Stoner took a coast-to-coast approach with his defensive roster–with a pit stop near Arthur Bryant’s. Good call?
“They told us that they admire our species for our creativity, resilience, and skill to control and/or use emotion to our advantage either by direct or indirect intimidation,” writes Matt Waldman about the RSP Writers Project: The Team to Defend the Planet. “These are things they plan to study and learn from us if they win control of the planet in this game.”
One thing that traditional/old-school sports media and intellectualized/new-age sports analysts are unified on is how much they hate one single question: “Have you even played the game, bro?” Granted, it usually only comes from a frustrated athletes and angry fans who don’t like a media member’s critiques.
It’s true that you don’t need to have played a sport to understand it theoretically (rules, strategies, etc.). However, I believe it’s truly impossible for someone to empathize with the intimidation and physicality involved with a violent, collision-based sport like football, boxing/MMA, or rugby. You might be able to understand, even sympathize. But you cannot empathize with the fear.
I understand the thought that if you can’t measure [momentum] why legitimize it as a concept? But whenever I hear someone dismiss the concept of momentum, I have the sneaking suspicion that person has never competed in a physical contest where fear for one’s well-being is a real factor of influence in the competition.
– Matt Waldman
If the aliens are so interested in our ability to use emotion and intimidation to our advantage, we’re going to let them experience it firsthand.
“I call it the Wine Cellar Team, and here’s why: Whenever someone makes an all-time team, they casually throw out names without context. I’ll take Bird, Magic, Jordan, Kareem, LeBron … What does that even mean? Did you like pre-baseball or post-baseball Jordan? Did you like alpha dog Magic or unselfish Magic? I need more information. Think like a wine snob and regard players like vintages of wine and not the brands themselves. Ask any wine connoisseur for their ten favorite Bordeaux of the last seventy-five years and they wouldn’t say, “Mouton-Rothschild, Lafite, Haut Brion, Latour …” They would give you precise vintages. The ’59 Mouton Rothschild. The ’53 Lafite. The ’82 Haut-Brion. The ’61 Latour.
I loved watching Bird, but I really loved watching ’86 Bird. Why? His teammates peaked in ’86, allowing him to explore parts of his game during his prime that couldn’t be explored otherwise. You could say his career year became special because of luck and timing. With wines, the determining factors for career years also hinge on luck and timing—like 1947, an unusually hot summer in France that created wines of high alcohol and low acidity. That’s how the ’47 Cheval Blanc emerged as a famous vintage and the best its vineyard ever produced … you know, just like ’77 Bill Walton.
Not every decision is that easy. Mouton-Rothschild peaked in ’53, ’59 and ’61 … you know, like how Magic peaked in different ways in ’82, ’85 and ’87. Wine connoisseurs disagree on the best Mouton-Rothschild vintage, just like we might disagree on the best vintage of Magic. His best scoring season occurred in ’87, but I have more than enough firepower on my Wine Cellar Team. If I’m already grabbing a Jordan bottle (either ’92 or ’96) and a bottle of ’86 Bird, and I’m definitely picking a few more scorers, why would I need Magic to assume a bigger scoring load? Why not start ’85 Magic (the ultimate for unselfish point guards) or maybe even bring ’82 Magic (younger, better defensively, capable of playing four positions, talented enough to average a shade under a triple double) off the bench as my sixth man?
So really, the Wine Cellar Team is a jigsaw puzzle.”
-Excerpt From: Bill Simmons’ “The Book of Basketball”
I love this idea of assigning specific years as the peaks for a player, but I wanted to take it one step further. I loved the team I constructed (and I’ll post the roster at the end), but so many of the players I selected were no brainers for me. There was almost no internal debate for me, which almost made it boring. As I was going along I became much more intrigued with the idea of using entire position units from specific years. 2008 Ed Reed vs 2013 Earl Thomas isn’t a hard decision for me (Reed). But the 2006 Baltimore secondary vs the 2013 Seattle secondary is a much tougher decision for me, especially when considering how I’d want them to fit up with a certain linebacker unit or defensive line all within one scheme. I also figured that it would leave less of an unknown in figuring out the chemistry within the units. Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu might have been the best safeties of this generation, but put them together, and you’re looking at an awful lot of freelancing on the back-end of your defense. These units have already shown elite, tangible results and each unit is anchored by one of the best players in NFL history.
