered by its line.

19
by Independent George :: Fri, 07/30/2010 - 11:40am

Is that more a credit to Peyton Manning, or a mark against Mora, or a comment on Polian's strategy?

21
by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) :: Fri, 07/30/2010 - 12:47pm

Probably some of each. I couldn't tell in what ratio.

26
by Bobman :: Fri, 07/30/2010 - 1:20pm

Ditto: Think about the history (not the past 7-8 years). Mora joined a 3-13 team (already pretty bad but with some promise), and the turn-around was huge, but largely due to 18, 32, and 88 (with a dash of 81/85 at TE) and competent blocking by the OL.

On the defensive side of things, points were being allowed in huge chunks and even when they made the playoffs, they allowed 100+ and 200+ yard runners just about every time. Manning's inability to win playoff games early on eerily coincided with the D allowing Eddie George to run untouched for 65 yards or Laram "HOF" Smith to amass 209 yards)

No, that D had some game players, maybe some ring of honor type guys, but no all stars. And even the rising stars like Mike Peterson and Marcus Washington were allowed to walk after their final year, for more glory elsewhere.

31
by socctty :: Sat, 07/31/2010 - 6:33pm

I'm not sure how the NFLPA would appreciate this, but it would be pretty awesome to have these teams in Madden. I'm sure someone has said this already...

32
by TruFalcons (not verified) :: Sun, 08/01/2010 - 9:13pm

Correction on the Lorenzo Neal mention - he started his career as a halfback and had to move to fullback as a result of that season-ending injury.

33
by Raiderjoe :: Tue, 08/03/2010 - 12:21am

guy was listed as FB in 2 ga,es he started with saimts in 1993