2013 Pro Football Hall of Fame Special: Quarterbacks

Long time no see America, this is Lucas Kinser for Cardiac Attack Sports. Been busy with life the past few months, but the recent announcement of the 2013 Pro Football Hall of Fame class nominees made me take a position-by-position look at modern-era (post-1970) players who have been overlooked in the selection process.

First up are the worst enemies of Deacon Jones: Quarterbacks. Of the 83 signal-callers with 100 or more career games played and whose career began in 1970 or later and ended in 2007 or earlier, I narrowed down the list to 14. I looked at a number of factors, including consistency, production, awards, Super Bowl wins and Pro Football Reference’s Approximate Value rating system. My top 14 are, in alphabetical order:

  • Bert Jones
  • Boomer Esiason
  • Brian Sipe
  • Danny White
  • Jim Everett
  • Jim Zorn
  • Joe Theismann
  • Ken Anderson
  • Ken Stabler
  • Phil Simms
  • Randall Cunningham
  • Rich Gannon
  • Steve Grogan
  • Steve McNair

Then, I used the Approximate Value rating to determine how productive each player was in each season compared to the ten highest scores of each season. Through this, I eliminated:

  • Brian Sipe
  • Danny White
  • Jim Everett
  • Jim Zorn
  • Joe Theismann
  • Phil Simms
  • Steve McNair

None of these seven quarterbacks ranked in the top ten at their position for five or more years, or ranked in the top five for three straight seasons. Theismann was close, but barely missed the cut. Others, like White and Simms, could have done so if they’d stayed healthy, but we’re not dealing in hypotheticals.

Anyways, that leaves seven quarterbacks as legitimate candidates. Here is the arguments for all seven:

Bert Jones

  • 1976 NFL MVP with a 102.5 Passer Rating, second-best in league history at that time behind Y.A. Tittle.
  • Three seasons with at least 3,000 passing yards and 20 or more touchdowns, second-most in league history when he retired behind Sonny Jorgensen.
  • Helped lead Baltimore out of the Unitas era with three straight postseason appearances from 1975-77.

Boomer Esiason

  • 1988 NFL MVP with a league-high 97.4 passer rating and 9.2 yards per pass attempt.
  • Retired in 1997 with the ninth-most passing yards in pro football history (37,920)
  • Ranked in PFR’s Approximate Value ratings among the top ten quarterbacks for six straight seasons from 1985-90.

Ken Anderson

  • 1981 NFL MVP with a career-high 3,754 passing yards, 29 scores and a 98.4 paser rating
  • Paced the NFL in passer rating four times (1974, ’75, ’81 and ’82)
  • Arguably the first successful West Coast quarterback in league history

Ken Stabler

  • 1974 NFL MVP with 2,469 passing yards and a league-high 26 touchdowns
  • Ranked fourth all-time with 26 game-winning drives when he retired in 1984
  •  Led Oakland to a blowout win in Super Bowl XI

Randall Cunningham

  • Three-time Bert Bell Award winner in 1988, ’90 and ’98
  • Retired as the league’s all-time leading rusher for quarterbacks
  • Led his teams on 26 game-winning drives and to 21 fourth-quarter comebacks

Rich Gannon

  • 2002 NFL MVP with a league-high 4,689 passing yards
  • Earned four straight Pro Bowl nods from 1999-2003
  • Led Oakland to three straight postseasons for the first time since the early 1980s

Steve Grogan

  • Ranked in PFR’s Approximate Value ratings among the top five quarterbacks for four straight seasons from 1976-79.
  • Ran for a then-record 12 rushing touchdowns as a quarterback in 1976
  • Led New England to its first three postseason appearances in team history (1976, ’78 and ’82)

Of these seven, I wanted my final selections to have accomplished four of five things in the pro careers:

  1. Win an Associated Press NFL MVP Award
  2. Lead their team to at least one Super Bowl
  3. Rank in the top 10 in a major career category upon their retirement
  4. Average eight starts per season for their careers
  5. Have been a finalist for the Hall of Fame at least once.

