A look at the upcoming week in the NFL, from the players on the field to the fans in the stands

Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Mike Tanier

Here is how the Jaguars will win the AFC South.

The Texans are leaking talent. They have lost Mario Williams, Eric Winston, Jason Allen, and DeMeco Ryans in the last week. That’s a lot of erosion spread across the roster: the defense was hit hard, and the offensive line, which was the team’s greatest strength last season, lost a long-time stalwart. They have not acquired any significant talent, and center Chris Myers is the only key free agent they have retained so far.

Matt Schaub’s return will provide the Texans with a huge boost, and it is easy to downplay some of the trade/free agent losses: Williams was hurt much of last year, Ryans was not a great 3-4 fit and left the field on passing downs, and so on. But the Texans found themselves in cap trouble at a terrible time, just when the team turned the corner and became contenders. Salary cap management requires long-range planning, and even good planning can go awry. Just when the Texans would have liked to consolidate their gains and perhaps added a puzzle piece (like a second receiver), they are having some roster infrastructure chipped away.

The Titans have lost Cortland Finnegan and Jason Jones, two key defensive starters. Kamerion Wimbley offsets the defensive losses to a degree, but the Titans are a 9-7 team trying to work out a transition plan at quarterback and with a mess to sort out at running back. They also benefited from a very soft 2011 schedule.

The Colts will be Andrew Luck, Reggie Wayne, and a bunch of other guys next season.

The Jaguars, by their standards, have had a magnificent offseason. Laurent Robinson came with too high a price tag, but DVOA loves him (third last year), and the little scouting I did on him suggests he will be a quality starter, something the Jaguars did not have at wide receiver last year. Aaron Ross is a great fit at cornerback for a team that finished 24th in the NFL at stopping No. 2 receivers, but fourth at stopping top receivers and fifth in pass defense DVOA. Defensive lineman Jeremy Mincey and several other starters were retained from a pretty solid defense. Chad Henne takes the quarterback situation from abysmal to poor; the same goes for Blaine Gabbert if he develops and overtakes Henne.

The Texans, then, slip back to around .500. The Titans tread water at .500. The Colts rebuild at around 4-12, inflating the records of the other teams. The Jaguars face the Bengals and Raiders as their non-common opponents. The Texans face the Broncos, with their new quarterback, and the Ravens. The Titans get the Steelers and the Chargers. The Jaguars gain a game here, either by going 2-0 while the others go 1-1, or by going 1-1 while the others go 0-2. If the Texans-Ravens game were in Baltimore instead of Houston, this would be a slam dunk.

It all ends up as a sticky 9-7 morass, and the Jaguars take the crown with a bunch of 13-10 victories.

If nothing else, I think the Jaguars are a good draft pick away from hopping into the same big wading pool as the Chargers, Raiders, Bengals, Titans, and other AFC teams that hover around .500. The Jets have slid back into that pool, and the Texans appear ready to return. The Broncos may have just pulled themselves out of it. Once a team joins that pack, anything is possible.

By the way

A Walkthrough "bonus" appeared early in the week, in which I took a break from making fun of the Redskins to make fun of the Dolphins for a while. Also, I weighed in at the New York Times on our two favorite beaten-to-death stories here and here. With all of that covered, it felt like a good time to talk a little Jaguars, and a little Bears history.

Chicago Bears Running Backs Top … 10

The Bears Top Five I worked on early in the week grew very long, self-indulgent, and a little dull. You probably don’t need me to tell you about Walter Payton’s impact or explain who Red Grange was. So this is the beefed up (to 10 players) and cut down version which focuses on the good stuff, including a YouTube video you will absolutely flip over.

1. Walter Payton

Jeff Pearlman’s Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton is a must-read: it will tell you everything you wanted to know about the greatest running back of his generation, plus many, many things you don’t want to know. No amount of tales of extramarital affairs or drug problems (players of that era got so beat up that I am shocked that some of them didn’t become reliant on one or another form of painkiller) can sully the memories of what a delight Payton was to watch.

2. Red Grange

The Babe Ruth of football. Anyone who ever wrote a high school report on the Roaring 20’s inevitably included a few paragraphs about the first generation of national sports superstars: Ruth, Grange, Jack Dempsey, Man ‘o War, and a few others, usually in that order. Grange ranks below Payton because much of his fame came as a college player. He was an incredibly important pro player, and a great one, but he wasted part of his career on a failed "AFL" project and lost a year of his prime to injuries.

Here is some interesting stuff. First, his college statistics at Illinois. Teams played an eight-game schedule back then, and the sport resembled mud wrestling. Holy moly: imagine what 100 yards from scrimmage per game must have looked like back then. And a 60 percent completion rate on those old pass plays. And interceptions on defense.

Pro Football Reference does not have Grange stats from before 1932, but this database does. The return stats are not accurate: it is well known that Grange dropped to return punts and kickoffs, and there are plenty of complete game stories describing opponents’ efforts to punt away from Grange, with limited success. A player’s punt return record is not an afterthought in this era: as we talked about during the season, punting and returns were a major element of football in the 1920s and 1930s, and Grange’s value as a return man was arguably as important as his value as a rusher.

Speaking of punting away from people...

3. Gale Sayers

In 1967, opponents punted 77 times against the Bears, but the Bears returned just 22 of them. Sayers only had three returns, Dick Gordon (a tiny burner of a receiver) has 12, and a few others pitched in. Think opponents were giving Sayers the full Hester treatment? Or, to get the perspective right, has Hester has been getting the Sayers treatment in recent years? Sayers returned a total of eight kicks for touchdowns in 118 attempts, which is beyond amazing.

