Chat with Mike Sando
Welcome to SportsNation! On Thursday, we'll have ESPN.com NFC West blogger Mike Sando stopping by to talk about the latest NFL happenings.
Sando joined ESPN.com in 2007 after nine seasons covering the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma (Wash.) News Tribune. He previously covered Washington State University football and basketball for the Spokane (Wash.) Spokesman-Review. Mike grew up in Northern California before attending Whitworth College, graduating in 1992 with a B.A. in political studies. He lives in the Seattle-Tacoma area with his wife and their two sons.
Send your questions now and join Sando on Thursday at 1 p.m. ET!
Ruben (Highland, Ca)
Mike, Thanks for taking my question. If the Rams win or lose in Detriot on Sunday, isn't it time for all the young players to play after the bye? Smith at LT, Gibson at WR, Butler at CB, Greco at G/T, Null for a few series, ect.? This teams needs to look toward the future, but I know the losing mentality has to stop. How can they balance this the last half of the season?
Mike Sando (1:04 PM)
The Rams do not have very many older players. They are one of the youngest teams in the league. By definition, then, the young guys are playing in most cases. Jason Smith does need to play every snap, in my view. Perhaps his health isn't where it needs to be. I do not know. But if he can play, play him. What is there to lose? Brandon Gibson also needs to play right away. The QB situation is a harder one to manage that way. I would not just throw Keith Null out there at this stage. If he is your third guy and he plays in a game, the other two quarterbacks cannot return to the game, by rule. I suppose they could make him the No. 2 quarterback at some point.
Deric (Twin Falls, ID)
What is your take on the Jekyll and Hyde defense of Seattle? Do they just lack the mental toughness when playing from behind? It just seems like if Seattle gets a lead they play harder and more aggressive, but if Seattle gets down, especially by two or more scores, it seems as if they give up.What do they need to do to keep consistency in their play, is it the coaching, or just a lack of desire?
Mike Sando (1:06 PM)
The Seattle defense has been really good at home against bad teams. The Rams and Jaguars brought young, inexperienced, immature offenses to Qwest Field. The defense arguably played well enough to beat the Bears as well, also at home, but there were some defensive breakdowns leading to touchdowns, notably the Devin Hester play. This just is not a consistently good defense yet.
George (New Orleans)
Hey Mike whats up? just wanted to know is TJ a bust in Seattle or will it get better
Mike Sando (1:07 PM)
T.J. Houshmandzadeh has been pretty good from what I have seen. He is on pace to catch more than 80 balls. His yards per catch are also up quite a bit. It's clear from watching games that he needs more time with Matt Hasselbeck.
I know he can throw the ball down the field, but do you think Alex Smith will have less problems with the pass rush due to his mobility? Nothing else matters if he's getting hit every play.
Mike Sando (1:09 PM)
The mobility Alex Smith showed against the Texans surprised me. I guess I had forgotten how well he could move when healthy. Shaun Hill is faster than people realize, but Smith showed something I did not recall him possessing: a feel for pressure around him. I think his mobility will help, but not enough to offset some of the problems the 49ers will surely face against guys like Robert Mathis.
1awthor (Sacramento, CA)
Will SF open up the playbook more with Smith in charge and do you see a stronger passing game resulting in an easier time for Gore?
Mike Sando (1:11 PM)
Yes, I think the playbook will open up for that reason and because Michael Crabtree (and possibly Brandon Jones) give the 49ers additional personnel options. I'm not sure how quickly that will help Frank Gore. The run blocking must improve as well. The 49ers are not seeing as many eight-man fronts as Mike Singletary suggested the other day. At least they did not face that many against the Texans.
With the Colts getting lit up recently in the run game, can we expect the 49ers to get their running game going?
Mike Sando (1:14 PM)
I watched Rams-Colts again last night and it seemed as though Indy was more than happy to let the Rams chew up clock. The Rams were never going to run well enough to score enough points to change the outcome. Those were meaningless rushing yards.
Dave W. (49er Country)
Mike, Let's try some "fantasy football" and say Alex Smith (I am one of the few big Alex Smith fans left in 49er Country) throws the ball very well and Michael "better late than never" Crabtree and Vernon Davis have good games. The o-line in less than good right now so Frank Gore might find little room to run. Is that enough to stay with the Colts all 4 quarters? That offense against our D sounded good 2 weeks ago but now I am worried. Your thoughts?