Bert Jones never played in a Super Bowl and didn’t play long enough to record any significant career stats, so he goes off the list.

Randall Cunningham never won an AP NFL MVP (although other organizations gave him MVP awards) and never played in a Super Bowl, so he’s off as well.

Rich Gannon fell four starts short of the minimum and hs never been a Hall of Fame finalist, so he’s gone.

Steve Grogan barely reached the start limit, but failed in all other categories (he only started six games in the Patriots’ 1985 Super Bowl season) so he’s off.

That leaves Boomer Esiason, Ken Anderson and Ken Stabler:

Esiason was named the MVP in 1988, led Cincinnati to Super Bowl XXIII, retired with the 9th most passing yards in league history and passed the starts minimum.

Anderson was the 1981 MVP, led the Bengals to Super Bowl XVI, retired with the 7th most passing yards in league history, passed the starts minimum and was a two-time HOF finalist.

Stabler was the 1974 MVP, led the Raiders to a Super Bowl XI win, passed the starts minimum and was a three-time HOF finalist.

Therefore, we have three names to keep in mind. A pair of underrated passers  in the West coast system and one of the NFL’s best comeback artists and team leaders. If I had a vote, these three gridiron warriors would certainly have their busts in Canton.

Thanks for reading my incredibly long, meticulous post. Remember to follow me on twitter at @LucasKinser and look me up on Facebook. Take care and enjoy the rest of your day!

Super Bowl XLVI

Here it is America. Millions of people will be watching as the two surviving teams, quarterbacks, and head coaches clash for a shot at immortality. Sounds dramatic, right?

A co-worker of mine at Panini pointed out a very significant point that made me lead with that corny line: this is a legacy game. Imagine the boosts each side would get with another ring? Eli Manning would (I can’t believe I’m saying this…it hurts) a legit argument for Hall of Fame enshrinement with two Lombardi trophies. Tom Coughlin will probably retire if the Giants win, just a hunch but what else would he have to prove after a lifetime in the game? For New England, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick would both move up a few notches on the GOAT list while another Patriots ring could put the team in the same phrase as the 70s Steelers, 80s Steelers, heck, even Lombardi’s Packers would arguably fall on the all-time dynasty list. Four Super Bowl rings and five appearances in a span of 11 seasons are more than unheard of in the Free Agency era. I’d be surprised if it happened again in the next 50 years.

That being said, I’m not a fan of either team. No, let me rephrase that. I despise the Patriots, strongly dislike the Giants and would cry with sadness if Eli had more rings than his more talented brother. However, as a wanna-be-journalist, I have to try and be neutral. Here is a detailed breakdown of both teams with a difficult prediction at the end of the rainbow.

New York Giants vs. New England Patriots (-2.5)

When the Giants pass…

Eli Manning is posting some unheralded numbers in this postseason, passing for 923 yards and eight TDs to just one pick, a 103.1 QB Rating. All of this has been done despite the fact that his offensive line has been nothing less than a train wreck, allowing 52 pressures in the postseason, just over 39% of all drop backs according to Pro Football Focus. The Patriots’ pass rush has improved in the postseason from 10.25 pressures per game to about 12.3, but that doesn’t mean nearly as much when you consider that Manning was among the league’s best when under pressure this season, leading the NFL with a 69.4 true completion percentage (minus throwaways, spikes etc.). Take into account the idea that either James Ihenacho or Julian Edelman will probably cover Victor Cruz in the slot and I have to give a sizable advantage to the G-Men.

…the Giants have the advantage.

When the Patriot’s pass…

Tom Brady has been protected like a Ming Dynasty vase covered in bubble wrap this postseason, facing pressure only 13 times and getting sacked once. His excellence has been overshadowed by Manning, but according to the QB ratings he is slightly ahead of the former Ole Miss standout. With that being said, the last time these two teams met Brady was sacked twice and pressured seven times. I don’t know how they will cover Wes Welker, probably with Antrel Rolle which could get scary. Also Gronkowski’s health is a concern. I give the Patriots an advantage here, but not as big as it would be with Gronk at 100%

…the Patriots have the advantage.

