The Daily Briefing Tuesday, June 27, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

NFL.com’s list of the top 100 players in the NFL (as voted by the players, or at least some of them who filled out a long ballot) is fully announced with TOM BRADY finishing first.

 

Here is a breakdown of their colleges:

 

A year ago, Atlanta Falcons WR Julio Jones was the only player from Alabama voted to the Top 100 Players of 2016 list.

 

This year, however, he has plenty of company.

 

The Crimson Tide tied Georgia with five players each for the most Top 100 Players of 2017 from any school. The Top 100 list is determined by a vote of NFL players. Joining Jones this year were Giants S Landon Collins, Raiders WR Amari Cooper, Packers S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Patriots LB Dont’a Hightower.

 

Georgia’s five in the Top 100: Bengals WR A.J. Green, Lions QB Matthew Stafford, Bengals DT Geno Atkins, Chiefs LB Justin Houston and Panthers LB Thomas Davis. The Bulldogs had the most players in the Top 100 Players of 2016 with six.

 

The 100 players come from 55 total schools, including plenty of smaller programs such as Central Michigan (Antonio Brown), Central Missouri State (Delanie Walker), Buffalo (Khalil Mack), West Alabama (Tyreek Hill, Malcolm Butler), Coastal Carolina (Josh Norman), North Alabama (Janoris Jenkins), and Northern Iowa (David Johnson). Some top programs that were shut out of the Top 100 this year include UCLA, Louisville, BYU and North Carolina.

 

Here’s a look at the breakdown of players in the Top 100 Players of 2017 by school.

 

Alabama (5): Julio Jones (No. 3), Landon Collins (No. 28), Amari Cooper (No. 53), Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (No. 77), Dont’a Hightower (No. 94)

 

Georgia (5): A.J. Green (No. 17), Matthew Stafford (No. 31), Geno Atkins (No. 68), Justin Houston (No. 76), Thomas Davis (No. 89)

 

Oklahoma (4): DeMarco Murray (No. 33), Trent Williams (No. 47), Gerald McCoy (No. 52), Adrian Peterson (No. 98)

 

Stanford (4): Richard Sherman (No. 21), Andrew Luck (No. 51), Doug Baldwin (No. 88), David DeCastro (No. 97)

 

USC (4): Tyron Smith (No. 18), Clay Matthews (No. 82), Jurrell Casey (No. 86), Everson Griffen (No. 92)

 

Wisconsin (4): Russell Wilson (No. 24), Joe Thomas (No. 25), J.J. Watt (No. 35), Travis Frederick (No. 87)

 

Florida State (3): Devonta Freeman (No. 41), Jameis Winston (No. 57), Xavier Rhodes (No. 66)

LSU (3): Odell Beckham Jr. (No. 8), Patrick Peterson (No. 19), Jarvis Landry (No. 42)

Michigan (3): Tom Brady (No. 1), Taylor Lewan (No. 72), Brandon Graham (No. 93)

Ohio State (3): Ezekiel Elliott (No. 7), Malcolm Jenkins (No. 90), Joey Bosa (No. 100)

Pittsburgh (3): Aaron Donald (No. 15), LeSean McCoy (No. 27), Larry Fitzgerald (No. 45)

Texas A&M (3): Von Miller (No. 2), Mike Evans (No. 29), Michael Bennett (No. 46)

 

Boston College (2): Matt Ryan (No. 10), Luke Kuechly (No. 20)

Cal (2): Aaron Rodgers (No. 6), Lorenzo Alexander (No. 91)

Iowa (2): Marshal Yanda (No. 43), Mike Daniels (No. 84)

Kansas (2): Aqib Talib (No. 37), Chris Harris (No. 63)

Miami (2): Greg Olsen (No. 67), Calais Campbell (No. 83)

Michigan State (2): Le’Veon Bell (No. 9), Kirk Cousins (No. 70)

Mississippi State (2): Dak Prescott (No. 14), Fletcher Cox (No. 38)

Notre Dame (2): Zack Martin (No. 58), Harrison Smith (No. 74)

Oregon (2): Marcus Mariota (No. 50), LeGarrette Blount (No. 80)

Penn State (2): Cameron Wake (No. 62), Sean Lee (No. 79)

Purdue (2): Drew Brees (No. 16), Cliff Avril (No. 56)

Texas (2): Earl Thomas (No. 30), Brian Orakpo (No. 78)

West Alabama (2): Tyreek Hill (No. 36), Malcolm Butler (No. 99)

 

One player each: Arizona, Auburn, Boise State, Buffalo, Central Michigan, Central Missouri State, Cincinnati, Clemson, Coastal Carolina, Florida, Florida International, Fresno State, Iowa State, Kansas State, Kent State, Miami (Ohio), Nebraska, North Alabama, North Carolina State, Northern Iowa, Oklahoma State, Penn, South Carolina, Syracuse, Tennessee, Utah, Utah State, Vanderbilt, Virginia Tech, Washington.

 

Breaking it down by conference:

 

SEC           23

Big Ten      17

ACC           14 (16 with Notre Dame)

Pac-12       13

Other          22

 

The two top 10 players who did not go to schools with another top 100 player are Khalil Mack of Buffalo and Antonio Brown of Central Michigan – both in the MAC.  So the MAC has as many in the top 10 as the Big Ten.  And the Big 12 has none.

 

In fact, the Big 12’s highest-ranked player is Earl Thomas at #30.

 

 

 

NFC NORTH

 

MINNESOTA

The judge in Scottsdale doesn’t seem to buy WR MICHAEL FLOYD’s kombucha tea defense, but his revised punishment isn’t too draconian.

 

A judge sentenced Vikings wide receiver Michael Floyd to a day in jail and ordered him to serve the final five days of his previously issued house arrest for violating the terms of his DUI conviction, a source informed of the situation told NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo.

 

Scottsdale (Arizona) City Court Judge Statia Hendrix’s decision Monday comes after Floyd tested positive for alcohol while under house arrest earlier this month, according to NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport. Floyd was administered five tests on the 90th day of his 96-day court-mandated home confinement sentence, and each of the tests were positive, sources directly familiar with the situation told Rapoport.

 

Floyd told Scottsdale officials the positive test results stemmed from his consumption of Kombucha tea, which he didn’t realize contained alcohol, sources told Rapoport.

 

Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said the team will continue to stand behind Floyd moving forward.

 

“When we signed Michael Floyd, we hoped he would show signs of improvement and we continue to expect that he shows progress and a professional attitude,” Spielman said in a statement released by the Vikings. “We believe Michael will be a productive member of the Vikings organization, both on and off the field. Pursuant to the ruling of the Arizona court earlier today, Michael will serve the remainder of his sentence and we expect him to be with the team at the start of training camp in Mankato when the players report on July 26.”

