Scott from Roseville, Calif., writes: What is your gut on Tim Ruskell's status? My gut is no matter what others may think, if Ruskell is not given another year, Mike Holmgren is going to be given the keys. The 12th Man who understands this team, knows Mike did not have a fair shake the first time around as GM. Bob Whitsitt was the problem then. Tod Leiweke gets what Mike can bring. Looking back, he had average drafts on defense, but that 2005 offense was no mistake. That was their best defense, that offensive line.
Mike built the best offensive line, dominated time of possession, learned to dominate the NFC West, and had the QB to lead them to Super Bowl XL. Ruskell did help that year, but since then he has destroyed the line and has never replaced any of the offensive line studs he has lost. Ruskell has been offensive in that he has done nothing with the offense.
I say Mike waits the Seahawk situation out before going anywhere else. That is the job he wants. Mike learned a lot then, and if given the keys I think our team will come back to the top. If that happens the NFC West will by then be an elite division. Until then, the Niners and Cards are the future.
Mike Sando: My gut is that Jim Mora's status as a first-year coach could make it tough to bring aboard Holmgren in a leadership role right away. If the team did reach into its past that way, the Holmgren who emerged from losing his GM title would have more success than the Holmgren who had not yet been humbled by failures. I also think he could put together a better front office than coaching staff at this point.
As for that great offensive line Holmgren built, remember that he inherited Walter Jones. Take away Jones from that line and how great would it have been? Holmgren inherited Chris Gray as well. He basically signed Robbie Tobeck and drafted Steve Hutchinson. The team drafted Sean Locklear in 2004, well after Holmgren stepped down as general manager. Holmgren also inherited fullback Mack Strong, who helped the line succeed.
Some in the pro-Holmgren camp want it both ways. They want to blame Whitsitt for poor decisions made when Holmgren was GM. They also want to credit Holmgren for moves made when Bob Ferguson was the general manager by saying, "Well, everyone knows Holmgren was really the one in control."
The bottom line is that Holmgren had a mixed record as GM. I think he would be better given a second chance at the job. He would bring credibility to the organization. He would probably help identify the next franchise quarterback. But you still have to figure out whether the timing is right given Mora's situation.
Byron from Marysville, Wash., writes: While I understand the reference in your previous mailbag [chat wrap] to Holmgren's tenure as GM, and how quickly fans forget the troubles, I think it's easy to forget how productive it was. Was his work as GM not what brought Matt Hasselbeck, Steve Hutchinson, Robbie Tobeck, Bobby Engram and Darrell Jackson (who both started a Super Bowl) and Shaun Alexander?
For all his flaws, hindsight shows his evaluation of talent built what was a dominent offense. And wouldn't you think he could be better as a GM when he didn't have to worry about coaching the players he was negotiating with? I just always felt Holmgren's report card as a GM was a lot better in hindsight.
Maybe one day I'll say the same thing about Tim Ruskell. But I don't think I'm willing to wait. The difference? Holmgren had done a lot more to earn the benefit of the doubt at that point in his career than Ruskell ever has. (How much equity does Lofa Tatupu in the third round get Ruskell anyhow?) And while we are on that, how come no one, including you, is jumping on the character issues shown by T.J. Houshmandzadeh or the DUI by Tatupu, when Ruskell was the GM that preached 100 percent "high character, high motor" and everyone was lauding him? Seems to me 'Housh' has been a real pain, and the third WR on the roster is paid like a No. 1 but has always been a No. 2.
Mike Sando: I can help you, Byron. One, Houshmandzadeh has been held accountable here, including when I listed his stock as "falling" a couple weeks ago. But to draw an equivalence to a DUI is unfair. I have also written about Tatupu's DUI, which predated this blog, and I was the one who broke the story on Leroy Hill's embarrassing arrest. The Deion Branch stuff is self-evident and has been discussed at length.
Holmgren did do good things as GM. He was more responsible than anyone for the Seahawks' Super Bowl season. I just think it's fair to balance out these stories by pointing out that plenty of people were dissatisfied with the job Holmgren did in the role previously.
Jim from Davis, Calif., writes: What's going on with Michael Robinson? A couple years ago, he was a pro-bowl level special teams player, and now he looks like the slowest guy on the field. Is he dinged up? Did he just get really old really fast? The 49ers special teams have really struggled this season, and I'm betting his problems play a serious part in that.
Mike Sando: He did have a stinger injury this season.
Ryan from Lynchburg, Va., writes: Aaron Rodgers has been sacked the most in the league this year. How much fun do you think Patrick Willis and the 49ers D is going to have this weekend?
