Tag Archives: Walter Payton

NFL17: Playoff Bound? Reliable Run-Game’s a Must, Keen Clipboarder a Plus

25 Dec

A savvy signal-caller and a defense that makes an impression: Two team traits well-known amongst keen footballers as essentials for a playoff contender.

But in this era of downfield divas and near 100-point results (NO 48 @ AZ 41 (W15)), it’s easy for even the most studious student of the game to overlook the Super necessity of a complementary run-game. Not a dominant ground attack, but integral, responding when called to balance the attack and spare the QB.

The days when power-backs like Earl Campbell and John Riggins, thoroughbreds like Walter Payton and Eric Dickerson could carry their clubs through much of the playoffs, seem as long gone as the gloveless receiver. While their exploits are greatly missed by those of us who remember watching them run, today’s top team doesn’t necessarily need the gargantuan ground-gainer.

blount-wc-j-beall-1-19-14*In fact, the most successful coach won’t ask his running game to carry the team and will rarely have a backfield guy contending for MVP.

Take Adrian Peterson for example.

In his seven full seasons, All-Day has led the League in rushing 3x and won one MVP (12). But only once, in 2009-10, have the Vikes been top contenders in that span, owing much of it to the arrival of 3-time Valuable man, Brett Favre who had his best statistical showing that season in leading Purple to the NFCC (v NO).

Then look at the NFL standard for most of the 2000s, the Patriots.

Since Bill Belichick took the reins in Foxborough he’s had five 1000-yd rushers, with Corey Dillon topping at 1600+ in ’04 but most (Antowain Smith, Ben Green-Ellis, Stevan Ridley & LeGarrette Blount) coming in around the 1100 mark. A strong number but not in category with Peterson or prime Emmitt Smith.

No running-back MVPs, no League leaders in year-end rushing totals. And yet, Belichick teams have made it to six Supers and how many playoff spots.

Check the box scores: Quantity in rush, say, 90-100+, is not so important, not a weekly total, as much as quality. That when Belichick, Brady, New England’s OC, want a good ground gain, it’s likely to happen and give the D more to think about.

In Jim Brown’s day (64), the big, bruising back could carry a club all the way but it’s a rare occurrence in the day of play-action pass. Yet, without a strong, reliable run game (900 – 1200), one man or tandem, your team’s Super Bowl aspirations will most likely remain just that, a pipe-dream.

brownj-wc-tsna-m-emmons-315kReliability + timeliness are the watchwords for today’s Supernicitious run-game.

In the present, Mr. Blount has been Mr. Reliable for the Pats these past two seasons, averaging a modest 50-60 per (900 yr.) and fashioning one of the most inspirational football career stories in recent history.

Getting all blame (& susp‘n) in the Byron Haut punching incident, sophomore Blount and his Oregon Ducks opened their 2009 season against Boise State in loss, crushing team national title and Heisman hopes. The Madison, Florida native was then drafted by Tampa Bay, met the 1000 benchmark, was shipped to the juggernautious Patriots in 2013, started 2014 in Pittsburgh only to be returned to the Patriots to finish that season and then contributing (3td) to New England’s PS run that culminated in besting defending champ Seattle in SB49.

In 2016, Blount is the go-to guy in Patriots’ run-game, topping the 1000 mark in W15 and at this posting, leading the NFL in rushing TDs (15). Quite…a…story.

NFC Run-Lite

Detroit Lions

Run totals of Theo Riddick (357 / 3.9), Dwayne Washington (243 / 2.9) & Zach Zenner (198 / 3.5) just puts more pressure on Stafford to work his arm.

New York Giants

When the Coughlin Giants won Super #1 (09), Brandon Jacobs was top grounder, posting 1009 (5.0). Returning to the Big Game in 2011 to top the Patriots, again (SB46), to spoil NE’s perfect run, their fine backfield tandem in Jacobs (571) and Ahmad Bradshaw (659) proved effective. In 2016, no top GG and a tandem that hardly impresses: Rashad Jennings, 541 (3.3) & Paul Perkins, 354 (3.9).

Seattle Seahawks

Having not found Lynch’s replacement, no easy task, Pete Carroll & Darrell Bevell have relied on the Christine Michaels (469) / Thomas Rawls (327 (3.5)) duo. And if you figure in your QB tally (Wilson / 219), you’re asking for trouble.

Green Bay Packers

With Lacy out (IR) and Starks fizzling (2.3), new starter Montgomery (4g) was a godsend to tear up the turf (6.5). But in facing a rated Minnesota Vikings defense, Ty Anthony stumbled on Christmas Eve (23 – 2.6). If the Packers braintrust think they can ride the Rodgers – Nelson hook-up to Houston (2/5), there are gonna’ be alot of cheeseheads crying in their beer n’ curds come January.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Injuries have taken their toll on former great Doug Martin (2.9) who’d passed the 1400 mark twice in his relatively young career. Jacquizz Rodgers (4.4) and rook Peyton Barber (4.1) average well but not many carries. Upside, fresh legs for PS.