Sayers was a magnificent player for a short period of time, but I think his accomplishments are comparable to those of Terrell Davis and Priest Holmes, both of whom had exceptionally high peaks. Hall of Fame voters used to love short-career superstars like Sayers, Lynn Swann, Dwight Stephenson, and Lee Roy Selmon. It was a kind of Jim Morrison/Kurt Cobain bias. The "short career" trend has vanished, in part because Hall of Fame voters appear to be casting about randomly these days.

4. Bronko Nagurski

Here’s a little YouTube video of the 1943 NFL Championship game. Nagurski wears No. 3; you can see him block for a screen on one play and plow forward for a short touchdown on another. Sid Luckman is No. 42, and you see him not only throw a few passes and run for some significant gains, but intercept a pass as well. The T-formation was the dominant offense in football at that point, and the footage gives you an idea of how it worked, as well as some of the wacky formations which were in common use at the time.

Nagurski was nearly washed up by 1943. In his early-1930s heyday, he would take the pitch at fullback and jump-pass to a teammate, often Grange. That must have been a blast to watch.

5. Neal Anderson

A fine all-purpose back who stepped out of Walter Payton’s shadow to have some great seasons in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Bears history is full of great running backs who had to compensate for awful quarterbacks and out-of-date offenses. Payton endured years of Bob Avellini and his ilk. Sayers had to deal with Rudy Bukich at quarterback and a coach who still had one foot in the 1920s. Anderson played for the late-era Mike Ditka teams that considered offense something to do while the defense took a break.

Anderson was a John Madden favorite, and he was a beast in Tecmo Super Bowl. Those facts may lead fans of my generation to overrate him a bit, and I will probably rank the next guy ahead of him at the end of this year.

6. Matt Forte

The classic Bears running back is also often his team’s most reliable receiving threat: Payton was for most of his career, as was Grange in an era when "receiving threat" meant a dozen catches. Anderson was a huge part of the Bears passing game, as was Sayers. Payton is the Bears’ all-time leading receiver (in catches), with Anderson sixth, and a 50-catch season will move Forte from 12th to seventh. We will meet the current seventh-ranked running back in a few moments.

By the way, we are going to ten for the Bears because a) two ancient players make the top five a little strange and b) I never ranked the Bears quarterbacks last year.

7. Rick Casares

A great fullback of the late 1950s, Casares led the league in rushing in 1956 and then settled into a long career of very good 600-yard, 20-catch seasons.

Here is the money shot: a video of the 1956 NFL Championship, in which the Giants beat the Bears 47-7 and the Casares scores the lone Bears touchdown.

A little "unpacking" of that video:

At the 3:22 mark, with the camera focused on Giants coach Jim Lee Howell, you can see offensive coordinator Vince Lombardi and defensive coordinator Tom Landry conferring in the background. They are visible in a few other shots.

At 5:11, Don Heinrich warms up as the Giants quarterback. Earlier in the film, "Chuckin’" Charlie Conerly is introduced as one of the Giants’ stars. Recall that the Giants of this era used Heinrich at the start of the game to "probe" the defense, then brought Conerly off the bench. The Giants do this in the title game, and it is barely commented upon by the narrators/announcers.

At about 7:10, Mel Triplett of the Giants gets bottled up after a handoff and tries to pass. Eat your heart out, Ronnie Brown.

You get a good look at what the T-formation had evolved into by 1956 at 7:55. Bill McColl of the Bears starts out as the middle back in the "T," then motions to the left side and catches a pass. Neither team uses a three-back formation at the snap very often in this footage, but a lot of the T-formation nomenclature is still in place, so players who often line up as flankers are still called right and left halfbacks.

At 11:03, Alex Webster, who passed away a few weeks ago, scores a touchdown from a traditional T-formation after getting the Giants to the goal line with a long catch-and-run. This film is a fine document of what Webster was like in his prime. Wish I had found it before I did the Giants Top Five.

Caseras scores his touchdown at 13:17. If you are wondering about J.C. Caroline, who gets a lot of touches in the film, he soon switched to the secondary full-time.

At 18:00 the Bears, now desperately behind, switch to a "short punt" formation: a shotgun, basically. Caseras gains 15 yards on a direct snap play, and quarterback (also punter) Ed Brown completes a pass. Narrator Chris Schenkel explains that "the Bears are using this formation to give Ed Brown, the deep man, a better opportunity to pass." It’s a wonderful little bit of football evolution. The "short punt," a holdover from the era when teams often punted in early downs, is being repurposed as a passing tactic.

Another holdover from the kick-heavy era of football is the direction of the film itself. Nearly every kicking play is shown, including very routine kickoffs. Even late in the game, when the Giants are in firm control, the director chooses to include punting plays and kickoffs. Late in the video, both Brown and George Blanda throw a few passes from a conventional punting formation, and there is some exquisite alliterative ranting by the narrators to remind you of how awesome broadcasting was in that era.

8. Dutch Sternaman

Sternaman co-owned the Bears with George Halas until the Great Depression, when he was forced to sell. Sternaman was the team’s leading rusher in the pre-Grange era, when Halas played end. Here are some stats. Keep in mind that return data is incomplete/nonexistent/vitally important, NFL league games were only part of a team’s typical schedule, and that 0-0 ties were very common in that era.

