Walkthrough: Bon Avril

Walkthrough: Bon Avril

by Mike Tanier

There’s nothing better than being the second- or third-best player on a great defensive line. The top guy gets all the double teams and rolling protections. You usually get a one-on-one matchup. It’s great to be Clyde Simmons in 1992, or Osi Umenyiora in 2007. You will probably lead your team in sacks, picking up more than your more famous teammates. You could earn a big payday.

It is great to be Cliff Avril.

Simmons and Umenyiora were/are very good players. How good is Avril? Good enough to earn the franchise tag and, one way or another, a fat raise. But is he as good as his 11 sacks and six forced fumbles indicate?

I decided to look back at all of Avril’s sacks and determine just how opponents blocked the Lions on those plays. Did Avril ever get double teamed? How often did he beat an elite right tackle? Did he register any clean-up sacks as quarterbacks ran away from Ndamukong Suh, who was carrying a board with a rusty nail sticking out of it?

The chart below shows a breakdown of each of Avril’s 11 sacks. An asterisk means that the play was a strip sack. As you can see, and probably knew anyway, the Lions do not blitz much. The only five-man pass rush on the list was a "Confuse-a-Tebow" zone blitz. Opponents double-teamed Suh or Sammie Lee Hill on most of the sacks, but keep in mind that defensive tackles regularly draw double teams in pass protection. Avril was not benefitting from too much extra emphasis on his teammates, though it was also rare for a tight end or running back to chip him on the plays in question. The only double team he fought through for a sack was on a rollout play by the Raiders.

Cliff Avril's Sacks, 2011
Sack No. Quarterback Lions Rushers Blockers Double Team Blocker Beat
1 Donovan McNabb* 4 5 Suh Phil Loadholt
2 Jay Cutler 4 5 Suh Frank Omiyale
3 Matt Ryan 4 6 Hill, Vanden Bosch Tyson Clabo
4 Tim Tebow* 5 6 Williams Orlando Franklin
5 Tim Tebow* 4 5 Suh Orlando Franklin
6 Jay Cutler* 4 5 Jackson Lance Louis
7 Aaron Rodgers* 4 6 Hill, Vanden Bosch Bryan Bulaga
8 Christian Ponder* 4 6 Hill, Fairley Phil Loadholt
9 Christian Ponder 4 6 Hill, Vanden Bosch Phil Loadholt
10 Carson Palmer 4 7 Suh, Avril Brandon Myers, Manase Tonga
11 Carson Palmer 4 5 Suh Khalif Barnes

None of the sacks were really "clean up" sacks; most occurred in the pocket, and Avril was the first guy on the scene. It’s important to note, though, that many of the strip sacks were really just swipes at the quarterback’s elbow that jarred the ball loose. Avril did not escape his blocker and deliver a blow to the quarterback. He beat his blocker off the edge and got a paw out just as the blocker pushed him wide of the play. There may not be any predictive value in that observation, but I have a feeling that a few of those swipes are likely to come up empty in future years, whereas the ability to consistently beat the protection would be more sustainable.

Of course, when we look at Avril’s sacks, we expect to see Avril single-blocked: He’s the guy who got to the quarterback! Let’s look at Kyle Vanden Bosch’s sacks and see if they tell us anything about Avril’s value or how opponents blocked the Lions.

Kyle Vanden Bosch's Sacks, 2011
Sack No. Quarterback Lions Rushers Blockers Double Team Blocker Beat
1 Josh Freeman* 4 5 Williams Donald Penn
2 Matt Cassel* 4 5 Suh Branden Albert
3 Donovan McNabb 4 5 Hill Charlie Johnson
4 Alex Smith* 4 5 Williams Joe Staley
5 Tim Tebow 6 7 Vanden Bosch, Fluellen Ryan Clady
6 Cam Newton 5 6 Zone Blitz Pickup Jordan Gross
7 Christian Ponder* 4 5 Hill Charlie Johnson
8 Carson Palmer 5 7 Fairley, Jackson Kevin Boss

Vanden Bosch sacks looked a lot like Avril sacks: he beat his blocker off the line, got to the edge, and was more likely to swipe the ball free than bring down the quarterback in many cases. Opposing offensive coordinators apparently looked at the Lions front four and said, "hey, let’s block these guys five-on-four, double a tackle, and ignore the insane number of fumbles the ends are forcing." For variety, the Raiders had the bright idea of running a lot of play action and asking the tight ends to block Avril and Vanden Bosch.

Vanden Bosch, like Avril, did not benefit from many sacks where the blocker was just flushed into him. The Cassel sack was caused by Hill slicing through the middle, but most of the time Vanden Bosch was the first defender to apply pressure on his sacks. Vanden Bosch does not appear to be drawing single coverage because of Avril, Avril did not draw single coverage because of Vanden Bosch, and Suh did not get a disproportionate number of double-teams, either. No one Lions defender rode the coattails of any of the others.

What does all this mean for Avril, the franchise player? First, the sack total will probably drop, just because it’s hard to imagine another half-dozen one-handed, drive-by strip sacks. Once you take the total down to seven or eight, however, it’s clear that his abilities are portable. He can beat quality right tackles to the edge, and he doesn’t need notorious teammates to draw attention away from him.

Could the Lions get similar production from Lawrence Jackson? Possibly. But they invested a lot of effort and money in their front four, so you cannot blame them for keeping it intact. Coaches are going to run a lot more six or seven-man protections against the Lions next year. Judging from all the strip sacks, they will focus on chipping either Avril or Vanden Bosch. With both back in the lineup, those opposing coaches will be forced to make some tough decisions.

