Monday, February 13, 2012

Monday Mailbag, Vol. 5

Back with another edition of the Monday Mailbag (this time we even got to it on MONDAY!) where you guys, the readers, get to ask the questions. So without further ado:

Montana vs Brady? From my understanding, statistics are similar and both are in the running for "Greatest Modern Quarterback" maybe even "Greatest Quarterback Ever". What should be looked at when comparing the two? The timeframe that each played and how the game was played? Super Bowl wins/losses or at least their performance in the big game? Quality of surrounding talent? A relative comparison to their peers throughout their career? Does Eli Manning have Brady's number (like Nadal has Federer's) and does that matter? - Garrett M., Boston, MA
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Brady or Montana... For me it's a toss up. By the numbers they're almost identical.
Brady has a slight edge in almost every category with the notable exception that Joe Montana was 4-0 in Super Bowls while Brady is 3-2. The only other area where they really differ significantly is durability. Montana made 16 starts in a season just twice compared to Brady's nine times. But let's see what else we can compare.

How did they stack up against their peers? Montana made 7 Pro Bowls in 10 years between from 1981 and 1990. He also made one more Pro Bowl appearance after going to Kansas City in 1993. In the years he wasn't selected while playing for San Francisco he had a Super Bowl hangover (3-6 in strike shortened 1982), suffered a severe back injury that caused him to miss half a season (1986) and was outplayed by Randall Cunningham and Wade Wilson (1988). Brady's fared about the same making 7 Pro Bowl teams between 2001 and 2011. He was passed over in 2002 when the Patriots missed the playoffs, in 2003 despite leading the Patriots to a 14-2 record and their second Super Bowl (Peyton Manning, Steve McNair and Trent Green were chosen instead), again in 2006 despite a 12-4 record (in favor of Phillip Rivers, Vince Young, Carson Palmer and Manning again) and finally when he injured his knee in 2008. Pretty much a wash there.

What about their surrounding talent? Between 1981 and 1990 Montana played with 16 Pro Bowlers who combined for 44 Pro Bowl appearances led by Hall of Famers Ronnie Lott and Jerry Rice. Brady played with 24 Pro Bowlers between 2001 and 2011 and they also combined for 44 Pro Bowl appearances. You can't make this stuff up.

How about looking at who beat them? You mention that Eli Manning has Brady's number. Would it shock you to know that Phil Simms and those same Giants beat Montana and the 49ers in the postseason in 1985 and then again in 1986? And then when Simms was hurt in 1990, his backup Jeff Hostetler beat the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game? Montana did beat the Giants in 1984, but never again in postseason play. So if we aren't going to hold Montana's 3 straight playoff losses to the Giants in his prime against him, is it fair to hold New England's losses in the Super Bowl against Eli's Giants against Brady? Ultimately I don't think that matters.

Here's something to consider though. Montana lost 11 games to strikes in his career (7 in 1982 and 4 more in 1987). He also lost half of the 1986 season to a back injury, and then after getting knocked out of the 1990 NFC Championship Game with a concussion and a broken finger, he also sustained an elbow injury that caused him to miss all of 1991 and all but one game in 1992. Brady missed the 2008 season, but compared to Montana losing basically the equivalent of 3 full years in his prime, you have to wonder how many rings Montana left on the field. The 49ers did, after all, go 14-2 in 1990 with Montana. Anyhow, this is where Brady has a chance to separate himself from Montana. You have to think that after throwing for over 5000 yards in 2011 that Brady still has a lot left in the tank. Consider that guys like Montana, Steve Young, Brett Favre, Warren Moon, Dan Marino and John Elway were all able to play until at least the age of 38, it's safe to say you could expect at least another 4 years from Brady. If he's able to win or even just play in another Super Bowl and drastically surpass Montana statistically, doesn't he get an edge?

It becomes a fascinating debate, and you could probably write books on the subject if you really wanted to. For right now let's just say that Montana gets the edge for delivering in the clutch, while Brady already has him statistically while his overall legacy is still unfinished.

I'm wondering what you think about the Dwight Howard trade possibility. - The Dude, Chesapeake, VA
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It's no secret that the Magic big man wants out of Orlando. The problem is, how do you get equal value in return for a player like that? He's truly a one of a kind talent and there just aren't a lot of scenarios where a trade make sense. The trade deadline is a little over a month away and it's possible as other pieces start falling something will present itself, but I wouldn't be totally shocked if Dwight Howard proved untradeable and instead becomes a free agent.