9. Matt Suhey

Payton’s blocker, the seventh-leading receiver in Bears history, and a fine interior runner in an era when two-back offenses were starting to wane.

10. Thomas Jones

Oh yeah, that is why these are usually top-five lists, not top-ten lists!


92 comments, Last at 01 Apr 2012, 12:07pm

1 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

Jacksonville had a pretty fine offseason last year too, acquiring Posluszny, Session, Landry, Matt Roth, and Drew Coleman in free agency, resulting in dramatic defensive improvement. Also trading a 7th rounder for Dwight Lowery, which the Jets surely wish they could reverse.

54 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

Sort of. He was still developing at the pro level and in the first years of a new system, so our expectations should have been low. He was a bad fit for the 3-4, so for that reason alone we were happy to swap him for Nick Barnett. Also, he's made of the finest, most delicate glass.

(Of course, now that they'll be more consistently a 4-3 team, I'm not sure I'd mind having him back.)

2 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

Really? No Beattie Feathers? A guy who made All-Pro over a backfield with Grange and an in-his-prime Nagurski? Who still holds the average yards/rush record for running backs? The NFL's first 1000 yard rusher?

Nothing? Instead we get the guy who held Payton's jock and one of the lesser Thomas Joneses?

9 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

Then never had more than 350 yards, over half his career rushing yards are from that one year.

Also, Matt Suhey was very much the Bears "other back" that Tanier talked about.

Also, Thomas Jones was quite good with the Bears. Most people probably think of him as the slow guy who kept getting carries instead of Jamaal Charles now, but he was really good from 04-06. He had this move where he would turn sideways, and just lunge forward 3-4 yards. It let him fit through spaces that weren't really holes, and turned many should've been no-gains into 4 yard gains. Thinking back, he was probably more valuable to a team that couldn't really threaten deep than he would have been to say the Colts.

33 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

Yeah, that broken shoulder killed the rest of his career. But that one season was like a real-life Roy Hobbs. It wouldn't be until Dickerson that a similarly-dominant rookie season was had for a RB in the NFL. I'd think having the best statistical season in first 30 years of the NFL would merit a place somewhere in the top-10. I mean he did out-rush two HOF RBs and out-receive one HOF split end, won the rushing title by 200 yards despite missing 1.5 games, and finished 6th in receiving yards.

48 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

I'm not so sure that it was really a better statistical season than Don Hutson's 1942 (below -- his stats in that year would garner consideration for a Pro Bowl WR this year!) or Sammy Baugh's 1943 (leading the league in passing, punting average, and interceptions).

1942 receiving stats

1. Don Huston ... 74
2. Pop Ivey ..... 27

Rec Yards
1. Don Hutson ... 1211
2. Ray McLean ... 571

Rec TD
1. Don Hutson ... 17
2. Ray McLean ... 8

Long Rec.
1. Don Huston

Points Scored
1. Don Hutson ... 138 (more than the total Points For for 4 teams!)
2. Ray McLean ... 54

Rush/Rec TD
1. Don Hutson ... 17
2. Two others ... 8

Yards from Scrimmage
1. Don Huston ... 1215
2. Merl Condit .. 758

1. Bulldog Turner .. 8
2. Don Hutson ...... 7

49 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

I'd argue that Feathers didn't benefit from exploiting a new offensive system, like Hutson and Baugh did. Defenses knew how to defend Feathers -- they just couldn't stop him. He simply did a normal task in a freakishly effective manner.

Nagurski had a great season in 1934 -- 4th in yards, 4.8 yards/rush -- these are solid numbers and very good for the era. He lead the Bears in rushing attempts. Feathers almost doubled the yards and the yards per rush. Supposedly he was very Sanders-like -- didn't have elite speed, but could change direction amazingly well and had great downfield vision.

Rushing Yds
1. Beattie Feathers+ · CHI 1004
2. Swede Hanson · PHI 805
3. Dutch Clark+ · DET 763
4. Bronko Nagurski+ · CHI 586

Rushing TD
1. Beattie Feathers+ · CHI 8
Dutch Clark+ · DET 8
3. Glenn Presnell · DET 7
Bronko Nagurski+ · CHI 7
Swede Hanson · PHI 7

Long Rush
1. Beattie Feathers+ · CHI 82
2. Ted Wright · BOS 59

Yds/Rushing Att
1. Beattie Feathers+ · CHI 8.4
2. Dutch Clark+ · DET 6.2

Receiving Yds
1. Harry Ebding · DET 264
2. Joe Carter · PHI 238
3. Joe Skladany · PIT 222
4. Ben Smith · PIT 218
5. Red Badgro · NYG 206
6. Beattie Feathers+ · CHI 174

Total Yards
1. Beattie Feathers+ · CHI 1178
2. Dutch Clark+ · DET 835
3. Swede Hanson · PHI 827
4. Ernie Caddel · DET 655

1. Beattie Feathers+ · CHI 9.4
2. Gene Ronzani · CHI 6.7
3. Dutch Clark+ · DET 6.5

He was also tied for 6th in passing TDs.

Feathers personally outrushed 3 teams and ran for more yards per game than 4 teams. He had more yards in total offense than 2 teams, and *threw* for more TDs than 3 teams. He had as many or more rushing TDs than 6 teams, and personally finished with the league average number of rushing TDs for teams in 1934.

