COACH: WEEB EWBANK
1957 RECORD: W 7, L 5, 3RD
1958 EXHIBITIONS: W 2, L 3, T 1
With the league's most effective point-producing passer in John Unitas, able backing for him from George Shaw, and two very good short-haul receivers in Ray Berry and Jim Mutscheller, the Colt passing attack ranks with the best in the National Football League. Unitas keeps the opposing defense nervous with his threat to run if his receivers are covered, and the improvement of Fullback Alan Ameche as a receiver provides an important safety-valve target when Unitas finds all other avenues closed.
The Colts ranked fifth in rushing last season and might have done better than that if their air arm—the best in the league—had not been so effective. Coach Ewbank has an ideal combination for an effective ground game: a very fast, very strong fullback in Ameche; a faster, nearly as strong halfback in Len Moore; and a quarterback who runs well enough through the scattered defenses which invite a quarterback to run. Here the Colts suffered from a lack of seasoned depth last year; with the improvement of Billy Pricer at full and Jack Call at half, they are not as vulnerable to the pros' No. 1 bugaboo—injuries—as they were in 1957.
October 5, 1958
The Colts' weak spot in 1957 was pass defense; the league's best all-round offense was nullified too often by costly mistakes in the secondary defense. A year's experience plus a fine rookie defender in Ray Brown to go with Milt Davis, a great interceptor, should help. The Colt pass defense is aided by strong rushing from a great defensive line led by End Gino Marchetti; only the stress of league play can determine whether the Colt defenders have improved enough to match the offense.
The best defense against rushing in the league has been bolstered by more depth in Ray Krouse. It should remain the best.
Fumbles, lapses in pass defense and a notably inadequate punting game cost Baltimore the championship last year. Dick Horn, who tried out at quarterback with them in 1954, has solved the punting problem. The pass defense looks better. With a break on key fumbles, this could be the Colts' year.
COACH: GEORGE HALAS
1957 RECORD: W 5, L 7, 5TH
1958 EXHIBITIONS: W 6, L 0, T 0
If the Chicago Bears could schedule their late games in California, Quarterback Ed Brown might lead the league in passing. He has the arm and the eye but an inexplicable inability to coordinate the two when the weather turns cold. However, the Bears, once again being coached by their stern, hard-driving owner, George Halas, have capable quarterback relief plus one of football's greatest receivers in the incredible Harlon Hill. Bill McColl and Bob Carey are good receivers, too, and if Jim Dooley recovers from an injured ankle in time, the Bear air attack could be the best. A revamped offensive line should give the passers more time.
When Halas took over as head coach again, one of his first moves was to rebuild the Bear secondary defense. This freed J. C. Caroline for offensive duty. Caroline shares a halfback post with Willie Galimore, and the two give the Bears a blistering fast outside running attack which militates against any defense stacking up the middle to halter the running of Fullback Rick Casares. Casares is one of the two or three best fullbacks in the league. The addition of Rookie Willie Lee and veteran Abe Gibron to the offensive line helps erase a 1957 Bear debit—line blocking.
Only one regular player from the 1957 Bear secondary is likely to see much service this year. Vic Zucco, a second-year man, will lend a mite of experience to a vastly improved pass defense assembled from the service (Charles Sumner), the Rams (Jess Whittenton) and the draft (Erich Barnes). Cagy old Clark Shaughnessy has been coaching this part of the Bears' machinery.
An immense, veteran line, backstopped by Bill George, the only linebacker in the league rated on a par with Detroit's Joe Schmidt, makes it unlikely anyone will go far against the Bears on the ground.
This year looks like the best for the Bears since the great teams of the early '40s. They have speed and thumping power on the ground, the best receiver and two of the better passers in the league and an improved offensive line and defensive secondary.