Is Clint Dempsey getting better with age? - Cory L., Raceland, LA
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The simple answer is yes. Look at his numbers in his 6 seasons with Fulham:

2006-07 - 1 goal in 12 matches
2007-08 - 6 goals in 40 matches
2008-09 - 8 goals in 41 matches
2009-10 - 9 goals in 44 matches
2010-11 - 13 goals in 42 matches
2011-12 - 16 goals in 34 matches

Dempsey is 28 years old, and his career arc is pretty typical for a soccer player. The question for American soccer fans, is where's he going to be in 2014 when the World Cup rolls around? At some point, time is going to catch up to him, and bring him back down to earth. Dempsey will be 31 when the Cup kicks off in Brazil, and while that's not ancient by any means, it's not young for a soccer player either.

What are the odds of the Saints actually playing the Super Bowl as a home game next year with a good offseason and their new Defensive Coordinator? - Cory L., Raceland, LA
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According to, the Saints are getting 3:1 odds to win the NFC Championship Game next year, and 8:1 odds to win the Super Bowl. The road to hosting the Super Bowl isn't going to be an easy one though. The NFC boasts the defending Super Bowl Champion New York Giants, the team with the best record last year in the Green Bay Packers, and the team with the best turnover ratio in football who knocked New Orleans out of the postseason in the 49ers, not to mention a slew of other contenders from the underachieving Eagles, to the upstart Lions, to the Carolina Cam Newtons.

If the Saints were to grab the top seed in the postseason I'd say they would be in good shape. They play as good as any team in the league at home and the Superdome offers a considerable edge to the Saints who love to play fast. Think Greatest Show on Turf. But the 2012 schedule doesn't do the Saints any favors. They play at Green Bay. At the New York Giants. At Dallas. At Denver. At Oakland. And then home games against the Chargers, 49ers and Eagles. And that doesn't even mention their always tough divisional games with the Falcons, Panthers and Buccaneers. Hardly any guarantees there.
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We know the Saints are going to score points, but their defense ranked 31st in the NFL and last in the NFC in creating turnovers. They were the only playoff team in the NFC that didn't have a positive turnover margin on the year, and ultimately that's what got them knocked out of the postseason (they turned the ball over 5 times against the 49ers). The Saints will have a new defensive coordinator next season in Steve Spagnuolo who was the Giants' defensive coordinator in 2007 when they stunned undefeated New England to win Super Bowl XLII. Spagnuolo is notorious for putting pressure on the cornerback and his Giants led the NFL in sacks in 2007 with 53. But that New York team had Michael Strahan (9 sacks), Osi Umenyiora (13 sacks), Justin Tuck (10 sacks) and Fred Robbins (5.5 sacks) on the defensive line. The 2012 Saints had just 33 sacks and the only defensive lineman with more than 5 was Will Smith (6.5 sacks). The lack of pressure from the front four was certainly a contributing factor to the secondary intercepting just 9 passes in 626 pass attempts. So I'd look for some personnel changes in 2012. This defense needs some playmakers on both the D-Line and in the secondary for Spagnuolo to be able to work his magic.

At the end of the day though, with a healthy Drew Brees, you've always got a chance. 

Jordan Jefferson has been in the news here lately, basically throwing his coach under the bus for his handling of the National Championship game. What are your thoughts on the situation, and could it possibly hurt recruiting at LSU for the foreseeable future? - Cory L., Raceland, LA
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I've never really been a big Jefferson fan, and this whole incident doesn't really do a whole lot to endear him to me.

"We have great [wide receivers] and sometimes we just wonder why we don't use those guys. But we're not the one calling the plays. We still have to go out and execute what the coaches and coordinators are calling. We can't complain as players, but sometimes we do question that," said Jefferson in an interview with WCNN on Thursday.

Look, maybe he's right. Having watched the game, it's easy to say in hindsight that LSU probably should've approached the game differently. That said, this just isn't something you come out and say to the public. You want to see him take responsibility for his poor play. For example, the interception he threw when he literally pitched the ball right to the defender. He finished with just 53 passing yards in 17 attempts and ran for just 15 yards on 14 carries. Oh yeah, and LSU didn't cross the 50 until the 4th quarter. Jefferson should've just owned it. He was a senior leader on that team and he didn't deliver. Sample acceptable exchange:

Jefferson: We didn't play as well as I would've hoped. There's a lot of plays that I would've like to have back which is frustrating, but hat's off to Alabama. They came out and played a great game, and they just wanted it more than we did.