When the Giants run…

Big Blue’s run blocking hasn’t been as sad as their pass blocking, but it still ranks among the lower totals in the postseason, earning a -15.5 rating as compared to -25.1 against the pass according to Pro Football Focus. A combination of Bradshaw, Jacobs and Ware should be formidable against a solid run-stopping unit in New England, especially since they totaled 111 yards on the ground in their regular season matchup…with Ahmad Bradshaw sidelined with injury. Vince Wilfork and Gerard Warren have been the run-stuffing stars this postseason, but the linebackers and defensive backs haven’t done well once plays reach the second level. I see the Giants breaking off a couple of big runs combined with a number of three-yard-or-less trudges, giving New York a slight advantage.

…the Giants have the advantage

When the Patriots run…

Expect New England to use the run game as more of a changeup than an actual threat, since they frankly don’t have the personnel to dominate on the ground. All of their backs have certain roles that are rarely deviated from with none of them excelling too much. They have run best off-tackle in the postseason which could lead to some run-ins with the two best run-stoppers in the postseason for New York: Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck. One wild card is whether or not Aaron Hernandez carries the ball in this game, as he’s shown some explosiveness in earlier games. However, the Giants take this category hands down.

…the Giants have the advantage

To save myself a few words, I feel special teams is about even for both teams. Good kickers and punters, not great. Plus, there aren’t any glaring holes in kick coverage or explosive returners who could exploit the non-existent holes. The third factor shouldn’t be a big factor.

So, for the final selection. I feel that New York has a slight edge in this game, but let me emphasize that. SLIGHT. SLIGHT. SLIGHT. If I were a betting man, I’d pick the Giants to win in an offensive contest with Victor Cruz coming in as the MVP. If he has fewer than 100 yards receiving, I feel the Patriots will have a great shot.

Prediction: Giants win 34-31.

 

NFL Championship Week Preview

Hello again and welcome to Cardiac Attack Sports, your home for a variety of words strung out into sentences which may or may not be coherent.

Well America, I fell asleep on the couch and didn’t submit my picks for last Sunday’s contests, so I apologize if anyone was disappointed. For now on, I’ll eat turkey AFTER football games to avoid such future miscues. After a pair of upsets last weekend, we have out Final Four set for an action-packed Sunday, so lets kick things off with:

Baltimore Ravens vs. New England Patriots (-9)

(all betting lines courtesy of http://bovada.lv)

The conversation for this game begins and ends with Tom Brady and what he is able to do against an excellent defense in Baltimore. Despite the lack of deep threats, he has managed to make the best of his available weapons, including new record-setting tight end Rob Gronkowski. The only comparable scenario for Baltimore was its two games vs. Pittsburgh when Heath Miller went foe 73 and 42 yards, respectively. However, Miller wasn’t the main target of Big Ben like “Gronko” is for Brady, so their coverage against big guys like him is certainly a question mark.

An amazing percentage of Brady’s passes this season have been short and up the middle, a whopping 203 of his 645 overall, resulting in 1,597 yards and nine TDs. This means the Ravens’ will have to rely on “Ole’ Faithful” Ray Lewis to patrol Brady’s comfort zone and try to force the “Golden Boy” to spread the ball around. Sadly, one has to ask if the 36-year-old is physically up to the challenge late in the season when bumps and bruises start transforming into breaks and tears. He did so in a 2009 Wild Card round victory over the Patriots, forcing Brady to go 7-of-13 for 57 yards and a pick on throws short and over the middle, but can he do it again?

Finally, the Ravens’ offensive line will have to protect Joe Flacco. While the former Delaware standout has taken some unwarranted criticism over the last few weeks, the fact is that he struggles under pressure like many middle-of-the-road quarterbacks in this league. In 147 drop-backs under pressure, he went 66-of-147 for 756 yards and six INTs with a 50.7 passer rating, among the worst in the NFL under such circumstances. For the Ravens to have any chance, his line needs to do what they’ve done well most of the season: keep Flacco upright. It also helps that the Patriots’ pass rush is rated 20th in the league by http://www.profootballfocus.com, and that’s before Andre Carter went down with a quad injury.

