Mailbag: Another vote for Martz

September, 28, 2008
9/28/08
2:46
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Christopher from parts unknown writes: Alex Smith who? There is no doubt that offensive coordinator, Mike Martz, has been the driving force behind the 49ers' rise to respectability. Mike Martz has also expressed his desire to have another shot at a head coaching position. If the 49ers have a good season, and other teams approach Martz about filling their open head coach position, would the York family consider replacing Nolan with Martz as the new coach? This 49ers fans opinion ... Mike Nolan and his Armani suit can join Alex Smith in the unemployment line.

Mike Sando: What a dilemma that would be. You are not the only one to raise the question. Regular contributor Tyler from Laguna Beach was right there with you. So was Geoff from Boise, Idaho.

I understand your feelings toward Nolan after he posted the 16-32 record through three seasons while mishandling the most important draft choice the 49ers have made in years. But the man knows how to hire coordinators. Mike McCarthy, Norv Turner and now Martz. I don't fault him for the Jim Hostler hire because the timing put Nolan in a tough spot. He needed to hire from within. It just didn't work out.

Back to your question. This organization can be tough to read. You've got quite a few people with a quite a few interests in positions of power (Nolan, Martz, general manager Scot McCloughan, Jed York, John York, etc.).

The 49ers have had so much turnover at offensive coordinator that part of me thinks they need to do everything possible to make the Martz situation work out.

I'm going to answer your question another way. Let's wait to see what happens with J.T. O'Sullivan over the course of this season. If he is clearly the answer at the position, then keeping Martz at all costs becomes more important, and ownership would presumably see that. If O'Sullivan levels off and falters, raising questions about his fitness for the job, then I think it's easier to consider losing Martz.

Remember, the Lions were excited about Martz when they were 6-2 last season. The 49ers have played three games. Lots can happen between now and season's end.


Mike from Oak Harbor, Wash., writes: Sando, what's up with the lack of Seahawks news? Are you taking some heat for t0o much seahawks and not enough cards , rams, 9ers?

Mike Sando: It's the Seahawks' bye week. That is all.


Mike from New York writes: I did not draft a good fantasy DST and just picked up the 49ers DST. How are they and are they improving? Thanks.

Mike Sando: The 49ers expected to be very good on defense and special teams this season. They haven't been bad so far, but their offense has upstaged them to this point. Patrick Willis does have an interception return for a touchdown. Allen Rossum is a threat in the return game. A so-so pass rush has hurt the 49ers in recent seasons. The team has improved in that area, but the jury remains out.


Hannan from Hershey, Pa., writes: Hey Mike, I'm a huge Seahawks fan who had to move to PA after living in Seattle. So I was wondering, many people are doubting the Seahawks for the rest of the season because no one is really sure what's going to happen with our receivers back and healthy. I believe that without Burress, the Seahawks might have a legitimate shot at beating the Giants. Even if Julius Jones got most of his yards against bad teams, he still is running on high momentum. What are your thoughts on this upcoming game?

Mike Sando: Seattle is still settling on its identity offensively. I haven't seen enough from this team on the road to think the Seahawks will beat the Giants. When I picture this matchup, I picture Seattle struggling to audible effectively amid the noise. Mike Holmgren has urged his defense to step up on the road. This would be a good time for that to happen, but I'm skeptical.


Mr. Zero from Alameda, Calif., writes: Mike, I don't know if anyone else has brought this up, but the 49ers are 11-2 when Gore has carried the ball more than 20 times in a game. Keeping the ball away from the Saints offense will be huge this weekend. Any thoughts on Martz running the ball more times than passing it 2 weeks in a row?

Mike Sando: Great stat. The 49ers' record is actually 12-2 when Gore gets at least 20 carries. I went back and counted twice just to be sure. He hit 25 carries during a 20-17 victory over the Texans on Jan. 1, 2006. That was his first 20-plus-carry game as an NFL running back.

I'm not sure there's a running back in the league I respect more than Gore. He plays the game the right way and he punishes the defense. Clinton Portis is another guy I just love to watch. Did you see the hit he put on Darnell Dockett in pass protection last week? That's the type of running back you want on your team.

