Ravens Roundtable: Week 1

Every week, the Ravens analysts here at Baltimore Sports and Life will collaborate with a special guest from network partner at 24×7 Networks – Russell Street Report. We’ll have a Q&A roundtable discussion on the week that was, and preview the weeks upcoming match-up. This week, Tony Lombardi joins BSL Analysts Chris Stoner, Nadeem Kurieshy, Mark Bullock, Mike Randall, and Matt Jergensen.

Discuss your thoughts on this topic, answer these questions yourself on our message board.

1. As preseason came to a close last Thursday, give me one thing you’ll take away from those games that you want to see continue in the regular season.

Chris Stoner - My takeaway of the preseason is the opening drive vs. San Francisco. We saw play-action, quicker releases from Flacco, and more burst from Rice than we saw at anytime last year. If we see the offense operate with that efficiency with any consistency, this year will be a lot of fun.

Nadeem Kurieshy - Flacco’s passing looked great. He got the ball out quickly and had some legitimate receivers to throw to. He completed 64% of his passes and had a QB rating over 100

Mark Bullock - I want to see the younger guys continue to play well and hold down their positions. Guys like linebacker C.J. Mosley and nose tackle Brandon Williams can be huge players for the Ravens front 7, particularly at key positions, if they play consistently at the high levels they displayed at times during the preseason.

Mike Randall – Success in the running game is the big one for me. It’s a night and day difference from last year. Hopefully that can carry over since it helps establish the play action fakes that are prominent in Gary Kubiak’s playbook.

Matt Jergensen - The resurgence of the running game as an offensive weapon.What has usually been a reliable part of the Ravens attack was at times painful to witness in 2013. The pre-season numbers were gaudy and it’s unrealistic to expect them to continue to produce at that clip however a strong running game will go a long way in being able to sell play-action and to keep Joe Flacco in manageable third downs.

Tony Lombardi - Clearly the Ravens success running the football during the preseason was a great sign. Gary Kubiak’s offense is predicated upon running the football successfully and doing so opens up the Ravens playbook and spreads the defense, allowing for more one-on-one matchups for Joe Flacco to exploit. If they can continue to successfully run the football it bodes well for field position, clock management, keeps the defense fresh and it translates well to successful football during the winter months.

2. Give me one thing that disturbed you a bit, that you would like to see left in the preseason and hope doesn’t carry over.

CS – It is hard to imagine any scenario where the offensive line is not better than last year’s line, but there is some lingering concern there. Disturbed is probably strong wording though. 

NK - The OL’s passblocking was pretty inconsistent when the first team was on the field. Against the Cowboys, the left side of the line didn’t block well at times. Against the Cowboys, both tackles had a couple of plays where they made some fundamental mistakes. 

MB - The rhythm of the offense, particularly against the Redskins, was poor. To get good field position and then be held on multiple occasions is disappointing and will hopefully be rust shaken off as we enter the regular season.

MR – I’m still worried that the lack of a pass rush is still there. I had predicted 30 sacks between Suggs and Dumervil going into last season and they we’re on pace to best that half way through. I expect a better pass rush with our talent up front.

MJ - Several games in the pre-season the defense exhibited an inability to execute a simple tackle. Often players are going for the strip, ignoring fundamentals and not stay true to their technique. The defense as a whole should be faster than last season and hopefully one on one tackles will be supported quickly into a pile.

TL  – The Ravens tackling was rather shoddy during the fake games and they’ll need to clean that up if they want to improve upon their ability to get off the field on third down, particularly late in games. That was an issue in 2013 that they vowed to improve upon in 2014. So far the improvement hasn’t shown up.

3. The Ravens trimmed the roster down to the final 53. Guys cut, guys who made it, were there any surprises?

CS – Jah Reid has some versatility, but I guess I had some surprise in him making the roster. I always thought Campanaro was going to make the team, and I think Thompson did enough in the pre-season that his inclusion was also not a surprise. Aiken certainly had his moments as well, but keeping him as 7th WR rates as a mild surprise for me. Zachary Orr’s inclusion is interesting. 

NK - Biggest surprise at first was AQ Shipley. I thought he played well enough to earn a spot as a reserve. He also has game day experience which is always a plus. However, after giving it some thought, he is a much better Center than Guard and the team has Gino Gradkowski as a back-up. As a Guard, he wasn’t that great.

MB - There were a few surprises with who they cut, but I’m more surprised with how the numbers worked out. Seven receivers always feels like one too many, while four corners feels one short. I’m sure Harbaugh has another move or two in mind to balance out the numbers better.

