Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

y Mike Tanier

How do you fix a broken red zone defense?

The Eagles had the worst red zone defense in the NFL, not just by conventional measures -- 33 touchdowns in 43 attempts -- but according to DVOA as well. The Eagles' poor red zone performance was part of the reason that Sean McDermott was fired, and it is up to former offensive line coach Juan Castillo to fix the problem.

Easier said than done. "Red zone defense" is a very general category, encompassing a lot of elements. Were the Eagles bad at stopping short-yardage runs? Fades to wide receivers? Was it a personnel problem? A scheme problem?

To investigate, I went through the game tape and examined several instances when opponents tore right through the red zone to score touchdowns against the Eagles. I did discover a few schematic mistakes. But the real issue involved personnel: Several Eagles starters just weren't up to the tasks they were assigned. While those problems were evident all over the field, they became critical factors once the ball was inside the 20-yard line.

Drive One: Second Quarter against the Bears, Week 12

Breakdown: The Bears go from first-and-10 on the 20-yard line to a touchdown in four plays during a two-minute drill.

Figure 1: Earl Bennett's touchdown

A 30-yard pass to Earl Bennett gives the Bears the ball at the 20-yard line. Bennett gets open against Dimitri Patterson, who is late trying to break up the pass; get used to the name "Dimitri Patterson." Jay Cutler cannot find Devin Hester on a corner route on first down; Trevard Lindley does a fine job in coverage. Lindley then gives Johnny Knox a 10-yard cushion on second down. Knox runs a very shallow slant, Lindley arrives too late to even make a proper tackle, and it's a 14-yard gain. On first-and-goal, Cutler attempts to hit Bennett on a stop route, but Joselio Hanson has tight coverage.

Figure 1 shows Bennett's touchdown on the next play. The Eagles opt for three-deep coverage in the end zone, so Lindley backs off to cover tight end Greg Olsen in the corner, leaving Quintin Mikell to cover Bennett. Cutler starts by looking left, but the coverage there is tight, so he backpedals and fires to Bennett. Bennett started his route by working inside, and Mikell just lost him when the receiver cut to the sideline.

Drive Two: Third Quarter against the Bears, Week 12

Breakdown: The Bears score a nine-yard touchdown after a long catch-and-run by Hester.

The Bears get the ball on the nine-yard line after a Hester's 34-yard catch-and-run. Hester ran a shallow drag, with Ernie Sims picking him up in zone coverage. Sims stays with Hester until Cutler scrambles and breaks containment. Once Sims leaves Hester to chase the quarterback, Cutler tosses the ball to Hester along the right sideline. The race ends with a horse collar tackle by Nate Allen.

The Bears line up in a power-I formation and run a play-action pass on first-and-goal. Olsen runs a simple crossing pattern, left to right. Dimitri Patterson is in zone coverage on the offensive right side, and he gets sucked in by the play-fake, then briefly lost before hustling back to cover Olsen in the back of the end zone. Too late.

Asante Samuel was injured for the Bears game, leaving the Eagles with Patterson, Hanson, and Lindley at cornerback. Under the circumstances, it's not surprising that the Bears scored 31 points.

Drive Three: Third Quarter versus Texans, Week 13

Breakdown: The Texans go from third-and-3 at the 22-yard line to a touchdown in three plays.

Figure 2: Casey is wide open

Figure 2 shows the Eagles blitzing on third-and-3, with both Sims and Mikell crashing from the offensive left. Unfortunately, they don't time the blitz right and are forced to stop at the line of scrimmage and wait for the snap. Tight end James Casey (86) is left uncovered on a crossing route after blocking Trent Cole for a split second. This is a sloppy call and play on third-and-short, and I am not sure where to assign blame.

Arian Foster then gains one yard on a run to the right, with Sims doing a fine job in run defense. On second-and-9 from the 14-yard line, the Texans pass from an I-Formation, and Sims is left isolated in coverage against Foster, a very good backfield receiver. Foster runs an option route in the middle, jabbing left before cutting to his right, and Sims buys the fake. Nate Allen tries to tackle Foster at the two-yard line but is bowled over.

Drive Four: Third Quarter versus Texans, Week 13

Breakdown: The Texans go from first-and-10 on the 30-yard line to a touchdown in five plays.

Trouble starts when Andre Johnson beats Dimitri Patterson for a 31-yard reception to the Eagles 31-yard line. Patterson lines up 10 yards off Johnson on the next play, a pitch to Derrick Ward. Ward gains 12 yards before Patterson can knock him out of bounds. After Mike Patterson stops Ward for a minimal gain, Foster once again gets open on a short option route, this time eluding Stewart Bradley. Moise Fokou commits a penalty away from the play, so the Texans opt for first-and-goal from the 10-yard line.

Foster runs off right end for seven yards. The linebackers get trapped inside when Foster bounces outside on the run, and Hanson is too easily blocked on the edge by Joel Dreessen. When Foster runs for a touchdown on the next play, Mike Patterson is not on the field. Trevor Laws has replaced him in the middle, and Laws is driven back by a single blocker, allowing a guard to knock Brodrick Bradley out of his gap. Interestingly, the Texans are in a two-tight end, two-back set at the three-yard line, but the Eagles are in their base defense, no extra linemen or linebackers.

Drive Five: First Quarter Against Cowboys, Week 14

Breakdown: The Cowboys go from first-and-10 from the 40-yard line to a touchdown on six plays.

Figure 3: Witten's one-yard score

The problems start way back on the Cowboys' 45-yard line. The Eagles stop the Cowboys on third-and-6, but Dimitri Patterson grabs Kevin Ogletree's facemask for a 15-yard penalty. Ogletree isn't the intended receiver, and it is hard to figure out what Patterson is trying to do on the play. Ogletree releases from the line of scrimmage and Patterson gives his facemask a hearty tug, as if that's how his high school coach told him to jam a receiver. Given new life, the Cowboys run a reverse to Miles Austin for 26 yards to the 14-yard line. It is a well-designed play to a great player, so let's give credit to the Cowboys on it instead of blaming the Eagles.

Tashard Choice runs up the middle for nine yards. Antonio Dixon, playing in place of injured Broderick Bunkley, gets blown off the ball by Kyle Kosier, and Nate Allen is dragged four yards on the tackle. Choice converts second-and-1, then runs the ball to the one-yard line on first-and-goal before getting stuffed by Dixon. The Eagles run defense does a solid job in goal-to-go here, forcing the Cowboys to third down.

