Mailbag: Hill leads division QBs on third down

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Ed from Sacramento writes: Mike, I think one of the most underrated statistics for a quarterback is the 3rd down percentage. Anybody can throw the ball on 1st and 10 when the D is looking run or even on 2nd and 1 when the playbook is opened for anything, but a quarterback faced with 3rd and long has to put the ball in the air.

I was just curious how the NFC West stacked up with that stat in mind (I know how you love the spreadsheets). I have to believe that Warner has a very high percentage and that Bulger has a very low percentage. Also, Shaun Hill compared to JTO would probably show a big advantage for Hill.

Mike Sando: Situational stats are indeed important. Mark Francescutti of ESPN Stats & Information worked up the numbers at your request. He looked at players with at least 30 attempts on third down this season.

Hill ranked first in the NFC West and sixth in the league with a 96.6 rating on third downs. Drew Brees, Tony Romo, Philip Rivers, Aaron Rodgers and Eli Manning ranked ahead of him. Hill has 50 attempts on third down. The 38 qualifying players averaged 92 attempts.

The chart shows the top nine third-down passers by passer rating. The final four rows show where the other NFC West quarterbacks rank. Yellow shading highlights NFC West players.

Kurt Warner was one spot below Hill with a 95.4 rating on third down (116 attempts). Seneca Wallace was 20th, one spot below Kerry Collins. Brett Favre was 26th. Matt Hasselbeck was 38th and last among players with at least 30 attempts on third down. His third-down rating was 16.8 on 49 attempts.

Let's also take a look at fourth-quarter passers in the NFC. The league lists 18 quarterbacks in this category. Warner is 10th with an 83.9 rating. Bulger is 16th with a 52.9 rating. O'Sullivan is 17th with a 51.9 rating. Hasselbeck is 18th with a 29.2 rating.

Branden from Scottsdale, Ariz., writes: Sando-I read your recent comments about the fortunes of the Cardinals in 2009 being predicated on Kurt Warner returning, staying healthy AND playing at the level he has played at this season. My question, is what is so wrong with Leinart? The guy has a 7-9 record as a starter, had to learn a new offense in his second season, and has now been injured for the balance of 2007 and ridden the pine in 2008.
I'm not saying the Cardinals are the Patriots, but the Cardinals are much more talented in the skill positions than the Patriots, yet Cassell has performed well in place of Tom Brady. I think Leinart can be just as successful as Warner, but I would put the pressure on keeping Boldin, improving the offensive Line and maybe bolstering the running game further. I think the o-line is the critical point of focus for the Cardinals offense though...Thoughts?

Mike Sando: I would not call the Cardinals "much" more talented than the Patriots at the skill positions. Randy Moss and Wes Welker make a strong tandem. That said, the Cardinals would probably need a stronger running game to complement a less-experienced passer. And they might be able to build that type of ground game with another quarterback. Arizona has tailored the offense for Warner at the expense of the running game, I think. Matt Leinart might turn into a good player, but I don't see multiple MVP seasons in his future.

Mike from Los Angeles writes: Sando, what is the net cap savings if the Seahawks dump or trade Matt Hasselbeck this offseason? If it is anywhere near $6 million, I'm desperate for the Seahawks to make a play for Matt Cassel. I think people are deluding themsleves if they think Hass has anything left. He's the lowest-rated QB in the NFL, he's 34 next year and we all know about the bulging disk in his back. They might be able to sucker some QB needy team like Minnesota or Jacksonville into giving up a second day pick for him, but why kid ourselves? With a new coach coming in, now seems the perfect time to say thanks and move on. 2005 is a long time ago.

Mike Sando: Hasselbeck's contract counts $9.45 million against the cap in 2009 if he's on the roster. That includes $5.25 million in base salary, $3.2 million in bonus proration and $1 million in roster bonus. Hasselbeck's contract would count $3.2 million against the cap if the team released him before the season. I would want to see how well Hasselbeck responds to treatment and/or surgery before making that type of decision prematurely.

Steve from Fairfield, Calif., writes: The bandwagon calling for annointing Mike Singletary is waaaaay premature. Let's not forget how the Arizona game was lost, or how the Bills outgained the Niners by 200 yards and still lost or how the Niners had five fumbles (which they recovered) and a 99-yd kickoff return called back to beat the Jets.

