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Gary Clark Was Uniquely Dominant In 1991

Clark caps his dominant season with a Super Bowl

The 1991 Redskins are the hipster’s choice for greatest NFL team of the modern era. The team was statistically dominant, but what makes Washington’s case unique is that folks rarely mention the 1991 Redskins as one of the best teams of all time! Well, today I want to talk about that team’s star wide receiver: Gary Clark.

Judging wide receivers is very tough. One way to do that is to look just at their raw statistics, but a receiver’s production is heavily influenced by the environment he plays in — how often does his team pass, how talented is his quarterback, how good are the other targets on his team, etc.  At a high level, it’s easy to assume that the best receivers are playing on the best passing attacks: after all, if a passing game is dominant, the receivers are likely a big part of the reason why.

The 1984 Dolphins, 2004 Colts, 2007 Patriots, and 2013 Broncos all had record-setting passing attacks.  And while Dan Marino, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady were great, but they also each had not one, but two star receivers: Mark Clayton and Mark Duper, Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison (and Brandon Stokely), Randy Moss and Wes Welker and Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker (and Wes Welker!).  That’s generally the rule, not the exception: dynamic offenses almost always have a great quarterback, but they also almost always have multiple top receivers.  The Falcons offense was outstanding last year, and it’s hard for a wide receiver to be better than Julio Jones, but even he only accounted for 28% of the Atlanta receiving yards and 16% of the Falcons receiving touchdowns (Jones also missed two games).

The receivers who play on the teams with the biggest pies can make the case that they were a driving force for a mammoth level of production.  But getting a large share of the pie is really impressive, too. After all, if a receiver’s quarterback is terrible, all you can ask a wide receiver to do is be responsible for as much of the limited production that his team has as possible.  Consider Isaac Bruce — a player we know was an outstanding receiver — and the 1996 Rams.

The main quarterback was rookie Tony Banks, who wasn’t very good even in his prime and was worse as a rookie.  The Rams ranked 29th in ANY/A and 28th in passing yards in a 30-team NFL.  But Bruce still gained 1,338 yards and scored 7 touchdowns — making him responsible for about 40% of the team’s producing in the passing game.  The same goes for Anquan Boldin on the 2003 Cardinals: playing with 33-year-old Jeff Blake and 24-year-old Josh McCown, Arizona had one of the worst passing attacks in the NFL.  And while the raw numbers for Boldin were still strong, what was really remarkable is that he accounted for over 40% of his team’s receiving production.

So a great wide receiver on a bad offense can still stand out by gobbling up targets.  And a great wide receiver surrounding by a strong offense can help that offense reach great heights.  But what about doing both?

Jerry Rice did that for a host of 49ers teams, which is one of the reasons he was the greatest receiver in NFL history.  But that’s what Clark did on the ’91 Skins, too.

Lest you forget, Washington was by far the best passing offense in the NFL that season.  The Redskins averaged 8.3 ANY/A that year; by way of comparison, only five teams that year averaged even 6.0 ANY/A. Mark Rypien produced dominant numbers that year, but he didn’t do it by spreading the ball around: he did it by force-feeding Clark and to a lesser extent, Art Monk. Clark saw 36% of all Redskins receiving yards and a third of the Washington passing touchdowns.  In the last 30 years, the only wide receivers to gain 30% of their team’s production on a passing offense that was at least 3.00 ANY/A above average are Moss in ’07, Rice in ’92, Clark in ’91, and Rice in ’89.

Clark’s raw numbers don’t stand out as insane today — 70 catches for 1,340 yards and 10 touchdowns — but that’s pretty misleading.

  • Washington ranked 26th in the 28-team NFL in pass attempts, because Washington played with the lead all the time that year. There just wasn’t much opportunity for Clark to produce big numbers.
  • Unlike Moss or Rice or Harrison, Clark wasn’t playing with a Hall of Fame quarterback.

In three playoff games, Clark caught 17 passes for 255 yards and 2 more touchdowns. Which may not sound like alike, but again, it was 37% of the Redskins receiving yards and 50% of the team’s receiving touchdowns during the playoffs.

It’s impressive to have a great seasons statistically. It’s impressive to play for an elite passing offense. It’s impressive to be a hog when it comes to splitting up your team’s receiving pie.  Gary Clark managed is one of only a handful to have done all three in the same year, and he finished that year by earning his second Super Bowl ring. That’s a season worth remembering.

  • sacramento gold miners

    Gary Clark, Ricky Sanders, and Kelvin Bryant were all USFL refugees, as the NFC was the dominant conference during this time period. The top teams in the NFC all had more USFL contributors, while the AFC lagged behind. Clark’s NFL stats are impacted by his 1984 USFL season, and he was out of the sport after his age 33 season. If you missed seeing Clark in action, a good modern comp is Steve Smith. Short, but played bigger than his size.