Figure 3 shows the Cowboys touchdown. Ernie Sims (50) has coverage on Jason Witten (82), who gets open on a flat route. There are three problems here. (1) Sims cannot cover Witten on his best day, though at the goal-line mismatches like that are just going to happen. (2) Sims is aligned inside Witten so Juqua Parker (75) can blitz from the outside. This puts Sims in terrible position. (3) Sims peeks into the backfield when he should keep his eye on the All-Pro tight end he is covering. I do not like this call by McDermott. If he expects Sims to cover Witten, he has to give the linebacker a fighting chance by putting him head-up on the receiver.

Drive Six: Third Quarter against Vikings

Breakdown: The Vikings go from first-and-10 on the 34-yard line to a touchdown in four plays. With Joe Webb at quarterback.

The Vikings reach the red zone on a 16-yard pass to Sidney Rice and a helmet-to-helmet penalty. Rice runs a shallow drag against zone coverage, slipping past linebacker Jamar Chaney. Samuel draws a penalty while tackling Rice, which gives the Vikings the ball on the nine-yard line. Mike Patterson jumps offsides, which moves the ball to the four.

The Vikings try to get cute, with Webb faking a handoff right, then turning and throwing a screen to Percy Harvin in the left flat. Safety Kurt Coleman ranges in from the secondary to trip Harvin for a five-yard loss. On second down, Webb rolls out and has a run-pass option, with the emphasis on "run." Juqua Parker does what he is supposed to do, containing the quarterback on the edge as best he can, but Webb eludes Parker. Fokou is next on the scene, but Fokou is easily juked. For good measure, he crashes into Coleman, knocking the safety out of the play and giving Webb an easy lane to the end zone.

Conclusions: Dimitri Patterson is awful. He hustles, and he is not bad in run support, but the guy was overmatched last year. McDermott spent a lot of energy not just hiding Patterson in red zone coverage, but protecting Lindley when Samuel was hurt while making sure the 5-foot-9 Hanson didn't cover any 6-foot-4 receivers. The Eagles need an upgrade at cornerback, preferably someone with more upside and better health than Ellis Hobbs.

The linebackers didn't show up well in the drives I watched. Sims is a fast, aggressive player, but he is also mistake-prone, and too much was expected of him in coverage. Fokou is a stopgap defender. Chaney appears to have a lot of potential, and he may be the best option for covering backs and tight ends in the red zone. Bradley is a run defender and pass rusher who will get in trouble if asked to cover Arian Foster-types. The Eagles need an upgrade at linebacker, but you can say that every year.

The defensive line played relatively well on these drives, and despite a few problems I mentioned earlier, the run defense and pass rush were not major issues. Opponents are going to score a few rushing touchdowns against any defense. The problem the Eagles had was that teams found it too easy to score passing touchdowns or get the ball down to the three-yard line for the running back.

From a scheme standpoint, I didn't like the blitz that led to the Witten touchdown or the blitz that left Casey open on third-and-3. I also question the use of base defense against the Texans near the goal line. I am not sure if Bill Belichick could have coached the Eagles to be better in the red zone by season's end. At some point, Dimitri has to cover someone, Sims has to come up big, or Fokou has to make a basic play without eliminating a teammate.

The one schematic problem that cropped up several times occurred outside the red zone: Receivers kept getting open on drag routes against zone linebackers for big gains. In fact, an alarming number of red zone collapses began with 25-30 yard plays from around midfield. The Eagles defense ranked 13th in DVOA in the Front Zone, from the opponent's 39 to 21-yard lines, but it may not have been as good late in the year as the numbers suggest. The Eagles defense produced nine sacks and four interceptions in the Front Zone, but most of those big plays came early in the year, some against weaker opponents like the 49ers and Lions. From Week 11 on, the Eagles allowed 8.7 yards per pass in the Front Zone while producing just two sacks and one interception. Early in the season, the Eagles produced enough sacks and turnovers once opponents crossed midfield to keep them out of the red zone. But as the team came to rely more on Patterson and other replacements, the Front Zone defense started cracking, which only made the red zone problem more pronounced.

When I looked at drives from early in the year, I found the same problems I saw above: Ernie Sims loses Jahvid Best in coverage; Hanson has his hands full with Calvin Johnson; Sims cannot cover Vernon Davis; Dimitri cannot cover Ted Ginn or Josh Morgan (who does that leave?); and linebackers lose receivers on drag routes in the Front Zone to start the ball rolling. There were also a few late-and-not-so-close touchdowns in the mix, which skewed the early season data a bit. But the same theme keeps recurring: The Eagles need a better No. 2 cornerback and better coverage linebackers, and they needed a better plan at 40-yard line than putting a rookie in the middle zone and hoping he can run with Sidney Rice.

These are tangible, correctable issues, the kind Castillo can address despite his well-documented lack of experience on defense. If the Eagles get better on defense, they will also improve in the red zone. All they need are a few guys not named "Dimitri."

Book Update

As it turns out, the Phillies own the rights to the name "Phanatic." Therefore, my upcoming book has been renamed The Philly Fan's Code.

Other than that, nothing has changed. It's still the story of the most remarkable athletes in Philadelphia sports history, as seen from my warped perspective. The folks at Temple University Press are starting the production process, which will take a while as we work on photo rights and things.

More news when it comes!

On Swann and Stallworth

Lynn Swann entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a marked man. A finalist for 13 years (four years longer than his playing career), Swann brought shockingly low career statistical totals with him to Canton -- 336 regular-season receptions, 5,462 yards, and 51 touchdowns. Swann was a controversial choice, and his merits as a Hall of Famer are often debated by stats-and-history minded people like us. The debates sometimes get heated, and they often devolve into something like this: "You are a Philistine who thinks that Super Bowls imbue players with magical powers" versus "You are a stat geek who can never feel the pulsating heart of a champion."

John Stallworth reached the Hall of Fame one year after Swann, with a resume featuring 537 catches, 8,723 yards, and 63 touchdowns. No one questions his induction very much. Swann is the default "bottom rung" Hall of Famer brought out when someone wants to advocate for or against a player like Andre Reed. Stallworth gets to just be another of the 75 or so Steel Curtain Steelers in Canton. (OK, 10 counting Chuck Noll, but you get the idea).

On one of our message boards two weeks ago, I suggested that Stallworth, not Swann, was the Hall of Fame "mistake." To backpedal a little from that, what I should have said was that Swann was a better player than Stallworth at his peak, and that if only one could stay in Canton, I would pick Swann. I don't want to say that either doesn't belong, because we all have a little Hall of Fame in our minds, no two are the same, and arguing about who belongs in mine won't change the membership of yours.

Let's take a few paragraphs to go through the careers of Swann and Stallworth, rebuild our memories of both players a little, and take a sober look at the accomplishments of each.