And the guy who looked most impressive after watching all of that tape was ... Sammie Lee Hill.

Running Back Top Fives

Two storied franchises get the business this week.

Dallas Cowboys

1. Emmitt Smith The table below lists all of the running backs who cracked the top 50 in single-season rushing DYAR more than once. The DYAR database now goes back to 1992.

Top 50 Single-Season DYAR Appearances
Player Appearances
Emmitt Smith 4
LaDainian Tomlinson 4
Clinton Portis 3
Priest Holmes 3
Terrell Davis 3
Edgerrin James 3
Marshall Faulk 2
Barry Sanders 2
Jerome Bettis 2
Tiki Barber 2
Brian Westbrook 2

Receiving DYAR is not included. I will run that list when talking about Priest Holmes, or somebody. Emmitt’s 1995 season ranks seventh, 1992 ranks 18th, 1994 ranks 19th, and 1993 ranks 28th. When we get 1991 finished, it might possibly squeak into the top 50 but is more likely to join 1998 late in the top 100.

A few of you were joking in the message boards last week about the phenomenon I will now christen "Credit Jenga." That’s where we shift credit for a player’s or team’s accomplishments onto his teammates or coaches in order to make a particular argument. Then, to make an argument about a different player, we shift the credit in a different way. Play Credit Jenga well enough, and you can either make one player bear an incredible weight load for his team’s accomplishments (the 1970s Steelers were nothing without Bennie Cunningham) or create an Escher staircase in which every person is downgraded because of the quality of his teammates, who are in turn downgraded because of his accomplishments, until a three-time Super Bowl nucleus starts to look like a bunch of guys propping each other up.

Emmitt gets some of the Credit Jenga treatment, especially among younger fans who remember 1996-2002 Emmitt, who was a plodder. Emmitt played with a Hall of Fame quarterback and wide receiver behind one of the best offensive lines in history; there is no question that those factors added yards (and certainly touchdowns) to his totals. Anyone who remembers 1991-95 Emmitt, however, also knows how electrifyingly quick and nimble he was, what a great finisher he was when tackled, and how effective he was as a receiver. He was more an engine of the system than a product of it.

Emmitt versus Barry is going to come up in the thread, so let’s start the ball rolling now. We all know that Emmitt was helped by his superstar teammates, while Barry Sanders was saddled with Rodney Peete and Scott Mitchell and a hinky offense that crippled his statistical production. Except that is not really accurate. The run ‘n’ shoot helped Sanders for many years. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, teams were not prepared to play nickel and dime defense for 70 snaps per game. The NFL was only a few years removed from considering the nickel defense strictly a third-and-15 strategy. Dime defenses were just starting to appear in the NFL, but only for third-and-long or in the two minute drill. The idea that a team would put four wide receivers on the field and run any rushing play other than a draw was unheard of, so nickel-and-dime strategies were designed to focus only on passes.

So when Sanders juked a dime defender in the open field, he wasn’t juking Kyle Wilson, a third cornerback who plays about 50 percent of snaps and has experience stopping wide-open running games because he faces the Patriots and Bills four times per year. He wasn’t juking Deon Grant, a player who has made a second career out of stopping runs and short passes from a "heavy nickel" position. He was juking a little-used backup playing an experimental gameplan. Look at the careers of some of the Oilers and Falcons run-‘n’-shoot runners, and you can see that some second-rate backs had very good years in the scheme. It stands to reason that a truly great back probably derived some benefit from it.

None of what I just wrote pushes Emmitt over Barry or vice versa. It was just a preemptive strike against any one-sided arguments about who was "helped" by his surroundings. Both players put up great statistics in unique environments, as did most record setters in most sports throughout history.

2. Tony Dorsett

For most of football history, a fast running back could gain significant yardage on an outside run simply by outrunning most of the defense to the sideline. Teams ran lots of quick pitch plays, some with pulling guards and some without; the latter were often designed to trap the slow linebackers inside or just beat them around the corner. You can still see that style of play at the high school level, but from college on, defenses usually have several players with sideline-to-sideline speed, so getting the halfback to the edge doesn’t have the strategic impact it once had.

Dorsett was one of the last great running backs at just outrunning the defense on sweeps. There was much more to his game than that, but it was what set him apart in an era that was defined by great running backs.

3. Calvin Hill

4. Don Perkins

Perkins ranked ahead of Hill until the final edit. It is a hard call. Perkins was a six-time Pro Bowler, but you must remember that in the 1960s, the NFL picked two full Pro Bowl squads from among 14 or 15 teams. In 1963, when Perkins made the Pro Bowl with 614 rushing yards and 14 receptions, seven NFL running backs were honored. The AFL had its own seven-man squad, so there were 14 Pro Bowl running backs, meaning that anyone who was above the hypothetical "pro average" as a starter now has an asterisk at Pro Football Reference. Perkins never had a 1,000 yard season and was very ordinary as a receiver.

Hill, on the other hand, was the best offensive player on the 1972 Cowboys and second-best behind Roger Staubach on the 1973 Cowboys. He was truly excellent in those seasons, as well as in 1969. But he was an injury case in all the others, and Hill’s best seasons never quite lined up with the Cowboys’ best years. Hill’s Ivy League back story make him a role model and a fascinating character, but it doesn’t give him back any productivity in 1970 or 1971.

In the case of Peak Value versus Career Value, we are going to select peak value here, and we are probably going to be doing it a lot during running back Top Fives, for reasons I will get into ... next.

5. Walt Garrison

There’s a type of stat line that has vanished from NFL statistical history. I call it the Other Back stat line. It’s the 500-yard, 25-catch, 8-touchdown full season, something that was very common from the 1950s until about the early 1980s.

