Joe Klecko

What in the world is a NY Giants blogger doing, writing about a NY Jets Defensive Lineman? It all started yesterday, when Troy Aikman went off the deep end with his man crush on Aaron Donald.

“I played against Reggie White, I played against Lawrence Taylor…and I gotta tell you, this Aaron Donald is the best defensive player that I’ve ever seen. He’s really remarkable – he should be the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and I think he should be getting some votes for MVP of the entire league…he’s that good.” – Hall of Fame QB Troy Aikman.

If you want to stir up a hornet’s nest, tell Giants fans that there is a better defensive player than Lawrence Taylor. Giants fans glow about their 4 hallowed Super Bowl victories. But they pray at the altar of their deliverer, Lawrence Taylor. You mess with Taylor, you mess with all of us. It is about respect. And truth. We know the truth about Taylor. He was the best defensive player we saw and we do not like it when anyone touches that.

When this happened, I reached out to the UltimateNYG Draft Analyst, Wonder, for his thoughts on where Aaron Donald ranked in terms of all-time Defensive players. We started out by simply listing the great Interior Defensive Linemen.

Putting a guy like Aaron Donald in perspective with the greats of all time is part of appreciating the players that came before Donald. There will be players that come after Donald too. Decades from now, people will want to defend his play, just like Giants fans want to defend Taylor’s today.

Look back at that list of Defensive Tackles, and tell me the one player that just does not make any sense. It is Joe Klecko. Here we are talking about the greatest Defensive Linemen to ever play the game, guys like Mean Joe Greene, Bob Lilly and Randy White (who tormented my Giants teams when I was growing up). And Joe Klecko is one of Wonder’s greats of all time.

Yet Klecko is not in the Hall of Fame.

I’ve heard this one before. So I started digging. And what I found was startling.

Everybody knows about Wide Receivers, Running backs, and Quarterbacks. Why? Because we watch the ball and that’s where the ball goes. Some of us watch Defensive Ends and Left Tackles because those elite players can change the outcome of a game. But Guards, Centers, and Interior Defensive Linemen literally and figuratively get lost in the wash. How do we truly know who are the great ones? Add an interior Defensive Lineman on someone else’s team, and it is mostly an empty shrug. The first person we turned to was Wonder.

“First of all, before we get to Klecko, let’s make one thing clear about Taylor. He was the best defensive player in the history of the game, and it is not even close. He changed the game. For Aikman to say what he said is incorrect. Perhaps that comment reflects that Aikman missed the first 8 years of Superman’s career. Taylor changed the way that offenses had to prepare for defenses. Offenses are concerned about Aaron Donald, as he is a terrific player (on my short list of Interior DLmen). He is a disruptor. But no one has ever put the fear of God into a QB like Lawrence Taylor. He terrorized opposing QBs. And they knew it. This also affected their play, adding even further impact to what he did on the field, ” said Wonder, UltimateNYG’s Draft analyst.

Wonder returns to his inclusion of Klecko on the shortlist of Interior DLmen: “Let’s talk about Klecko. Joe Klecko was a beast. He was great from Day 1. When Gastineau came along and collected a ton of sacks, it was because opposing Defenses had to double Klecko. Not many people know this, but Klecko was a Pro Bowler at NOT ONE, NOT TWO, BUT THREE different positions. Defensive End, Defensive Tackle, and Nose Tackle. People will marvel at how the elite Defensive Linemen like JJ Watt and Aaron Donald can line up almost anywhere. Well, Klecko lined up everywhere, and he killed it everywhere.”

The next place to go is to find out what the elite players of his era that played with & against Klecko said about him. This was when I knew I had to write a piece on this guy. It is nuts.

Let’s set the table. Who is Wonder’s best Guard of All-Time? It is John Hannah, and it is not even close. Now remember, Wonder is a diehard Jets fan, so for him to call a Patriot the best of all time is RESPECT. Hannah played Guard for New England from 1973 to 1985. Klecko played on the other side of the line of scrimmage from 1977 to 1988. They overlapped for 9 years. And since they were in the same division, that meant Hannah saw Klecko probably as much as anyone in the NFL.

“He was there, every play, all day long. Strong as anything, if he ever got under you, he was going to plow you right back into the Quarterback. And he was just off the ball quick. The combination of speed and quickness.. and having that strength…to go along with it, was just something you really had to contend with. The two guys in my mind that were the best all around that I ever played in front of were Howie Long and Joe Klecko. Not having Joe in the Hall of Fame is really kind of a slur against the Hall of Fame.” – Hall of Fame G John Hannah.