 

Floyd pleaded guilty to extreme DUI in February after Scottsdale police found him unconscious behind the wheel of his SUV in December. The 27-year-old served the first 24 days of his 120-day jail sentence at a county facility before spending the final 96 days in home confinement, according to court records. In addition to jail time, he was ordered not to drink alcohol, undergo alcohol counseling, perform 30 hours of community service and pay a fine of $5,115.99.

 

Mike Florio is among those reporting the decision as a victory because it didn’t really start Floyd’s punishment clock running again:

 

Yes, Vikings receiver Michael Floyd is going back to jail. No, he’d prefer not to. Yes, the fact that his sentence has been limited to only one day is being viewed by him and his representatives as a major victory.

 

One source with knowledge of the situation called it a “huge win,” pointing out that the presiding judge had broad discretion. The judge could have, for example, forced Floyd to spend in jail the 96 days he was given the opportunity to serve on house arrest. Likewise, the judge could have imposed a fresh sentence of house arrest, with an order requiring Floyd to serve the term in Arizona.

 

As it stands, one day in jail and five days of house arrest represent a “can I start serving it right now?”-type of an outcome, allowing Floyd to quickly pay his debt to Arizona and then to focus on his efforts to make the team in Minnesota, and to have a major impact on the field in 2017. This outcome allows him to miss not a single day of training camp and the preseason.

 

Also, the decision possibly will have no impact on his looming suspension from the league for the extreme DUI guilty plea. He faces a baseline suspension of two games, and it can be increased based on aggravating factors. The positive alcohol test becomes less of a problem if, from the judge’s perspective, the glitch necessitated only one day in jail.

– – –

After having a horrible rushing attack the last few years with ADRIAN PETERSON largely out and JARRICK McKINNON and MATT ASIATA less than stellar, the Vikings have reloaded in 2017.  Josh Alper at ProFootballTalk.com on the Murray-Cook Effect:

 

The Vikings signed running back Latavius Murray as a free agent shortly after they released Adrian Peterson, but Murray’s time as the clear frontrunner to replace Peterson as the No. 1 back in Minnesota this season didn’t last long.

 

Some could point to Murray’s ankle surgery as a reason, but the arrival of rookie Dalvin Cook in the second round of the draft would have changed the equation even if Murray was 100 percent this offseason. The Vikings have enjoyed what they’ve seen from Cook thus far and Murray concedes that Cook has a leg up thanks to his time on the field this spring, but the veteran said on NFL Network Tuesday that he’s not conceding anything else.

 

“You’re looking at it from his aspect, ‘This older vet is coming off this injury, it’s time for him to step aside. I want this, and I should be the guy,’” Murray said. “I’m looking at it from my perspective, like, look, this is my time, this is my new opportunity and this is what I want. When it comes Game 1, I need to be back there in the “I” lining up.”

 

Murray added that competing with Cook won’t stop him from offering the rookie help should he need it this summer, but made it clear that he expects his work in camp and the preseason to earn him a place in the lineup for the first snap of the regular season.

 

The name Murray Cook seemed familiar to the DB and it turns out there are two such individuals of some note.

 

One was in baseball, a Canadian-born front office exec.  This from BR Bullpen:

 

Murray Cook was the general manager of the New York Yankees in 1983 and 1984 and of the Montreal Expos from 1984 to 1987 before leaving under a cloud of scandal. He was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014.

 

He was the second GM from Canada in baseball history and joins Matt Stairs as the most prominent baseball folk to hail from the province of New Brunswick.  And what of that scandal that cost him his dream job in Montreal?

 

Over the next few weeks, rumors began circulating that the firing was not for baseball reasons. In fact, Murray Cook had been dismissed for having an affair with Pamela Brochu, wife of Expos President and CEO Claude Brochu. Cook broke up with his wife of many years to marry his former boss’s wife, but after that it became difficult for him to find other senior positions in baseball.

 

And here is the other Murray Cook with a Wikipedia entry:

 

Murray James Cook, AM (born 30 June 1960) is an Australian vocalist, songwriter, musician, guitarist and actor. He is one of the founding members of the children’s band The Wiggles. Cook was also a regular guest on the Australian TV show Spicks and Specks, with his good friend, host Adam Hills.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

NEW ORLEANS

A heart condition has brought DT NICK FAIRLEY’s season (and perhaps career) to an end.  Josh Katzenstein in the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

 

After consulting with several doctors about Nick Fairley’s heart issue, the New Orleans Saints placed the veteran defensive tackle on the non-football injury list Monday.

 

Fairley saw at least three heart specialists after a team doctor noticed an irregularity with his heart at some point after the physical he took to sign his new contract in March.

 

On NFI, the 29-year-old Fairley will miss the entire 2017 football season, and it’s likely he won’t play football again.

 

Fairley, who missed organized team activities and minicamp this spring, visited one specialist in Boston who told him he shouldn’t play football any more. He saw another in Houston who said he could continue playing without an problems, according to a source with knowledge of the visit.

 

Fairley then saw a third specialist earlier this month. After consulting with these doctors and others the past few weeks, the Saints informed Fairley, through his agent, of their decision to place him on NFI on Monday, according to a source.

 

In discussing Fairley’s condition during OTAs, coach Sean Payton said the team was hopeful yet guarded about his future.

 

Fairley last year signed a one-year deal with the Saints and had the best season-long performance of his career, posting 43 tackles, nine for loss, 6.5 sacks and 22 quarterback hits.

 

Fairley’s play helped him earn a four-year, $28 million extension in March. The deal offered $9 million guaranteed, including an $8 million signing bonus.

 

The Saints have started looking at ways to recoup part of the money paid to Fairley because he won’t be playing this year, according to a source, but it’s premature to speculate about what might happen.

 

NFL teams first discovered that Fairley had a heart issue — Payton called it an enlarged heart — at the combine before the 2011 draft. The Detroit Lions still drafted him in the first round, and he spent four years with them. He then played for the Rams for one season before joining the Saints in 2016.

 

It’s unclear if Fairley’s enlarged heart has worsened or a different ailment is causing the issue now.

 

With Fairley out, the Saints will lean on Sheldon Rankins, David Onyemata and Tyeler Davison as their top interior defenders. Rankins and Davison were already slotted for key roles, but Onyemata should see the biggest increase in playing time.

