Breakfast Table: Meadowlands and Moneyball

For five months a year, Michael Salfino and Scott Pianowski offer up these meandering (and generally unedited) e-mail exchanges. If they're too long for you, perhaps you'd rather watch them badger each other on Twitter. And you can simply avoid the mullarkey altogether if you prefer. This is America, we have choices.

Aggressive sell job out of the way, let's do this thing.

From: Michael Salfino
Date: Wed, Oct 3, 2012 at 11:10 AM
Subject: Week 5 Breakfast
To: scott pianowski

Looks like the quality quarterbacks asserted themselves this week after being sort of mired in the pack. Drew Brees only lost because he was in Green Bay against Aaron Rodgers. But Tom Brady and Peyton Manning won, too. Eli Manning came up short, though, in a very strange game in Philadephia. I just can't take the Eagles seriously, though. Is it me?

Speaking of quarterbacks, Joe Theismann says that Tony Romo "isn't that good."

We have three undefeated teams, two of which people believe in (Houston and Atlanta) and one hardly anyone does (Arizona). But only two winless teams, too -- the Browns and the Saints. I figured the Saints would backslide to 10-6 or 9-7 at worst. I just didn't think it was possible for Sean Payton to mean that much. And he probably hasn't, meaning the Saints have been disappointing and unlucky.

All the night games are duds this week. And there's really only three matchups that interest me: The Eagles at the Steelers, the Falcons visiting the Redskins and, of course, the big game of the week -- the Broncos at the Patriots. Every one of these meetings between Peyton and Brady are a treasure. But Brady has had the better of it -- 6-3 with a 99-to-93 edge in passer rating, too. But maybe Manning picked Denver because of the way they've hexed Brady. That's the only team he has a losing regular-season record against, at 2-5. Week 5 Breakfast is served.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Thu, Oct 4, 2012 at 3:06 PM
Subject: bring in the left-hander
To: Michael Salfino

Only three games that interest you? Jersey, Jersey, Jersey. The best team in the NFL comes to your city and their game doesn't rate a mention?

"The first place Texans! The first place Jets! It's Monday! Night! Football!"

I'm forcing some Tim Tebow Talk. I know you're gonna hate me for it, but I'm making the executive decision. You've gone on record as saying Tebow won't start a single game this year. Rex Ryan keeps giving Mark Sanchez the vote of confidence, but coaches often times have to play from the script. Woody Johnson has floated a loose Tebow endorsement, in between his political ramblings. Will the owner eventually strongarm the coach?

Obviously Mark Sanchez has been set up to fail, we've had that discussion many times. And the Jets are pretty much sunk now that Darrelle Revis and Santonio Holmes are done for the year. But why does it seem like so many good teams have a plan when important players get hurt? The Texans got through Matt Schaub's injury last year. The Giants lose Hakeem Nicks and it's no problem - Ramses Barden and Domenik Hixon light up the stat sheet. The Patriots have scored 82 points in the two complete games that Aaron Hernandez missed. Maybe we're not giving Eli Manning and Tom Brady enough credit, as silly as that statement might sound. How come the Brent Grimes injury hasn't really hurt Atlanta's secondary?

While it's very difficult to judge Sanchez in the current quicksand, I'm not confident he's any good. A 54.8 completion percentage in the NFL is a problem. At USC, the pocket is usually clean and receivers often gallop down the seam without a defender in sight. The NFL is filled with muddy pockets and tight coverage. Does Sanchez know how to throw receivers open? Does he really know what open means in the NFL? His decision-making last week was atrocious.

Mind you, Tebow isn't really a quarterback. I get it. His accuracy is worse than Sanchez's. You put him in, you're trying a gimmick. I won't debate any of that. But from an outsider's perspective, simply from a curiosity standpoint, I want to see the experiment. I want to see something different. Tim Tebow's failures will be more watchable than Mark Sanchez's failures. And maybe Tebow can eventually make some plays with his legs. (I'm surprised no one else wanted Tebow in the Stopa 5K League, which is really a 2QB league without the mandate. I spent my FAAB money like Andre Rison, so getting Tebow for nothing was appreciated.)

I'm surprised most pundits were a week behind the Broncos. Peyton Manning has made halftime adjustments in every one of his games, and losses to Houston and Atlanta are excused absences. He's starting to mold nicely with the players around him; you can see the trust building on every snap. Manning would never win a Quarterback Decathlon, even at his peak, but he's the smartest and most well-prepared player at the position in league history. I'm shocked the public Patriots are favored by seven points.

The New Orleans crap-out is all about the defense. Get me 100 Sean Paytons, they're not going to scheme stops or tackle people. Are you surprised the Saints are favored over San Diego?

I'm a Tony Romo apologist. Poor Tony. Look at that offensive line. Dez Bryant, what a dog. They've got "watchable disappointment" written all over them - hello, 8-8.