Let’s prorate the numbers to 16 games: 600 yards, 30 catches. James Starks, Felix Jones, and Peyton Hillis had seasons like that in 2011. In other words, two guys who lost starting jobs and a third who had a banana peel season of injuries and controversy. The 600-yard, 30-catch season is usually a sign a player is on his way out, or is at least expected to bounce back, though sometimes a Roy Helu has an Other Back year while preparing for greater things. No one looks at those stat lines and says "hey, that’s the kind of production we expect for the next half decade."

For much of football history, though, players made full careers out of stat lines like those. Garrison spent six full seasons oscillating between 429 and 818 yards while catching between 13 and 40 passes. Robert Newhouse then spent eight full years in Dallas gaining about 400-500 yards per year, usually with 15-20 catches. This isn’t a Cowboys phenomenon, but it is easiest to notice for the Cowboys because a) even their second-tier stars had long careers and b) Emmittt, Dorsett, and Perkins led the team in rushing so often that there aren’t many lower-level featured backs on their leader boards, so the career Other Backs come up quickly.

Garrison and Newhouse were fullbacks, but on many teams the Other Back was the halfback. Whatever it said on the lineup sheet, his main job was the be the second running threat in an era when offense was defined by having two backs who could attack multiple holes, catch passes out of the backfield, and block for each other. The Other Back has been completely replaced in modern football by specialized players: slot receivers, receiving tight ends, change-up backs (who did exist in the 1960s and 1970), and the vestigial organ known as the modern fullback.

In Super Bowl VII, Garrison rushed 14 times for 74 yards, Duane Thomas rushed 19 times for 95 yards, and Hill carried seven times for 25 yards. Staubach threw just 19 passes. There is no modern equivalent whatsoever for this style of running offense. All three of the backs were very good, though Thomas’ career was cut short by constant battles with management and the media. Garrison usually lined up in the I-formation in front of Thomas or Hill, but everyone could block for everyone else, both halfbacks were big guys, and roles were something close to interchangeable. The Cowboys beat the Dolphins in Super Bowl VII, and the Dolphins had a similar offense, three-back rotation and all. It was unheard of in the 1970s to not have an Other Back. During O.J. Simpson’s heyday, Jim Braxton churned out a series of 450-550 yard seasons for the Bills, because the offensive philosophy of the time emphasized "key breaking," not spreading the field or flooding short zones with fast receivers.

Garrison was an Other Back for his entire career, though his role often expanded when Hill was hurt. He was a very good player and a valuable contributor to some great teams, though his "aw shucks" reputation rubs both ways when assessing his legacy. On the one hand, he got a lot of "spunky white guy" treatment, which is always good for the Q Rating. On the other hand, he was branded a slowpoke, even though he averaged 4.6 and 4.7 yards per carry in his best seasons and typically averaged 10 yards per catch across 30 catches. I watched Super Bowl VII, and Garrison was very quick off the line of scrimmage and had great cutback ability in the hole. He may have looked slow when racing Hill, but he would fit into a modern offense well. For last year’s Texans, Garrison ’71 could have gained 1,400 yards.

Garrison was clearly better than guys like Marion Barber, and I have no problem ranking him above a couple of years of Herschel Walker. At the same time, the two back stat line presents a real danger when evaluating players across eras. Some very ordinary second bananas were able to play for years and churn out stats that sometimes left them in the high-middle of the all-time team career lists.

Newhouse is a fine example. Newhouse had some good years, but his production is well out of whack with his reputation, at least according to modern eyes. Newhouse is fifth on the Cowboys rushing list, ahead of Garrison, Walker, Barber, and some other guys who had a few truly excellent years like Thomas. He is fifth, in part, because he was still rushing for 450 yards per year in 1980, when Dorsett was the clear featured back. The Cowboys also found carries for Ron Springs that year; the fullbacks blocking for Dorsett averaged about 13 carries per game, proving that the Simpson-Braxton phenomenon was still in effect. In about a decade, fullbacks would start to average just above zero carries per game, and Newhouse-types would be relegated to committee roles at best. Newhouse did not get a lot of carries because he was great. He got a lot of carries because he was pretty good, and Other Backs got a lot of carries in his era.

That’s a very long-winded way of asking this question: who do you really think was better, Robert Newhouse or Moose Johnston? Yeah, me too.

It’s also a long way of saying that 1950s-70s "two backs" should be thought of as No. 2 wide receivers. Just as the modern No. 2 receiver can come by 50 catches and 700 yards in a very ordinary season, the old non-featured back could come by 500 nearly fungible rushing yards. As such, we will have to be cautious in separating out the really good two backs -– the Garrisons, Jim Kiicks, and Rocky Bleiers -– and remember that three superstar seasons are worth a lot more than six or seven Other Back seasons, at least in most circumstances throughout NFL history.

Honorable mention for the Cowboys appears to be covered: Moose, Newhouse, Herschel, Duane Thomas. Felix Jones is tenth on the Cowboys rushing list, another example of how Cowboys lists start with a couple of immortals, then hit a cliff because the stars have 1961-95 covered and the last 17 years have been pretty fallow.

New York Giants

Sorry, Giants fans, but I wrote a bunch of Giants countdowns in the week before the Super Bowl and I am all Giants’d out. Here’s a list, and maybe some of you can pick the ball up and run with it in the thread. If you feel short changed, well, you can console yourselves with memories of a parade a few weeks ago.