They've been more 'lucky' than 'good'. I'd love to believe they've turned the corner but the same thing happened at the end of the '06 season. I'm hoping Singletary is keeping the head coaching seat warm for Holmgren whom new owners Brent Jones/Steve Young hire after they buy the team from the Yorks!

Mike Sando: You are wise in your restraint. That finishing stretch in 2006 does linger as a reminder. The question is not whether Singletary has "done enough" to keep the job or whether he "deserves" the job. The question is whether he is the best candidate for the job.

Challenges await the 49ers this offseason. They need to figure out their identities on both sides of the ball. They need to balance the need for continuity with the need for the right scheme fits. Can Singletary put together a winning staff for 2009? If Mike Martz is not part of the 49ers in 2009, who can Singletary land as offensive coordinator? Those factors are part of the equation, too.

Alex from Concord, Calif., writes: Someone asked about contract length and pay. Rotoworld.com has info on all players as far as i've seen. Just search the player and it is the last thing on the player's info. You can also click and it breaks down how they get paid year by year and when they're contracts up. Just an FYI
Mike Sando: Thanks for the tip, Alex. Here is the link.

Mike from Connecticut writes: Mike, I read in your blog that Alex Smith would either have to take a pay cut or accept a release. Do you think keeping him with a pay cut would be beneficial? and also, do you think they would do the same with Jonas Jennings? That guy is just hogging cap space for a rookie T to anchor the other side of the line
Mike Sando: I see no harm or risk in keeping Alex Smith at a reduced rate. Jennings' contract appears untenable for the 2009 season based on his injury issues. Keeping him for a (relatively) modest salary sounds great in theory unless Jennings thinks he can get more than that.

Phil from New Jersey writes: I always feel like the 9ers are one "real" franchise QB and a "young" talented #1 receiver away from doing some really good things. There has to be, either in free agency or in the draft, a good #1 receiver who is younger than bruce! I do like some of the young guys there like Hill and Morgan but I don't feel they are a good enough receiving core.
At QB, being a 9ers fan for many years, it's odd to see after Montana, Young, and even Garcia, such instability at QB. We were hoping Smith was our "Franchise" QB of the future, and that hasn't panned out. In addition, we always seem to finish with a mediocre record which doesn't get us a high enough draft pick to get a REALLY good QB in the draft.

Unless we trade up or find a good QB in free agency, some things don't seem to change. What are your thoughts about the QB position and finding a real #1 receiver to compliment some of the good younger talent? I love how the 9ers defense has played, I must mention as well. Patrick Willis is an ANIMAL. Best LB in the league. Lead in tackles last year as a rookie with a cast on his arm. He's a franchise LB like urlacher and lewis. Go 9ers! Finish up strong. You think they can win out and go 8-8? I do!

Mike Sando: Finding a top quarterback in free agency is a tough task. Trading for another team's untested backup can work out sometimes. Finding No. 1 receivers is tough as well. John Clayton looked into the subject before the season. Here's the link.

Marco from Las Cruces writes: Hey Mike so it is looking more and more like the Singletary will stay around next year due to new life of the 49ers. Assuming he is the HC next year, will they stay in the 3-4 defense? It seems like Samurai Mike prefers that defense. Part 2, if they do keep the 3-4 which is the greater need, RT or NT? Thanks for all the great reading material.
Mike Sando: You're welcome, Marco. They have gone more to the 3-4 recently and that tells me Singletary thinks it fits the personnel. So let's proceed on the basis that Singletary prefers the 3-4 given the talent on hand. At that point, I still go for the right tackle. Good nose tackles are hard to find. It's a dirty job and not a lot of people handle it well. The 49ers would be more apt to find a long-term productive starter by drafting for the right tackle spot early, in my view.

