INDIANAPOLIS -- Two NFC West games in less than 24 hours isn't such a bad deal.
Before I drive back to St. Louis for four days at Rams camp, let's dive into the mailbag for a few items focusing on the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks (we've hit the Rams and San Francisco 49ers pretty hard and I don't want anyone heading into the week feeling neglected).
Andrew from Phoenix: Why is everyone so down on the Cardinals? Most people forget that Matt Leinart threw for more than 400 yards in a game as a rookie, so he is a capable passer. Also, we actually had a winning record with Anquan Boldin out of the lineup. Steve Breaston did catch for more than 1,000 yards one season. Also, we did have some key additions that will make the Cardinals, if not better, than just as good. So, Mike, why is everyone so down on the NFC west defending Cardinals?
Mike Sando: The Cardinals have some good things going for them. They have the best coach in the NFC West until someone proves otherwise. They have shown an ability to develop young talent (think Calais Campbell in the second of the 2008 draft, after the Seahawks drafted another defensive end, Lawrence Jackson). Arizona also has strong, accountable leaders throughout its roster (Larry Fitzgerald, Alan Faneca, Darnell Dockett, Joey Porter, Adrian Wilson). It all comes down to perceptions at quarterback. Once Matt Leinart gives you something to remember more recently than his rookie season, perceptions might change.
Todd from Whittier, Calif., writes: What is a realistic prediction from yourself on the Seahawks' 2010 season? Oh, and I hate the 49ers. Do you think the Seahawks can defend their home in Week 1?
Mike Sando: Yes, I do think the Seahawks can knock off the 49ers in Seattle. That doesn't mean it will happen, but the 49ers could be working through a few issues of their own. The crowd noise at Qwest Field could make life difficult for the 49ers' offensive line, particularly the two rookies and new starting center. The Seahawks appear to be developing talent at receiver right now, so that could help them. Plus, even though I think the 49ers are a logical choice to win the NFC West, San Francisco still has much to prove, too.
The Seahawks were 5-11 last season. It's reasonable to expect a couple more victories unless the team again finds itself playing with its fourth-string left tackle and backup quarterback.
Mike from Phoenix writes: Hey Mike, have you noticed the irony of the issues surrounding the QB situations of the two teams in this division that seem to dislike each other the most? Both San Francisco and Arizona have legitimate shots at winning the division this year, yet both team's hopes seem be at the mercy of quarterbacks who have pretty shaky (historically speaking) performance records.
Both teams have gone to great lengths to provide the best possible weapons to each, but nobody seems to be able to say for sure what will happen when games are on the line. Who do you think is more ready to lead on the field? As if that weren't worrisome enough for each of these clubs (and their respective fans), each team's camps appear to have revealed some disturbingly porous offensive lines.
Granted, it's still early, but I have to wonder: Are these teams going to be able to protect their passers? Which leads me to ask further, which team would be better able to withstand the loss of its starting QB? Keep up the great work! P.S.: Please answer Cardinals to the above.
Mike Sando: Great question. Well done. I'll favor Alex Smith over Matt Leinart until we see more from Leinart. We simply haven't seen him play enough to know whether all the reports about maturity and work ethic translate into effective play in games. At least we know Smith can pass for 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions over a 10-game period. Both teams plan to use effective running games to lessen the burden on their quarterbacks.
Even though Derek Anderson has struggled with accuracy, I trust him more than I trust Carr to get rid of the football more consistently in the face of pressure. Anderson has never taken more than 14 sacks in a season, including when he had 527 attempts in 2007. Carr has taken 265 career sacks. Anderson benefited from better protection, but much of the responsibility for avoiding sacks rests with quarterbacks. Carr took three sacks against the Colts during the exhibition opener Sunday night even though he had only 11 pass attempts.
Cliff from Seattle writes: This may be hard to tell now, but do you see the Hawks doing the competition thing next year, where no player is safe, or is this a one-time thing Pete's going to do to help figure out the roster and shake things up? Is it just me or does this team seem fairly talented at certain positions and in 1-2 years, with some strong drafts, will be a fairly strong team (playoff bound)?
Mike Sando: True competition at each position will diminish as the team improves and players become more established in their positions. The reality right now is that Seattle remains somewhat unestablished at quite a few positions.
We could see a veteran or two appear as surprise cuts on the reduction to 53 players. Sometimes a team's new leadership makes a statement by parting with a well-known player who might be declining or might not fit into the long-term plans. For example, with Golden Tate, Mike Williams and Deon Butler emerging and with Deion Branch seemingly playing well, I've wondered whether the teal will value T.J. Houshmandzadeh to the same degree as last season (Houshmandzadeh's $7 million salary for 2010 is guaranteed, by the way).
As for the long-term outlook, the Seahawks need to develop some of their younger players. We'll have a good idea how things are trending once we know what Aaron Curry, Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, Red Bryant, Mike Williams, Golden Tate, Max Unger, Justin Forsett, Leon Washington and others offer.