1. Frank Gifford

Some individuals are easier to rank as "football players" then as position players. Gifford is a fine example. The motion halfback who ends up at flanker and catches 30-50 passes in a 12-game season does not exist anymore. The closest modern equivalent, the change-up runner, has nowhere near the impact on games that players like Gifford had. Gifford also played both ways at the start of his career, and he threw about a half dozen passes per season, ending his career with 12 passing touchdowns. He belongs to a list that includes Charley Trippi, Sammy Baugh, and a bunch of pre World War II guys. Matt Forte may be the best modern comparison to Gifford. The No. 2 guy on this list is similar, but Gifford blows him completely away at every level.

2. Tiki Barber

A bit of a twit as a person, but an exceptional all-purpose player for a solid decade.

3. Tuffy Leemans

Single-wing fullback of the late 1930s; led the 1938 NFL Champions with 463 rushing yards and teamed with Hank Soar in some outstanding backfields of that era.

4. Joe Morris

An incredibly exciting player for a few seasons. Morris was tiny, so everyone assumed that he could not run between the tackles. Tiny backs are often very effective at running between the tackles, and Morris gained over 2,800 rushing yards and rushed for 35 touchdowns in 1985 and 1986. The workload was a little ridiculous in 1986, and Morris lost a yard per carry off his average in subsequent years.

26 years later, the idea that a 5-foot-7, 195 pound running back a) can run well up the middle and is not unusually susceptible to injuries unless b) some coach tries to prove a point by giving him 320 carries is somehow still quantum physics in the NFL. 26 years after Joe Morris, we still downgrade draft prospects for their size when they are Morris-proportioned, and coaches still stand up at press conferences and scoff at the idea that a running back can be overused. It takes a long, long, long time for ideas to sink in at the NFL level.

5. Rodney Hampton

Meat grinder back for the Ray Handley and Dan Reeves teams. Hampton was solid early in his career, then became the tortoise who piddled along at three-point-something yards per carry for four full seasons. No one seemed to notice that the featured back had no speed, big play value, or receiving skills, because when the Giants organization hits a dry spell it lapses into a mass delusion that it is still 1938 and they can win games by grinding Tuffy Leemans and Hank Soar into the line at the Polo Grounds.

Honorable Mention must go to Alex Webster, who just passed away this weekend. Webster shared the backfield with Gifford for many years, and got to be a star in 1961 when Gifford was on Bednarik Sabbatical, rushing for 928 yards and making the Pro Bowl.

Brandon Jacobs deserves some mention, because he is fourth on the Giants all-time rushing list. Does that seem right? A franchise as storied as the Giants, and Jacobs reaches fourth by barely cracking 1,000 yards twice and mixing some barreling runs with lots of Maalox moments? Dude’s got two Super Bowl rings, too. This is a career that will look much better from a distance.

Jacobs reached fourth because the Giants had quite a few short career superstars like Eddie Price, lots of multi-position rusher-receivers like Gifford, Webster, Joe Morrison and Kyle Rote (and Tiki, I suppose), and a gap from 1964 to 1984 when the might as well have been playing competitive backgammon. There were a lot of Doug Kotar and Butch Woolfolk types in the backfield during those lean years, and it didn’t take much for Jacobs to pass them.


92 comments, Last at 12 Mar 2012, 5:18pm

1 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

Although Rodney Peete and Scott Mitchell were no Troy Aikman, they were hardly bad in Detroit - "saddled with" is a bit of overkill. Likewise, Detroit's lines were very good, just not to the same degree as Dallas' lines.

I don't see the point of the Moose/Newhouse comparison; despite the "fullback" label they really played different positions; one a running back, the other a blocking back.

15 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

I don't think Peete was all that bad, either. Don't misunderstand. He wasn't good or anything. But he wasn't cover-your-eyes awful, either. Below average? Yes. If Peete was your starter, you needed to find a long-term solution at the position, but if he was your backup, that was fine. I'd take him over Tebow.

28 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

The best thing about Rodney Peete was that he was fragile, and you could expect a mid-season replacement by someone. Detroit fans are nostalgic about the Eric Kramer era, if that says anything about Peete's QB capabilities.

He was better than Andre Ware, though.

77 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

Now you've met another. Rodney's only problem, an admittedly insurmountable one, was his propensity to be "folded, bent, spindled and mutilated." Eventually, inevitably, he was rendered more or less ineffective. Pity, because he had the goods to run something similar to the West Coast offense.

He got a lot of hate, but I suspect that much of it was for the same reason that Romo and Brady have caught flak. Flat out envy over their woman.

83 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

Peete married Holly Robinson (had to look up what you were talking about) in 1995. He left the Lions after 1993. Somehow I think the Lions fans disliked him more because his INTs outnumbered his TDs more than because he was dating a C-list actress.

85 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

Woud watch Hangin' With Mr.Cooper jjst fo look at Holly Robinson . Not sure but think started on that show before married and tben get married when show still goign on

76 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

His point is a dominant theme of the series, that of reputation as it sometimes contrasts with reality, especially across systems and eras. It's central to any attempt to truly appreciate football other than in its present moment. (Unlike baseball, where an understanding is attainable by crunching enough numbers.)

Recently, I read a long screed about how today's QBs are so much better than those of yore. Featured prominently was the eternally maligned and disrespected Terry Bradshaw. No understanding of the passing game that he was running, which typically required long waits for Swann and Stallworth to recover from their muggings and get thirty, forty, fifty yards down the field.(Nor for his vastly underrated offensive line, which had to hold up the rush long enough.)

My enduring memory of Terry is of his taking full-frontal steam-rollings IMMEDIATELY after he released the ball, his shade then watching the pass be caught as it helped his corpse up from the turf. Context matters in football, which is rather the purpose of their work here, it seems to me.

