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Breakfast Table: Salfino and Pianowski Talk Football

Michael Salfino

Michael Salfino writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

Scott Pianowski

Scott Pianowski writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

From: Michael Salfino
Date: Wed, Dec 21, 2011 at 1:42 AM
Subject: Holiday Breakfast
To: Scott Pianowski

First of all, Happy Holidays to all.

Last week is why we love this game so much. The Colts win, the Packers lose, the Lions mount an improbable comeback possibly aided by a bizarre decision not to go for two (it's usually the opposite that vexes coaches), and the Redskins just demolish the Giants at MetLife Stadium. Most surprisingly, John Elway endorsed, finally, Tim Tebow. But I think that's like endorsing Tim Wakefield, except that you know that Wakefield will always have his knuckler, and I'm not so sure that Tim Tebow will have his Read Option.

This week, the NFC East is in play, though why bother watching now that Clinton Portis has weighed in? The Giants have to beat the Jets to stay alive, and the Jets have to beat the Giants to remain in control of that sixth seed, and a showdown against T.J. Yates that seems too good to be true, even in Houston. The Eagles despite Portis's prognostications will not win the East - that's still ridiculous as it depends on a Giants team with nothing to play for and a coach halfway out the door (since they first must lose to the Jets) beating the Cowboys (after the Eagles beat Dallas). Other than that, only the AFC West is still in play.

But maybe you disagree. What else is on your mind on this special Christmas Eve of football? Remember, on Christmas Day, the NFL Network is airing a special to commemorate the 40th anniversary of The Longest Game Ever - the double overtime playoff game between the Dolphins and the Chiefs. I remember making the rounds to relatives that day with my father and being in disbelief upon arrival at each different house that the game was STILL on. I think that was the day that I really fell in love with this great game. Holiday Breakfast is served.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Wed, Dec 21, 2011 at 4:06 PM
Subject: of broncos and belichick
To: Michael Salfino

I think our thoughts are, finally, converging on Tebow. You have to admit he's thrown the ball very well for a few weeks in a row now. I've watched every Tebow snap this year (all games twice, some more than that) and trust me, he's light years away from the Miami and Detroit starts. You watch those tapes now, and he looks like someone who's never played football before. If you only watched Tebow's last three starts, you've never complain about his accuracy.

But it's going to be hard to sustain something here - into future seasons I mean. First and foremost, you can't have your quarterback taking as many hits as Tebow does (I know you've been on this point, in some vein, for a while). I'm not talking about one guy riding him out of bounds or someone sacking him here and there, but the gang-tackling abuse you get by running into the teeth of a defense. Even in a league where pocket collisions are just about illegal and everything past the line of scrimmage is overly legislated, skill players keep dropping like flies. A lot of quarterbacks went down this year, and the running-back board is a wasteland.

For Tebow to be a long-term solution, you'd need a perfect setup. His offensive pieces, let's accept it, are awful. The receivers are paper mache. The best running back is at the end of his ninth season. The offensive line is the worst run-blocking unit in the league according to Pro Football Focus. (I don't fully understand the methodology, but I've seen enough of the site to take them seriously). I'd love to see Tebow work with one of those modern, freakish tight ends.

And then there's the coaching staff. John Fox is about as modern as Prodigy. The worst thing the Broncos could do is start thinking Fox is a long-term solution. He'll set this team back five years.

If the Tebow thing is going to work, you need an overhaul of the offense, both in pieces and in scheme. You also need a Tiny Tim as the backup QB, someone with a skill package that resembles Tebow's. Otherwise, if Tebow gets hurt, you are totally screwed. You need to make Tebow's running chops the garnish of the offense, not the centerpiece. He's doing a fine job when plays break down (not just a runner, but also as a passer), but you can't have him being a surrogate running back for the full game. You have to spot that element, use it judiciously.

