1989 DVOA Ratings and Commentary

1989 DVOA Ratings and Commentary
1989 DVOA Ratings and Commentary
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Aaron Schatz

When the San Francisco 49ers became a playoff team again two years ago, many football fans must have felt like the order of the universe had finally fallen into place again. Those few years where the 49ers were a terrible team made no sense. The San Francisco 49ers are supposed to be good every single year. Many of us became football fans during that long, historic streak where the 49ers won double-digit games every single season from 1983 through 1998. One of the best of those years was 1989, the year Bill Walsh turned the reins of the team over to former defensive coordiantor George Seifert. The defending champion 49ers outscored opponents by nearly 200 points and went 14-2 on their way to their fourth Super Bowl title. It is not a shock that the 49ers are way ahead of the rest of the league now that we have broken down all of the play-by-play from the 1989 season to create DVOA and DYAR ratings.

Every year or so we've gone back and added an old year to our archives, but this time, we got to break down two years of old play-by-play simultaneously. We'll introduce the 1989 ratings today and the 1990 ratings tomorrow. Of course, this all could not have been done without the amazing hard work of Jeremy Snyder, who has transcribed tons of gamebooks and even watched and marked new play-by-play off of old videotapes for games that no longer have gamebooks in existence. Jeremy also went through and took some great notes on interesting plays and facts about the 1989 season, which you'll find later on in this essay.

One indication of just how remarkable the 1989 49ers season was is that they lost only two games by a combined five points: 13-12 to the Rams in Week 4 and 21-17 to the Packers in Week 11. Both games were at Candlestick Park. In fact, the Rams game was the only game that the 49ers played at Candlestick Park until November, due to the World Series Earthquake. They were actually scheduled to start the year with three games on the road. Because the San Francisco Baseball Giants needed Candlestick Park for postseason baseball, the 49ers' Week 5 game was moved to New Orleans with the later Week 9 game moved from New Orleans to San Francisco, while their Week 7 game with the Patriots came five days after the earthquake and was played at Stanford.

The 49ers led the league with 36.0% total DVOA in 1989, which ranks as the ninth best season in DVOA history and was nearly 12 percentage points ahead of second-place Cleveland. (The idea of 9-6-1 Cleveland finishing second is weird in and of itself, but we'll get to that in a bit.) This is the fourth-largest gap between No. 1 and No. 2 in the database, trailing only 1991 (Washington over San Francisco), 2007 (New England over Indianapolis), and 1996 (Green Bay over San Francisco). The 49ers ranked fifth in defensive DVOA, but what really drove them to the championship was their offense, which was significantly ahead of the rest of the league.

The 49ers' offensive dominance spread all across our positional ratings for 1989. That starts with Jerry Rice, who's standard stats of 82 catches, 1,483 yards, and 17 touchdowns worked out to 563 receiving DYAR. This is the fourth-best season by a wide receiver in our database (the top three, of course, were discussed in an article just a week ago). Rice would rank even higher if we didn't ding him for an easy schedule; his 1989 total of 590 YAR is the highest ever. This marks four years so far where Rice leads the league in wide receiver DYAR: 1989, 1994, 1996, and -- SPOILER ALERT! -- 1990.

Rice is only second in the league in DVOA (minimum 50 passes), because his running mate John Taylor had a fabulous 56.3% DVOA with 80 percent catch rate on 75 pass attempts. This is the best receiving DVOA ever for a wide receiver with at least targets, although it still ranks slightly behind that totally out-of-career-pattern 60.5% DVOA year Dennis Northcutt had with 51 targets in 2002. Tight end Brent Jones didn't lead his position in DYAR or DVOA, but he was second with 133 DYAR and fourth with 29.3% DVOA.

When your receivers are this good, your quarterbacks are probably going to be equally as good (and vice versa). Joe Montana led the league with 1,381 passing DYAR in only 13 games. This is the first year we have where Montana leads the league in DYAR, and it is very unlikely to be the last. Montana also led the league with 123 rushing DYAR, gaining 262 yards on 32 runs (which I assume were mostly scrambles; they weren't marked that way back then). When Montana was out, Steve Young came in, and his 48.3% passing DVOA led all quarterbacks with at least 100 passes, although he narrowly makes that minimum at 105 passes.

The one position where the 49ers are missing from the league leaders? Running back, suggesting that the importance of passing over rushing was as true 25 years ago as it is now. The 49ers were fourth in run DVOA at 7.8%, but compare that to the power of their pass offense, which was at 51.7%.

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And yet, with all that being said, it's interesting to see just how big the difference was between "dominant offense" in 1989 and "dominant offense" in today's NFL. San Francisco's offensive DVOA of 26.2% doesn't even make the all-time top 20, and it pales in comparison to the ratings over 40% that the New England Patriots put up in 2007 and 2010. Remember, DVOA is now normalized for each individual season, so this has nothing to do with overall offensive levels being lower 25 years ago. The gap between the best offenses and the average offenses of today is just much, much larger than the gap between the best offenses and the average offenses of 20-25 years ago.

* * * * *

Here are the Football Outsiders team efficiency ratings for 1989, measured by our proprietary Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) system that breaks down every single play and compares a team's performance to the league averaged based on situation and opponent in order to determine value over average.  (Explained further here.)

DVOA represents adjusted statistics.  OFFENSE and DEFENSE DVOA are adjusted for opponent quality and to consider all fumbles, kept or lost, as equal value.  SPECIAL TEAMS DVOA is adjusted for type of stadium (warm, cold, dome, Denver) and week of season. NON-ADJ TOTAL VOA does not include these adjustments.  DVOA is a better indicator of team quality.  VOA is a better indicator of actual wins.  WEIGHTED DVOA gives a stronger consideration to games late in the season.  Remember that, as always, defense is better when it is NEGATIVE.

1 SF 36.0% 39.9% 14-2 26.2% 1 -11.5% 5 -1.7% 21
2 CLE1 24.4% 19.0% 9-6-1 5.2% 8 -16.9% 3 2.3% 7
3 LARM 19.9% 20.1% 11-5 17.3% 3 -2.0% 13 0.6% 13
4 DEN 19.0% 21.0% 11-5 1.8% 13 -16.6% 4 0.6% 14
5 MIN 18.0% 20.8% 10-6 0.3% 16 -17.8% 2 -0.1% 16
6 NYG 16.4% 16.0% 12-4 0.9% 14 -9.4% 7 6.1% 1
7 BUF 15.3% 15.5% 9-7 7.2% 7 -6.8% 10 1.2% 8
8 PHI 11.5% 15.8% 11-5 -3.6% 17 -18.9% 1 -3.8% 25
9 CIN 11.5% 7.5% 8-8 17.5% 2 -2.0% 14 -7.9% 28
10 WAS 11.4% 16.5% 10-6 9.5% 5 -2.1% 12 -0.2% 17
11 CHI 9.6% 0.8% 6-10 9.7% 4 1.2% 17 1.1% 9
12 NO 9.2% 11.5% 9-7 2.1% 12 -4.0% 11 3.1% 5
13 KC 7.7% 9.4% 8-7-1 0.4% 15 -10.4% 6 -3.1% 24
14 LARD 4.8% 5.2% 8-8 2.8% 11 1.0% 16 3.0% 6
15 GB -0.1% 3.2% 10-6 8.9% 6 8.3% 20 -0.7% 19
16 SD -2.7% -5.3% 6-10 -3.7% 18 -7.7% 8 -6.6% 27
17 IND -7.2% -2.0% 8-8 -14.2% 25 -7.0% 9 0.1% 15
18 PIT -8.7% -12.0% 9-7 -13.4% 24 0.2% 15 4.9% 3
19 DET -11.4% -12.5% 7-9 -15.6% 26 1.8% 18 6.0% 2
20 HOIL -11.8% -10.4% 9-7 3.3% 10 10.6% 22 -4.5% 26
21 TB -13.5% -15.8% 5-11 -7.2% 21 3.4% 19 -2.9% 22
22 MIA -13.9% -11.6% 8-8 4.7% 9 18.3% 28 -0.3% 18
23 NE -16.7% -18.1% 5-11 -4.3% 19 13.4% 23 0.9% 11
24 ATL -21.6% -24.4% 3-13 -6.3% 20 16.3% 27 1.0% 10
25 SEA -23.0% -24.2% 7-9 -10.4% 23 9.6% 21 -3.0% 23
26 NYJ -25.5% -28.2% 4-12 -8.7% 22 16.0% 26 -0.8% 20
27 PHX -26.8% -26.8% 5-11 -16.9% 27 13.5% 24 3.7% 4
28 DAL -36.2% -35.3% 1-15 -23.3% 28 13.6% 25 0.7% 12
  • ESTIMATED WINS uses a statistic known as "Forest Index" that emphasizes consistency as well as DVOA in the most important specific situations: red zone defense, first quarter offense, and performance in the second half when the score is close. It then projects a number of wins adjusted to a league-average schedule and a league-average rate of recovering fumbles.
  • WEIGHTED DVOA is adjusted so that earlier games in the season become gradually less important. It better reflects how the team was playing at the end of the season.
  • 1989 SCHEDULE lists average DVOA of opponents played this season, ranked from hardest schedule (#1, most positive) to easiest schedule (#28, most negative).
  • PYTHAGOREAN WINS represent a projection of the team's expected wins based solely on points scored and allowed.
  • VARIANCE measures the statistical variance of the team's weekly DVOA performance. Teams are ranked from most consistent (#1, lowest variance) to least consistent (#28, highest variance).