Mike Sando (1:17 PM)
Peyton Manning gives the Colts such an advantage. I don't think the 49ers are any more likely to solve him than other teams have been. Manning will make defenses pay for little mistakes or lapses in discipline. Nate Clements sometimes has lapses in discipline. Manning is so efficient with his possessions. I do not think the 49ers can be efficient enough with their possessions to keep this a game through all four quarters.
Jay (Cincinnati, OH)
No matter how well Alex Smith plays, should the niners draft a QB early in the 2010 draft? If they do, they'd have a better shot at locking down a "franchise" QB. It might play out like the Chargers' situation with Brees and Rivers, but that's not such a bad thing, right?
Mike Sando (1:18 PM)
In theory, yes, take the quarterback early. But do not do it just to do it. The QB you take that early cannot have significant question marks (such as coming from a spread offense).
If your a Skins fan, whats your best course of action?
Mike Sando (1:19 PM)
Break out the VCR and watch tapes from the 80s. Sorry, could not resist.
Garrett (South Lake Tahoe, CA)
Thanks for the great work on the NFC West Blog! I know this is unlikely, but could the 49ers go 6-10 or 7-9, win the NFC West, and get in the playoffs? What kind of long term ramifications would that scenario have on the NFL's playoff eligibility policy?
Mike Sando (1:19 PM)
That might work if the Cardinals seceded from the NFL and started their own desert league.
Shane (Los Angeles, CA)
Sand-O: As expected, the sports talk following the Cards win over the Giants was more about "What's Wrong with the Giants?" rather than "What's Right with the Cardinals?" With their next 5 games against the Panthers, Bears, Seahawks, Rams and Titans, the Cards could feasibly enter the game against the Vikes at 9-2 or 8-3. What do you think the Cards need to do to merit discussion among the leagues' SB contenders?
Mike Sando (1:22 PM)
Keep doing what they are doing. Look, the Cardinals have earned our skepticism by going from 7-3 to 9-7 last season, then losing at home to the 49ers in the opener. Let's see this team sustain a high level of play for more than a month or two. I see signs the Cardinals are starting to do that. The Giants have been consistently good for a while. The Cardinals are never going to get the same national play the Giants or Redskins would get because Phoenix is not New York. But the Cardinals can command respect by playing well consistently.
SeaFaninSLC (SLC, UT)
Hey Mike,What is the deal with seattle coming out flat on the road? Or when they got down early against Arizona. The attempts to mount a comeback were not very good. I thought about this while watching NO come back against MIA (obviously an awesome comeback).
Mike Sando (1:24 PM)
I think there was something to what Tim Hasselbeck was saying a week or so ago. He questioned the Seahawks' fortitude, pretty much. I sense more resignation than defiance with this team lately. Perhaps I'm reading it wrong. We shall find out. At a certain point, though, a team has to be able to block people.
Cory (San Diego)
With Seattle having 4 of the 5 projected starters back this week, who besides Ware of the Cowboys DLine do you see the hawks having trouble blocking?
Mike Sando (1:25 PM)
Marcus Spears, Jay Ratliff and Igor Olshansky are the three starters up front. We could start there.
Hightower is effective, but his ypc is horrible. Is it time for Beanie to get a 60/40 split moving forward? He seems to have the ability to make more people miss, and get a few extra yards.
Mike Sando (1:27 PM)
The Cardinals are trending that way. They just need to make sure Wells can handle all aspects of their offense. It's probably a little frustrating for the Cardinals because they can see what you and I can see. Wells is a difference maker. Right now, though, I think the offense is a little more predictable when he is in the game.
What is the main reason behind Whisenhunt's aversion to running the ball with Beanie? Is it the pass protection factor? Is it the fumble factor? Something else?
Mike Sando (1:29 PM)
Ken Whisenhunt looks at the Cardinals' personnel and sees Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, Steve Breaston and Jerheme Urban. Any coach armed with that personnel would throw the ball. Once Wells gets up to speed on the protections, I think the offense will become more dangerous because they'll be able to hand to Wells on traditional passing downs. Right now, if Wells is in the game, it's more of a tipoff that the Cardinals are going to run the ball or possibly be less daring while throwing it.