1974: Swann and Stallworth's rookie season. Stallworth catches 16 passes; Swann catches 11. Swann also returns punts. Frank Lewis leads the Steelers with 30 receptions, and the team wins the Super Bowl on the strength of their defense and 2,417 rushing yards. Both Swann and Stallworth win rings, of course, but this season provides little evidence of "greatness" for either player.

1975: The second Super Bowl season. Swann catches 49 passes and reaches the Pro Bowl. Stallworth catches 20 passes, missing three games with an injury. Swann, of course, catches four passes for 161 yards and a touchdown in the Super Bowl. Stallworth catches two passes for eight yards in that game, though he did score a touchdown against the Raiders in the AFC title game.

1976: Terry Bradshaw misses six games, and the Steelers run more than twice as often as they throw. Swann catches 28 passes to lead the team. Stallworth, hurt for much of the year, catches nine. Leading a good team with 28 receptions wasn't all that unusual back then -- Paul Warfield led the undefeated Dolphins with 29 receptions in 1972, and running back Andy Johnson led the 11-3 Patriots with just 29 catches.

1977: An off year for the Steelers, who go 9-5 and lose in the playoffs. Swann catches 50 passes and makes the Pro Bowl; Stallworth catches 44 passes and does not, though he does score more touchdowns than Swann.

1978: The first 16-game season and the third Steelers Super Bowl season. Swann is a first-team All-Pro with 61 receptions, 880 yards, and 11 touchdowns. Stallworth goes 41-798-9. Swann catches three touchdown passes in the playoffs; Stallworth catches four.

1979: Stallworth's breakout year, with 78 catches for 1,183 yards and eight touchdowns. Swann misses three games and catches 41 passes. Both players have big games against the Rams in the Super Bowl, with Swann going 5-79-1 and Stallworth going 3-121-1. Stallworth is a first-team All-Pro.

1980: Stallworth misses almost the entire season and catches just nine passes. Swann leads the Steelers in receptions with 44-710-7, though Jim Smith bests him in yards (by one) and touchdowns (by two).

1981: The Steelers are now a .500 team, and Swann is breaking down, catching 34 passes, fewer than Franco Harris and Bennie Cunningham. Stallworth leads the team with 63-1098-5, but tellingly does not reach the Pro Bowl.

1982: The strike year. Stallworth reaches the Pro Bowl with 27 catches and nine touchdowns. Swann, with 18 catches, is toast.

1983: An injured Stallworth reaches the Pro Bowl with eight catches. Seriously. Pro Football Reference has a big blank in the column where other Pro Bowlers have things like "2nd-Team All NFL, Pro Football Writers Association." We will revisit this. Stallworth did catch a 58-yard touchdown in a playoff loss to the Raiders.

1984: Most of the Steel Curtain guys are gone, but Stallworth has a great year, catching 80 passes from Mark Malone for a 9-7 team and earning a Pro Bowl berth. Stallworth catches two touchdowns in a playoff loss to the Dan Marino Dolphins that has lots of "changing of the guard" implications.

1985: Stallworth catches 75 passes for a fading Steelers team. Louis Lipps bests him in yards and touchdowns.

1986-87: Two fade-out seasons. Stallworth leads the Steelers in receiving in strike-marred 1987, due to an injury to Lipps and the fact that the reeling Steelers are starting to employ receivers with names like Weegie Thompson.

Unpacking the facts: Now that all of that is in front of us, let's revisit the question. Who is better?

It is clear that Swann is better from 1975 through 1978 and that Stallworth is better from 1981 through 1987. Stallworth was better in 1979, Swann in 1980, though injuries affected both seasons. Call them even as rookies.

Neither of these guys is in Canton for their stats. They are in Canton for their contributions to winning teams. And here is where it gets dicey. Neither deserves a lot of credit for 1974. Swann deserves much more of the credit for 1975 and a little more for 1978. Stallworth wins 1979. Swann also wins 1976, 1977, and 1980, the in-between years, and beginning-of-the-end years for the Steel Curtain. Stallworth becomes the Steelers' unquestioned top receiver in 1981, and he gets to reign through strike years and 9-7 seasons with Malone at quarterback.

Stallworth not only ascends after the great Steelers teams fade, but he ascends after the adoption of the 16-game schedule and relaxed passing rules. It's hard to adjust mentally for the difference between a 50-catch season in 1977 and an 80-catch season in 1984. Swann finished fourth in the NFL in receiving yards with 789 in 1977. Just four years later, Stallworth finished 10th with 1,098. The comparisons are made harder by the fact that the 1978 season wasn't a clean break. Passing totals (expressed per game) increased gradually from 1978 through about 1984, so every year represented another ladder rung. Swann had his best seasons before anyone even stepped on the ladder. Stallworth's final three seasons occurred at the top of the ladder.

In Swann, then, we have a short-career player who was the No. 1 receiver for the greatest team of his generation. He was a vital part of two Super Bowl teams, a major contributor to a third, and a bit player on the fourth, plus a Pro Bowl-level player during a few playoff seasons between championships. His statistics are severely depressed by the era and the system in which he played.

In Stallworth, we have two players. We have one of the second-tier stars of the greatest team of his generation, albeit one who stepped from the shadows to win that fourth championship. We also have a venerable receiver who compiled a lot of stats in a far more pass-oriented team and league.

Stallworth was a very good player in the early '80s, of course, but his 1983 Pro Bowl berth tells you something about his reputation. By 1983, Stallworth was getting a lot of "last of the great Steelers" ink in the papers and talk from the announcers. People were still getting used to 70-catch, 1,000-yard seasons, so Stallworth's statistics looked amazing. Charlie Joiner reached the Hall of Fame thanks in part to a similar distortion. Both got to retire very high on the all-time receptions list (Joiner is No. 1) because they were successful, durable receivers whose careers straddled the 1978 season just so.

To my taste, too much of Stallworth's value is tied up in those hang-around years. They were very good seasons, but they were Wes Chandler, Roy Green, Stanley Morgan-type seasons, not Hall of Fame resume builders. To search for a parallel, say Deion Branch plays six more years, the NFL expands to 18-games, and Branch has a bunch of 90-100 catch seasons while the Patriots go 10-8 or 9-9. Would you consider him a Hall of Famer? Maybe. Maybe you consider him one now. At any rate, that's about who Stallworth was. Swann was more of a Michael Irvin, though not quite as good.

Those late seasons were beneficial to Stallworth in the long run because they gave him enough statistical padding to take him out of the "bad choice" category when people like us evaluate Hall of Famers 25 years later. Those 1,000-yard seasons keep the wolves at bay, or they send the wolves to Swann, who was the better receiver when it mattered, when the Steelers were doing the things that made everyone legends in the first place.