Wanted: Clipboard Saviors

It’s not often a playoff team loses their starting QB, but it does happen. Lucky for those teams who plan ahead in the off-season and pay the piper for a capable clipboard-holder to fill the void when needed.

l-olivier-pp-wc-1940What did “Zeus (Olivier)” say in Clash of the Titans (81)?: “Fortune is ally to the brave.” Wise god was (is) the Zeuster.

Bravery must be at a premium in the Oakland front office these days. With the lose of their inspiration & MVP-caliber QB in Derek Carr, going down with a broken fibula in W16 action, the Raiders’ prospects took a major hit. Not just in Carr’s exit but in the caliber of clipboard stepping into the breach. But then, an unknown like McGloin or Cook may only need an opportunity to show the world just how capable a marticulator they are. Maybe

The Tennessee Titans, losing their starter as well when Marcus Mariota was lost for the remainder on a leg fracture, are in a slightly less precarious position in that they signed veteran Matt Cassel last off-season. The career won-loss is uninspiring but the Pro Bowler did quarterback two teams (Chiefs / Patriots) to two double-digit win seasons, respectively. So there’s that.

Here then are the playoff contenders and their back-up state.

New England: Jim Garoppolo (2-0)
Miami: T.J. Yates (4-3)
Pittsburgh: Landry Jones (1-2)
Baltimore: Ryan Mallett (3-5)
Tennessee: Matt Cassel (33-44)
Houston: Brock Osweiler (13-8)
Oakland: Matt McGloin (1-5) & Connor Cook (0-0)
Kansas City: Nick Foles (20-16)
Denver: Paxton Lynch (1-1)
Dallas: Tony Romo (78-49)
New York Giants: Ryan Nassib (0-0 / 9-10 (C90%)) & Josh Johnson (0-5)
Washington: Colt McCoy (7-18) & Nate Sudfeld (0-0)
Detroit: Dan Orlovsky (2-10) & Jake Ruddock (0-0)
Green Bay: Brett Hundley (0-0)
Atlanta: Matt Schaub (47-45)
Tampa Bay: Mike Glennon (5-13)
Seattle: Trevone Boykin (0-0)

The list of names doesn’t inspire much confidence. Makes you wonder what these coaches and GMs are thinking in the off-season. Football’s a very physical game and quarterback is usually at the epicenter of the earthquake. But then nobody but Ron Wolf apparently thought very much of Brett Favre either when the HOF’er GM snatched him away from Atlanta in 1992. FFT

cherries-wc-cca-b-kua-6-1-08-3-3mSteven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL wikiproject; Peterson, wc, Arvee5.0, 1.28.12; Blount, wc, J.Beall, 1.19.14; Brown, wc, TSN, Emmons; Olivier, wc, P&P, 1940; cherries, wc, Kua, 6.1.8
Posted: 12.25.16 @ 2:50pm, edit 11:27 EST; Copyright © 2016

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“Gods & Monsters:” Recalling ’85 Bears Catalyst McMahon

16 Jul

It has been called the greatest team in the modern NFL era.

Some will prefer a broader definition of greatest, one incorporating a sustained success or dynasty in today’s sport vernacular. For them, one of the following title teams would likely fill-the-bill:

1960s Green Bay Packers;
1960s Houston Oilers, San Diego Chargers & Buffalo Bills (AFL);
1970s Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins & Pittsburgh Steelers;
1980 – 90s San Francisco 49ers;
Joe Gibbs Redskins (1980s – 90s);
1990s Dallas Cowboys & Denver Broncos;
2000 – 10s New England Patriots & New York Giants.

......McMahon-F16B.wc.5.1.88.D.Sutherland.crop

But the greatest compilation of players to ever lace ‘em up and dish it out over course of a single NFL season is without much serious doubt the 1985 Chicago Bears, a run culminating with what had been the most lopsided victory in Super Bowl history (until SB24 (’90)), a 46-10 drubbing of AFC champion New England in SB20.

When the Bears (Decatur Staleys) commence their 95th summer training camp on July 29th at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, just north of Kankakee, hope will spring eternal (if Fox tightens that D), and it will mark the 30-year anniversary (UW-Platteville (‘85)) of the first leg in an 6-month journey that would culminate in the best football showing in NFL history.

Detractors mutter dictum along this line: ‘Those ‘85 Bears were a flash in the pan, one-hit ‘Monster Mash’ wonder.’ Fair enough, but WHAT a hit they were. Pow!

While it’s true those 80s Monsters of Midway were no dynasty, losing four of five straight playoff runs, three in a row at Soldier Field (‘87-89), for one spectacular season they were nonpareil, unmatched in might & means, before or since.

