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Monday, January 26, 2009
Mailbag: Cardinals rookie cannot compare?

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Steve from parts unknown writes: The Rodgers-Cromartie/Polamalu comparison is funny. First, one is a DB so he has many more opportunities for INTs than a Strong Safety.

Second, why are we just taking stats from November 16? Oh, that's because its the only way you can support your argument.

I also love how we just brush aside the fact that he was burnt in the Eagles game as nothing more than "one of the few times opponents have exploited Rodgers-Cromartie in coverage." When has Ike Taylor been exploited in coverage? Having trouble aren't you Mr. Sando. That's OK, I can't think of any times either.

Mike Sando: Both players had most of their picks from Nov. 16 forward, so that seemed like a good starting point, particularly with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie serving in a backup role for his first several games in the NFL. Polamalu had one interception in each of the first three games, but Rodgers-Cromartie wasn't a starter at that time, so the comparison really didn't line up.

The freedom with which Polamalu plays affords him opportunities that a cornerback enjoys only when the opposing quarterback throws his way. He is all over the place.

The stats I cited were intended to help those less familiar with the Cardinals understand the impact Rodgers-Cromartie has had for the Arizona defense.

It's a given that Polamalu is more of an impact player. The fact that the rookie has similar interception stats late in the season shows he's having an impact, too.


Steve from parts unknown doesn't stop there: Oh my gosh! Your 10th point about the Cardinals defense is comical. 2004? 2000 freakin 4? Your are going back to one game four years ago to show how good the Cardinals D Coordinator is? Are you kidding me??

How is it that you are writing for ESPN? Actually, then again, it is ESPN so you don't really have to know what you are talking about to work for them. This is a clear case where you should have made it a top five list, instead of a top ten. You are clearly reaching for things to write about.

Mike Sando: The reference to 2004 was relevant because I was referring to a time when the Cardinals' defensive coordinator had less talent to work with. To review:

NFC West opponents have admired the Cardinals' defensive coordinator for years. When the Cardinals lacked their current talent on defense, Pendergast devised elaborate schemes to give Arizona a fighting chance. In 2004, his tactics produced a four-interception game against the Seahawks' Matt Hasselbeck. Pendergast has enough talent to play a more conventional style, but this game gives him a prime opportunity to prove he deserves consideration as a head coaching candidate.

Referring to a more recent game with lots of interceptions -- say, when the Cardinals picked off Jake Delhomme five times in the divisional round -- would have been inconsistent with the premise. Hope that helps.


Granger from parts unknown writes: Most football analysts say we have a weak division in the NFC West? From 2004 to 2008 we are the only division to send 2 Super Bowl teams! Not bad for a weak division!

Mike Sando: The NFC West, a weak division? I haven't heard anything about that.


Shawn from Seattle writes: Hey Mike, Been reading your stuff for along time but have never posted. I saw something on rotoworld saying that tampa bay probably won't try to sign FA Phillip Buchanon back because he only plays well in a tampa 2 defense which I believe is what we will be doing next year with one of his old coaches as our coordinater. Plus we know how Ruskell likes tampa. Do you think he would be an upgrade that we should look at.

Mike Sando: I do not know how the Seahawks' new defensive coordinator, Gus Bradley, feels about current Bucs players. Phillip Buchanon came to the Bucs in 2006, after Tim Ruskell had left the organization, so there would be no direct ties between Ruskell and Buchanon. But with Bradley taking over, we do need to consider Buchanon and other potential Tampa Bay castoffs with renewed interest.


Zach from Burlington, Vt., writes: Hey Mike, thanks again for the great coverage. Especially for giving the rest of the teams (including my beloved 49ers) coverage while one of our own goes to the Super Bowl. There are plenty of rumors going around that, with the recent interviews of Dan Reeves and Hue Jackson, the 49ers are interested in Mike Vick. While I find that a little ridiculous, how about this more realistic scenario: The 49ers are targeting West Virginia's Michael Vick-esque QB Pat White? Who better to mold Pat White into a player than the people who did the same to a player with the same talents?

Mike Sando: Most NFL teams want their quarterbacks to excel as passers. Michael Vick never did that. I think the 49ers need to develop a quarterback whose strength is passing. If he can run, great, that's a bonus. Steve Young was the classic example of that. Yes, he was a great runner, almost like a running back at the position. But he was a great player because he could throw the ball accurately under pressure.


Bronson from East Helena, Mont., writes: First off, Great work on the nfc west this year sando. I just want to say that no niner fan wants to share a stadium with the chokeland faiders. Do you see this as a real possibility?

Mike Sando: Thanks, sir. Ah, yes, the Chokeland Faiders. You do know I was a fan of that team way back when. Getting stadiums built with taxpayer money in California is like trying to become a playoff team while changing head coaches or offensive coordinators every year or two. It's tough to do. For that reason, a shared stadium strikes me as better than the current arrangement, though I have not studied the likelihood of such a project.


David from West Hartford, Ct., writes: The Rams say they want to feature a power running game with Steven Jackson, yet they hire a coach from the Eagles as OC. If I am not mistaken the Eagles have the lowest percentage of running plays in the NFL so what type of offense are the Rams actually going to implement?

Mike Sando: Andy Reid might have something to do with play selection in Philadelphia. I would expect Steve Spagnuolo to influence the offensive approach in St. Louis. The 49ers proved a team can become run-oriented with a pass-oriented offensive coordinator, as long as the head coach wants to run the ball.


