Washington Redskins


I’ve been reading a ton of books. One of these is Robert W. Peterson’s “Pigskin”, which has been an interesting read so far. I’m roughly in the late 1940s in this book, which starts with the beginning of professional football and ends with the NFL championship in 1958. What has caught my eye are Mr. Peterson’s comments about the spread of the T formation in the 1940s. He describes the Bears 73-0 NFL Championship victory over the Redskins. Later, when describing the switch of the Redskins to the T in 1944, he gives this accounting of the state of the football world in 1944: (1)

By that year, more than 50 percent of college teams has converted to the T formation. So had most pro teams. Henceforth, the old single-wing formula of “three yards and a cloud of dust” as the ideal offensive play would go the way of the rugby ball in pro football

The adoption was not immediate upon the end of the 1940 season, however, and teams, coaches, and whole conferences that were successful with the single wing (or Southwestern spread) tended to stick with it. For example, in Tom Landry’s autobiography, he notes that Texas made the switch in 1947, after Dana Bible retired.(2) Y. A. Tittle’s memory of the conversion is (3)

If I remember correctly, the first Southwestern conference team to switch to the T formation from the single- and double-wing formations was Rice University, followed by Georgia and Louisiana State.

The quote above mixes the SEC and the Southwest conference, but still.. LSU switched in 1945. I’m just not sure which of the 50% of college football teams were converting. Army and Notre Dame are well known early adopters, but as a counterexample, in 1947, Fritz Crisler won a national championship with a single wing offense at Michigan.

Dan Daly, when discussing the effects of the 73-0 Bears win over the Redskins, noted:(4)

Only one other NFL team, the Philadelphia Eagles, switched to the T the next season. And as late as 1944, both clubs that played in the championship game, the Green Bay Packers and the New York Giants, used the single wing or some variation.

Paul Brown, the head coach of Ohio State from 1941 to 1943, was the first coach to see Don Faurot’s split T in action, in his very first game as Ohio State’s head coach, but then says of his game with Clark Shaughnessy’s Pittsburgh squad in 1943 (5)

It was my first real look at the T formation with flankers and men in motion, however, and it was the kind of football I later assimilated into my own system with the Browns.

So from 1941 to 1943, the “Bears” T was largely unknown in the Big 10. Paul Brown then learned the T while serving in the armed services. In 1946 and 1947, in the first two AAFC championships, Brown’s T was pitted against the single wing offense of the New York Yankees.(6)

As Dan Daly notes, the lack of players trained in the new offense slowed the T formation’s spread.(7)

In the early ’40s, the Bears and the Eagles – the only two T-formation teams – drafted an unusual number of Shaughnessy’s Stanford players because the Cardinal were the lone major college team using the offense.

Dan Daly later writes (8)

By the end of the decade, though, five out of seven college teams played some form of the T. Suddenly it was the single-wing Steelers who were having trouble finding players to fit their system.

And it does make sense. There were some early adopters who ran into Luckman, or Shaughnessy, or former Bears quarterbacks and coaches, but a lot of coaches learned the T while serving in the armed services during the war, coaching or playing in service teams. So it wasn’t the early 1940s when the transition occurred, as far as I can tell. Instead, it was the mid to late 1940s when the T became dominant. The conversion was not “immediate”. It took 3-4 years to gain steam, and a decade for it to dominate.

Notes

There were only ten pro teams in 1944, and it’s entirely possible that most NFL teams were running a T by 1944 (By my count, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, and Cleveland are using the T by 1944. Green Bay and New York are not. The other four – Brooklyn, Boston, Detroit, and Card-Pitt – I’m not sure of). Green Bay switches to the T in 1947, New York in 1949.

Army’s first use of the T is in the 1941 Army-Navy game.(9) Notre Dame had Halas’s players assist with the conversion in 1942. Clark Shaughnessy coaches Maryland in 1942 and then Pittsburgh in 1943.

