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Mailbag: Parallels to Colts' title team?

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Ken from parts unknown writes: What do you think about this "Steelers West" stuff? It's flattering, but I think the Cardinals instead are the Colts West. Classic pocket QB, deadly passing game, pragmatic regular season approach, fast undersized defense, a great safety, and who do we hand the ball to but Edgerrin James himself?

Mike Sando: I like the comparison. Cris Collinsworth took it another step by comparing the Cardinals' postseason improvement to what the 2006 Colts accomplished when they won the Super Bowl. I would not necessarily say the Cardinals were pragmatic about their regular-season approach, but Arizona would certainly accept the same result in a Super Bowl, minus the rain and Devin Hester's kickoff return.


Blake from Moraga, Calif., writes: Do you think that if the 49ers didn't lose by a yard to kurt warner's team (bring back any memories?) that he would even be in this position, much less the playoffs?

Mike Sando: I'm not sure. If the Cardinals had lost that game and gone in the tank, no. If they had lost that game, then bounced back with a vengeance to beat good teams down the stretch, yes. The Cardinals did what they had to do to win the division. And now they have proven they belong in the playoffs. The 49ers haven't even committed to a starting quarterback, so I think they have some ground to make up.


Mike from Seattle writes: Mike, Tim Ruskell kind of addressed the wide receiver position. How serious of a run do you think Seattle will make at TJ Houshmandzadeh? And, if not him, who would be other FA candidates at WR? Thanks!

Mike Sando: Ruskell has said the Seahawks will protect themselves from a repeat of what happened to them at receiver in 2008. I do not know how seriously the Seahawks would consider a potentially expensive free agent at the position. Potential free agents include Amani Toomer, Bryant Johnson, Justin McCareins, Jabar Gaffney and a handful of lesser-known players. It's not a position of strength in free agency, for sure.


Bob from the Dominican Republic writes: Hi Mike, thank you so much for your blog! I appreciate the way that you cover the NFC West with your fair, balanced, and thoughtful insights. Your blog is a class act, and I enjoy reading it. Please allow me to say that like Kurt Warner, I am a follower of Jesus Christ and His teachings; Christ is my Rock and Salvation. Because of that, Kurt is by far my favorite football player and sports figure.

Kurt's example is making me a better person. While I became a Cardinal fan in the '70s, I root for the Cards now because of Kurt. Thank you for your time with my email, and have fun covering the Cards in the Super Bowl (a dream come true!!!!) Sincerely, Bob

Mike Sando: Thanks much and thanks for sharing. We're all familiar with the humanitarian work Warner advocates in his personal life. From my perspective, I can say Warner is a pleasure to cover. I have never come across a more accommodating "star" player in the league. I've heard stories of Warner asking to reschedule interviews to line up better with reporters' schedules, without the reporters even knowing. These weren't instances where reporters asked Warner to reschedule. He was taking the initiative on their behalf. Who would even think to do such a thing? Warner would.


AJ from Fresno writes: Sando, you do an amazing job on the blog, always a must read when I have a few extra moments at work. My comment/question pertains to the 49ers OC. As a huge fan of the Niners and Alumni of Fresno State, could the 49ers be overlooking their perfect O Coordinator in Fresno State coach Pat Hill?

He is a smash mouth coach, loves running the ball (sometimes way too much) and was a former O Line coach with the Ravens and some guy named Bill in New England.

I know my beloved 49ers have passed on some local boys the past few years (Pro Bowler Clifton Smith being one) but they can't pass on this guy, he is perfect for what Singletary wants to do on offense. Hire the Fu!!

Mike Sando: Thanks, A.J. I would expect the 49ers to consider candidates with more recent NFL experience. And I'm not sure a tenured college head coach would consider the move a promotion. The longer the search continues, though, the greater the likelihood of the 49ers considering a wider range of candidates.