In a radio clip below (skip to minute 8:30 to find the question), Hannah is asked if he could put up one player into the Hall of Fame, no questions asked. ‘The Best Guard Ever’ did not flinch. It is a fun interview to get the veteran’s views on Alabama, Training Camp, the NFL today, and other areas of football. This interview took place in 2016 well before the 100th Anniversary HOF push of 2019, so there was no agenda for Hannah. It makes his words even more earnest, if that is possible.

How about another peer from the same era who had to face Klecko twice a year, every year, year after? How about the words of Hall of Famer Joe DeLamielleure. DeLamielleure played Guard for the Buffalo Bills from 1973 to 1985, the same period as Hannah, and also faced Klecko in his division for 9 years.

“I had Joe Greene and Merlin Olsen. I put Joe (Klecko) right in there with them. He was a great player. The difference between Joe and all the players you played against, he never took a play off. Ever. It was all-out.

“His significance to the Jets is he made them a better team. He made the players around him better. Joe got 20 sacks in one season. 20.5 sacks! You gotta be kidding me. Somebody will say, well what position did he play? He DOMINATED at three. If you played baseball and you played first base, second base, and short stop, and he was All-Pro at all of them, would he not be in the Hall of Fame? If he played Power Forward, Point Guard and Center in basketball, would he not be in the Hall of Fame? We got to right this wrong. It’s going to be one of my happiest days when he gets in the Hall of Fame.” – Hall of Fame G Joe DeLamielleure.

Let’s stay in the AFC East and hear the words of a third Hall of Famer from Miami who saw him twice a year every year, completely overlapping careers with Klecko….

“You watched him and were amazed by the way he played the game. He was a dominating and devastating lineman. He really was. No one played the game better than him. Joe Klecko hands down needs to be in the Hall of Fame.” – Hall of Fame C Dwight Stephenson.

John Hannah mentioned Klecko along side of Howie Long, another Hall of Famer from the Defensive Line. This time we get the perspective of a football player who played on the same side of the ball, who deeply understood what his peer faced and what he was able to accomplish.

“It was an incredible accomplishment to be dominant at one position in the NFL in your career. But to be dominant at 3 positions?! 20.5 sacks in 1981 (before sacks were recognized as a statistic), they are probably throwing the ball, I am not sure about the percentages, but they are throwing the ball a lot more now, we are throwing the ball at every level of football more. So that number is even more impressive in 1981 than it would be now. His just pure raw strength. His quickness off the ball. It was not about finesse. It was not about being slick. For Joe it was simple. You know what I am going to do. I know what you are going to do. And stop me if you can. There have been a number of players who have been dominant in their era, who in my mind warranted consideration and induction into the Hall of Fame. And I think it is time for Joe Klecko to get that nod. I really believe that.” – Hall of Fame DT Howie Long.

“I played against Joe Klecko several times. To me, in my humble opinion, he is one of the best and should be in. The Hall of Fame would be in a lot better standing with a guy like Joe in it.” – Hall of Fame LT Anthony Muñoz.

In a video clip below, Klecko is noted as a team player who did not grab the spotlight. He is tossing QBs around like rag dolls, just like Taylor used to do.

What is interesting about Klecko’s statistics are that he only played Defensive End for 3 seasons. In a 12 year career, that meant he was only on the edge collecting sacks in a significant capacity for 25% of his career. In the years he played Defensive End, 1978, 1980 and 1981, the NFL was passing on 47% of plays. Today (the 2019 season’s final stats), the NFL is passing 57% of the time. This works out to be 18% more passing today. Klecko had 74.5 sacks, the first 50.5 of which were uncounted in his first 5 seasons. When you consider when and where he played, it trues up some of the discrepancy in his numbers.

Klecko himself was asked why he is not in the Hall of Fame. He reminded us of some of the lenses that work for (and sometimes against) voters.

“Super Bowl rings and championship success is a big deal in our league. We had a lot of teams that were right there, but for whatever reason, it didn’t work out. Back in my days of playing, the media now is nothing like it was back then. For example, I was playing against a team, I won’t mention teams or names, that had Pro Bowlers on it and they told me, Joe, you’re better than those guys. But the problem is we were 3-13. Back in those days, you get zero news coverage if your team is bad. When we finally made the playoffs, that’s when I made the Pro Bowl. When you play on a good team or in the playoffs you get recognition. Those things matter. If you’re on a bad team in the league today it doesn’t matter because if you’re good enough people will still recognize you. Back when I started that wasn’t the case.” – Defensive Lineman Joe Klecko.