1944 is an unusual year to use as a baseline, because so many coaches and players were in the armed services. That may in fact have aided the transition, as so many coaches with a traditional single wing background found themselves coaching alongside experts in the T on service teams.

For those who have never read Ron Fimrite’s article in Sports Illustrated about the Stanford Indians’ 1940 season, just do it. It’s one of the great short articles on football. The link is given in the bibliography.

References

1. Peterson, Chapter 8.

2. Landry and Lewis, p. 74.

3. Tittle, Chapter 5.

4. Daly, Chapter 3.

5. Brown and Clary, p. 101.

6. Brown and Clary, pp. 181-182.

7. Daly, Chapter 3.

8. Daly, Chapter 3.

9. Roberts, Chapter 2.

Bibliography

Brown, Paul, and Clary, Jack, PB: The Paul Brown Story, Atheneum 1980.

Daly, Dan, The National Forgotten League: Entertaining Stories and Observations from Pro Football’s First Fifty Years, University of Nebraska Press, 2012. [ebook]

Fimrite, Ron, “The Melding of All Men, Suited to a T”, September 5, 1977. “Sports Illustrated”. retrieved July 28, 2013.

Holland, Gerald, “The Man Who Changed Football”, February 3, 1964. Sports Illustrated. retrieved July 28, 2013.

Johnston, James W. ,The Wow Boys: A Coach, a Team, and a Turning Point in College Football , University of Nebraska Press, 2006.

Landry, Tom, and Lewis, Gregg,Tom Landry: An Autobiography, Harper Paperbacks, 1990.

McGarr, Elizabeth, “The Top 20 Greatest Moments”, August 20, 2008. “Sports Illustrated”. retrieved July 28, 2013.

Peterson, Robert W., Pigskin: The Early Years of Pro Football, 1997. [ebook]

Roberts, Randy, A Team for America: The Army-Navy Game That Rallied a Nation at War , Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, reprint ed 2011. [ebook]

Tittle, Y. A, and Clark, Kristine S.,Nothing Comes Easy: My Life in Football ,Triumph Books, 2009. [ebook]

Zimmerman, Paul, in “Letters”, December 22, 1997. “Sports Illustrated”. retrieved July 28, 2013.

If more folks followed Chris Brown, rather than getting their play design from such “experts” as Michael Lombardi and Charlie Casserly (1), maybe I wouldn’t need to repost a cut from his twitter feed, but under the circumstances, I think it’s the best thing to do.

A good chunk of Baylor’s offense migrated over to the Redskins. That includes some pet packaged plays from the Baylor playbook.

This lack of understanding of packaged plays (see here and here) badly afflicts football fans, and the worst are the ones “who don’t need to read the article” to figure out what Chris is talking about. They think he’s talking about audibles. Sorry, packaged plays are not audibles.

In Dan Graziano’s article, he interviews Shanahan and mostly confuses the issue..

So I asked Shanahan if this had been by design — if he’d set up that first drive with those quick passes to help his rookie get into the rhythm of the game without facing pressure from the Saints’ defense or pressure to go through progressions while he got his feet under him. Because I figured, if it had been, it was a pretty smart idea.

“No, he has options on those plays,” Shanahan said. “He decided to run it that way.”

So how about that, right? Here I was, ready to give the veteran coach credit for a wise game plan that had helped his rookie quarterback ease into his first NFL game, and it turns out it was the rookie quarterback who’d made that decision on his own.

Duh. RG3 doesn’t get the option unless Shanny puts it into the playbook in the first place.

(1) I was actually told by a fan that in order to understand how plays work in the NFL, I needed to stop paying attention to Chris Brown and pay more attention to Charlie Casserly and Michael Lombardi, as those two had forgotten more about play calling than Chris Brown ever knew. I think this says more about the state of affairs in certain elements of football fandom than it does about the relative expertise of these three.

There were, of course, two substantial trades of Ricky Williams. The first netted the Washington Redskins the whole of the Saints 1999 draft, plus the Saint’s first and third round picks of 2000. Three years later, Ricky was traded to the Miami Dolphins for a pair of first rounders, plus change. The first was obviously not paid off. How did the Miami Dolphins fare in their trade, using our new risk metrics?