Steve from Redmond, Ore., writes: Hey Mike, I was curious what your thoughts are on almost everyone stating that the NFC West is the worst division in the league. The division has three Super Bowl appearances in the past 10 years, (correct me if I am wrong but I thought it was 5), and many playoff appearances in the last 10 years as well, (don't know how much). As far as I can see there is only one other division in the NFL -- AFC North? -- that has had the same. This means that both divisions are tied for the most Super Bowl appearances or wins. That would seem to say that the division is stronger or luckier than what people think. Thoughts?

Mike Sando: This is a weak division that has featured a couple good teams over the years, but rarely more than one good team at a time. That is how I would characterize the division. People will now call it a weak division except for Arizona. They used to call it a weak division except for Seattle.


Jason from Greeley, Colo., writes: Hey, Mike. In Kevin Seifert's great article about Kurt Warner, he says Warner will be the second quarterback ever to start the Super Bowl for two different franchises. I did some research but I cannot find out who was the first QB to start the SB with 2 different teams. Do you know who was the first? Thanks.

Mike Sando: Yeah, Craig Morton would have been the guy. I thought Earl Morrall might have been on that list, too, but I think Morton was the only guy (Cowboys, Broncos).


Nathan from Leavenworth, Wash., writes: Kevin Seifert's post "The drive that moved mountains" was awesome. There are all kinds of post-game articles with people saying, "We just felt like we had to stop their run game", but I feel it's hard to find in-depth analysis. Hearing strategy and insights from the coaches and players themselves regarding specific plays and drives is always fascinating and something I never get tired of reading. More like it, please. And I know it was Kevin, but this was the link on the blog, so please send my kudos on to him. But take my request to heart! Thanks much.

Mike Sando: Absolutely. Hopefully you read the column with insights into the "Philly Special" play that helped spring Larry Fitzgerald for a 62-yard touchdown.


Mr. Zero from Alameda, Calif., writes: Sando, Warner has led 2 different teams to the Super Bowl and every time he has started all 16 games he's made it to the Super Bowl. Are you on it? superfuzz777 mentioned the part about getting to the SB every time he wins 16 games.

Mike Sando: We'll split props between you and superfuzz777. I think the week off will help Warner recover physically as well.


Jose from Anchorage writes: First off, thanks Mike for all the updates and insight you give us NFC West fans. Also I feel very proud and comfortable knowing that if I have a legitimate question/comment you always respond or answer it. Now on to business. I have a strong feeling that the Cardinals can come up with the win on Super Sunday. That would be the ultimate to bring that title to all of us starving Cardinal fans.

Still, though, the possibility of them coming up short is very real. Pittsburg is a tough tough team. So with all that being said, win or lose, what are the steps that the organization needs to take to consistently compete at this level. I mean Rod Graves and that whole front office have their work cut out for them after the season.

Mike if you were in Rod's shoes how would you manage: Cardinal free agents, Cardinal players wanting extensions, Cardinal players wanting out of Arizona, the draft, free agents on the market. I know it's a lot to ask and a tough task especially since we have not even began to digest the Super Bowl. Any insight would be great. So again thanks and look forward to hearing from you in the mailbag.

Mike Sando: Thanks, Jose. First off, you do not overpay for role players. The Giants smartly let the Raiders overpay for Gibril Wilson. That is no knock on Wilson, but the Giants would have been foolish to pay that money. You pay your star players, even if you have to overpay some.

I still think the Cardinals would be best off trying to patch-up their relationship with Anquan Boldin, if that is possible. They need to pay Warner and make a decision on Edgerrin James. In the draft and/or free agency, perhaps they find a center, linebacker, running back and tight end.

They need to identify people on their staff or elsewhere in the league who could develop into coordinators at some point in the future. When you win, other teams are more apt to hire your assistants. Who would replace Todd Haley? Russ Grimm? Clancy Pendergast?

The Cardinals also need to stress, over and over, that everyone starts out 0-0 the next season. The 2008 team stops existing one day after the Super Bowl.


