Mailbag: Run game without Kurt Warner

Joe from Midland, Texas, writes: Hey Mike, going out on the limb here, but it seems like the Niners' defense did better against pass-happy offenses (with the exception of Atlanta) than against more balanced teams. Is it possible the Cardinals might give us more competition being more balanced this year than they did last year with Kurt Warner? By the way, no, I'm not crazy. Just a thought.

Mike Sando: There's some value in what you're saying, but there's another side also worth considering.

Beanie Wells wasn't part of the plan for Arizona when the teams played in Week 1, but he did carry the ball 15 times for 79 yards and a touchdown against San Francisco later in the season. The 49ers' pass-rushers have been a tough matchup for the Cardinals, even while Arizona was able to handle more acclaimed rushers, including Jared Allen of the Vikings.

It's also probably true, however, that the Cardinals had an easier time running the ball against San Francisco because the 49ers were most concerned about containing Warner. Take away Warner and the 49ers might, in theory, become more effective against the Cardinals' ground game.

Defenses aren't as likely to commit extra defenders to the run when facing elite quarterbacks.

One key for Arizona, I think, is showing an ability to run the ball with three wide receivers on the field. Teams generally must go with lighter personnel on defense when offenses replace running backs and tight ends with wide receivers. This can create more favorable situations for a running game.

It's great to talk about being a smashmouth team, but the 49ers proved early last season that such talk goes only so far when the blocking is average and the passing game isn't much of a threat.

Jonathan from Huntsville, Ala., writes: Great article about Sam Bradford, but here is a thought about your last paragraph: Yes, it sounds intimidating for a rookie QB to be going up against Adrian Wilson, Darnell Dockett and others in that Arizona defense. But I will sure be excited about seeing him play if it is that same Arizona defense that showed up in the playoffs! If they don't improve or fix whatever happened to them last year, the Rams could actually put up some points.

Mike Sando: Improved health along the Rams' offensive line could be the biggest difference this season. The Cardinals held the Rams to 238 yards in Week 16 last season, but Mark Setterstrom and John Greco were the starting guards for St. Louis in that game, with Adam Goldberg at right tackle. All three of those players were backups entering the season. It'll be important for the Rams to have their first-team line on the field to give the offense -- and Bradford -- its best shot.

Matt from Reno writes: I was browsing through ESPN and noticed that the NFC East blogger did a story on the most overrated/underrated players on each team. It seemed like a fun idea and wondered if you'd give it a shot with the NFC West. Thanks for your time.

Mike Sando: These are fun to read and perhaps that's good enough reason to do them. I've always wondered who was doing the original ratings, though. Who is overrating and underrating these guys? I've got an idea for a twist on overrated and underrated players, though. Stay tuned.

Chris from Gilroy, Calif., writes: Wow, your comments on Patrick Willis are way off against Beanie Wells. That makes me not wanna read your blog ever again. He is the top player in the NFC West. Deal with it.

Mike Sando: That was the same entry where I called Willis a "dominant" and "great" player (not to mention a smarter one). The point relative to Wells was merely that he had shown enough last season in general and against the 49ers in particular for even Willis to take him seriously. No disrespect there.