My problem with Swann and Stallworth is that their Hall of Fame credentials are just too similar to those of Cliff Branch, Drew Pearson, and Harold Carmichael to give them separation for anything other than the Steelers Aura. Branch and Pearson had better seasons (especially in the pass-poor '70s) and their own postseason heroics. Carmichael had a King Kong year in 1973 and several fine post-1978 seasons. In between, he did his best to catch passes from Mike Boryla. Steelers mythology clearly paid off for Swann and Stallworth, which is fine to a point. They were both truly "famous," and the Steelers dominated the 1970s football consciousness in a way a contemporary team like the Patriots cannot, because satellite dishes and the Internet allow us to follow the whole league, not just the successful teams who earn national coverage.

The problem I have with Stallworth as a Hall of Famer is that he benefited from the mythology after the fact. Swann was a special player for a few years in a statistically depressed era for a team that never threw the ball. I can be persuaded that he was better than Branch or Pearson in 1975 or 1977, or that his particular brand of postseason heroics vaults him past them. Stallworth was not in the same league as any of these guys until 1979, but he hung around long enough that former teammates like Joe Greene were getting inducted while he was still catching passes.

Ultimately, both were excellent receivers, and Branch, Pearson, and Carmichael (and Mel Gray, Stanley Morgan, Harold Jackson, et. al) are not so overwhelmingly qualified that justice has been miscarried. If anything, Swann has been unfairly maligned, the whipping boy of the Hall in statistical arguments. He is a borderline case. Stallworth is even more borderline. Joiner is in the same category for different reasons. The 1970s were a funky decade for everyone, but especially wide receivers. Hall voters plucked a handful of fairly good selections, missed lots of other qualified candidates, then promptly forgot about the whole era. Swann was as good as their other choices, and better than many of our favorite snubs. And he was probably better than his teammate.

Safety First!

Drew Brees: Greetings, owners. Peyton Manning and I are here to talk to you about player safety.

Jerry Richardson: Yawn! Boring! belch.

Peyton Manning: As you know, many labor issues, like the proposed 18-game season, dovetail with issues of player health and well-being. For example ...

Richardson: What's the matter? Does widdle Peyton not like it when big, scary Calvin Pace sacks him? Does Drewsy get a widdle woozy when John Abraham knocks him down? What do you wimps know about player safety?

Manning: With all due respect, sir, do you think you know more about safety based on your two seasons with the Colts 50 years ago?

Richardson: Sure do. Why in my day, we treated concussions with a can of Ballantine and an unfiltered Camel. But just to stay sharp, I hired my own player health consultant, and he's a quarterback just like you. Jake?

Jake Delhomme: Sir! Yes, sir!

Richardson: Jake, tell the boys about my player health agenda.

Delhomme: Yes, sir! The 18-game season is vital to the survival of the game, sir! Players should be thrilled just to have the privilege of participating, sir! Changes to the pension and health care structure are actually harmful to the players, because if they believe they have good health insurance they will take unnecessary risks on the field, sir!

Brees: Jake, we love you, buddy, but you have always had a reputation as a company man.

Richardson: Jake, don't speak to them unless I tell you to. Remember, you are on the Panthers payroll until 2019. Talk about a contract I want to take back ... Anyway, Jake is just the chairman of my committee on player safety. Why don't you boys enjoy a snack while we wait for the others to arrive.

Manning: I think I will. This pastrami looks delicious. I ... ouch! ... Someone just shoved me face first into my pastrami on rye!

Ndamukong Suh: Sorry I am late, Mr. Richardson.

Richardson: I am glad you are here. Mr. Suh is my expert on tackling fundamentals.

Brees: What? Mr. Richardson, while a few of Suh's penalties were bogus last year, the guy is dangerously sloppy in his technique. Furthermore ... Youch! ... My spleen! Someone just speared me with a helmet!

Nick Fairley: That's just my way of shaking hands.

Richardson: And let me introduce former Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley, who will lead this year's rookie symposium on safe tackling.

Manning: That's ridiculous! I don't want to accuse Fairley of being a dirty player, but he has had several on-field lapses of judgment. He is exactly the kind of player the union is trying to protect -- someone who is not only a danger to quarterbacks, but to himself with his tendency to play out-of-control.

Fairley: You talk too much. (Shoves Manning into sandwich.)

Suh: Hey, that's my routine. (Pokes Fairley's eyes.)

Fairley: Oh, a wise guy, huh? (Boxes Suh's ears.)

Delhomme: Knock it off, you two imbeciles. (Strikes both on the head with a hammer.)

Fairley: Why, I oughta ...

Richardson: Ha! You boys kill me! I ... Oh, the tingle in the arm.

Manning: Drew, Mr. Richardson's pacemaker is malfunctioning.

Brees: I am on it. Let me rip his shirt so I can operate. Scalpel!

Manning: Check.

Brees: Anakanapuner!

Manning: Check.

Delhomme: Does he need a blood transfusion? I will give him all I have. All I need is someone to make me bleed!

Fairley and Suh: On it! (Delhomme speared through the wall.)

Richardson: I ... feel better. What happened?

Manning: It was a cardiac incident, but Drew and I saved you.

Brees: Yes, and I think we all learned an important lesson. The NFL became the greatest sports league in the world because we work in cooperation. Players have always respected the fact that ownership takes a financial risk and has a right to make a profit. And owners respect the fact that players risk their health and need some assurance that they will be taken care of in the future. We've had each other's backs for decades. Although angry "take back" talk has become fashionable in labor negotiations lately, it really has no place in professionally conducted negotiations among members of a very profitable industry. Now what do you say we start over?

Richardson: I ... expect reimbursement ... for that shirt.


70 comments, Last at 22 Feb 2011, 12:39pm

3 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

I was waiting for the line about Hines Ward's being better than both of them.

13 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

Me too. IMO Ward is a hall-of-famer, but that's gonna be a tough sell when the time comes. To his credit, though, he does have one more Super Bowl MVP than Randy Moss and Terrell Owens combined, and has never been cut by multiple teams, or even one team.

16 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

Ward is going to wind up with a resume similar to Swann and Stallworth, in that his stats are not very impressive for his era, but he was on multiple champions.

And as Swann was considered one of the most dangerous deep threats of his era, Ward is considered the best blocker: an intangible that could fade in some fans' minds years after his retirement, or turn into some magic aura.

23 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

As someone who doesn't really care about the Steelers at all, Ward definitely shouldn't be in the hall of fame. I understand he was an elite blocker, but he was never someone for which other teams gameplanned, even at his peak. I realize he was on Super Bowl winning teams, but those teams were dominated by defense, and for most of his career he played on a team that was run-heavy. There are just too many deserving receivers that are in line to make the hall of fame.

29 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

Look at the box score of Super Bowl XL and tell me exactly how the defense dominated. Was it the single turnover? The 396 yards of offense allowed? The 5.5 YPC? Just to restate the already stated, Ward was MVP of that game.