 

 

TAMPA BAY

A reason why we call Tampa Bay’s ownership the Glaciers – 20 years into their reign they are getting around to building an indoor practice facility in the Lightning Capital of the World.  Rick Stroud in the Tampa Bay Times:

 

Stormy weather often chased the Bucs indoors during their Super Bowl season in 2002. And by indoors, we mean in the upper level of a parking garage in an office building on the corner of Westshore Boulevard and Spruce Street. Some employees in the building were asked to move their vehicles. The ceiling was almost too low to pass, much less punt or kick.

 

Over the years, the Bucs have made countless bus trips to Tropicana Field and had a practice that ended around midnight at the University of South Florida. Sometimes it was an attempt to beat the heat. Other times, it was to avoid inclement weather.

 

Last year, the Bucs erected an oversized, no-wall tent behind their practice fields, using it to get their team out of the sun for a half hour each day during walk-throughs.

 

Well, here it is. Raise the roof. Finally. An indoor practice facility that will be hard to top.

 

The Glazer family, which owns the Bucs, is spending $20 million to build a state-of-the-art, 100,000-square foot indoor practice facility that will have a bleacher-seating capacity of 3,500.

 

The steel frame is nearly erected and is awaiting installation of prefabricated insulated wall panels. The west and north elevation will have 30-foot wall panels of glass. Completion of the project by EWI Construction is expected by the start of the regular season Sept. 10.

 

Bucs owners believe the indoor facility will give their team a competitive advantage.

 

“We want to give our team the best opportunity, with all of the resources possible, to put the best team on the field and it comes from the top, from the Glazer family,” said Bucs Chief Operating Officer Brian Ford. “It is truly going to be a state-of-the-art facility and is yet another example of the commitment on and off the field that the Glazer family has to the community and to the franchise.”

 

The indoor practice facility is just the latest example of the Glazers’ investment in the Bucs. The team will have spent an additional $125 million when all the renovations are completed at Raymond James Stadium.

 

“It’s first class all the way,” said Casey Ellison, EWI Construction’s CEO. “We’ve gone through multiple designs and every time you turn around the Glazer family is making a little tweak here and there to make it even better.”

 

Among the bells and whistles for the new field, which is being built in the southwest corner of One Buc Place:

 

• The latest FieldTurf surface, with their Revolution 360 fiber that has the heaviest infill system to prevent injuries. The Bucs play at least two NFC South games each season on an artificial surface.

 

• Remote cameras mounted throughout the indoor facility to film practice. The eye in the sky is one of the biggest tools for NFL teams. Normally, camera operators have to ride a strategically-placed cherry picker to videotape practice. All filming will be done from pre-mounted cameras operated inside One Buc.

 

• 4K high-definition video monitors will be placed throughout the indoor facility to provide full coverage for the team’s use and fan viewing.

 

• A 20,000-square foot outdoor plaza on the east side of the indoor practice facility with a stacked stone and railing system that buttresses up to a retention pond.

 

The distance from ceiling to floor inside the facility is 96 feet. “I don’t think there’s a punter in the NFL that can hit it up there,” Ellison said.

 

How will a new indoor practice facility translate into wins? There are several ways, but primarily the indoor facility will have two main functions:

 

There will be no more trips to St. Petersburg and the Trop once the Bucs’ new indoor practice facility is completed.

 

First, it enables the Bucs to keep players in better physical condition. Dehydration is always a problem in football. But when temperatures reach the mid 80s — even in December in Tampa Bay — there is no relief.

 

Bucs trainer Bobby Slater and nutritionist Kevin Luhrs carefully monitor the hydration level of each player with daily urine tests before and after practice. But there is no substitute for simply being able to allow players the ability to recover by practicing in a climate controlled environment.

 

An offensive or defensive lineman can lose 10 to 20 pounds of water weight during an outdoor practice. Dehydration can put players at greater risk for soft tissue injuries. Starting this season, all walk through and installation periods will be held indoors. That alone provides players with about three hours per week of less exposure to the elements.

 

“In my coaching career, I go from Arizona State to Jacksonville, to Atlanta, to Tampa. And one thing that’s become very apparent, I’ve heard other coaches who coach in the south and the Southeast talk about it, is over the course of a season, the heat does take a toll on your players,” coach Dirk Koetter said.

 

“It takes the elements out. Also, it can help you manage the heat. It gives you a sterile environment when you bring guys in to work out. It gives you a turf field. It’s something that I’ve pushed for. I thank the Glazer family for making it happen.”

 

Secondly, weather no longer will disrupt the daily schedule, which includes film study, meetings and meals.

 

“It will be a flagship, one all others are modeled after,” Ford said. “It will be fan friendly and utilized for next year’s training camp and special events. Most importantly, it will enhance the players’ and coaches’ ability to perform deep into the season.”

 

AFC WEST

 

KANSAS CITY

More on the possible candidacy of Louis Riddick for the open GM position with the Chiefs.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com with informed speculation:

 

A strange situation emerged on Sunday morning, when the league-owned media conglomerate (i.e., partially owned by the Chiefs) reported that the Chiefs had reached out to ESPN analyst and former NFL defensive back Louis Riddick about interviewing for the unanticipated G.M. vacancy in Kanas City. Riddick, who presumably would be interested in interviewing for the job given his interest in the 49ers G.M. position earlier this year, took to Twitter to declare that he hasn’t been contacted by the Chiefs.

 

So what’s going on? One theory, as offered earlier today on the non-vacation vacation edition of the PFT Live podcast (and in the video attached to this post) is that Riddick simply hadn’t been contacted yet, but that he will be. In that case, his more prudent move arguably would have been: (1) to appreciate having his name in circulation for another G.M. job; and (2) to wait for what may have been inevitable.

 

As one media source explains it to PFT, the truth is that, technically, the Chiefs hadn’t directly contacted Riddick, but that the team had contacted his representation. Which allowed Riddick to technically claim that he hadn’t been contacted by the Chiefs.

 

So why did Riddick, who definitely is a candidate for the job, shout down the report from Ian Rapoport of NFL Media on social media? It likely has something to do with what he said, or more accurately didn’t say, about the situation to ESPN. Another factor quite likely may be the fact that ESPN’s NFL information machinery ended up being scooped by a competitor — a dynamic that one specific reporter at ESPN is reputed to be very sensitive about, even if said reporter pretends publicly to not be.

 

For now, Riddick is continuing to pretend to not be a candidate for the Chiefs job, even though he is. It likely is a matter of time for him to interview, unless he withdraws his name or the team decides based on the clunky public denial to move on to another candidate.