New England's win at Denver reminded me of why Bill Belichick is the best coach of his generation. He's always evolving, always thinking, unafraid to be aggressive. The Pats went for their fourth-and-short in the second quarter, of course, while the Broncos didn't, passing on a fourth-and-one at the eight-yard line. And that fourth-and-one came because Belichick *declined* a Denver penalty, knowing that Fox wouldn't have the spine to go for it. This was Alex Keaton playing chess against Mallory.

The 2007 spread-offense Patriots were ahead of the curve. The Gronkowski and Hernandez picks in 2010 were brilliant, we just didn't know it yet. He's always understood the importance of a backfield on a budget; go with ham-and-eggers, it's a fungible position. And even as the 2011 New England defense can't stop anyone or anything, somehow this unit is 14th in scoring defense. Okay, that's mostly the takeaways talking, but at the end of the day, I'm so glad he's coaching my team. I know the Pats have missed on a lot of draft picks in recent yeas, and Belichick probably wears too many hats, but I'm not going to quibble. Loser's Curse is to Belichick as Rounders is to Knish.

Look around, count the dinosaurs. Peter King says Darren McFadden's absence is the "Injury that Ruined the Raiders". I'll take Myopic Caffeination for $2000, Alex. Tom Coughlin went on a rant last week, saying that his defense's primary goal is always to stop the run. Don't chase the rabbits, coach - the elephants will kill you.

I think Hue Jackson's embarrassing end-game botch came partially because Oakland scored on defense: he didn't have a lot of time to digest the game situation, it was a TD out of nowhere. But there's no just excuse here. Sean Payton wouldn't screw that up. Belichick wouldn't screw that up. Urban Meyer wouldn't screw that up. Geesh, Mallory Keaton might get that one right. Jackson's game strategy has been weak all year.

I'm also curious to see where Cam Newton goes in the next few years. His passing stats have cratered in the second half of the year: 7.1 YPA, 6 TDs, 7 INT, 75.0. He's a beast as a runner, but again, you can't live like this for the long haul. I can't figure out why the Panthers give Newton so many goal-line carries when they have two capable backs perfectly able to handle the load (and I say that with no fantasy stake in this, whatsoever).

You're as clued into the Jets and Giants as anyone, so I'll let you have first run there. And I'd also like to get your take on where Green Bay is right now, and what we should take away from the Kansas City upset.

I love egg nog, by the way.

From: Michael Salfino
Date: Wed, Dec 21, 2011 at 5:10 PM
Subject: Re: of broncos and belichick
To: scott pianowski

Well you sure seem to be going out of your way to make our thoughts on Tebow converge. My thoughts are as follows:

Tebow is a gimmick QB like a knuckler but he's about to lose his gimmick - the read option

Tebow is still the worst passer in the league by far

Tebow still has the slowest release in football by a country mile

The read option is dead and with it whatever progress Tebow has made. What happens to him next is total speculation.

Tebow's upside is career backup/change-of-pace QB (but his followers will make it very difficult for the starter to perform at all, let alone thrive; so if you cut Tebow today I would wager that at least 25 teams wouldn't even make a waiver claim)

Fox is antediluvian, but you want someone more modern to coach the quarterback who's setting the game back 70 years? I give up. But man, enough of friggin' Tebow. You've watched every snap? Really? I'm so sorry.

Belichick is always thinking and evolving? But the Patriots are Team Brady. Is winning with Brady such a tremendous accomplishment? I've actually been way more impressed this year by Fox than Belichick.

How were the 2007 Patriots ahead of the curve with an offense that the Raiders ran in 2002 and that the Bills ran in 1990? Look, the NFL today has three teams that are consistent (reasonably, though none of these teams are close to being great): Team Brady, Team Rodgers and Team Brees. I don't really think it matters much who is coaching those teams, though Payton is probably most important to his team's success since he's the offensive guru. Why do all of these defenses sink? Why do most defenses stink when you have a big-time passing game? Maybe resources are rightfully allocated to protect/enhance the QB. Or maybe the defenses get lazy because they have so many big leads that they forget how to play in a normal situation. It's interesting to me. But I have no real answers. If any of these teams runs into a hot defense or gets a relatively poor day from its quarterback (meaning he plays about league average) it is dead. I can easily see any of these big QB teams losing its first playoff game (and then let's hear New England rhapsodize about Belichick).