Interviewer: Do you think you could have done anything differently as far as the plays that were called?

Jefferson: Ultimately, it doesn't matter what plays are being called if we're not able to execute them. All the coaches can do is give us opportunities to succeed, but we're the ones that need to make the plays. That night we just didn't make enough plays on the offensive side of the ball.

All he had to do was say that, and move on. What he said helps nothing and just shows his lack of maturity.

As far as hurting recruiting I don't think that Jefferson, who won't be there any more, will have an impact. I'd be more concerned about the atmosphere in the locker room. When you hear rumors talking about riffs between the players and coaching staff and about how the team quit on their coach IN THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME because of the decisions he made, that sends some red flags if I'm a recruit. Look, this isn't Varsity Blues where you can mutiny and have everything work out for you so they need to get that, whatever it was, straightened out.
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Anyway, the best thing for recruiting is a winning program and LSU is coming off a season in which they went 13-1 and should have multiple players picked in the first round of the NFL Draft. As long as those trends continue, LSU is still going to continue to bring in talented players and they'll be right in the thick of things.

Did Barcelona really lose to Osasuna? Did that actually happen? I just wanna make sure I'm not nuts. - Cory L., Raceland, LA

You're not crazy. Somehow, Osasuna - who back in September was hammered by Barcelona by a score of 8-0 - was able to stun the reigning Champions League Winners by a score of 3-2. Dejan Lekić, who entered the match with just one goal in league play on the year, struck twice in the first 25 minutes to give the hosts a 2-0 lead and they never looked back. Twice Barcelona would cut the deficit to one goal, but they couldn't find an equalizer as Osasuna held on for the shocking victory. To emphasize how big an upset this is, let's compare the total number of National Team appearances between starting lineups:

Osasuna - 137, 124 by Iranian Javad Nekounam
Barcelona - 485

And that does not count Xavi (116), Andrés Iniesta (64) or Cesc Fábregas (64) who were all on the bench. Barcelona is now 10 points behind first place Real Madrid and dreams of a La Liga Title are quickly slipping away.

Ok. Jonny Evans is garbage. He makes poor decisions, almost always seems to be out of position on the field and makes a lot of sloppy passes. Are his few and far between bright spots enough to outweigh his obvious suckiness? What does Sir Alex see that I don't? - Angry United Fan

The reality is, if not for the injury to Serbian center back Nemanja Vidić, Evans wouldn't be getting the playing time that he's been getting lately. And while he is mistake proned, and it's easy to point fingers at him, he's not a TERRIBLE player. He's played well on the international stage helping lead Northern Ireland to a 3-2 upset victory over Spain in his debut in 2006 and he even scored a goal in World Cup Qualifying against Poland in 2009. And since he started receiving significant minutes with United back in 2008-09, United has won two Premier League Championships, two Carling Cups, the FIFA Club World Cup and two FA Community Shields. And apparently, despite his rocky form, he has the support of his teammates. This is what veteran Rio Ferdinand said about Evans' performance against Liverpool on Saturday: "Jonny was fantastic. A lot of the stuff that has been said about Jonny is way off the mark. He is appreciated by everyone in the squad."

So obviously he's doing something right. I feel where you're coming from though. About a decade ago I felt the same way about American left back Jeff Agoos. I felt like every game I watched, he was the weak point, culminating with a brutal performance in our 3-2 upset of Portugal during the 2002 World Cup in which Agoos scored for the Portuguese. I absolutely hated seeing him in the lineup. And I hated his hair.

But at the end of the day, when you look at what Agoos did over his career - all-time leader in CAPs for a U.S. defender, 5 MLS Cup Titles, made 2 World Cup Squads, was a part of the U.S.'s 2002 Gold Cup Championship team (he even scored in the final) - maybe I was wrong. The only thing that I can chalk it up to is that evaluating defenders can be tricky sometimes. It's easy to pinpoint their mistakes because they usually have devastating results. And while Evans is certainly frustrating at times, the fact that his manager and teammates have his back should be all you need to know. So until United gets healthier, expect to get a continued dose of your nemesis.

Special thanks to all those who wrote in this week. Got a question for the mailbag? Email us at

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