    The smallest USFL-NFL skill position player was probably Gerald McNeil. Called “The Ice Cube”, McNeil was a tiny KR/PR/WR at 5’7, 145 pounds.

  • kevin trammo

    I think timing and the lack of personalities of that team play a part of why they tend to be a forgotten team. They are sort of in-between the Niners 80s dynasty ending, and right before the Dallas dynasty and also in the midst of the Bills team who get a lot of attention of losing the Super Bowl 4 years in a row. And all 3 of those teams had more ‘personalities’ than those 91 Skins. But when I look back, they won 8 games in the regular season by 3 or more scores, plus 2 more in the playoffs, and the Super Bowl was not as close as that 13 point margin indicates. They kind of are a very over-looked team , I feel.

    • They are not overlooked by the stat nerds (I think they are the best Super Bowl winner of all time by DVOA, even if you estimate for those teams before DVOA has been calculated), but perhaps by the general public.

      One reason is that they were kinda a one-hit wonder team. They had few legit greats in their primes (Darrell Green), but they had a bunch of players who had major career years (Mark Rypien) and veterans who had their last really good seasons (Charles Mann).

      It all came together for one year and they were the rare team that was the hands-down consensus best throughout the regular season before winning the Super Bowl handily.

      • Frank Yi

        The public also looks at them as a dominant team right before the beginning of free agency (which sent Gary Clark to the Cardinals while the Redskins kept Monk). The funny thing is that Gibbs won his 3rd SB with as many QBs, none of whom are going in the HoF, so it’s also a testament to his coaching

    • I’ve often wondered if the entire Gibbs Redskins’ Era is stightly under-recognized because they always seemed to have the fortune (or misfortune depending on perspective) of playing less-than-stellar playoff opponents in their Super Bowl title runs. They won three championships in the heart of the 49ers dynasty and didn’t play them in any of those postseasons. They didn’t even have to play the Giants. Much like Pittsburgh in the Manning/Brady Era, they seemed like a solid team that was always around the playoffs and if San Fran or New York stumbled, the Redskins were good enough to beat Ditka’s Bears and clean out the lesser tier NFC teams like Minnesota and Detroit and go on to win the Super Bowl over a weak AFC opponent. Their 1991 title is bookended by seasons ending in decisive playoff losses to the 49ers at Candlestick. The only time a Gibbs team beat San Francisco was 23-20 in the 1983 NFC Title game that had an incredibly controversial finish and then they laid a massive egg in the Super Bowl. Their only matchup with Parcells’ Giants was the 1986 Title Game and they were shutout 17-0. I’m sure that the 1991 Redskins could’ve beaten anyone in the league, but wins over Glanville’s Falcons and Fontes’ Lions does little for their legacy compared to a playoff run where they could’ve beaten the 49ers and then the Cowboys.

  • The 1991 Redskins came around when I was still pretty new to watching football. I’d never seen a team quite like that, seemed like they passed deep on every other play and made it work. I suppose someone just getting into football in the late 90s would think the same way about the Moss Vikings or Greatest Show on Turf.

    I also remember thinking Mark Rypien was the next great QB. Now I look back at 3,564 yards and 28 TD and can’t imagine how those were such huge numbers back then.

    • Richie

      Mark Rypien had an all-time great fantasy game that year. In week 10 he threw for 442 yards and 6 TD’s and also scored a rushing touchdown.

      • JeremyDeShetler

        Was a great year. That was my first fantasy championship thanks to that team and Rypien. I was 15 and helping my uncle in his work league (govt contractors). Scoring was only real scoring + milestones.

        I remember having Warren Moon, Mark Rypien, Thurman Thomas, Gerald Riggs, Drew Hill, Chip Lohmiller, and the Washington defense. Without knowing what I was doing, it’s 1 of the top 2 fantasy teams I ever put together in a money league.

        • Wolverine

          Meanwhile, I thought I was being so clever when I drafted Randall Cunningham #2 overall, only to see the Packers’ Bryce Paup knock him out for the year in week 1.

          • JeremyDeShetler

            One of the guys in my league did that twice. Both 1.1 overall picks. In 1991 with Cunningham and again in 1994 or 1995, but I forget who the QB was that time.

            • Richie

              Maybe Marino in 1993 when he got hurt in week 5?

              • JeremyDeShetler

                Nah, it was earlier in the year than that, like Week 1. and it may have been 1996 even. I swear it was Week 1 and Reggie White was the one who got the QB. Looks like I have to call my ex-roommate or this is going to drive me crazy.

        • Richie

          I took Warren Moon first overall that year, but finished 5-12. (I’m unnecessarily obsessive about keeping fantasy football history.)

          The team that had Mark Rypien went 7-9-1.