But my larger point wasn't that Feathers had the best season ever, but that he was certainly in the top-10 of Bears RBs, and probably much closer to #1 than #10. He's basically an even more mythic version of Gale Sayers -- higher peak, shorter duration, just as elusive and mystifying of a runner. To your comparison, I'd put Don Hutson towards the top of GB WRs (even though he's arguably as much a TE as a WR) and Baugh towards the top of WAS QBs.

The Sternaman comparison is definitely apt -- Feathers rushed for more yards as a Bear in 1934 than Sternaman did in his entire career.

65 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

One of the first articles I ever read about football statistics (back before many of you were born) quoted somebody at Elias about how they thought Feathers' 1934 was an error; maybe kick returns got included or something. They didn't have any direct evidence that contradicted the stats (it's not like there are game films), so the numbers stand, but it's still a good idea all these decades later to take that anomalous season with a grain of salt or three.

69 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

Dr. Z is another skeptic. He actually did his homework before coming to any conclusions. Even in that era, people already had a love for stats and followed things like hitting streaks and batting titles closely in baseball. However, if you go back and read the Chicago newspapers of the day - which Dr. Z did - you find no mention whatsoever of Feathers alleged achievement. You can read all the articles the local beatwriters produced about the season and about each game and come away thinking that Feathers was an important part of their offense, but the writers gave no mention of any "chase" or even an incling that he was anything particularly special as a player. Surely if Feathers was on a magical "quest for 1000" or some such nonsense, it would have been reported. Maybe not with the exausting coverage of todays media, but at some point even a one-line mention by some local writer somewhere would be expected. But it just isn't there.

That doesnt' prove anything, but it leads me to believe that the first true 1000 yard rusher was not Feathers but was Steve Van Buren. Barring some evidence that the feat acutally happened, I'll trust The Good Doctor on this one.

83 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

But it just isn't there.

Sure it is. All Chicago Tribune unless otherwise stated:

9/24/1934: Beattie Feathers, star half back on the University of Tennessee team last season, made a successful start in the professional league, accomplishing several long gains and brilliant returns of punts.

10/14: Chicago will get its first glimpse of several new pro league stars in today's game. One of those is Beattie Feathers, who came up from the Tennessee campus last fall and has been leading the Bears on a rampage that has accounted for four victories in their quest for their third consecutive league championship. Feathers is the spark plug of the Bears' attack, which rival coaches have said is the best the league has seen.

10/15: Feathers, who has been the spark plug of the champions' attack in four previous league victories, was equally successful against the Cardinal defenders. [He carried the ball 15 times for 98 yards and a touchdown, including runs of 27, 20, and 15.]

10/22: Beattie Feathers, the leading ground gainer in the National League, built up his total with 114 yards in seven attempts from scrimmage....

10/24 [UPI]: Feathers has a big lead in ground gaining with 625 yards in 61 attempts.

10/29: Feathers floated wide to the right on third down to pass, but as he explained later, he was afraid of losing the ball with the Packer defense backed up to cover all receivers. He started a zig-zag run down the field all alone and passed eight Packers on a 46 yard run to the goal line. That jaunt brought Feathers' total yards to 155 for the day and enabled him to retain his place as the leading ground gainer in the National League.

11/1: Meet Mr. Feathers, A Half Back Unexcelled; Feathers, Plus Bears' Blocking, Dazzles Fans.

11/1 [Portsmouth [OH] Times]: Green Bay sport writers have stirred up somewhat of a sensation by their frank statement that most of Beattie Feathers' long sprints for the Chicago Bears can be laid at the door of that bugaboo to football officials - holding.

In local papers here they claim that the Bears held and held in the game against the Packers Sunday and got away with it. The scribes even have gone so far as to notify Potsy Clark, coach of the Detroit Lions, to that effect. They also claim that Bill Hewitt is offside on almost every play, but gets away with it.

11/2: Official statistics released yesterday by the National Professional Football league reveal Beattie Feathers, Chicago Bear half back, as the new record holder for yards gained. Feathers, playing his first season of professional football, has gained 780 yards in seven games, bettering the season mark of 736 yards set by Cliff Battles of Boston last year.

Feathers has carried the ball 69 times from scrimmage for an average of 11 yards per attempt. He has six more league games to play this season and is expected to set the record well over 1,000 yards.

11/15 [AP]: [Feathers credited with 915 yards on 88 attempts.]

11/21 [AP]: Beattie Feathers, ... who set a goal of 1,000 yards ..., is only 38 short of that mark. [Feathers credited with 962 yards on 90 attempts with 3 games to go.]

11/26: Beattie Feathers, star half back and leading ground gainer in the league, was injured early in the first half [he carried the ball only three times, but gained 22 yards] when he was thrown at the sidelines by three Cardinal players. An X-ray plate will be made today to determine the extent of the injury to Feathers' shoulder.

[Feathers would miss the final two games of the regular season with this injury, as well as the championship game. Adding the 962 yards given above to the 22 here gives 984 on 93 carries. Curious.]

12/14: Feathers, however, set a record for ground gained. He carried the ball 101 times for a total of 1,004 yards.... Bronco Nagurski, who was used mostly to run interference for Feathers and to gain two or three yards on line smashes, [finished fourth] with 586 yards in 123 attempts.

84 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

Green Bay sport writers have stirred up somewhat of a sensation by their frank statement that most of Beattie Feathers' long sprints for the Chicago Bears can be laid at the door of that bugaboo to football officials - holding.

In local papers here they claim that the Bears held and held in the game against the Packers Sunday and got away with it. The scribes even have gone so far as to notify Potsy Clark, coach of the Detroit Lions, to that effect. They also claim that Bill Hewitt is offside on almost every play, but gets away with it.

