A RUNNING TEAM WILLWIN IN THE EAST
In a conferencedominated by the ground game, Cleveland, Philadelphia and New York, deep instrong, elusive backs, have the top teams of the other four, the most likelycontender to succeed is Pittsburgh. The Steelers have a powerful refurbisheddefense and, of course, the indefatigable Bobby Layne at quarterback
Tom Landry, the capable young coach of the Dallas Cowboys, has the principalingredients of pro football success—quarterbacks. Unfortunately, he lacks toomuch of the rest of the recipe. In their second year of competition, theCowboys will be better but still a long way from good. The strongest point inthe Dallas attack is its passing game. Here Don Meredith and the experiencedEddie LeBaron provide the Dallas team with truly excellent arms. Meredith, infact, is regarded by such experts as Norman Van Brocklin as good enough tobecome one of pro football's best quarterbacks, and in preseason exhibitiongames he has looked the part. The small LeBaron offers maturity and quality atquarterback, and the Cowboy targets—Bill Howton, Jim Doran and a surprisinglyimproved Frank Clarke—are of professional caliber. The Dallas running attack,at the moment, lacks any breakaway threat. While L. G. Dupre at halfback looksbetter than he has for three years, he is primarily a short-yardage ballcarrier. Second-year back Don Perkins has speed and should help out. Thefullback post may be a little stronger with the recent acquisition of MerrillDouglas from the Chicago Bears and rookie Amos Marsh, but it must still becounted a weak spot. Landry has done well with the Dallas defense, but hereagain it takes time to gather the talent needed for a first-flight combination.A liberal sprinkling of rookies (defensive end, linebacker and in thesecondary) insures too-frequent mental lapses, and mental lapses costtouchdowns in the NFL, especially on defense.
Last season PAUL BROWN completed a major overhaul of the most successfulfootball team in pro history. Eleven players were in their first or second yearwith the Browns; all of them are back now, united in one of the typicallycohesive units that make up the Brown offense and defense. Milt Plum, the mostaccurate passer in the league judging by statistics, is reaching a proquarterback's majority; this is his fifth season and it takes about that longfor a signal-caller to reach championship quality. Plum may be hampered a bitby an offensive line that leaks linebackers or ends on occasion, but he handledthe same problem last year with reasonable dexterity and should do so again.The improvement of Len Dawson, Cleveland's second quarterback, makes the Brownsstronger than ever in passing offense. The receivers—Ray Renfro, Gern Nagler,Leon Clarke and Rich Kreitling—are superb, yet rookie Bobby Crespino is boundto squeeze out one of these old hands. To carry the ball Cleveland has the mostversatile and most powerful pair of running backs in football—Jim Brown andBobby Mitchell. Brown, who has led the league in rushing every year since hecame up, is just reaching his peak at 25 and now that the quarterbacks arethrowing to him more often, he is a fearsome sight for a defensive back tobehold. Mitchell has some of the best moves in the business, plus speed. TheCleveland defense boasts as good a set of linebackers as you'll find; thesecondary defense, in its second year together, is certain to be improved.
NEW YORK GIANTS
Allie Sherman, the new head coach of the New York Giants, is a bright andingenious innovator with a real knack for offensive football. In puttingtogether his first Giant team, he also proved he is something of a sensation asa trader. The retirement of Frank Gifford at the end of last season and thetrade of Mel Triplett to the Vikings stripped the Giants of two of their finestoffensive weapons. Sherman not only repaired the damage by making what must beregarded as the best trades in recent years; he strengthened the Giants, whonow have their greatest offensive potential since Gifford and Kyle Rote wererookies. The Giant attack is powered by two very good quarterbacks in CharlieConerly, who goes on forever, and Y. A. Tittle, obtained from San Francisco.More than that, Conerly and Tittle will be throwing to the best set of Giantreceivers in the memory of man—Del Shofner (from the Rams), Joe Walton (fromthe Redskins) and Rote. They also will have the advantage of handing off to animproved set of running backs—Bob Gaiters (first draft choice), Joe Morrisonand Alex Webster. Sherman has experimented with special defenses, but after abad opening game against the Cardinals may return to the old ways—a temptationthat is enhanced by the presence of Erich Barnes in the secondary. Sam Huff,Tom Scott and Cliff Livingston are still the linebackers, and the front line isJim Katcavage, Andy Robustelli, Rosey Grier and Dick Modzelewski, which is lineenough for anybody.