Should the Seahawks be proactive and bench Russell Wilson? I guess Matt Flynn's elbow injury buys some time, but if you're playing for today, doesn't the league-ready QB make more sense? I'd like to burn everything I wrote about Wilson in August. I'm not burying him for the long haul, but he's not anywhere close to ready, and Seattle doesn't have the right offense for him, either.

And if you have a spare second, give us a Billy Beane comment. I think the 2012 A's are his true masterpiece; while I liked both versions of Moneyball, the narrative felt forced. If you find three cheap and healthy cost-controlled aces (I know, Beane drafted them), the rest is pretty easy. And if Beane was a genius for finding Hudson, Mulder and Zito, why are those pitchers ignored in the book and the movie?

Maybe Jonah Hill knows. Maybe Jonah Keri knows.

From: Michael Salfino
Date: Fri, Oct 5, 2012 at 2:04 AM
Subject: Re: bring in the left-hander
To: scott pianowski

Yes, Woody Johnson, the man who says a Mitt Romney presidential win is more important to him than the fate of the Jets, reportedly wants more Tebow, pronto. And that's exactly what I'd expect from someone who doesn't really care about winning.

I have no special insight though into the likelihood that Johnson will be making personnel decisions (I don't even like Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum making personnel decisions). But to the surprise of no one who has read me, let me state unequivocally that there has never been and there never will be a football reason for Tim Tebow to start an NFL game, short of injury. Even then, he should just be waived.We all know that Tebow can't throw. But the dirty secret that I've done my best to unveil is that Tebow is not even fast for a quarterback. And at his current weight, he has just about zero quicks, too. And guess who the worst running QB in a single season (100-plus carries) is, judging by yards per rush?

Forget about the skill people that we always talk about with the Jets. Their offensive line has gone from nearly first to almost worst. It collectively ranks 31st, behind only Arizona, according to the indispensable Sanchez though has 27% poor throws, which is ghastly, about twice the NFL average. To be fair, if it were anyone else and I was reasonably objective, I'd never in a million years think a guy at his stage could "learn" accuracy. But Eli Manning did, sort of.

I wrote this week in the Journal about how the Giants with Eli have a plug-and-play passing game. He's already had four different 100-yard wide receivers the season, most in the NFL. And he has six different ones since 2009, tied with Romo but Manning's WRs have had 100-plus yards 30 times -- nearly twice the NFL average for the period -- to just 18 for Romo. Amazingly, at this stage of his career, he was just about exactly where Sanchez now is, QB rating wise. Eli, though, is a very, very strange case.

Obviously, I like Peyton as much as anyone. But the Patriots defense has been much better than in 2011. And the New England offensive line is one of the best in the league, too, which is funny given how much concern there was about this unit in August. Tom Brady was going to get killed, remember? I think Peyton will perform well, but that Brady will nip him like he usually does (6-3 in regular season and 2-1 in the postseason). Brady has a 99 career passer rating versus Peyton (who is 93 and change vs. Brady). I think we can throw out the fact that the Patriots are 2-5 against the Broncos in the regular season. That was a Shanahan staff stat, mostly.

I think the Chargers are basically an average team. So I'm not surprised that the Saints are favored, especially with all the attention and special guests (the suspended coaches) with Drew Brees going after Johnny Unitas's record for most consecutive games with a touchdown pass. I have the Colts at 31-16 in Unitas's 47 games. I thought they'd be better. Brees during his streak is 33-14. And also, guess the team that last held Brees without a touchdown pass? Jets should have won that game but Sanchez was awful. Insert "Sanchez sucking, death and taxes" joke here.

We agree on Romo. Today the terrible ESPN First Take crew (or some other show -- they all suck so similarly) was debating whether Romo is merely not good or actually bad. What a joke. I think Brees is showing us that quarterbacks can't do it alone. Totally agree with you about Bryant. You had a Tweet about how some guys are just always overdrafted on hope that they can be better. He's the poster boy for that. If you haven't broken through by now as a wideout, you never will. Even ultimate dogs like Braylon Edwards and Roy Williams had done things of significance by now. So what hope is there for Bryant? I'll say none. Cowboys line, as you mentioned, bottom 10 in the PFF rankings, too.

I'd give Wilson some more time. But it's a borderline call. I can see the case for benching him, definitely. But what is Matt Flynn? Not a lot of data there and you have to figure that the Seahawks weren't loving what they saw even when he was healthy. Has he even been healthy? How the heck did he even get hurt (elbow)? Too many innings?

Love Billy Beane. People poke holes in the "Moneyball" narrative by saying how it was the pitchers you cited who really led the Oakland charge. Even if we stipulate that, that takes nothing away from Beane because he drafted those guys, too. But in truth the A's were also able to cobble together an adequate offense very cost-effectively with a lot of discards and rejects. I actually think the movie is better than the book, which I hardly ever think. (Jaws, for sure, the Godfather, Clockwork Orange, the Shining, All the Presidents Men, The Princess Bride, The Shawshank Redemption, Sideways, High Fidelity -- okay, okay, I think that a lot, actually. But books are great!) I think everyone with no real rooting interest should be pulling for Oakland. Beane didn't take the Red Sox job so he could win his way with his small-market challenges. That took guts. And it seemed foolish until about three days ago. Now, maybe his team finally conquers the randomness of October.