Four Pro Bowls; 6 1000-yard seasons (and two more at 975). Never compared his agent's inability to file his free agency paperwork to slavery, because he's played his entire career with one team. Never quit on his team and held a press conference from his driveway. Never called his QB a homosexual. Never suspended by his own team. Never mooned the crowd. Never traded mid-season then cut by the team that traded for him. When other WRs stop and wave their arms frantically because the ball wasn't thrown their way, he throws a block. Guy just quietly shows up an plays. Gets up smiling, even after bad plays. You get the impression that he genuinely enjoys playing football.

Maybe a hall of fame that prominently features OJ Simpson and Michael Irvin doesn't deserve a guy like Hines Ward.

66 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

6 1000 yard seasons is not that impressive compared to other HoF WRs.

For comparison look at Donald Driver. Driver currently has about 1500 yards and 30 TDs fewer than Ward, in one less season. Obviously he won't catch Ward in TDs, but could in receiving yards.

But looking at peak years DD are maybe better, at least if we don't compare blocking. 3 straight 1200 yard seasons with 22 TDs. Ward's best 3 consecutive seasons could be either of two overlapping stretches by near identical 100 yard and 4 TD seasons, with a 1300+/12 and 1100+/10 in the middle for 26 total TDs. That 1300 yard season was the only time Ward passed 1200 yards.

Donald Driver has had a very nice career, but he's not a Hall of Famer. Especially not if Cris Carter and Andre Reed are on the bubble, and Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt may have uphill battles to get in. Ward just seems closer to Driver than to these guys to me.

The issue about character is just a distraction. Most NFL players have decent character, you just don't hear much about unless they become stars. It doesn't make them Hall of Famers.

68 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

So, let me get this straight... your argument saying that Ward is like Driver is that Driver, who has played his entire career in offenses that feature the pass far more, and with far better QBs than Ward, would still need a 1500, 30 TD season just to catch Ward, in the same number of years? Really?

I despise teh Steelers to the point that, as a Bears fan, I was actually rooting for the Packers in the Superbowl. But Hines Ward is the best WR that franchise has ever had, by far, and belongs in Canton.

- Alvaro

52 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

I think Ward will be remembered as the first WR whom defenses feared because he would hurt you. Even the Ravens were rattled by him, and their MLB killed a guy!

Ward is basically the Earl Campbell of WRs.

28 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

He should have his thousand catches before next season ends, even if its a bit truncated. That is a tribute to his consistency and longevity - but those are, as they say, a feature not a bug.

37 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

Well he did say "considered" the best blocker, which is probably true whether Ward actually is or not. But I do think you're not giving him enough credit for straight up blocking - he is very good, and very active, at it.

4 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

I have two takes. First, mediocre years should never add up to a HOF career. If a guy isn't the best - or near-best - at his position during the peak of his career, he's not HOF material. Stat-padding in off-peak years just polishes the turd. If you've got two guys with identical stats for eight years, and one retires while the other plays three more mediocre years, does the latter player become more Hall-worthy? Not in my book.

The second factor is taking into account the era. If passing suddenly increases across the league, you need to account for it. Sports writers sitting in a room with their little notebooks can't possibly account for the difference between 1985 and 2001 in their heads. All stats should be normalized for the year they occur in. THEN, you ask, does this guy fit in with those already in the hall.

19 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

I disagree with the dismissal of "mediocre" seasons.

I'm a Packers' fan, and saw all of their games. Greg Jennings is a top receiver. Donald Driver was never as good as Jennings in his prime, now he's aging and is more injury prone. Still had some reliability and a few big plays. James Jones and Jordy Nelson dropped more passes than you would like, but still caught some of them and did a decent job of getting open. Brett Swain seemed pretty close to replacement level, but still they kept him active and used 5 receiver sets sometimes, so they must have liked some of what they saw.

Any player that is better than replacement level is adding some value to the team. I have seen the Packers try to use some receivers that don't add a lot of value. Antonio Chatman was probably the worst, Ruvell Martin wasn't much better. Driver, Jones, and Nelson are all considerably above this level. They all contributed to a Super Bowl champion.

Suppose Greg Jennings performs at the all-important peak value of a Hall of Famer for X years. Then he gets injured or old, but is still able to play and contribute for 3 or 4 more years. How many teams in the NFL today can you say have absolutely no chance to win the Super Bowl within the next three or four years. Very few, possibly none. Obviously, some won't get close, but we can't say for sure which teams those will be. So if Jennings keeps playing, whether for the Packers or somebody else, there's certainly a chance he can contribute to another Super Bowl champion. But according to you, he shouldn't bother, because he's not at his peak, he's "mediocre", his performance is worthless.

You're telling me that receivers that are catching 50 or 60 balls a year are worthless, that they could be replaced by hundreds of guys off the street and affect the team's success not in the slightest. I find your methodology to be significantly flawed.

20 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

Disagree a little as well on dismissing mediocre seasons late in a good player's career. Longevity counts for something, especially in a game where health issues force many a player to retire early, or cause enough damage to their bodies that they are incapable of playing at a level that earns them a roster spot.

Look at Brett Favre. Everyone agrees (I think) that no matter how much we hate to admit it, he is probably HoF bound. But why? At his best, he was one of the best QB's in the game, but that only lasted a couple of years, and there are any number of QB's who were "one of the best QB's in the game" for a couple of years that are not HoF worthy (Carson Palmer, Daunte Culpepper, Matt Hasslebeck all come to mind). Favre is notable because he played *pretty good* for longer than any other QB in memory.

In your example, maybe one guy retired because he had to...his skills diminished to the point where he couldn't win his way onto a roster (like Tory Holt this year). But the second guy kept enough skills to get onto a roster for three more years and contribute to a team, even if he wasn't amazing at his position. I would say that the second guy had a more impressive career than the first guy. And, incidentally, is more likely to be a well-known name, i.e. "famous", which by definition makes him more worthy of getting into the "Hall of Fame".

21 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

It's not the hall of peak talent. It's not even the hall of career value. The HOF is about greatness, contribution, and, well, fame. Was Joe Namath one of the best QBs? By talent he doesn't belong in the HOF. But he absolutely belongs because he did much to raise the status the league. Brett Farve had such longevity, that it has us and NFL press talking about it. He contributed to his team very well for a well, pretty well for a long time, and accomplished something in that longevity completely separate from talent but deserving under the mantle of greatness. Swann and Stalworth in contributing, and contributing very well to so many Super Bowl championships also belong. Yes, that does mean that the talent bar is lower for players on extremely good teams, and for players who grab mindshare, but unless you hold that HOF is only about talent, that's an outcome you have to accept.

