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Breakfast Table: The Autumn Wind is a Raider

Scott Pianowski
Roto Arcade

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Where's Waldo, New England style (USP)

From: Michael Salfino
Date: Wed, Sep 19, 2012 at 9:54 AM
Subject: Week 3 Breakfast
To: Scott Pianowski

Okay, maybe I jumped the gun on a bunch of things. I thought the Peyton Manning issue was decided and then he looked beyond awful throwing the ball early in the Denver game. And then he rallied. Things with him suddenly seem more gray than black and white. And I buried the Browns offense and Brandon Weeden too early, too.

The seemingly fast development of all the rookie quarterbacks is a story. But maybe the defenses they faced in Week 2 were bad. Or maybe it's a fluke. Still, since 2000 we never had a rookie class perform so well cumulatively (102.5 rating) or as individuals (each rated above the league average of 84.3 last year with our boy Robert Griffin III bringing up the rear).

What's going on with the Patriots and Saints offenses? Is the Cardinals defense elite? Do you think it matters that Jay Cutler is unpopular with his teammates when it comes to projecting him and the Bears? Is Seattle better than we thought or Dallas worse? Are the Raiders the worst team in football? How surprised are you that already there are only six unbeaten teams (just two in the AFC)? Are we headed to Houston and San Francisco in the Super Bowl or is it way too soon to think such things?

Already, a pretty crappy slate of games in what's been a very choppy start to the season. The refs are not helping. We audited them in the Journal. But the silver lining is that the prime-time games all seem pretty interesting to me. Spoiler alert: I like Carolina and Seattle outright. Week 3 Breakfast is served.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Thu, Sep 20, 2012 at 10:50 AM
Subject: the autumn wind is a raider
To: Michael Salfino

I've spent a lot of time analyzing the New England-Arizona game. With all due respect to the Arizona defense (a unit I like, especially Patrick Peterson - he's going to be a star - and Darnell Dockett), it's more of a fluke upset than a perception upset. The Patriots had a significant edge in first downs, total yards, yards per play and yards per pass attempt. Those are things that drive outcomes.

Arizona gets credit for forcing so many field-goal attempts, sure. It's a good defense. But the key play to this game - and it's getting little attention because of the way things ended - was the blocked punt in the third quarter. It set up Arizona for a gift two-yard touchdown drive. If that ball squirts out of the end zone instead of the two-yard line, it's a safety. Hey, the balls bounce funny for everybody, kid.

I'm not suggesting New England doesn't have problems, of course. Aaron Hernandez isn't Kellen Winslow 1980, but he's a big loss. Lloyd and Brady aren't on the same page yet. The offensive line has played poorly for two weeks, on the heels of a spotty preseason. But the line issues will get fixed, Hernandez will eventually return, and Lloyd should eventually settle in. (I would like to see them stop treating Danny Woodhead like he's Darren Sproles, but that's just me.)

The Belichick/Brady combination is a fascinating study after a loss. Belichick is 39-10 following a defeat in the Brady Era (2001-present), and the Pats won every bounce-back game in the Matt Cassel season, too. New England's 32-17 ATS in these spots. Is there any logical reason why a team would perform better than expected in these spots? Is a loss a good thing sometimes? Or do we throw these sort of stats in the shredder - after all, it's not like Belichick isn't working his ass off in all the other weeks.

I didn't crown Manning in Week 1 and I'm not going to bail in Week 2. A lot of talk about his arm strength this week, which surprises me. Manning never had a cannon even at his peak, and he's never thrown a tight spiral. He's someone who beats you with his mind, his preparation, his pre-snap reads, his adjustment. For as poorly as Manning started in Monday's game, the entire city of Atlanta was petrified the Broncos would win if they corralled one more possession.

Steve Young made two great post-game points Monday - first he talked about the officiating problem and the inelastic demand for the NFL, and then he discussed how the Denver offense isn't used to playing with Manning yet. The best time to play the Broncos is right now. This offense will be a lot better in the second half, provided Manning doesn't have any physical setbacks.

The Saints are a frustrating watch, in part because they insist on limiting Pierre Thomas and pushing forward with Mark Ingram. Every ball carrier this side of Mayor McCheese went off in New Orleans last year - except Ingram. The staff keeps saving up Thomas for a rainy day but guess what, guys? It's pouring. You're 0-2. Your wide receivers can't separate from anyone. Release the hounds. Play your best players.