 

AFC EAST

 

MIAMI

It’s all bubble gum and roses with Adam Gase and QB RYAN TANNEHILL heading into 2017.  Charean Williams at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Adam Gase wouldn’t make a prediction on Ryan Tannehill’s future a year ago after being hired by Miami. But after the Dolphins quarterback established career highs in completion percentage, touchdown percentage and passer rating in going 8-5, Gase gushes about Tannehill.

 

“We were put in a lot of tough positions last year,” Gase said, via Clark Judge of the Talk of Fame Network. “And I felt like — especially in our fourth-quarter games, which we had quite a few of them, he did a great job of leading our team [and] finding ways to win.

 

“Sometimes they weren’t pretty as far as how we had to win them, but I love the fact that he’s the same guy from start to finish. You see him get excited every once and awhile, but it’s probably one of those plays where he makes a good throw, and he gets crushed. But he’s the same guy all the time. And when you can find a guy like that there’s a lot there for us to just keep working on and find ways to get better.”

 

Gase wants Tannehill to become more aggressive this season, letting it rip, but Gase likes how far the former Texas A&M star has come in the past year.

 

“I think he’s really made a lot of strides from when I got here,” Gase said. “A lot of it has been his own development through experience.”

 

Tannehill, 29-35 in his first four seasons, has quieted critics for at least the moment.

 

 

NEW ENGLAND

A tweet from ProFootballTalk:

 

@ProFootballTalk 

Just got a “breaking news” alert from the NFL that Tom Brady is No. 1 in the Top 100 players of 2017. That is neither breaking nor news.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

POTPURRI

Clay Travis of OutkickTheCoverage.com, who is a Vanderbilt Law School grad, notes that a new travel ban promulgated not by Donald Trump, but the State of California could hinder college scheduling:

 

The state of California recently banned travel using taxpayer money to eight states — Alabama, Texas, South Dakota, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Mississippi and Kansas — because the state of California believes each state has passed laws that discriminate against LGBTQ people.

 

“Our country has made great strides in dismantling prejudicial laws that have deprived too many of our fellow Americans of their precious rights,” Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement released by the California Department of Justice. “Sadly, that is not the case in all parts of our nation, even in the 21st century. I am announcing today that I am adding four states to the list of states where California-funded or sponsored travel will be restricted on account of the discriminatory nature of laws enacted by those states.”

 

The Attorney General of California has the power to make these decisions based upon a recent law which went into effect in January of this year. The law, according to the California Department of Justice “prohibits state-funded and state-sponsored travel to states with laws that authorize or require discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression or against same-sex couples or their families…This restriction applies to state agencies, departments, boards, authorities, and commissions, including an agency, department, board, authority, or commission of the University of California, the Board of Regents of the University of California, and the California State University.”

 

I first became aware of this new law because of its impact on college sports. This year in college football UCLA plays at Memphis, California plays at UNC, and Fresno State plays at Alabama. If all three of these contracts hadn’t been signed before this bill went into effect in 2017, these games wouldn’t be allowed to take place under state law. (And it’s not just football. This would apply for all sports contests between state of California teams that take place in these eight banned states.)

 

Under this law UCLA would not be able to travel to Texas A&M to play a football game and UCLA wouldn’t be able to travel to Kentucky for a basketball game. Even crazier, UCLA and Cal would not be able to play in the national title semifinal for football in Texas in 2018 or many of the NCAA tourney locations. In fact, neither UCLA, Cal nor any other state of California team would be able to play in the first or second round of the NCAA tournament if seeded for games in Nashville, TN, Wichita, KS, Dallas, TX, or Charlotte, NC. That’s half of the NCAA tournament sites in 2018.

 

What’s more, the Final Four is in San Antonio, Texas in 2018 so if any California school advanced to the Final Four they would technically be unable to play there based upon this state travel ban.

 

I’m just focusing on football and basketball here, but every other sport would be equally impacted, potentially much more so since the smaller the school the more state funding supports their travel costs.

 

Put plainly, this is insanity.

 

And here’s a fascinating question for you — can state of California schools recruit athletes in these eight states right now? It sounds like that’s unallowed under state law. So good luck to UCLA, Cal and any other state of California school when it comes to recruiting athletes in Tennessee, Alabama, Texas, North Carolina, Kentucky, Mississippi, Kansas or South Dakota.

 

At least the state of Tennessee’s legislature has responded in a humorous fashion to the California ban.

 

The problem here is larger than sports and impacts our own history as a federalist nation. Put simply, each state is given the right to make its own laws within its own borders. So long as those laws don’t infringe upon federal protections, each state is free to act as a laboratory, testing out laws and regulations to see whether they make sense, potentially, on a larger state or national level. This is the very essence of federalism, the idea that states retain the rights to govern their citizen as they see fit.

 

Our history of federalism means that every state must respect the laws of its fellow states. Think, for instance, of a criminal arrested in California for a crime committed in Tennessee. That criminal may not have violated the law in California so he is extradited to Tennessee to face punishment there. This happens all over the country, thousands of times a day, states work together to ensure that our country is safer.

 

This California law is antithetical to that cooperative spirit.

 

Moreover, the California law may not even be constitutional. The moment that a state hinders the free flow of interstate commerce based upon disagreement with another state’s laws then substantial constitutional issues arise. Leaving aside the stupidity of the legislation, does California even have the right to pass and implement this law?

 

After all, this could, in theory, lead to states waging political war against each other over disagreements with local legislation. It’s likely that at least some of these eight states on California’s travel ban will at some point pass their own laws disallowing state-funded travel to California and we will embark on another round of political upheaval, yet more divisive rhetoric, and to what end? So that people from different parts of the country have even less cross-pollination of ideas than exists now? So that blue state and red state politicians can take turns demogoging one another to score political points at the expense of our national character?

 

Where does this end — with states refusing to cooperate on prisoner arrest and release? With local products being refused entry to state borders without substantial interstate taxes being paid? With the cancellation of sporting events between teams in Texas and California? California’s law, regardless of your political persuasion, is a really bad idea that leads to outrageous results.

 

Especially because, in an amazing show of hypocrisy, California doesn’t restrict the expenditure of state dollars on international travel to countries with heinous records of human rights abuse. You want to travel on state tax dollars to China or Saudi Arabia or Nigeria, all three countries which restrict gay rights infinitely more than any state in our country, have at it, but don’t you dare travel to North Carolina or Texas.

 

This is a particularly galling move in the arena of sports because a football game may well have had more to do with integrating Southern sports than any bill or law ever passed by any state. You’ll recall that back in 1970 Alabama was still playing an all white football team under Bear Bryant. Then USC came to town with an all-black backfield, then a rarity, and Sam Cunningham ran for 135 yards and two touchdowns in a 42-21 win in Birmingham. Shortly thereafter Alabama began to give scholarships to black football players.