I'm worried about Team Roethlisberger right now. But they're pretty dangerous, too. And there's a QB-driven team (though not especially high scoring) that has a good defense, too.

Newton's a baby. But he can make all the throws and performed capably this year. The Panthers have too many problems on defense and put too much pressure on Newton to make plays. So the mistakes followed. Plus, he has only one weapon in the passing game, and that guy is 5-9 and thus hardly a receiver who can carry an offense.

I respect you enough to know that if you can't understand the methodology, it's not worth understanding. There are so many obvious statistics that we can't readily get in football, and people wonder about "how many angels can dance on a head of a pin" questions like "who the best run blocking teams are." We can easily see who the best and worst running teams are, so who cares about the rest? How about which linemen require the most help with an extra blocker or two? Even that wouldn't make my most-wanted NFL stat top 10.

The Jets and Giants game will be fun. Both teams were rotten last week. Santonio Holmes was a disgrace as I wrote on SNYWhyGuys. The Giants also didn't show up, and they run their mouths too much, too. I think Rex Ryan should have sent Holmes to the locker room after that penalty just for being so unaware of his own preceding miserable failure in that very game. The Jets are better than the Giants and should win but they make a lot of big mistakes - seven defensive touchdowns allowed (no other team has more than four). Teams that score defensive TDs win 74.5% of the game, and I know we've talked before - or maybe it was Liss - that some of these are garbage time turnovers. So I isolated the stat by first-half defensive scores only, and the win rate is still 67.4% (all stats since 2000). If the Jets don't gift the Giants any points, they should win by about a touchdown. The Giants have no tight ends who are healthy, and the Jets give up nine yards per target to them (2nd worst in the league). They smother wideouts, the Giants strength. (And running backs, too.) The Giants, of course, can't cover anyone. Prince right now is a better cover corner than Prince Amukamara, even in spandex and with a guitar strapped to his shoulder. I'll call it 24-17, Jets.

See you later in the comments.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Wed, Dec 21, 2011 at 6:59 PM
To: Michael Salfino
Subject: copacetic

Now, now. Don't get on me for pushing Tebow as a topic. I did some quick research: your last nine Scouting Notebooks on Yahoo! (which are excellent and a must-read) had Tebow included, and four of them had Tebow as the featured item (two in November, two in December). Maybe I keep pushing the vodka, but your glass was already full. (And your first meaty paragraph this week, after the obligatory Yuletide Salute, had Little Timmy Tebow included, topical link and all. Don't complain about the direction when you're the guy driving.)

But hey, we go where he stories tell us to go. No one scripts anything ahead of time. That's the beauty of sports. And the reason I've spent so much time observing Tebow is because I know people want to talk about him and break him down. And considering how unorthodox his approach is, the scouting on him meant more than it would a normal player.

You make a key point that it would be hard for any team to accept Tebow as a backup, since irrational fans would want him to start no matter who the No. 1 quarterback is. This connects to one of Fox's 2011 flaws: Tebow should have been a package player from Day 1 (we've seen how lethal he is at the goal line, on two-point conversions, etc.), but you get the idea Fox didn't want to let the circus into town. Then again, sometimes ignoring a story is the best way to give it life. And there are many, me included, who think Fox and Elway finally threw Tebow into the starting gig so he could fall on his face and push the lobbyists out of the way. Instead, the story blew up, and the Broncos no longer have a choice. If Tebow isn't the starter in 2012, there will be anarchy in the streets.