When Norman Van Brocklin retired at the end of the 1960 season, most footballpeople predicted that the Eagles, world champions in 1960, would fall back tofourth or fifth place this year. But the running game of the title team wasgimpy. It is well now. New Coach NICK SKORICH'S defense is a year wiser and,oddly, the Eagles may be stronger at quarterback. Sonny Jurgensen, VanBrocklin's replacement, has shown conclusively that he responds admirably topressure. Jurgensen runs the team with the same sure confidence that marked VanBrocklin and he throws nearly as well as the master. And if anything happens toJurgensen, the Eagles have King Hill, picked up in a trade with the St. LouisCardinals. Hill, who had seven abscessed teeth removed at training camp,learned to pass while running to his left. As of now, he is a more than capablereplacement for Jurgensen. But the key to the Eagle attack is the superbrunning of players like Ted Dean, Billy Barnes, Tim Brown, Clarence Peaks andTheron Sapp. With the possible exception of Green Bay and Cleveland, no otherteam can boast such powerful running as these five will provide. There is also,of course, that elusive back Tommy McDonald, the most dangerous long-passcatcher in the business. To go with this offensive power, the Eagles have adefense predicated upon the linebacking of Chuck Bednarik and a quartet ofaged-in-action backs, led by Don (The Blade) Burroughs and Tommy Brookshier.They have been around the league a long time—and they are the best.
Had it not been for two preseason injuries, the Cardinals would have been amongthe favorites for the Eastern championship. But John David Crow, theirincomparable halfback, broke his ankle and will miss the first six or sevenleague games. Sam Etcheverry, the transplanted Canadian who was to lead theteam out of the passing doldrums, in early practice developed a passingshoulder so sore he could not comb his hair. Etcheverry, fortunately, was readyfor the opening of league play, but he missed a month of work in training campand it was work he needed (though not too badly) to accustom himself again tothe American style of play after nine years in Canada. Unhappily for theCardinals, their first five games are against the best teams in the East—theEagles, Giants and Browns. Now that Etcheverry has come around, Coach POP IVYwill send a strong pass offense against these clubs. Sonny Randle should beamong the better ends in the league and Billy Stacy and Bobby Joe Conrad aregood flanker backs. But the loss of Crow will be felt here, too, for Crow wasnot only one of the top two or three runners in pro football, he rated almostas high as a pass receiver. The loss of big Ken Panfil at offensive tacklemeans that the pass-protection blocking may break down, especially with arookie slated for play at offensive guard. The Cardinals' defense againstrushing plays was the best in the league in 1960, and should be almost as goodthis year. The pass defense, only fair before, is still questionable. Aspassing insurance, the Cardinals acquired Ralph Guglielmi from the Redskinsjust before league play started.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have what may be the best defense against running inthe league. Add to that an offense directed by old, bold and barefaced BobbyLayne and you come up with what may also be the surprise team in the EasternDivision. The addition of Big Daddy Lipscomb (from the Colts) and Lou Michaels(from the Rams) to Coach BUDDY PARKER'S defensive line probably gives theSteelers the best four front men in football. It is so strong, in fact, thatErnie Stautner, the onetime all-pro tackle, is a reserve, as is another fineveteran, George Tarasovic. The Steelers have one superb linebacker in JohnReger and two potentially fine ones in Myron Pottios and Mike Henry. Theirsecondary defense, weak on the wings in 1960 due to poor tackling andindecisive pass defense, looks much better this season with the addition ofJack Simpson and Bill Butler. The safety positions are in the hands of twoquick, certain defenders—Bill Daniels and Dean Derby. On the attack, Layne, whothrows a wobbly, unlovely but generally completed pass, is one of the two mostresourceful quarterbacks in football. His receivers (Buddy Dial, PrestonCarpenter and Red Mack) are only a notch, if at all, below the league's best,and his runners (John Henry Johnson and Tom Tracy) are powerful and fleet.Johnson played only six games last year but gained 621 yards. His return togood health should rest the hard-working Tracy and improve his effectiveness.Guard Charlie Bradshaw and End Steve Meilinger may strengthen the offensiveline.
For at least one more year, the Washington Redskins will have the palest huddleand the darkest future in the National Football League. With a new coach (BILLMcPEAK), a new stadium and almost a new team, the Redskins still have a longway to go before they move out of their accustomed habitat—the cellar. Thereare signs that they may be growing stronger; their No. 1 draft choice, NormanSnead of Wake Forest, was generally conceded among pros to be the best prospectin the college ranks last season. It will take him time to attain eminence as apro, if he ever does, but after a few games he should give the Redskins morecompetent quarterbacking than they have had during recent years. RalphGuglielmi, who performed well in spots for the Redskins last year, was tradedto the Cardinals for George Izo, who is expected to back up Snead. But neitherSnead nor Izo will have an opportunity to demonstrate his fitness unless theRedskins come up with a few more competent offensive linemen. Defensively,McPeak can depend on a rugged line, built around Tackle Bob Toneff. However,the Redskin linebackers were something less than sensational last season andthere is no reason to believe that they will be improved. At times during 1960,the defensive secondary performed nobly, considering the problems it faced. Ifthe linebackers advance at all, the backs, with some of the pressure off them,will look appreciably better.
