FATAL FAILURE TO PICK UP SOME OPTIONS
Thursday in booming Cleveland the Browns worked on the thinly grassed, dusty surface of old League Park. Blanton Collier, for the first time in two weeks, eschewed tricks. He had a small bagful on hand, having used double reverses against the Rams and a quarterback run against the Steelers, but now, in the quiet, reasonable way he coaches, Collier stuck more closely to subtle variations designed to make it impossible for the Giants to give Middle Linebacker Sam Huff a primary responsibility for Jim Brown. The Giants would have to worry about the tricks. Collier had accomplished part of his purpose. The Cleveland running pattern was one of feints and fakes—Brown faking into the center of the line to induce the automatic suction of the defense to the center, then a quick toss by Quarterback Frank Ryan out to Ernie Green, winging wide, where, hopefully, there would be running room. Then, too, Ryan faked to Green up the center, tossed out quickly to Brown wide, knowing that the Giant defense, through long habit, might have pinched in from fear of Brown's thunderous shots up the middle.
And Ryan threw. On Thursday, he threw the Giant patterns against the Cleveland defense, screens that Y. A. Tittle is so expert at, with the Cleveland defense assigning one man to look for it on each side.
But the Browns were not really worried about the screen. "I don't mind if they throw screens," Defense Coach Howard Brinker said. "They did last year when we beat them. It just means they can't hit the bomb. And it's the bomb we have to worry about. The screen doesn't hurt you that much. Y. A. used the screen the same way when he played with the 49ers. You know, the back goes out, fakes falling down, then gets up to catch the screen. We are aware of that." To close out the possibility of the bomb, the Browns worked on both man-to-man and zone coverage against Tittle's passes. Jim Shofner, the right corner back who is no relation to Del Shofner, the Giant spread end, has had some long afternoons against his fellow Texan, but he has never given up a long touchdown pass to Del. With the zone coverage the Browns worked on in preparing for the Giants, Jim would get help from Larry Benz, the rookie safety, if Del went deep. The Browns did not expect to shut out Tittle, but, with a good pass rush and a reasonable awareness of the screen, they hoped to hold him down. They worried about Alex Webster, too. "He can do everything," Brinker said, when he heard that Webster would play. "Block, run, catch passes. He's a problem."
Ryan, on Friday, threw the Cleveland patterns. Over and over again, the Brown defense simulated a blitz, although the Giants have not, in the past, blitzed much against the Browns. "They seem to be playing more aggressively this year," Ryan said, reflectively. "They come more. But I hope they do. We like it when the other team blitzes. We're set up to handle it."
He stepped back up behind the center then to call another play. The Cleveland defense, simulating a Giant maneuver, had called another blitz, and the corner linebacker circled in and tried to penetrate the crack between the offensive tackle and guard, and Offensive Tackle Dick Schafrath slanted in to close the hole, pinching the linebacker with a solid block as Ryan threw over the center to a Cleveland end slanting into the area left by the linebacker.
"Way to go, Dick!" someone yelled.
On the same Thursday, minutes after the New York Giants concluded a brief practice session, Coach Allie Sherman lit a cigar in his office—the same office Ralph Houk had occupied so unhappily just a week before—and tried to talk Jimmy Brown down to normal size. "We're not going to set up any special defense to stop Jimmy Brown," Sherman said. "We can't afford to focus our defense entirely on one man. If that broke down, we'd be through." Then, as if fearing he had not been fair to Brown, he added: "I have the highest regard for Brown, but I can't understand all this sudden fuss about him. He's playing his normal game, just the same as he always does."
What Sherman had just said, translated, was: Just because Brown has run over Dallas, Los Angeles and some other teams doesn't mean he'll run over us. We usually stop him and I see no reason why we won't stop him again.
It is true that the Giants had had great success with Jimmy Brown in the past. Against other teams in the NFL, Brown had been the greatest fullback in history, but against the Giants he had been, relatively, a failure. He had scored only eight touchdowns in 13 games against the Giants. He had gained only 82.3 yards a game, well below his average. Never once had he had a really big day against New York.
"He's just a number in the backfield," said Dick Lynch, the defensive back, before the game. "That's the way Robustelli wants us to think." The idea, as Lynch expressed it, was not to build up Brown past the point of reality. "In fact I've already talked about him too much," Lynch concluded.
Much of the credit for stopping Brown in the past has gone to Sam Huff, the middle linebacker. Huff deserves some of it, but not as much as he gets, and he himself is the first to admit it. Explains a member of the Giant front office: "When Tom Landry was defensive coach, we used a system that funneled outside plays in. Huff was the beneficiary of an all-team effort, but for a few games there it looked to 63,000 people, sports-writers included, as if Sam was stopping Jimmy Brown all alone."
When Brown swings wide, the job of bringing him down is up to the corner-backs, Dick Lynch and Erich Barnes, and Jim Patton, the safety man. "You have to get your arms around him and keep your feet going," Patton said. "I always try to hit him around the waist. Brown doesn't run you down the way Jim Taylor does. He doesn't give you that low shoulder. He yields a little, which is why you have to keep after him."
None of the Giants seemed overly concerned that for the first time they would be meeting a Browns team not coached by Paul Brown. More than any other team, the Giants used to have the book on Paul Brown, and what's more the Cleveland players knew it. "I would not say we could anticipate every play," Lynch said, after the Giant practice, "but we had it narrowed down pretty well." But now Paul Brown and his book were gone.