Denver's new front office is still learning on the fly. The Broncos handed Brandon Lloyd away for just about nothing, and the Kyle Orton release comes back to bite them - Orton's Chiefs might be playing the Broncos in an elimination game next week. But I'm getting ahead of things.

Tebow isn't the worst passer in the league, not even close (I take it you've ignored Blaine Gabbert all season - if so, good for you). And I dare anyone to name five worse teams on offense if we ignore the quarterback; there is not a good setup here. But I'll shift to Topic B before you start throwing left-handed snowballs at me.

We're back to the Chicken-Egg party with Belichick, Brady and the Patriots. Of course Belichick wins, he has Brady. Of course Brady is terrific, he has Belichick. Of course the Patriots are good, they have Welker and Gronkowski and they had a motivated Moss and blah blah blah. The glory days in San Francisco were like this: you could deny any element credit if you wanted, since there were other elite elements in play.

Obviously there's a lot of talent in New England, and obviously any team that hits the pick 199 lottery with Brady is going to be well groomed for extended success. But Brady's development is a feather in the coaching staff's cap; he's improved significantly from the paper boy that came out of Michigan, or the game manager he was in 2001 and 2002. NFL Films did a wonderful documentary earlier in the year that underscores that point, The Brady 6. I hope everyone got a chance to see it. (And if you run into Greg Cosell, ask him about New England's role in creating Brady: he'll offer nothing but praise to the staff.)

And ask yourself this, why are so many players better in New England than they are in other cities? How many players have left the Patriots and gone onto better things, haunted them for years? If nothing else, the Patriots understand the fundamental rule of the Salary Cap: the moment someone climbs a significant level in compensation, you better have a damn good reason to keep them. Name me some current players who have left New England and been better off for it.

Sure, the Pats missed with Ochocinco and Haynesworth (two guys I held out some hope on - I was dead wrong), but both of those gambits were cheap and carry no long-term scar. Keep shopping at the garage sale, keep playing the value game.

I don't think you're capable of evaluating Belichick fairly. You're a Jets guy, and he's Fredo to you. Nothing wrong with loyalty, be true to your school. I wonder if Belichick would let Santonio Holmes get away with the crap Rex Ryan allows. (As useless as Ochocinco has been this year, he hasn't been any kind of distraction).

Belichick's staff handled Moss very well, and very smartly, for a handful of years. Belichick knew how to give Moss subtle compliments in the media, how to carefully handle the ego without letting it get out of control. There's a lot of Phil Jackson in Belichick; Jackson being another coach who often has his talent held against him, even as he's getting more out of that talent than anyone else did, or could. (Belichick also figured out Moss was done before the Vikings and Titans did. I know, you saw Moss's decline before anyone else, I remember. I credit you there.)

The NFL has parity born into its DNA, and yet there are a few teams that have solved the game. Look at the teams that won 100-plus games in the 2000s: the Eagles, Steelers, Colts and Patriots. Some will say the Colts hit the Peyton Manning lottery and leave it at that, but they also figured out that offense holds up better than defense so they overloaded their team in that area. Indianapolis also realized that it's perfectly fine, if not ideal, to let a team run all over your defense. The Eagles have been unemotional masters of the salary cap, and Andy Reid is a terrific offensive designer who's made it work with some curious quarterbacks. Reid passes to set up the pass, and it's worked since he came to town. The Steelers do so many things right with their basic approach, from their coaching staff to their handling of free agency. If the entire league started from scratch tomorrow, these would still be the smartest people in the room.

And as much as I'm annoyed by Sean Payton's Designer Arrogance, I think he's a genius, too, worth all the praise heaped upon him.

This thing is already insanely wrong (my fault), so let's wrap and ship. Jets by 3 (Kate smiles), but Miami beats them next week (Kate frowns). Cowboys over Eagles. Tebows over Buffalos.

Santa Claus wins but doesn't cover.