Anonymous from parts unknown writes: Hey Mr. Sando! In anticipation of this week's 49ers-Dolphins game, I've seen a lot of talk about the Wildcat offense on the blog recently. Considering the forward pass wasn't legal until 1906, I'm guessing this type of offense was a lot more common prior to that time. Being that this offensive scheme seems fresh to everyone, and an interesting methodology, is it possible we might see other offensive minds harking back to the days a QB was just another RB? Not extensively of course, that would just be silly, but in trick-plays or for something else defensive coordinators haven't seen in 100 years?
Mike Sando: That seems more likely as we get away from pure "system" coaches. The West Coast offense has enjoyed quite a run in the NFL, but it doesn't seem as trendy any longer. Coaches without an unwavering belief in doing things a certain way would seem to be open to those sorts of things. That is just my impression.

Adam from Portland writes: Hi Mike, love your blog!!! I remember reading a comment from another 49er fan wanting to know why Shaun Hill isn't on ESPN's list of top passers in the league based on his current 95.5 passer rating. In order to be on the list a passer must average 14 attempts per game, Shaun has an average of 13.7 attempts over 13 games this season. If he attempts 18 passes this week at Miami he will be over 14 per game.
Mike Sando: Thanks for doing the legwork on that, Adam. That's one of the things I love about this blog. It's not mine but ours.

Jess from La Quinta, Calif., writes: Not sure what to think about all this. If your Head Coach is one of the best of all time and wants to come back for one more go-round, how can you say no? I don't fault Mike for his emotions being the major factor in this wishy-washy deal, I have to look at Ruskell. Given the personnel, how can we even think about transition at this point when the incoming HC has had only one real good year? Especially when that one good year was with talent that he inherited from his predecessor for his tenure.
Many of the losses incurred this year were within one score. It is hard enough to stomach so many losses as players for sure, but truly the Hawks are better than their record indicates; regardless of how poorly the defense has played at times throughout the year. It just feels to me that the button pusher (Ruskell) is willing to sacrifice even the hope of success going forward for the sole purpose of doing things his way.

Mike Sando: The might be some truth in that, but Mike Holmgren wants to do things his way, too, and the organization decided years ago -- well before Tim Ruskell arrived -- that the head coach wasn't going to do that. The adjustment wasn't always easy for Holmgren and I think that's why he has appeared conflicted. He loves the organization and he loves coaching the Seahawks, but in the end, he wants to run the show.

Steve from Onalaska, Wis., writes: I'm gonna come right out and say it ... I'm a Rams fan. There, I said it ... now people can rip me apart for it. What's your take on the Rams' receivers? Possibly my favorite player on the Rams right now is Dane Looker, he constantly works hard and never seems to get recognition for it. With all the young receivers that are starting to develop into the players they were drafted to be do you think that Dane's spot on the team will be in jeopardy come next August, or do you think the Rams will want to retain him as Veteran leadership? Thanks for your time
Mike Sando: Hang in there, Steve. Dane Looker defies perceptions every season. I would not write him off as the fifth or sixth guy out of camp, depending on how many they keep. Overall, the Rams' receivers are just OK. Torry Holt might be winding down. His yards per reception have certainly fallen. That is not all his fault. Isaac Bruce pumped up his yards per catch at an advanced age in another system. But I get a sense change could be on the way. Holt has an inflated salary in the final year of his contract. The team could be looking to start fresh. Donnie Avery has raw talent, but he appears to have hit the rookie wall. Keenan Burton has some promise.

Geoff from Alexandria writes: There has been a lot coverage this week about Levi Brown and Adrian Peterson. Since you watch so many games, how has Levi Brown looked to you? Has he been good enough to merit the #5 pick? There is less attention on offensive lineman so it is harder to tell how he is doing.
Mike Sando: It's tough to value a right tackle that high in the draft. I noticed Brown making a few strong run blocks early in the season. He doesn't seem to be a liability, but neither is he a Pro Bowl-caliber player at this point. I would not make a judgment on him after less than two seasons in the league, but he'll have a hard time justifying the investment playing on the right side (at least until Matt Leinart or another left-handed quarterback is under center).

Clu from Phoenix writes: Hey Sando, I read the article by Tulumello about the Cardinals drafting Peterson and how much better we'd be. I believe that's crap. The Cardinals have drafted a ton of successful running backs. The only problem is that they were successful other places (Thomas Jones, Garrison Hearst, Ottis Anderson). This team has really never been able to run the ball since the days of the dream backfield. Do you think AP would have been a hall of fame running back for this team or just an ordinary back.
Mike Sando: Tough question. I think he would be a Pro Bowl back in Arizona because the Cardinals would probably change their offense to facilitate the running game a little more. They would have made other decisions with the running game in mind, most likely.