This is awesome.

88 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

The internet didn't exist in 1969, and it was often difficult to find archive copies of the applicable local newspapers. Electronic databases have made that task far easier.

As to the missing carries, Feathers was a relative unknown in that first game, in which he did not start. It's sometimes supposed that he had something like an 8-24 in that game.

76 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

Dr. Z did his homework in 1969.

Most of the Feathers criticism lacks evidence, and to say the assertion that kick returns were mixed in is not compelling would be an understatement. Simply, record keepers weren't quite that dim, no one else's kick returns were mixed in, and his return performance was described separately. Most of the objections to Feathers are appeals to incredulity, that a player who disappeared that quickly could have had that great of a season. That argument is addressed by pointing out that he was a similarly high-performing college athlete, and that he never recovered (thanks medicine circa 1934!) from the broken shoulder that ended his rookie season, and the immobilizing brace he had to play with in later seasons.

From Dr. Z: "They were not kept back then. I strongly suspected that a few of them had been added to his rushing totals, thereby jerking up the average. I had no proof, just a very strong suspicion. I looked through old newspaper reports from 1934. I could find no mention of Feathers even putting together a 100-yard game. As I said, individual stats were not mentioned in the press.

I called Seymour Siwoff, president of the Elias Bureau, then, and now, the NFL's statistical arm. "I can look through the books and smell a phony statistic," he said. "You see a statistic like the Feathers statistic and it shakes you. It's like a bolt of lightning. I'm not saying anything, but I have a feeling some punt and kick returns were added to his rushing total.""

The problem here is Siwoff's argument is idiotic. He was dubious because it took 13 seasons to break Feather's record. By that logic, Dickerson could not have run for 2105 yards, because it's been 28 seasons since that record was broken, and Simpson couldn't have run for 2003 (143/game) in 1973, because that record has stood for 39 years.

Even Z admits he had no proof. What kills his 1969 analysis is microfilm. David Neft in the 80s did a review of contemporary newspaper accounts of the games, and verified that whatever combination of 101-117 rushes for 994-1052 yards actually occurred, and even Mark Purcell, who spent years trying to tear down Feathers record and wrote many a hatchet job about him, gave up the argument that punt yardage had filtered in to Feathers' numbers. There's just no evidence that Feathers' numbers are wrong, and every argument to the contrary consists of a large amount of wishful thinking.

78 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

What's "idiotic" about seeing ridiculously high numbers from a poorly documented period in league history and raising an eyebrow? Siwoff never found anything that made him change the official numbers, but that doesn't mean he didn't look or that he shouldn't have. According to p-f-r, which shows Feathers with more carries than Neft's range, Feathers averaged 1.66 YPC more than the next highest NFL running back with 100+ carries, Deacon Dan Towler in 1951. There's game film and play-by-play sheets for the 1984 Rams, so nobody questions what Dickerson did. The best we can say about fifty years prior is that "there's just no evidence", one way or another. (Here's a Retrosheet PDF that explains discrepancies they've found with the much more organized baseball statistics.)

81 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

Being dubious is fine. Declaring a record false on the basis of an even-less-supported suspicion is just prejudice. It looks even worse in hindsight, when a more modern review of period reports supports most the numbers and essentially invalidates Siwoff's assertion that Feathers' numbers were contaminated by return yardage.

3 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

Is there a franchise which will have a larger quality gap between the first four running backs on the list, and those that follow? I don't mean that as harsh criticism of those that follow, it is just that not only are there four HOFers topping the list, they are elite HOFers.

Nagurski, from what I can determine, was like, to put it in an adjusted-for-era terms, a 300 pound guy who runs a 4.45 forty, who can pancake any defensive player who tries to tackle him, or any defensive player he is assigned to block, who also can throw the ball, who can also line up on either line of scrimmage and dominate the player across from him, or line up at linebacker at dominate the field. He might be the NFL's greatest player pre 1960, when Bednarik was the last guy playing extensively on offense and defense.

4 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

I think you might be selling Sayers a little short in comparing him to Davis and Holmes. I'm not trying to rip either of the latter guys, but Sayers was not playing with Hall of Fame or Pro Bowl quarterbacks and offensive linemen, and Sayers made opposing coaches fear for their careers every time he touched the ball, in a way the latter guys did not.

18 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

Totally agree with this. Injuries either went untreated for the treatment was just as damaging as the original injury, which was the case with early knee operations. Conditioning is another factor because on average guys are in their prime longer today than back then. A guy playing well into his 30s used to be a pretty rare event, while it's commonplace today.

31 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

While I agree that the length of one's career was limited, I don't think the quality was. All those same lingering untreated/untreatable ailments apply to both the HoF player and the defenses they obliterated.

19 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

He's selling Sayers WAY short in comparing him to Davis and Holmes. Sayers is a legendary figure routinely mentioned among the most exciting runners to ever play. He was Barry Sanders before there was a Barry Sanders. Don't get me wrong, I'm a Broncos fan and love Terrell Davis. He's worthy of consideration for the Hall of Fame. But absolutely nobody, Broncos fans included, looks back on his play with anywhere close to the awe that Sayers inspires. Davis was very, very good, but not ground-breaking in any way.