2 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

The argument for Emmitt Smith over Barry Sanders in the "greatest of all time" is the high number of negative plays that made Sanders a boom/bust RB, albeit the best boom/bust RB in history. That's where Sanders was hurt by the scheme, even if he was helped in some ways. He had many plays where just getting back to the LOS required a highlight reel run although he probably also had the opportunity to make bigger plays for the reasons Mike discusses. My issue is with those that suggest Sanders did not have the ability to be an Emmitt Smith style runner, which makes no sense to me. He was one of the best power-I runners in college football history. (In 1988, he averaged 7.6 YPA on 28+ carries a game with 37 TDs against defenses geared to stop the run.) It was downhill, one cut running and looked a lot like Smith on the Cowboys (including the big holes!). Arguing counter-factual history may be a fool's game because it's unfalsifiable, but I have no trouble believing a guy that was (1) an all-time great power-I runner in college, (2) undisputably a superior open field runner, and (3) as durable as Smith would not have been as good if not better than Smith if put in the same circumstances.

20 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

To echo your thoughts ... I never really went on trying to specifically talk about who their teammates were ... just looked at a simple swap i.e. what would have happened had Barry been at the Cowboys and Emmitt at the Lions. My feeling was that always that Barry would have come out ahead but we're talking something that happened the better part of two decades ago ... so what do I really remember!

3 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

The motion halfback who ends up at flanker and catches 30-50 passes in a 12-game season does not exist anymore.

Isn't that Percy Harvin? He even comes complete with 12-game seasons and famous head injuries!

21 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

Bill Belichick gave Aaron Hernandez a try out of this at times this year. I remember him doing it a decent amount of times against Denver in the playoffs.

78 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

If, and that's a very big "if", both Jahvid Best and Mikhel Leshoure can stay healthy, then we may see similar numbers out of Best, albeit not from the same formations.

86 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

Ben Tate's rushing production might be similar with Foster healthy for a full season, though he would never catch 30 passes.

4 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

There were some teams that used extra blockers against the Lions. Atlanta, for example, used more than 5 blockers on more than half the passing plays they ran, if my charting numbers are accurate.

I think coordinators may actually have been moving toward more 6- and 7-man protection as the season went on. Even at full strength, the Lions' secondary wasn't that good, and when Delmas went down, it got worse ... and of course they eventually had to stick Rashied Davis out there for a few plays. My feeling is that Detroit's ability to pressure the QB dropped off as the season wore on, and I wonder if some of that was from teams keeping extra guys in to block and letting their QBs work on the backups at CB.

I'm assuming that Avril and KVB go for the strip because they're taught to do that - they remind me of how Indy runs their ends, full speed and heading for the ball on every play. If they bring the QB down as well, great, but knock that ball out first. (I suspect that Jackson and Willie Young do the same thing.)

I think it makes sense for the Lions to sign Avril to a long-term deal. The eight- or nine-man rotation they have works pretty well (Fluellen is the ninth guy and I'm not sure that he has much upside), and I'd prefer they not try to guess which of the backups can be starter-quality DL. If one or more shows that quality, then sure, the guy ahead of him is more expendable, but you'd still have to find someone as a backup, and the Lions have much more pressing needs elsewhere, like at CB and S. (OL obviously - I'm thinking more about defense now.)

40 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

I didn't understand the strip sack thing either. I've never seen Clay Matthews or Demarcus Ware or any other pass rusher who gets a fair number of strip sacks be criticized for them.

80 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

I think that it was less by way of criticism than it was suggestive that Cliff may not be quite the beast some are making him out to be based on limited data. If (he/ they) (does/ do) it again, then it's more likely (him/ them) and not the system. Me, I think that they're looking for edge speed and coaching them up. So, it's portable to those teams that are willing to value that approach.

Few enough, probably, but there are a lot of coaches who go to their career graves trying to force square pegs into round holes.

81 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

In this regard, I think it may have been a conscious decision to exploit a relatively untapped resource. How else explain Willie Young? He got to the 7th because conventional wisdom had it that he was a textbook 'tweener. I think the Lions seem of one mind about searching for the unappreciated, especially if it has speed. Hogue fits that pattern.

79 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

It's not as if the Lions' brain trust was or is unaware of their needs. As the aggressive nature of their play for Peterson proved. Funny thing is, circumstance may all but force them to take on a mini-Peterson in Jenkins, character issues or no. Not the same as neutralizing the other team's 'X', but at least he'll free up a safety to double him. Plus, with their love of mix-and-match, they might consider rotating in Janoris against shorter wide-outs.

90 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

I think that Lawrence Jackson could easily start. He's been productive when he's been on field, although he hasn't shown the aggressive strip sack ability of Avril and KVB. Willie Young has flashed some of Avril's abilities in a limited role (although unfortunately with a similar tendency to pick up personal fouls). So while I'd like to see Avril back long-term, I don't see it as a higher priority than settling the LB and DB situations. I'd rather see Tulloch signed to a long-term deal to pin down the MLB position and work on depth at CB and S. If that means letting Avril walk, so be it. The other factor is whether Vanden Bosch wants to play past 2012. Dropping his sizeable salary would help a lot.

11 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

From the looks of things, teams used 5 man protection a little over 50% of the time against the Lions. And that is right around the league average.

Without plunging deep into the database, it looks like teams used less 5 man protection late in the year. The Bears used it a lot in the first meeting but just 5 times in the second meeting.

Probably would have been good stuff to put in the article. Well, here it is!

13 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

The Bears' strategy in the first game was 5-man protections combined with a lot of pre-snap motion to confuse the defense. Usually it was Omiyale doing the moving.