Risk Ratio no longer makes sense as a term when you’re talking about someone already drafted. The important term becomes the net risk term, 52 AV. That’s 1 more AV than the typical #1 draft choice, and that’s the amount of AV Ricky had to generate in order for this trade to break even. And note, these calculations are derived from weighted career AV, not raw AV. So any raw AV we apply to these numbers is a rough approximation (A typical career summing to, say, 95 AV, might end up around 76 or so WCAV).

That said, Ricky Williams had a great first season with the Dolphins, generating 19 AV in that season alone. His total ended up somewhere around 57 AV. I’d suggest the second trade approximately broke even.

End notes: I’ve seen a lot of discussion around  this set of data, discussing the quality of draft picks on a per pick basis, posted in of all places, a Cav’s board. If this board isn’t the original source of these graphs, please let me know. An excellent resource for high quality NFL draft trade information is here. And finally, a reader named Frank Dupont writes:

I wrote a book about decision making in the NFL.  It’s sort of a pop science book because it seeks to make what happens in the NFL understandable via some work that people like David Romer, Richard Thaler, and Daniel Kahneman have done.  But because all pop science books make their point through narrative, I spend a lot of time looking at why football coaches are so old, but other game players like chess players and poker players are so young (Tom Coughlin is 65 and yet the #1 ranked chess player in the world is 21, the world’s best poker players are 25-ish).

The link for the book is here, if this topic sounds interesting to you. I’ll only note in passing  that while physics prodigies are common, biologists seem to hit their stride in their 60s.  Some areas of knowledge do not easily lend themselves to the teen aged super genius.

In my last post, I introduced ways to determine the risk of NFL trades, using Pro Football Reference’s average AV per draft slot metric to assess the relative risk of the trade. I wish to continue the work done in the first post, by also taking a look  at the Eli Manning trades, and also the Robert Griffin III trades.

Eli's debt will be paid off in 2 more years of his current level of play.
RG3 will have to have a Sonny Jurgenson-like career, all in Washington, to pay off the value of the picks used to select him.

In the Eli trade, the New York Giants assumed a ‘AV debt’ comparable to that of Michael Vick, and a relative risk approximately the same as Michael Vick or Julio Jones. Looking, Eli has  rolled up perhaps 87 AV at this point, netting 12-15 AV a year. So, in two years, in purely AV terms, this trade would be even. Please note  that NFL championships appear to not net any AV, so if the value of the trade is measured in championships instead, I’d assume the New York Giants would consider themselves the outright winners of this trade.

The appropriate comparison with the Robert Griffin III trade is actually the Earl Campbell trade. The risk ratio is about the same, assuming the Washington Redskins go 8-8 and 9-7 the next two years, and end up with the #16 pick in 2013, and  the #20 pick in 2014. The lowest  value the AV Given column could total is 106, if the Washington Redskins ended up with the #31 pick twice. In any event, the Redskins are betting that RG3 will have a Sonny Jurgenson-esque career, and not just his Washington Redskin career, but his Eagles and Redskins career, in order to pay back the ‘AV debt’ that has been accrued by this trade.

The biggest fish in free agency was Peyton Manning, and now that fish has been landed, by the Denver Broncos. Peyton arriving now leads to speculation about Tebow leaving, and some Dallas media sorts have suggested that he might land with the Cowboys. My general feeling is possibly, if he ends up being cut, but since Dallas already has a serviceable backup in Kyle Orton (one of their first free agent pickups), I’m not sure I see the need.

Peyton Manning is now a Denver Bronco. Image from Wikimedia.

However, Tebow has what former Falcons QB David Archer calls “no off switch”. He doesn’t quit, even under conditions where most people give up.  This “never say never” attitude will land him a job somewhere. His will to win, will to work, and totally improbable ability to win games will land him somewhere. I’m sure of it.