MR – Zachary Orr, an UDFA who was on nobody’s radar even throughout the final PS game. He didn’t do anything that stood out to me, but good for him. He’s got a chance to prove himself further in practices and see if he can make the dress list for games.

MJ - I’m not sure why they kept seven receivers, when they only have five down lineman on the roster. Over the years I’ve felt that Coach Harbaugh has left himself vulernable at times on who is active on the D-Line and I feel that it cost him on occassion. My only thought where the above makes sense is if Ozzie has a trade brewing which I don’t think is likely. The more big bodies you can rotate up front the fresher they will be come the final quarter.

TL – Keeping 7 wide receivers was a surprise. It’s not as though the Ravens are the Denver Broncos or New Orleans Saints and spread the field at times with 5 wide receivers. Kubiak’s is an offense that frequently features 2 tight end sets and the unnecessary depth at the position is even more of a head-scratcher when you consider that only 2 of those 7 really offer anything in the way of special teams play.

The biggest surprise to make the 53 was LB Zachary Orr. He must be some special, special teams player!

4. Only five defensive lineman were kept on the 53-man roster. Terrence Cody was transferred to the regular season PUP list, and will miss the first six games with hip ailments. Does the fact they only kept five guys to rotate through three positions lead you to believe they still believe in Cody and will count on him when he’s able to return?

CS - McPhee figures to get time on the line as well, but yeah – the line seems a bit thin. I don’t know that the Ravens ‘believe’ in Cody as much, as it is they have some degree in comfort in knowing what he brings. When drafted, I thought he had the potential to be a difference maker as a run-stuffer, obviously that never happened. 

Going into camp, I was excited about the D-Line depth. I’m disappointed about the losses of Urban, and Lewis-Moore; but on the other-hand the Ravens likely would not have rotated 7 guys on game day anyway. 

It has been great to see Brandon Williams emerge, and I’m anxious to see more of Jernigan as well. 

NK - Cody should provide relief for Brandon Williams at NT when he returns. Cody should be considered as a two-down player who doesn’t have the stamina to be on the field longer. He should play well in a reserve role. I don’t see a long term option for cody and the Ravens.

MB - I think to a degree, it shows they have some faith in Cody. But I think the Ravens will be comfortable knowing that the modern NFL defense is in it’s nickel sub-packages a high percentage of the time. With offenses looking to spread out the defense with three and four receiver sets, defenses respond by substituting a defensive lineman for an extra defensive back. Baltimore also have a number of blitz packages with just one or even no defensive lineman at all. So while I think they are showing some faith in Cody, they aren’t taking too much of a risk.

MR – It baffles me that they even bothered signing him to a one year contract. I guess that means the Ravens still see something there. It’s no secret that he’s not been the player we had hoped. Maybe he’s been dealing with the nagging hip injury in games past. Now that it’s surgically repaired, if he can return and be at 100% health, we’ll get an accurate look at what Cody brings to the table.

MJ - They must see something in Cody I don’t because it would appear that they hope to use him when he’s healthy. I haven’t been a huge fan of his play over the years and don’t see why they couldn’t have gone in a different direction there.

TL – I think the only thing keeping Cody around is his injury. Once he’s cleared to practice, I expect the Ravens to clear him from the roster too. We could see Ozzie go and get a rotational guy for the D-Line, particularly if their goal is to keep them fresh during the fourth quarter of games and down the stretch in December. And let’s not forget that while listed as a linebacker, Pernell McPhee will give the team plenty of reps on the D-Line.

5. Shift focus to the regular season that is about to begin. It’s tough going right out of the gate with the North division favorite Bengals, and the always tough Steelers. Will missing Ray Rice for those two games be detrimental? Or can Pierce/Taliaferro/Forsett get the job done?

CS - Big division games right away, with the Ravens having the opportunity to grab hold of the North before September ends. I do think the Ravens can get past Rice not being available, but I do think it is a loss. Many RB’s fall off a cliff, but I never felt that was what we were seeing from Rice last year. He was carrying extra weight, and playing with an injury he had never dealt with. All topped by that horrible blocking in-front of him. I expect Rice’s yard per carry, and yard per catch averages to rebound to his 2012 levels. 

I was very pleased to see Pierce in-action during the pre-season, coming off the shoulder injury. Now he is dealing with the concussion, but is back practicing. Last year was brutal for him, but as with Rice – I expect to see him rebound. 

Wasn’t sure what to expect from Taliaferro, but he showed that 1 cut, downhill running style which has always been a part of this Kubiak offense. Fantasy players might benefit the first couple of weeks with Taliaferro getting some goal-line carries. 

Forsett is probably not long for the roster, but I think he also showed well in the pre-season. More wiggle than I anticipated. 