87 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

This wasn't a bad analysis, but I think it might have been more insightful if you had broken down all of the sacks by the DL, not just Avril and KVB, because it's also helpful to know how Avril was defended when the DTs were getting sacks, too.

I'm also at a loss to understand why strip sacks would be downgraded. In one sense, strip sacks are more valuable than standard QB sacks because the fumble creates chaos and a chance for the defense to recover the ball. It's fair to say that the Lions DEs are coached to go for the strip whenever they can because you don't actually have to tackle the QB, which is tough to do these days without being called for a crappy PF.

88 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

Strip sacks as a whole aren't getting downgraded. Mike just thinks that sticking your arm out and swiping in the general direction of the ball is a less sustainable way to get sacks than actually getting to the QB.

14 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

Tuffy Leemans should be #1 simply because his name is "Tuffy Leemans."

16 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

That and he's a Hall of Famer. Gifford's peers thought highly enough of Leemans to award him the ultimate honor. They thought more highly of Leemans than of Gifford.

48 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

And what looked to be clever comeback goes down in flames. Way to harsh his buzz, Aaron, he was really proud of that one.

49 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

Yikes, and I just noticed that in this same thread he was arguing Rodney Peete was good. Rough day for the hopelessly uninformed. I hope he stops before getting into how Lenny Dykstra's financial advice is actually solid.

63 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

Admittedly, I didn't know Gifford was in The Hall, but you're just being a dickhead. Apparently somehow "Don't misunderstand. He wasn't good or anything" wasn't clear enough for you to not, you know, misunderstand.

17 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

Ron Johnson.good for spell wuth Gaints too. Nice blue cleats.

18 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

Ron Johnson.good for spell wuth Gaints too. Nice blue cleats.

52 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

Yeah, he was the one guy that Tanier neglected that deserved mention, IMO. Not that he should have necessarily been in the top 5, but to have two 1000-yd seasons for the 1970s Giants is pretty impressive.

In general, I thought doing a Giants top-five--which I tried myself before reading this article--was very difficult. Barber and Gifford were the top two of course, but after that, a whole bunch of guys you could make arguments for, many of which few or none of us have seen play.

23 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

Phil Loadholdt should consider formalizing his moonlighting job as an agent for pass rushers.

27 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

There's one great runner missing from the NYG list: Ken Strong. Problems are stats are incomplete and he prob had his greatest seasons with the Stapletons (and stats are incl) but he's in the Hall of Fame, was a kicker as well as runner (and a pro baseball player) and was the star of the 'sneakers' game. I'd take him ahead of Hampton as a Giant....

32 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

Ken Strong made a "fair catch kick" at one point. I'd never heard of such a thing before today. Apparently if you make a successful fair catch, you have the option of immediately trying for a FG from the spot of the ball, and the defense isn't allowed to contest it. (They aren't allowed within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.)

34 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

Yep, that was the situation when Tom Dempsey kicked the game winning 63 yard field goal for the Saints against the Lions, which stood as a record for decades. The Lions were all laughing, thinking the attempt ridiculous, when a guy with about a half a foot (congenital defect), wearing a custom shoe, lined up in the old straight ahead style. Not getting a rush, however, extends the range of any kicker pretty significantly.

35 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

Yeah, you know I wrote about Strong during Super Bowl week and just kinda misplaced him when doing this. Like I said, I am Giants'd out.

Great to write for a site where a Staten Island Stapleton can get some love.

38 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

Don't worry, Mike, I think all of us immediately south of the New York metro area are Giants'd out.

I am surprised that neither Dave Meggett or Ottis Anderson got a mention, though. I remember both as being better then Hampton, and Anderson basically won them a Super Bowl.

And, because we're talking Giants running backs, somebody's got to say it... Ron Dayne!

45 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

Ottis Anderson spent nearly all of his productive career with the St. Louis Cardinals, and I'd expect him to make the list there. With the Giants, he only had two seasons of any note (1989 and 1990). He was a better runner than Hampton overall, but not necessarily a better Giant. Meggett's an interesting case; he didn't actually do much running at all, but when you factor in his return skills and ability as a 3rd-down back pass-catcher, you have a player that was likely better than Hampton. I find it hard to rank Meggett.

I agree that Rodney Hampton probably doesn't deserve to be on this list, but I think that Alex Webster is probably the best choice for #5- he had more rushing yards than Frank Gifford, after all! I think that Brandon Jacobs actually still has a chance to sneak onto this list if he plays with the Giants for a couple more years, or at least sneak ahead of Rodney Hampton. He's definitely shown more talent in his peak performances, and his rushing totals are depressed by always being part of a tandem (with Barber, Bradshaw, and/or Derrick Ward) rather than being an every-down back.

I'd also rank Barber ahead of Frank Gifford. Yeah, you read that right. One of the most hated Giants over one of the most loved, the punchline over the Hall of Famer. Why? Keep in mind that Pro Bowl and HoF berths were easier to come by in Gifford's era, with fewer teams to play against; a large percentage of Gifford's value was in receiving rather than rushing (note how Webster actually has more rushing yards than Gifford), whereas Barber was also an excellent pass-catcher but still at least ran the ball well. Gifford was literally just a WR for his last three years. And Gifford was one star on a team full of them, whereas during Barber's best years he was literally the only quote-unquote "skill player" with any sort of talent. He was racking up almost half the team's entire yards from scrimmage, and deserved the 2005 MVP award over Shaun Alexander (That 2005 season was one of the best seasons by any RB ever, period). Give him that award, and it becomes pretty clear that his peak was high and important enough to get the #1 spot.

46 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

The flipside to my Barber-over-Gifford advocacy is that I'd also put Gifford on the list for Giants WRs, since, well, he actually played that position. In fact, right now he's probably #2.