22 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

I think I am actually deflating a legacy of Sayers that has gotten a little carried away. I mean, he was a great player and a Hall of Famer, but we are talking about a RB finishing 12th or 13th in the NFL in yards from scrimmage during some of his signature seasons (1st and 3rd in his 2 best, but it goes downhill fast). Back when there was an AFL too.

And his return value was no longer a factor during those seasons.

So when we put him next to a guy who runs for 2000 yards and helps his team to the Super Bowl with 468 postseason yards, and we say "how dare you! Sayers had much more impact!" I cannot help but think that the mythmakers have gotten their grips on someone and pushed a little too hard.

25 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

Again, I would urge you to compare the offensive teammates of Sayers and Davis. I know, teammate interdependence is always a conumdrum when evaluating individual player performance in football, but at some point it needs to be mentioned that Davis was running behind the likes of Gary Zimmerman and Tom Nalen against defenses which still had to respect a John Elway, even if Elway was at the end. Sayers had one really good offensive teammate, Mike Ditka, without a decent qb who could make defenses respect Ditka. Teams would give Sayers more of the Adrian Peterson treatment than Adrian Peterson receives, with worse blocking than what Adrian Peterson has received.

28 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

I take teammate adjustments, schedule length adjustments, and era adjustments, then I mix them with 800-yard rushing advantage in their best seasons, a pronounced touchdown gap, and the fact that Sayers' five All Pro selections came in a 14 team league while Davis' three came in a league twice the size. I do my best to wash out "played for a winner" (though 1140 rushing yards and 12 postseason TDs is practically an extra season for Davis) and "everything is triple deluxe awesome with John Facenda narrating."

And I come out with "similar peak." As in "one of the two or three best running backs in pro football for a relatively brief time who had a handful of amazing accomplishments but whose career was cut short by injuries."

35 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

Yeah, I strongly suspect that the teammate adjustments we make in the most interdependent of all sports aren't strong enough, primarily because we can't quantify them. Not that I have proof or solution.

Here's where I make my unprovable claim once again that if Terry Bradshaw and Archie Manning switched birthdays, Archie wouldn't have to wait until Peyton's HOF induction to get in the joint without paying admission, and Terry would be a saloon owner in New Orleans with 5 alimony payments eating all the profits.

75 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

The problem with this 'debate' isn't that Mike is underselling Sayers, it's that everybody else is underselling Terrell Davis. Even factoring in the Bronco's offensive lines of the time, Davis was a great back.

The name this list is really missing is Roland Harper, who was Suhey before Suhey, and a better runner.

Brad Muster also comes to mind but I'm not sure I can get him into the top 10.

5 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

Sayers returned a total of eight kicks for touchdowns in 118 attempts, which is beyond amazing.

FWIW, in 1970, the year after Sayers stopped returning kickoffs for the Bears, Cecil Turner returned 4 out of 23 for touchdowns. Were the Bears special teams doing something different, blocking-wise?

Travis Williams, playing for the Packers around the same time, returned 7 out of 115 kicks for touchdowns in his similarly short career.

7 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

Hester's return stats, for those curious:
12 punt return TDs in 206 returns.
5 kick return TDs in 146 returns.

If you only include his first two seasons, before he became a "real" receiver:
7 punt return TDs in 89 attempts.
4 kick return TDs in 63 attempts.
1 field goal return touchdown.

8 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

Ah, Neal Anderson.

I moved to the Chicago area in 1991 (was neither the first nor the last time I did that). That season, before a Bears-Bills game, the Bears radio people were discussing the relative merits of Neal Anderson and Thurman Thomas. After talking it over, they grudgingly agreed that Thomas was probably the better blocker, but Anderson was a little bit better as a receiver and clearly a better runner, and couldn't understand why Thomas got so much more affection than Anderson when Anderson was the superior player. And so began the process by which I almost completely stopped ever listening to sports radio.

14 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

Ruth, Grange, Jack Dempsey, Man ‘o War, and a few others, usually in that order.

Jim Thorpe?

26 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

Jim Thorpe is a personal favorite of mine. I assume he'll top the list when you get around to the Canton Bulldogs. Right?

As for athletes of the era, there's Big Bill Tilden. Also, Man o' War was a horse.

15 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

Neal Anderson lost a couple of years sitting behind Payton (understandably) and was annoyingly injury prone throughout his career. He also played in a period where the Bear's offensive line, quite good in the early 80's was deteriorating rapidly. In his somewhat limited prime though he was special, hit the hole really well and could carry tacklers or evade.

As to not doing the Bears top five quarterbacks it would be much more "interesting to do a bottom five and much more difficult. I am not sure you could find five Bear quarterbcks to say something positive about.

21 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

That Cutler may be #3 speaks to the history of Bears QBs. George Blanda was also decent until he was injured in the early 50's and Halas mostly used him as a kicker. I'd probably put Billy Wade in before Kramer, Orton, or Miller.

23 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

Billy Wade's stats are not really that impressive. 6th in the league in pass attempts, but only 9th in yards (in a 14 team league), and he started only 3 more games than Kramer.

You could definitely make a case for him over Orton or Miller though.

36 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

Wade's stats were about average for his era. He made the Pro Bowl in a division with Bart Starr, Johnny Unitas, and Fran Tarkenton. According to Pro Football Reference, his weighted career average ranks 593rd overall since 1950 compared to 1960th for Kramer. Wade's time with the Bears was about as far back as I remember football, and I remember he was considered a decent QB at the time. I didn't know Wade was with the Rams before his time with the Bears until I saw this page.

50 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

Career averages don't really help here since both players spent only a small percentage of their career on the Bears.