67 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

To start, if Favre weren't a lock for the HoF we might as well shut the thing down. Seriously.

Second, I think a lot of people on FO seem to discount how good Favre was even during many of his post-peak seasons. He had nine 30 passing TD seasons, with four of them coming in the last decade, several years after the Superbowl years.

You don't lead the NFL in every career passing stat just by having a big peak.

5 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

Thanks for the presumably unintentional Travis Best reference. I'm sure Ga. Tech wishes he was still beating other ACC point guards off the dribble as opposed to beating Ernie Sims in coverage :)

6 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

"...because we all have a little Hall of Fame in our minds, no two are the same, and arguing about who belongs in mine won't change the membership of yours."

Very well put. One's opinion of whether a guy should be in the Hall and though there are plenty of cases that brook no argument (Joe Montana in, Joe Danelo out) there are many, many borderline cases that can be reasonably argued either way. We should all keep that in mind when criticizing the Hall voters...including a certain latte-drinking FO punching bag.

7 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

Whenever I saw the Eagles in the red zone they seemed to be playing cover3. What I don't know is if they ever used to do this under Jimmy Johnson or if it is new. I hate the thinking behind the playcall in the redzone, exactly what are you trying to take away? A decent QB is going to find someone open.

56 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

Reading this article, at least the top half, felt way too much like watching the Eagles play this season. I am generally an optimistic Eagles fan and like to think that the Coaches know what they are doing in terms of both using the right players and the right plays. However, after reading that it seems like their coaching overhaul makes sense. Here is to hoping that the Eagles continue to address their needs (RCB) in the draft and whatever form Free Agency takes this off-season.

Go read www.SKOHRboard.com

8 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

At p-f-r, Chase Stuart once created a "Greatest WRs Ever" formula that used team passing attempts in the formula to adjust for team quality, era, etc.: http://www.pro-football-reference.com/blog/?p=1486

Stallworth was #34, between Billy Howton and Andre Reed
Swann was #85, between Alfred Jenkins and Mike Quick

(For the sake of comparison, Cliff Branch was #27, Drew Pearson was #68, Harold Carmichael was #38, and Hines Ward was #29.)

Also interesting: In the same post, he looked at how often players' teams passed relative to league average during their careers. Among those hurt the most by their teams' run-heavy style were Buddy Dial, Paul Warfield, and Steve Smith (Swann and Stallworth were a little closer to average than Smith). Among those helped the most by their teams' pass-heavy style were Charley Hennigan, Don Hutson, Larry Fitzgerald, and Charlie Joyner.

NOTE: To this point, that was just sharing, not endorsing the formula as "correct" or "the answer."

I'm not sure Swann or Stallworth belongs in the Hall of Fame. If we could make the perfect Hall of Fame, I think it would be best for the '70s Steelers to be represented by Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Mike Webster, Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood, Jack Lambert, Jack Hamm, Mel Blount, and Chuck Noll. If we had to have another one, I'm tempted to say that it's Andy Russell.

10 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

Thanks for posting. Interesting list, and I liked it until I got to Muhsin Muhammed at #54 or so. I have to believe that Larry Fitzgerald (#100) is a better WR than, at minimum, contemporaries Muhammed, Lav Coles, Anquan Boldin, Joe Horn, and Plaxico Burress.

15 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

However, especially since the list was before the 2009 season, all of those receivers except for Boldin had played a lot more than Fitzgerald. Even with the 100-95-90-etc. discounting of seasons, it's an advantage to have played considerably longer.

Larry Fitzgerald had played five years (all as a starter), Muhsin Muhammad had played 13 (11 as a starter), Laveranues Coles had played nine (eight as a starter), Anquan Boldin had played six (all as a starter), Joe Horn had played 12 (eight as a starter), and Plaxico Burress had played nine (all as a starter).

If he were to run the list now, I would bet that Fitzgerald, following two more good years that amounted to a little over 800 points of value in the formula (assuming I'm computing it correctly), would pass at least Burress, Coles, and Boldin. He might well have passed all five of those guys.

40 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

If he retired today he still would not belong in the Hall of Fame. But he's got a better case that Muhammad, Coles, etc.

This list was "Best WR" not a lifetime achievement award. I mean, does anybody at all believe that Muhsin Muhammad is one of the top 100 WRs all time, let alone #54?

46 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

I could believe he is in the top 100.

The passing game has only really existed for about 60 years, so he just needs to be one of the top 16-17 receivers in a given decade. Plus with how the game has evolved, probably even less restrictive in recent years. So the question is more like, was Muhammad one of the top 20 receivers of the 2000s?

48 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

Muhammad is 22nd all-time in receiving yards, and not just from compiling. In his All-Pro 2004 season he went for 93/1405/16, led the league in receiving yards and TDs, and in advanced stats was 2nd in receiving DYAR and 1st in Expected Points Added. He's nowhere near a Hall of Famer, but he has a pretty good case to make the top 100.

49 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

I think that he has a pretty good case for maybe one of the all-time Top-10 seasons by a WR, but one of the top 100 WRs ever?

Maybe it's the Muslem name, but I remember Muhammad as a Houshmanzadeh-type receiver. I guess I'll put a bit more thought/research into it.

69 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

Let's not forget he spent several years playing with Chicago QB (in its Grossman/Griese/Orton iteration).

I remember hearing the Bears had signed Muhammad, and doing a little jig of joy. Sure, that turned out to be a little premature, but there was a time he was considered among the best at his position.

I can definitely see him as one of the Top 100 recievers of al time. Heck, I have no problem thinking he cracks top 75.

Also, as bonus trivia, what do Jerry Rice, Mushim Muhammad and Ricky Proehl have in common?


They are the only three players to catch a TD pass in the Superbowl for two different teams. And Proehl and Muhammad even did so in the same game, for the same team, the 03 Panthers.

- Alvaro

11 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

I had a similar view of Sims when he was in Detroit, and didn't understand why some people held him in high regard. He seemed frequently lost in coverage, although some of that was no doubt contagious: despite Peterson's end-of-season exit, he didn't look that bad this season, and he was equally lost the last year or two. (And yes, there were plenty of plays I charted where all three LBs would circle in as they bit on a play fake and then out as they realized they needed to be covering someone or something.)

And maybe that's part of the problem. Some players seem to be great in complementary roles, but struggle when they have to carry more of the load. Maybe if the Eagles can shore up their secondary, they'll get better play at LB even without personnel changes there.

12 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

I can't really say I'm surprised. Dmitri Patterson was the #1 reason why the Eagles were no threat to win a Playoff game this year. Mike Vick being somewhat ineffective against disciplined defenses being #1A.

