by Dwid. Jim Brown is often referred to as the best running back of all time. There is no doubt that he is a top back. He had a great combination of speed and power, and the Cleveland Browns utilized his ability to the fullest. He led the league in rushing for most of his career.
The one year he didn’t guess who did? Jim Taylor of the Green Bay Packers. Taylor was second to Brown all of those years in terms of production. Yet when people speak of Brown, they act as if he would dominate any era; but when speaking of Taylor the talk is about how great Green Bay’s line was and the fact that he only went against “slow white guys.” He was going against the same competition as Brown. . . or was he?
http://www.pro-football-reference.com/blog/?p=3306 lists the Simpson paradox, here is a little snippet:
“Here are the per game rushing yards for Jim Taylor and Jim Brown from the 1960-1965 regular seasons. We have rushing game logs back to the 1960 season, and Jim Brown retired after the 1965 season.
“Jim Brown: 103.8 rushing yards per game
“Jim Taylor: 83.0 rushing yards per game
“Jim Taylor has a pretty impressive rushing average (that would equate to averaging over 1,300 rushing yards over a modern 16 game season, for six seasons), but we see that Jim Brown’s numbers are other-worldly, and far in excess of Taylor’s numbers. So where does the Simpson’s reference come in? It is referring to Simpson’s paradox, first discussed by Doug back in this post.
“As some of you may know, I have been doing a lot of work on the early 1960s in regard to my AFL versus NFL series. I was generally aware of some imbalance between the NFL Western and Eastern Divisions from the decade of the 1960s. Then, Doug, Chase and I were having some recent discussions about schedule adjustments . . . and we noticed some pretty significant schedule adjustments for NFL quarterbacks in the 1960s.
“For those that don’t know, back then the NFL Western and Eastern Divisions were very much like we might think of the AFC versus NFC today in regard to scheduling. Teams played almost all of their schedule within their division (or conference today) with a small percentage of games against the other division (or conference). In 1960, NFL teams played 10 division games, 1 game against the other division, and 1 game against the Dallas Cowboys expansion team. From 1961-1965, NFL teams played 12 division and 2 out of division games.
“So, let’s turn back to Brown and Taylor. We saw that Brown averaged over 20 yards more per game. Now, let’s look at how each did against the respective divisions.
“vs. NFL East teams
Jim Brown: 109.6 (70 games)
Jim Taylor: 102.0 (12 games)
“vs. NFL West teams
Jim Brown: 74.2 (11 games)
Jim Taylor: 81.7 (68 games)
“Now, it’s not really a Simpson’s paradox, it’s more of a quasi-paradox. Jim Brown still had a higher average against the NFL East. Further, the NFL East for Taylor included games against Cleveland, while the NFL West for Brown included games against Green Bay. We do see, though, that Brown averaged 7.6 more yards per game against the East minus Cleveland, compared to Taylor against the East with Cleveland. Conversely, Taylor averaged 7.5 more yards per game against the West minus Green Bay, compared to Brown against the West with Green Bay. A large part of the difference between Brown and Taylor from 1960-1965, at least in terms of rushing yards, can be explained by the schedule each faced.
“Brown averaged 4.04 yards per carry against the West, and 5.47 ypc against the East from 1960-1965. The West schedule was pretty balanced for Cleveland during that time, as they played each team at least once over that span and nobody more than twice. Brown had only three 100 yard rushing games out of eleven, and three games with 150+ total yards against the West out of eleven. It’s a small sample size, but there is no reason to think it doesn’t at least represent playing a cross-section of the NFL West over that period.
“How bad was the NFL East versus the NFL West during Jim Brown’s career? Well, it ranged from being near equal in a couple of seasons, to being downright lopsided in a few others. Jim Brown entered the NFL in 1957 and played his whole career with the Cleveland Browns and in the NFL Eastern Division. During that time, the NFL West Champion won seven out of nine NFL Championship games. Cleveland was a pretty good team for that entire nine year run. Cleveland went 7-10 (with an average margin of -4.4 points) against the NFL Western Division during Brown’s career, compared to 71-24-5 against the other teams in the NFL Eastern Division.”
