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Friday, January 16, 2009
Mailbag: Clearing the air on Boldin's return

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Brandon from Chicago writes: Mike, this article is implying that the Cards would be better off without Boldin...are you CRAZY? Did he insult you or decline an interview with you or something? He missed the last two games, when you say the Cards playing style was better without him.

Um, are you aware that one of those games was the Pats game (enough said), and the other was against a bad Seahawks team in Arizona who had nothing to play for since they beat the Jets at home the week before. (sending Holmgren out on a good note) Not only that but it would probably provide some sort of emotional lift from the team, even if it is a small one. I am not a Cards fan, so it is not like I am biased towards them.

I do apologize if I sound like I am attacking you, but I really feel this article is well below par and has a horrible take on it, especially for ESPN standards.

Mike Sando: No apologies necessary. You address issues that could use clarification. I was talking about the Cardinals' style of play, that's all. If Boldin's return were to lead them down the four-receiver path and away from the running game, that might be a bad thing. I thought it was a point worth raising in the context of other issues relating to Boldin's return, particularly since Arizona was, in my view, a four-receiver team at the expense of the ground game earlier in the season.

Here is what I wrote: "The Cardinals are better with Boldin, but their playing style has arguably been better without him. Boldin's absence late in the season coincided with the Cardinals' renewed commitment to running the ball. Would the Cardinals become more pass-happy with Boldin at their disposal? Would that be a good thing?"

Getting Boldin back is good. It's even better if he returns within the framework of what is working well for the Cardinals.


Mitch from Philadelphia writes: Hey Mike, your preseason prediction had the Eagles winning a Wild Card and then winning road playoff games and getting all the way to the Super Bowl... shouldn't you have spent the week bragging about your great prediction instead of taking the Cardinals' side in the blogger debates?

Mike Sando: I know better than to take credit for correct predictions, particularly when those predictions relate to things I do not study closely.

Some of those predictions are laughable when you look at them now. For example, they asked me to predict a defensive rookie of the year. I looked for a team with a defensive-minded head coach and a high pick on defense. I saw Vernon Gholston there and figured he might fit that criteria. He wasn't a factor. If he had finished with 15 sacks, I could claim to have known something, but I still would have been making a somewhat educated guess.

I was a little more informed in picking the Eagles. I just thought things were set up for Andy Reid to really show his mettle as a coach. I also wanted to pick a good team that wouldn't just be the trendy pick. I don't claim to have known anything special about how the season would unfold.

As for the blogger debate, I didn't say anything I didn't believe, but if forced to pick a winner in this game, I could second-guess either choice. The way things worked out, I can have it both ways. I took the Cardinals' side on some issues in the debate, but if they lose, hey, I'm the guy who thought all along the Eagles would advance.


Shane from Tempe writes: Mike, regarding your comment on Eagles fans showing up in Glendale, I think it's likely that there will only be a smattering of Philly fans at this game. Remember that when the remaining tickets went on sale Sunday, they were available to Arizona residents only, and they sold out in six minutes (I snagged one of them). Now, it's quite possible that Philly fans could load up on tickets from sites like Stub Hub -- not to mention scalpers -- but I seriously doubt that they ate up many of the tickets that went on sale Sunday right after their win over the Giants. Your thoughts?

Mike Sando: Limiting sales to Arizona residents would indeed limit the number of Eagles fans. However, lots of people have moved to Arizona from out of state, and some of those fans could have been the hungriest fans, given that they rarely get to see their Eagles in person.


Branden from Scottsdale writes: Hey Sando-Well as one of the few Cardinal fans that has badgered you since Week 1 I am glad that I still have the opportunity to write in and discuss the Cardinals; and not be focused on the draft. One thing I have not heard discussed much when the Thanksgiving game is mentioned is the fact that the Cardinals lost a tough, physical game to the Giants on Sunday, and had virtually two days to prepare for the Eagles.