14 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

To be fair, Patterson was option C. He was only thrust into the starting lineup after both Marlin Jackson and Ellis Hobbs were both injured. Granted, you could argue that the Eagles front office had plenty of time to secure depth after Jackson went down. However, they did respond by drafting Lindley. Time will tell if that turns out to be an effective long term solution to the problem or not, but it offered little help in 2010. Lindley clearly was too raw to be expected to start as a rookie - which is part of why he lasted until the third round.

Patterson is what he is. He’s a backup, and a valuable one. But he’s not a starter. Finding a starting CB – whether it is Lindley, Scrabble, or whoever – and using Hanson and Patterson as your 3rd and 4th CBs and suddenly it’s a talented secondary. But while both Patterson and Hanson are capable reserves, neither is a guy who can be counted upon to step up and start if the guys in front of them go down.

36 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

31 fanbases are going to be disapointed when some lucky team signs him.

On the other hand, CB is a position where Philly has shown a willingness to spend premium assets (money/picks) to acquire premium talent. There a lot less logical destinations for him.

57 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

Dean, thank you for pointing out their acquisition of and then subsequent injury to Marlin Jackson. I was actually excited about that move last off-season and really bummed when he got hurt again.

Go read www.SKOHRboard.com

18 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

Anybody remember when the Eagles were all farklempt because they were looking at Samuel, Brown and Sheppard all on the roster and couldn't figure out why anybody would need this many decent CBs?

17 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

Great read on Swann and Stallworth but it's rather pointless to play "what if the Steelers hadn't won 4 Super Bowls?" Certainly, that helped both Swann and Stallworth greatly. But having watched that era, I can't remember a lot of surprise at Swann's being inducted. He made some of the most memorable catches not just of his generation but in Super Bowl history. Stallworth was a tad surprising to me, based mostly on the fact he was #2 to Swann for most of the great years. Both were excellent players and being a "marginal" Hall of Famer still has you in the Hall of Fame.

If the NFL does go to 18 games, you'll see similar circumstances to what Stallworth experienced and there will be more guys vault from "probably not" to "probably in" status. And I think that would likely spell the end for HoF hopes for guys like Cris Carter whose stats would suddenly look not nearly as impressive.

22 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

Stallworth was a very good player in the early '80s, of course, but his 1983 Pro Bowl berth tells you something about his reputation.

As best I can ascertain, it tells you something about the persistence of misinformation. Carlos Carson, Wes Chandler, Cris Collinsworth, and Mark Duper were originally named the four AFC receivers that year, and they're the four who caught passes in the game. I spent a bit of time poking through old newspapers, and I have yet to see anything from that time that says Stallworth was ever on the team. At some point, someone credited him with a 1983 Pro bowl berth, and it's now listed in the Steeler media guide and pro-football-reference.com, among other places, but I would need to see contemporaneous evidence.

24 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

Interesting. Since you already knew about it, I'm sure you've spent more time looking than I have, but I've tried looking as well and can't find anything from the time that says he was on that team.

25 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

I found the same.

Here are the Pro Bowl rosters as announced December 14th. 1983, and here are the Pro Bowl rosters as of the day before the game (scroll back one page). Injury replacements are included in the latter (for one, Dan Marino was voted in as the starting QB for the AFC, but later replaced by Bill Kenney).

Stallworth isn't on either list.

Also, articles written at the time of Stallworth's January 1988 retirement refer to him as "a three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver", those years being 1979, 1982, and 1984.

31 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

Wow...I'm old enough to have watched football back then, and looking over those rosters brings back some great memories....but I had never heard of Carlos Carson before today.

It's interesting to note how many of those guys have sons that played or are currently playing in the NFL.

26 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

First off, does Brees get arrested for practicing medicine without a license? Does the NFLPA boot him from the union for saving an owner? Does the IRS hit up Richardson for not disclosing the free medical services he received that would have otherwise cost him $10 grand in a hospital? And did he teach Manning to read a pie chart in the ambulance rushing to the hospital? A great skit, but so much left unsaid....

And finally, talk about the greatest season never played... Stallworth belongs in the hall (tongue in cheek) for his rate stats in 1982. 27 catches, 9 TDs. Let's see how that rate works for Marvin Harrison's 2002: 143 catches, 48 TDs.

Okay, okay, that's crazy talk, I know. Let's go with a much more typical season leading catch total like 90 grabs and 30 TDs. Wholly holy shit. When viewed through my special small-sample-size glasses ($12.95 at Costco!) that's one heckuva season.

27 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

Mike Tanier,

I was one of your Swann critics a couple weeks ago, though it was more of "I always thought it was the other way around" rather than a complaint or outright argument. AFter all, you didn't pay for an argument. Did not. But, after reading this, I am starting to feel that neither belongs. I can see an argument that Stallworth was more of a compiler who had the benefit of the 78 rule change more than Swann. Plus the reflected glory of the SB rings. But really, take away the Super Bowl after the '75 season and does Swann even make it to Canton? I can still see those leaping receptions in my mind's eye--they were and still are spectacular. He had a great, brief peak that benefitted from national TV exposure. I think the 13 years he was eligible and did not get in speak volumes; even the voters were on the fence.

Terelle Davis, anyone? That dude had a seriously league-dominating peak for a couple years, got Elway his rings, then got hurt. I don't think of him as a HOFer....

30 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

Personally I think TD is a HOF because his peak was brief but it was one of the best all time peaks. During those years he was the best player at his position and was instrumental to the teams success.

41 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

Are you saying that if the Broncos didn't have Davis (and consequently the 2 Super Bowl wins) that Elway wouldn't be in the HoF? Because I'd say Elway was already a HoF'er by the time Davis had his big years.

42 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

No way does TD belong in hall. To get in the hall of fame, it's not sufficient to merely be the best or one of the two or three best players in the league on a team that won two superbowls. No matter if the player was truly dominant. The hall of fame is all about longevity and stat padding.

47 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

This is a common argument (if Sayers belongs, TD does). I'm not sure I buy it because due to medical technology, careers are a lot longer in the 90s-00s than they were in the 60s. Bronko Nagurski only has 633 career carries, does he too not belong in the HOF?

Plus, Sayers was actually useful for a year longer than TD was.

53 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

Nagurski is in because it's the hall of *fame*. Without him, there might not be an NFL.

Also, not many players can unretire, become a tackle, then become an emergency RB again.

43 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

I am a Bronco fan and someone who has been known to say, "John Elway was not the greatest quarterback of all time, because he was not a quarterback. He was a god." And yet I would agree that without the Super Bowls, Elway would not be in the Hall of Fame. He would still deserve to be, but he wouldn't be.

However, not having Terrell Davis would not have mattered much at all--his production was amazing, but he was largely a product of (a) the offensive line, (b) the system, and (c) the strength of the rest of the team.