COACH: GEORGE WILSON
1957 RECORD: W 8, L 4 (WON WESTERN CONFERENCE AND LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIPS)
1958 EXHIBITIONS: W 2, L 4, T 0
Although Bobby Layne and Tobin Rote, the two Texans who comprise the best corps of quarterbacks in professional football, have had trouble buying a touchdown pass in preseason games, there is no cause for alarm. Wilson uses exhibitions to test new talent and beef up his running attack. When the games count in the standings, Layne and Rote will be as effective as ever. Their receivers—Jim Doran, Steve Junker, Dave Middleton, Hopalong Cassady and Gene Gedman—are both numerous and good.
As a graduate of George Halas' Chicago Bears, Detroit Coach George Wilson places an inordinate emphasis on the ability to move a football by knocking people down. He has spent much of the pre-season developing this talent in the Lions. The addition of Rookie Bill Glass at center in a vigorous offensive line helps the blocking; John Henry Johnson is still a valuable fullback, and the Lions have stepped up backfield speed with Rookies Ken Webb and Dan Lewis. Their running attack recently has been more of a crunch than a dazzle, but it should certainly gladden Wilson's heart and accomplish his purpose, that of opening the defense for the Lions' great passers.
The Detroit secondary defense has, for several years, been considered the best in the league. It is back nearly intact—Carl Karilivacz was traded to make room for Rookie Dave Whitsell, who should have little trouble fitting into the battle-wise veteran combination of Jim David, Jack Christiansen, Yale Lary and Terry Barr. Strong rushing from a big, active line helps make the deep men look good.
The Lions have a veteran line with a great trio of linebackers in Bob Long, Joe Schmidt and Roger Zatkoff. Schmidt is probably the best in football—quick as a hunting cat, reliable as a treasury bond.
The Lions have the ingredients for success. The question is one of age; Layne and Rote are 31 and 30, Jim Doran 31, and others are as old or older. A strong leavening of youth from the rookies and second-year men will help, but these oldsters face a stronger conference and a long, long season.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
COACH: RAY McLEAN
1957 RECORD: W 3, L 9, 6TH
1958 EXHIBITIONS: W 2, L 3, T 0
With the continued development of Bart Starr and more perceptive passing from Babe Parilli, the Green Bay air offense may be one of the more effective in pro football. Starr has matured quickly in two years; he is a quick, analytical quarterback with a strong arm and a sixth sense which allows him to spot flaws in a defense in a hurry. Parilli, whose principal trouble heretofore has been an inability to find a secondary target if his chosen receiver was covered, seems to have developed better peripheral vision. The Packer receiving department is led by All-Pro End Bill Howton, with an unusual number of good receivers behind him, including Max McGee, Gary Knafelc, Ron Kramer and Steve Meilinger. The Packers rank with any team in the league in topflight pass catchers on hand.
A healthy Howie Ferguson and a determined Paul Hornung combine to give Green Bay real power on the ground. Don McIlhenny provides the speed, with Al Carmichael an acceptable utility man. Injuries—six assorted bone fractures—hobbled the Packer offense last year. With an adequate offensive line to pry cracks in the defense, the Packer running—especially inside—looks better.
A defensive line strengthened by offseason trades (Len Ford from Cleveland and J. D. Kimmel from Washington) should take some pressure off the Packer secondary defenders, who led the league in interceptions in 1957. John Petitbon has retired, but the other three deep men, headed by All-Pro Bobby Dillon, are back. Dan Currie, a rookie from Michigan State, lends up-close assistance.
Ford and Kimmel lend considerable authority to the Packer defensive line. Currie joins veteran Linebackers Tom Bettis and Bill Forester; and Carlton Massey, another ex-Brown, adds depth. The fiercest scrimmages in Packer history attest to the competition for positions.
The Packers should be the most improved team in the Western Conference. Depth, aided by judicious trades and good rookies, should help free the team from the possibility of disastrous injuries which accounted for the 3-9 season in 1957.