Carvin from Boulder, Colo., writes: What does Matt Leinart's role with the Cardinals look like heading into the future. It seems like he's accepted the backup role for now, but he was drafted with being a starter in mind by the previous coaching staff. Do you see him sticking around, or moving on and Ken Whisenhunt get's his own eventual replacement for Warner?

Mike Sando: I would think Leinart would return next season. If he does not play much in 2009, then it becomes tough to keep him around under his current contract. The 49ers are finding out the same thing with Alex Smith, who was drafted one year ahead of Leinart. You get to a certain point in those first-round QB contracts where the guy needs to be playing, take a pay cut or leave the roster.


Penner from Snohomish, Wash., writes: Your thoughts on Crabtree wearing a Seahawks jersey next season?

Mike Sando: I've heard mixed evaluations on him. I haven't gotten the feeling Seattle is jumping at the chance to draft him, but it's early.


Mitchell from Seattle writes: Sando, I love your blog, the Hawks get no coverage but here, keep it up. As I have been watching what Larry Fitzgerald has been doing this postseason, I am convinced the Hawks need a playmaking WR. I Think if Crabtree is available with their first pick they should go that direction. I was 100 percent against the thought of him til the Cards Eagle game. The way the game is changed by Fitzgerald is incredible. What do you think of the Hawks going out and getting a top tier WR, or drafting Crabtree?

Mike Sando: Thanks, Mitchell. The theory sounds good, but what are the odds of any player developing into a game-changer on Fitzgerald's level? Fitzgerald has improved significantly this season, in my view. The Seahawks should not take Crabtree just because they could use a receiver. They should take him if they think he's going to become a great player. None of us knows if he will, another reason every team needs to make choices for the right reasons.


Eric from Boynton Beach writes: Mike, Many people are suggesting the 9ers take a QB if available with their 1st pick. I am thinking with Singletary at the helm, they will look at the D 1st. Your thoughts?

Mike Sando: I would tend to agree, but Singletary would benefit from upgrading the quarterback position. If the 49ers drafted one now, the clock might tick a little more slowly for Singletary. Perhaps he would get some time to develop the young quarterback. I do know the organization does not want to rush a rookie quarterback onto the field, as happened with Smith.


Charles from Tempe writes: Do you think that the niners need some better leadership in the front office. The rest of our division got experienced coordinators that have been with winning franchises. What do we need to do to get ahead of the pack?

Mike Sando: I do think the 49ers' new president, Jed York, will experience some growing pains. He is 27 years old. How many of us would have been ready to run an NFL franchise less than 10 years after graduating from high school? General manager Scot McCloughan is a good talent evaluator, I think. He is a scout through and through. But the organization has very inexperienced people in key spots, including head coach.


Russ from Bremen, Germany writes: Hi Mike! Your writing/blogging on ESPN is unrivaled! Every so often, those talent scouts at ESPN get it right. Anyways, my question is regarding the Hawks. As we saw with the Falcons and Dolphins, sometimes one of the best offseason changes a coach, new or old, can make to his team is that of the Team Chemistry. What are your expert thoughts on Mora, Jr. and the Hawks? Do you think that he has brought in the right coaches? Should we have kept any of the coaches from Holmgren's staff? Could we see the type of turnaround that the Dirty Birds and Phins had this year? Also, Looks like Sark is getting it right so far down at Montlake! Thanks a lot, Mike! Russ.

Mike Sando: You're welcome. Thanks for the kind words. The organizational chemistry will probably improve under Mora almost by default. The situation last season was an awkward one.

Players knew Mike Holmgren was boss and they respected him, but they couldn't know how to view each staff member. That was inevitably the product of the staff turnover heading into Holmgren's final season.

The organization brought in coaches with an eye to the future. Players knew where they stood with Holmgren, but could they know where they stood with John Marshall as opposed to Jim Mora, or Mike Solari as opposed to Gil Haskell? I think those dynamics were not as natural as they will become under the new staff.

I don't fault Mora for changing over the s
taff. We should watch to see what happens with the Holmgren assistants who aren't coming back. If they land top jobs elsewhere, perhaps that tells us the Seahawks erred.