Cutler is his own worst enemy. Quarterback is one position where leadership matters, even body language matters a little bit. Cutler's line played like dirt for three hours last week, but Cutler handled it poorly, too. And when the game got out of hand, his mechanics went into the toilet. For all his physical gifts, I wouldn't want Cutler quarterbacking my team. Too volatile, too inconsistent.

You can have the first run on the Week 3 slate. For the benefit of Mr. Kite, we can skip Miami and New York.

Damn, I'm gonna miss Steve Sabol.

From: Michael Salfino
Date: Thu, Sep 20, 2012 at 1:50 PM
Subject: Re: the autumn wind is a raider
To: scott pianowski

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Steve Sabol, visionary (AP)

The Sabols and Steve Sabol especially are woven into the NFL DNA of every fan of our era at least. He will be missed. But that era of NFL Films has been rendered sort of irrelevant anyway with the convergence of modern media and especially the NFL Network. I remember waiting days for the weekly highlight show and looking forward so much to what would be said when the Jets won. There was a time when Jets games were blacked out every week -- when all home games were blacked out. And you couldn't even see highlights of home games on the local news that night. So the pictures for the words on the radio play-by-play would have to wait days. What happened on that screen pass? How open was Wesley Walker? How much time exactly did Steve Grogan have to throw against the Sack Exchange? Now, instant gratification from five different pieces of hardware if I want.

The Ravens are 28-5 at home since 2008. But I do like Brady and Belichick here. I do not trust Flacco, who I think was pretty ordinary last week against an admittedly tough Eagles pass defense. I don't understand why the Ravens didn't attack the Eagles with more Ray Rice, especially when they were winning. And I think the Ravens defense is overrated, too. They've given up eight plays of 20-plus yards already this year. Woodhead is the genius Belichick play, by the way. I agree he's a waste given the opportunity costs you lose with other superior weapons. I also don't understand why Wes Welker's snaps are down from nearly 90% to about 70%.

That's a good point about Peyton. The Broncos would have scored, I'm convinced, if the Falcons didn't convert that third down with Julio Jones. I'm very unimpressed with Matt Ryan. I've never seen a quarterback who reacts so strongly to non-existent pressure. All NFL players are tough, obviously. But by quarterbacking standards, Ryan simply is not willing to stand in there and take a hit. Worse, he moves himself out of clean pockets. Also, don't bother running, Matt, if you are going to slide five yards before someone hits you.

Pierre Thomas not getting the bulk of the Saints carries is a total joke. Every time I see the guy, he looks like he could be one of the best running backs in football. He broke 12 tackles in 13 touches against the Panthers. He had 77 yards after contact. And this is nothing new -- Thomas breaks twice as many tackles per carry as Mark Ingram, according to Pro Football Focus.

Cutler is turning into Jeff George before our eyes. I think he's crossed the Rubicon by not merely berating an offensive lineman, but by adding that shove. That's so weak because the lineman can't haul off and punch his quarterback on the sideline. It's a bully move, too. I can't see how any of his teammates can respect him now. And that's really how things started to unravel for George. The personality issues seem to be the thing that will undermine Cutler, not anything relating to his ability. As a result, I'm fading the Bears for the rest of the year -- and Brandon Marshall, too.

I think we have to say something about the situation in the Bucs-Giants game where Greg Schiano ordered his players to blow up kneel down. According to NFL Radio's Ross Tucker, the Bucs defensive lineman texted apologies to the Giants after the game. He thinks that this will cause Schiano to lose the team, and LaDainian Tomlinson agreed. I also like how Schiano took to the post-game podium and lectured Tom Coughlin, who complained loudly during the handshake, about how if Coughlin watched Rutgers games, he would know that Schiano's teams caused fumbles this way. Coughlin is busy winning Super Bowls and you want him to set aside time to watch Rutgers vs. North Carolina Central. Get the hell out of here, Schiano. I'm not even a Giants fan and that's ridiculous. And the play is stupid and unsporting, too. Plus, there were five seconds left in the game when he had all his lineman submarine the Giants line and reach for Eli's ankles. If you want to be a pro, act like one.