          The championship team had an unimpressive roster of guys like Chris Miller, Reggie Cobb, John L Williams, Andre Rison, James Lofton and Haywood Jeffires. (Looks like those WR’s must have pushed him over the top.)

          • JeremyDeShetler

            I was only unnecessarily obsessed with one league (my big $$ league, big for me at least). I joined it in 1995 and it had been around at least 4 years prior when it broke off from another league. Sadly, it is folding this year. This sounds ridiculous, but I feel like I’m losing a close friend.

            • Richie

              I’ve been in my league since 1988. The best I’ve ever done is 3rd place. And I’ve had a lot of bad seasons. So almost every year I wonder why I put myself through the torture – and consider quitting. But I know I would have a big hole in my life if I ever quit.

              • JeremyDeShetler

                I had a partner in that league for a long time because it was too expensive. We always lost in the semifinals. 14 year partnership, I think we made it to the semifinals 9-10 times, 2 finals and 1 title.

                But we did beat the guy, who brought Buddy Ryan to the draft the one year, for that title. So that was a plus. Guy was very good without the ‘professional help’.

                • Wolverine

                  “But we did beat the guy, who brought Buddy Ryan to the draft the one year”

                  Wait, you mean Buddy Ryan showed up to your fantasy draft? Did he sucker punch anybody?

                  • JeremyDeShetler

                    No sucker punches. It was 2-3 years before I joined the league. My roommate got me into the league. His dad was the commissioner and the guy that knew Buddy was his dad’s best friend. No idea how he knew Buddy. Draft was in Cherry Hill, NJ. The guy invited Buddy to come to the draft and he did. No idea why. My roommate didn’t really relate much more of the story than that. Buddy did supposedly lean over at one point and go ‘no, you don’t want that guy’ somewhere in the 3rd or 4th round when Paul was picking, but I don’t know if it was a joke or not.

          • Wolverine

            “(I’m unnecessarily obsessive about keeping fantasy football history.)”

            Hey, talking about fantasy football in the dark ages before the internet was around is in my wheelhouse! It was like Dungeons and Dragons for football fans.

            • Richie

              Our weekly results sheet from 1988: http://npfl.tooshay.us/1988/1988-Game-Results.pdf

              And I whispered “fantasy football” when I told an outsider what I was doing.

              • Wolverine

                “And I whispered “fantasy football” when I told an outsider what I was doing.”

                No joke, a teacher (this was when we were in high school) observed our league commissioner tallying up scores for the week in the school library, and she was convinced that he was gambling on sports and/or a teenage bookie. It was only long, drawn out, explanation about what fantasy football was that prevented her from dragging him to the principal’s office.

                • Richie

                  I was/am commissioner, so I used to spend an hour or two every week updating scores, standings, etc. (using my Apple IIe computer). One time I was working on it and my parents’ friends came over and asked what I was doing. I explained it to them.

                  For the next 15-20 years, I would see these people once every year or two, and they would always ask “are you still doing that football thing?”.

                  • JeremyDeShetler

                    If I had a dollar for every similar awkward conversations about ‘that football thing?’ Usually it was fantasy football related or the various pools I run. I might as well say D&D or Pokemon and I’d get the same look.

                    I did the tabulating for a while on old computers or word processors. In the mid-late 90s, I remember we used something like Terry Bradshaw Football Program. Forget the exact name. Every Tuesday night, we would dial-in to the 800 number and download the latest stats. Tie up for the phone line for 15-20 minutes it felt like.

                    • Richie

                      Oh yeah. I have some vague memory of a Terry Bradshaw stat service.

    • Another neat factoid… I remember the Redskins destroying the Falcons 56-17 that year. It got so bad, the Falcons let their rookie third-string QB come in and make the first pass attempts (and interceptions) of his career. You might have heard of him.

      https://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/199111100was.htm

    • JeremyDeShetler

      It’s just evolution and perspective. Average team in 1991 threw for 3158.8 and 17.4.

      Rypien’s 3,564 was 4th in the league, trailing only Jim Kelly (by 280), Dan Marino(by 406) and Warren Moon(by 1,126) and they threw 53, 128 and 234 more attempts.

      His 28 TDs was 2nd only behind Jim Kelly’s 33. Only 5 QBs threw more than 18 TDs that year. In 2016, Alex Smith threw 15 TDs, which was tied for 27th in the NFL. 15 TDs in 1991 would have been good for 9th place.

      • Wolverine

        No matter how many times I hear/read about it, it continues to amaze me how much NFL passing stats have been inflated. Taken out of context, the counting stats for Joe Namath make him look like a bum compared to today, and Blake Bortles’ 2015 looks like one of the all-time great seasons compared to the pre-2000 years.