RANK 1989
1 SF 36.0% 14-2 12.9 1 42.9% 1 -2.0% 22 12.8 1 11.9% 7
2 CLE1 24.4% 9-6-1 10.5 5 16.7% 6 -3.6% 25 10.5 5 23.4% 25
3 LARM 19.9% 11-5 10.7 3 22.4% 2 -0.4% 16 10.1 10 14.5% 15
4 DEN 19.0% 11-5 10.5 4 18.8% 4 0.6% 12 12.0 2 10.5% 4
5 MIN 18.0% 10-6 10.2 6 21.8% 3 0.7% 11 10.3 8 17.8% 19
6 NYG 16.4% 12-4 11.6 2 13.6% 8 -1.2% 17 10.9 4 8.8% 3
7 BUF 15.3% 9-7 9.3 9 17.2% 5 -5.5% 27 10.5 6 14.5% 16
8 PHI 11.5% 11-5 9.5 8 11.0% 9 0.0% 13 10.1 11 7.8% 2
9 CIN 11.5% 8-8 9.1 11 8.4% 12 -0.4% 15 11.2 3 25.7% 27
10 WAS 11.4% 10-6 10.0 7 10.9% 10 -5.5% 28 10.2 9 11.0% 5
11 CHI 9.6% 6-10 9.0 12 -4.5% 17 3.2% 6 7.5 16 20.5% 24
12 NO 9.2% 9-7 9.2 10 10.7% 11 -0.2% 14 10.4 7 18.0% 20
13 KC 7.7% 8-7-1 8.6 14 14.7% 7 -3.3% 23 9.0 12 13.3% 12
14 LARD 4.8% 8-8 8.7 13 0.5% 15 -1.8% 20 8.6 13 19.2% 21
RANK 1989
15 GB -0.1% 10-6 8.2 15 1.5% 14 -1.9% 21 8.2 14 13.0% 10
16 SD -2.7% 6-10 7.8 16 5.3% 13 -1.5% 19 7.2 17 14.6% 17
17 IND -7.2% 8-8 7.0 18 -12.8% 21 0.9% 10 7.9 15 13.6% 13
18 PIT -8.7% 9-7 7.6 17 -5.5% 18 1.2% 8 6.1 21 36.3% 28
19 DET -11.4% 7-9 7.0 19 -0.4% 16 1.3% 7 6.5 20 19.4% 22
20 HOIL -11.8% 9-7 6.7 20 -12.5% 20 3.2% 4 6.8 18 23.8% 26
21 TB -13.5% 5-11 6.2 22 -24.8% 25 4.8% 2 5.4 22 19.4% 23
22 MIA -13.9% 8-8 6.3 21 -12.2% 19 -4.6% 26 6.7 19 12.0% 9
23 NE -16.7% 5-11 5.6 23 -12.9% 22 -3.6% 24 5.4 23 11.9% 8
24 ATL -21.6% 3-13 3.9 26 -24.7% 24 3.2% 5 4.0 26 7.6% 1
25 SEA -23.0% 7-9 4.3 24 -23.9% 23 6.5% 1 5.3 24 13.2% 11
26 NYJ -25.5% 4-12 4.1 25 -26.0% 26 1.0% 9 3.8 27 15.1% 18
27 PHX -26.8% 5-11 3.9 27 -29.6% 28 -1.4% 18 4.6 25 13.9% 14
28 DAL -36.2% 1-15 2.7 28 -28.6% 27 3.9% 3 2.8 28 11.8% 6

DVOA for 1989 is now listed in the stats pages:

So, what about that Cleveland Browns team that was a distant second behind San Francisco in DVOA? There was still a reasonably-sized gap between the Browns and the rest of the league, but that certainly does not jive with public perception of that Browns team or what happened to them the following year. The 1989 season is seen as the beginning of the Browns' downfall after their successful years of the late 1980s. With new head coach Bud Carson replacing the fired Marty Schottenheimer, the Browns only went 9-6-1, although they did manage to advance to the AFC Championship game. They lost there to Denver for the third time in four years. This is the one of those three games that doesn't have a special nickname, as Denver won easily 37-21. (The Browns had the higher DVOA rating, but this certainly was not an upset by Football Outsiders standards, given that the Broncos had home-field advantage.)

By advanced stats, the Browns were certainly better than their record. Not only are they No. 2 in DVOA, but they finished fifth with 10.5 Pythagorean wins. Trying to figure out the gap between advanced stats and public perception is really difficult here. A lot of the perception problem is probably about defense. The Browns of the late 1980s aren't thought of now as a great defense, but they finished third in defensive DVOA behind Philadelphia (featuring many of the same players who would lead the Eagles to the all-time best defensive DVOA two years later) and Minnesota. Defensive tackle Michael Dean Perry was an All-Pro while outside linebacker Clay Matthews Sr., middle linebacker Mike Johnson, and cornerback Frank Minnifield all made the Pro Bowl. Minnifield's partner Hanford Dixon was pretty good too.

Some of the gap between perception and reality has to do with an absolutely horrendous record of fumble recovery on offense, where the Browns recovered only five of their own 19 fumbles. Defense was better but still a little slanted, with the Browns recovering 11 of 25 fumbles. However, there isn't a schedule issue here, as the Browns finished 25th with one of the easiest schedules in the league. And the Browns' advanced stats aren't totally skewed by a bunch of close losses and huge wins. The Browns beat the Steelers 51-0 in Week 1, which gives us one of our best (Cleveland, 149.2%) and worst (Pittsburgh, -158.5%) single-game DVOA ratings ever. But they had only one other win by more than two touchdowns, and they were a not-horrible 3-4-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less.

Making this Browns team even more confusing is that usually you would expect a team which looks better in DVOA or Pythagorean wins than it does in regular wins to do better the following year. Instead, the Browns completely imploded. They lost only four starters on offense and two on defense, plus their offensive coordinator, some guy named Marc Trestman. Still -- here's a second spoiler alert on 1990 -- they plummeted from 9-6-1 to 3-13 and from second in total DVOA to 26th out of 28 teams. We'll explore the Browns' collapse more when we get to 1990. Maybe there was something in the water that year, as both the Rams and Broncos collapsed as well after being strong in 1989.

Returning to discussion of that Browns-Steelers game, it's actually a bit surprising how extreme these DVOA ratings are given that Cleveland scored three of their touchdowns on turnover recoveries and were stopped inside the 10 and forced to kick a field goal three times. (OK, not forced, but coaches weren't any more aggressive in 1989 than they are now.) Bubby Brister was 10-for-22 with three picks that day and the Steelers fumbled six times, five recovered by the Browns. One of the other greatest DVOA mismatches of all-time came 10 years later, also in Week 1, also with the same two teams. Sort of.

