<
>

Mailbag: Spanning the mighty NFC West

Charlie from Auburn, Calif., writes: I've seriously had it with the play calling Mike Singletary seems to have imposed first on Jimmy Raye and now Mike Johnson.

As evidenced by the two-minute drill last week and against Indy last year, and a few other times, the 49ers, and Alex Smith, can move the ball fairly effectively when in the spread, using 3-4 wide receivers, Smith in the shotgun and running a hurry-up style offense.

Given that Singletary never plays a game aggressively on offense until the 49ers fall behind by three scores, at which point they then fight to come back using the spread, how effective do you think Smith would be as a quarterback in a system that actually was built around his strengths?

Most people I talk to think he's a pretty bad QB, but I think he would at least be in the top 10 given a shot playing in a system like Indy's offense, one where he's in the gun about 70 percent of the time and has 3-4 wide receivers to hit quickly.

Frankly, the 49ers as a whole are built to be a more aggressive offense. Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis should be getting a lot more passes, and they have shown they can run effectively from spread formations, as they did vs New Orleans.

Mike Sando: I understand your frustrations with the offense. Two-minute situations do not necessarily apply over the course of a full game. Defenses play differently when protecting leads late in games. Offenses have an easier time completing passes, dictating tempo and those sorts of things. The 49ers would not necessarily be able to do that at will. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady might make it look easy, but Smith and other lesser quarterbacks couldn't duplicate the results.

Sure, Smith could be better than this if he were in a better situation. He needs to be better in this situation, however. It's not like he's so good in spread situations that the 49ers should abandon plans for a power running game with Frank Gore.

If Smith were struggling in a pass-happy offense, we would probably be asking why the 49ers weren't taking pressure off him by building around Gore.


Tim from Jackson, Wyo., writes: Hey Mike, I attended the Chicago game and saw the hit laid on Jon Ryan. Crowd went nuts. I notice that ESPN has been showing that hit with regularity, and in a jocular fashion. Why is this hit not being used as an example of a hit on a defenseless player? Hines Ward seems to come to mind when one thinks of hits of this sort, and I seem to remember Warren Sapp laying out a Green Bay player, injuring said player pretty severely. Any thoughts?

Mike Sando: I thought the hit was clean. Ryan was charging forward toward Devin Hester and within about 7 yards of him when Earl Bennett blocked Ryan cleanly. Ryan was actively trying to make the tackle. He was not trotting across the field away from the action. It was a brutal and devastating hit, but I couldn't see anything about it in violation of the rules.


Erick from California writes: Who is the best rookie offensive lineman in the NFC West -- Rodger Saffold, Mike Iupati, Anthony Davis or Russell Okung?

Mike Sando: Okung hasn't played enough to say for sure, but the way he played in a hostile environment Sunday was impressive. No penalties. No sacks allowed. Drove Brian Urlacher into the end zone on Justin Forsett's 9-yard touchdown run.

Of the other three, Saffold plays the toughest position, left tackle. He's probably been the best to this point based on what the Rams are asking him to do. I'd probably go with Davis next, then Iupati, if we're talking about how the rookies have played to this point. Davis has a tougher job because he's playing tackle. Iupati has more help playing guard.

We're only five or six games into the evaluation, though. I've seen good things from every one of them.


Michael from parts unknown writes: Sando, after browsing through the NFC West roided-out rosters, I am wondering where the teams in the division rank in age by position. Have you done something like that before? Looking at the 49ers' offensive line got me to thinking about it. Their average age on the offensive line is 24.8. That is insanely young for an offensive line, isn't it? Oh and by the way, I read your blog daily. Thanks, Mike.

Mike Sando: Yes, I can easily slice and dice ages by position. It's just a matter of dragging the the position category into an Excel pivot table window and watching the numbers come up. I plan to update rosters Thursday night. I'll come back with an item breaking down roster ages by position.


Jimmy from San Diego writes: Hey Mike, looking at your MVP Watch, just wanted to comment on defensive players. No defensive players come close to Osi Umenyiora based on his performance this season. Eight sacks, seven forced fumbles (two shy of the NFL record in only six games). I am sorry, Troy Polamalu and Julius Peppers do not stack up. Clay Matthews is having a helluva season, too.

Mike Sando: Yeah, I do not necessary disagree. Part of the challenge in putting together MVP Watch lies in making sure some of the best teams are represented. There's a balancing act between recognizing winners and including a few players having great individual seasons without as much team success.

Philip Rivers made the list, possibly for the last time unless the Chargers start winning again. Ben Roethlisberger could be representing the Steelers on the list relatively soon. Sometimes it feels as though only three or four candidates are truly worthy of strong consideration, making it tough to fill the remaining six or seven spots.


Brian from Scottsdale, Ariz., writes: Is it too early to begin questioning the Cardinals' first-round draft choice, Dan Williams? I know he plays a position that doesn't yield great statistics, and I've read about his deactivation for a game for weight issues. I can't help but think a team should be getting more out of a player drafted this high.Your thoughts?

Mike Sando: Let's see where he's trending a month from now.

My thought was that Williams would take over as the starting nose tackle sometime this season. The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Casey Hampton with the 19th pick in 2001, moving him into the starting lineup for Week 7. Hampton started the final 11 regular-season games and developed into the anchor of the Steelers' 3-4 defense for the next decade (and counting).

Williams hasn't shown much to this point. Missing weight raised questions about him. If he hasn't shown anything a month from now, harder questions would be more appropriate. The team has played only five games to this point.


Nick from Portland, Ore., writes: If you were the Seattle front office (or Pete Carroll), how would you solve your long-term QB questions?

If the Seahawks stay competitive and Matt Hasselbeck stays (mostly) mistake free, conventional wisdom would then suggest Charlie Whitehurst never sees significant playing time this season.

If that happens (and I hope it does), Whitehurst will remain the untested and unproven backup he's always been. Let's say Hasselbeck plays well enough to earn an extension this offseason. Are the Seahawks really going to pay Whitehurst $10 million and never use him in the regular season?

Mike Sando: Whitehurst gets $4 million this season and $4 million next season, with another $1 million available via incentives in each year of the deal. Seems to me Seattle can pay that price to keep Whitehurst as the backup if Hasselbeck plays well enough to command a contract extension.

The biggest question I have is whether the Seahawks would commit to Hasselbeck beyond this season when the rest of the roster figures to get younger. What if Hasselbeck plays just well enough for the Seahawks to post an 8-8 record, win the NFC West title and then lose in the wild-card round? Those parameters could create a dilemma.

I don't think the Seahawks know what they're going to do. They need to see the season play out. Sometimes these questions answer themselves through injury or other means. Ten games remain. There's still time to get some answers.


Kristof from Gainesville, Fla., writes: I'm excited about the Rams' win, but with Laurent Robinson and Mardy Gilyard hurt and with Donnie Avery and Mark Clayton out for the year, can the Rams keep the passing game going? Danario Alexander was great but he, Brandon Gibson and Danny Amendola aren't going to scare defenses.

Mike Sando: Robinson, Gilyard and Clayton were not scaring defenses and I say that will all due respect. Clayton in particular was highly productive, but he was not a rare physical talent commanding extra attention from defensive coordinators. The Rams' depth at receiver is thinning. I don't think they've quite reached the breaking point. Losing Amendola might do it, though. They need to get the tight ends going now that Mike Hoomanawanui is healthier.

The Rams are better on defense this season. They're better at quarterback. They have a top running back. Their offensive system has succeeded elsewhere without elite talent at wide receiver. Sam Bradford needs receivers he can trust. Clayton was that type of receiver. Amendola is that type of receiver. Gibson has made some strides.