Mike Sando: Intermittent fun. They'll hit him, but he will hit them back with throws down the field.
Nolan from San Diego writes: Where is Philip Rivers on your MVP watch?
Mike Sando: He might be Top 11 right now.
Mike from Las Vegas writes: Hey, Mike, longtime fan (from your Tacoma days.) I have not heard this addressed before. If 2010 is an uncapped year, would teams be able to cut overpriced players and extend underpriced players without cap ramifications? Will we see a glut of players hitting free agency as teams utilize a 'cap holiday' to clean up their payrolls? That would be an incredible offseason.
Mike Sando: No cap would mean no cap ramifications. Players do not get paid their salaries during the offseason or lockouts or holdouts, so owners would not have to release players to clean up their books.
Garrett from South Lake Tahoe writes: Sando, great blog. Thanks for your hard work. Two questions. Why did you rank the Panthers so high in the latest power rankings (13?)? And, more importantly, why would the 49ers (specifically Mike Singletary has confirmed this) not consider starting Joe Staley at right tackle when he returns from injury, if Barry Sims could continue to play well? Wouldn't it help their playoff chances (if they still have any when Staley returns) to have a stronger right side on their offensive line? Staley was great at right tackle his rookie year. I'm not talking about a permanent move. I'm saying why not start him THIS YEAR, for the rest of the year at RT if it gives the team a better chance to win?
Mike Sando: You're welcome, Garrett. I ranked the Panthers relatively high because they had been playing much better lately. Losing Jordan Gross will surely hurt. I just couldn't find more than a dozen teams I thought would definitely beat the Panthers the way Carolina was playing recently, without so many turnovers. As Pat Yasinskas pointed out, however, Carolina has a rough schedule down the stretch.
The offensive line suggestion makes some sense in theory. Staley would have to adjust back to the right side. I just think you play your best guys where they are at their best. That would be left tackle for Staley in 2009.
Nick from Salisbury, Maryland writes: Hey Sando! Good stuff you throw out to us curious fans, keep it up! I've got an easy one for ya, what corner is thrown at the most and the least in the NFC West? Thanks man.
Mike Sando: Thanks, Nick. I don't think opposing cornerbacks avoid any corners in the NFC West as a rule.
Shane from Los Angeles writes: Sand-O! How can Darnell Dockett seriously be behind Albert Haynesworth in Pro Bowl balloting? Dockett has been much more of a force for Arizona than Haynesworth has for Washington. Also, are you surprised that Calais Campbell isn't getting some recognition?
Mike Sando: Haynesworth is the bigger name and that matters sometimes in balloting. I'm not surprised Campbell hasn't gained much traction. He's a 3-4 defensive end, which makes it tough, and he's a first-year starter. Good young player, though.
Andy from Sacramento writes: Mike, I have to admit that I did not agree with your take on how the NFC West would shake out this year, particularly after the 49ers started 3-0 in the division. As the season has moved forward, it's painfully obvious you were correct and the Niners simply aren't ready to compete for a playoff spot, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. Is a new offensive coordinator really an option given the past few years of inconsistency at that coaching position? Or is it an issue of personnel (O-Line, QB)?
Mike Sando: While I am not yet sold on Jimmy Raye as coordinator, I tend to think the personnel on the offensive line and possibly quarterback are mostly responsible for the 49ers' inability to build on the fast start.
Cory from Tucson writes: Hey Sando, I read your articles about Belichick's call to go for it on fourth-and-2. While I agree with you that the call to go for it was good, I think the offensive play call itself was bad. On short-yardage situations, the advantage the offense has is that the defense must expect both pass and run. Why then, do the Patriots motion the back out of the backfield, telling the Colts they are passing? This allows the Colts' two good defensive ends to just attack Brady and made the blitz more effective.
Mike Sando: I also wonder why teams do that in general. That situation was clearly a passing situation, but why motion out the back? Teams do it all the time. I'm going to ask an offensive play caller when I get a chance.
James from Kirkland, Wash., writes: Hi Mike. First off, I love the blog and appreciate your thoughts/insight. I also wanted to know what you see happening with Louis Rankin given that Julius Jones is hurt and we (the Seahawks) have essentially been eliminated from the playoffs? I was at the game on Sunday and he showed some good speed. I also saw on at least a couple plays that he was dropping his pads and looking for contact rather than just running out of bounds. After seeing Beanie Wells run with some anger, I'd love to see some more Seattle players with that type of passion/toughness. I definitely think it's time we start evaluating what this team has talent-wise so that we can get ready for the draft/free agency.