Back to your question. A quick look at the game-by-game stats from Martz's two-year tenure in Detroit showed the Lions never running more than they passed in successive games.


Marty from Walla Walla, Wash., writes: How did J.T.0'Sullivan go from a nobody to 49ers messiah so fast? Who schooled him and why was he overlooked so long by so many?

Mike Sando: Mike Martz schooled him, but we're still in first period here. We haven't even made it to recess. It's a little early to say he's arrived. I do think politics come into play at the quarterback position more than at other positions. Sometimes a guy never gets into a situation where he has a fair chance. Alex Smith comes to mind, not that we need to go there again.


George from San Francisco writes: Hey Mike. You keep referring to the fact that the Niners have a shot against New England, and I agree that they do with Brady gone for the season. My only concern is that the Pats have two weeks to prepare for this game, and I doubt Belichick is in the state of mind where he's looking ahead to the Chargers. Do you think the extra week hurts the 49ers chances?

Mike Sando: Yes. I've had the same thought. The Patriots need to get back on the right track. They'll have seen enough of O'Sullivan and the offense to make some adjustments. They'll be better coached defensively than any of the 49ers' opponents to this point, in part because they'll have more video of O'Sullivan, but also because Belichick almost never gets outcoached.


Matt from Seattle writes: Mike, A follow up to my NFL blackout question, isn't it time for a change? I mean were talking about the NFL where even the Detroit Lions averaged over 60k in attendance last year. I need a flip channel for when the hawks game goes to commercial! Also you mentioned something about Fantasy owners not relying on Michael Bumpus, Well you have a point but also three weeks into the season Bump has scored exactly 1 LESS fantasy point then Chad Ocho Stinko.

Mike Sando: You won't get an argument from me on the blackout stuff. I've been in your position before, wondering why I couldn't watch the best games. About 17 years ago, before I was cov
ering NFL games, I started spending game days at sports bars just to make sure I could see out-of-market games. I've got Sunday Ticket now, a huge help, but that isn't feasible for everyone (I wanted it for years but only got it when I needed to watch games involving all NFC West teams).


Gouldy from Minneapolis writes: Why in God's name have the 49ers not retired Jerry Rice's number, any idea?

Mike Sando: He hasn't been retired that long. I'm sure they'll get to it. Ronnie Lott had been out of the game for eight years before the 49ers retired his number.


RhynoEsea from Maple Valley, Wash., writes: Here is another Question Sando....... If the Seahawks weren't going to keep guys like William Robinson, Wesley Mallard, and DeMichael Dizer why did they put them on IR? do they have to? or since it is preseason, why can't they just cut them? Please explain the rules for this if you can?

Mike Sando: They could still release those players at some point. I don't know the specific reasons for why Seattle put them on injured reserve and left them there. But in doing so, the Seahawks retain their rights.


Scott from Dallas writes: Let's tap the brakes a little bit there on a 10-win season. First let's play a team with a winning record and actually beat them. They do play the NFC East this year, which is a real division. They started off 2-0 last year so let's just slow down a little bit.

Mike Sando: Totally agree, Scott. Fans of the 49ers have had it rough lately, so it's OK to feel good about obvious improvements on offense. But it's a long season and we don't have enough evidence yet. This team could be 2-5 in another month.


Brian from Portland, Ore., writes: Hey Mike, great job on the blog...it's part of my daily routine! The Seahawks are notorious for poor play in early East Coast games. That said, why not go over to New York on the scheduled Tuesday day off and work out there the latter half of the week to adjust? Normally, this would be a stretch, but with their rested bye week, I wouldn't think it would be a stressful situation, but rather an opportunity for the team to reunite and bond after a week away from the norm. Your thoughts?

Mike Sando: Let's see how the Cardinals handle that this week. At the least, I think Seattle should hold its practices at 10 a.m. PT before playing in that time slot on the East Coast.