It is really hard for younger people to understand a world without the internet, let alone a world without more than a few television stations. In the 1970s the Jets were terrible, ESPN did not even exist, and that meant a guy named Klecko was invisible. Then they start collecting sack stats right AFTER he switches from End to Tackle. So Klecko goes from invisible team to invisible stats to invisible position. He missed out on the Pro Bowl in his first 4 years. All of a sudden year 5, bamm, he is not only Pro Bowl but All-Pro too? It tells you he was quietly excelling without recognition from 1977-1980 when the Jets won 3, 8, 8 and 4 games. In his rookie year (in the video above), there was already frustration from a veteran Offensive Lineman in not being able to block him. Klecko was invisible to enough HOF voters, but he wasn’t invisible to Hannah, DeLamielleure, Stephenson, or Munoz. When one of your fiercest rivals yearns for your recognition, that is the purest compliment you can receive. Usually it is fellow teammates taking up the mantle for one of their own making it to Canton. What does it say that DeLamielleure, your RIVAL ON A COMPETITING TEAM, demands that Klecko get in?! Respect.

Some Giants fans may be offended that I could put together such a glowing tribute to a New York Jet. For me, this is about truth and objectivity. If you want to defend Lawrence Taylor as the best Defensive Player in history, you also need to speak up when there is any football player who is not being recognized properly. We want the proper respect for Taylor. We want the proper respect for Donald. How good was it when Harry Carson finally got the nod to the Hall? We need to get Joe Klecko into the Hall of Fame so that we can honor truth. Bill Parcells would always bring the media and fans down a level when some new ‘flash in the pan’ would get “great” accolades. “Don’t put him in Canton yet,” said the HOF Coach. It is well past time that Joe Klecko is put in Canton. Respect.

Unzooming Mara and Gettleman

I pulled up a bag of dread and listened to another year of Mara and Gettleman handwaving away a 6-10 season. I can’t tell you what a masochistic exercise it is, to voluntarily listen to 60 minutes of garbage spin. Honestly, I did it so that I could at least give them the opportunity to defend themselves before I posted.

I respect Mara and Gettleman as men and never wish anyone harm. They work hard. I know they did a lot of good things this year. It’s fair to say that there isn’t anyone out there in most businesses who didn’t work harder for lower and longer because of Covid.

The best way to understand Mara is two-fold. Number 1 is that he’s the third generation of family ownership. It’s the lucky sperm club. Number 2 is borrowed from @raitzin, who explains his views in a brutally blunt tweet .

“I’ll tell you what the real problem is. John Mara wants to be the Pittsburgh Steelers, so he emphasizes “loyalty” and “stability”. But the Steelers had the brains to hire Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin, and John Mara gave us Gettleman and McAdoo. Mara is no Rooney.”

We see the parade, year after year, of Mara sounding like his Dad, quoting his Dad, but not having the wisdom & execution of his Dad. I wanted Gettleman gone last year. He had a better year this year, but now the logic is that Mara doesn’t want to break up the relationship between Gettleman & Judge. The problem with this thinking is that Gettleman was the wrong choice in the first place and the organization is always going to suffer from the poor decisions that Gettleman makes.

2018 Review

Mara candidly laid into 2018 as a year with bad decisions that set the organization back one year. We knew then that it was bad year but they didn’t explicitly admit that until now. 2018 also set them back 2 years. Shurmur wasn’t our choice and he wasn’t the answer. Not going after QB with 1.02 overall, given an aging Manning, was a critical error. Choosing a RB at 1.02 was even worse. Choosing a RB at 1.02 without an OL was worse worse worse. Believing you could win “now” instead of rebuilding was another critical error. Taking effectively one draft choice allocated to the OL in two years was yet another critical error. The litany of failed FA signings from 2018 is too long to list. All 5 big signings did not make it to the roster in 2020 (and Solder would have been cut had it not been for the restructured contract).

2019 Points

One reporter asked about 2019 decisions. Gettleman handwaved away Jones and Lawrence, ignoring that Jones was overdrafted at 1.06. Next, he handwaved away the trade up from 2.37 to 1.30 for Deandre Baker:

“We had no clue that Deandre could get into that kind of an issue.”

No clue? There were pre-Draft warnings about Baker’s work ethic and attitude, as reported by Jordan Raanan the evening of the Draft. Gettleman also conveniently ignores multiple egregious incidents in 2019 where Baker (1) didn’t know assignments /playbook (2) showed poor work ethic and (3) loafed on chasing down a ball carrier.