All in all, the Ravens have a puncher’s chance due to their solid, veteran defense and ability to protect Flacco, but I don’t see them having the amount of firepower to keep up with Tom Brady and the Patriots’ offense. I see the Pats winning big, lets say 38-17, and moving on to their fifth Super Bowl in 11 seasons.

Prediction: Patriots Win, 38-17

New York Giants vs. San Francisco 49ers (-3)

With the Niners favored only by the three points associated with home-field advantage, it’s safe to say this game is expected to be a tight one.Unlike the early game, these two teams met earlier this season in Week 10 with San Francisco edging out a 27-20 home victory.

One major key to this game is how New York’s shaky tackles David Diehl and Kareem McKenzie hold up against one of the league’s most dynamic pass-rushing attack. The Giants’ pair is ranked by Pro Football Focus as the worst pair of edge blockers in the NFL, totaling a -41.3 rating on passing downs with McKenzie ranking worst individually at -23.4. McKenzie will have his hands full with All-Pro 3-4 lineman Justin Smith and rookie phenom Aldon Smith who combined to make Jermon Bushrod look like a lost kid at the airport last week. Manning isn’t sacked often, only 30 times in the regular season, but he will certainly feel some pressure in this game.

Manning has done well under pressure this season, compiling an 80.1 passer rating in 267 distressed -, but he excelled when opposing teams brought five or more rushers, posting a 96.4 rating with 18 TD passes. Needless to say, he is capable to carving up overly aggressive defenses, so getting pressure with four or fewer rushers is a must for a 49ers victory. The same goes for New York and its feared pass-rushing defensive line rotation; Alex Smith has a 93.1 passer rating when blitzed but a dismal 63.2 rating when under pressure. The main difference is the quality of both team’s offensive lines. San Francisco’s inexperienced, but talented line was middle-of-the-road when facing a pass rush, as the team’s five starters scored between 5.4 and -15.9 according to Pro Football Focus.

The war in the trenches seems to be about even between the two squads, so the final score will probably come down to what each team’s playmakers can do with the ball in their hands. San Francisco will probably follow its Week 10 strategy and target the middle of the field against the Giants, a tactic that resulted in Smith going 8-of-11 for 128 yards and a TD. The Giants’ linebackers are average at best, while Antrel Rolle is beginning to show his age at safety. I could easily see a scenario in which Vernon Davis splits the safeties down field while Michael Crabtree and Kyle Williams find holes just beyond New York’s LBs. Also, the outside pass rush of the Giants could lead to Smith having room to step forward, see the middle of the field well, and exploit poor coverage for big gains.

The Giants have a better corp of receivers, but San Fran showed in its game against New Orleans that its corners can make big plays as their backs get closer to the endzone. Also, the middle of the field will be well-occupied by a pair of All-Pro middle linebackers in Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman. Manning could very well accumulate some yards in this game, but touchdowns will be more difficult to come across.

Lets pause for a second…I’ve written all this about defense and pass protection without even mentioning either team’s rushing attack?

Lets dedicate this one to all my friends who failed math at least once in their life:

Frank Gore+Kendall Hunter = Brandon Jacobs+Ahmad Bradshaw

Both teams are good at running the ball, especially New York as of late, but they both are among the best at stopping the run. Despite the expected windy conditions, I don’t feel the running attacks of either team will go off or get stuffed.

So let’s make this official. I feel that the Giants’ run as Cinderella is up. San Francisco’s defense will make Manning uncomfortable, while Alex Smith and his playmakers will have an efficient time matriculating the ball down the field. The Paris of the West will have its sixth Super Bowl appearance after a solid victory over the Giants, 31-23.