Mike Sando: Thanks, James. Rankin looks like a good addition for a team without a great situation at running back. He should help the Seahawks get through this season. I think they would be wise to address the position in the offseason.
Jovan from Chicago writes: I love your work! In watching Kurt Warner this year it would appear that he has lost some of his arm strength but more than makes up for this with his smarts. in your opinion, how does his performance this year compare to Joe Montana circa '93 with Joe being older and lacking the physical tools but still getting the job done?
Mike Sando: Thanks, Jovan. Warner's strength is anticipating and getting the ball out early enough to overcome whatever might be lacking in arm strength. That is how a lot of top quarterbacks have succeeded. They do not all have John Elway arm strength. Montana never completed even 61 percent of his passes for the Chiefs. He never threw more than 16 touchdown passes in a season for them. Warner has better weapons and a more wide-open system. I think he is more impressive at age 38 than Montana was at 38.
Don from Azusa, Calif., writes: Mike, I wouldn't say every team that pressures Kurt Warner wins. It is pretty standard that any quarterback that is pressured does much worse. Look at Brady against the Giants in the Super Bowl. Warner scored three touchdowns against Pittsburgh, a defense that dominated everyone, and almost had a fourth, except for a bad scheme by his receivers, which kept everybody in too tight. They lost the SB because of a terrible defense. Aaron Francisco was the worst safety, not even close on plays that he should have stopped. They lost to Indy because they fell behind and had to chuck it because their defense couldn't stop Peyton. Kurt does great against the blitz, he just doesn't do great when Mike Gandy is getting beat on every play. Who would?
Mike Sando: I think we're on the same page here, Don. Warner can beat pressure. He can't beat pressure when the pressure disrupts him too quickly or hits him before he throws.
Gary from Renton, Wash., writes: Mike, did you notice how the Seattle defense completely changed after they lost Josh Wilson? They had kept the Cards quiet, but the Cards were then able to go after Ken Lucas and Marcus Trufant. Did Josh Wilson become a key player on defense all of a sudden?
Mike Sando: He is arguably the best corner on the team right now, based on how they are playing at present.
Ocho from Seattle writes: I don't want to sound like a whiner, but a lot of die-hard fans read your blog, and to say something about the Seahawks like "oh the Vikings must be trembling" after a tough and disheartening loss is really in poor taste to the fans that read your blog. Just wanted to let you know that that's how a lot of people, including me, will feel.
Mike Sando: Hey, no offense intended. Just my reaction to hearing T.J. Houshmandzadeh say there isn't a team on the schedule that should beat the Seahawks. Seemed fair in the context of Nate Burleson talking about winning, then getting shut out in defeat.
Jake from San Bruno, Calif., writes: Mike, at the beginning of the year, I thought that nose tackle was a big concern. Now, with Abroyo Franklin playing so well, I'm actually scared that the Niners will lose him to free agency in the offseason. Do you think the Niners will try and get a deal done before he hits the market?
Mike Sando: That has been their approach recently. They could use the franchise tag also, if one exists. I thought Franklin showed signs of improvement late last season. He has indeed played well. I'd probably franchise him and keep the carrot dangling.
Jake from San Bruno, Calif., writes: Mike, I enjoy reading you blog. Do you still think the Niners have a realistic chance of taking the NFC West? I think the team can win with Alex Smith, but the offensive line needs to improve, which I don't see happening until next year. Do you think the Niners can win with Alex Smith?
Mike Sando: I'm with you. The offensive line must improve. If it does, I think Smith can grow within this offense and the team can win with him.
Josh from Richmond, Calif., writes: Give it to me straight, Sando. What are the 49ers' chances at Green Bay this upcoming week? Aaron Rodgers is hot, Lambeau is cold, and a setback here would all but dash the 49ers' wild-card hopes.
Mike Sando: I think the Packers will win the game. I just watched Cowboys-Packers this afternoon. That Green Bay defense could be tough on Smith.
Paul from Tempe writes: Could you do an analysis of the Cardinals package selections at home games vs. away games? It seems like when they are at home they run four WR sets nearly twice as often as they do on the road, which is odd because it seems like their offense runs much better out of a base set. May be an interesting theory as to why they have been better on the road this year.
Mike Sando: I've saved the best for last, Paul. Your are correct. By my count, the Cardinals have used four wide receivers 24 percent of the time on the road and 41 percent of the time at home. Some of that can be situational. The team might go to four receivers when trailing, such as against the Colts. I can dig into this in greater detail as time permits.