Mailbag: The 49ers' smashmouth dreams

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

James from Lincoln, U.K., writes: Now that it is established that Mike Singletary is the 49ers coach now, and will be for years (and that is absolutely the right thing), it appears that he will look to implement a smash-mouth type of offense. Of course winning is the most important thing, especially with the John York effect having crushed this franchise recently.

My only concern is this: When the franchise was successful it had NFL/Super Bowl MVP's/Hall Of Famers under center. The ball was in the air and in the end zone often and it was great to watch. Do you think that this more conservative style of offense will go down well with the team's paying customers? For what it's worth, I cannot stand traditional Bears football.

Mike Sando: Singletary is talking about establishing an identity through the running game. The 49ers will still need good play at the quarterback position to get beyond 8-8 and become a factor in the playoffs. Being able to throw the ball to score points certainly helps a team win in the playoffs, or anytime.

Very few teams have been able to line up and run effectively on a consistent basis against eight in the box. The Ravens did it during their Super Bowl run years ago. They also had one of the all-time great defenses. They also didn't have much playoff success in the following years, leading to Brian Billick's eventual firing.

I would rather have a franchise quarterback and worry about establishing the ground game than have a strong ground game and worry about the quarterback. That said, those two pursuits do not have to be exclusive. I'm sure Singletary wants a top quarterback and a top running game. A top quarterback makes it much harder for opponents to load up against the run. Teams put eight in the box against Peyton Manning at their own peril.

Josh from Delaware writes: So now that the NFC west season is over, or it will be when the Cardinals lose, what are the next important dates we need to look forward to? FA, Draft, etc.
Mike Sando: The scouting combine runs Feb. 18 to Feb. 24, with free agency beginning Feb. 27. The league meetings are scheduled for March 22 to 25, with the draft set for April 25 and 26.

Fernando from Santa Ana, Calif., writes: First of all happy new year to you Mr. Sando. Ok, so the season is over and I wanted to ask you what were your thoughts on the 49ers trying to go after shanahan? I think he would be a better fit then what Martz was? Thanks
Mike Sando: Sure, he'd be a better fit, but Mike Shanahan isn't going to become an offensive coordinator at this point. He'll get a job as head coach, either this season or next.

Brad from San Jose writes: Hey Mike, Love your quality work, keep up the great job. Am I living in a dream world when I imagine Mike Shanahan not taking the Jets, Browns or Lions jobs and instead becoming an O-Coordinator...possibly coming back to the 49ers?? I like Singletary, but I think the 49ers should have gone through a more thorough coaching search. They need to bring back the West Coast Offense!
Mike Sando: Thanks, Brad. As I said in response to Fernando, I think it's absolutely a dream to think Shanahan would become a coordinator. Even if it were to happen, any coach hiring Shanahan as a coordinator would have to expect Shanahan to leave in 2010. If I'm the 49ers, I would rather have a good coordinator for the next five years than a great one for 2009 only.

Jelston from parts unknown writes: Mike, Nice job all year with the blog, must read everyday. What about these options of Seahawk Defensive Coordinator, Rod Marinelli, Eric Mangini or Romeo Crennel? Seattle making an offer to Marinelli would be nice with their personnel if healthy.
Mike Sando: Thanks, Jelston. The ties between Marinelli and Tim Ruskell are indeed strong. Jim Mora does not share those ties, so I'm not sure if he would go that direction. I'm not sure how fired up fans would be about adding the coach of a 0-16 team, particularly when Marinelli does not have experience as a defensive coordinator (he was a line coach in Tampa Bay).

Mangini and Crennel would be 3-4 schemers and Seattle does not have that type of personnel on defense, so those two would not make sense to me.

Jason from Sacramento writes: Mike, love the blog. You mentioned Tom Rathman as a possibility of joining Mora's staff in Seattle, what about the possibility of joining the Niners, possibly even as OC? I know he has never been more than a RB coach, but he obviously knows how to run the ball and understands the tradition of the Niners.
Mike Sando: Tapping into the 49ers' tradition would be a nice move, but Singletary might be better served hiring a more established coordinator. Singletary is a first-time head coach. He will be learning on the job and he will not be in position to rescue the offense if the coordinator winds up being in over his head.

Julian from Frankfurt, Germany, writes: Hey Sando. Would you be really surprised by a Cardinals victory over the Falcons? I think it will be a close game with both teams scoring close to 30 points from the matchups that are given here.
I don't think the Falcons are able to stop the passing attack unless they can knock Kurt Warner down early and often and the Cardinals unfortunately can't stop anyone, but I think Rodgers-Cromartie will have a nice day against Roddy White. Other than that, I think the Falcons might be a little overconfident and from reading some press articles, they are planning for the second round and that is never a good thing. Your thoughts?