John from Ellenville, N.Y., writes: Ok I will start with stating I am a huge Rams fan, I recall watching them play in the Super Bowl against the Steelers and cheering on Vincent hoping he could win it. Kurt Warner did win it for us some 20 years later. Then we cut him. Now he plays for the Cards. The Rams are broken, so I am pulling for Kurt. What are his chances of getting to the playoffs this year?

Mike Sando: I like the Cardinals' chances this season. Seattle has some problems. Arizona has already won at San Francisco. Warner is doing a better job protecting the football. Those are all good things. I know some Cardinals fans will roll their eyes when I warn about depth issues for the 1,000th time, but an injury at offensive tackle could really hurt. We're also seeing Bert Berry suffering injury problems again.


Outlandish from Modesto, Calif., writes: Hey Mike your coverage on the NFC west is awesome. With that said, I am a DIE-HARD 49er fan as well as a realistic 49er fan. I agree with your predictions for the most part and it was generous of you to put the 9ers at 4-1 for the "sake of conversation".

So lets say the Niners go 4-1 (lets hope so) heading into the PHI, NYG stretch. 4-3 is a reasonable prediction following those two games. I think the Niners beat the seahawks at home, not having to deal with that 12th man, which gives them the upper hand. I mostly agree with the rest of your predictions down the road. ......Notice I said "Mostly".

So here's my question, don't you think the Niners beat the Cards if they can fix the number of turnovers they committed in week 1? you also say that you don't see the Niners beating both the seahawks and redskins. The Niners are playing at home vs. the seahawks and without that 12th man throwing a wrench into the Niners execution, I see the Niners winning just as long as they put pressure on Hasselbeck. They also play the redskins at home on the last game of the season which could be a big playoff implication game for both teams, I would say the home team has the advantage in that type of game.

so in short I'll split the games between the saints and pats and put the 9ers at 3-2 and I'll pick up the games over the cards and skins giving the Niners 10 wins... I realize this is the NFL and anything can happen, which is why we call them predictions. I know I am a realistic fan but I'm going with the over-optimistic angle because you are right, it does feel good to dream again!

Mike Sando: Hey, you've earned the right to dream a little. And you're keeping things in perspective enough so that you won't be shocked and heartbroken (too much, anyway) if things go wrong. I think Seattle must improve its defensive game plan to beat the 49ers in San Francisco. Remember, though, Seattle was playing without any receivers. If we're going to discount the 12th Man factor, let's also recognize that Seattle will probably be more talented in the passing game at that time (if not, look out, Seahawks).


Eric from Boston writes: On a scale of 1-10, where would you rate Brian Russell as a free safety? Would you say he's the biggest contributor to Seattle's inability to stop free agent QBs on 3rd and long?

Mike Sando: I'd put Russell in the middle somewhere. I haven't isolated him as the sole problem in the secondary to this point.

Marcus Trufant is the best defensive back on the Seattle roster. Deon Grant is probably next. Yes, the third-and-long defense would be better with another player of their caliber at the free safety position.

Like Grant, Russell is a veteran safety with good smarts. He's definitely an upgrade over what Seattle has had at the position in the recent past. I've always thought he could tackle better. I'm guessing you would not want Ken Hamlin and Michael Boulware back there together again.


Tanner from California writes: Hey Mike. With all of Seattle's wide receiver problems in recent weeks, I really liked the acquisition of Billy McMullen. I like the big, tall receiver factor that he brings to the team. What do you think the chances are of Seattle keeping him on the roster for the rest of this season and signing him for next season too?

Mike Sando: I would say he has a decent shot at sticking this season, depending on the health of his knee and the health of other receivers on the roster. I could see
him back in camp next season, but changes to the offensive staff could influence what the team wants at the position.


Dean from Laramie, Wy., writes: Are the 49ers interested in Fakhir Brown, or is there some disciplinary action coming for him. He is kind of an unknown but decent player to my knowledge. The niners seem to be teetering on the edge of disaster in the position he plays, so I thought they might be talking.

Mike Sando: Haven't heard anything yet. I, too, am interested in seeing if anything shakes out on the discipline front.