It seems to me the team that could handle Tebow best would be the Carolina Panthers. With Cam Newton already using spread and zone concepts, it would be much less effort for that team to accommodate Tim. The question, of course, is whether they would want to.

Important in the NFC East scheme of  things was the Redskins trade for the #2 draft choice. They are almost certainly going to draft RG3 with that pick. For some years now, the Skins have lived with an unsettled QB situation, and now that is over. The question on their plate is how to accumulate talent with the draft deficit  they face.

The Eagles signed WR DeSean Jackson to a long term contract, and if I recall, have traded for DeMeco Ryans as well. Is this the end to their linebacker woes?  Now, the free agency linebacker market, as noted by such sources as Pro Football Focus, has been stolid. The general consensus is that the best linebackers had very high salary expectations. Clubs are just waiting for the talent that is there to be affordable.

Dallas, of course, faces the same issue on their offense as they did before free agency. If their biggest problem is Phil Costa at center, what have they done to fix that? They have picked up two free agent  guards, Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau, neither of which is regarded as a great player, but then again, they didn’t pay much either. The most important pickup was CB Brandon Carr, who replaces Terrance Newman. Also useful was QB Kyle Orton, and the LB Dan Connor (insert Terminator joke here).

About as soon as Dallas lost their last game of the season, a veritable consensus formed in fan circles about what Dallas should do: almost any fan mocker worth his salt had Dallas picking up Carl Nicks in free agency  and drafting  David DeCastro in the 14th. That this quinella might be hard to pull off didn’t faze the crowd, and arguing with any of these guys an amazing waste of time. I felt as  if I was looking at the daily barrage of “Patrick Peterson falls to the Boys” exuberance all over again.

As @FO_MTanier has noted on Twitter,  this interest in DeCastro spills over into the media as well.

It’s taken perhaps a month, but those fans that claim “insider” connections, and are respected in general for, perhaps, actually having those connections are saying now that the Boys are more looking for a center in free agency and will let the guards they have develop.  Costa is regarded as the weak link, not the collection of  talent at guard. Further, Steven Jones has said  that the defense needs work, and media/fan draft interest is beginning to shift to others, people such as Melvin Ingram, Luke Kuechly and Dontari Poe.

Is this man a future Redskin? Image from Ceasarscott of Wikimedia.

The recent combine workout, including a 4.38 40 times of Robert Griffin III has changed the fan status of RG3 in  the eyes of Redskins fans to something approaching blowtorch heat. It hasn’t been mellowed by Saint Louis openly shopping the second pick. The first pick is pretty much assumed to be Oliver Luck, but a fella with a cannon arm, clear intelligence and Vick-like speed leads people more and more to think that Mr. Griffin will be, at worst, a poor man’s Vick. And if he’s more judicious with his throws than Michael, learns the game more intimately, well then all the better. There is now the smell of potential top 10 QB around RG3.

Four teams are thought to be interested in Robert Griffin: Cleveland, Washington, Miami, and Seattle. How much of that  is real, how much of that  is assumed,  I can’t tell presently. Talk radio has Cleveland in the driver’s seat for a trade, as it has 2 number 1 picks, and the #4 pick as well. The Skins, by contrast, have only the #6 pick.

A #2 pick is worth 2600 points on the JJ chart. Cleveland’s #4 is worth 1800, and their #22 pick is worth 780, about even in value. That said, Peter King is making comparisons to the trade for Ryan Leaf, which netted 2 firsts, a second, and Eric Metcalf. Already, in Redskins fan circles, people are saying they wouldn’t pay 3 #1s for RG3, but if the Leaf trade sets the benchmark, I’d suggest that the equivalent of three #1 choices is the going rate for a potential top 10 QB.

The Redskin’s first round choice is worth 1600 points. How do they make up 1000 points without at least giving up another #1? Beyond  that, what sweetener could they give that would make their trade better than Cleveland’s two #1s?

Useful links:

NFP’s take on Dallas team needs.

NFP’s take on Redskin team needs.

NFP’s  take on Eagles team needs.