This week, I want to see how the Giants perform without Hakeem Nicks. Is their passing game with Eli plug and play like I believe? I think we see if the Cardinals defense is for real when the Eagles come into town. Philly, though, very poor at converting yards into points and preventing that the strength so far of the Arizona defense, as you noted. I like Arizona outright. San Diego vs. Atlanta is interesting. Another battle of unbeatens. I think both teams are overrated but have no feeling for this game. Really looking forward to Green Bay at Seattle. I think the Seahawks are pretty good and very tough defensively. They are a big, physical team. I believe they win this game outright, too.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Thu, Sep 20, 2012 at 5:11 PM
Subject: pillaging, just for fun
To: Michael Salfino

I always looked at NFL Films as a documentary bureau, not a news source. If I say "Lynn Swann" to you, what image immediately jumps to mind? That answer is probably universal. Joe Namath proudly ambling off the field of Super Bowl III, single finger in the air. Joe Montana barely getting a pass over the arms of three Dallas defenders, a throw-away that was anything but. Franco Harris scurrying to the fluttering ball, eyes as wide as dinner plates.

Part of my childhood just died, too.

And it wasn't just the pictures with these guys. Steve Sabol had every piece of the filmmaker's toolbox. The eye, the ear, the mind. Curiosity, perception. A listener, a dreamer, a poet. He had it all.

(I hate to put anything negative in here, but it's criminal that Steve Sabol isn't in the Hall of Fame yet. They also made Ed Sabol wait forever. Shame on you, electorate.)

I'm guessing the Pats might be down on Welker's run-blocking, not that Julian Edelman is a force in that area. Welker still participated on 44 of the 52 pass snaps last week. Oddly, most of his catches were on intermediate routes - the really short stuff went to Edelman. I'm not worried about Welker long-term, assuming there's no hidden story in the private Belichick vault.

I have tremendous respect for the Ravens but I don't enjoy watching them on stand-alone games. The over-glorification of Ray Lewis (as great as he truly is) gets old with me. The never-ending Flacco debate isn't of interest, either. But at least these teams are really good, and they really don't like each other. That will make for compelling television. In a game either team can win, give me the Patriots by 3. It could just as easily be the Ravens by 3. A blowout in either direction would surprise me.

I've always thought Thomas had a chance to be special. You can run everything in the book with him - the power stuff, the outside stuff. He has wonderful patience and vision in the draw and screen game, and he busts a lot of tackles as you said. It's silly to save him for some game months away - you need to win right now. (I dare anyone to watch all the Ingram snaps from 2011 and come away with a defense, unless you can convince me it was all injury related. Every Saints opponent should jump up and down when Ingram is in the game.)

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Curious George (SI Vault)

Jeff George is a terrific Cutler comp. Rifle arm, prickly personality. You don't need to be best friends with your entire huddle, but it's important that they respect you (if they're not inspired by you). For all the crap you could say about Favre at times, his men would run through walls for him. Brees, Brady, Manning, it's all the same way. Who's the least-respected quarterback personality to win a title? Maybe it's not a coincidence that Philip Rivers never wins anything.

I'm convinced Marshall has some sort of depth perception problem when it comes to intermediate and deeper passes. He's been a touchdown disappointment for too long.

You nailed all the Greg Schiano bush league stuff, so I'm just going to nod and agree. The best thing I can say about Schiano is that he's not Raheem Morris - and that's a selling point in Tampa Bay. But a lot of the college rah-rah bunk needs to stay in the dormitory.

I'm expecting another lower-scoring game tonight, short rest and all. Both teams are missing key skill guys. Look for Brandon LaFall to make a couple of big plays; I love how he's growing up before our eyes, and how the Carolina staff is using him in a variety of routes and packages. I drafted and dropped him in the Yahoo F&F, something I'm going to regret all year.

Giants 23, Panthers 20. Cowboys play one good half and one bad half, which is their custom, win by seven. Packers 24, Seahawks 20 - the extra prep time is critical, though games in Seattle are a blast. And for the dearly departed, Oakland shocks the world and beats Pittsburgh. Maybe they'll do it on a forward fumble, or through an uncalled personal foul.

Pillaging, just for fun.

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