After losing their first two games by a combined 92-10, the Steelers ended up in the playoffs. Going into the last week of the season, the Steelers needed to win on the road in Tampa Bay and have the Colts, Bengals, and Raiders all lose in order to make the postseason. All the dominoes fell the right way, with the Bengals losing in the final Monday Night Football game to a Minnesota team that had to win in order to beat out Green Bay for a division title. The Steelers were only 18th in DVOA, but their wild card opponent Houston was just 20th, and the Steelers beat them before losing to Denver the next week. This Pittsburgh team is also known for the fact that the NBC directors were completely obsessed with showing shots of Bubby Brister's mom in the stands.

The 1989 Bears were the best of the losing teams, combining a hard schedule and some bad luck to go 6-10 despite finishing 11th in total DVOA. The Packers, meanwhile, finished 15th in total DVOA -- that's the bottom half of a 28-team league, remember -- despite going 10-6, while the Dolphins were 22nd in DVOA despite going 8-8. The 1-15 Cowboys were dead last in DVOA, which will surprise nobody. Of course, we know now what that team would turn into.

The 12-4 Giants led the league on special teams, followed by the Detroit Lions and the Steelers. The Lions' No. 2 special teams were pretty much entirely Eddie Murray. Murray hit 20 of 21 field goals and all 36 extra points in a year where field-goal kickers around the league averaged just 72.5 percent. In FO stats, despite a penalty for kicking indoors, Murray comes out as being worth 16.7 points more than an average field-goal kicker would be worth from the same distances. The next-best kicker of the season was Chris Jacke of Green Bay at 6.8 points above average. That's a gap, kids.

And yet, the Lions also would have led the league in special teams if not for Eddie Murray. Murray was the worst kickoff man in the league, finishing dead last with minus-10.1 points of gross kickoff value. (The Lions were better in net kickoff value, 22nd, because they had good coverage teams.) Near the end of the season, Wayne Fontes had Murray go out and kick a 36-yard field goal with 20 seconds left and the Lions beating Tampa Bay 30-0, telling reporters afterwards he was trying to get Murray into the Pro Bowl. The Lions actually lost the shutout when Joe Ferguson threw a 69-yard touchdown to Mark Carrier on the last play of the game, but Murray made the Pro Bowl because a) he was awesome on field goals and b) nobody pays attention to kickoff distance except Football Outsiders, and I was 15 years old at the time.

Now let's take a look at the best and worst players by position:

Quarterbacks: Jim Everett, not yet driven to insanity by Jim Rome, finished second behind Montana with 1,360 DYAR. The top five is rounded out by Boomer Esiason, Warren Moon, and Mark Rypien. (In case you thought that the 1991 Rypien was a one-year wonder, he wasn't.) Some legendary quarterbacks had down seasons in 1989, including Dan Marino (875 DYAR, sixth); Jim Kelly (478 DYAR, 10th); and John Elway (202 DYAR, 19th). And way down at the bottom of the league is the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, rookie Troy Aikman, with -299 passing DYAR, built off a combination of nine touchdowns and 18 interceptions with just 6.0 yards per attempt. Clearly this was not all Aikman's fault, as backup Steve Walsh is 36th out of 39 quarterbacks with -138 DYAR.

You may have read a stat we commonly give when discussing struggling young quarterbacks: it is very rare for a quarterback to play below replacement level in his first two seasons and eventually improve to the point where he is a legitimate NFL starter. Until we ran 1989 and 1990, the best quarterback by far who qualified for this statement was Alex Smith. Here's another spoiler alert for the 1990 ratings: Troy Aikman is now way, way beyond Alex Smith as the best quarterback who ever was below replacement level in his first two seasons, combining for -550 DYAR in years one and two.

Quarterbacks making their first-ever appearances in the FO database include Doug Williams (-8.8% DVOA on 95 passes) and Ron Jaworski (-27.6% DVOA on 64 passes).

Running Backs: Chicago's Neal Anderson led all running backs with 254 rushing DYAR, boosted in part by a difficult schedule of opposing run defenses. The Bears played each of the top four run defenses that season, and Minnesota and Detroit were both in the top ten. Anderson is in a virtual tie with Cincinnati's James Brooks at 250 rushing DYAR. Barry Sanders is third. Ernest Byner is fourth; he also led all backs with at least 100 carries with 24.8% DVOA and was second with 61 percent Success Rate. Christian Okoye, who led the league with 370 carries and 1,480 yards, was fifth in DYAR.

Bo Jackson was sixth with 175 rushing DYAR. If you prorate that from 11 games to a full 16, he would narrowly lead the league at 255. This is sort of Jackson's first time appearing in DVOA (the first time I'm writing about it) and sort of not (since he played in 1990 also). I didn't realize what a boom-and-bust back he was. In fact, Jackson may surpass Barry Sanders as the greatest boom-and-bust back of all-time because I'm not sure Jackson can blame his offensive line. Jackson finished 37th out of 42 running backs with 43 percent Success Rate, but he had so many great long runs that he ended up third with 17.1% DVOA. Meanwhile, teammate Steve Smith was fourth with a 57 percent Success Rate, and Marcus Allen had a 59 percent Success Rate on 69 carries, but both finished behind Jackson in DVOA.

Jackson gets just 51 DYAR for the first of his two famous Cincinnati games, the one with a 92-yard touchdown run featuring amazing change of direction (see video). Six of Jackson's 13 carries in that game gained three yards or fewer.

The lowest rushing DYAR of the year belongs to "the other" Curt Warner at the end of his strong career, as he gained just 3.3 yards per carry. Almost as low in DYAR, with fewer carries, was Phoenix's Tony Jordan, who gained just 211 yards on 83 carries. That's 2.5 yards per carry for -91 DYAR and -35.6% DVOA.

Thurman Thomas led all running backs with 254 receiving DYAR, followed by Dalton Hilliard and Dave Meggett.

Wide Receivers: As noted earlier, Jerry Rice and John Taylor were first and third in receiving DYAR. Sterling Sharpe was second with 425 DYAR, while the Los Angeles Rams duo of Flipper Anderson and Henry Ellard Is My Personal Pet Hall of Fame Candidate finished fourth and fifth. Anderson got 160 of his 341 DYAR in the Week 12 game against New Orleans where he set the all-time single-game receiving yardage record with 336 yards. That total doesn't include 35 yards he gained on a Defensive Pass Interference call, and it doesn't consider the fact that the Saints were actually a slightly above-average pass defense in 1989. Our stats do consider these things, which is why Anderson's game surpasses Jimmy Smith's 141-DYAR game against the 2000 Ravens as the greatest wide receiver game in DVOA/DYAR history.

Walter Stanley of Detroit was dead last with -161 receiving DYAR and his -47.8% receiving DVOA is the second-lowest ever for a wideout with at least 50 targets. He caught 24 of 60 passes for just 304 yards with two fumbles and no touchdowns. It wasn't all bad; he did lead the league with 13.8 yards per punt return, which was the other reason the Lions had such good special teams besides Eddie Murray's field-goal percentage.

And in the latest edition of DVOA Loves Michael Irvin, the second-year receiver played only six games due to injury but at -0.3% had the second-best receiving DVOA on the Cowboys, trailing only fullback Daryl Johnston at 15.7%.

Tight Ends: Rodney Holman of Cincinnati led the league with 206 receiving DYAR as a tight end, and was second in DVOA (minimum 25 passes) behind Mike Dyal of the Raiders. Behind Holman, Jones, and Dyal to complete the DYAR top five were Keith Jackson and Mickey Shuler, with Mark Bavaro sixth. The lowest receiving DYAR for a tight end, by more than 50, belonged to Jay Novacek in his fifth and last year with the Cardinals. I have to admit that I didn't even remember that Jay Novacek had played for the Cardinals, let alone for five years. If you consider how much better he was with Dallas, and you consider that he had a 43 percent catch rate as a tight end, then wow, he must have been the king of all unfortunate dumpoff outlets. The previous low for receiving DVOA by a tight end with at least 50 pass targets was -36.2% by Robert Royal in 2008. Novacek was at -47.7% on 53 targets.

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Here are some more fun tidbits about the 1989 season. Thanks again to Jeremy Snyder for putting these all together and finding video.

