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!
Mike Sando (1:00 PM)
Greetings. About to get going here. Thanks for stopping by.
Hey Mike, I know a lot of today's chat will be devoted to the 49ers, and rightfully so, they have earned it. I wanted to know your take on Jeff Fisher to Rams and how this will toughen up the Rams. Do you see the NFC West shedding it's doormat image? I am excited, as a Seahawk fan to see all of us (NFC West) finally get some love from the the bias eastern media.
Mike Sando (1:05 PM)
You're right. We'll be covering the 49ers quite a bit throughout the chat. It's still the NFC West chat, so non-49ers questions are welcome. I think Fisher will definitely toughen up the Rams. We'll see the team take more chances on guys who didn't earn all their merit badges, so to speak. We'll see a team that plays with attitude and through the whistle. We'll see more penalties for roughing the passer and those sorts of things. As for the NFC West, this is the eighth consecutive postseason the division has claimed a playoff victory. No other division can make that claim.
Chris (Phoenix, AZ)
With the field conditions at Candlestick on Sunday, do you think that it is going to kill the Giants' route running, throw timing, etc enough to shut them down for the first half so San Francisco can jump ahead considerably?
Mike Sando (1:07 PM)
Two schools of thought on this. One, Eli Manning has a very strong arm. He might be able to throw in those conditions regardless. At the same time, the Giants' speed rushers on defense might have a harder time turning the corner in their pursuit of Alex Smith. Also, the Giants rely on their passing game to a larger degree than the 49ers rely on theirs. Throw in the home-field advantage brought by crowd noise and I think slippery, wet weather helps the 49ers more than it helps the Giants.
Hey Sando, what a game Saturday huh! Alex was outstanding! Now looking ahead to Sundays matchup with the giants, I think the 49ers have to establish the run to win this game. Giants front four are pass rushing defensive ends. Niners can't afford to get into 3rd and long against the Giants and have Alex under pressure all day. I feel this games gonna be won in the trenches. What are your thoughts?
Mike Sando (1:14 PM)
The 49ers have denied the absolutes. What I mean by that is, they've won a lot of ways. They beat the 6-2 Giants despite getting zero yards from Frank Gore in Week 10. They beat the 5-0 Lions on the road despite losing the turnover battle. They beat the Eagles after trailing by 20 in the second half. It's tough to say they absolutely need to do this or that in order to win a specific game. I think the fascinating question is whether their consistent ability to win the turnover battle is something that will even out. Usually, turnovers become a fickle friend. It's tough to rely on them. The 49ers play such a big role in protecting the ball and forcing turnovers, however. Their differential does not appear all that random. If anything, Alex Smith arguably should have even fewer picks this season (remember the one that bounced off Ted Ginn's hands against the Giants).
What's good, Sando? The 49ers seem to have different players step up each week. That said, no way the Giants let Vernon Davis go off like he did at the Saints. So, if the 49ers win, who has to have a breakout game? I like Kyle Williams or Michael Crabtree.
Mike Sando (1:18 PM)
Crabtree is someone I initially thought needed to step up in this next game. We might also recall Kendall Hunter breaking a touchdown run against the Giants last time. He is someone to watch. Someone on ESPN or NFL Network was recently illustrating how the Giants used three safeties to help defend Davis in the last game. Alex Smith still completed 9 of 11 passes to tight ends in that game. Delanie Walker caught six passes for 69 yards. Davis had a 31-yard touchdown reception in that game. The fact that the Giants will try to take away Davis does not guarantee they will succeed. One question, though, is whether the 49ers need Davis to stick around in protection a little more. The 49ers need to keep Justin Tuck and those pass-rushers off Alex Smith.
Bill (NY, NY)
Mike, can't tell you how excited I am for the Niners. Tough living in NY and being a die hard Niner fan. Do they get by the Giants and if so how do you think they match up against either NE or Baltimore?
Mike Sando (1:21 PM)
We take them one game at a time here on the NFC West blog. I tend to think the 49ers will fare better against the Giants than they did against the Saints, despite efforts to paint New York as a hot team.
D (Valley of the Sun)
I am looking into the future for Arizona for next year; yes, I see them working with Kevin Kolb and John Skelton. Also see them keeping Levi Brown, mostly because a left tackle won't be available at No. 13 in the draft and the free agency market appears slim at that position. I do see them drafting a right tackle and a guard in the draft. Something new for them. I also see them signing a free agent linebacker and receiver from free agency and taking best player at No. 13. Thoughts?
Mike Sando (1:25 PM)
Your thinking makes sense whether or not they bring back Levi Brown. They need a tackle. I would also endorse adding pass-rush help. A team can never have too much in that area. Look how much better the 49ers are after adding Aldon Smith.