His probowl selection looks to me like rewarding a QBs for team wins.

Both players had one really good year, and then didn't play very much. It's really a toss up. I think Kramer had his season with worse teammates, so I'm giving him the edge.

34 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

Yeah, I had a similar thought about a bottom five for Bears QBs. You really would need a bottom 10. You also would have to put in some minimum criteria for games played so as not to just list 3rd string QBs or QBs that played just a few games (such as Henry Burris or Rusty Lisch). Of course, considering how bad the starting QBs have been, just think how bad the 3rd string QBs were.

16 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

So Fridge was #11, right?

I'm really looking forward to the upcoming discussion of Priest Holmes when Tanier gets around to Baltimore and KC.

24 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

The mention of Terrell Davis reminds me how I am not looking at all forward to if/when this series gets to the Broncos.

I don't think I will be able to keep myself from saying anything when I definitely should.

37 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

Most of the league was not using the T Formation in 1943, but I can understand that perception - it seems that most folks think the league went to it in mass following the Bears' 73-0 shellacking of the Redskins in the '40 NFL Championship. Actually:

1920 - Chicago Bears - Used it as their offense from the beginning.
1941 - Philadelphia Eagles - Most report that their coach, Earl "Greasy" Neal, wanted to install it when he became coach in '41 after watching the aforementioned Championship Game. His QB of choice was Tommy Thompson. However, there is some evidence that the Eagles were using it some the two previous years with Davey O'Brien, but it's not conclusive.
1944 - Washington Redskins - The 'Skins had Sammy Baugh since '37 as a Single Wing TB, but after losing the '43 Championship to the Bears (referenced in the video linked in the article above) made the switch. Baugh shared duties with Frank Filchock - partly due to injury - in '44 before doing it on his own after that.
1944 - Boston Yanks - An expansion team in '44, the Yanks were always a T team, but never had a real QB to run it until the end. They were horrible until moving to New York and having one really good season in 1950 with George Ratterman leading the way. They folded after the 1951 season.
1945 - Chicago Cardinals - Somewhat convoluted here. Some reports have them using the Notre Dame Box through 1947 and switching in '48 - they used the Box in their previous championship year of 1925 - but I'm not convinced. In '44 the Cards merged with the Steelers for one season and began that season using the T, however they had no real QB to run it and were amazingly inept, then switched back to the Single Wing for the remainder of the season. Most reports have them switching to the T full time in '45 with Paul Christman at QB. That's what I think happened.
1945 - Cleveland Rams - Made the switch with rookie QB Bob Waterfield, who promptly won the league MVP and won the league championship (against the Baugh-led 'Skins). As a rookie.
1946 - Cleveland Browns (Otto Graham) and San Francisco 49ers (Frankie Albert) - The AAFC was founded in '46 and most teams, including the Browns and 49ers, used the T from the start. The most notable exception was the NY Yankees, who went to two championship games and another playoff appearance - all losses - with the Wing.
1947 - Detroit Lions - The Lions were horrible in '46, so they brought in Roy Zimmerman to QB the T for them. Zimmerman had found success in Philly when Tommy Thompson went away during WWII, but lost his job when Thompson got back and got up to speed. He shared duties with Clyde LeForce, a rookie, who lasted in the league only three years.
1947 - Green Bay Packers - The Pack had always used the Notre Dame Box as their offense, led by HOFer Arnie Herber then Cecil Isbell and Irv Comp. Most call the Box a Single Wing variant, I think it was more of a hybird between the SW and T, combining the power of the Wing with the passing ability of the T. The switch came with rookie Jack Jacobs, and Curly Lambeau would be fired as Head Coach three years later.
1948 - New York Giants - The Giants had always used a variety of offenses under Head Coach Steve Owen, including his famous "A" offense. They used the Box in '44 with an unretired Arnie Herber but abandoned that a year later. They made the switch when they acquired "Chuckin" Charlie Conerly in '48, and he set numerous rookie records. (Note: Conerly and Thompson are the only HOF-eligible QB's to take their teams to at least three Championship appearances but not be in the HOF. Conerly was a 7-time finalist.)
1952 - Pittsburgh Steelers - It's hard to blame the Steelers for switching so late. They had the haunting experience of the '44 merger with the Cards as their first taste, then followed that up with the re-introduction of the Wing and their greatest success as a team and an offense the next several years. The finally switched in '52 with Jim Finks at QB.
Never Switched - Brooklyn Dodgers/Tigers - Team folded after merging with the Boston Yanks in '45, were a Single Wing team throughout their history aside from that final season with the Yanks.

As you can see, the T was run by only two teams in '43. The problem with switching early on was that there just weren't any quarterbacks to run it - the players who could were either employed by the Bears and Eagles, Sammy Baugh, or Box Tailbacks (though they lined up in shotgun-type alignments). Further, while the Bears led the way in the offensive explosion that was developing in the 40's, several teams were joining in the scoring as well before they switched. Why switch when you are already playing the best offense of your existence?

43 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

The passing stats league wide were up in 45, part of an upward trend. Further, the Giants had been one of the worst passing teams, in terms of total yardage, in the league for years. Even the dramatic improvement in '45 only pushed them to 6th (out of 10 teams) in the league, and they dropped back down to 8th in '46. Also, they had Arnie Herber in '44 and '45, but threw much more in '45. They were using the Box with Herber, his offense. Finally, they were behind a lot more in '45 - teams threw more when behind then too, just like now - because their defense had a significant drop in quality. Lots of reasons to explain their increased passing numbers.

