Johnny Football, The Spread Offense, The Trent Richardson Trade and Slow NFL Starts

If you are reading this, let me begin by thanking you.  You have chosen to spend a little bit of your day reading my work and I’ll do my best not to disappoint you.  Just in case you don’t know me, I’d like to begin by introducing myself and expressing my vision for this sports blog.

My name is Sam Pouncey and I’m a 5th year Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Economics student at the University of Georgia, by way of Montgomery, Alabama.  My athletic background includes playing high school football, basketball and track, as well as 11 years of Dixie Youth baseball.

The thing I love most about sports is the fact that no matter what walk of life you come from or what your interests are, the world of sports has something for you.  Jocks love the competition, super nerds, like me, love the math and statistics part of sports and artistic people, not me, can enjoy the uniforms and color schemes and pageantry that sports provides, just to give a few examples.

Levi Dunagan and I designed this blog to share our views on the sports world with our friends, family, and anyone else who may be interested to hear what we have to say.  We hope that we can write in a way so that people with a varying degree of sports knowledge can read, understand and enjoy our writing.  Each week, one of us will select four topics, hence the name “4 Down Territory”, and then a few days later the other will write on the same four topics and add his own view on those topics.  So, without further rambling about my life and other things no one cares about, let me begin.

First Down- Johnny Manziel

The “regular” callers at the Paul Finebaum show, especially Phyllis and Darryl, would not be happy with me if they were to read what I am about to say.  Johnny Manziel is one of, if not, the most polarizing figures in sports today.  He burst on to the college football scene last year and went on to become the first freshman to win the Heisman trophy, while leading the Texas A&M Aggies to an 11-2 record and a Cotton Bowl win over the Oklahoma Sooners.

Then, an off-season of chaos ensued that involved everything from getting kicked out of fraternity parties to throwing out first pitches at MLB games to hanging out with his “bro”, Lebron James.  Off-the-field issues aside, until he is swinging around naked on a wrecking ball and twerking on handsome guys in Beetlejuice suits on national television I won’t be concerned, Johnny Football, as he has come to be known, is as good as any quarterback in the country and the most electrifying player in recent memory.

I watched Johnny Manziel torch college football in 2012 and the Alabama defense the Saturday before last with my eyes and mouth wide open in disbelief at the things he does.  Johnny Manziel is the most valuable player to his team in football right now.  He amassed 5,116 yards, passing and rushing, last season.  That would have been good enough to place him as the 24th ranked team in the NFL last season in total offense and set an SEC single season record.

He accounted for 70.3% of the Aggies’ total offensive production and 63.5% of their total offensive touchdowns.  Only two players in college football last year topped both of those marks.  Those would be Mike Glennon of North Carolina State and Zac Dysert of Miami (Ohio).  Their teams finished 7-6 and 4-8 respectively.  Eight other players finished ahead of Manziel in terms of touchdown percentage accounted for and one other tied him.  Of these nine other players, only two of them won double digit games.

David Fales of San Jose State, who was the one who tied Manziel, and Tajh Boyd of Clemson who got credit for 69.7% of Clemson’s offensive touchdowns a year ago.  Both of these teams went 11-2.  Jordan Lynch of Northern Illinois accounted for a higher percentage of his teams yards than Manziel, but was a little shy of Manziel’s touchdown percentage.  So, the only two players who were more relied upon than Johnny Football only managed to win 11 games between both of them as seniors, and he did that by himself as a freshman.  Perhaps, more impressively, is that in one-score games Manziels percentage of yards and touchdowns accounted for jumped to 79.3% and 66.7% respectively, meaning that when he is most needed he is even more of a factor in the Texas A&M offense.

I said all of football though, so let’s take a look at the NFL numbers.  Looking at the quarterbacks who finished the 2012 season in the top ten in either passing yards, passing touchdowns, or both there are 16.  Johnny Manziel would have finished tied for 10th among these quarterbacks in terms of yards accounted for percentage and 12th in terms of touchdowns accounted for, however it also holds true that quarterbacks in the NFL generally account for a higher percentage of their teams yards and touchdowns than college quarterbacks.  Adjusting for this, Manziel would have finished 4th in yards accounted for and 11th in touchdowns accounted for, but no player in the NFL would have finished higher than him in both categories.  Matt Ryan, the Falcons signal-caller, came dangerously close finishing a half a percentage point shy in the touchdown category.

Relatively, no player in the NFL is more needed for his team’s success than Johnny Manziel is in college.  He in the Kevin Sumlin spread offense is a dangerous force, and should they both go to the next level together it could be a nightmare for NFL defensive coordinators.

Second Down- The Spread Offense

The spread offense has infiltrated every level of football from high school and even middle school up to the NFL.  Aspects of the spread are in virtually every playbook in football today.  The spread offense is designed to spread out the defense (creative name I know) employing the use of four and five wide receiver sets, wider offensive line splits and typically a shotgun quarterback.

Rusty Russell is often credited as being the “father of the spread offense”, and is also noted for being the coach of 1948 Heisman trophy winner Doak Walker, at both Highland Park High School, and Southern Methodist University.  Some people say that Glenn “Tiger” Ellison, high school coach from Middletown, Ohio, is the true “father of the spread offense” as he developed the offense now referred to as the Run and Shoot. 