What comes to mind immediately with those Bears is defense. The particular image associated with that word can vary, depending on your particular taste.

Some start at the top with Cantonized player and Bears head coach, Mike Ditka (‘82-92) and his no-nonsense approach, while others dig deeper and tag the purported mastermind of Chicago’s D-scheme, player favorite, long time NFL guru and father of NFL coaches Rex and Rob, Mr. Buddy Ryan.

Still others vest their vision of greatness in the workhorses, men on the field who made it all happen. Hall of Famers like Mr. Intensity, defensive captain Mike Singletary and linemen Dan Hampton and Richard Dent, along with a half-dozen All Pros who would prove integral, i.e., Marshall, McMichael, Gayle, Wilson, Duerson & Fencik.

.....Bears.wordmark.sportslogos.thb.wc.74

Move to the numbers and it comes crystal clear, these Bears were special.

The W-L gets your attention (15-1), the defensive rankings will win you over.

Team-averages on yards allowed per game (258.4) and points (12.4) were both League toppers in ‘85 but a stinginess on scoring not unseen before or since.

In 2000 both Tennessee (238.9 / 11.9) and Super champ Baltimore (247.9 / 10.3) bested Bears marks, only to be topped again in ’02 by Gruden‘s titlist Buccaneers (252.8 / 12.2). The 1972 “No Name Defense” Dolphins, the only undefeated championship campaign in modern era (‘07 Pats (16-0) lost SB42 to NYG, 17-14), set the standard with miserly marks of 235.5 (yapg) and 12.2 (papg).

But then both those Bucs and Ravens succumbed to opponents a total of four times respectively in the regular season (12-4), Brian Billick‘s men suffering a 3-game skid at mid-point before righting the ship, while Miami ran a gauntlet of slightly shorter version at 14-0. Every game matters, in more ways than one.

That toggles a key word in the debate on GTE (greatest team ever): dominance.

All four of those championship defenses, Bucs, Bears, Dolphins and Ravens, where shut-down variety, to be sure, but nothing shows greatness like dominance and nothing shows dominance like post-season play. Built for pressure and proving it against the best.

In their respective playoff runs, these are the opponent’s point totals:
Buccaneers (‘03): 6-10-21 (SB (OAK));
Ravens (’01): 3-10-3-7 (SB (NYG));
Dolphins (‘72): 14, 17, 7 (WA);
Bears (’86): 0-0-10 (SB (NE)).

.....Ryan,B.wc.P.Souza.thb.10.7.11.WH

While Ravens, Dolphins & Bucs matched da’ Bears in defensive prowess, it was Chicago who best displayed the balance of greatness by way of a notable offensive output as well, a side of their game that’s gone largely ignored by pigskin historians.

The ‘85 Monsters ranked top-10 in yards gained (364.8 (7)) and points scored on average (28.5 (2)), with the later tally coming in just behind the record-setting Air Coryell (Fouts) Chargers (29.2), whilst the Bucs and Ravens were fair-to-middling in matriculation, Tampa Bay as low as #24 in yards (312.6), #18 in points per (21.6), the Ravens slightly better at 313.4 yards (#16) and 20.8 (#14).

That Namesake Miami offense that included notables like QB Earl Morrall (9-0), Griese (5-0), Csonka, Morris, Warfield, Yepremian and All Pro lineman Langer, Little, Evans and Kuechenberg, together make a strong case for perfect balance, leading NFL in both ypg (359.7) and ppg (27.5). The totals, however, do fall just below Bears key scoring averages in ‘85. Phew! “That was close (Encounters).”

Every once in a blue moon the scoring side is subject of an ‘85 Bears roundtable and one name quickly comes to mind. Not Ditka nor OC Ed Hughes (d.2000), but Mr. Walter Payton (d.1999), aka, “Sweetness.” No surprise there, as Walter had a dozen seasons that’d make a career for most backs and 1985 was no exception.

In his 11th season (13) he rushed for his 4th highest yardage total (1551) and posted 2nd best career marks in reception yards (483) and run average (4.8). Teamed with fullback Matt Suhey (471 / 4.1) they together made a very formidable backfield tandem.

Helping making that all possible was Chicago’s cohesive and highly-regarded offensive line of Covert, Bortz, Hilgenberg, Thayer and Van Horne. Formidable.

.....Singletary.wc.12.17.00.MLTaylor.USAF.thb

But if you thought it was high-steppin’ Walter, “Iron” Mike, Singletary or Ryan who was key to this team’s success, a standard for greatness by which all other single-season team performances are still measured, you’d be mistaken.

The real catalyst to the ‘85 Bears, a man most often overlooked by corporate historians, was Chicago’s wild & wooly signal caller, James Robert McMahon, Junior.