I also only selected units of whom I had a distinct memories of watching them play, basically making the late 90s as the cutoff point.
Rules: To fit the roster I’m constructing, we’re playing with late-90s/early-2000s style rules. Illegal Contact on a wide receiver after five yards and helmet-to-helmet hit enforcement are in place to keep the passing game from being completely stifled, but they’re more suggestions than a hard-and-fast, enforced rules.
Head Coach: Jimmy Johnson
“He coached the Bad Boys (Pistons). And if you can coach those assholes, you can coach anybody.” – Charles Barkley on the selection of Chuck Daly as head coach for the 1992 USA Olympic Basketball team
We have a short amount of time to prepare and a roster that doesn’t have a history of playing together. A foundation needs to be laid quickly. We literally don’t have time to complicate things or to have a steeper learning curve than is necessary, which eliminates the truly strategic types like Belichick or Walsh for me.
Further, we’re building a roster that’s going to feature a ton of egos and dominant personalities. What better person to handle a team like this than the man who coached the Bad Boys of college football and the early 90s Dallas Cowboys?
When you think of the most physical and intimidating defenses in the modern era two franchises pop up over and over again – the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Both of these defenses have had several peaks along the way. For my money, the best, most talented, and most violent of these was the 2006 Ravens defense (yes, even moreso than their 2000 team that set records and led the way to a Superbowl). Featuring a linebacker group that sent all four players to the Pro Bowl, two shutdown corners, the best safety of all time, and an incredibly deep and talented defensive line, this is the team we most want to emulate. I could make the case that this is the best defense I’ve ever seen, and others have made the case that it’s the best in NFL history. They get forgotten because their offense turned the ball over four times and failed them in a 15-6 playoff loss to the Colts. They held Peyton Manning’s offense to zero touchdowns (the Colts went on to win the Superbowl that year against Rex Grossman’s Bears). In all honesty, if you wanted to start this unit as a whole against the aliens, I wouldn’t be against it.
We want to be able to stop the run with seven in the box if needed, and run predominantly man-to-man on the backend. In order to stop the run with seven up front, and to let our linebackers fast flow, we’re going to have at least one two-gapping defensive lineman in our base package.
Defensive Coordinator: Rex Ryan
We have to roll with Rex, right? Yeah we’re rolling with Rex. It’s not just because he coached the 2006 Ravens defense that I love so much though.
When his defenses are running at their peak and with the correct personnel, they absolutely wreck top passing offenses with designed pressure and blanketing man-to-man coverage, as well as swallowing run games up whole.
Defensive Ends: 2006 Baltimore Ravens
- Trevor Pryce: 16 games started, 37 tackles, 13 sacks
- Haloti Ngata: 16 games started, 13 tackles, 1 sack
- Jarrett Johnson: 2 games started, 16 tackles, 1.5 sacks
Let’s just start plugging the 06 Ravens guys. This group helped anchor the best run defense in the NFL, and kept the rest of the defensive front clean. There’s a reason that every Baltimore linebacker in 2006 went to the Pro Bowl (three of them with very gaudy sack totals). This group was the perfect blend of size, strength, and brutality with enough versatility to make Rex’s nickel/blitz packages work.
This unit was something of a perfect storm – Pryce was a perfect inside/outside rusher who could play the run and pass with equal devastation. 2006 was his first year in Baltimore (and last fully healthy year in the NFL) and saw him tie his career high in sacks. Ngata was a rookie who was mostly tasked with taking on blocks and keeping everyone else clean. Johnson was a high level rotational guy for many years – able to line up both at defensive end and linebacker.
Defensive Tackle: 2013 Kansas City Chiefs
- Dontari Poe: 15 games, 43 tackles, 4.5 sacks
- Jerrell Powe: 1 game started, 1 tackle, 1 sack
The Ravens 2006 defense got away with playing undersized Kelly Gregg at the NT position – a very solid player who played with great leverage to overcome his lack of size. Overall, his best nose tackle has probably been the massive Kris Jenkins. The thought of using the 2004 Pats’ rotation of Keith Traylor and rookie Vince Wilfork was intriguing. However, the temptation to set Dontari Poe right over the center (essentially setting off a car bomb in the middle of the offensive formation off the play) is just too much to pass up. I’m not hugely worried about depth/rotation either, because Poe has shown in his Kansas City career that he can play extremely high snap counts. He destroys double teams against the run and is quite literally the most athletic two-gapping nose tackle prototype we’ve ever seen, allowing him to be used in nickel packages as well. Further, he’s a bully. He plays with the nasty disposition and is the type of tone-setter we’re looking for on this unit.