As you can tell from my answers, I’m pretty enthusiastic about the running game returning for Baltimore this year. Honestly, the player in the Ravens backfield I’m most interested in seeing these first few games is Juszczyk. I think his versatility is going to be something Kubiak has fun exploiting. 

NK - Pierce should be able to make up for Rice in the run game. Taliaferro should be used on short distance plays and Forsett should be used to give Pierce a breather. Rice is a much better pass catcher and pass blocker than all three. This is where the Ravens will miss Rice the most.

MB - The beautiful thing about the zone blocking scheme run by Gary Kubiak is that so many runners can have success in it as long as they are disciplined. Pierce has looked to me like a more natural zone runner than Rice at times. I think in terms of the running game, they should be fine. 

MR – Pierce and Taliaferro are a couple guys who fit the Kubiak running scheme with their one cut and go style. Forsett is also familiar playing under Kubiak in the past. Kubiak’s track record suggests that his scheme can make successful RBs out of even the most mediocre of players. Where the downfall without Rice would come would be in the passing game. Pierce and Taliaferro aren’t great pass catchers and aren’t great at making guys miss in the open field. Rice can take a dump off and turn it into 20 yards. I don’t see that happening with the other guys.

MJ - It depends what Ray Rice we see this season. Even if the weight he shed does indeed restore his quickness he still needs to do a better job of running in the zone scheme and attacking creases. Pierce has enough talent to do the job but can he stay healthy while shouldering the load? I liked what I saw out of Taliaferro this pre-season. He’s a big brusing back to keeps pushing downhill. The Ravens should be ok while they wait for Rice.

TL – If healthy the aforementioned trio is more than capable of producing results against the Bengals and Steelers. But with Pierce you never know. He’s fragile and I’m not sure if he loves the game. If he gets nicked up and the Ravens are forced to turn to the rookie and the small change of pace back Forsett, it could spell trouble. Taliaferro is a very vertical runner and that invites injury while Forsett is too small to carry a heavy load in the smash mouth division called the AFC North. Let’s hope Pierce wears his big boy pants during weeks 1 and 2.

6. Keys to the game on offense for beating the Bengals

CS - One key is keeping Cincinnati’s Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins from dominating the line of scrimmage. It’s not really a key to victory, but what I’ll be looking to see from the offense is distribution. The Ravens offense possesses plenty of weapons, you want to see as many guys get involved as possible. 

NK - Pass protection and getting the run game going. (This sounds familiar.) There is enough talent at the WR position for someone to get open. Joe will find the open receivers.

MB - Establish the running game. It sounds obvious and boring, and just about every team says the same thing. But in this offense, it’s essential. If the offense can force the defense to bring the eighth defender into the box, then the play-action attack opens up, which is what can really hurt you in this offense

MR – Come out fast and score on the opening drive. The crowd will be amped up, loud as usual; nothing will silence them quicker than a three and out to start the new season. Keep the crowd in it to get Andy Dalton rattled. Also limit the mistakes. This is a game featuring in my opinion, the top two contenders for the division title and could be pivotal down the stretch if tie breakers are involved. Games with pretty equally matched teams usually come down to who makes the least amount of mistakes.

MJ - Keep the Bengals defense off balance. Don’t always run in running downs and use deception and the screen game to keep the blitzers honest. The Bengals have a strong unit but can be had if you show patience and hit a few deep shots.

TL – 1) Work the middle of the field…the Bengals safeties represent Cincinnati’s soft white underbelly. 2) Establish the run to set up play action and then challenge the linebackers’ drops with the intermediate passing game. 3) Create mismatches with multiple sub-packages. The Bengals have a rookie defensive coordinator Paul Guenther and he might not be able to keep pace during the chess match.

7. Keys to the game on defense for beating the Bengals

CS - The Ravens kept AJ Green under wraps in the 2nd game vs. Cincinnati last year (11 catches, 128 yards in the 1st game); but I don’t think you go into a game against the Bengals expecting him not to make plays. How the Ravens defense performs against the Bengals TE’s Gresham, and Eifert will be telling in my opinion. What I’m most interesting in seeing is how the Ravens defense performs against the RB’s Bernard, and Hill. It feels like the Ravens athleticism has improved. I’m hoping the defense is able to get back to taking away running games, and making teams one dimensional again. Bernard’s speed (and receiving ability), and Hill’s power is going to be a difficult match-up.

NK - Stopping the run and getting pressure on Dalton. Under pressure, Dalton has a QB rating under 50 and an accuracy under 60%.