"There aren't that many rets," said Huff. "Oh, maybe you can change your blocking a little, but if we execute okay on defense, we'll be all right. And we always execute well against the Browns. We tackle, we pursue. I don't know why it is, but we love to beat the Browns. You'll see."
More than 62,000 people came to Yankee Stadium last Sunday to see—and thousands of others watched on television. The Giants tackled and pursued and, usually, executed well. The Browns, who had indeed changed their blocking, executed better and sprung Jim Brown loose for three touchdowns and a 35-24 victory.
As the Browns had expected, the New York defense blitzed a lot, and early on, a blitz got them a touchdown. Ryan had just stung a Giant blitz by throwing a screen pass to Jim Brown for 10 yards and a first down. As he faded to throw again, back-pedaling quickly, the Giant linebackers came in on him. His line picked up the blitzers, but Ryan's throw was hurried and a trifle short, and Dick Lynch sliced in front of the Cleveland receiver on the sideline to pick off the ball and take it 47 yards for the first Giant touchdown.
The tone of the game was established with the next Cleveland series. Ryan called an automatic pass to his tight end, Johnny Brewer, as the Giant linebackers poured in again, and the pass carried 19 yards. He then faked a handoff to Jim Brown, tossed out to Halfback Ernie Green, who swept the Giant right end for 14 yards. Using the option blocking Collier has installed, Brown next dipped in toward the Giant tackle and then, finding that his blocker had taken his man toward the inside, bellied out and around, making 13 yards to the New York 22.
Brown was a decoy again on the next play, when Ryan flicked a quick pitch-out to Green, who skirted the pinched-in defense to the 12-yard line. A few moments later, Brown dived high over a pileup at the goal line to score his first touchdown. Ryan, the tall, graying quarterback, had whipsawed the Giant defense almost exactly as planned.
But the Giants were by no means finished. Y. A. Tittle, even under the fierce pressure from the Brown line and linebackers, hit well on short and medium passes, but the Browns had hoped to cut off his long passes to Shofner—and they did.
With the high road closed, Tittle thumped away along the ground. This pedestrian approach gave the Giants a touchdown when Alex Webster struggled over from the one-yard line. Nonetheless, the fact that Tittle had been forced to the ground was the important fact for the Browns. It proved that their defensive strategy was working. It continued to work until, in the third quarter, their defensive club had lost a corner back and two corner linebackers, all on the right side of their defense.
With Huff obviously keying all his moves on Brown, the Giants had held the Cleveland superstar to short bursts. Now, early in the third quarter, he suddenly got away.
"I threw him a flare screen," Ryan said. "They were dropping off on the flare man, so we set up a screen for him." He threw the screen from the Brown 28-yard line, Dick Schafrath took care of the ubiquitous Mr. Huff and Brown, running with the long, sweeping stride which carries him three steps faster than he seems to be running, used his other two blockers to break away from the first wave of Giant tacklers, then outran the Giant ondary down the sideline for a touchdown.
(Later, in the dressing room, Huff was to say, "We had him, we had him, but we let him get away. I think he's a smarter runner now than he was.")
Now the Giants took a leaf from the Collier book and freed Frank Gifford on a double reverse for 12 yards, but Gifford fumbled and the Browns recovered. (Later, asked if there had been a moment when the game changed direction, Sherman said, "When we ran the double reverse, it could have helped....")
The fumble set up Brown's best run. From the Giant 32, he started into the tackle hole at his left. ("The tackle is the option blocker," Collier said later. "If he takes his man in, Jim goes out and vice versa. This time Jim went out.")
Brown met a cluster of Giants as he crossed the line of scrimmage, but he cut sharply toward the other side of the field, ducked behind a couple of blockers and scored easily. Even so, the Browns were to need one more careful drive before they could rest easily.
By now they were suffering on defense. Galen Fiss, who calls defensive signals from his right linebacker spot, had pulled a muscle in his leg. His replacement, Mike Lucci, had suffered a knee injury. Sam Tidmore, who had just recovered from a leg injury, was pressed into service. Jim Shofner, hurrying desperately after his namesake on a long pass, had pulled a hamstring muscle, and young Jim Shorter was now faced with the critical task of containing Shofner. The Browns had to abandon blitzing tactics; Tittle began to nibble at the defense with short passes. He drove the Giants 63 yards in eight passes, the last one to Phil King for a touchdown. That brought the score to 24 for the Giants, 28 for the Browns.
There were 10 minutes left to play in the game when the Browns took charge on their own 20, and the Giant fans began howling "Get the ball!" in a desperate, repetitive chant. If the Giants could get the ball with enough time left, it seemed probable that Tittle could again shepherd them down field for a winning touchdown, striking into the crippled Brown ondary with his short passes.
But Ryan and the Browns responded to adversity by producing almost a carbon copy of the drive which had brought them their first touchdown. Using the option blocking beautifully, Jim Brown slid through cracks here and there, gaining 12 yards outside left tackle once, then five yards inside right guard on the same play as the holes opened in different places. Ryan threw twice; once, when it was third and four, to Rich Kreitling for 15 yards and, finally, to Kreitling again on a similar pattern for 12 yards and the touchdown. "Green was the primary receiver both times," Ryan said later. "But when I dropped back, reading the defense, and saw they were covering him, I went to Kreitling."
Later, in the Brown dressing room, someone asked Collier about the option blocking. "I didn't invent it," he said. "It's not new. I used it at Kentucky, but I didn't have a Jim Brown. He's the best at picking daylight in close quarters I ever saw."
Everybody saw Jim Brown picking daylight, including Sam Huff.