Mailbag: Playoff lessons for Cardinals

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

David from Scottsdale writes: Mike: how things have changed from August when you had actively solicit for Cardinal questions and comments. My question: From your experience following the Seahawks up close, did their first playoff run provide benefits that showed up in subsequent regular seasons? It seems the Cardinals have finally learned the degree of discipline and preparation necessary to get the full utilization of their talent. Regardless of what happens in the Super Bowl, I hope they dont forget next year what has made them successful in the postseason. Your thoughts?

Mike Sando: The Cardinals' success this season will help them to the extent that it reinforces coach Ken Whisenhunt's credibility in building a winning program. I do think that will help for the long term. Players do not automatically buy into what a coach is selling. They eventually need strong evidence that their coach has them on the right track. Advancing to the Super Bowl provides that evidence, a huge boost for Whisenhunt and his staff.

Arizona's playoff run differs from Seattle's initial playoff appearances under Mike Holmgren in that the Seahawks needed multiple appearances to win in the playoffs. For that reason, I'll limit the comparisons to the 2005 season, when Seattle advanced to the Super Bowl.

One lesson the Seahawks learned was that one great season doesn't guarantee results for the next season. The feeling a team has one season can dissipate in a hurry. Sometimes a key player leaves in free agency. Seattle lost Steve Hutchinson. Sometimes a key player begins a sharp decline. Shaun Alexander comes to mind.

The Baltimore Ravens won a Super Bowl in Brian Billick's second season. They failed to win a playoff game for the next seven seasons, and Billick was fired.

The Cardinals still have to prove they can handle success for the long term. We sometimes fall into the trap of assuming a team's strong finish will carry over into the next season. Within the division, the 49ers felt strongly about their 2007 prospects after showing positive signs to end the previous season. The 49ers also emerged from the 2008 season with optimism, but each season has its own separate life.

Also, the Cardinals' opponents might be gunning for them. The Seahawks thought some opponents gave their best efforts against them after the Super Bowl season.

Harold from Columbia, Mo., writes: Sando, You should be getting overtime for your efforts, but, I guess you are used to playoff runs during your time with the seahawks. This is fun and if anything it gives the Cardinals some credibility. I understand Anquan wanted to play - but you have to give the Cardinals coaches credit with going to mass protection schemes - two backs - two TEs - single receiver sets.

The Eagles had the Cards number in the third quarter -with some of those blitzes. I am glad I had Tivo to review them - during a commercial. Anyway - by giving Kurt Warner an extra second or two - you give him more opportunity to read what is happening - we know he is a quick decision maker. Although Palomalu is a much quicker safety than B Dawkins or Lawyer Milloy.

I like the matchup with the steelers offense - they are more run oriented, similar to the Falcons and Panthers. Ben has some mobility - but none more than McNabb - his arm isn't as strong as McNabb - and I question his deep ball accuracy. He seems to like to check down - so I can see them rush 3 and drop eight until the Steelers show they can beat it. Roethlisberger likes to check down. And if Ward is out - that puts DRC on Santonio Holmes which he can run with him. Although Desean Jackson beat DRC - it looked like DRC should have attempted to knock the ball away and not went for the int. That's part of the game - but DRC was in position. Keep up the great work - you have really made the season more enjoyable in understanding personnel groupings. H

Mike Sando: Did you see the ground Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie closed in getting to that deep ball? I thought he was going to pick it off based on how quickly he was closing. DeSean Jackson showed very good concentration in sticking with that ball and finishing the play.

I agree that the Cardinals might consider sitting back on Roethlisberger. They'll want to be aggressive enough to force turnovers, however.

I haven't watched the Steelers enough to have a great feel for them yet. I'm going to dive into some of their games on video this week.

Rodney from Dayton writes: Mike, The question I have is about the niners. Is there a coach on one of the supper bowl teams they could peg for the OC?

Mike Sando: For the Steelers, quarterbacks coach Ken Anderson was the Bengals' offensive coordinator from 1996 to 2000. For the Cardinals, running backs coach Maurice Carthon was the Browns' and Cowboys' offensive coordinator in recent seasons. I have no indication at this time that the 49ers are heading in that direction.

Mike Singletary's background as a defensive coach gives the 49ers very little margin for error in their selection of an offensive coordinator. I'm not sure they can take a chance on a coach without some sort of successful record calling plays and running an offense. Scott Linehan fit that profile. He apparently decided to wait for better opportunities.

Singletary hasn't been an NFL coach for very long, so he might have fewer connections to coaches on other staffs. This business is about relationships. How many relationships does Singletary have relative to how many relationships a 15-year NFL coach might have? Not as many, I would suspect.

Also, how many outsiders are going to look at the 49ers' situation objectively and think this team's offense is ready to break out? Singletary has already said he wants nothing fancy. He wants to run the ball. He put the clamps on Mike Martz. How might potential candidates view this job in light of that?

Finally, with all the coaching changes this offseason, the 49ers find themselves near the back of the line as they search for top assistants. The Linehan situation suggests as much.

Mike from Las Vegas writes: Hey Sando. I was wondering what your thoughts were about the Rams hire of Spagnuolo. Personally, I like the hire. I think he was the top candidate for the rebuilding job of the Rams. They can suddenly become competitive with a new O-line and a revamped and motivated defense created by Spagnuolo.
As a Ram fan, I have to admit I wanted to see Haslett stay another year though, to see what he is really capable to do when HE is the one drafting and picking the players. I am just glad we didn't end up with Jason Garret or Lezlie Frazier.

Also, what is it with all these 9ers fans talking about how the don't want Linehan as OC? I despised Linehan when he was Rams coach, but that doesn't mean he was a bad one. He just wasn't the right one for the situation. I think if the 9ers can snag Linehan, it would be a steal because Linehan has h
ead coaching experience and not many OC options have that type. Plus, Linehan is a run guy and correct me if I'm wrong, but Singletary wants to emphasize run right?

Mike Sando: Once the Rams streamlined their front office, they needed to make sure the next head coach would work well with new general manager Billy Devaney. Steve Spagnuolo fits that profile. So did Jim Haslett, but I don't think the Rams could have made the clean break they needed without turning over the staff in full.

I see no red flags with Spagnuolo. He comes from winning programs with the Giants and Eagles. He has Super Bowl credentials, which help in gaining the players' trust.

As for the 49ers, I doubt they'll hire a coordinator with Linehan's credentials. That doesn't mean they can't hire a good one. They just might have to take a chance on a less established coach, particularly if Rob Chudzinski lands elsewhere.