Mark (Sunrise, FL)
Hey Sando, I know you have a bunch of questions, here is one. Why is it, even though the Niners beat the hottest team in football last week, they have the greatest turnover margin, having a 13-3 record do they not still get any respect? Even from ESPN?
Mike Sando (1:30 PM)
They are favored to beat the Giants. More broadly, the 49ers remain a bit of an unknown team. That is the way things work for teams yet to establish themselves over time. Same thing happened with Arizona three years ago. People obviously did not know much about the Cardinals. They would ask when Kurt Warner started wearing gloves, unaware that he had done so for years. Same thing happened a few years before that with Seattle. People would ask how much the team planned to help its left tackle in protection against some pass-rusher, not knowing that Walter Jones was a Hall of Fame-caliber player who never got help in protection. It just takes time for a team's relevance to register.
What is the 49ers gameplan to beat this red hot Giants team?
Mike Sando (1:32 PM)
I thought the Saints were the hottest team.
Suppose the Rams hire Gregg Williams and Brian Schottenheimer like many people are expecting. How excited should Rams fans be? Neither one's team was terribly impressive recently on the side of the ball they were coaching. How much of that can be attributed to personnel over coaching?
Mike Sando (1:35 PM)
The fits would be good from a philosophical standpoint. Williams obviously knows defense. He's been hired as a head coach. I question whether blitzing so much is the way to go over time, but when you have Drew Brees as your quarterback and a 7,000-yard offense, you can take some chances. I've been a bit skeptical on Mark Sanchez for a while, so I might be more inclined to cut Schottenheimer some slack there. These would appear to be solid hires, not spectacular ones. Then again, Josh McDaniels was more of a spectacular one, and that didn't work out. Personnel matters most.
Daniel (Hayward Ca)
I keep hearing in the media that the Giants now have a run game that is coming alive and less about the fact the the Niners have the best run D in the league. Do you think the Giants will be able to move the ball with the run game come Sunday? And on the flip side, how do you feel Frank Gore will fare against their run defense? Over-under on Alex passing yards and TDs?
Mike Sando (1:41 PM)
The 49ers have nothing to worry about against the run. They can stop the run when they want to stop the run. They need to hit and sack Eli Manning, and rough up the Giants' receivers once they catch the ball. Gore is tough to figure. I'm not sure where he stands. The 49ers came out throwing against the Giants last time. A similar approach would de-emphasize Gore. On Alex Smith, I'd still put the over-under for TD passes at 1.5 or maybe two, but that is a total guess. It will not shock me if he throws three TDs in this game.
John C (Highland Mills NY)
Here is one Giants fan who thinks that the Giants have their hands full in a big way against the Niners.
Mike Sando (1:42 PM)
I was speaking with someone who works for another team in the league, just in general. This person was not a 49ers backer early in the season. Thought the 49ers would come back to the pack. He told me he thought the 49ers would win this game pretty comfortably. Just doesn't think the Giants are all that great. I also think the 49ers will win, but I also think Eli Manning has had a very good year, and he makes the Giants dangerous.
I believe the Cardinals, led by John Skelton, were the last team to beat the 49ers towards the end of the regular season. Do you think the Giants can take any pointers from that game into Sunday's matchup? Or are the 49ers playing at a much higher level from that point in the season?
Mike Sando (1:46 PM)
Patrick Willis missed that game. That was one difference. I'd say the 49ers can be had after the catch sometimes. The Cardinals' 21-19 victory over the 49ers put ESPN's Total QBR metric to the test. Skelton finished that game with a 106.5 NFL passer rating. Great game, right? Well, consider that the Cardinals' receivers gained 180 yards after the catch that day, a season high by 84 yards. Analysis has shown that receivers have more to do with yards after the catch than quarterbacks, in general. Skelton's QBR for that game was only 44.1 out of 100. The Giants have a better quarterback. They have good receivers. They need to beat the 49ers after the catch. Darren Sproles and Jimmy Graham did that late in the game Saturday.
Matt Flynn (Green Bay)
If I decide to leave Green Bay and go to Seattle, what should I expect in a contract and will I get a fair shot at the starting job?
Mike Sando (1:49 PM)
The Seahawks believe in competition, but do they believe in Matt Flynn? If they did, would they have at least tried to acquire him a couple years ago, when they went after Charlie Whitehurst instead? They would have had the inside info on Flynn because their general manager, John Schneider, was with the Packers when Green Bay drafted Flynn. I'm not convinced the Seahawks are itching to give Flynn a big contract. I do think Seattle would consider adding another prospect in the $4-5 million per year range, unless there's a college prospect the team intends to draft.