Mike- We've seen in the past year that the Cards don't deal nearly as well with prosperity as they do adversity. Do you think that, with all of hte good press that they're getting after the Giants win, we could be in store for a dip in the roller coaster that Cardinal fans have become accustomed to? Or is this team finally maturing into a team that can bring it every week?
Mike Sando (1:30 PM)
That thought has crossed my mind and we will not know the answer until we see the results Sunday. The feel I have is that this team has matured some. I think we've seen that reflected in Kurt Warner's comments. Warner has been around long enough to get a feel for these things. In the past, he has been pretty honest about the team's shortcomings. If you are looking for a sign that the team has possibly turned a corner, Warner's comments might be one.
Sean L. (Tacoma)
With Walter Jones finally on IR and possibly done for good, do you see the hawks making any roster moves to add depth to the o-line?
Mike Sando (1:32 PM)
Teams generally carry nine offensive linemen. The Seahawks had nine plus Walter Jones. Putting him on injured reserve doesn't affect their depth on the line because Jones wasn't part of that depth. He was sort of off to the side while the team waited for him to get better. From a personnel standpoint, the Seahawks are pretty much stuck. They have no good options for upgrading depth during the season.
Wait, why is a Skins fan posting in the NFC West chat? Never mind. Where is Indy weak defensively that you expect SF to try and exploit?
Mike Sando (1:35 PM)
The Rams got Bob Sanders to bite on a play fake, freeing Donnie Avery to catch a 50-yard pass on a flea flicker. That was early in the game, when the Colts were focused on stopping the run (Steven Jackson did quite a bit of his damage later in the game, once the Colts pulled away). If I'm the 49ers, I would be looking for ways to continue finding Vernon Davis down the middle of the field. Davis is bigger and faster than the people he'll be matching up against. I just wonder how much time Smith will have to let those plays develop. The Colts' defensive line is going to cause problems rushing the passer inside and out.
Mark (Antioch, CA)
Each week it seems like teams are being brought back down to Earth. Aside from the Saints is there really a dominant elite team in the NFC? Am I crazy to think that both the Niners and Cardinals are capable of making the playoffs as a division winner and wild card? The Vikings are good but have also caught their fair share of lucky breaks and are. The Packers, Cowboys, Eagles, Falcons Cardinals, Giants, Niners and Bears all seem to around the same level depending on the week.
Mike Sando (1:37 PM)
I haven't seen enough from the 49ers' offense to make me think they'll finish better than the Bears or Packers or Falcons or Eagles or Cowboys, assuming those are the potential wild card teams.
Sando, long time, not chat for me. Hope all is well. Watching the Cardinals game this past weekend gave me the same feeling as last year for the first time this season. Do you think us Cards fans are in for a let down this weekend?
Mike Sando (1:39 PM)
Hi Drew. Welcome back. Have you seen the Panthers? The Cardinals' strength -- run defense -- should help them against Carolina. I do not trust Jake Delhomme to win the game for the Panthers.
Do you think the Rams decision was more financially based than performance based when the opted to stick with Bulger as opposed to drafting a QB early or at all in the draft? Seems like a bad choice now, eventhough I'm a Bulger fan.
Mike Sando (1:41 PM)
The decision to stick with Marc Bulger was a practical one because the team did not have anyone better. The decision was financial in a salary-cap sense. Bulger had $8.5 million in guaranteed salary this season, so it made no sense to make a change right away. And then the Rams had so many other areas to address, making it tough to funnel so many resources toward the quarterback position. It's important to draft the best players, but I understand the Rams' thought process and consider it defensible.
Good points regarding the Cards offense... But Whiz is throwing the ball with less than 4 minutes to go in the fourth quarter against the Giants while in the lead. Why wouldn't he run the ball, rather than throw incomplete passes and gift the Giants extra timeouts for a potential comeback?
Mike Sando (1:43 PM)
Yes, I know what plays you are talking about. In that situation, he trusts Kurt Warner to make the short completions. And he does not fully trust his running backs to hold onto the ball. And he does not want to send the signal that they are going conservative and sitting on the lead, hoping the time will run out. I think those factors come into play. It doesn't mean Whisenhunt was right. But those could be some thoughts to consider.
We all know Seattle needs to draft a Left Tackle next year but what should they do with Denvers pick? What position should they target with that pick?
Mike Sando (1:45 PM)
All things being equal, the Seahawks could consider a quarterback or running back. I could even justify taking two offensive tackles, one for each side, if they were both starting-caliber players.