44 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

Jim Kelly made the Hall of Fame on the first ballot despite 1) never winning a Super Bowl and 2) having a shorter and less productive career than Elway. It's hard to believe that Elway wouldn't have made it had he retired/declined after 1996.

45 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

Agreed - unless Shattenjager meant ALL 5 of the Super Bowls. Then maybe it would have been tougher for Elway. But prior to the two Super Bowl victories, I'm pretty sure most people thought he was a hall of famer.

50 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

Just for the sake of clarification, I did not mean all 5 Super Bowls (the other three probably hurt his case) but rather just the two wins.

Living in Colorado at the time, I was definitely in the distinct minority who thought he was great at all, let alone a Hall of Famer. Most people in that area (and I asked my father and grandfather about this to be sure it wasn't just a horribly incorrect childhood memory) sided heavily with Dan Reeves in the feud with Elway, and the Wade Phillips era definitely did not sway them.

Imagine that his career is over after 1995 (That incredible 1996 team, while it lost in the playoffs, helped public perception of Elway immensely as well.): He finishes with 41,706 passing yards, ranked fifth all-time when he's HOF-eligible. He finishes with 225 TDs, ranked 18th all-time when he's eligible. He finishes with 191 INTs. (Stupid as the numbers in this next sentence are to use, we all know they would be used.) He finishes with a career record of 113-73-1 in the regular season and 7-6 in the postseason, including 3 Super Bowl losses by a combined score of 136-40. He finishes with six Pro Bowl appearances, no All-Pros, and one league MVP. He also finishes with a reputation for not being able to win the big game, being an underachiever, and running his successful head coach out of town.

There's obviously no way to know whether he would have gotten in if this had happened, but I'm doubting his candidacy at that point.

And I want to emphasize this: He would have deserved to be in as far as I'm concerned. I'm doubting that he would have.

51 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

Coming from an outside Colorado perspective, I absolutely think he would have been a surefire first ballot HOFer without those 2 seasons. The perspective of the national media often seemed to be asking where he was in GOAT discussion. It was always "We have three of the greatest ever to play in Montana, Elway, and Marino. Which do you think is best?"

60 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

Is poster youngner than 25? If so then maybe that why thought Ekway woudl not have been 1st ballot guy if retire between 1996 and 1997 seoasns. Elway gerat and tlaked about as alll time great before win Super bowl 32 vs g.b. packkers. Hated elway becausue plaued for Denver Broncis but have to tell truth about elway and turth is that was 1ts ballot guy with or without last 2 seoasns.

61 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

No, Poster is 25.

I never heard Elway described as an all-time great before 1997.

I think I overstated my case, and as I already said the Jim Kelly example is certainly a good point. However, I think there has been some revisionist history about public perception of Elway since those Super Bowls as well.

62 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

Funny - I think Elway has been downgraded in the public eye since those wins. In the first half of 90's I seem to recall a lot of talk about where Marino, Montana, and Elway ranked amongst the greatest, with some debate that any of the three were the best. Over time, that seems to have somewhat sorted itself out, despite the 2 Super Bowl wins. I really think in the media and public eye, Elway was a surefire first ballot guy by 1995.

And I disagree that the Super Bowl losses hurt him. (Wins would have of course been better.) I think getting there and having everyone talk about how it was all his doing (no running game, no name defense, etc.) got him a lot of credit.

64 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

This really is a funny discussion because there is a definite difference of opinion (though it seems that it's everyone else on one side and me on the other, which I know means I'm probably wrong) but no good way to prove one or the other "right." And I think I've changed my mind about where this started, which is whether he was a Hall of Famer without the Super Bowls.

As to the Super Bowl losses:
I said to a friend who is a very smart football fan about a month ago that John Elway is the greatest quarterback of all time.
He said, "Then he shouldn't have lost to the Redskins and 49ers so badly in the Super Bowl. The greatest of all time wouldn't do that."

54 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

Was he? Denver's line was great at making replacement-level RBs into 1000-yd players, but TD was reliably a 1700-2000 yard guy. There's a decent argument he was 750 yards better than replacement-level. Consider his best seasons against Emmitt Smith's best seasons, and that both were playing with similar offensive weapons.

58 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

First of all, I don't think Smith's offensive lines were ever close to Denver's best offensive lines (1995-1997) or that Troy Aikman was even in the same zip code as John Elway. I don't think there's really anything to be gained by that comparison.

Second, Hall of Fame left tackle Gary Zimmerman retired following the 1997 season. While the line remained excellent, it was not as good after that as it had been in 1995-1997.

Third, I present the following pfr search: http://pfref.com/tiny/SqW3f
Clinton Portis, Tatum Bell, and the immortal Vaughn Hebron all averaged a higher ypc among those who had at least 100 carries 1995-2006 than Davis, and Mike Anderson and Reuben Droughns weren't far behind.

Fourth, Terrell Davis was "reliably" worth 1700-2000 yards for all of two years. He had 1750 in 1997 and 2008 in 1998. In 1996, he had 1538 and in 1995 he had 1117. After that, his high was 701.

Fifth, I will point out that only in 2002 and 2003 did they have a feature back after Davis's injuries. In those two years, Clinton Portis averaged 1549 yards despite having fewer than 600 carries. They didn't get 2000 yards out of anyone again because no one had enough carries to do it. I have another pfr link here: http://pfref.com/tiny/YIWbl
The 2003 and 2005 teams actually gained more rushing yards than the 1998 team. The 2003 team even had a higher ypc (4.84, 1998 was 4.70). The 2002 team also averaged 4.96 ypc, though it rushed for 202 yards fewer than the 1998 team.

Sixth, I did not say he was replacement level. He was an average runner with above-average durability (until the injuries started).

65 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

Sterling Sharpe was better than either Swann or Stallworth ever hoped to be. He has more catches and more TD catches than either of them. Sterling Sharpe was one of the top WR's in his time, which included Jerry Rice. Unfortunately, Sterling never got to play in a playoff game. He injured his neck just as the Packers were locking up their first playoff spot in years and had to retire from the NFL. At the peak of his powers. In his last season he scored a team record 18 TD's. To have pretenders like Swann and Stallworth in the HOF just goes to show what a farce this selection process is and how it is basically a reward for notoriety, not football prowess. Based on football playing ability, Sterling Sharpe was one of the best of all time. Heck he was much, much better football player than his brother, who incidentally , is in the HOF.

70 Re: Walkthrough: Red Zone Blues

"He has more catches and more TD catches than either of them."

Yes, but if you adjust for era and team it's not as big a difference. I'm not saying that Swann, or Stallworth, or Sharpe should be in the HoF. I'm just saying that's not a fair comparison.