 

A former Bear Bryant assistant later said, “Sam Cunningham did more to integrate Alabama in 60 minutes than Martin Luther King did in 20 years.”

 

More from Travis here

 

The DB wonders if California will move to prohibit state-funded assistance to the Cowboys when they host their training camp in Oxnard.

– – –

Also in the culture wars, ESPN is mad at FOX for giving voice to claims that the worldwide leader is biased towards the left.

 

One of ESPN’s top executives accused Fox Sports of advocating what he called a false notion that the network operates with a liberal bias.

 

“The whole narrative is a false one that was seeded and perpetuated primarily by a direct business competitor,” said Burke Magnus, ESPN’s executive vice president of programming and scheduling. “We have no political agenda whatsoever.”

 

Fox Sports has given voice to many of the accusations of ESPN’s liberal bias. For example, Fox Sports 1’s afternoon studio show co-host, Jason Whitlock, wrote a May 7 editorial for The Wall Street Journal in which he accused ESPN of adhering to a “strict obedience to progressive political correctness.”

 

Whitlock is a former ESPN employee who spent two stints with the Bristol-based company before leaving for Fox. Fox Sports and The Wall Street Journal share a corporate parent in News Corp.

 

Another Fox Sports personality who continually questions ESPN’s business model has also taken on the ESPN-as-liberal topic several times. In an April post on his Outkick The Coverage blog, Fox Sports personality Clay Travis wrote, “ESPN made the mistake of trying to make liberal social media losers happy and as a result lost millions of viewers.”

 

These types of commentaries have become a popular topic in traditionally conservative media, where political websites like Breitbart News have started covering ESPN heavily.

 

When ESPN replaced one NBA “Countdown” host (conservative leaning Sage Steele) with another (liberal leaning Michelle Beadle), Breitbart’s headline read, “Pro-American, Non-PC ESPN Host Sage Steele Removed From NBA Countdown Show In Favor Of Michelle Beadle.”

 

The blowback around Steele became so intense that ESPN President John Skipper found himself in the unusual role of having to publicly defend one of his on-air hosts, saying that Steele “definitely has a bright and long-term future at ESPN and my complete support.”

 

Sure enough, Steele signed a new deal in May to host “SportsCenter: AM” from 7-10 a.m. ET.

 

“It would be foolish in the business that we’re in to take sides on the political arena,” Magnus said. “Our business competitor perpetuates this narrative because in this highly partisan time, it suits them to highlight this distinction, even when it doesn’t exist.”

 

While some see a liberal point of view in the “SportsCenter” commentary or on the social media feeds of on-air personalities, others cite larger examples. Many of the liberal bias complaints go back to 2015 when ESPN gave transgender woman Caitlyn Jenner the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPYs. The 7.7 million viewers who tuned in to ABC that year still is the highest viewer number in that show’s history, but the choice still rankles some conservative voices today.

 

A few months later, in April 2016, ESPN fired Curt Schilling after the conservative on-air analyst posted a social media meme that his ESPN bosses found to be offensive.

 

ESPN executives say the people who focus on a liberal bias ignore things like the recent rehiring of Hank Williams Jr. to sing the “Monday Night Football” opening or the 2013 firing of the liberal leaning Rob Parker who infamously asked on-air whether NFL quarterback Robert Griffin III is a “cornball brother.”

 

But this also comes amid reports and speculation that Disney Chairman and CEO Bob Iger is considering a run for president in 2020.

 

While ESPN executives dismiss the notion that the company is too liberal, sources said ESPN President John Skipper, himself a liberal-leaning executive, has made a point to meet with employees to let them know that nobody at ESPN will be punished for holding a political viewpoint.

 

ESPN has political guidelines that have been developed and shared with on-air talent. The challenge has been trying to figure out when sports stops and politics starts. Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the national anthem last NFL season illustrated that problem, as ESPN executives note it became both a sports story and a political story that was debated on the network’s studio shows.

 

You won’t be reading about this at FoxSports.com which is changing its model away from the written word.  This at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

FOX Sports ditches online written content for video (welcome, former FOX Sports customers)

 

Posted by Mike Florio

 

The times are a-changing for online written content. But this one is driven more by money grabs than shifting audience habits.

 

Yes, plenty of younger folks are consuming online content via video. But plenty of folks from all demographics are still looking to get information about sports via the written word.

 

Here’s the problem: Online videos currently carry much more lucrative advertising dollars (and, in turn, higher commissions) than online articles. Which means that many of the people who are hired to sell advertisements are focusing more on selling video ads than on selling digital ads. Which means that websites are having a harder time selling digital ads, because they are selling more video ads. Which means that websites are focusing on generating video content that will carry the video ads their advertising employees are selling.

 

Which means that websites are ditching written content that has far fewer advertising dollars attached to it.

 

The latest, and most significant, example of this phenomenon comes from FOX, which is dumping its entire online writing and editing crew and replacing them with employees who will be enhancing the video operation. Via Bloomberg, by way of SportsBusiness Daily, FOX Sports National Networks President Jamie Horowitz justified the move by explaining that “[c]reating compelling sports video content is what we do best at FOX Sports,” and that FOX Sports “will be shifting our resources and business model away from written content and instead focus on our fans’ growing appetite for premium video across all platforms.”

 

It’s entirely possible that this claim is true, and that it’s just not cover for the decision to not give all customers what they want but to let the FOX Sports advertising staff chase the biggest commissions in order to serve only those who want video. But if Horowitz’s contention is accurate, that’s on FOX Sports for not hiring people who can generate written content that will whet the appetite of visitors to FOXSports.com.

 

Either way, welcome to PFT and NBCSports.com, those current-or-soon-to-be-former FOXSports.com customers who can’t or won’t get their information about sports via video, and who have little interest in the #EmbraceControversy style for the purposes of capturing inauthentic moments that will make waves on social media. Here, as you may have noticed, we’re providing content both in writing and through video — but not through video that features yelling and screaming and preening and posturing; instead, we’re generating video that supplements our written content and presents it in an entertaining and engaging way.

 

If/when FOX decides that it once again can make money from online written content or that it can’t fully and effectively promote video without tying the content to digital articles or that it cares about all of its audience and not just some of it, we hope you’ll remember that we didn’t bail on the format you prefer simply because the current business cycle entails greater financial rewards for generating video.

 

 

THE BEST DEFENSES EVER

Mike Tanier of Bleacher Report ranks the 25 best defenses of all-time.  We have them below with significantly edited commentary.  The whole thing is here

 

Patriots fan trigger warning: No modern Patriots team made this countdown.