  • Mark Growcott

    In their Week 11 game against the Falcons (Won 56-17), Clark had a monster game with 203 Receiving Yds and 3 TDs. The 203 Receiving Yds came from just 4 Receptions and thus Clark became the first Receiver in history to amass 200 Yds from no more than 4 Receptions. DeSean Jackson (210 Yds) in 2010 and Demaryius Thomas (204 Yds) in 2011 later matched Clark’s unique feat.

    • Richie

      That’s a fun fact.

      Got me thinking about other similar games.

      Homer Jones had a game in 1966 where he caught 2 passes for 173 yards (86.5 y/c)!

      Torry Holt had the best y/c with 3+ catches, when he caught 3 for 189 (63.0 y/c).

      DeSean Jackson has the 4+ catch record with 4 for 210 (52.5 y/c).

      Eddie Kennison 5 for 226 (45.2).

      Qadry Ismail 6 for 258 (43.0).

      Stephone Paige has the best 7+ and 8+ catch game when he went 8 for 309 (38.6).

      Plaxico Burress 9 for 253 (28.1).

      Josh Gordon 10 for 261 (26.1).

      John Taylor 11 for 286 (26.0).

      Cloyce Box 12 for 302 (25.2).

      Calvin Johnson 14 for 329 (23.5).

      Flipper Anderson 15 for 336 (22.4).

      Antonio Brown 17 for 284 (16.7).

      Terrell Owens 20 for 283 (14.2).

      Brandon Marshall 21 for 200 (9.5).

      • I think I’ve said this before, but can you imagine how strange Josh Gordon is going to look in 15 years when no one really remembers his story? Just imagine looking up his p-f-r page (especially if the entry for 2015 weren’t there). It’s like Charley Hennigan turned up to 11 on the strangeness meter.

        • Richie

          In 2013 he was one of 3 players to ever have 1,600+ receiving yards in 14 or fewer games. The other 2 were Hennigan (1961) and Alworth (1965) in the AFL.

          It was one of just 20 seasons to have 1,600+ yards in any number of games.

          I’m not sure if it’s dumber for the NFL to kick players out of the league for smoking pot, or for a player to choose pot over the NFL.

          But between Gordon and Justin Blackmon, we lost a couple of very promising players.

          In 2013, Blackmon had 415 yards in 4 games with Chad Henne, Blaine Gabbert and their 4.39 ANY/A throwing to him.

          That might be an interesting stat: most impressive receiving seasons on teams with least impressive passing seasons.

          • Richie

            I guess 2013 Josh Gordon would probably win that stat. 1,600+ yards from Jason Campbell, Brandon Weeden and Brian Hoyer who combined for a 75.7 passer rating and 5.01 ANY/A.

            And we can bring it full circle with 1995 Isaac Bruce: 1,781 yards from Chris Miller and…..Mark Rypien.

          • Wolverine

            “That might be an interesting stat: most impressive receiving seasons on teams with least impressive passing seasons.”

            You could call it the “bad input/good output index”.

            Off the top of my head, excluding others that have already been mentioned:
            Calvin Johnson 2008 (his counting stats weren’t spectacular, but if you consider who was throwing to him..)
            Andre Johnson 2013 (that was the year of the Matt Schaub pick-sixathon).
            Mark Carrier 1989 (I believe he made the Pro Bowl with a young and bad Vinny Testaverde throwing to him).
            Anquan Boldin 2003 (already mentioned in a previous post)

            • Richie

              If I was to dig in to this analysis, I wonder if interceptions should count against the QB. If we want to see how tough a job a receiver has to catch passes from his QB, does an interception make a catch any tougher than a regular incompletion? I’m thinking no.

              • Wolverine

                “If I was to dig in to this analysis, I wonder if interceptions should count against the QB”

                I’m tempted to say yes, because consistently high INT% is often the mark of a bad quarterback. But for a single season analysis, I would lean no, because interception totals can be so fluky from year to year. So maybe NY/A would be more instructive than ANY/A.

        • Wolverine

          Brandon Lloyd’s 2010 season fits in that category.

        • Mark Growcott

          Josh Gordon’s feats in 2013 left such an indelible mark in NFL history they will not likely be forgotten. Consider that no Brown’s Receiver had achieved 200 Yds in a Game until Josh Gordon achieved it in 2013 and no one has since matched that. For good measure he repeated the feat a week later becoming the first player in NFL history to have 200 Receiving Yards in consecutive games. His 498 Yds over that 2 game span is also a record. A wonderful talent and a big shame his career was all too brief and he is no longer entertaining us today on the football field.

  • Joe Smith

    I’m so confused, what is ANY/A? Art Monks 1984 season accounted for more than 40% of the redskins passing yards, can someone please help me?!

    • Richie

      ANY/A — Adjusted Net Yards per Pass Attempt
      (Passing Yards – Sack Yards + (20 * Passing TD) – (45 * Interceptions)) / (Passes Attempted + Times Sacked)