  • 1989 is the first year back in the database with no bye weeks. For those curious about the technical aspects of DVOA, we fooled our Excel macros by telling them that every team had a bye week in Week 17.
  • If you want some nostalgia, here are the NFL Primetime highlights from Week 1 of 1989 and here are some from Week 13.
  • On the Week 1 telecast of Falcons-Rams, Falcons cornerback Bobby Butler gave his list of the top wide receivers in the NFL. He had Mike Quick first, ahead of Jerry Rice. Mike Quick had 22 receptions for 508 yards in 1988, and had 22 receptions the rest of his career.
  • The Chargers got stuck with a safety on a punt return in Week 1 when Victor Floyd muffed a punt, tried to take it out of the end zone, and then retreated.
  • In a case of the Raiders being the Raiders, a Week 3 game against Denver featured three offensive holding calls that moved the Raiders from second-and-9 on the Denver 12 to second-and-40 on the Denver 43. (The last one was walked off slightly too far by the officials.)
  • In another, much better case of the Raiders being the Raiders, Los Angeles made Art Shell the first African-American head coach in modern NFL history when he replaced Mike Shanahan in Week 5.
  • The Steelers moved offensive tackle Mike Hinnant to tight end at halftime of their Week 5 game against the Bengals, changing his number in-game from 67 to 81, then cut him after the game.
  • At the beginning of the fourth quarter of the Week 7 Denver at Seattle game, with the Seahawks leading 14-7, punter Ruben Rodriguez punted the ball so high and so short that it landed two yards behind the line of scrimmage despite going untouched by the punt blocking team. The Broncos took over at their own 40, scored a game-tying touchdown, and won the game in overtime when Dave Krieg threw an interception from his own 15 and Dave Treadwell kicked a 27-yard field goal.
  • Not to be outdone, in Week 14 Detroit's Jim Arnold punted the ball into the back of teammate John Miller, leading to a punt that officially travelled minus-10 yards.
  • The Saints had a U.Johnson, a V.Johnson, and a W.Johnson on their roster for the Week 8 game with Atlanta. The official scorer made no attempt to make any distinction between the three players and we hate him.
  • In Week 9, the Packers scored a go-ahead touchdown on a last-minute fourth-down pass from Don Majkowski to Sterling Sharpe, the first time in history officials used instant replay on a play that would determine who won the game (video here).
  • Great Annals of Wussy Punting: In Week 11 Sam Wyche had the Bengals punt on fourth-and-4 from the Lions' 27. Not surprisingly, it was a touchback.
  • Legend of Buddy Ryan Part I: In Week 11, the Eagles were beating Minnesota 10-9 with 15 seconds left and faced fourth-and-22 at their own 24. Ryan, wanting to protect against a blocked punt or a long return and knowing that a penalty for too many men on the field and replay of the down would only take more time off the clock, sent out a punt unit with 14 (or 15, history seems to be unsure) players. Officials completely failed to notice and Ryan was fined in the offseason only after bragging about his "Polish Punt Team."
  • Legend of Buddy Ryan Part II: The Bounty Bowl, Thanksgiving Day. I feel like we need to bring Mike Tanier back to even try to do that one justice, but here's some video discussing it.
  • Legend of Buddy Ryan Part III: On a frigid, windy day in New Jersey, Ryan had Randall Cunningham punt on fourth-and-33 from the Eagles' 2-yard line in the fourth quarter. The punt went 91 yards to the Giants' 7-yard line and was returned only to the 16. Again, this was fourth down, so this wasn't even a surprise punt that just bounced around behind the entire defense. Cunningham's leg and the wind were both that strong. Video here.
  • Newspaper quotes we would never see in today's NFL, from Jets-Steelers in Week 14: "[Al Toon] made a juggling reception with his arms extended, took one step, then was cracked helmet to chin by Steelers safety Thomas Everett. As Toon lay on the Giants Stadium turf, linebacker Greg Lloyd, trailing the play, rolled over Toon and counted him out wrestling style. 'I gave him a 1-2-3 count like wrassling. I was trying to spark my teammates." Toon, for those who do not know, retired early due to concussion symptoms.
  • In case you were wondering how much Sam Wyche and Jerry Glanville hated each other, the Bengals beat the Oilers 61-7 in Week 15. They ran an onside kick with the score 45-0, used the punter to kick an extra point out of spite, and kicked a field goal with the score 58-7 and 25 seconds left. Tune in to the 1990 ratings and commentary for another installment of "Sam Wyche and Jerry Glanville hate each other."
  • The Week 16 Dolphins-Chiefs game was played in 39-degree weather with snow flurries. It was, and we are not kidding you here, a Miami home game. Joe Namath was on color commentary for NBC and did not attempt to kiss anyone despite the festive holiday spirit.

And now, a quick note on where the 1989-1990 stats will and will not appear. The 1989 pages are all up and the 1990 pages will be up tomorrow. However, the 1989-1990 stats have not yet been added to either the premium team stats database or the premium player pages, and we have not yet been able to create player pages for those players whose careers ended in 1989 or 1990. These items are on a long to-do list that also includes

  • Updating the 2012 stats on our site to reflect all post-season play-by-play changes and match those given in Football Outsiders Almanac 2013
  • Fixing an error where non-adjusted VOA is listed incorrectly on past team offense and team defense pages
  • Fixing all passing and receiving stats to reflect the new versions that correct a mistake that incorrectly gave players value on some interceptions
  • Introducing expanded drive stats and new pace stats pages
  • (In the much longer term) producing updated DVOA/DYAR stats for the postseason and listing those stats in our premium database

The arrival of the new season sort of interrupts this work, but we'll certainly have the 2012 stats updated by Thursday when the Ravens and Broncos kick off, and we'll try to get to the rest of this as soon as we can.

Return tomorrow for our unveiling of 1990 DVOA ratings, the long-awaited ratings for Tecmo Super Bowl.


99 comments, Last at 06 Sep 2013, 9:47pm

#1 by dryheat // Sep 02, 2013 - 6:29pm

Bubby Brister's mom still gives me the willies.

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#2 by Will Allen // Sep 02, 2013 - 6:48pm

Yeah, that Niners team didn't have a playoff game that was even remotely competitive, which is the real mark of a historically dominant team. All three were over by halftime. I don't think we'll see teams like that anymore, or at least not nearly as often, given how the salary cap precludes building such depth of talent. Once the cap was introduced, it took about 5 years for it to take full effect. The last historically great team was the '96 Packers, and they didn't dominate the post season the way the '91 'Skins did, and several teams in the 80s.
I prefer the greater balance of today (if not the huge emphasis on QB play), but it was something to see a team just rampage through the playoffs, swatting aside opponents like a grizzly confronted with three coyotes.

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#3 by Aaron Schatz // Sep 02, 2013 - 6:58pm

As I've written numerous times over the last few years, the remarkable thing about the NFL in recent years is that it shows LESS competitive balance in the regular season, with more 2-14 and 14-2 teams, and yet MORE competitive balance in the playoffs. So it's difficult to tell just *what* the impact of the salary cap has been. It's not as simple as "salary cap = more competitive balance."

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#5 by BroncFan07 // Sep 02, 2013 - 7:09pm

The impact of salary cap and free agency is that they led to Super Bowls that didn't suck anymore. Of course, 1989 resulted in the height of Super Bowls of Suck.

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#7 by Karl Cuba // Sep 02, 2013 - 7:43pm

Really? I thought it was great. I still plug in my VCR from time to time to watch all the fun.

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#9 by JIPanick // Sep 02, 2013 - 8:54pm

Really? I think the last ten or so Super Bowls have been the worst ever - I don't care about the score, I just want a worthy champion.

Eli's Giants and the recent Ravens are definintely not worthy champions.

The old school 49ers, much as I hate them, generally were (the exception being the season where Joe Montana couldn't figure out how to throw the ball away out the back of the endzone properly - Yes, I'm still mad).

Bottom line for Super Bowls as far as I'm concerned, a good team winning 55-10 is better than a bad team winning 17-14.

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#16 by Will Allen // Sep 02, 2013 - 9:55pm

Eh, if you win three or four straight payoff games, and they hand you the trophy, you are, by definition, worthy. That's why they keep score, after all.

Why someone would prefer 1 or 2 quarters of a championship game, when the winner is not known, as opposed to four, has always puzzled me.