Mark from Easley, S.C., writes: Hey Mike, once again great job you have done this year. Looking forward to watching your rise in sports journalism. I had read how the Eagle fans would have so many fans in the stadium this last Sunday. It appeared on TV that this was an all Arizona crowd. What was your feeling being at the game?

Mike Sando: Thanks, Mark. I would say there were eight or nine Cardinals fans for every Eagles fan. The Eagles fans made themselves heard a couple times in the second half, but you would have never known they were there for most of the game. Definitely a Cardinals crowd.


Cam from Kelowna, B.C., writes: Hey Mike As a Seahawks fan, who do I cheer for this Superbowl? Do I cheer for the division rival Cardinals or the hated Steelers?

Mike Sando: If you hate the Steelers, I think you need to pull for the Cardinals. They're a fun story, anyway.


Victor from Avondale, Ariz., writes: Sando, great job with the blog. Looking forward to exciting coverage for the Super Bowl. Who do you foresee Rodgers-Cromartie matching up with? He has matched up on Roddy White, Steve Smith, and DeSean Jackson. I think Jackson got the best of him, due to some superb passing by McNabb. I see him matching up on Santonio Homes to take away Pittsburg's best deep threat.

Mike Sando: Jackson did get him on a deep ball. I need to watch it again, but my impression was that Rodgers-Cromartie got caught napping a little. He closed on the ball immediately once he realized he was in trouble. I think he could have batted it away if he hadn't decided to go for the interception. I'm with you on how to use him against the Steelers. Put him on Holmes and see how he fares. Hines Ward is a great player, but let's see how his knee is holding up.


Ezra from Las Vegas writes: Mike, I know you just joined the coverage of NFC West this year. How much respect have you gained for the Cardinals' success due to Wiz's improvement this year? Also, can you write a piece on the struggling cardinals fans to put it in perspective for the rest of the fans out there. My freind started giving me crap about how the cards fans don't support our team by coming out in full force every time. He doesn't understand when you go 4-12 most seasons its hard. Wining brings all the fans out.

Mike Sando: I recognized early on that Ken Whisenhunt was a sharp, prepared head coach. I wasn't sure if he would succeed in Arizona, given that so many others had failed there, but I did think this team was going to improve. My take entering the season was that the late-season schedule could be tough enough for Arizona to finish 8-8 and still be an improved team. That projection failed to account for the Seahawks' struggles. I really thought Arizona was one year away from winning the division, and that the Cardinals' payoff might come in 2009 -- beginning in September, not January.


Ezra from Las Vegas writes back: Mike, Fox Sports just wrote an pic article on how the cards are the worst team in super bowl history. Do you agree with this?

Mike Sando: Not at all. The Cardinals are talented. When they play well, they can beat quite a few teams. I would only consider them as one of the worst teams if we counted their late-season defeats as much as we counted their playoff success. I see no reason to do that.


Chris from Indianapolis writes: I was wondering what you thought brought around the general perception in the media of a coach leaving a team and having a marked tactical advantage over them in future meetings? Wouldn't the team of the leaving coach have a certain degree of insight into their philosophy as well? I just can't help but wonder why I don't see that brought up more often.

Mike Sando: I think the insight into the players swings the balance. Ken Whisenhunt's knowledge of Ben Roethlisberger helps the Cardinals. That said, the teams did play last season, so perhaps Arizona has already used that knowledge to its advantage once, with little to gain this time.


Josh from Phoenix writes: Hey sando I read your blog alot, especially the Cardinals ones and like your work. That being said in the week off until the super bowl I won't have a lot to think about except how could the Cardinals improve their team next year? I was thinking that since Anquan wants out, and I assume the Bidwills don't want to pay him Fitz money, should we trade him this offseason?

If we did it would have to be to an AFC team, even though a Boldin for Peppers trade sounds intriguing. Or what if the Eagles for some reason let go of McNabb any chance we try to pick him up and pair his big arm with Fitz, Boldin and Breaston. He has proved what he can do with one weapon (T.O). He lives in AZ and I think he would love the opportunity at a fresh start with an up and coming team with a plethora of offensive weapons and creating coaching staff.