I am not a former NFL player so I have no idea how much or little time that is to prepare physically or mentally, but I would gather that would be a pretty tough turnaround. One thing I believe is a strong advantage for the Cardinals is their ability to game plan for their opponent. Whisenhunt, Haley and Pendergast seem to work well in coming up with game plans to cover up their own weaknesses, exploit an opponent's and take advantage of the opportunities presented to them. What is your assessment of the added time to game plan for the Eagles this time around, versus the short time frame for the Thanksgiving Night game?

Mike Sando: It's a huge difference. I would mostly expect the Cardinals to show more attention to detail in their assignments, and to finish better. They will be fresher and better prepared for the opponent, and not bothered by whatever physical issues arise when teams travel across the country.


Branden from Scottsdale writes back: Hey Sando-I know I sent you one question already, but I have done a bit of analysis myself on the Eagles, reviewing their schedule, paying most attention to their losses and looking for trends. What I discovered was in their losses, even games where they played well, like their early season loss to Dallas, they struggled with red zone efficiency.

Converting for points on less than 75% of their attempts in the games I reviewed is a huge failure for the Eagles team, and it was aided mainly by their lack of a running game. With Westbrook banged up, and Buckhalter not picking up much of the slack so far in the playoffs, I feel that this will be a key for the Cardinals.

As we witnessed in the Ravens-Titans game, you can do all the damage you want between the 20's, but it all comes down to the red zone. Further, the Eagles have been a team affected by penalties in their losses, potentially a product of their aggressive defense. Do you see either of these two trends being issues for the Eagles in the NFC Championship game?

Mike Sando: The Cardinals' defense is probably getting overlooked some. The Eagles' pass rush gets much of the attention. The Cardinals' ability to handle that pass rush is indeed a key variable in the game. I do think the Cardinals' defense could surprise.


Andrew from Manchester, Conn., writes: Hey Mike, I really enjoyed all your great information and i
nsight on the NFC West and my team the Arizona cardinals. I've been a Cardinal fan since '96 as a young kid and I've grown up loving this team. I've been to five Cardinals game in my life, all ending in a Cardinals loss, including the games this year against the Jets and Patriots.

It is sometimes tough wearing a Cards jersey in those stadiums, but after what this team has done in the playoffs this year, I have never been prouder to be a Cardinals fan. As a fan, as many feel, Bill Bidwell is not what i would say my favorite owner, but I don't think anyone loves this team and franchise more. He may not be the best owner, but I hope and think we will win this game and go to Tampa for him. Thanks Mike.

Mike Sando: That would be a great story. My experiences with the man they call "Mr. B" have been limited to a few encounters in passing at owners meetings or the team facility. He has always been pleasant, quiet and shy -- the opposite of flashy. He looks like a retiree you might see getting out of a motor home at a roadside rest stop, and I mean that as a reflection of his apparent humility.


Ryan from San Diego writes: Hey Mike, I love reading your articles. I really enjoyed your article about Rodgers-Cromartie. I love cornerbacks. I think they are absolute freaks being able to cover wide receivers in man to man coverage at this level. They have to be so absurdly quick/fast it blows my mind.

So I was wondering if you had any idea why Rodgers-Cromartie ended up going to Tennessee State and not a better D1 school? Most colleges love freak athletes and a guy that can run a 4.29 and jump as high as Larry Fitz should probably classify as a freak athlete. You got any idea why that may have happened?

Mike Sando: Thanks, Ryan. Rodgers-Cromartie was a late bloomer physically in terms of weight. Kent Somers' story from draft day began this way:

"When Rod Reed's fellow assistant coaches at Tennessee State heard he signed a 150-pound cornerback who was the son of a friend, they didn't keep their thoughts to themselves. 'I took a lot of ribbing," Reed said. "They said I signed him just because I knew his dad. And that did have something to do with it. But the kid was also talented.'"


Don from Hamilton, Canada, writes: Ok I have several Questions - some of them football, some of them less so. 1) How does a GM or Coach spend their week - what is the routine typically and such? 2) Could the 49ers be looking at OC/QB Coach as a Package deal? 3) What advice would you have for someone looking at getting into journalism? Thanks for the time - and Great Work!