“. . . Taylor did play with a great offensive line, but as Chase showed yesterday, so did Brown. They ranked second and third among great running backs most helped by their offensive lines.
“I think what it does illustrate is the importance of schedule. Brown is almost universally considered the best running back of all-time. How strong would that hold be if he had instead played his entire career in the NFL Western Division? I have no doubt that most great running back seasons are aided to some extent by the schedule — they are probably not facing the Steel Curtain defense week in and week out. Still, I suspect that Brown’s schedule adjustment is going to be greater than other top running backs. I would guess that he will still rank #1 all-time when Chase prepares his next version of Greatest Running Back of All-Time, with schedule adjustments, but it will interesting to see who gains on him.”
Basically the article is saying had Brown played in the same division as Taylor, his production would look something like this for a 14 game season: 257 carries for 1038 yards. While that is great (his production would probably be a little higher given the small sample size over several years), it shows that the two players were not much different.
I am writing to make a similar point. That Jim Taylor and Jim Brown were 1a and 1b and not as much different as the media would have you believe. Besides the fact that they did not play the same competition (many old timers would say that the division Brown played in was more on the level of the AFL at the time), Brown got more carries every single year, except the year Taylor beat him in rushing.
Also I have talked to people who were around the Packers at that time and I had the privilege of meeting Jim Taylor. Apparently Brown got to run a variety of plays, to the inside and outside while Taylor mostly ran up the gut with Paul Hornung being the outside guy. Taylor did not struggle to run to the outside, its just that Hornung was more suited for that type of running and it also set up fakes where Hornug would throw the ball and Jim Taylor was a monster when it came to grinding it out for first downs. It was a different era, you could pretty much say that Brown was the first featured back. Taylor had the skillset to be one, but his coach was old school, and can anyone deny that this worked better for the Packers? They won more championships with their strategy. The Browns only won once with Jim Brown.
Many people will claim that Taylor did in fact run to the outside quite a bit because of the famous Packer Sweep bit, but that play was designed for Hornung with Taylor blocking. I have a copy of the Packers’ championship game against the Eagles and pretty much every single carry Taylor has is straight up the gut, and I am not sure where the talk of this second greatest line of all time comes from, because he was running into a wall on most of these plays.
It is pretty much common sense that by limiting Taylor to mostly rushing to the inside, grinding out first downs that it lessened his chances of breaking of a big play. Out of the few highlights I have seen of Taylor, most of the big plays shown came from running to the outside but this does not go against my point of Taylor being mostly an inside runner, the highlights are only about a dozen plays from his 9 year stint with the Packers. Despite being limited to mostly going up the gut, his average was still over 5 ypc for 3 out of the 5 years of his stretch of dominance, with one year being slightly below that with 4.8 and another with 4.1 and he still managed to break off big runs, just not as many as Brown. Running more to the inside probably wore him down more which led to him dominating 5 seasons rather than the 9 Brown had, which something Jim Brown fanboys will usually bring up.
However, one has to keep in mind that Taylor did not receive many carries his first two years and was 30 when his decline began (he entered the league at age 23 compared to Brown at 21). Jim Brown received 200+ carries from the beginning of his career and Jim Brown was 30 when he decided to hang his cleats up, both around the age where a runningback starts to decline, regardless of workload. During Taylor’s peak years he actually averaged 91.9 yards per game.
Also remember, there were no 4-man lines back during this era. Many will say that Hornung was the reason why Taylor was so successful but Hornung missed a season due to being suspended by the league and it did not affect Taylor’s play. In fact during Taylor’s best season, Hornung only had 57 attempts because he was dealing with injuries. Perhaps Taylor was given a more variety of plays to run in his absense, it is unknown because no footage is available to me of these games.