Mike Sando: There is no upset when these teams meet Saturday. Nothing would help the Cardinals more than a fast start offensively. A lead would be their best defense against the run, and I do like their matchups against the Falcons' secondary.

Adam from Sacramento writes: Please tell me that Shanahan wants to return to the 49ers as the OC next year... any glimmer of hope that this can happen? Thanks oh GREAT ONE!
Mike Sando: The flattery isn't going to make me change my view on this one. Sorry!

Will from Bonney Lake, Wash., writes: Hi Mike, After watching the Seahawks cornerbacks get eaten up by the Cardinals receivers again, and seeing them out-muscled by most receivers in the league, do you thing that the team may retool that position? Marcus Trufant is a good corner, Kelly Jennings always seems to be a step slow, Josh Wilson gets pushed around, and NONE of them know when the ball is in the air. Were some of the coverage problems caused by poor safety play, bad coaching, or lack of size/talent?
Mike Sando: I expect the Seahawks to address that position by attempting to upgrade their pass rush. Seattle went to a Super Bowl with 5-foot-10, 183-pound Andre Dyson playing cornerback. I think the corners and safeties have enough talent to hold up well enough if they have a strong pass rush.

Charlie from parts unknown writes: What are the 49ers chances of getting TJ who's y
our momma?
Mike Sando: Let's see who is coordinating that San Francisco offense and who else becomes available in free agency.

Scott from Maryland writes: What coordinators are out there that the Niners might hire? MOOCH!?
Mike Sando: Steve Mariucci appears quite happy with his current job on NFL Network. Coming back to San Francisco as a coordinator would not make much sense for him personally or professionally, in my view.

Charlie from Lexington writes: Mike, The firing of Martz may be considered a good thing. I know Martz helped the 49ers improve on offense but he didn't know how to use his personnel. The 49ers don't have an offensive line that can hold blocks long enough to run his type of offense. I know that he switched it to accommodate Singletary but he should have known that before Singletary took over. Look at the Falcons they are a run first offense and they have had much success with it. I believe this could make Shaun Hill a better quarterback, if we could install a running attack as such.
Mike Sando: Martz has a reputation in the league for running his system the way he wants to run it, with less regard for personnel. Other coaches do the same thing sometimes, but you're right about Martz's approach putting extra pressure on certain areas, including areas where the 49ers are not particularly strong.

The change indeed made sense from a personnel standpoint. The 49ers still do not have dynamic personnel throughout their offense, but at least they are set up to make better use of that personnel. Singletary's choice for offensive coordinator will be pivotal.

Greg from St. Louis writes: In reference to what's wrong with the cards defense. Its hard to run the hybrid 3/4 when you take a hard look at the squads olbs. Haggans is the only legit olb (3/4)on the roster with any experience at the position and was lost for the season in the win at seattle. Laboy has missed time due to injury and is still a work in progess making the transistion from de to olb. Berry is strictly a veteran role player at this point and time, but has had to play more than anticipated due to injury. And that leaves only okeafor, who has way too much thrust upon him (trickle down) in terms of responsibility based upon all the above,thanks
Mike Sando: Thank you, Greg. I think you make a compelling case. I would expect the Cardinals to continue addressing the personnel in that front seven. They took two linemen in the most recent draft. They probably need another linebacker or two.

Cabot from parts unknown writes: hi mike, where does anyone get the information that Barry Sims is a better OT than Adam Snyder? Snyder is much better, Sims is a sieve. I think the talk of Snyder as a better guard is leftovers from the Nolan era. It was never accurate, nor were most things that came out of that regime. If McCloughan said that, well, he's a worse talent evaluator than Millen. Sims will be out of the league next year, or at least not on this team
Mike Sando: Sims has started a lot more games at right tackle than Snyder ever will, in my estimation. My analysis was based on Sims as a backup, and I concede it might be outdated. Sims seemed to be a good addition in that role. The offense changed quite a bit later in the season, and that helped Synder when he was in there, I think. Either way, the 49ers will be looking to address that position after whiffing on Jonas Jennings in free agency.

Cody from parts unknown writes: You're missing Frank Gore who broke 1000 yards rushing for the 3rd consecutive year. Making him the first 49er to do so.
Mike Sando: Gotcha. I did consider him for the stock-rising list, but his yardage total in the game left me somewhat unconvinced. Gore is outstanding when healthy, no question.

Randy from DeKalb, Ill., writes: Hey Mike, great blog as always. I just wanted to comment on your comment about the 49ers in the power rankings.
I could be wrong, but even if they came away with a win against the Cards, wouldn't we still be out of the division title because of division wins? Or were you simply stating that as a momentum factor for the 49ers for the rest of the season?

