NFC West chat attendees wanted to know which team I expected to win the division in 2010. The San Francisco 49ers are not looking very good, but we're only four games into the season and none of the other three teams has shown enough to make one a favorite. That explains why I will not yet change my preseason prediction. Let's see how the next couple of games go. Chat transcript here. Highlights below:
Jerry (Texas): Who would be a better fit for HC next yr for the Niners? Jim Harbaugh, Chucky, or Bill Cowher?
Mike Sando: Jon Gruden because he's an offensive-minded coach with a strong appreciation for the running game. His mentality would suit the 49ers' personnel. He has already lived in the Bay Area and he seems to stay very much in tune with rosters throughout the league. He could step in quickly and credibly, perhaps helping a talented team take the next step (as he did with the Bucs). I'm not convinced Bill Cowher would take that job or take a job on the West Coast. Update: The 49ers would be an appealing team to take over because they have good young talent at several positions on offense in particular. They opened the 2010 with the NFL's youngest offensive starters, but it's increasingly clear the team had no one to make that talent come together quickly.
Jake (Germany): Mike Williams appeared to be ready to break out after training camp and the first two games, however, he doesn't seem to figure strongly in the offense. During camp his route running appeared to be a strength, his size is obviously a strength. Those two combined should mean he is getting open. Have you charted his plays, if so, is it possible to identify when he is targeted and what the results are? Based on Seattle's trouble moving the ball, he would be a natural target at the yard stick/end zone. Any ideas Sando?
Mike Sando: Williams has made his biggest plays from conventional personnel groupings (35-yarder from 12 personnel, 22-yarder from 21 personnel). He had the 17-yarder against St. Louis on third-and-14 from a less common grouping. I don't see any clear patterns along those lines. I do not see down-and-distance patterns. Seems to me the Seahawks just need to throw his way more often. He used his size very well against the Rams on that 17-yard reception. One thing that has hurt: The Seahawks have been experimenting with various combinations at receiver. The offense is still finding its identity.
Bruce (at work): Its been an interesting season so far..... Rams look like they are on the way up, Cardinals and 49ers on the way down and who knows what is happening with Seattle? With four games complete, who is your pick to win the NFC west?
Mike Sando: I will not change my preseason prediction this early in the season. The factors that made me favor the 49ers before the season have not changed. The Seahawks still have to answer questions on their offensive line. The Cardinals have quarterback concerns. The Rams are still in the formative stages. I really think the 49ers have suffered from a perfect storm here. Three of the first four on the road, with the only home game against the defending Super Bowl champs, two last-second defeats, two road games against teams that were better than expected (Seahawks, Chiefs). Now, I do question whether Mike Singletary can hold the 49ers together. An all-out implosion could be under way. The next two games will tell us plenty.
terry (st. louis): How does the rams o-line stack up against the lions d-line? what will be the biggest keys to the game on both sides of the ball?
Mike Sando: The Lions' defense ranks fourth in sacks per pass play and seventh in interception percentage, but only 30th in yards allowed per play. Ndamukong Suh looks very good and he'll test the Rams' interior offensive line. Rams left tackle Rodger Saffold has looked good most of the time this season, but the Rams' tackles had some problems in the team's only previous road game. That could be an issue again.
Al (Wausau, WI): Mike, do you agree with the Cardinals' decision to start Max Hall over Derek Anderson? Do you feel he gives the Cardinals the best chance to succeed?
Mike Sando: If not now, when? What have we seen from Derek Anderson to make us think the offense is suddenly going to hit stride? Ken Whisenhunt has protected Anderson to a degree this season, but he always acknowledged that Anderson needed to show improvement. The Cardinals have not seen the improvement. By making this move, they are questioning whether Anderson has the capacity to improve. This move makes sense if the Cardinals are right in thinking Hall is mentally tough enough to handle this situation.
It's easy to say the 49ers aren't going to win the NFC West. It's implausible to declare another team the clear favorite.