Kyle from Modesto, Calif., writes: Sando, Thanks again for answering my question. You do a great job running the NFC West Blog. It's very nice to see some potential in the SF 49ers again. My question to you is, Do you think Mike Martz should use Vernon Davis more like a receiver because of his raw awesome talent? And do you think that he is fastest guy on the squad?

Mike Sando: I wouldn't bet against Vernon Davis in a race against anyone on the team. I also wouldn't change what Martz is doing with Davis, at least not yet. I'm not paying much attention to the reception totals at this point. I'm watching to see how involved Davis is in what the 49ers are doing offensively. I think he's pretty involved. They involved him quite a bit early in the Detroit game. They've been close on hitting a couple long gainers. Davis has done a pretty good job in pass protection from what I have seen.


Toby from Granada Hills, Calif., writes: Mike, How do you think the Niners will attack Reggie Bush? Is this a good opportunity for Manny Lawson, with his great speed and athleticism, to breakout, possibly by shadowing Bush? This also goes back to my issue with the Niners inability to draft and develop their high picks (Mike Rumph, Kwame Harris, Rashaun Woods, Alex Smith...) Thanks.

Mike Sando: I'm not sure Lawson is ready for that type of assignment so soon after returning from knee surgery. The fact that the 49ers wouldn't even play him against the Seahawks was telling to me. Yes, I understand going with extra defensive backs as part of a broader strategy. But I also think teams need to put their best 11 on the field. Shouldn't Lawson be among the best 11 if he's going to shadow Reggie Bush?


Blaine from Seattle writes: Even though I'm a Seahawks fan, I really like Tim Hightower. I even managed to convince a friend of mine to put him on his fantasy team. Do you see him becoming more than just a change-of-pace back? Would it make sense for my friend to think about starting him later in the season, as he seems to be used as a running and occasional receiver?

Mike Sando: I do see Hightower becoming more than just a change-of-pace back, but it might be a stretch to think he'll take over the position this season. Look out in 2009, though.


Brad from New Castle, Pa., writes: In any way shape or form do you think the releasing of F.Brown makes any sense at all? I can't seem to find any reason in it, even if he doesn't try every few plays he's better then who they picked up. Throwing in the towel is completely different from potentially letting your best corner sign with an opposing team. Tell me please if you can just make any sense at all of this

Mike Sando: I asked a Seattle offensive player about the play when I thought Fakhir Brown might have slacked a bit. This was the play when he did nothing to impede Billy McMullen near the line, then jogged as McMullen ran into the clear for a 34-yard reception. The Seattle player told me Brown needed to jam the receiver, yes but he said the safety (Oshiomogho Atogwe) was clearly out of position. He thought Brown would have been responsible for the first 12 yards of the route, but no more.


Zack from Tempe, Ariz., writes: I'm a die-hard Cards fan but as I, and all other Cards fans, have grown to expect that this team will find a way to lose. I'm a pretty optimistic person as well but this team needs to show me something before I put my eggs in their basket. This leads me to my question. Why are the Niner fans trying to pull this underdog card? Haven't the Niners won 5 Superbowls and had a dynasty not more than 20 years ago. The Niners have won 500% more Superbowls than the Cards have won playoff games in our stint in Arizona. I just need to know how these San Fran fans have the audacity to refer to us as the "favorites?"

Mike Sando: It tells you how far the 49ers have fallen in recent seasons. I'm sure you'd trade your team's alleged "favorite" status for one of those Lombardi Trophies.


Mark from Fresno, Calif., writes: Hey mike, since all signs right now seem to point towards Alex Smith not being a niner next year, where do you think he'll end up? You think he'll try and go somewhere he can start like Chicago, Minnesota, St. Louis, Kansas City, etc. or do you think he'll end up in San Diego behind Rivers to continue what Norv Turner started? Kind of like what David Carr is doing in NY.

Mike Sando: I like the San Diego option. Smith is still so young. He needs time to sit and watch and get healthy and not face the pressure.