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#35 by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) // Sep 03, 2013 - 10:33am

I agree wholeheartedly. Give me a good game over the snoozefest Super Bowls of my youth. It's been a long time since there's been a legendary team stomp its way through the regular season and playoffs, and that's a good thing. A "worthy" champion sounds good in theory; in reality, it's a boring and unsatisfying thing to watch unless you're a fan of said team.

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#42 by JoeyHarringtonsPiano // Sep 03, 2013 - 11:35am

The dominant teams that stomp everyone else are fun to reminisce over years after the fact, but boring to watch in real time. I was only 13 years old, but I distinctly remember being bored out of my mind watching the '89 49ers.

We like to think that most fans want a Superbowl winner to be a team that effortlessly crushes any competition, then throws down the football, and yells at the crowd, "ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED??" In reality, most people don't find that scenario all that compelling.

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#43 by JIPanick // Sep 03, 2013 - 11:48am

Don't get me wrong, a GOOD team winning a Super Bowl in competitive fashion is more fun than a good team destroying everything in sight.

1997 is what playoffs should be; The top 5 DVOA teams produced the Super Bowl winner, the Super Bowl loser, both conference championship losers, and the team that went down in the divisional round lost to another team on the short list. Only one of the four games between top teams was decided by more than a touchdown.

So, I'm not saying that three stomps in a row ala Chicago '85, San Fran '89, or Dallas '92 is ideal. What I AM saying it's better than a mediocre ('12 Ravens, '07 Giants, '87 Skins, etc) team winning in any fashion.

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#44 by Will Allen // Sep 03, 2013 - 12:02pm

First, no statistical measure, including DVOA, can perfectly capture true quality, so it is pointless to speak of what "should" happen with regard to which statistical leaders end up where at the end of the season. If somebody was not more entertained, in '07, by watching an outstanding defensive front take on the highest scoring offense in NFL history, and battle them to a standoff, and ultimately prevail, than they were entertained by watching Joe Montana play pitch and catch with Rice and Taylor for two quarters, before an utterly pointless second half ensued, well, I don't know what to tell you, except that we apparently enjoy different things about the game.

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#48 by JIPanick // Sep 03, 2013 - 2:02pm

Of course it can't perfectly capture true quality, but it can come a lot closer than small sample size, swallow the whistle theater.

If you honestly enjoy average teams riding lucky breaks and swallowed whistles to "championships", then we really do enjoy different things about the game. I find nothing in professional sports, save poor officiating, more aggravating.

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#51 by Will Allen // Sep 03, 2013 - 2:28pm

Oh, give me a large break. The Giants and Patriots played a very closely contested game. The Giants defensive line in good measure whipped the Patriots offensive line, which meant the Giants had the opportunity to have one last drive to win the game. The Patriots defensive front failed to execute a sack, which meant a Giants receiver was able to pin the ball to his helmet while falling down. There are likely a dozen other occurrences within that game, like all nearly all close games, that could have switched the outcome, and back again. The Giants were no more "lucky" than the winner of any typical closely contested playoff game, because close games between two teams with equal stakes are more often than not determined by random chance. If that sort of thing bothers you, then you need to pull for blowouts all the time.

Look, if you have a preference for non-competitive games, if you deem one team "lucky", fine. Let us not pretend, however, that some objective standard of "lucky" is being employed.

(edit)To be clear, the 2007 Giants got to the Super Bowl because their defensive front jelled, and just dominated their playoff opponents, yielding, in four games, 271, 230, 264, and 274 yards, in an era of offensive dominance. There isn't anything "lucky" about consistently putting the man on the line of scrimmage, across from you, on his ass for three and a half hours.

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#53 by dmstorm22 // Sep 03, 2013 - 3:58pm

The Giants defense in the playoffs in the Eli Manning era is kind of ridiculous.

The most points the have given up in any playoff game in the Manning/Coughlin era is 23 (three times, the Giants lost all three games). In their wins, they've given up 14, 17, 20, 14, 2, 20, 17, 17. Only one of those games was at home (when they gave up two points - zero on defense). Two of those games were against the two highest scoring offenses of all time. One other was against a team that scored 455 points. Just staggering what they have done.

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#55 by Will Allen // Sep 03, 2013 - 4:29pm

To call that kind of late season defensive performance "lucky", because the Super Bowl opponents put up much more gaudy numbers during the course of the entire season, really misses the nature of the game, and athletic peformance in general.

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#56 by dmstorm22 // Sep 03, 2013 - 5:21pm

It isn't luck. It is incredible. They abused the Cowboys O-Line in the 4th quarter. They dominated the Packers receivers all day. They whipped the Pats o-line from the first play to the last.

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#69 by Bright Blue Shorts // Sep 04, 2013 - 4:51am

While the Super Bowls of recent years have generally been exciting I'm with those who don't feel they showcase the best teams in football (as defined by their regular seasons). Having watched the 07 Giants at Wembley against the Dolphins team that went 1-15 I truly cannot believe that team was worthy of being crown best team in football which is essentially what the SB confers.

For me these days there seems little point in watching regular season games if a 9-7 team can then get hot in the playoffs and win it. Might as well start watching when the playoffs begin and save yourself Sep-Dec.

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#72 by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) // Sep 04, 2013 - 8:01am

"I truly cannot believe that team was worthy of being crown best team in football which is essentially what the SB confers."

This, I think, is the heart of the debate. There are different schools of thought as to the exact meaning of winning a Super Bowl. Some think that it implies the team was the best team. Some (like myself) think that the "best team" and the "champion" need not necessarily be the same team.

My opinion is possibly colored by the fact that I root for the Colts. The 06 Colts were probably the worst Colts team from 03-07. Still a good team, mind you, but not as good as the other teams in that time frame. And yet they were the one that won the Super Bowl.

The main reason, of course, was luck. The playoff draw fell right for them that year, and they capitalized on it. That's the story of a lot of recent SB winners. It probably does de-emphasize the regular season to a certain extent, but that's what you're signing up for when you have playoffs. The alternative is the old BCS system -- take the top 2 teams from the regular season, and just skip right to the championship game. That system was... not popular.

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#76 by Manstee; (not verified) // Sep 04, 2013 - 9:27am

I'm with you: the best team and the Super Bowl winner are not necessarily (or even usually, these days) the same team. What bothers me is that many people argue that the winner of the SB is in fact the best team. E.g. the 2007 Patriots were clearly the best team of the 2007 season, but they won't break anybody's top ten of all time because the one game they lost happened to be in the SB rather than in, say, October (by the way, I'm saying this as a die-hard Giants fan).

One way to avoid this is to do something similar to most professional soccer leagues: crown a league champion and a tournament champion separately. That way, e.g., Wigan gets the glory of winning the FA Cup but we don't have to listen to idiots arguing that they were the best team in England last year (they finished 18th, by the way). The winner of the league is rightly seen as the best team.

Not that this has any chance of happening, of course.

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#78 by Will Allen // Sep 04, 2013 - 10:29am

I wouldn't have put the Patriots of 2007 in the top 10, even if they had managed to execute the sack of Eli Manning on the Giants last drive, thus making the Patriots the champions. Their division opponents were uniformly crappy, especially on offense. The Patriots were certainly dominant in September and October, but as the season wore on, opponents began to adjust better to the then-new (for the Patriots) vertical game that Randy Moss added. By December, they had no resemblance to dominant teams of the past, which just crushed opponents late in the seasn, and through the playoffs. They were tied at halftime in their divisional playoff game, and had a 5 point lead in the conference championship game at the half. They ended up winning those games by 11 and 9 points, respectively. I was not terribly surprised that they lost to the Giants, because their dominance over opponents faded as the year wore on.

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#86 by dmstorm22 // Sep 04, 2013 - 1:45pm

The 'eff-you' Patriots died with that 56-10 win over the Bills on SNF in Week 10. The next week they barely beat the Eagles QBed by AJ Feeley, and then the Ravens QBed by Kyle Boller. The only other vintage '07 Pats win was against Pittsburgh after Anthony Smith ran his mouth.

If you take into account playoff dominance, had they beaten the Giants 14-10, I probably would have them outside the Top-5.

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#91 by Will Allen // Sep 04, 2013 - 2:38pm

I'll start with the modern passing era (because drawing comparisons from the dead-ball early Super Bowl era is difficult), which started in '78, and say, just off the top of my head, that the following championship teams were better than the '07 Patriots, even if they had managed to beat the Giants 14-10.