Greg from Montana writes: Mike, This is the first place I look to get the latest information on the NFC west, keep up the good work. I have been trying to get my head around the 9ers OC search and that has been a difficult task. I have a theory now that they are interviewing Reeves.

Could the niners think that they might have already signed their future OC in Rathman? Not that Rathman is ready now, but Reeves could mentor him and create a smooth transition down the road? By the way, I've been a 9ers fan for as long as I can rememb
er, but if they sign Vick, I am done. He is a horrible citizen and not a great QB, Hill can do more for the team than Vick could ever think of.

Mike Sando: Not a bad idea on Rathman. If the 49ers do hire Dan Reeves, they certainly will want to groom their next offensive coordinator and have him ready to take over when Reeves walks away. I have heard good things about Rathman as an assistant coach. I can't think of many running backs coaches who have gone on to become offensive coordinators. Maurice Carthon, now with the Cardinals, made that jump after leaving the Jets. I'm sure there are others.


Rich from Bellevue, Wash., writes: Hey, Sir Sando, how about a history lesson? We've been seeing stories about the '47 Cardinals' championship season, and about how they lost the big game in a rematch in '48. But what happened after that? Why didn't the Cards continue to be contenders? How did they fade away? What happened to the million-dollar backfield?

Mike Sando: I'm going to rely on the vast resources of our blog community to provide the best possible answer to that one. Surely some of our Cardinals fans out there know the history.


Octavio from Los Angeles writes: Mike, Do you think Kurt Warner has a better team than his St. Louis Rams the last time he went to the Super Bowl?

Mike Sando: No, I don't think so. That Rams team was better over the course of the season, with a 14-2 record. Taking a glance at the Pro Football Reference Rams page, that Rams team led the NFL in scoring while ranking seventh in points allowed.


Oz from Ft. Lauderdale writes: Sando, I am having a convo with a steeler fan and you had mentioned that the Eagles defense was playing better then Steelers defense the last 6 games. I have been looking for that post and stats but can't find it. What were the stats you were pointing to?

Mike Sando: I was looking at touchdowns allowed. The Eagles allowed one rushing touchdown and one passing touchdown in their final four regular-season games, plus two touchdowns in their first two playoff games.

The Steelers allowed two rushing touchdowns and two passing touchdowns in their final four games. They have allowed five touchdowns in two playoff games.

That means the Eagles' defense had allowed four touchdowns in six games heading into the NFC Championship Game against the Cardinals. The Steelers have allowed nine touchdowns in their six most recent games.

These are both terrific defenses. The Steelers might have the better defense. But strictly in terms of touchdowns allowed by the defense, the Eagles came out ahead.


Joe from Davis, Calif., writes: Sando, how do you perceive the Cardinals are going to schematically handle Defensive Player of the Year, James Harrison? With that, which player on the Steelers defense, if not Harrison, do the Cardinals need to be most concerned with stopping?

Mike Sando: We really haven't seen the Cardinals help their tackles all that much. They have relied upon Warner to get rid of the football. They have also done a very nice job designing quick outlet passes into their offense. Instead of traditional hot reads, we're seeing designed outlet passes.

We're seeing personnel groups with two halfbacks, something you rarely see in the NFL. We're also seeing them throw the ball some from run-oriented personnel groups, as when they found Larry Fitzgerald for the 62-yard touchdown pass with two running backs and two tight ends on the field.

Arizona cannot expect its tackles to hold up forever in protection against this defense. I expect their scheme to include additional alternatives for Warner against pressure. Some two-tight end groupings could provide additional flexibility.


Jay from San Jose writes: Hey Mike, going to the Super Bowl, eh? Have fun. My question is shoul the Niners trade their first round draft pick and/or Mark Roman for a hard-hitting safety or a tall wide receiver? I think they should trade Roman and the pick for a different safety. Mike Singletary said he wants a safety on his "wish list." Also, I think Roman is washed up and can't stay covered on the receivers. Thank you, Jay

Mike Sando: Sounds OK in theory, but which team is going to part with an established safety or receiver for the unknown (a draft choice) and an aging safety? I'm not sure the 49ers would find many takers.


Scott from Jonesboro, Ark., writes: A Little Superbowl trivia. Three former Arkansas State University coaches coach on what AFC team? Pittsburgh Steelers. Pittsburgh's head coach Mike Tomlin was an assistant coach at Arkansas State University in 1997 and 1998. Tomlin's wide receiver coach and linebacker coach also spent time at Arkansas State. Keith Butler was ASU's defensive coordinator in 1998. Randy Fichtner was Arkansas State's offensive coordinator from 1997 until 2000. Where did the Arizona Cardinals running back's coach play football in college? Arkansas State University. Arizona's running back coach Maurice Carthon played at Arkansas State from 1980 until 1983. Yes, that's right. Four coaches in Super Bowl XLIII have Arkansas State ties.

Mike Sando: It's tough to imagine a Super Bowl without Arkansas State.


Tanner from California writes: Mike. After Leroy Hill's recent arrest, is it safe to say that he will not be a Seahawk next season?

Mike Sando: Not necessarily. The arrest raises the likelihood that Seattle would let Hill leave, but I haven't spoken to Tim Ruskell since Hill's arrest, so it's tough to say anything definitively.