67 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

Barber vs. Smith is close, I could see both of them as deserving. Walter Jones is an interesting choice, if you assign most of Alexander's rushing value to Jones' blocking than you can definitely make a case for him, though we all know that linemen have no chance. The last non-"skill position" player to get the award was Lawrence Taylor in 1986, and I'm pretty sure the only lineman who ever won an MVP award was Mel Hein, who got the very first one back in 1938.

I wouldn't pick Brady over Barber or Smith.

70 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

Right, I meant to say offensive lineman. Whoops. And they're the only two AP winners who weren't QB or RB, if you do the sensible thing and assume Mark Moseley doesn't count. So wide receivers have been just as ignored.

Apparently if you count minor MVP awards there is one other example- tackle/kicker Lou Groza won The Sporting News's first MVP award in 1954.

36 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

The NFL Films footage on Youtube looks to me rather like an ordinary FG attempt with a Detroit Lions team trying to block it.


43 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

It's weird how your memory plays tricks. I must be confusing it with another situation; I could have sworn it was a free kick.

In trying to find out where I went wrong, I did find this fun fact: the Saints special teams coach nicknamed Dempsey, I kid you not, "Stumpy". I don't think that would fly today.

54 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

There have been five successful fair catch kicks in NFL history


The most recent was in 1976.

Reading through this article, I saw that Irving Fryar once made a fair catch at the end of the game, with the clock at 0:00, and the Pats down by 7 points.

Not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

(The sharpest knife in the drawer is probably what his wife used to seriously injure him the week before the AFC championship game in 1986. But I digress.)

56 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

In the ways Will's mind is playing tricks, I have a feeling there was a freekick FG attempt in recent years - possibly by Mason Crosby of the Packers. I'd like to think it was around 2008-09 but usually when I look these things up they turn out to be even further back than I remember.

If it wasn't the Packers it may have been the Bucs but I think I'm just confusing Matt Bryant's 62-yd gamewinner (which was a regular attempt).

As a Raiders fan we often have the broadcasters talking about freekick possibilities because of Janikowski.

But a bit of searching around Youtube turned this up ... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kCBBUMnRqbo ... tremendously bad!

And a bit more searching found this ... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RiAR0h6LBsQ ... my mind is still sharp!

And even more searching found a nice table in the middle of Wikipedia ... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_catch_kick ... which likely will give Will some relief as Tom Dempsey has a failed 57-yd attempt against San Francisco from the year before.

And now I read the previous comment and see that exact same link to Wikipedia which would have saved me 15 mins of this rambling and searching!

62 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

Hypothetically speaking...

A fair-catch FG is still a live ball after being kicked, right?
And a missed FG still in the field of play can be recovered by the defense, or "fumbled" if contacted by the defense beyond the line of scrimmage (Leon Lett rule), right?

Could you fair-catch kick, line-drive the kick off an unaware defender 10 yards away, then scramble drill return the "fumble" for a TD?

I mean, it's not likely, but then again, only one game has ended on a punt return TD.

65 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

It is a live ball, and the defense can return it (see the Rackers free kick for an example). The kicking team can recover as long as the ball has gone 10 yards, but can't advance unless the defense has fully possessed the ball - it's the same rule as for muffed kickoffs or punts.

The Holy Roller rule doesn't apply to advancing fumbles by the other team.

I mean, it's not likely, but then again, only one game has ended on a punt return TD.

At least two games have ended on punt return TDs.

82 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

Ah, the 70s and the 80s, when a disturbingly large number of women were seemingly taking a page from one of Pam Grier's many action heroines. I myself witnessed one such up close and personal. Start of a shift on the factory floor, everybody's covered and three of us relief men were shooting it with the boss. The GF of one of us comes in late, walks over to us, reaches into her purse and cuts her BFs arm real good with an 8-inch carving knife. Good times.

41 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

I only know the rule because I saw it when I was a kid. I was at the game in Lambeau. Can't remember if it was the Bengston or Devine years, but sometime in the late 60's and early 70's. And it went through the north end zone goal posts where I was sitting.

47 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

If there's a rationale for why Avril isn't worth the franchise tag then it's highlighted by the list of tackles he beat for sacks. It's a list that aspires to mediocrity: Loadholt, Omiyale, Clabo, Franklin, Louis, Bulaga, Myers, Barnes. (OK Clabo is OKish and I've not seen a great deal of Franklin but you get the drift, right tackle is a rather talent deprived position, especially in the NFC)

I'd rather pay elite money to a guy who has shown he can beat left tackles.

50 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

Just FYI, Bulaga was a very good RT this year until he was injured. He wasn't very good as a rookie last year.

Other than that, put that list up against the tackles that any of the 49er pass rushers faced and I'd bet it's a pretty good comparison.

The reality is that there weren't very many good offensive lines in the NFC in 2011.

51 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

The better comparison would be the list of tackles that Vanden Bosch faced: Penn, Albert, Clady, Staley and Gross.

I totally agree that there weren't any good lines, particularly very few good tackles. When Staley made the probowl I thought that he really didn't deserve it, he's a solid starter and is better than a lot of folks seem to think but I never regarded him as a probowler (I'll try to clarify my Bulaga rating here, I don't think Staley's 'very' good and I think he's better than Bulaga at the moment). Then I tried to think of who should have made it and couldn't think of anyone who'd been better. A lot of the tackles who you would expect to be in contention were injured or had down years: Erik Williams, Okung, Gross. Dallas' Smith will be a pretty damn good one moving forwards.