Also got one more quick question about the Niners in regards to the draft. I noticed that the two biggest holes in their team is at safety and in the defensive line. They need a pass rusher of some sort, but they also need help in the deep pass on defense. Do you think they would draft a pass rusher in the first round to make it easier on the secondary, or do you think they will try for a ball-hawking safety? Thanks in advance Mike, keep up the good work.

Mike Sando: All things being equal, the 49ers would be wise going for the pass-rusher over the safety just because elite pass-rushers are so hard to find. You can win with a so-so safety. You have a harder time winning with a so-so pass rush.

Teams that run 3-4 defenses don't generally go after pass-rushing defensive linemen. They go after pass-rushing linebackers. Your wording might have been an issue of semantics, but I wanted to point that out just in case. That made the Kentwan Balmer selection a little curious to me. He'll probably never be a guy people notice playing in a 3-4, even if he is playing well. They need him to start in 2009 to start getting value from that pick.

As far as the 49ers and the division race, Arizona still would have won the division even with a home loss to the 49ers in that Monday night game. The 49ers would have lost more games within the division, as you suspected.

Mike from Richmond writes: I've been reading a lot that if the Panthers don't re-sign Peppers the 49ers might make a run at him. But is that really a good idea? I mean, building the defense through free agency hasn't worked so far and the Niners best defenders are homegrown.
Mike Sando: I'm with you on that one. Julius Peppers is a special player when he's right, but any team that signs him in free agency is going to pay a premium. Much better to draft an impact player and get him under terms of his first contract, when he's healthy and hungry and all those good things. Take a look at the teams that made big splashes through free agency and trades last offseason. How are the Browns and Jets looking? Meanwhile, the Titans took heat for their relative inactivity in those areas, only to enjoy a strong season.

When Mike Reinfeldt was managing the Seahawks' salary cap, he helped open my eyes to the mistakes teams often make in overpaying for free agents. Recent history has made him look like a pretty smart man on that front.

Ant from San Francisco writes: Mike, I have an answer to the question from "Dean in Hillsborough." This past Sunday in the Bay Area we had a two network double header. Normally, with the Niners at home, if it was Fox's turn for a double header we would've had the NYG v MIN game at 10:00 and the Niner game at 1:15. Then on CBS we have to receive the Raider game at 10:00 (plus those two teams can never be scheduled opposite one another). We got all three of those but this week we alsame on CBS (MIA v NYJ).
I don't e
ver recall our having both networks go double for us and I especially do not recall a Niner home game having another televised game go up against it. Perhaps this was some sort of league gift due to it being week 17. I'm all for it as we Niner fans often get stuck with Raider home game slots at 1:00 when our team is on the road at 10:00 or on MNF. We used to get the top game but when the Raiders moved back we got stuck with them. Even their blackouts mean we may get a superior late game but not the doubleheader if it's on an alternate network. Hope that helps explain it.

Mike Sando: Thanks. I'm checking on this one.

Ken from Bellevue writes: Mike, Great season on the blog! Already looking forward to next. 1 question and 1 comment for you. So what's going to happen to the blog after the playoffs finish and the offseason starts? Still going to keep this place active?
Lastly, my comment is regarding Mora. Personally I'm excited that he's the new coach, there were many a time that I really questioned the conservative play calling of Holmgren. Even when they said they were going to play more aggressively with nothing to lose, there still seemed to be some reservation in opening the playbook. I also wonder what was going on at RB with Jones out the last several games. Thanks, Ken

Mike Sando: We're not going anywhere during the offseason, Ken. My experience blogging is that the offseason can be even more active at times given all the draft stuff and free-agent stuff. The rhythm to the blog will change a little.

I thought Holmgren was an outstanding play caller at his best. He could really get into a rhythm. But I'm not sure he was the most flexible play caller. It's something I'd like to speak with him about sometime. He would know a lot more about it and he would probably be honest in his self-evaluation.

LA49ers from parts unknown writes: Mike, I'm clearly frustrated as a 49ers fan. We are a lot better then this, and I'm clearly sick of finishing our season in December.
Can you please detail what has to be done for this team to get better then this? I know: 1) win the big games. 2) Win on road. 3) Get a Dline. 4) Get a #1 WR. 5) establish both QB/OC.

What can be done to get us over the hurdle as this just depresses me for a long time to see our season end like this. It's not right, and it questions my faith in my team these days. What does this team need, Mike? Please help this frustrated longtime fan. Also, what can the 49ers do to fill our stadium with 100% 49ers fans?

Mike Sando: Winning will fill the stadium with almost all 49ers fans. That one is simple. I think the 49ers' needs are fairly well defined. Establish continuity on the staff, develop a quarterback, improve at right tackle, upgrade the pass rush, add speed to the secondary, etc.