'78 Steelers
'84 Niners
'85 Bears
'86 Giants
'89 Niners
'91 Skins
'92 Cowboys
'93 Cowboys
'94 Niners
'96 Packers

So I put them, at best, 11th, out of just the past 34 years, even if they had managed to win the last game.

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#73 by Will Allen // Sep 04, 2013 - 8:32am

The Super Bowl champion is, and all it has ever been, is the winner of a short tournament of, these days, the 37.5% of the teams who get into the tournament. Prior to free agency and salary cap, good and/or lucky management could stockpile enough talent to make the tournament non-competitive with some frequency. Now, they can't. I don't see the issue, but other people have different opinions obviously.

The comparison with NCAA basketball and NHL hockey is kind of inapt, given that so many teams in those sports are allowed into the tournament, and there are so many games. I think it would be a real error for the NFL to expand the number of playoff teams, or, really, to expand the regular season. I do think the emphasis on qb play introduces more variance, but the people who run the sport are convinced that passing attracts eyeballs.

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#75 by Aaron Brooks G… // Sep 04, 2013 - 9:13am

A mid-season game, in London, against the 1-15 Dolphins, is likely less representative of actual team talent than a 4th week pre-season game. Sorry, but no one wants to play in that damned London game, especially against a bunch of scrubs.

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#96 by Bright Blue Shorts // Sep 05, 2013 - 5:27pm

Fair comment that no-one wants to go to London at the end of October but for me the mark of good teams is that they go out and do a demolition job on scrubs, they don't sink to their level even when it rains.

And that's double-emphasised by the fact that the Patriots absolutely pummelled the Dolphins the week before. The 49-28 final score looks closer than it actually was ... the Patriots led 42-7 at halftime.

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#50 by apbadogs // Sep 03, 2013 - 2:07pm

What? I won $100 in our Super Bowl square pool when Cofer missed the XP at the end of the 1st quarter...I had 3 and 3!

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#6 by Karl Cuba // Sep 02, 2013 - 7:42pm

You also have to account for the impact of the additional teams thinning out the talent base. or not, I'm not certain if that would be a factor once you take population increase into account the number of high schools/college programs be the deciding factor?

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#10 by Scott Kacsmar // Sep 02, 2013 - 8:57pm

To back up Aaron's post, the only QBs in NFL history to have a 13-0 (or better) record in a regular season are Ben Roethlisberger (2004; 13-0), Peyton Manning (2005; started 13-0, 2009; started 14-0), Tom Brady (2007; 16-0), Drew Brees (2009; started 13-0) and Aaron Rodgers (2011; started 13-0).

Now that's a great group of quarterbacks and the position has never been more depended upon, but come on...

And yes, the only one who went on to win the Super Bowl was Brees because someone had to win SB 44 between him and Manning. That postseason is actually the outlier since 2005 since there were many blowouts and both No. 1 seeds made it all the way.

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#60 by Red // Sep 04, 2013 - 1:34am

This trend really began in 2004 with the re-emphasis of illegal contact, as it's had the unintended consequence of widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots. It appears the great QB's have gained a disproportionate advantage from illegal contact compared with the rest of the league. Manning, Brady, Rodgers, and Brees have all posted historically great seasons since 2004, and good rookie QB's have had more immediate impact as well. Meanwhile, the Blaine Gabberts and Ryan Lindleys are just as dreadful as they were before the rules opened up. I've noticed the standard deviation of QB performance (by any measure) has increased substantially since 2004, with especially the 2009 and 2011 seasons standing out with historically high variation between passers.

These observations validate the prevailing thought that you need a great QB in today's NFL, and the idea that a high octane passing attack can carry a mediocre/bad defense to the playoffs or even the Super Bowl.

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#70 by Bright Blue Shorts // Sep 04, 2013 - 4:55am

I think you highlight a key point that is often missed. Today's isn't more QB-friendly ... it's great-QB-friendly ... as you say the Blaine Gabberts and Ryan Lindleys are not benefitting from the rule changes. There are still some truly awful QBs out there (relative to their peers!) ...

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#14 by Will Allen // Sep 02, 2013 - 9:51pm

Yeah, a better way to put it would be that the salary cap has resulted in fewer dominant tournament champions. On the whole, I prefer that.

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#17 by Jerry // Sep 02, 2013 - 9:59pm

It may be that the cap is another complication that causes more mistakes by bad front offices, so that there are more bad teams (who good teams can fatten up on as well), but it keeps the good teams from accumulating "too much" talent, so that the playoffs would be more competitive.

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#18 by Will Allen // Sep 02, 2013 - 10:06pm

Yeah, I'd say the cap providing the "opportunity" to assign significant cap space to the Albert Haynesworths of the planet makes bad front offices worse. The rookie wage scale helps the meatheads in suits, however. We'll see how fully that plays out over the next five years or so.

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#30 by CBPodge // Sep 03, 2013 - 8:36am

I love this theory. The salary cap has created more ways in which bad teams can be bad. Previously they were limited to just bad players. But now they can get bad players and bad contracts too. Brilliant.

It would be interesting to see how postseason DVOA numbers stacked up from recent years against the late 80s/early 90s.

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#21 by t.d. // Sep 03, 2013 - 1:14am

In my opinion, the more skewed regular season records, coupled with more playoff upsets, are the result of the current scheduling formula- it seems to me that it's easier these days to run up a great record without really being tested (the Pats went 13-3 in 2011 without beating a team with a winning record, the 2009 Colts won their first 14 games without really having beaten much of anybody, I could go on). Strength of schedule seems more variable than it used to be.

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#28 by Box // Sep 03, 2013 - 7:09am

I think the cap will even out things better now that rookies drafted in the top-10 doesn't eat most of the cap. The penalty for bad teams making the wrong decision was to steep. But I guess it will take a couple more years for that to take effect.

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#20 by dmstorm22 // Sep 03, 2013 - 12:57am

Just to further their playoff dominance, they beat the #5 team 41-13, the #3 team 31-3, and then for kicks beat the #4 55-10 in the Super Bowl. (oh yeah, that's also dropping 41 on the #2 defense and 55 on the #2).

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#4 by Tom Gower // Sep 02, 2013 - 6:58pm

If you wondered why Sam Wyche might not have been the only person to hate Jerry Glanville, the Oilers set a then-record (since broken several times) by being penalized 149 times. As I recall, Glanville seemed unusually untroubled by the unsportsmanlike conduct foul on defense and special teams.

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#8 by JIPanick // Sep 02, 2013 - 8:39pm

"This is the first year we have where Montana leads the league in DYAR, and it is very unlikely to be the last."



'88 - Esiason
'87 - Kosar or Marino or Elway
'86 - Marino
'85 - Marino
'84 - Marino
'83 - Theismann
'82 - Fouts
'81 - Fouts

would not surprise me at all.

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#11 by Scott Kacsmar // Sep 02, 2013 - 9:00pm

I'd be very surprised if Montana didn't lead in 1987, however that may be his only other lead. Marino 85 wasn't all that great, though it was not a good QB year.

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#22 by D // Sep 03, 2013 - 1:30am

'87 is going to be screwy because of the strike (which I don't know how DVOA will account for) but if I had to guess, I would think Montana would lead the league.

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#25 by t.d. // Sep 03, 2013 - 2:01am

I bet it'll be Montana, too, but '87 is the year that Walsh instigated the quarterback controversy with Young

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#63 by Michael19531 // Sep 04, 2013 - 2:52am

The DYAR will probably go as follows;

'88 Jim Everett, Boomer would probably lead the league in DVOA (He averaged 9+ yds per attempt), but he didn't throw that many passes. If memory serves, Everett lead the league in pass yds and tds, so that would be my guess as the DYAR leader.

'87 Montana
'86 Marino
'85 Ken O'Brien; remember him?
'84 Marino
'83 Lynn Dickey. Averaged 9+ yds per attempt and he was probably 2nd in the league in attempts that year. He did throw a lot of picks though.
'82 Dan Fouts or Ken Anderson
'81 Fouts or Anderson
'80 Fouts. Maybe Brian Sipe

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#12 by JoeyHarringtonsPiano // Sep 02, 2013 - 9:17pm

Mike Ditka's Bears had the #4 ranked offense and the #17 ranked defense?! No wonder he melted down after week 12 and had a proto-Jim Mora press conference.