There were also rumors of Lombardi being a hard ass about running plays as far as exactly how they were drawn up on the board. It was said that Jim Brown was allowed to freelance more, bouncing things to different areas if the play didn’t go as planned as well as reversing field, multiple cuts, what some refer to as backyard football style of play. If Taylor freelanced and managed to gain a huge chunk, if it wasn’t the way Lombardi had drawn it up then Taylor would get an ear-full, especially if he tried something fancy in the open field like we often see in Jim Brown highlights. It didn’t stop him from doing it; it probably just stopped him from doing it as much and didn’t get a chance to live up to his potential as far as homeruns were concerned. (It has been mentioned that Lombardi eased up on the first issue over the years but it is unknown how much or if at all because Taylor’s style remained the same).
Of course this style proved to be more effective when it came to reducing turnovers, Jim Brown averaged 7 fumbles per year from 60-65 while Taylor averaged 4, or to include the difference in carries, Brown fumbled every 37 carries while Taylor fumbled every 55. That does sound like a lot for either player but keep in mind this was a different era and conditions were different, I have footage of one game where the Packers are playing in thick, wet mud. This style of running also proved less effective for Jim Brown against the competition Taylor went against.
This style of coaching might be why Taylor had to resort to being so physical — when the play didn’t go as designed he would often just try to bulldoze his way through defenders, and usually had success. This was also the case when he got the second level and he usually had success. From the very few highlights of games I have seen, it would often take a gang to take Taylor down. Of course when speaking of Taylor, sports shows on channels such as the NFL Network talk about how he was one of the first to lift weights, and acted like Jim Brown was just naturally chiseled and gifted without ever exercising except to put a football helmet on.
However, Lombardi heavily discouraged lifting weights and Taylor got plenty of exercise by just using body weight. He thought that it would decrease a player’s speed and make him stiff. Many people think that the players of that era were slow and stiff but from a copy of a 1966 Packers playbook, Lombardi cites the minimum speed desired for a fullback as 4.8, and halfback as 4.7. Not much different than the era we are in now when you keep in mind that players have the technique of running the 40 yard dash down to a science, and we still have tailbacks that test in the 4.6 to 4.7 range (LaGarrett Blount is just one example).
In a Sports Illustrated article about the championship game between the Packers and the Browns, this was said about Brown: “On a field less conducive to the sweep and cutback because it was soft and often slippery, he had some early success, but none at all in the crucial third and fourth quarters, when the Packers smothered Cleveland like the snow. The Green Bay defense, called from the sideline by Phil Bengtson, the defensive coach, and implemented by Middle Linebacker Ray Nitschke, read the Brown sweeps as though Nitschke were a party to their huddles.”
“We knew when they came out in the double-wing set, with only Brown back and John Brewer and Ernie Green to the strong side, they would sweep to the strong side,” End Willie Davis said. “So we flew out of there to turn Brown in. If we could turn him in, then he would run into Nitschke or the corner linebacker or the safety coming up.”
The defensive coach notes of Brown, “We knew from watching pictures of the game in Cleveland last year that Brown hurts you most on sweeps when he cuts in and takes an alley just inside your cornerback.” The idea was to take that away from him and force him to be a physical inside runner. I have the highlights from that game; he doesn’t look so great like the highlights would suggest he does on the highlights NFL Films show of his career.
Speaking of highlights, it’s amazing how NFL Films can find so much footage of Brown but so little of Taylor. . . It also shows that Brown was not as versatile as Taylor when it came to run plays; it seems his bread and butter was the sweep and relying on running to the outside, and without it he was not that effective. It wasn’t just the field because the same Sports Illustrated article had this to say: “At the same time, in spite of the sloppy going, Paul Hornung was able to cut and twist in his own distinctive fashion for 105 yards, and Taylor came up with about the best game of his career, running straight over the Browns, the goo and even his own mired-down blockers while gaining 96 yards.”
The fact that the media has hyped up Brown so much and mentioned so little of Taylor is sickening. Taylor isn’t even considered the number one powerback of all time coming in at number 4 on NFL Network, but Brown is!