MB - Slowing A.J. Green down is obviously a big priority. But they can’t afford to focus so much on Green that they forget about the rest of the Bengals offense. Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu are perfectly capable of having big days at receiver, while tight ends Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham are tough coverage assignments too. That’s not even to mention Giovani Bernard out of the backfield. Pressuring quarterback Andy Dalton will be the key. Getting to him before he can get the ball out of his hands will stop the ball getting into the hands of the playmakers in that offense. Mixing in different zone blitzes will help provide pressure upfront without being too vulnerable in coverage.

MR – Cincy has some weapons on their offense. Gio Bernard is poised for a breakout season, along with Tyler Eifert. Jermaine Gresham is talented and of course, A.J. Green. Try to keep the Ravens in the game. Don’t let the Bengals jump out to a double digit lead. The one knock on Gary Kubiak’s offense from the Houston experts we’ve chatted with in the past is that he doesn’t run a quick strike offense.  Remember the Packers game last year where the Ravens seemed out of it, and all of a sudden two deep passes in a row and they were back in contention? I guess we shouldn’t expect things like that.

MJ - Get in Andy Dalton’s face all afternoon and he’ll do the rest. Baltimore is 3-0 at home against Dalton and have picked him off 7 times. Limiting big plays from Gio Bernard and A.J. Green will also be key to a victory.

TL – 1) Prevent the big play by containing Giovanni Bernard and bracketing AJ Green. 2) Show Andy Dalton various looks to make him think…that often leads to turnover. 3) Challenge the Bengals rookie center Russell Bodine. Maybe former North Carolina teammate James Hurst can provide a few clues.

8. Lastly, the start of another NFL season isn’t official until you give your “likely to be wrong five months from now” Super Bowl XLIX pick. Who ya got?

CS - San Francisco had a bit of an up-and-down Preseason, and might not be ready to hit full-stride when the lights come on Sunday. Also, after 3 straight NFC Title game appearances, and the Super Bowl loss to the Ravens; maybe you can argue that regression is due. Ultimately though, I think they are the most talented team in the league, and I think they end the season with the Lombardi Trophy. 

I think they beat Denver in the Super Bowl, with that pick being less of a vote in confidence in the Broncos, and more of a vote against anyone else in the AFC having a better chance to represent the conference vs. Manning and the Manningettes. 

NK - AFC – Baltimore (of course), NFC – New Orleans Saints (Seahawks will have a Super Bowl hangover).

MB - It’s hard to look past the Seahawks repeating. They’re extremely well put together, play to their strengths very well and have extraordinary depth. I hate to be the guy taking the boring pick, but I can’t see anyone that looks as strong as them.

MR – In my biased opinion, the Ravens win it all. In my unbiased opinion… Seattle could suffer from the Super Bowl hangover, but also Marshawn Lynch held out to start camp, which never ends well. It means he didn’t take his offseason seriously. I see a drop off in his play which could hurt. So in the NFC, give me the Saints. They are an offense that can score at will and an improved defense that should be one of the top ten units. Brandin Cooks is an early R.O.Y. candidate. In the AFC, it’s hard to bet against the Broncos. They did all of the right things to improve their defense with the additions of T.J. Ward, Aquib Talib, Demarcus Ware. Plus their QB is pretty good as well. Saints vs. Broncos in the title game and give me the Broncos. I think Peyton has one more title in him before he calls it quits.

MJ - Broncos vs. 49ers. This could finally be it for Peyton and if he wants one more ring now is the time. Last season’s drubbing is no doubt his motivator in grabbing the gold this time around. The Seahawks are still very talented but this time their division rival makes it back to the Big Game.

TL – Most prognosticators seem to think that the falling confetti in Arizona on February 1, 2015 will land upon a NFC team and it’s hard not to see it that way. The Seahawks, Saints and Packers are mentioned often but I’m going to go with the 49ers. Brother Jim gets his Lombardi and then the richest contract ever awarded to a NFL head coach. The victory destroys Pittsburgh’s mojo because they no longer can own “Six”, thankfully!

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Kevin Gausman is Consistently Inconsistent

Kevin Gausman has been both elite and pedestrian this season. While that can be frustrating, Gausman has shown all of the tools that made him a consensus top prospect in baseball.

Discuss Gausman’s 2014 season and his role in the postseason rotation on the BSL forum here.

In 89.1 IP this season Gausman has posted a 3.93 ERA, certainly respectable for a young pitcher in his age 23 season. It’s not the kind of dominating performance that Matt Harvey or Jose Fernandez has instilled in our minds as the standard for young pitchers, but it’s actually pretty darn good. On top of that, his 3.42 FIP suggests that he’s been even better than his ERA suggests.