Linebacker: 2006 Baltimore Ravens
- Terrell Suggs: 15 games started, 46 tackles, 9.5 sacks
- Ray Lewis: 14 games started, 80 tackles, 5 sacks, 2 interceptions
- Bart Scott: 16 games started, 78 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 2 interceptions
- Adalius Thomas: 16 games started, 64 tackles, 11 sacks, 1 interception
There might not be a player capable of single-handedly destroying an offense like Lawrence Taylor in this group, but in terms of overall talent and skill, the 2006 Ravens have the finest linebacker group ever assembled. All four were in the primes of their career in 2006. Suggs and Thomas had developed into two of the most complete edgebackers in the entire NFL. Bart Scott spent most of his time happily blowing up guards and fullbacks, and had a great year as an interior blitzer. And to cap it off, Ray Lewis was essentially free to roam and clean everything up. Ray Lewis is one of the no-brainers for any team to defend the planet. He will be our leader, he will set the tone. The aggressiveness and physicality and violence he demands from his defense and teams is almost tangible.
Defensive Backs: 2013 Seattle Seahawks
- Richard Sherman: 16 games started, 38 tackles, 8 interceptions, 18 passes defensed
- Earl Thomas: 16 games started, 78 tackles, 5 interceptions, 11 passes defensed
- Kam Chancellor: 16 games started, 80 tackles, 3 interceptions, 12 passes defensed
- Byron Maxwell: 5 games started, 23 tackles, 5 interceptions, 14 passes defensed
- Brandon Browner: 8 games started (suspended), 18 tackles, 1 interception, 10 passes defensed
- Walter Thurmond: 3 games started, 26 tackles, 1 interception, 7 passes defensed
This was the single hardest decision I had to make for this team. I really want the 2006 Ravens secondary. Ed Reed deserves to be on this team, and I feel comfortable in guessing that he’d make the biggest play in this game against the aliens somehow. Cris McAlister and Samari Rolle teamed up to make a great veteran man-to-man duo, even if they were just starting to exit their physical primes. And Dawan Landry was solid, albeit unspectacular (which is almost necessary when playing next to a freelancer like Reed – you need somebody who you can depend on to tackle and play his assignment, which is exactly what Landry did).
Two things swing the favor into Seattle’s favor though – they anchored the best pass defense of all time (and to make it more impressive, they did it in an incredibly pass happy and pass efficient era). The Broncos team they played in the Superbowl was a passing juggernaut, and the Seahawks completely and totally dismantled them. And secondly, I cannot in good faith build a team around physicality and intimidation that doesn’t include Kam Chancellor. I need this on this particular team.
I have to have it.
This safety pairing is a bit more predictable than the potential pairing of Reed and Landry. But having a 6’4 220 pound wrecking ball, two great man-to-man corners in their physical prime (one of whom is probably going down as one of the best corners ever), and a disciplined and reliable safety to play down the middle of the defense.
Kicker: Adam Vinatieri
Pick a season. He’s the surest three points in NFL history.
Punter: Shane Lechler
Again, pick a season. We’re talking about the most consistent punter of the modern era.
Kick Return/Punt Return: 2007 Devin Hester
After a breakout rookie campaign as a returner, Hester set NFL records for punt touchdowns (4) combined returned touchdowns (6) in a single season in 2007. He averaged 21.7 yards per kick return and a staggering 15.5 yards per punt return.
Gunner/Blocker: 1997 Steve Tasker
Barely making the cut with his final year being played in 1997, Tasker is widely attributed as the best special teams player in NFL history.
Read more RSPWP Teams to Defend the Planet at the directory page.
Eric Stoner writes for the Rookie Scouting Portfolio blog. He was the co-founder of the site Draft Mecca and his work has appeared at Rotoworld and Bleacher Report.