Please don't take this as me having a go at Avril, he's a good young player. I was simply questioning the wisdom of paying right end money to a left end.

53 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

Dude, not to nitpick, but the Super Bowl in which the Cowboys beat the Dolphins was Super Bowl VI. Super Bowl VII was the one where the Dolphins beat the Redskins to complete the only perfect season. Just sayin.

92 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

I can't believe it took this many comments for someone to say that! I was beginning to think I was the only one who noticed.

55 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

Flutie at least once offered to fair catch/free kick a FG--cant remember whether it wouldve been a drop kick. It migthve been with BC as I think it was Jack Bicknell telling the story....

59 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

...the offensive philosophy of the time emphasized "key breaking," not spreading the field or flooding short zones with fast receivers.

Of course, this was before "illegal contact" was a penalty, so defenders would beat on receivers all the way downfield, and the quarterback couldn't be sure his target would get to where he was supposed to be. So the heavier emphasis on the run made sense.

68 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

Rodney Hampton was actually an excellent RB - at his best, he was a powerful back with pretty good speed. A few things occurred that ruined his career.....

1)Dan Reeves was hired, and brought with him a horrific, unimaginative offense that consisted of running Hampton up the middle 25 times per game. Reeves just wore him out like you wouldn't believe. He was a very good receiver out of the backfield, which is why the 49ers tried to sign him in 1994 but you'd never know it because dumbass Reeves never used him as such. Which brings us to part two...

2)Playing with horrendous passing games. After Simms retired in 1993, the Giants would not have another 300 yard passing game or 3000 yard passing season until Kerry Collins in 1999 and 2000. Hampton spent the second half of his career facing stacked fronts because Dave Brown and Danny Kannell were awful QBs and the Giants best receiver was Chris Calloway. Yes, Chris Calloway.

3)Finally, his own lack of dedication hurt him. He ballooned up by about 30-40 pounds after his 1993 knee injury robbed him of some quickness and speed and played at 240-50 for the rest of his career, and by his own admission he never dedicated himself to training, which is why his career was over at age 28.

73 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

Looks like we don't have to worry about Brandon Jacobs edging his way into the Giants top-5...

74 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

Your pro forma argument re Barry Sanders and outmatched nickel and dime defenders in the open field was amusing, perhaps as you intended. Now, I intently watched virtually every single carry of Barry's career in real time and here's what I saw. I cannot recall him EVER, even once, taking a clean hit by a single defender, even at the line against nine-in-the-box. I was looking specifically for such hits from at least as far back as the middle of his rookie season. Nowhere to be found. Surely there were SOME talented hitters whom he left standing shoeless in the open.

Then there's that nine (or eight)-in-the-box thing. He juked pro bowl MLBs who had him dead to rights in the hole, for crying out loud! He juked three, four, six guys on the same play. Go up to Barry and present your argument, if you can, with a straight face. Then, ask him how he'd have felt facing all of these young studs you're talking about, instead of those seemingly insurmountable walls of flesh. Expect to see the same joy which lights up the faces of small children at that first glimpse of what's surrounding the tree on Christmas morning.

Then go ask the guys who had to game plan him what THEY think of your argument. No qualifiers, either. Doubt you'll ever be asked back to one of their alumni meetings as anything other than light entertainment.

I'm put in mind of the ludicrously low ranking on the NFLN's recent Top 100 of Deion Sanders. Dude played cover corner AND center fielder on the same play, which made all of their (the selectors) philosophies so much bathroom tissue paper, slightly used. It was as if they were unable to grasp the fact that the guy could run with a man down one sideline, then come back to make the play at the other hash mark. No room in their tiny minds for it, so they just put it to the side. Not only it, but the extent to which it utterly destroyed the normal game plans of opposing offenses.

75 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

Telling observation there at the end of your discussion of Joe Morris and the Tiny Backs, "It takes a long, long, long time for ideas to sink in at the NFL level." As a fan of Joe from afar, I confess to being ever on the lookout for the little fellow who pops out of a massive wall of flesh like a "lost" child from beneath a rack of dresses at Filene's Basement. It's always WAY cool to see.

The almost universal refusal to value such players among coaches (and personnel types?) puts me in mind of the Red Wings. Jimmy D and the Rain Man came up with a way to stay at or near the top that keeps on giving. Gather lots of enthusiastic old farts who can still cut the mustard, carefully manage their time on ice and in practice, give them regular days off, and just win, baby. Bowman's long gone and Jimmy no longer has a hand in everything, but the franchise has yet to lose its institutional edge in this area. Every off-season, come the inevitable stories about the imminent collapse of the Wings from heart disease and Alzheimer's. I'm still waiting for it. Maybe when the Pizza Man finally hangs them up?

84 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

It is a franchise blessed with longevity mutants like Gordie Howe, Steve Yzerman, and Nick Lidstrom.

Seriously, Howe was not born of man. He retired from the NHL at 41 (23 goals, 52 pots), then played 6 seasons at ages 45-50 in the WHA, then rejoined the NHL at 51, where he posted a 16-25-41-(+2) season! He's in the top-10 in scoring in two leagues.

Detroit's real institutional advantage is a continued willingness to draft players from countries perceived as too soft for the NHL. Russia and Ukraine at first, then Sweden and Finland later. Even recruiting thumpers like Konstantinov and Holmstrom from there.

89 Re: Walkthrough: Bon Avril

emmett, while still a great player, was never the same after he landed head first in week one of the '96 season on an end zone dive play against Chicago. He had to be carted off of a stretcher, and it clearly scared him (he never dove into the end zone head first again, and it had been one of his signature moves). before this, he was a tremendous player, and certainly more valuable than sanders if not necessarily better