It seems to me that many O’s fans are more down on Gausman than maybe they should be. Why? Well he’s had some pretty disastrous games, which may taint our view of him. He also hasn’t looked completely dominant either, posting just a 6.65 K/9 this season, much lower than many O’s fans expected.

Gaus1

 

Above is a chart of Gausman’s of the number of starts Gausman has made where he gave up a given number of earned runs. Gausman has made 16 starts this season, eight of which have seen him give up 2 ER or less. The other eight starts saw him give up 3 ER or more. Now obviously it’s a bit arbitrary picking 2 ER as the point where we break down the numbers, but it is a decent proxy for good starts versus average or poor ones.

The sample sizes are too small here to draw any big conclusions, especially if we wanted to dive deeper into the numbers to look at trends across groups of starts. That said, let’s see if Gausman has been consistent at all: 

As you can see, it’s not like Gausman has consistently improved over the season, or that he had a specific rough stretch. Rather he seems to bounce back and forth from good start to bad start.

This isn’t necessarily good or bad, it just is. Obviously it’d be best if Gausman consistently delivered quality starts, but for a guy with roughly a 4 ERA, that isn’t highly likely. What is good though is that Gausman is living up to his potential of being a very good starting pitcher. He just happens to have some rough starts in between, like most young pitchers. Gausman has shown that his upside is very very high. He’s just rough around the edges still.

Kevin Gausman is actually pretty darn good, he’s just consistently inconsistent. Personally I believe that Gausman should be included in the postseason rotation. He has arguably the highest ceiling of any pitcher on the O’s roster, and that high ceiling could shine through in the pressure of the postseason. If he struggles however, well you’d have the depth in the bullpen in a short series to cover multiple innings if need be. He’s arguably been one of the O’s best starters, and gives the club a good chance to win any game he starts. He also hasn’t had a true blow up game, as he’s maxed out at 5 ER in any given start this season. Part of that can be attributed to a quick hook by Buck, but also to his ability to pitch through adversity.

Gausman in the playoffs is a gamble, but he’s one that the O’s should probably take come October/November.

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NFL Z-Score All-Decade Team: 1980s

Missed out of the previous parts of this series? Check out our look at the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.

The 80s could go down as one of the more controversial decades in the sport. Twice during the 80s the NFL players went on strike. Once in 1982, shortening the season to just nine games, and resulting in an NHL/NBA style playoff seeding that sent the top eight teams in each conference, rather than basing it on division record. It also resulted in a place kicker being named the league MVP.  In 1987, the players went on strike again prior to week 3. Week 3 was cancelled, and replacement players were brought in to play until the union gave in after week 6. Some players however crossed picket lines and played during the three week replacement era.

Discuss you thoughts on our message board.

Despite angry fans, lambasting the strikes and replacement players, the NFL surpassed major league baseball as the top revenue generating sport in the 80s. It wasn’t without competition from the USFL, who had attracted some of the college games best players like Jim Kelly, Herschel Walker, and Steve Young in its short history.

After two work stoppages in the decade, Commissioner Pete Rozelle retired in 1989 and was replaced by Paul Tagliabue.

It was a grand decade for the west coast as the Raiders and 49ers accounted for six of the 10 Super Bowls in the 80s. Speaking of west coast, the west coast offense was brought in to the league by legendary coach, Bill Walsh. Thanks to Walsh, offensive numbers started reaching new highs, and as you’ll see here shortly, the 49ers players churned out some of the best individual seasons ever. Like the Steelers of the 70s, the 49ers are hands down the team of the 80s.

In addition to Joe Montana and Jerry Rice taking the passing game to new heights, Dan Fouts, John Elway, and Dan Marino also revolutionized the passing game in their own rights.

Even with the passing game becoming more and more exotic, Eric Dickerson still ran for a record 2,105 yards in 1984. Walter Payton would retire from the game owning all of the important rushing records including career yards, single game yards, and seasons with 1,000+ yards.

The Oakland Raiders moved to Los Angeles, the St. Louis Cardinals moves to Phoenix, and on one of the saddest days in our fair cities history, the Baltimore Colts moved to Indianapolis.