Mike Sando: Thanks, Don. How a GM spends his time depends on the time of year. Overall, they watch practices in person and on video. They meet with college and pro scouts to keep abreast of talent. They meet with the head coach to discuss the roster. They might sneak away to a college game on Saturday before rejoining the team for its game Sunday. They have access to lots of college video. They are constantly culling information from their scouts and contacts around the league.

As for the 49ers, yes, I do think they are considering some of these coordinators and quarterbacks coaches as possible package deals. They wouldn't be interviewing them coincidentally.

As for getting into traditional journalism, I wish I had a blueprint for you. My own path depended on so many things beyond my control that I couldn't realistically recommend it to anyone else.


Chris from parts unknown writes: i am going to use jim kelly as a reference. would you declare him a good super bowl qb? probably not, give him credit for getting there, yes. but donovan mcnabb as a good nfc championship quality qb, no, 1 and 4 in nfc championship games doesn't make for good win %,do you agree

Mike Sando: Donovan McNabb's record in NFC title games is 1-3. He could start for my team in a playoff game anytime. I think he's a very good player.


Kalen from Naches, Wash., writes: Hi Mike, I feel bad for Gil Haskell. Such a good coach for so many years. Do you think he might end up in New England as offensive coordinator if he doesn't decide to retire?

Mike Sando: No. The teams run different offenses, and Haskell has no ties to that organization. He would probably want to work for the 49ers given his roots in the organization. I don't think another team will hire him as coordinator, however. Haskell's long association with Mike Holmgren probably works against him at this point because Holmgren called the plays and got credit for everything that went right.


Josh from Delaware writes: With the Broncos and the Browns hiring up coordinators, should the Niners feel a little more pressure to get an O.C. Isn't there a worry that some of the candidates might get jobs elsewhere?

Mike Sando: I haven't heard their candidates' names surfacing elsewhere, but if it drags on much longer, yes, that could be a concern.


FugI from Dallas writes: Leave Matt Mosley alone he covers the east which is home to America's Team! The Dallas Cowboys will be back! Matt Mosley is the only good employee espn has...dont know much about you, but every time I read one of your articles you are backhanding mosley with comments....

Mike Sando: Matt is such an inviting target.


Deon from Cleveland writes: I just left a blog for the fans and hopefully the front office of the Seattle Seahawks. I don't know if they'll check it and it's too early to get replies from the fans yet. But Mr. Sando with it being said that the Seahawks named Jim Mora head coach for the upcoming season do you think it's possible that the team will take major interest in looking at Mike Vick?

Mike Sando: No. The Seahawks wouldn't want to handle Vick's baggage.


Harold from Columbia writes: From what I saw without proper evaluation - it looked like the Cards did a lot of 4 receiver sets on first down against the panthers. Overall - your analysis obviously illustrates the change in offensive philosophy.

Mike Sando: The Cardinals ran one first-down snap with four wide receivers against Carolina. In evaluating personnel, make sure formations do not fool you. Sometimes they'll line up two tight ends in space. Those players still count as tight ends for the sake of analysis.


Jason from Phoenix writes: As a long time Eagle fan out here in AZ I have to say Adrian Wilson is good but in no way in Dawks caliber. I noticed way back in 98 that Dawkins was the only sure tackler back during the Bobby Taylor Troy Vincent DBackfield. We now have better tackling throughout our D but Dawkins is still getting up next to the ball carrier on every play. Wilson can't cover and while it's true Dawk is no track star still comes from the LOS to help bring guys down on the Deep throws. Wilson wants the hit just like Dawk and I di
g that but really they shouldn't lay out like Roy Williams and forget about coverage just to line a guy up.

Mike Sando: I really like Dawkins as well. Overall, he might be the best in the NFC. My point was that Wilson has really put the hurt on a couple of quarterbacks. He did miss a tackle at the 5-yard-line on DeAngelo Williams' 9-yard scoring run for Carolina, but he's still a Pro Bowl player, just like Dawkins, and to me that makes them of similar caliber. He's less a liability in coverage than he might have been in the past.