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#13 by JoeyHarringtonsPiano // Sep 02, 2013 - 9:26pm

"Great Annals of Wussy Punting: In Week 11 Sam Wyche had the Bengals punt on fourth-and-4 from the Lions' 27. Not surprisingly, it was a touchback."

To be fair, I think that was more mercy than anything. The Bengals won 42-7, and it got out of hand early on. Apparently Wayne Fontes did not hold the same place on Sam Wyche's shitlist that Jerry Glanville did.

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#29 by Harry (not verified) // Sep 03, 2013 - 8:16am

So Gregg Easterbrook's football gods apparently weren't paying attention that day?

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#31 by JoeyHarringtonsPiano // Sep 03, 2013 - 9:06am

Oh wow, I didn't even realize that. Nevermind, then.

Was Jim Breech injured or something? Does anyone know if Wyche explained that decision in the postgame press conference?

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#32 by Travis // Sep 03, 2013 - 9:21am

Breech tried (and missed) a 49-yarder at the end of the half, so it's unlikely. (And Wyche used punter Lee Johnson to kick long field goals that he didn't think Breech had the leg for.)

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#36 by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) // Sep 03, 2013 - 10:45am

I figured the kicker must have been injured. As this discussion implies, there must be some other piece of information we're missing here. I see from PFR that the game was in Cincinnati, 33 degrees, 12 mph wind. Was there a foot of snow on the ground or something? I can't think of another reason not to try a 44 yard FG in that situation.

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#39 by JoeyHarringtonsPiano // Sep 03, 2013 - 11:20am

Don't think it was snowing (from what I remember), although I think old Riverfront Stadium was notorious for swirling winds.

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#23 by D // Sep 03, 2013 - 1:34am

Murray comes out as being worth 16.7 points more than an average field-goal kicker would be worth from the same distances

I know it's been like 5 years or something and I should get over it, but reading sentences like this makes me yearn of the days of DPAR. It just made so much more sense (at least to me)

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#24 by t.d. // Sep 03, 2013 - 1:54am

I'm surprised Chicago ended up positive in DVOA, and even more surprised it's off of a strong offense. Don friggin Majkowski, man

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#26 by BoyfromOz (not verified) // Sep 03, 2013 - 4:30am

One of the special things about Aikman was his mental strength. To take the mental and physical pounding that he took in that 1-15 season and come back to be the player he ended up being was pretty amazing.

9 times out of 10 that sort of rookie year will wreck a QB for life. Makes you wonder if the Tim Couch's and David Carr's of the world could have actually been decent QB's if they had been so brutalised in their rookie years....

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#34 by Aaron Brooks G… // Sep 03, 2013 - 10:16am

They probably could have been, had they been on Aikman's Dallas teams. It's more amazing that he managed to go 1-15 with that roster.

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#38 by JoeyHarringtonsPiano // Sep 03, 2013 - 11:19am

But wasn't that '89 team mostly the dregs left over from the latter days of the Tom Landry era? I thought they built the championship teams through the bounty gained from the Herschel Walker trade, which I believe happened in mid-season that year.

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#59 by t.d. // Sep 03, 2013 - 11:59pm

A lot of the guys from the championship years were already in place by '89- most of the offensive line, Aikman, Irvin, and Moose Johnston. JJ mainly transformed the defense, but even there, starters from the line and linebacking corps were already in place. The haul from the Herschel Walker trade has always been overestimated by journalists looking for a narrative

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#85 by Lance // Sep 04, 2013 - 1:22pm

Really? Alvin Harper and Emmitt Smith both came from picks gained via the Walkter trade. So did Dixon Edwards and Darren Woodson. Another key element was Novacek, though he wasn't part of the Walker deal.

But yes, the main O-line besides Erik Williams (and later, Larry Allen) was in place, that's true.

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#89 by JoeyHarringtonsPiano // Sep 04, 2013 - 2:01pm

I find it hard to believe that the same roster that went 3-13 under Tom Landry and 1-15 under Jimmy Johnson contained the core elements of a dominant multi-Super Bowl winner. I could be wrong, maybe Landry really was washed up by then and Johnson was still learning on the job.

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#68 by Mr Shush // Sep 04, 2013 - 4:41am

Carr actually followed a fairly respectable development path through 2004 - his third year in the league. He wasn't on course for greatness, or anything, but he was about league-average at that point and if in the summer of 2005 you'd predicted that he'd have the career of . . . maybe a Jake Plummer, or Kerry Collins, or Delhomme - a long term starter with several years of above average play, maybe even sneaking into a pro bowl or two as an injury replacement or in a weak year - I don't suppose anyone would have found that outlandish. If something that happened to him after turning pro wrecked David Carr, it happened in 2005.

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#33 by Sakic (not verified) // Sep 03, 2013 - 10:13am

Two interesting facts about the Packers/Bears "replay game."

1) The replay resulted from a penalty for an illegal forward pass (Majikowski was initially ruled across the line of scrimmage when he threw the pass) which was reviewed and the flag was picked up allowing the touchdown to stand but with today's challenge system the play wouldn't even have been reviewable. It was definitely a close call and in all honesty in today's replay world it wouldn't have been overturned regardless as the call could've gone either way.

2) Ditka was so incensed about the call and the result of the game (understandably so) he had an asterisk put into the Bears media guide the following season listing that game as the *replay game.

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#37 by Travis // Sep 03, 2013 - 10:45am

[W]ith today's challenge system the play wouldn't even have been reviewable

Illegal forward passes are reviewable under the current system. Furthermore, since the play came in the last two minutes of the 4th quarter, no challenge would have been needed.

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#45 by Sakic (not verified) // Sep 03, 2013 - 12:58pm

You are correct, sir. I had always thought that determining whether or not a passer was beyond the line of scrimmage was a judgement call (like a pass interference call) and could not be challenged.

Learn something new everyday...

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#46 by justanothersteve // Sep 03, 2013 - 1:33pm

In any case, even as a Packers fan I was surprised by the verdict as I couldn't say for certain in watching the replay where Majkowski released the ball. I could only say it was a home field advantage call, not unlike the Immaculate Reception.

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#97 by nuclearbdgr // Sep 05, 2013 - 10:51pm

My friends and I saw the replay, said "he's over the line" and went off to play football - we were shocked 2 hours later when we went home to discover the Packers had won.

That Packers team was the first (and only?) team with four 1-point wins.

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#40 by Travis // Sep 03, 2013 - 11:26am

Four odds and ends that didn't make the cut:

Most controversial refereeing decision of the year: Browns-Broncos, Week 4. The teams switched ends of the field partway through the 4th quarter because the Dawg Pound was throwing garbage at the Broncos' offense, which was backed up on its own 4. The Browns, given the wind at their backs for both the 3rd and 4th quarters, won on a last-play 48-yard field goal that barely cleared the crossbar.

Downstate response: Bengals-Seahawks, Week 14. Sam Wyche takes the microphone.

Hey, it's 1989! play-by-play: Steelers-Oilers, Week 13: "1-10-S43 Worley busts a move around right for 38 yards (Grimsley)".

The exact moment when Jim Everett's career started going downhill: 49ers-Rams, NFC Championship Game.

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#47 by jglowack // Sep 03, 2013 - 1:49pm

I can't even imagine how that Broncos-Browns (and the Oilers-Bengals blowout) game would be covered in today's media environment.

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#49 by Karl Cuba // Sep 03, 2013 - 2:06pm

The critical mass on the blogosphere would probably cause it to implode taking half of the internet with it. Only Miley Cyrus twerking would have a sufficiently high internal mass to avoid getting dragged in.

However, I just could not see the garbage throwing getting that bad these days. Stadium security is much tighter.

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#54 by Independent George // Sep 03, 2013 - 4:13pm

I don't know what the rule book was in 1989, but fans throwing trash at the players sounds like an unfair act to me.