 

It’s not that Bill Belichick’s defenses haven’t been great in the last 15 years. Heck, they would dominate the second tier of a top-50 countdown. It’s just that the modern Patriots lack something most of the historic defenses on this list had to cope with: lousy quarterbacking.

 

Just as our countdown of All-Time Great Offenses featured teams overcompensating for suspect defenses, this list is full of teams that needed to record shutouts and score on pick-sixes to win because their too-old, too-young, too-injured or just too-terrible quarterbacks didn’t win the game for them.

 

So really, it’s Tom Brady’s fault that the Patriots aren’t on this list. Send him your angry emails.

 

These defenses are partially ranked according to stats, from points and yards allowed to sacks, turnovers and the advanced stuff tracked by Football Outsiders’ all-time DVOA list. Everything is adjusted for era, of course, so this is not just a countdown of late ’60s and mid-’70s defenses. Playoff dominance also counts, as does impact: Teams that transformed football strategy or fielded a bunch of Hall of Famers take precedence over teams that put up great numbers for a year or two.

 

As with all of these countdowns, there’s a “shadow effect” in place. The Steel Curtain Steelers are represented by one year that illustrates their other great years. That way, we can tell some other stories. Of course, those Steelers get bonus points for their dynastic dominance.

 

Finally, teams from before the dawn of the AFL-NFL era (1960) were omitted from this countdown, though they were included in some others. The Canton Bulldogs allowed 15 points in 12 games in 1922. But no one remembers, and only a handful of us really care.

 

Without further ado, let’s meet some all-time great defenses…as well as some of the all-time strange and unfortunate quarterback situations that made many of them necessary.

 

25. New York Jets, 2009

The Jets played in back-to-back AFC championships less than a decade ago, beating Carson Palmer’s Bengals and Philip Rivers’ Chargers in 2009 and Peyton Manning’s Colts and Tom Brady’s Patriots in 2010 playoff games. They did all of this with Mark Sanchez at quarterback.

 

24. New Orleans Saints, 1992

The Saints went 20 years without a winning team before the Dome Patrol arrived. Then, almost overnight, they became contenders.

 

The collapse of the USFL in 1986 made it happen. Jim Mora, coach of the back-to-back USFL champion Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars, came to New Orleans with his secret weapon, pint-sized inside linebacker Sam Mills. Vaughan Johnson also arrived from the NFL’s ill-fated challenger. The Saints added Pat Swilling in the draft. Rickey Jackson was already the defense’s only real star. The Saints reached the playoffs for the first time in franchise history in 1987, then proved it was no fluke with a string of winning seasons.

 

The Dome Patrol peaked in 1992, allowing just 12.6 points per game.

 

23. Chicago Bears, 1963

The fellow on the left in the photo above is Bill George. On the right is Doug Atkins.

 

22. Tennessee Titans, 2000

Ladies and gentlemen, Jeff Fisher made one of our all-time great countdowns!

 

And folks, did he ever earn it. The 2000 Titans defense allowed just two offensive touchdowns in the final six weeks of the year. Jevon Kearse recorded 11.5 of the team’s 55 sacks. Samari Rolle added seven interceptions. Strong safety Blaine Bishop was an enforcer against the run and a dangerous pass-rusher in the box.

 

Fisher and Gregg Williams took Buddy Ryan’s “46” defense, tightened up the loose screws and adapted it to a league in which spread formations and quick passing were making blitz-the-house tactics obsolete.

 

21. Tie: The Fightin’ 77s.

NFL teams officially gave up trying to score in 1977. Defenses had been slowly gaining control of the league for years, but in 1977 they just took over. Scoring dipped to 17.2 points per team per game; passing to 141.9 yards per game, with 40 percent more interceptions than touchdowns.

 

So many great defenses stormed across the league in 1977 that listing them all would eat up half of this countdown. So let’s honor them all at once so we can move on and tell some other stories:

 

The Steel Curtain Steelers The Fearsome Foursome Rams.The Orange Crush Broncos.The Grits Blitz Falcons. The Flex Defense Cowboys. Darn, we are almost out of room and did not get to the Sack Pack Colts, the Luv Ya Blue Oilers or any of the other teams that posted eye-popping numbers in 1977. Long story short: The NFL rewrote the rulebook to give offenses a fighting chance in 1978. Within a few years, catchy nicknames for defenses became much rarer.

 

20. San Francisco 49ers, 1984

Hey look: The 1984 49ers have made another NFL Nostalgia countdown! We’ve already talked about the brilliance of Bill Walsh and Joe Montana ad nauseum in other segments. Now it’s time to heap praise on George Seifert and one of the best secondaries in NFL history.

 

Ronnie Lott, Eric Wright, Dwight Hicks and Carlton Williamson all made the Pro Bowl in 1984.

 

19. Oakland Raiders, 1967

The Raiders recorded 67 sacks and 30 interceptions in 14 games in 1967. In other words, they recorded four or five sacks and two or three interceptions on any given Sunday. The average opposing quarterback had a disastrous week every time he faced the Raiders.

 

You probably know that AFL passing statistics can get a little kooky, and they can take interception and sack totals with them. Well, this is the late-era AFL, when the two leagues shared a common draft and things had settled down somewhat. The Raiders weren’t facing a bunch of CFL has-beens every week. They faced quarterbacks like Len Dawson, Bob Griese, John Hadl and Joe Namath. Those great quarterbacks combined for 18 interceptions in seven games against the Raiders.

 

18. Denver Broncos, 2015

No great defense on this countdown arrived more suddenly or unexpectedly than the 2015 Broncos.

– – –

This group left its most lasting mark in the Super Bowl, when it pulled the rug out from under the Panthers, who stormed through the regular season looking like a Team of Destiny.

 

17. Baltimore Colts, 1971

The Colts reached Super Bowl III with an all-time great team in 1968, only to lose the game to an era-defining upstart: Joe Namath’s groovy Jets.  Two years later, the 1970 Colts defense, with quarterback Johnny Unitas on his last legs, led the team to an ugly victory in Super Bowl V.

 

The Colts defense was better than ever in 1971, when it allowed just 140 points in 14 games. Bubba Smith (shown), Ted Hendricks and Mike Curtis anchored the front seven that allowed just 3.2 yards per rush. Rick Volk and Charlie Stukes were the stars of a secondary that allowed just nine touchdown passes while recording 28 interceptions. But quarterback woes (the aging Unitas was still gimping around) doomed the 1971 Colts to a 21-0 loss to the Dolphins in the conference championship.