Do you see Hightower being the answer for the immediate future or do you think we should go out there and sign a veteran running back if we let Edge go? Maybe get Mcgahee for 1 year with a team option?

On defense I think we have a couple glaring weaknesses. First we need a marquee pass rusher, someone that teams have to game plan against. Berry has been serviceable and so has Smith but a Peppers type would be great. Also we need a true 2nd cornerback because week after week I see teams picking on Rod Hood and they usually succeed at it, it looks like he's the slowest player on the field and can't read a players eyes to see when the ball is coming, he always has his back turned to the ball. Interested to see what you have to say, Thanks.

Mike Sando: Thanks, Josh. Trading Boldin is becoming a more palatable option in light of Fitzgerald's increasing dominance. But I still think the Cardinals are better with him on the team. If they can make that work, they should do everything possible to make that happen. Boldin is scheduled to appear at an interview podium Thursday afternoon. Let's see how he handles himself in that setting, given recent events.

We could add cornerback to the list of areas for the Cardinals to address in the offseason. I think Hood and Rodgers-Cromartie can be a good tandem, but they could use another young corner to develop.

I'm frankly surprised Berry and Chike Okeafor have both made it through a full season, plus playoffs. Both are playing well right now. They could use a younger pass rusher.


Miles from Fair Lawn writes: I think that the final play of the Eagles' last drive was ridiculous. Kevin Curtis clearly was brought down by the defender before he touched the ball. Whether or not he could have caught the ball is a different story. In the last 1:57 of the game, you don't think the refs could have at least looked at the play again. It's the NFC Championship game and there were plenty of questionable calls throughout the game as it was, couldn't they have revie
wed the play that cost the Eagles the NFC championship?

Mike Sando: Pass interference and holding are not reviewable plays.


Gerald from Jennings, La., writes: Hey Sando, I love your blogs throughout the year. I am traditionally a Saints fan, but knowing how great it was to see our Saints go to the NFC Championship game two years ago makes me understand how Cards fans may feel.

Now the one thing that confuses me is how some people can still think the Cardinals can't win the Super Bowl. I for one believe that if the Cards turn this game into a shootout the Steelers don't have the offense capable of winning a shootout. They have the two best WRs in the game and their running game, though not great, has been playing well enough to throw off defenses.

And not to mention Whisenhunt coached in Pittsburgh two years ago, how do you think that helps their chances knowing there personnel? And with the way the Cards have been playing, don't they deserve more of a chance to win? Hope to hear from you!

Mike Sando: I agree that Arizona can win this game. Kurt Warner needs to keep getting rid of the football quickly and accurately. And the Cardinals need to keep trying the run game, particularly the inside running game, even if the results are modest.


Kenny from parts unknown writes: I was just wondering if the hawks r ok with cap money this year to spend thanks sando

Mike Sando: The Seahawks' cap situation will allow them to sign free agents, but they have less room than in some past seasons because they've splurged on a few players recently. I'll be interested in seeing the structure of contracts offered in free agency this offseason. Some of these deals are carrying fat increases in the second season.


Chris from Spokane writes: First of all, I'm a die-hard Seahawks fan. I hope that they will return to greatness next year. Secondly, with that in mind, I find it hard for me to root for a division rival but it is even harder to root for the Steelers. So I will reluctantly root for the Cards to kick the crap out of the Steelers. I tip my hat to what the Cardinals have accomplished this postseason. I wish them the best in the Superbowl and I hope the fans get to enjoy the game. I would really hate for the 'Zebras' to affect this game in the same way they affected the Seahawks-Steelers game. Good Luck Cardinals!!! Go Cards!!! ***This rooting for the Cardinals thing will last until the final whistle of the SB.***

Mike Sando: I love the internal struggle over how to dispense with one's support on a short-term basis. We do like to consider life's great questions here.