One of the great things about Twitter is being followed by a major league pitcher, Oakland's Brandon McCarthy. And after a conversation about Jim Brown never being thrown for a loss (turns out he was, based on contemporaneous reporting by Myron Cope of all people), ask who he thinks the MVP of the American League is -- Mike Trout or Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera. Like me, McCarthy thinks Trout. Not that there is a bad answer here.

I think I'm seeing Jonah in Brooklyn on Saturday and I'll ask him. Keri, though. Not Hill. But I bet you can beat Hill at shuffleboard.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Fri, Oct 5, 2012 at 9:13 AM
Subject: listen to the math
To: Michael Salfino

I'm skeptical of what rushing metrics might say about Tebow; he's a unique player and it's not apples-to-apples when you compare him to other quarterbacks on the ground. Tebow was used in a bunch of staple runs last year, plays that open him up to a possible loss of yardage. And some of those runs are plays that are unlikely to bust for a big gain. Sometimes it's about showing something now to set up something later. With most other quarterbacks, their scrambling yardage only counts the positive gains (and some occasional kneeldowns); when a scramble turns into a loss of yardage, it's written off as a sack.

Nick Mangold's Week 4 meltdown was shocking to me, though it's the first bad game he's had all year (the rest of the Jets line, as you point out, is a mess). I'm not sure if the Niners beat him more with power, speed or confusion. I'm a little afraid to watch that tape again, to be honest.

Speaking of Tannenbaum, I ran through Cleveland '95 last night and it's excellent. Better time spent than the Cardinals and Rams, to be blunt. It's crazy to think of how many talented football people can be on one staff at one time, and it still blows my mind that the Browns were somehow stripped from Cleveland. Highly recommended. (Wear sunscreen, Art Modell. You're going to need it.)

I thought the Patriots defense would be further along right now. Corner Devin McCourty has been very inconsistent - he almost single-handedly blew the game at Baltimore (though I won't dock him for that one phantom flag on the right sideline, the 2nd-and-15 gift). Getting riddled by Ryan Fitzpatrick for a half is worrisome, but obviously New England dominated the final 30 minutes. The Broncos won't have much trouble getting to 24 or 27 points, but here's a vote that Brady outscores them. This is probably the deepest skill-position group Brady has ever played with.

Maybe I'm not making my Moneyball point properly. To me, Michael Lewis ignored the Hudson/Zito/Mulder angle because it didn't feed the narrative he wanted to present. Are you really a genius when you strike gold with the second overall pick (Mulder) and the ninth overall pick (Zito)? Or does it show more acumen to find Hudson in the sixth round? This ties into the Belichick/Pioli narrative; if they really knew how great Brady was going to be, they never wait until pick 199. Mind you, the Pats did a lot of work developing Brady; he wasn't nearly ready to play in the NFL when he left Michigan.

Sports Illustrated picked the A's to finish second in 2002, by the way (the post-Giambi year). "Beane's philosophy is simple," Tom Verducci wrote in the baseball preview that spring. "Give him pitchers who throw strikes and keep the ball in the park and hitters who draw walks to ring up high on-base percentages." The 2012 A's had an over/under win total of 71.5. They should make a movie about this team.

I hope the Detroit/Oakland winner goes all the way. Love seeing buzzy crowds in Oakland again. I'll also be fine if Miggy wins the MVP, though every logical second- and third-level argument points to Trout. The Triple Crown stuff bugs me a bit; I've never understood why an RBI is sacred while runs scored get little attention. Joe Morgan could have legitimately won 4-5 MVPs in the 1970s, but the math was lagging decades behind.

Generally speaking I find athletes (and celebrities) to be one big bore on Twitter, but McCarthy is a breath of fresh air - an interesting mix of intelligence and irreverence. Very easy guy to like and pull for. Follow Jonah Keri, not Jonah Hill; follow Brad Evans, not Brad Pitt.

The Ice Storm is a lot better as a movie, too. Wonderful recreation of the look of November, 1973. Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich are mentioned in the film, by action only (not by name). Christina Ricci gets under your skin, a tremendous performance.

Winners, only: Rangers and Braves on Friday (I'll have what Kris Medlen's having); Patriots, Steelers (desperate, rested, healthy) and Saints on Sunday; Texans big on Monday. Tebow's first start comes Week 6 against Indianapolis. Keri tips 22 percent on all Brooklyn checks.

Don't throw your son out of the house if he wants a No. 15 replica jersey, Jersey. Some things are inevitable.

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