John (The Desert, Iraq)
Lets say the Niners do beat the Colts and Arizona perhaps loses, what does that do to NFC West Playoff race. Also if the Niners lose this week and the Cards win can the Niners still make the playoffs. I know it will be hard considering the Cards have a relativly easy schedule.
Mike Sando (1:46 PM)
Playoffs? Playoffs? If that happened, I think California bylaws would make Alex Smith governor. OK, seriously ... I would reassess the division because we would suddenly be looking at a much more formidable 49ers offense.
Rick (Charleston, WV)
Hey Mike, I know Mike Gandy and Levi Brown have had their share of embarrassing moments (Harrison, Freeney,) but since the Cardinals almost NEVER give their Tackles help, would it be safe to say those guys have held up relatively well so far?
Mike Sando (1:47 PM)
If you put the word "relatively" in italics and underlined it, I might play along.
Walter Jones' knee (Seattle)
See... I told you I'd win that battle. No way I was losing that fight.
Mike Sando (1:49 PM)
Walter Jones' knee is taking $6.2 million in salary to the bank this season.
Noa (New Jersey)
Mr. Sando - Which of the NFC West teams do have the ingredients to make more than just a playoff push and possibly have Superbowl aspirations?
Mike Sando (1:51 PM)
The Cardinals are the only team in the division that fits the profile, in my view, based on their quarterback situation and overall continuity. The Cardinals are the only team in the division with a positive identity on offense. The defense is playing quite well and improving. Before the season, I thought Seattle's chances hinged on whether Matt Hasselbeck, Walter Jones and Patrick Kerney could stay healthy and play at a high level. We all know how that one is turning out.
Is Vernon Davis a pro bowler this year?
Mike Sando (1:53 PM)
To this point, yes. He ranks second among NFC tight ends in receiving yardage. He leads the NFL in touchdown receptions. He is within four catches of the NFC lead in receptions by tight ends. He is a good blocker. I have no problem putting him on my midseason Pro Bowl team. Let's see how he finishes.
Dan (San Francisco)
Mike, I wondered why at the time, but wonder moreso after Battle's struggles (maybe it was the sun, but he's clearly not a threat)... why is Battle on the team and Rossum isnt?
Mike Sando (1:55 PM)
Arnaz Battle can play wide receiver. That makes him more valuable to the 49ers than a guy who serves only as a return specialist. Allen Rossum was not a factor in the secondary even though cornerback was his listed position. The sun definitely played a role in Battle's problems. Let's see how he handles those duties in the coming weeks.
Rico (Chandler, AZ)
Looking at the Cards' schedule from here on out, I see a best-case scenario record of 13-3. Now, I know that is wishful thinking, but how likely do you think it is that they can get to double digits wins this season? I'm thinking 11-5 might be attainable.
Mike Sando (1:56 PM)
I went through the schedule and felt comfortable saying the Cardinals would finish this season with no fewer than nine victories. I thought they had a chance to get to 10. Anything above that would surprise me just a little bit.
Garrett (South Lake Tahoe, CA)
Mike,Should the 49ers focus on the O-line in the 2010 Draft? Are there any great prospects they could pick up? It seems to me that they are not getting a very accurate look at Hill or Smith behind what has become a very unreliable front 5.How could they justify putting another high-pick QB behind such an inconsistent and untalented group (Staley exluded)?
Mike Sando (1:58 PM)
The 49ers absolutely, positively need to upgrade their offensive line through the draft. They tried to do so already, but Chilo Rachal is not ready and it's unclear if he'll make the leap. Long term, the 49ers probably will not regret drafting Michael Crabtree over an offensive tackle. I think the 49ers need to target a guard in free agency and then draft for guard and tackle.
Hey man, love the blog. Also love the Niners. Do you think Singletary will make a philosophical change, allowing the pass to open the run, if the Smith/Crabtree/Davis situation works out?
Mike Sando (1:59 PM)
Thanks. I think Jimmy Raye was keeping things conservative when Shaun Hill was the quarterback, in part because the line was a problem and also because Hill has some limitations. Raye will go with what works best. This week could be tough given the opponent. I'm anxious to see how Smith performs under more conventional circumstances.
Mike Sando (2:02 PM)
Thanks for dropping by the NFC West chat this week. Haven't added me as a friend on Facebook? Time to get with the program.