Eric from Chico writes: Mike, The 49ers are responding well to Singletary and Shaun Hill. What free agent acquisition would make an impact on next years team? And, do you think Hill should be given the starting job?
Mike Sando: A receiver would help in theory, but I do not see many top ones beyond T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Panthers tackle Jordan Gross is eligible for free agency. Same for Julius Peppers. Those guys might make sense in theory. We'll see how many actually become free agents.

Hill should be the starter going into next season if he plays at his current level for the final three games. They could still draft a quarterback, but Hill could be the veteran to get them through in the meantime.

Harold from Columbia, Mo., writes: Sando, Cards with an elite Tight End would be special - I have also thought of that. NFL network pointed to some missed blocking assignments by Leonard Pope. The fact Stephen Spach can come off the street and essentially start over 3 others speaks volumes. I wouldn't be surprised if Spach, Pope, or Patrick to get some passes in the next few weeks or in the playoff game.
The Cards like to unveil wrinkles here and their to keep teams guessing. Frank Gore is to me what Anquan is to the Cardinals - a tough, lead by example, football player. Not overly fast - a football player. You have to respect and like the guy. Also - is it not me or does Patrick Kerney sound arrogant - dare to dream about the Cardinals winning the division. Lofa Tatupu seemed alot more respectful and level headed and showed a lot of respect for his NFC west rivals. Kerney's comments seemed a bit immature and disrespectful. Especially when the Cards had beat the Seahawks several times in Az.

Mike Sando: Kerney doesn't strike me as arrogant, and his comments did not seem to be intended that way. It's pretty much reality that all four teams will expect to win the division next season.

As for the tight ends, the Cardinals did work Spach into the passing game some in Week 14.

Tyler from Mason, W.V., writes: I made a comment on the Hill vs O'Sullivan blog that got me thinking. Is Alex Smith still hanging around the facility and is he still willing to take a pay cut to come back and try it again after his injury heals? Knowing Nolan is gone, he may be more willing to do so. And if he does, how much would that hurt Hill's case in being the starter? Would he come back as 2nd string and be there if Hill falls through the cracks in the first 6 games next year? Or would they try another "competition" even though Hill is a game time baller, not good in practice, and would eventually lose a competition in training camp because of that.
Mike Sando: Smith is hanging around the facility. He is involved. That tells me he might be amenable to a pay cut. I don't see how Smith could return as the starter, though. He would be one of three or four. Smith has to prove he can throw passes in practice without needing surgery. His goals should be modest at this point.

Sunny from parts unknown writes: Do you think Shaun Hill should be considered in the pro bowl?
Mike Sando: That is a tough sell because he hasn't played that many games. Eli Manning needs to go. Drew Brees needs to go. Kurt Warner needs to go. Etc.

Robert from Memphis writes: Mike, A lot of traffic on the blog concerning these offensive coordinators. We know the Niners have had a revolving door, but can you give us an idea of which teams have kept the same OC for more than say three years. Does the coaching turnover have a lot to do with scrambling that stat?
Mike Sando: The highest-scoring teams in the league tend to have longer-serving offensive coordinators. The lowest-scoring teams in the league tend to have experienced turnover at the positon. However, that turnover might reflect a lack of talent. The Rams, Redskins and Lions are among the five lowest-scoring teams. Each has a first-year offensive coordinator this season. Each also has other issues.

Arizona is the highest-scoring team in the league. The Cardinals have a second-year coordinator in Todd Haley. The Colts are 19th in points per game despite a long-serving coordinator, but that is unusually low for Indianapolis.

Mike from Seattle writes: Sando, Every week seems like it is Deja-Vu here in Seattle. We will play well for three quarters then give up a late score in the fourth quarter, on our final drive we will turn the ball over, and anytime we have a game changing huge rush for over 15 yards we will get called for holding. What advice, other than drinking lots of winter craft beers, do you have for us Hawk fans in Seattle? And do you think Julius Jones got benched for a recent case of fumbilitis, both Dallas and Arizona? Always appreciated.
Mike Sando: Did you archive videos from the Seahawks' better seasons? That might help you get through. Holmgren talks about the team needing to be honest about what happens. You are under no such restraints. Delude yourself!