The Baltimore Colts went 16-40-1 in their four seasons in the 80s before going to Indy. Thus, no one from Baltimore made the NFLs All-Decade team in the 1980s

1980s Z-1

Those are the best of the best from the 1980s. But does Z-Score with our sRBZ metric agree? Z-Score is a measure of how far above or below the average something is. For a full explanation on Z-Score, refer to this article. Of the #1 ranked most above average players in a season according to our ranks, the AP agreed with us just once in picking their MVP. However, a score over 1.96 puts said player in the top 5%, or elite status by some definition. Sure, Dan Marino was runner up in our metric by a mere three one-hundredths of a point in his historic and MVP season of 1984. But no one is going to argue that he shouldn’t have been MVP. (It was his receiving cohort Mark Clayton that topped him at 2.7876). Considering that anyone who posts a score or 1.96 or better should be considered for the MVP, our metric was only baffled three times in the 80s. Not including the strike seasons that made a mockery of the voting. Anyone who voted for a kicker for MVP should have had voting privileges revoked. Coming up, you’ll see one of the biggest MVP snubs since O.J. Simpson in 75’, when we look at who the writers passed over in lieu of John Elway in 87’.

So far, the AP has selected the number one overall player by our sRBZ metric seven times out of 35 times through the 1989 season (20%). They have agreed that a player in the top 5% of players by this metric should be the MVP 18 out of 35 times (51.4%).

We usually take a look at the top 10 seasons from each decade, but here, we’re going to look at the top 15. Why 15? There are five seasons out of the top 15 that came from strike shortened seasons. Maybe a nine game season can skew the numbers a bit since it’s a smaller sample size for a per game basis. Maybe a season where some guys crossed picket lines and played more games than most against some replacement talent can skew the numbers as well. I’m not going to put asterisks, but you are the judge if you want to accept them (especially after the number one season comes as quite a shock). I’ll list the top 15, and in the list is the top ten excluding the 82’ and 87’ seasons.

15 best seasons of the 1980s according to sRBZ

15. Marcus Allen, RB, Los Angeles Raiders, 1984, sRBZ: 2.3977 – The former rookie of the year makes his first of three appearances on this list. Often forgotten about due to Eric Dickerson breaking the rushing record in 84’, Allen led the league with 18 TDs, and his 1,926 total yards was fourth best on the season.

14. Herschel Walker, RB, Dallas Cowbows, 1987, sRBZ: 2.4149 – Walker was a stud in college, a stud in the USFL, and he would continue the trend in the NFL. In 87’ he averaged a league best 133.8 yards per game and was near the top of the league with eight TDs. He played 12 games, the most a player who didn’t cross picket lines could have played in 87’.

13. William Andrews, RB, Atlanta Falcons, 1982, sRBZ: 2.4205 – In a strike shortened season of only nine games, Andrews and Rookie of the Year, Marcus Allen, were the only two RBs to crack 1,000+ scrimmage yards. He scored seven TDs on the short season while only putting the ball on the turf once.

12. Marcus Allen, RB, Los Angeles Raiders, 1985, sRBZ: 2.4417 – Appearance number two for Allen on this list. Eric Dickerson broke the season scrimmage yards record held for nine years by O.J. Simpson. It only took the next year for Marcus Allen to erase Dickerson’s name and insert his with 2,314 yards in 85’. Despite the record setting season, it wasn’t the best season by our metric, as another west coast RB posted some insane numbers as well. But Allen was named the MVP in 85’.

11. Jerry Rice, WR, San Francisco 49ers, 1989, sRBZ: 2.4559 – I mean, you didn’t think a “best of” list would not have Jerry Rice on it, did you. You would be naïve to think this is his only appearance on said list as well. 82 catches, league best 1,483 yards, league best by a lot 17 TDs. Ho hum.  

10. Marcus Allen, RB, Los Angeles Raiders, 1982, sRBZ: 2.6502 – Sound like a broken record yet? Marcus Allen’s rookie season was actually his best in the 80s by this metric. Allen was the other back (William Andrews) to total more than 1,000 yards in the nine game 82’ season. He also racked up 14 TDs…in nine games. Someone is going to have to explain to me how Redskins kicker…say again…kicker, Mark Moseley…won the MVP in 1982 (Even though he missed three extra points in nine games).

9. Earl Campbell, RB, Houston Oilers, 1980, sRBZ: 2.6591 – Campbell was a workhorse in 1980, leading the league with 384 touches. 132 yards per game was league best, and his 13 TDs were second only to Billy Simms who notched 16 in his campaign for rookie of the year. Campbell also only fumbled four times; impressive considering that four guys, some of whom with significantly less carries, had double digits in fumbles.

8. Roger Craig, RB, San Francisco 49ers, 1985, sRBZ: 2.6602 – What was special about this season for Craig is that he became the first back to rush for 1,000 yards, and receive for 1,000 yards. Only Marshal Faulk in 1999 has repeated the feat. His 92 catches was also a RB record, and even led all of the receivers (Art Monk led the receivers at 91). Craig posted 6.75 yards per touch, 129.1 yards per game, and was second best in scoring with 15 TDs.