 

16. Chicago Bears, 2005

The Bears reached the Super Bowl in 2006 in spite of their offense when their defense and special teams overcame sheer incompetence at quarterback to win 13 games.

 

15. Los Angeles Rams, 1968

The Rams fielded consistently great defensive lines from 1963 through the late 1970s. These lines were usually nicknamed the Fearsome Foursome, though the cast of characters changed from Rosey Grier, Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen (shown) and Lamar Lundy in the early days to Olsen, Fred Dryer, Jack Youngblood and Larry Brooks at the end.

 

Grier and Lundy were gone in 1968. Dryer, Brooks, Youngblood and Coy Bacon (a star in the early 1970s) had not yet arrived. But this is a countdown of great defenses, not great defensive lines. The Fearsome Foursome may have been regrouping, but the rest of the Rams defense was in rare form.

 

14. Baltimore Ravens, 2006

Spoiler: There’s a historic Ravens defense coming later in the countdown. This iteration of the Ray Lewis Ravens was nearly as good as the 2000 champions on defense and much better on offense, thanks to Steve McNair, Jamal Lewis and Derrick Mason.

 

13. Pittsburgh Steelers, 2008

It may seem like the Steelers defense puts up numbers like that every year. But that’s your imagination playing tricks on you. The Steelers maintain continuity so well that it is easy to forget that only Harrison remains from this Super Bowl-winning defense (Lawrence Timmons, another holdover, left in the offseason). The current Steelers are still good, but there is no Polamalu at strong safety or Hampton at the heart of the defense.

 

12. Miami Dolphins, 1973

Having gone undefeated and won the Super Bowl in 1972, the Dolphins returned for one of the least remembered great encores in NFL history.

 

While quarterback Bob Griese handed off and threw occasional bombs to Paul Warfield, the No-Name Defense recorded two shutouts and held five other opponents to a touchdown or less, including the Vikings in the Super Bowl. Safeties Jake Scott (shown, from Super Bowl VII) and Dick Anderson helped the Dolphins pass defense allow just five passing touchdowns while recording 21 interceptions and 45 sacks in a 14-game season. They did it all against a tougher schedule than the 1972 Dolphins faced.

 

But the 1973 Dolphins lost a pair of games, one to an excellent Raiders team, the other a 16-3 loss to the Colts in which Earl Morrall threw a pair of picks in relief of Griese. So the 1973 Dolphins are forever overshadowed by the 1972 team, which is no big deal because they were really the same bunch of guys.

 

11. Green Bay Packers, 1962

Four of the 14 offensive touchdowns the Packers allowed in 14 games came in the fourth quarters of blowouts, meaning that the team probably would have averaged under 10 points allowed per game if it had to really clamp down. As it is, they allowed an average of just 10.6 points.

 

10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2002

If you close your eyes, you can still see exactly where every member of the 2002 Buccaneers “Tampa 2” defense lined up.

 

Warren Sapp: 3-technique, giving both a guard and tackle much to worry about. Booger McFarland: on the nose, clogging a primary artery. Simeon Rice: split too wide for any left tackle’s comfort.

 

Derrick Brooks: on the weak side, in space, ready to flow to the running back or turn a quick slant into a big mistake. Shelton Quarles: undersized unsung hero of the whole system, a little farther back than the typical Mike linebacker, ready to pounce on an inside run or chase the tight end up the seam.

 

John Lynch and Dexter Jackson: usually twins at deep safety, with Lynch sliding down when coordinator Monte Kiffin wanted to stuff the run or rob an underneath zone. Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly: just outside their receivers, eyes in the backfield.

 

Kiffin ran the Tampa 2 defense in its purest distillation. Blitzes were rare. Deep safety support was a given on every play. It was a new kind of aggressive football: aggressively anticipating plays and jumping routes instead of unleashing easy-to-counterattack mayhem. It helped that Sapp and Rice provided all the mayhem a defense could ever want, no risky blitzing necessary.

 

9. Detroit Lions, 1962

The Lions defense was teeming with Hall of Famers and superstars in 1962: Yale Lary (shown), Night Train Lane and Dick LeBeau in one of the greatest secondaries ever, Joe Schmidt at middle linebacker, perennial Pro Bowlers Alex Karras and Roger Brown on the defensive line.

 

But the 1962 Lions shared the NFL’s West Division with Vince Lombardi’s Packers, Johnny Unitas’ Colts and George Halas’ last great Bears team. Also, their offense was terrible.

 

8. Seattle Seahawks, 2013

Peyton Manning and the Broncos, one of the greatest offenses in NFL history, ran seven plays for negative-three yards and two turnovers in the first quarter. The score was 22-0 at halftime, and the Seahawks offense hadn’t done much: a couple of field-goal drives, a short touchdown set up by a Kam Chancellor interception. Manning made the stats look decent in the second half, but he couldn’t do anything about the 43-8 final score, and we were finished writing our game stories in the third quarter anyway.

 

The Legion of Boom was dominant for the entire 2013 season. Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Brandon Browner and Chancellor led a secondary which recorded 28 interceptions. We’ve thrown a lot of huge interception totals around in this countdown, but intercepting 28 passes in 2013, when quarterbacks are super-precise and short-passing tactics hyper-efficient, is much harder than doing it in the up-for-grabs era of the late 1960s.

 

7. Philadelphia Eagles, 1991

Randall Cunningham suffered an ACL tear in the first half of the first game of the season. Jim McMahon took his place and, being Jim McMahon, suffered a cascade of injuries that knocked him in and out of the lineup. The Eagles embarked on a strange journey through the wilds of third-string quarterbacking, with Brad Goebel, Pat Ryan and Jeff Kemp taking turns trying not to get mutilated behind a terrible offensive line.

 

Yet the Eagles remained in the playoff picture.

 

Buddy Ryan? He was long gone. These were Rich Kotite’s Eagles, with legendary coordinator Bud Carson commanding the defense. Carson honed Ryan’s marauders into a more professional operation, and the Eagles were able to win by 13-6 and 20-3 scores whenever McMahon was healthy enough to lift his arm.

 

Reggie White recorded 15 sacks. Clyde Simmons added 13, Jerome Brown nine. Eric Allen intercepted five passes. Seth Joyner was all over the field. The Eagles offense turned the ball over 43 times, but their defense recorded 48 takeaways. The Eagles averaged just 3.1 yards per rush, but opponents averaged just 3.0 yards per rush.