Sando, Alex Smith made a "potential" believer out of me. Something I noticed in the Saints game is it seem Alex had a tough time picking up the blitz, in fact I don't think he is good at this, at all. That to me is part of being an elite quarterback. What are your thoughts?
Mike Sando (1:54 PM)
Alex Smith ranked fifth in NFL passer rating (100.9 with 10 TDs and one INT) during the regular season when opponents send five or more pass-rushers. He ranked only 20th in Total QBR in these situation. This is almost entirely because Smith took a league-high 22 sacks when opponents sent added pressure. He has generally taken far fewer sacks at home. The Giants, like the 49ers, generally do not need to send more than four rushers. If I were the Giants, I would cover up Davis and Crabtree, then see if the front four can get home.
Kasey R (Lewistown MT)
Hi Mike, love your blog. I'm a Seahawks fan and I can't help but to root for the Rams to move back to Los Angeles. I think if the Rams move back, the whole NFC West will get more attention for once.
Mike Sando (1:56 PM)
Well, I'd hate to wish that upon the people of St. Louis. If there were an NFC West team in Los Angeles, though, I could bounce from one training camp to the next with very few travel challenges. Think how easy those road trips would become for the Cardinals and 49ers in particular. Even if the Rams do not move, I could see another team relocating to the L.A. market. In that case, maybe the Rams would go to another division, with the new L.A. team coming into the NFC West.
James (San Jose)
Hi Sando, it seems like the Niners are pretty banged up (Ray McDonald, Ted Ginn, etc.), whereas the Giants are all healthy. Could you speak to the injury situations on both sides and how that might affect the game?
Mike Sando (2:01 PM)
The Giants are healthier at linebacker and probably on their defensive line, relative to the Week 10 meeting. The 49ers are probably healthier at running back (Gore left that Giants game with an injury after Jason Pierre-Paul tagged him). I'd say the 49ers are worse off at tight end (Delanie Walker, who caught six passes for 69 yards against the Giants in Week 10, may or may not return from a broken jaw this week). Ginn's injury definitely threatens the special teams and could create turnover opportunities in the return game, just because his replacement isn't as experienced. McDonald practiced in full Wednesday, so perhaps he's doing better. He has not been 100 percent lately.
Does the NFC West have the best collection of head coaches now, one through four? Jim Harbough, Ken Whisenhunt, Pete Carroll and now Jeff Fisher. I've looked at all the divisions and from 1-4 and I can't find a better collection of coaches.
Mike Sando (2:05 PM)
I looked into this on the blog before the game Saturday. If the 49ers win Sunday, the NFC West will have three head coaches with Super Bowl appearances. All four head coaches in the division have won in the playoffs. The NFC East has three head coaches with Super Bowl appearances (Mike Shanahan, Andy Reid, Tom Coughlin). NFC East coaches have more combined playoff victories than NFC West coaches by a fairly wide margin.
The 49ers offense looked terrible for most of the game against the Saints before the last four minutes. Do you think they will be able to consistently move the ball against a better Giants D?
Mike Sando (2:07 PM)
No, I don't think they will move the ball consistently. They have not been consistent enough on third down this season. They do not need to move the ball consistently to win, however. They just need to score a couple touchdowns, get a few field goals and hold up better on defense than they did in the final minutes against New Orleans. I thought 25-26 point would win the game against the Saints. That really should have been the case, but then a college bowl game broke out late.
Don (Albany, NY)
What do you make of the Niners injuring so many of the opposing RBs they face? Just a result of a swarming hard hitting defense or is something else sinister happening?
Mike Sando (2:09 PM)
They hit hard. That was a factor in knocking out Steven Jackson and Pierre Thomas. Some have also noted that Arian Foster left the preseason game between the Texans and 49ers after contact contributed to his hamstring injury. Felix Jones' shoulder injury was definitely contact-related.
NINER FAN (SF)
Why do the Niners get burned so bad with big plays. Are they taking too many chances, is it breakdown in coverages? Before the big plays by Sproles and Graham on Saturday, Niners dominated. Why are these big plays killing us? Killed us against Arizona and Dallas?
Mike Sando (2:11 PM)
I am going to examine this in greater detail. It's odd because the 49ers led the NFL in interceptions with 17 on passes traveling 15-plus yards past the line of scrimmage. They also limited opponents to low efficiency numbers on these throws. Their defense was pretty good on these throws, in other words. But the 49ers also allowed more 40-plus pass plays than all but a few teams. I think the problem has come on yards after the catch. I suspect missed tackles or bad angles (going for the hit instead of the tackle) could explain a few of them. This bears further exploration.
Mike Sando (2:12 PM)
Thanks for dropping by the chat. We've got tree branches falling left and right in the snowy/icy Northwest right now. My power flickered on and off probably 8-10 times during the chat. Glad we made it through.