Still, I might be wrong. It happened once before. I haven't found any mention of them switching before Conerly got there, though.

67 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

The story of the Yanks is even more convoluted. After relocating to New York, the owner, a Yale graduate, tried to make the team an outgrowth of his alma mater -- changing the name to Bulldogs, the colors to blue and white, etc. The colors will be important down the line.

After bombing out in New York, the league decided to try breaking into virgin territory -- Dallas. The franchise was moved, and renamed the Dallas Texans. After poor results, the Texans eventually became a barnstorming franchise, playing all games on the road or at neutral sites. This is where such famous stories as Artie Donovan throwing elephant poop at his opponents come from; Artie was a Texan, as much as any of them were.

Fortunately for the NFL, they had a solution that would solve a couple of problems. With a franchise that was a disaster, and a city that had HAD an NFL team for a few years, and wanted one back, the remaining assets of the moribund franchise (including Donovan's contract) were sold to Maryland interests. Blue and white became much more popular than the original green and silver, and within a few years, the Baltimore Colts returned to New York -- to play the title game. Rumor has it was a pretty good game, too.

68 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

Yeah, I like the story of the Yanks and how they became the Colts. Officially, the NFL says they are unrelated, but in truth the players went with the change of franchises. That story actually starts with the Dayton Triangles, one of the original teams in 1920 (though they were around far longer than that). The Triangles went belly up in the late 20s (I can't remember the exact year) and their assets were sold to a group from Brooklyn, who were then declared a new franchise and became the Dodgers. The Dodgers played until '44, then merged with the Boston Yanks in '45. In '46, the owner of the Dodgers wanted to join the newly formed AAFC, but the NFL canceled his franchise and turned over all the assets to the Yanks. That guy still started a Brooklyn Dodgers team in the AAFC, with several of his former players, but they were bad there too. They merged with the NY Yankees in '49. Then, after the AAFC folded, the Yankees' assets were split between the NY Giants and the . . . NY Bulldogs! Who became the NY Yanks, who became the Dallas Texans, who became the Baltimore Colts. Officially, though, the NFL says these were all distinct, separate franchises.

71 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

I don't know of any books that deal specifically with this info - I'm sure there are some, but I'm not aware of any. (Perhaps I should write one!) I learned this stuff through sites like profootballresearchers.org, reading player bios online and in print, and looking through old newspaper accounts. For instance, I learned the stuff about Dayton-to-Colts initially by researching old Ohio League teams, and what happened to them. What I have found in print is usually repeating old assumptions and impressions as an aside, like claiming the Bears invented the T in 1940.

79 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

That would be fun. Hmm, I'd need a good topic, something that ties into what FO does. I have a good idea, but would take suggestions for a better idea. Then I'll pitch it to the FO guys and see what happens.

38 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

I could have sworn we did do the Bears QBs last year; it made me look up old film of Luckman and check out some of his crazy (at the time) stats, like his 'most yards as a passer for the Bears' stat that JUST got beat this year by Cutler.

So yeah, it went Luckman, Cutler, McMahon, then I think Harbaugh and someone I'm missing.

59 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

There is something amazing about looking at a team's all time passing leader and seeing Luckman with 14k yards.

If Carr had thrown for another thousand yards, the youngest franchise in the league would have 2 QBs with more.

72 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

Before Cutler came aboard, Grossman had the 2nd most passing yards in a season for the Bears at 3193. 17 passers had at least that many yards last year, for example. If he stays healthy, Cutler will probably move into 2nd place on the all-time career passing yard list for the Bears sometime in the middle of next season.

45 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

Aaron Ross is a great fit at cornerback for a team that finished 24th in the NFL at stopping No. 2 receivers, but fourth at stopping top receivers and fifth in pass defense DVOA.

I'm not so sure about this one. Having watched every Giants game this season, Ross was generally the target for every opposing offense, and didn't perform that well even with the excellent Big Blue pass rush in front of him. Not that he isn't capable, he just seems to have good and bad games, just mostly bad games.

85 Somewhat OT

Mike - Sorry for going off-topic on this one, but I didn't see a relevant post on this:

Goodell cited some numbers in the NFL statement re: Saints bounty program punishment, presumably in an effort to show that the program had an effect. In particular, the statement noted that the Saints were near the top of the league in roughing-the-passer and unnecessary-roughness penalties during the three years when Gregg Williams was DC.

But that really doesn't tell us anything, since we don't know what it was like before Williams showed up (and the bounty program presumably wasn't in place). It seems like FO's data could be used to answer the question of whether or not the program had an effect on the field, couldn't it?

I would envision basically a difference-in-differences approach on outcomes such as roughing the passer, unnecessary roughness, and (most importantly) plays on which opponents were injured. One might also assert that an increase in such outcomes is simply associated with better defensive play, so as a robustness check, one could do a league-wide analysis of the association between such outcomes and indicators of "defensive quality" to see if the Saints were outliers during that period.

Would FO be willing/able to do such an analysis?

92 Re: Walkthrough: Jaguars and Bears

For the record, Mike, you did rank the Bears QBs last year, in your Jan. 19, 2011 column. I know this because I turned the entire QB top fives project into a word document, which I still refer to somewhat frequently.

Your order for them was:

1. Luckman
2. McMahon
3. Harbaugh
4. Billy Wade ("The Kennedy era Trent Dilfer")
5. Cutler (probably)