IN THE WEST, IT'SGREEN BAY—MAYBE
Green Bay, a sound,balanced and competent team, may win the conference championship again, but theDetroit Lions, with a very sticky defense, and the San Francisco 49ers, withstrong young talent to trigger their new shotgun offense, could upset thePackers. The dark horse, naturally: the Baltimore Colts
George Halas has been tinkering with the Bear offensive line during thepreseason games and it appears now that with the addition of Mike Ditka, therookie end from Pittsburgh, he may have arrived at a solution to a problem thattroubled last year's club. Ditka gives the Bears crisp, sure blocking onsweeps, setting up a real threat for the very fast Bear halfbacks going wideand, of course, spreading the defense to open the riddle. The addition, fromthe Rams, of Bill Wade, always a strong-armed passer, has worked out very wellso far. In exhibition games he has been alternating at quarterback with theexperienced and capable Ed Brown, and although he still throws an occasionalrainbow that defensive backs fight to intercept, he seems to have overcome atendency he displayed at Los Angeles to become erratic. The secret of the Bearoffense, however, is speed, in Halfbacks Johnny Morris and Charlie Bivins. Bothof them are quick, elusive runners and good receivers. Jim Dooley and AngeloCoia, a pair of proved receivers, and sophomore John Farrington complete a deepset of pass catchers. The Bear defense, which was effective early last seasonbut sagged later on, may be in trouble all this year because of two seriouslosses in the deep secondary: Erich Barnes was traded a way and Vic Zuccoretired. Even Clark Shaughnessy, the defensive genius, will have troublereplacing them although he has taken a step in the right direction with thequick switch of superb offensive End Harlon Hill to defensive back.
Still possessed of what is very likely the most explosive passing offense inprofessional football, the Colts are in trouble elsewhere, particularly ondefense. Big Daddy Lipscomb, who, with Art Donovan, anchored what was once thetoughest defensive line in the league, was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers.Donovan, 36, and in his 12th season as a pro, cannot be expected to operate asefficiently as in previous years. Finally, the Colts' rejuvenation program,which has spared only 19 members of the 1958 and 1959 championship teams, isencountering trouble. Coach WEEB EWBANK has had to move Dick Szymanski frommiddle linebacker to offensive center, and this compounds the weakness in theheart of the Baltimore defense. None of the defensive tackle candidates haveshown sufficient ability to replace Lipscomb or Donovan; the Colts haveexperimented with Marv Matuszak and Steve Myrha at the middle-linebacking post,but neither of them is on a par with Szymanski. Luckily, the additional loss ofthree men from the Baltimore secondary defense is not as serious as it seems;the Colts still have three seasoned pass defenders available. They also havetheir high-scoring passing attack, with Johnny Unitas firing to Jimmy Orr,Lenny Moore, Jim Mutscheller and Dee Mackey. It may provide enough points toovercome the leakage in the defense. Raymond Berry, the best offensive end inthe league, has been out of the preseason lineup because of a knee operation.He is expected to be back this week. The Colts may need him.
At the end of the 1960 season, the Lions may have been the strongest team ineither division of the NFL. But, just as in previous years, they were slowstarters in league competition. In an effort to overcome this difficulty, CoachGEORGE WILSON began summer training with one of the smallest groups of playersin the league—35 reasonably well-tried veterans and only 14 rookies. With thismanageable group he was able to spend more time imparting to his players theintricacies of the Detroit offense and defense. The 1960 team depended on adefensive unit that, over the season, absorbed and educated key rookies atseveral positions. They are well educated by now and, with added specialpreseason training, the defense should be strong all season. Since Bobby Layneleft to join the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Lions have had serious difficultyfinding the right quarterback. But Earl Morrall looked good in the latter partof the 1960 season and has played well in preseason games this year. If hecontinues to hold up, the Lions' running game will be their only soft spot.Nick Pietrosante, one of the best bang-ahead fullbacks in football last year,looked heavy-legged and slow in preseason games. Ken Webb, his replacement, hasbeen injured, but the Lions now have Johnny Olszewski, brought in from theWashington Redskins, and should feel assured. The Lions' pass receivers,notably Jim Gibbons, Gail Cogdill and Howard Cassady, are among the league'sbest and may carry the offensive load, along with fleet Halfback DannyLewis.