Rule 17, Section 1, Article 2 ("Field Control")
If spectators enter the field and/or interfere with the progress of the game in such a manner that in the opinion of the Referee the game cannot continue, he shall declare time out. In such a case he shall record the number of the down, distance to be gained, and position of ball on field. He shall also secure from the line judge the playing time remaining and record it. He shall then order the home club through its management to have the field cleared, and when it is cleared and order restored and the safety of the spectators, players and officials is assured to the satisfaction of the Referee, the game must continue even if it is necessary to use lights.

It says nothing about reversing field, but I'd have preferred a series of 5-yard delay of game penalties over changing sides.

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#57 by Aaron Brooks G… // Sep 03, 2013 - 5:35pm

The referee's internal rulebook generally also requires being able to escape the stadium while still alive.

Cleveland isn't quite 'Brazilian soccer' bad, but...

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#52 by coremill // Sep 03, 2013 - 2:44pm

Hasn't expansion made it easier to exceed the average by a greater amount? Adding teams drags down the average, making the best players/teams appear better than average by a greater margin.

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#99 by rja1 (not verified) // Sep 06, 2013 - 9:47pm

Yes. If you look at everything as a statistical bell curve, a sample size of 32 produces a wider range of data than a sample size of 28. It's one thing I wonder about regarding FO's analysis, the 4 worst players in each position in the league in 2013 would be backups back in 1989, so they wouldn't be on the field for these players to beat up on, thereby artificially increasing the performance of the league in certain sectors (the best defenses look better because of the 4 worst QBs, the best QBs look better because of the 4 worst defenses, etc.). QB #29 in 1989 was the best backup in the league and rarely saw the field, in 2013 he starts for Jacksonville or Oakland. Since the statistics FO uses are all average-based, in 1989, they're more or less based on the values of 14th/15th-best while in 2013, they're more or less based on the values of 16th/17th-best.

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#58 by jimm (not verified) // Sep 03, 2013 - 8:17pm

I was too young to properly appreciate the Bud Grant teams so the 87-89 Vikings defence is always the one I remember most fondly. Doleman and Millard were incredible but Joey Browner was my all time favourite. He seemed to have the strength of a lineman but fast enough to play safety.

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#64 by Michael19531 // Sep 04, 2013 - 3:00am

Bud Grant retired after the '85 season. Jerry Burns was the HC in '89. His DC was Floyd Peters, whose defenses in Detroit, St Louis (Cardinals, not Rams) and Vikings were known for piling up enormous amounts of sacks. Pete Carroll may have been the secondary coach.

Peters was also an early mentor of one Bill Belichick back in 1976 when both were in Detroit.

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#74 by Sakic (not verified) // Sep 04, 2013 - 9:04am

"Vikings were known for piling up enormous amounts of sacks."

Yeah, I remember those Viking teams loved getting after the QB and I seem to remember a quote (from Millard, I think) where he was told to rush the quarterback on every single play and if it was a running play to tackle the running back on the way to the QB. Interesting philosophy but those were definitely some good defenses.

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#79 by Will Allen // Sep 04, 2013 - 10:40am

Henry Thomas was an outstanding defensive tackle as well, which really allowed Millard to play with reckless abandon. '87 was actually their best year defensively in some respects, before defensive end Doug Martin began to get nicked up with injuries. He was a very good player as well, and the line of Doleman, Millard, Thomas, and Martin was very likely the best in the league. After Martin was affected by age and injuries, Al Noga became a starting defensive end, and he was a bit of a weak link.

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#61 by Red // Sep 04, 2013 - 1:40am

Aaron, how are you going to handle the 1987 strike season for DVOA purposes? Personally, I would like it if you tossed out the scabs games completely and just treated it as a 12 game season.

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#65 by Michael19531 // Sep 04, 2013 - 3:02am

I wonder what Jerry Rice's DYAR and DVOA will look like in '87. That was his 22 td season and he did it in only 12 games.

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#66 by Bright Blue Shorts // Sep 04, 2013 - 4:37am

Yep - there were two big stats that year - Rice's 22TDs in 12 games and Reggie White's 21sacks in 12 games ... kind of always led me to the conclusion that that was what displayed their pre-eminence - that against players on teams that hadn't prepared properly or who were still mentally back at the strike, Reggie and Jerry took them apart.

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#81 by Aaron Schatz // Sep 04, 2013 - 11:49am

My plan for 1987 will be to treat it as a 12-game season, with a second set of team tables representing just the three scab games. I'm not sure if I am going to bother running individual stats on the scab games.

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#83 by Aaron Brooks G… // Sep 04, 2013 - 12:24pm

You should. Determining who was the best scab would be a fascinating article.

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#67 by Bright Blue Shorts // Sep 04, 2013 - 4:41am

"Jackson gets just 51 DYAR for the first of his two famous Cincinnati games, the one with a 92-yard touchdown run featuring amazing change of direction (see video). Six of Jackson's 13 carries in that game gained three yards or fewer."

I'd say Bo had three famous games against Cincinnati.
- There was the 1989 game with the 92-yd TD that was a run up the left side.
- There was a 1990 regular season game where he reversed his field ran for 88yds but caught on the 1-yd line. Bo getting caught from behind produced headlines although he claimed it only happened because he was so tired from having run twice as far as the other guy!
- There was the Jan91 playoff game where he sustained his hip injury.

All three are on the video link.

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#77 by JoeyHarringtonsPiano // Sep 04, 2013 - 9:57am

One of the most fun football games I can remember attending in person was the Monday night game between the Lions and Raiders in 1990. Bo Jackson, Marcus Allen, and Barry Sanders on the field at the same time. Allen had a nondescript game, but Jackson and Sanders put on quite a show.

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#84 by Aaron Brooks G… // Sep 04, 2013 - 12:27pm

Rodney Peete. He was like Black Tebow.

At least Andre Ware had the benefit of being injury-prone. Peete was unfortunately durable.

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#88 by JoeyHarringtonsPiano // Sep 04, 2013 - 1:57pm

I don't think Peete was that durable, at least not in '89-'91. Bob Gagliano ended up starting 7 games and '89 and 4 games in '90 (Though I know some of that was Fontes' waffling rather than injury), and Erik Kramer had to finish the season in '91.

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#90 by Aaron Brooks G… // Sep 04, 2013 - 2:15pm

He was still mortal. =)

There's a reason Barry Sanders has more highlights involving breaking 4 tackles for a 2-yard gain, than, say, LeSean McCoy.

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#92 by JoeyHarringtonsPiano // Sep 04, 2013 - 3:04pm

Agreed. I think more apt nickname for Peete, rather than "Black Tebow", would be "Proto-Vince Young".

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#93 by Alaska Jack // Sep 04, 2013 - 3:14pm

Oh, totally. I still say this was the best regular-season game I've ever seen. Bo and the long bomb of the Raiders vs. Barry and the run-and-shoot. Great, fun game.

lllll AJ

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#95 by Bright Blue Shorts // Sep 05, 2013 - 5:17pm

That was an amazing MNF game ... 21-14 at the end of the first quarter as I recall.

Five Heisman's when you include Tim Brown and Andre Ware!

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#80 by Aaron Schatz // Sep 04, 2013 - 11:31am

For those who did not see the note on the front page, posting of the 1990 ratings and commentary will need to wait because of some personal issues. I need to get all set for the start of 2013 before I finish writing and posting that commentary. Thanks.

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#87 by Anonymouse999 (not verified) // Sep 04, 2013 - 1:50pm

Today should be 2013 DVOA projections release day. As far as I can tell -- looking back at the past several years -- it's always on the Wednesday immediately before the season begins.

Feels like Christmas to me!

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#94 by Dean // Sep 04, 2013 - 3:37pm

That 1989 game in 39 degree weather in Miami brings back memories. I was down there on vacation over Christmas break at the time. It snowed as far south as Orlando. I-95 was closed at the state line and the nearest snowplow was in Tennessee. Two days later, it was back up in the 70s in Coral Gables and the trees were still lined with palm trees. Good times.

BTW - suddenly there's a shitload of posts in the comment threads again. You'd think the season was getting ready to start again or something?

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#98 by rja1 (not verified) // Sep 06, 2013 - 9:28pm

As a 7-year-old Denver fan at the time of the Super Bowl that wasn't old enough to understand "the Broncos didn't have a chance in Hades of upsetting the Niners" and then crying his way through a 55-10 drubbing, I'm disappointed in the lack of Broncos discussion.

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