7. Dan Marino, QB, Miami Dolphins, 1984, sRBZ: 2.7577 – Of course this season would find it’s way on here as Dan Mario set records for yardage and TDs that wouldn’t be broken for over 20 years. He was near the top, along with Joe Mantana with a 64.2 completion rate, 9 Y/A is insane. 5,084 yards and 48 TDs was also a record. Clearly the best season for a QB in 84’, but a few too many turnovers kept him from being higher on this list. He had 23 total, 17 INTs, the guy that he’ll always be compared to in this era, Joe Montana, had just 14 turnovers, 10 INTs.

6. John Jefferson, WR, San Diego Chargers, 1980, sRBZ: 2.7685 – They we’re definitely the San Diego “Super Chargers” in the early 80s, as Jefferson was part of a trio that occupied three of the top four spots on the receiving charts. (Receptions: Kellen Winslow(SD) – 89, Dwight Clark(SF) – 82, John Jefferson(SD) – 82, Charlie Joiner (SD) – 71). Jefferson would go on to lead the league in yards (1,340) and TDs (13)

5. Mark Clayton, WR, Miami Dolphins, 1984, sRBZ: 2.7876 – The beneficiary of Dan Marino’s record setting season in 84’. Clayton didn’t put up a big amount of catches as 73 was eighth best. But it’s what he did with the ball when he got it. 19 yards per catch, 92.6 yards per game was second best to the Cardinals Roy Green. Clayton was money in the red zone as he hauled in a receiving record 18 TDs, a record set by Don Hutson of the Green Bay Packers with 17 in 1942. It was tied twice by Elroy Hirsch in 51’ and Bill Groman in 61’.

4. Jerry Rice, WR, San Francisco 49ers, 1986, sRBZ: 2.799 – Jerry Rice makes his second appearance on this list. For once he didn’t lead the league in catches…ok he was second with 86. He did of course lead with 1,570 yards, 98.1 per game, and 15 TDs.

3. Joe Montana, QB, San Francisco 49ers, 1989, sRBZ: 3.2509 – You’re going to start seeing a trend here. The 49ers offense was something incredible in the 80s, One of those main reasons was Joe Montana. In 89’, he became just the second QB ever to record a completion percentage over 70 at 70.2% (Ken Anderson, 70.6% in 1982). He also put up a stellar 9.1 Y/A. Montana was three shy of the TD league best, but he also missed three games in this season. On a per game basis, Montana has a league best 2.23 TD/G. Also a league low eight INTs. To this point on our list, this is the best overall season by a QB yet according to sRBZ.

2. Jerry Rice, WR, San Francisco 49ers, 1987, sRBZ: 3.2832 – Yet another Jerry Rice season on our list. He has had so many, but this one measures out as the best, even though he didn’t cross picket lines in 87’ and played 12 games, unlike the Cardinals J.T. Smith who did cross over and played in 15 games, racking up 91 catches. Rice had 65 but was also one of four guys to go over 1,000 yards in the short season. The most staggering number for this season is his 22 TD catches. Had this been a regular 16 game season, he would have challenged 30 TDs in a season. Randy Moss did best Rice by one in 2007 with 23. Despite the most scores for a receiver ever, it was John Elway who was given the MVP in 1987. Elway was beat out by four other QBs on our metric, and his 0.9146 is nowhere near elite/MVP status. Elway had a 54.9% CMP% (average was 56.1%), fourth in yards, seventh in TDs, although his 14 turnovers were one of the leagues lower numbers.

1. Wes Chandler, WR, San Diego Chargers, 1982, sRBZ: 3.8905 – Bet you didn’t see this one coming. I sure didn’t. Hence the reason why we let you chose if you want to count the short seasons of 82’ and 87’. Chandler actually played in eight of nine games. Over 6 catches per game and the only receiver to reach 1,000 yards and his 21.1 yards per catch was quite impressive. In fact, teammate Kellen Winslow was third in the league in receiving yards, but had over 300 yards less than Chandler. He also managed to score a league best 9 TDs.  In fact, if you want to count this short season performance, Chandler has the best sRBZ up to this point (1989). If not, then that honor still belongs to O.J. Simpson’s 1975 campaign at 3.8589.

“Timeout! You mean to tell me that Eric Dickerson’s record breaking season when he rushed for a still record 2,105 yards is NOT one of the top 15 seasons of the decade?” – Yes. Is it a great accomplishment? Of course it is. But consider that this metric encompasses as much as we can realistically gather and quantify. He posted 2,244 total scrimmage yards, which was also a record by one yard. But two other players also cracked the 2,000 yard barrier and Marcus Allen was close at 1,926. James Wilder or the Buccaneers finished just 15 yards behind him. For whatever reason, yards appeared easy to come by in 84’. Dickerson was tied for second in TDs with 14, Allen had 18. He also coughed the ball up 14 times. The two men that had more touches than Dickerson combined for just 15 fumbles between the two of them.