The spread offense, as we know it today, first appeared in major college football at Northern Illinois in 1962 under the direction of coach Howard Fletcher.  In 1962 and 1963, the Northern Illinois Huskies led the nation in total offense and passing, and in 1963 George Bork led the Huskies to a national championship, while becoming the first player to pass for over 3,000 yards in a single season.

The spread began to emerge in the NFL in the mid-to-late 1980s.  Common variations of the spread include the “Air Raid” run by Mike Leach, Kevin Sumlin and Kliff Kingsbury a.k.a. the Ryan Gosling of College Football; the Spread Option used by Chip Kelly, Gus Malzahn and Urban Meyer; and the “Pistol” originated by Chris Ault at Nevada who in 2009 had the first team of three 1,000 yard rushers in a single season ever in college football, one of those being current San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

One of the big questions of the spread though, is how much has it changed the landscape of football?  Or is it simply a byproduct of other factors?  Yes, the increase in offensive output in the spread offense era of football is undeniable, but the evolution of nutrition and strength and conditioning training knowledge has made athletes bigger, stronger, and faster than ever before.  Spreading to use the full 53-yard width of the field is a necessity brought about by the increasing athleticism of football players.

The spread offense has also never been more feasible, due to quarterbacks being able to throw the ball harder and further than ever before.  The increase in passing and offensive numbers in the NFL can also partially be attributed to rule changes as well.  In 1974, 1977, and 1978, the NFL passed a series of rule changes limiting the contact of defenders with receivers that were specifically designed to open up the game and create more offense, specifically passing offense.  These rule changes, along with the advances in training resulting in an increase in athleticism are coincidental with the emergence of the spread offense and therefore cause an overstatement of the spread’s impact on the game of football.

Third Down- The Trent Richardson Trade

Last week, the Cleveland Browns made a shocking announcement that they had traded 2012 first-round pick Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts for a 2014 first-round pick.  This is the 19th time since 2000 that a player has been traded for a first round pick.  The first of these being Keyshawn Johnson being traded from the Jets to the Buccaneers in 2000 for the 13th and 27th overall picks in the 2000 draft, and the last, before the Richardson trade, was Darelle Revis from the Jets to the Buccaneers, yet again, for the 13th overall pick in the 2013 draft.  I guess history really does repeat itself.  The big question here is who wins.  The team who gets the pick or the team getting the player?

Neither side has a distinct advantage, what matters more is the quality of the general manager and what he does with those draft picks.  You could have a scenario like where the Seahawks trade Joey Galloway to the Dallas Cowboys for the picks that acquired them Koren Robinson and Shaun Alexander.  Koren Robinson had over 1,200 more receiving yards and 2 touchdowns more for the Seahawks than Galloway for the Cowboys.  Add Shaun Alexander’s almost 9,500 career rushing yards and 100 touchdowns on top of that and I think it’s safe to say we have a clear winner.

On the other hand, you could make the mistake of trading Jay Cutler for Robert Ayers.  No one doubts that Robert Ayers cares a lot more about football and just about things in general than Jay Cutler, but he just has not been as impactful as Cutler.  Who will win this trade though depends on whether or not you trust new Cleveland Browns general manager to do the right thing with the pick.  Before being the Browns GM, Lombardi’s longest tenured job was as the Oakland Raiders’ Senior Personnel Executive, where one of his primary jobs was professional and collegiate talent evaluation.  He was there from 1998-2007 and the Raiders were 68-92 while he was employed there, making the playoffs three out of ten seasons. Based on his past front office jobs, I don’t trust Mike Lombardi’s evaluation and drafting abilities, therefore I predict that the Colts win in the end on this deal.

Fourth Down- Slow Starting NFL Teams

There are six completely defeated teams left in the NFL after week 3.  It has been 15 years since an NFL team started 0-3 and made the playoffs.  That would be the Buffalo Bills in 1998.  I’ll go ahead and thank Adam Schefter for tweeting that earlier so I can add it here.  This year I believe we see two teams that have a shot to make it to the playoffs from an 0-3 hole.  They happen to be division rivals, meaning that only one, if any, of them will make the playoffs, those teams being the New York Giants and the Washington Redskins.

The Giants have a better shot in my opinion, as they have an easier schedule and they have rebounded from mediocre starts before under Tom Coughlin.  The only two games I see on their schedule that they don’t have at least a decent shot of winning are the Packers and the Seahawks. Yes I know they have a minus 61 point differential after week 3, second only to the hapless Jaguars, but Eli Manning and company just cannot continue to be this bad.  On the other end of the spectrum, the Jacksonville Jaguars have reached a new level of ineptitude.  Their only shots to win a game this year may be at Cleveland on December 1st and at home against the Buffalo Bills on December 15th.  They may give the 2008 Detroit Lions a run for their money as potentially the worst NFL team ever.  To echo Jim Mora Sr., PLAYOFFS?!!!! I just hope they win a game!

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading the whole thing and feel free to leave any comments (negative or positive) below and keep an eye out for Levi’s post coming on Thursday.

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