Prediction: 49ers Win, 31-23

Thanks again for reading my blog. Please leave a comment if you’d like and follow me on twitter at @lucaskinser.

Until next time, stay safe and be sure to drink your Ovaltine!

Preview of Saturday’s NFL’s Divisional Round Games

Good evening America, welcome back to Cardiac Attack Sports. I’m Lucas Kinser, you’re wish-I-was-getting-paid-for-this host.

Tomorrow begins the divisional round of the NFL postseason, so it only seems fitting I give my two cents on Saturday’s prolific evening of pigskin delight.

All betting lines are courtesy of http://www.bovada.lv/

New Orleans (-4) vs. San Francisco

The game many fans and pundits are writing off as a win for New Orleans comes in at just under a field goal for the Saints, although other lines I’ve seen have them as high as seven points. Statistically the league’s most potent passing offensive ever is taking on an elite defense with five AP All-Pro honorees, plus arguably the best punter (Andy Lee) and Kicker (David Akers) this season.

An interesting trend to look at is the differences both teams have when playing on the road or at home. San Francisco’s offense hasn’t been dynamic this season, but their five lowest scoring outputs all came outside the confines of Candlestick Park (or whatever the heck they call it now). They’ve scored 20 or more points in all eight home games this season, averaging 27.6 per game while holding their opponents to 10 or fewer points at the friendly confines five times.

On the flip side, New Orleans’ five lowest scoring games came away from the Superdome (20, 21, 22, 23, and 26) while their five highest came at home (62, 49, 45, 45, and 45). The Saints simply aren’t the same team on the road, which doesn’t’ bode well for them in an outdoor venue.

I have a feeling this game will surprise a lot of people. San Francisco has a chip on their shoulder as the red-headed stepchild of the NFC’s division winners, but make no mistake, they can keep the Saints offense in check. If this game were played in New Orleans, I’d have the Saints winning by at least a touchdown, but the venue seems to be a prevailing factor in every major statistical category. Therefore, expect a mid-scoring game, probably 27-24, with the 49ers pulling off the home upset.

Prediction: 49ers Win, 27-24

Denver vs. New England (-14)

Wow, what a difference a month makes! After Tim Tebow won over the hearts of millions, New England rolled into town and beat down the Gainesville legend, leading to a three-game slide that threatened the Broncos’ chances at even making the postseason. However, due to a massive choke job by Oakland and some beautiful adjustments in the Wild Card round game vs. Pittsburgh, these two teams are back for Round 2.

In their first meeting, Denver’s defense was dismal at best. According to http://www.profootballfocus.com, the Broncos only got pressure on Tom Brady six times in the game. On the flip side, New England’s oft-dysfunctional defenders got pressure on Tebow in 19 of his 32 drop-backs, going 4-of-11 for 60 yards and getting sacked four times on those plays.

Thus, the key for both teams is pressure, pressure, pressure! Force Tebow to make quick decisions in the pocket and, as shown time and time again, he will either throw the ball away or take a sack. If he gets time to set his feet and gaze across the field, he can either find running lanes or chuck an ugly duckling down the field for a big play. It isn’t pretty, but it’s gotten him an 8-4 record this year.

With that being said, the Broncos’ defense still has to find a way to slow down Tom Brady. When Denver blitzed last game, Brady had a 118.8 QB rating and completed 7-of-9 passes. When they rushed four or fewer, he had a 108.6 rating with two passing TDs. Either way, if they don’t get the Golden Boy’s patootie on the turf, it will be a long night in Foxboro for the Tebow faithful.

All of this leads me to believe this game will be close to a repeat of the last, but with a bit more drama and competition due to it being a playoff game. Both teams will show up and play their hearts out in the weekend’s most anticipated matchup, but New England will come out on top, probably 35-24. I have a feeling some Tebow fireworks in the fourth will keep this game below the spread.

Prediction: Patriots Win, 35-24

Thanks again for reading my blog. Check back Sunday morning for a brief recap of Saturday’s games and my predictions for the Sabbath showdowns in Green Bay and Baltimore.