Here is what Coach Lombardi said of the two: “Jim Brown will give you that leg and then take it away from you. Jim Taylor will give it to you and then ram it through your chest!”
Sam Huff once summarized, “Brown is strong, but he doesn’t sting you like Taylor does.” Bob Jeter, a backup cornerback, had this to say about Brown, “”Man, I was very nervous,” Jeter said. “My stomach was upset. . . had to think about Brown on sweeps. . . I had to come up against Brown,” he said. “You have to be brave to be the first man to hit Brown. But I had to do it, and the funny thing, it didn’t hurt so much.”
So a Hall of Fame linebacker saying that Taylor stings more than Brown, a coach talking about his physical style of play, (yes he was the coach but pretty much everyone agreed that Taylor sought out contact whenever possible), and a backup cornerback saying Brown didn’t hurt as bad as he thought it would, still leads Brown to be the number 1 powerback of all time? When you add in the amount of championships Taylor won and the fact that he was the first player to rush for 1,000 yards for 5 straight seasons, there is no doubt that he was on the same level as Brown and should be mentioned right along side of him when talking about the greatest instead of as an after thought.
Go ahead and cite every excuse in the book, it has been said about pretty much every white player, “better supporting cast,” “better system,” etc., but if you dig deep into the facts you will see that there wasn’t much difference. Brown had just as good of a line and the players who also rushed on those teams had a similar ypc, even better, such as Bobby Mitchell who averaged 6.1 in 1958 to Brown’s 5.9. Why were none of these guys given more carries? Paul Hornug was good but not great at running, and a little bit overrated coming out of Notre Dame being touted as the Golden Boy. It was also said that he was the one player that Coach Lombardi was very close to. His versatility (throwing, running, receiving, kicking) is more of the reason for him being in the HOF rather than pure running ability didn’t hurt either.
Perhaps splitting things up a little more evenly allowed the Packers to win more championships. This something common among White runningbacks. Larry Csonka was a member of the only undefeated team, the 1972 Dolphins, and certainly didn’t have problems sharing carries. It worked and they won. John Riggins had to share carries evenly most of his career with the Jets until going to the Redskins, getting most of the carries when he went to the Redskins and started receiving more carries, getting most of his carries with Washington. By this time the league was different and teams relied more on one back, still he didn’t complain about Joe Washington getting close to 150 carries the year he led the league in rushing touchdowns. It was more carries than any of Brown’s backup’s ever saw, with the most being 111, which seemed to be the cutoff with Mitchell receiving that many in 1960 and Ernie Green getting that many in 1965.
What Jim Brown set up would become the future, with O.J. Simpson getting tons of carries, guys like Eric Dickerson coming into the league and getting 400+ carries. These guys were all great, but represent what is wrong with football. It should be a team sport. There should be no ball hogs. It should be about winning. Take a look at the top backs recently. Adrian Peterson for example, what has his team accomplished with feeding him the ball? Even when they have a capable backup in Toby Gerhart? What has Maurice Jones-Drew’s team accomplished? Did any of Ladainian Tomlinson’s teams ever win a Superbowl?
It also is similar to the way “quotabacks” are used in college right now; they are basically stat accumulators receiving so many touches, a point made in the post written by Caste Football discussion board member Riddlewire called “Voodoo Mathematics.” Yes, some of these guys are very good but it is getting harder to judge with the emphasis on inflated stats rather than winning.
Is the NFL headed this way now with the quarterback position? Much has been made of Cam Newton’s 2011 season where he put up a bunch of yards, but did not win. Robert Griffin the III might have a similar rookie year.
Back to the original point and to conclude, the evidence is there that Jim Taylor and Jim Brown were equal. Jim Taylor played tougher competition. Taylor was being used more as an inside runner and his team’s short yardage/goal line specialist and had less chances to bounce things to the outside and was discouraged from being fancy in the open field to reduce turnovers shows that two were much closer than the stats would indicate.