Then there was this draft day indictment about Gettleman not being consistent on picking Baker when the same GM was preaching culture culture culture a year earlier when he became GM.

These decisions matter. Yes, 2020 saw better decisions. But the kind of judgment that generated RB at 1.02, overdrafting Jones, trading up for Baker, hiring Shurmur, not rebuilding in 2018; this is the same man making the decisions.

2020 and Forward

The press conference saw both Mara and Gettleman cling to 5-3 in the second half of 2020 as evidence the team was headed up. While we agree that things have bottomed and there is reason for a better future, it’s a very thin prop to cite 5-3. The Giants beat each of their 3 NFC Least rivals, plus the team with the 3rd worst record in the NFL without their star rookie QB Joe Burrow. So you’re hanging your hat on beating mostly garbage. Let’s talk about the one other win…

Beating Seattle was the high point of the past four years. Why? Because in the last 3 years the Giants beat a total of 2 teams with a winning record, one of which was the Chase Daniel Bears. So in the last 3 Gettleman seasons, the Giants have realistically beaten a grand total of one real NFL team. 15-33. 14 wins vs 0.500-. 1 win vs winning teams. Please think about this when you hear Mara and Gettleman talking about getting a winning record next season. That means it’s time to start beating winning teams.

We Gotta Fix…

Dec 2017: “we gotta fix the offensive line” “The culture is critical”

Jan 2019: “there’s some stuff we’ve got to fix.” “One of the biggest issues we had last year that we had to fix was what? The locker room. And both Jonathan Stewart and Patrick Omameh are true professionals, and they were brought here for a specific purpose, they were brought here for other reasons than their play. Just understand that. We feel like we’ve turned that corner, especially with this rookie class.”

Dec 2019: My performance is “not good enough.”

Jan 2021: “We’re gonna fix this. We’re gonna fix this.”

The NY Giants will not be fixed until the Offensive Line is fixed. The NY Giants have turned the corner. They have a head coach and a good Defensive Coordinator. They are committed to rebuilding. But Gettleman is always going to be a flawed decisionmaker who still values running the ball and stopping the run above QB and protecting the QB. Mara doesn’t know even know what he doesn’t know.

We are already getting a glimpse at Gettleman’s priorities. He’s focused on getting more playmakers. But if we have paid attention to Reese collecting toys (like Wilson, Beckham and Engram), it’s a cautionary tale about the misallocation of resources. The work on the OL is nowhere near done, yet Gettleman thinks so. Here are two quotes from the same postseason press conference:

“The offensive line showed very good progress. They’re big, they’re young, they’re strong and they’re tough and smart. This O-Line has a chance to be pretty damn good.”

“(Jones) played well against Baltimore despite getting chased all over the place to a degree.”

What’s it gonna be, Dave? Are you going to say your OL is well positioned on the improve, or are they still the Jones crutch at the penultimate game of the season? The concern is that Gettleman stands down on the OL rebuild, letting Thomas/Peart/Lemieux be the answer. They may be the answer. Keep throwing resources here. If you’re wrong and resources are sufficient, you have added depth and given your QB even more of a foundation.

The Giants are in a better place than they were the last 3 offseasons. They continue supporting Gettleman as the architect and decisionmaker to get the Giants to a title. Questions and “fixes” are still ahead.

2020 Finishes 6-10

Instead of adding to this post as the week progresses, we will discuss the Gettleman/Mara press conference in a followup post this weekend. Here is the narrative for 2020 as the Giants head into 2021:

1. This was a successful rebuilding year. Anyone who is crushed that the team didn’t make the playoffs… I can’t help that. At 6-10, if you are crestfallen then all I can say is that what happened to them vs <AZ CLE BAL> would have in almost all likelihood awaited them the following weekend. The team picks at 1.11. Onward.

2. The Giants found their head coach. To juxtapose this, in ~Nov 2018 we called Pat Shurmur “a loser.” Judge is a fighter.

3. I came into 2020 thinking Jones was a franchise QB. I’m not so sure after his sophomore effort. Some good, some disturbing (see last post) trends. If he has time to throw the ball, he has enough…

4. Everything is Offensive Line. Everything. The second of 3 pillars of success – “PROTECT QB.” This young unit is the metaphor for team health. Good OL, team good. Bad OL, team bad. Continue to throw draft resources here. I don’t care if other areas of the team need it and OL is the squeaky wheel that gets (more than it’s fair share of) the oil. Fix it. Make it great. End the double digit losing seasons by fixing the OL, overdrafting if necessary, to get depth too.