The Packers, surprise champions of the West in 1960, will surprise no one ifthey repeat as champions in 1961. This is probably the soundest team infootball, equipped with the best offensive line, a more than adequatequarterback and violent runners (only the Cleveland Browns surpass these last).Their defensive line is good, their corps of linebackers intelligent, fleet andmean. Their only discernible weakness in 1960 was a slight seepage in thesecondary; with another year's experience behind them, the four deep men forthe Packers operated with more assurance in their first, albeit losing, game.There will be almost no changes in the team roster. VINCE LOMBARDI, the veryable Green Bay coach, does not believe in quarreling with success. A groundoffense based on the exceptional blocking of the Packer offensive line, led byall-league selections Forrest Gregg and Jim Ringo, and the wonderful running ofthree Packer backs will remain the keys to the Packer attack. Jim Taylor, astumpy, muscular young man who is as hard to upset as a fireplug, is back atfullback. The other running back in the Green Bay offense is either PaulHornung, who throws well on the option pass, or Tom Moore, who is a littlefaster but hits with a little less impact. The continuing improvement of BartStarr, both as tactician and passer, means that the Packer passing attack willbe better. In Boyd Dowler, the gigantic ex-hurdler from Colorado, Starr has alarge and sure-handed target. The other receivers are smaller but just aseffective.
When NORMAN VAN BROCKLIN took over as head coach of the Minnesota Vikings,there was some question whether he was, by temperament, suited to the task. VanBrocklin had been a stubborn as well as brilliant quarterback, given tooccasional fits of temper when a blocker allowed a defensive tackle to slipthrough and maul him. So far, he has been an excellent coach, equable indisposition, as acute as ever in finding flaws in enemy defenses and adept atinspiring loyalty and effort from his players. He has a better first-year teamat Minnesota than Tom Landry had in Dallas last year; his running attack, forinstance, with Mel Triplett, rookie Tom Mason and Hugh McElhenny, is strongerthan that of some established teams. Van Brocklin will get adequatequarterbacking from George Shaw and may get brilliant quarterbacking fromrookie Fran Tarkenton, acquired from the New York Giants. His pass receiversare good enough. The Vikings are something less than impenetrable in theiroffensive line, however, but that is only to be expected of a first-year team.The defense, surprisingly, has been fairly good, although the defensive backs,still getting to know each other, sometimes forget to switch downfieldreceivers on pass coverage. This team will be no easy mark for any club in theleague; it may not beat the very strong teams, but it will sneak up once ortwice on the contenders and it could win as many as four games. How many itwins depends upon how well the offensive line plays and how well the defensivebacks mesh as a unit.
LOS ANGELES RAMS
The Rams have, over the last few years, rebuilt their defense, slowly andpainfully, to respectable status. This year, unfortunately, the defensive teammay not look as good as it actually is because of overwork. Unless theoffensive unit can hang onto the ball long enough to rest the defenders, thelatter are going to start collapsing halfway through games on long Sundayafternoons. The obvious weakness of the Rams is in the offensive line; a seconddifficulty is at quarterback, although Zeke Bratkowski, obtained from theChicago Bears in an even-up trade for Billy Wade, may remedy that defect if hesurvives the pounding his weak line will expose him to. Despite these faults,the Rams may be among the best teams in the Western Division by the final thirdof the season. This depends upon how much improvement is shown by youngoffensive linemen and second-year men like Guard Roy Hord and Tackle Jim Boeke.If they are quick studies, Coach BOB WATERFIELD will have as powerful anattack—running or passing—as any other club in the league. Jon Arnett, theirdurable halfback, continues to produce some of the most exciting runs infootball; Tom Wilson gives the Rams a powerful as well as elusive running back,and Ollie Matson, long one of football's very best backs from any standpoint,seems to have lost none of his skill. Once the offensive line jells, if the Ramattack lacks anything it will be a fullback. At the moment, there is no one whocan frighten even a medium-size halfback or a small linebacker.
Red Hickey, who used to play offensive end for the Los Angeles Rams, hasdevised a passing attack that should make new men playing his old positionhappy. The shotgun attack, which places the quarterback six yards behind thecenter, was a patented feature of the San Francisco game toward the end of1960. It provides enough short-haul receivers on or near the line of scrimmageto prevent the defensive linebackers from concentrating on the ends when theytry to cross the line of scrimmage. The shotgun, of course, leaves thequarterback dangerously naked, but Hickey has a plentiful supply of tailbacksto run the offense, the best of whom are John Brodie and rookie Bill Kilmerfrom UCLA. Kilmer has already demonstrated an ability to throw well, runcompetently and accept stoically the slings and arrows of outraged defensivelines, and Brodie had a fine first game against Washington. Combine these twowith the best rookie receivers to come up from college this year—Bernie Caseyand Aaron Thomas—a real find in Fullback J. W. Lockett and proved talent in J.D. Smith, C. R. Roberts and R. C. Owens and you have a strong, if unorthodox,offense. The second best offensive line in the West, next to the Green BayPackers', does much to make the attack go. On defense, Hickey has at once theyoungest, fastest and best set of secondary defenders in football. He has aproblem with his linebackers, where only Matt Hazeltine is very good, but theoffensive line is sound and is named Leo Nomellini.