LOS ANGELES RAMS
COACH: SID GILLMAN
1957 RECORD: W 6, L 6, 4TH
1958 EXHIBITIONS: W 4, L 2, T 0
When Coach Sid Gillman could not resolve his differences with Norman Van Brocklin, he gave up probably the best passer in professional football. Relying now on Bill Wade, Gillman may find trouble untracking a strong enough passing offense. Behind Wade is Frank Ryan, an atomic physics major from Rice, who is also a good passer. In front of Wade are some very good receivers—Jon Arnett, Leon Clarke, Lamar Lundy and Del Shofner. The Rams have adequate replacements for these receivers; a serious injury to any one of them would not hurt much.
Ron Waller, one of the best running backs in the league, will be out for one or two games with a shoulder separation. Arnett, most valuable to the club as an end, has been moved to halfback to take up the slack. Tom Wilson, a fine runner two years ago, has net regained his rookie form; Joe Marconi, the Ram fullback, is a sound, strong runner but his replacement, Rookie Jim Jones, is small. The Rams are clearly thin in the running department, where more injuries occur than at any other position in pro football.
The Rams, with plenty of experience in their secondary defense, calked up a leaky spot by obtaining Jim Harris from Philadelphia on a trade and can depend on strong defensive end play to apply pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Will Sherman is the old head among the defensive backs. In this trade in which experience is probably the most valuable asset, the Ram secondary appears sound and sure.
The addition of John (Bigger Daddy) Baker to the Ram defensive line at tackle and some personnel juggling should bring that line up from a journeyman group to a good one. The Rams' fine linebackers—Les Richter, Dick Daugherty and Larry Morris—did much to cover up the holes in the Ram line. The Rams leaked for 1,845 yards on the ground last season, and figure to do better in 1958.
If the Rams' starting offensive and defensive units remain healthy, the Los Angeles team could improve on last year's record. But the club lost too much in offensive ends (Hirsch and Boyd), running backs and at quarterback to be thoroughly sound.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
COACH: FRANK ALBERT
1957 RECORD: W 8, L 4, TIED FOR 1ST (LOST TO DETROIT IN CONFERENCE PLAYOFF)
1958 EXHIBITIONS: W 3, L 3, T 0
When All-Pro End Billy Wilson injured his shoulder in a preseason game, it cost the 49ers the services of probably the finest all-round pass catcher in the league, with the possible exception of Harlon Hill. Since this team reflects the hell-for-leather, gamble-and-be-damned personality of Frankie Albert remarkably well, any impairment of its reckless passing game will hurt. In Jim Pace and Abe Woodson, Albert has a couple of very fast rookies who can serve as targets for Y.A. Tittle and John Brodie. Tittle is one of the most consistent throwers in the business, and Brodie has shown signs of greatness-to-be. Clyde Connor, the acrobat, and R. C. Owens, who brought basketball to the gridiron with his amazing leaping catches last season, create an inviting target area for the quarterbacks. This could be the best pass offense in the league.
Joe Perry, the 31-year-old 49er fullback, is looking better than he has for four years; Hugh McElhenny, the once-incomparable halfback, is ready. Since the Perry-McElhenny wallop has been one of the best punches in pro football for several years, the San Francisco running is solid. Albert has solid help for the big two in Gene Babb at fullback and Pace or Woodson at half.
The most porous secondary in the league will probably continue to leak. Albert has patched up his umbrella in spots—Jerry Mertens, the 49ers' 20th draft selection, may be the best defensive halfback on the team after Dicky Moegle. A robust defensive line and quick linebackers help the pass defense, but not enough.
A bulky veteran line which includes Leo Nomellini, a small mountain of all-pro muscle at tackle, should discourage running by the 49er opposition. The linebackers—Matt Hazeltine, Marv Matuszak and Karl Rubke—are good.
The 49ers were superlative opportunists last season. They won several games in the closing seconds. Clearly, they cannot expect the same luck; they may not need it, since, next to Green Bay, they have improved more than any team in the division.