Doug from parts unknown writes: Regarding Vernon Davis, instead of beating around the bush with fluff reporting why don't you talk reality. Martz is being politically correct in covering up another bad draft pick by the Niners. Not even Matt Millen wastes a top 10 pick on a blocking tight end!!! SF hoped to get a Winslow, Gates, Witten, Shockey type tight end not a blocker who once a game catches a pass. Draft picks like him & Smith are why Nolan will be fired this year.

Mike Sando: I merely said it's not Martz's job to make Davis the focal point of his offense just because the team drafted Davis so early. I was also right there this offseason making it clear Davis wasn't going to be a focal point of the offense. What you said and what I said were not necessarily exclusive. I also think Davis is more than just a blocking tight end. We do need to see some of that big-play potential translate more regularly, no question.


Mike B. from Los Angeles writes: Interesting chart on the penalties, Sando. As you point out, it's not the number of penalites thats so important, or even the yardage, but when they happen and the down and distance situations they create. The two penalites you cite from the Seahawks 49'ers game cost the Seahawks 14 points and the game. The score would have been 30-17 without those two calls, or maybe 30-20.

The Jennings PI call was a bad enough, but the Womack "hold" which set up the Willis Int. return for a TD was arguably worse. Basically, Floyd pancaked the guy. He barely even got his hands into him, much less held him. I know refs always call it holding if there's a takedown, but this wasn't a takedown, it was pancake. And a few plays later Brandon Mebane had
his helemet twisted off -- right in front of the ref and out in the open, but there was no call and the 49'ers scored on the drive.

I'd really like to see an explanation for all the calls from the NFL, especially when they cost a team a game, as these calls did. Are we ever going to get access to the league reports and will they ever stop the stupid "automatic hold" call when a player gets flattened? I know people say we Seahawks fans complain too much about the refs, but I think we get a disproportionate number of bad calls on critical plays. I mean, I can cite the 2006 Chargers game, the 49ers game, the 2001 Dolphins game, etc. And don't get me started on Super Bowl Xtra Lame...

Mike Sando: There's nothing disproportionate as far as I can tell. The Colts were livid with the non-call against the Jaguars on the play against Marvin Harrison. The Chargers were livid with the infamous Ed Hochuli call. The 49ers might have beaten the Cardinals in the opener without a weak call against Ray McDonald. Poor officiating is part of the game, unfortunately.


Mike from Kansas writes: First of all, thanks for your non-stop coverage of the 49ers and those *other* NFC West teams. You deserve a raise or at least some ice cream. As for my query, I'm confused and I don't know who to turn to. & You're supposed to trust your coach, right? No matter what other people say about him, no matter what the outcomes were of his previous relationships, right? I trusted him picking Alex Smith and stood by him, but now that this...this nobody in JTO has come in with his floozy of an Offensive Coordinator, things are getting better for us. And now the doubts and rumors are creeping back about ol' Coach Nolan and his history with us. With that drama out of the way, what's a Niner fan to do? Do we keep our faith in "Looks great in a suit" Nolan? How much of this cautiously optimistic turnaround can be attributed to Nolan's work? Did he just place all the pieces on the board but didn't know how to use them? Thanks again for all your work, Sando.

Mike Sando: Thanks, Mike. Right now Mike Martz is the MVC of this team (most valuable coach). Nolan is benefiting from that, as he should. Nolan was the one who hired him.


Mr. Zero from Alameda, Calif., writes: Hey Mike, who are the top FA receivers that are going to be available next year. Guest49er is looking for someone that JTO can throw the ball to, like Romo and Warner have now.

Mike Sando: T.J. Houshmandzadeh is scheduled to become a free agent. A few older receivers are without contracts for 2009, notably Bobby Engram and Amani Toomer. But I don't see a long list of difference makers. Update: Add the Lions' Roy Williams to the list. His contract voids.


Brad from San Francisco writes: I just wanted to say that your blog is the best thing on ESPN right now and it's the first thing I read in the morning when I get to the office. I've been extremely pleased with your Niner coverage...and judging from other comments every fan of NFC West teams are pleased with your coverage. Thank you for all of your great work!

Mike Sando: Hey, thanks. What a great way to end this marathon mailbag session. Thanks to all for the questions, comments and analysis.


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