NFP’s take on Giants’ team needs.

I’ve had this book a while, but really haven’t had a chance to show it off.

Hail Victory” is an oral history of the Washington Redskins, written by Tom  Loverro, a writer for the Washington Times. It’s smaller than Pete Golenbock’s oral history of the Cowboys, by a few hundred pages, and as a consequence, coverage of certain periods can be spotty.

But to give an example of the kinds of insights this book does have, here is a quote from page 180 talking about the beginnings of the 1982 season.

Gibbs made it clear he was going to use youngsters over veterans who didn’t produce. He cut running back Terry Metcalf, whom  he had been close to from their days in Saint Louis. He made backup linebacker Rich Milot a starter, as well as rookie cornerback Vernon Dean. He cut receiver Carl Powell, a top draft choice, in favor of unheralded Alvin Garrett. He brought in veteran defensive end Tony McGee to replace Mat Mendenhal and shore up the pass rush.

I bought “Hail Victory” initially to help answer the question of George Allen’s five man line back in 1972, but it was no help there. It’s going to be a terrific help as I chase down information on my next element of interest, Bobby Beathard. And he’s interesting because Washington is the ultimate counter example of the group “A” teams I’ve been so fascinated by recently.

What’s a  group “A’ team?  It’s one of the four I’ve circled on this plot:

I’m thinking now there are clusters of teams with draft strategies. The four in group “A” are New England, Green Bay, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia. I spoke about their apparent habits here. The groups “B” and “C” are unstudied so far. Group B  teams are Denver and Indianapolis. Group C teams are Minnesota and the New York Giants. Left of group B are a cluster of 8 teams, that might as well be named group D for now. And down by its little lonesome, right at the 6.5 player/year line, is Washington.

My guess is that Bobby Beathard, the former general manager of the Washington Redskins, is the ultimate counterexample for the type “A” team.

Some things to note. Bobby was quarterback in college, and then a scout before he entered the NFL. He scouted for Kansas City in the later 1960s, was the director of player personnel for the Miami Dolphins during their peak, and in 1978, when Jack Kent Cooke was the majority owner of the Skins, he became their general manager.

There is an excellent interview of Bobby Beathard on the site Burgundy and Gold Obsession. There is a section from that interview that really stands out, and it’s the same kind of emphasis  that Bill Billick  has attributed to the Belichick era with New England. Bobby is responding to a question in this excerpt (emphasis is mine).

There should be a relationship where the personnel people and the coach are really together. We knew exactly what type of player each Redskin position coach wanted. We knew what kind (offensive line coach) Joe Bugel wanted, we knew what kind (linebackers coach) Larry Peccatiello, (defensive coordinator) Richie Petitbon wanted. I think on our first Super Bowl team we had 26 kids who weren’t drafted, we just signed them as free agents. It didn’t matter who we brought in. Those guys coached the dog out of them. When I was with (head coach) Kevin Gilbride in San Diego, he’d make up his mind before he even got to minicamp, `I don’t want that guy, I don’t want this guy, I don’t want that guy.’ And it became impossible to satisfy him with anybody. The exact opposite was Joe and his staff. Having a staff like that really helps the organization.

What’s very intriguing is this emphasis on the “back end” of the draft, or in this case, post-draft free agents. It’s also the notion that the coaches tell the scouts what kind of players to get, and the scouts go out and  get them exactly those kinds of players. The fit helped make the Redskins of the 1980s successful. And in another form, it’s the same back end emphasis you see in the type “A” teams.

With regard to the best possible athlete versus need question, Bobby said this:

Sometimes you get into that situation when you have the philosophy which we did, you have to take the best one on the board, regardless of position. We always hoped when we picked there would be two or three good players available at different positions, so you’d at least get to take closer to your need. But if there’s just one there, and he’s outstanding, and you have a great grade on the guy and the next athlete on the board doesn’t have that kind of grade, you have to go with the highest-graded player.

And that seems to be a common theme, BPA of course, but need when there are two or three attractive alternatives.

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