On Julius Jones, I think Hol
mgren is showing loyalty to his guy, Maurice Morris, and Julius Jones gave him every reason to do so after fumbling in the Dallas game.

Leesters from Phoenix writes: Hey, here's a good one! Sando- Was Nolan that bad, or is Singletary that good? There is no denying the 49ers are a whole new healthy kinda team, but the perspective is tough to grasp. Was Nolan so bad that he turned these Pro Bowlers into a bunch of deer with headlights? Or Is Singletary so good, that he turned these scrubs into the 1947 Yankees? And you can't say, "A little of both". The fun of THIS discussion is that there is a gun to your head, and you have to pick one. Thanks, Leesters.
Mike Sando: I credit the philosophical changes on offense for giving the 49ers a chance to avoid game-changing negative plays. The team has responded to the results. That would be my best guess.

Maitecora from Houston writes: will dante hall be picked up by another team now that his contract has ended with the rams? He was on the IR list for the rams due to a sprained ankle and definitely the wrong time to be hurt being that his contract is up this year. Do you think he'll be picked up and if so by who?
Mike Sando: Dante Hall averaged 10.3 yards on punt returns this season, which is pretty good. He could project as someone's fifth or six receiver and return specialist, but I have no idea who would sign him. Way too early.

Rudy from Chicago writes: Sir Sando, with the season winding down for the majority of the division, have you started diverting more of your attention to their possible off-season movements? Coaching changes/prospects, draft prospects, possible free agent acquisitions, etc. Or will that process start after week 16? NFC West blog = NFL Best blog

Mike Sando: Thanks, Rudy. I'm starting to pay more attention to the offseason for some of these teams but have some homework to do on that front. I'm still watching the games in this division and covering the present, so it's more a time issue than anything.

Craigsmackdaddy from Atlanta writes: Where do you get off listing the Falcons at 17? Name 16 teams better than us! Bet you can't name 8!

Mike Sando: I probably undervalued the Falcons. The ranking was based on results of games, specifically recent defeats.

Aaron from Cleveland writes: Can you HONESTLY name 16 teams better than the Falcons? No, you can't, I'd like to see you try it with some justification. Please, you need stuff to write about anyway, write an article on how the Falcons are CORRECTLY placed at #17 in your Power Rankings, worse than more than half the league.
Get your head out of Seattle man, and come back down to earth, obviously I'm a Falcons fan, and going into this season I was laughing at all the prognosticators saying 1-3 wins, I said they won't win less than 6 games this season with a shot to go 10-6, why could I say that? Because I actually watched the 'unimportant' pre-season football to see what the team was bringing to the table. So I challenge you to write a quality article about how the Falcons are the 17th best team, and what teams actually belong ahead of them. Obviously you think you're right because you voted that way, even if no one else remotely agrees with you, defend yourself.

Mike Sando: I don't watch the Falcons and that undoubtedly hamstrings my ability to evaluate them. That is one reason we have a dozen people submitting votes. That way, one unusually high or low ranking does not affect things as much. I promise to rank the Falcons in the top 10 if they beat the Bucs this week. I watch the NFC West teams closely because that is my job. I rely on other things -- such as results of games -- more heavily when evaluating teams I have not seen much. The Falcons are certainly surprising people.

Leon from Atlanta writes: How could you rate the falcons at number 17. It is obvious that you just joined the ESPN team because you do not know anything about winning or football. The falcons are the feel good story of the year. A franchise that was doomed after losing a franchise quaterback and a lackluster of a coach. This team has exceeded everbody's expectation let's see how you feel after a win against an overrated defense in Tampa Bay. Next week your rank will change and you can take that to the bank.

Mike Sando: I'm in line at the bank right now. Don't let me down.

Rocky from Phoenix writes: cards are good but lets not give them the division next year so quickly,49ers are coming.

Mike Sando: It's tough to project one month in advance, let alone one year in advance.