Quickly, the 10 worst seasons of the 1980s

10. Lorenzo Hamilton, RB, Miami Dolphins, 1985, sRBZ: – 2.1246
9. David Hill, TE, Detroit Lions, 1980, sRBZ: – 2.1282
8. Joe Cribbs, RB, Buffalo Bills, 1985, sRBZ: – 2.1666
7. Vince Evans, QB, Chicago Bears, 1981, sRBZ: – 2.2141
6. John Sawyer, TE, Seattle Seahawks, 1980, sRBZ: – 2.2530
5. Gerry Ellis, RB, Green Bay Packers, 1982, sRBZ: – 2.2606
4. Mark Malone, QB, Pittsburgh, Steelers, 1987, sRBZ: – 2.3013
3. Mel Carver, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1983, sRBZ: – 2.3552
2. Lionel James, WR, San Diego Chargers, 1988, sRBZ: – 2.3567
1. Rusty Hilger, QB, Detroit Lions, 1988, sRBZ: – 2.3946

 

What does the worst season of the decade look like for Hilger? 11 games, 41.2% completion %, 1,558 passing yards, 5.1 Y/A, seven TDs, 19 turnovers

The most average season of the 1980s:

Duriel Harris, WR, Miami Dolphins, 1981, sRBZ: – 0.0006, 15 games, 53 catches, 911 yards, 17.2 Y/R, 2 TDs.

1980s Z-2

In the rookie of the year debate, we start in 1981. George Rogers was the runner up to Bengals wideout Cris Collinsworth (0.7218) by our ranking.

Rogers – RB -  1,800 yards, 4.5 Y/T, 112.5 Y/G, 13 TDs, 13 fumbles
Collinsworth – WR – 67 receptions, 1,009 yards, 63.1 Y/G, 8 TDs

 

I will admit here, while our score for Collinsworth isn’t too much higher than Rogers, you can’t argue with 1,800 yards and 13 TDs.

Moving on to 1986 where Rueben Mays is the second Saints RB of the decade to earn ROY honors, and the second Saints RB we don’t quite agree with. We had Colts WR Bill Brooks (1.0276) ranked a little higher. Let’s see.

Mays – RB – 1,449 Yards, 4.8 Y/T, 90.5 Y/G, 8 TDs, 4 fumbles
Brooks – WR – 65 receptions, 1,131 yards, 70.7 Y/G, 8 TDs

 

Mays 4.8 Y/T was just a hair over the average that year. Same with the TDs as the average RB scored nearly seven. Brooks on the other hand scored three more TDs than the average receiver. Mays Y/G was 17 yards more than average. Brooks Y/G was 17 more as well.

In 88’, three other players we’re worthy candidates for ROY over John Stephens who was as average as you could be. The worthy players are Bengals RB Ickey Woods (0.9374), Eagles TE Keith Jackson (0.2268), and Seahawks WR Brian Blades (0.0137).

Woods – RB – 1,265 yards, 5.6 Y/T, 79 Y/G, 15 TDs, 8 fumbles
Jackson – TE – 81 receptions, 869 yards, 54.3 Y/G, 6 TDs
Blades – WR – 40 receptions, 682 yards, 42.6 Y/G, 8 TDs
Stephens – RB – 1,266 yards, 4.0 Y/T, 79.1 Y/G, 4 TDs, 3 fumbles

 

Woods had about the same production, and 9 more TDs from 224 touches, versus Stephens’ 311 touches. Not really sure what the AP saw in Stephens, but Woods or Keith Jackson would have clearly been better choices.

1980s Z-3Four decades, 40 years into our sRBZ project and Baltimore still has five sRBZ P.O.Y. winners. The 49ers leap frog the Browns as they now have seven winners. Browns have six.

Joe Montana becomes the first QB since Otto Graham in 1955 to win sRBZ P.O.Y honors. As passing becomes more prominent in the 90’s and today, this will change.

John Jefferson and Jerry Rice become the sixth and seventh repeat winners in our rankings, joining O.J. Simpson, Jim Brown, Leroy Kelly, Raymond Berry, and Lenny Moore who is still the only three time winner.

The old guys are making a comeback as James Brooks and Joe Montana join only Otto Graham, Pete Pihos, and Joe Morrison as guys who were over age 30 when they won sRBZ P.O.Y.

Up next, its the 1990s.

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