 

6. New York Giants, 1986

Few defenses had more short-term and long-range impact than the 1986 Giants. Taylor’s dominance forced opponents to deploy more two-tight-end sets, putting fullbacks on the road to extinction. The Cowboys were forced to reboot their franchise after two decades of sustained success. Cunningham’s successes and failures framed the conversations about scrambling quarterbacks that still inform the way people talk about players like Cam Newton.

 

And of course, Bill Belichick was next to Bill Parcells on the sideline, orchestrating the chaos. But even Belichick would never again coach defensive personnel this great. His Patriots beat lots of opponents. The 1986 Giants often knocked them straight out of the NFL.

 

5. Minnesota Vikings, 1969

The 1969 Vikings allowed 24 points in their season opener against the Giants and never allowed more than 14 points again until the first round of the playoffs.

 

4. Kansas City Chiefs, 1969

Everything about Hank Stram’s 1960s Chiefs was innovative. On offense, they were among the first pro teams to deploy dozens of formations and regularly use rollout plays. In scouting, they combed small programs and historically black colleges when many organizations weren’t far removed from picking players based on write-ups in Street & Smith magazines.

 

And on defense, Stram took all of those small-school finds and collegiate superstars the Chiefs acquired during the AFL-NFL war (Stram had a convincing sales pitch, owner Lamar Hunt a bottomless checkbook) and assembled them into the “Triple Stack” defense. Basically, it was an “over” formation that placed either Buck Buchanan or Curley Culp directly over the center, with middle linebacker Willie Lanier (shown) right behind the nose defender. But the defense could also look like a modern 3-4 alignment, making it a truly “multiple” front.

 

3. Baltimore Ravens, 2000

You’ve probably been in a few sports arguments which took a turn for the Dilfer.

 

“My quarterback won more Super Bowls than yours, so my quarterback is better.”

 

“You can’t just go by Super Bowls. C’mon: TRENT DILFER WON A SUPER BOWL.”

 

We’ve met our share of iffy quarterbacks on this list: Mark Sanchez, Brad Goebel, Milt Plum and others. But if the quarterbacks who were propped up by their defenses held a parade, Dilfer would be the Grand Marshall. That’s not because he was the worst of these quarterbacks, but because he was the most obvious, successful beneficiary of a great defense.

 

Ray Lewis and Rod Woodson were the cornerstones of the 2000 Ravens defense, but talent was everywhere. Chris McAlister and Duane Starks (10 combined interceptions) gave them a pair of shutdown cornerbacks. Peter Boulware, Rob Burnett and Michael McCrary (24 combined sacks) attacked from all angles. Sam Adams and Tony Siragusa kept blockers away from Lewis while anchoring the middle of the run defense and made everything else possible by holding opponents to 2.7 measly yards per rush. And the coaching staff was a who’s who of contrasting styles and philosophies which somehow perfectly meshed: Marvin Lewis, Jack Del Rio, Rex Ryan, Mike Smith and others.

 

2. Pittsburgh Steelers, 1976

Steelers opponents called it a gimmick.

 

Mean Joe Greene lined up in a tilted stance between the center and guard instead of head-up on the guard. He shot the gap at the snap instead of reading keys and flowing to the ball.

 

Interior blockers were forced to converge on Greene, so speedy middle linebacker Jack Lambert was free to operate in space instead of tangling with centers and guards. On running plays, Lambert met the ball-carrier at or before the line of scrimmage. On passes, he often dropped into deep zone, safeties fanning out behind him, cornerbacks pummeling their receivers off the line.

 

Sure, it worked with players like Greene and Lambert, plus Jack Ham, Donnie Shell, Mel Blount, L.C. Greenwood and others. But there is no way such a hinky defense would survive the test of time, right?

 

Except that it did. The tilted tackle and 4-3 Stunt tactics that came with it became core concepts in modern one-gap defenses. The coverage scheme became the Cover 2 and the Tampa 2. Chuck Noll and Bud Carson’s Steel Curtain taught the NFL how to play defense in an era when quarterbacks had gotten better, blockers more talented, receivers faster and systems more sophisticated.

 

The Steel Curtain blotted out the league for most of the 1970s, of course. The defense peaked in 1976 for the same reason great defenses so often peak: quarterback woes. Terry Bradshaw missed parts of six games, so backup Mike Kruczek came on to lead the team to 23-6, 27-0, 23-0, 32-16, 7-3 and 42-0 wins while usually throwing less than a dozen passes per game.

 

The final tally for the 1976 Steelers: five shutouts, three other games in which the opponent failed to score a touchdown. The beaten-up Steelers lost to the Raiders in the AFC Championship Game, but they had already won two Super Bowls and would win two more, so let’s not quibble.

 

Sometimes a “gimmick” is really a breakthrough that’s just waiting for the right time and the right people to make it a phenomenon. The ’70s were the time, Greene, Lambert and Co. were the people, and the phenomenon is still going strong 40 years later.

 

1. Chicago Bears, 1985

The formula was simple.

 

Assemble the best defensive front seven the NFL has ever seen: Richard Dent, Dan Hampton, Mike Hartenstine/William Perry, Wilber Marshall, Steve McMichael, Otis Wilson and Mike Singletary.

 

Then attack relentlessly, unrepentantly, recklessly.

 

The 46 Defense, orchestrated by Buddy Ryan with the blessing of Mike Ditka, was distilled mayhem: a Viking raid on a coastal village, an onslaught that could sometimes be almost counterproductive. The Bears blitzed when there was no logical reason to blitz. Dent, McMichael and Hampton combined for 31.5 sacks by themselves. Wilson and Marshall’s blitzing for 16.5 more was overkill. But Ryan sent Singletary and safeties, too, the attacks coming in waves.

 

A modern opponent might counterattack with spread formations and wide receiver screens. But this was the era when many coaches still stressed “establishing the run” and only a handful of teams were even deploying single-back sets. Establishing the run meant wasting downs, as the Bears allowed just 82.4 rushing yards per game and six rushing touchdowns. Quarterbacks who survived the blitz threw 34 interceptions: Safeties Gary Fencik and Dave Duerson and corners Leslie Frazier and Mike Richardson were capable, but they weren’t required to do much more than fetch the cherries as they fell from the tree.

 

By the playoffs, the madness peaked. The Bears shut out two opponents before beating the Patriots, 46-10, recording 16 playoff sacks to go with 64 from the regular season.

 

The defense would reign for years afterward, but later opponents adapted, found weaknesses, attacked the Bears quarterbacks and waited for the Bears’ aggression to turn on itself. Norse berserkers, after all, proved to be much better raiders than rulers. But even though they left devastation in their wake, they still made their mark all over the map. The Bears defense tore down the NFL’s fortress in 1985. Thirty years later, we still marvel at the ruins.