I can hear the cackles: ‘You mean that cocky, gum-chewing, oft-injured, headband rebel (“Rozelle”) who introduced the helmet-howdy-do and led what may’ve been the most painful-to-watch music video all-time (“Super Bowl Shuffle“)? Him?’

‘Yeah, him.’

In those heady, bygone days, Jim could put people off when his confidence would turn, as it sometimes did, into boyish arrogance.

So, how pray tell did I arrive at this choice? It was one big performance which left an indelible memory.

The date: September 19, 1985;
The time: 8:00pm (EST);
The place: The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

It was a rare Thursday night (?) telecast, the network, I don‘t recall. Assume it was ABC, birthplace of off-night Monday Night Football, which had been a national happening with “Dandy” Don Meredith’s colorful cowboy quips and Howard Cosell’s hearty halftime review of Sunday’s action. But by 1985 only Frank Gifford remained of the original trio and the former ratings topper was starting to tank. It’s never fully recovered.

But they had a humdinger in store this night.

...Ditka.wc.8.31.06.JJPerry.thb

What happened in 2nd half would give Bears’ confidence a jolt of adrenaline that would carry through all the way to Super Bowl 20 where it swelled to gargantitude.

Chicago entered the game 2-0, home wins by combined score of 58-35. Impressive, but not the frighteningly good football that would blitzkrieg the NFL in weeks to come.

With Vikes up 17-9 midway through the 3rd quarter on heels of a Tommy Kramer TD toss to all-purpose Anthony Carter, McMahon, who’d taken the two earlier wins but had sat this start (injury?), came in to relieve a capable but uninspired Steve Fuller. What happened next would set the wheels of destiny in motion.

Within seconds, Jim hooked up with deep threat speedster Willie Gault for a 70-yard TD strike: Score, 17-16.

Next Bears possession, McMahon matriculates to Minnesota’s 25 and hits sure-handed Dennis McKinnon for a second TD pass in just over five minutes. Visitors take the lead. The score, Bears 23-17.

Minutes later the former BYU field general throws third TD strike to his man McKinnon covering 45 yards. Bears up 30-17, a contest but the befuddled Vikes don’t know what hit ‘em and the Monsters of Midway have found their momentum-maker in McMahon.

Vikings would add another TD in the 4th but sure-footed Kevin Butler ice’d it and Chicago exited the Metrodome with a 33-24 divisional road win and a mojo that was bursting at the seams just looking for another opponent to turn into mash.

Talk about turning points.

Some men feed on pressure. Mobile pocket-passer Jim McMahon (early career) was just such a cool customer. Stan “The Man” Musial understood the type.

...McMahon.93.wc.Diz28.thb

In discussing some of the toughest moundsmen he faced in his long & storied career, the Cardinals’ legend identified the great relievers Elroy Face and Clem Labine: “Both of them also had that extra something…they loved to come into the game in a tight situation, thrived on pressure and challenge. The tighter the spot, the better they loved it (The Complete Handbook of Baseball (‘76 ed., Z.Hollander)).”

Men like Jim, Favre, Ray Lewis, Chancellor, Mannings, Doug Williams, Montana, Lilly, Brady, Stabler, Joe Greene, Steve Garvey, Bob Gibson, Jon Toews, LeBron and Curry, all grasp the leadership talisman and beckon their cohorts to follow.

And to that one, lone blemish on Bears record in taking a loss at Miami (24-38, W13)? It should be noted that Fuller started the game which was officiated at a time before the NFL began to seriously monitor crowd noise shenanigans to help keep the playing field level. Unlevel, Mr. Shula (See; Deflategate cmts).

McMahon would only start parts of three more seasons for Chicago after the memorable ride of ‘85. Injuries, more than Jim’s sometimes awkward confidence, defined his career as he bounced around the League, playing for five other teams which, ironically (See; C.Martin ‘86 (GB)), included Bears rival Green Bay, picking-up another ring in the process as a clip-board man in SB31 win over Bill Parcell’s Patriots (35-21).

But for one, glorious season, Jim McMahon and the rest of the Bears were the best that’s ever been. Of course (gum smack).

......macroecono.lamcasinoroyal.wc.2011

Steven Keys
Macro Sport
Photo credits: J.McMahon, F16B, wc.cca, 5.1.88, D.Sutherland; J.McMahon, crop, wc, D.Sutherland, 88; Chicago-Bears, wordmark, sportslogos, wc, 1974; B.Ryan, wc, P.Souza, WH, 10.7.11; M.Singletary, wc, 12.17.00, wc, M.Taylor, USAF; M.Ditka, wc, J.Perry, 8.31.6; McMahon, wc, 93, Diz28; macroecono, lamcasinoroyal, wc, 2011.
Title Reference: Bride of Frankenstein (‘35);
Posted: 7.15.15 @ 9:22pm EST
Copyright © 2015