5. Evan Engram was part of 6 interceptions this season. Jones threw a total of 10 INTs. Engram is simply too much of a liability for this team and the Giants need to move on.

6. Let’s make this perfectly clear. The third pillar is RUSH THE QB. So getting an edge pass rusher is more important than getting a Wide Receiver. I can rattle off oodles of quality Round 2-3 WRs. Claypool, Metcalf, McLaurin, AJ Brown. It’s not as easy to do that with Edge.

7. Gettleman is not the answer. Get a new GM. I said this at the end of 2019 and little has changed. Yes, you can argue Bradberry and Leonard Williams. He could have still gotten LW anyway w/o the draft capital. And we are still left with the same problems of his repeated poor decisions, which aren’t going away just because the team took 2 extra years to rebuild than it should have.

More on everything as I supplement the post this week. Onward to 2021.

Seattle Win, Arizona Loss

The Giants giveth. The Giants taketh away. These are the telltale signs of a rebuilding year. Just when 4 straight wins had optimism running rampant amongst the Giants faithful (admit it, you couldn’t wait for the Arizona game to start all week long), the Cardinals dropped a heavy dose of reality into our living rooms.

Joe Judge gets his first demerit for bringing Daniel Jones back too soon from a hamstring injury.

Joe Judge gets his second demerit for not taking his immobile sitting duck QB out much sooner. (Halftime??!! See below.)

The Offensive Line was having great difficulties. They gave up 8 sacks. Even though they were back-loaded (4 of them came in the last 2 garbage time drives), Jason Garrett needed to make adjustments in the playcalling to help both his QB and OL. We will paraphrase the quote from Joe Gibbs for the 6th time on this blog- “I will not pass the ball unless I can block it up.” This means if you can’t protect the QB, yet you need to pass, try different passes that work under such circumstances- flares screens slants, quick outs… whatever gets the ball out of Jones’ hands fast and takes away the aggressiveness of the opponent’s DL pass rush.

There was one play that really shook me to the core yesterday. It was the final Giants possession of the first half. Let’s set the table. You have the ball at your own 24 yard line with 1:44 left in Q2. You are down 13-0. You have 2 timeouts. There has been a complete inability to drive anywhere (the Giants would not get past midfield until Q3). Still, there is some hope of trying to get some points on the board before the end of the half. 1st down short pass for 4 yards. 1:25 left. 2nd and 6, Jones in shotgun. 2 seconds go off, nothing there. Pressure coming from the right side. 3 seconds. It is Haason Reddick getting past Matt Peart on the right side, Jones’ side where he sees the rusher. He slides left. Jones has a history of not protecting the ball well. He has been coached to protect the ball by throwing it away or taking the sack. Except there is one extra key ingredient today that should make Jones extremely wary and careful.

Hint… Paragraph 2 …. Paragraph 3.

Jones is a sitting duck with a hamstring injury. He is immobile.

His attempt to move left is akin to Grandma with a walker trying to stay ahead of Usain Bolt.

As usual, Jones is a day late and a dollar short. He now tries to protect the ball well after failing most miserably to outrun Bolt (played today by Reddick). Except now he can’t get his arms around the ball quickly enough and the ball is fumbled. Miraculously, the ball takes an extremely kind bounce and the Giants claim victory by only taking a 15 yard loss. A sensible draw is called on 3rd down to get some yardage and thankfully they are able to punt and somehow get AZ to miss a long FG. They get into the lockerroom with a semblance of order, only down 13-0.

What. Was. Jones. Thinking?

This is the exact opposite of pocket poise. This is pocket puke. A QB can have all the skill in the world, but until he starts using proper judgment, he is a liability to the entire team.

I believe there is franchise talent in Daniel Jones. I am not so confident in his balance. Good QBs show field awareness. Great ones have eyes behind their heads. Right now, Jones has not figured out anything about the pocket. I do not know how that gets fixed. He has had plenty of experience. The coaching staff worked with him nearly all of offseason (despite Covid) on technique to control/reduce the turnovers. Here at the end of the first half when the risks are large, when you are hobbled, your first job is to protect the ball. These are rookie mistakes. For a QB drafted 1.06 overall near the end of his second season, I am very concerned about whether he can rid himself of this problem.

The Giants are committed to Jones. He still needs the time to prove himself and to correct these issues. He certainly deserves another year. The Giants will give him two years, if not more. Gettleman has more invested in Jones than we have invested in Gettleman.