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Monday, January 5, 2009
Mailbag: Following up on Cards' defense

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Greg from Cleveland writes: Sando, Feel free to post this in your blog or whatever. But I believe in manning up when taking a loss, and I have to say: You were right. The bipolar Cardinals D showed up in a big way [Saturday], and you called it. I'm the one who said you might be "cherry picking," and I think you were.

But your overall conclusion was correct: sometimes the matchups and outcome work for Arizona. The Falcons are not a good enough team to go on the road in the playoffs and survive 3 TOs, multiple blown assignments by the O-line, and failing to get to Warner. I told a friend after the game that we don't deserve to win when coughing the ball up, failing to stop a "must stop" 3rd-and-16 (among others), and allowing Arizona to dictate our play-calling. Home field advantage for a 9-7 team was the major difference, I believe.

Congrats, Cardinals fans. You won, those at UofP Stadium helped, and your team earned it. Falcon Pride!

Mike Sando: That is a classy mailbag submission, Greg. I wouldn't necessarily take credit for "calling" the Cardinals' performance, but hopefully what I wrote put the Cardinals' defense in some perspective, leaving us less surprised when the defense played well Saturday.

The Cardinals can be effective and even formidable on defense when they stay disciplined and focus on tackling instead of going out of their way trying to make big plays. The team's performance late in the Carolina game is a prime example of how the Cardinals become vulnerable on defense when they lose their edge. Another performance such as that one will lead to certain defeat for Arizona. But if the Cardinals play the way they did against Atlanta, I expect them to compete.


Lay from Seattle writes: who do you think seattle would draft at no.4? please explain a defensive player and offensive player and a player best for the future of the seahawks thanks.

Mike Sando: In theory, I would lean toward someone to help the pass rush. In reality, will there be a pass-rusher worthy of such a high selection? Not so sure. This draft again appears strong at offensive tackle. An elite running back or receiver could tempt Seattle. The right quarterback could make sense. I've wondered if drafting a quarterback might buy time for the new staff.


rdo3 from Phoenix writes: did you make it to warners press conference? i wasn't able to be at home watching my hdtv but there was not a trace of grey. he looked 25-30. why did he dye his hair? he earned everyone of those grey hairs and is a hero to us old farts. why throw that away now? when he was driving the team down the feild for a touchdown with blood leaking out of his chin strap i know he was grey. he proved the difference between old and dead.

Mike Sando: Yeah, I made it to his news conference. Wayne Drehs' feature on Warner revealed that Warner colors his hair. Older players are always trying to convince their employers that they aren't too old. Perhaps that is easier to do without gray hair.


Paul from Phoenix writes: Sando, thank you for posting my comment earlier this week (it's always nice to be heard). I was at the game this week and I'm proud of the Cardinal fan showing. I have more confidence than ever that AZ fans will come through for this franchise. GO CARDS!!!

Mike Sando: No problem, Paul. I do think the experience in that stadium Saturday will carry long-term benefits for the franchise as long as the Cardinals show fans they're serious about maintaining success. Ken Whisenhunt seemed to recognize that in his news conference here today. Winning that game in that environment will prove more valuable than any marketing campaign or free-agent signing.


Jason from Greeley, Colo., writes: Hey Sando, I couple of things from the Cards game I wanted to get your thoughts on. How big were mid season acquisitions for the Cardinals against the Falcons. Obviously Spach's catch to ice the game was huge, but I think what was even better was the play of Ben Graham. Four punts inside the 20 and 2 of those were inside the 10. He was such an upgrade for Dirk Johnson. Also, on what I think was the 2nd play of the game, was it DRC that Warner was trying to throw to? The Cards seemed to go away from using defensive players on offense after the first weeks of the season, I think. Do you see them trying to use guys, either DRC or Rolle, on offense again this postseason. Thanks, hope you enjoyed the game.

Mike Sando: Whisenhunt hit on that some today. Ben Graham's punting was huge. I regret glossing over it in my coverage. It's something I'll detail in the future. Also, the defensive depth helped the Cardinals weather being on the field so long early in the game.


Jacob from San Francisco writes: I enjoyed reading your blog entry on the Arizona Cardinals. So how do you explain how the Cardinals managed to knock off the Falcons?

Mike Sando: I briefly spoke with Antrel Rolle about that in the locker room today. He was right last week when he told me the key was getting the entire defense to buy into the disciplined, assignment-correct approach. The high-stakes nature of the playoffs apparently convinced the Cardinals they needed to play that way, or else. We'll see if they can sustain it. And we'll see if sustaining it matters going against a team as strong as the Panthers.


Eli from Tacoma writes: Hey Mike, Great job as always! I have a question regarding Dave Boling's comments that "Ruskell" is in charge? Since Ruskell took the helm for the Hawks', we have steadily gotten worse. You can spin it anyway you want to, but those are the facts. The 05' team was the result of Holmgren and his predecessors, not Ruskell. Yes, I know he traded for Joe & drafted Tatupu & Hill, but we still should have gotten better from the 2005 team yet the personnel has declined.

If you read comments left by fans at the bottom of your mailbag weekly, you will notice that a vast majority of Hawk fans have tired of Tim & his revamped "Falcon" team. I don't understand, if it didn't work in Atlanta with Mora & company, why on earth does he & owner Paul Allen think it will work in Seattle? What will it take to get a new GM & get past this "Ruskell" era?

Mike Sando: Paul Allen was patient with Mike Holmgren. I'm not sure if Tim Ruskell will get the same benefit of the doubt, given that Holmgren had a stronger record coming into the job. If the Seahawks think Ruskell is the right man for the job, they shouldn't ask hastily.

To review: Some Seattle fans wanted Holmgren fired after the 2002 season. They accused him of overly conservative play calling. They pointed to draft-day failures such as Lamar King. They pointed to two losing seasons in four years. They pointed to questionable moves as general manager, including the acquisition of Matt Hasselbeck, who had yet to develop.

Seattle was patient with Holmgren. Ironically, the moves Ruskell made early in his tenure helped Holmgren take Seattle to the Super Bowl.


Mr Zero from Alameda, Calif., writes: Sando, any word on whether the 49ers stick with the 3-4 defense next year or do they go back to the 4-3?

Mike Sando: Sounds like they've committed to the 3-4. Greg Manusky went to the 3-4 after Mike Nolan left. That tells me Manusky wants to play that style.


Tanner from California writes: Sando, I know i keep you busy with all my questions so here's another. Who do you think Jim Mora will bring to Seattle as coordinators? Thanks man!

Mike Sando: Not sure yet. Rod Marinelli is in the mix (your question predated news of Marinelli's involvement, but I wanted to address it anyway).

I was looking at Mora's old Atlanta staffs for clues. Brett Maxie, now with the Cowboys as secondary coach, would seem like a potential candidate on defense. Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times expects Tampa Bay linebackers coach Gus Bradley to interview for the coordinating job on defense. I haven't heard anyone beyond Greg Knapp, now with the Raiders, on the offensive side.