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Saturday, November 6, 2010
Mailbag: QB concerns, theories proliferate

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Travis from Scottsdale writes: Hey Mike, nice piece on Matt Leinart. The Cards are in a world of hurt and it's going to get worse if they don't shore up the pass protection. Jared Allen and the Vikings' defensive line are feeling the heat about teams beating the snot out of Brett Favre while they let the opposing quarterbacks pose for pictures. And you know what they say. Bad offensive lines get quarterbacks killed and coaches fired. Hello, John Skelton. Goodbye, Ken Whisenhunt.

Mike Sando: Whoa, let's not go overboard here. We cannot even know for sure whether the team would have a better record with Leinart at quarterback. We cannot say for certain whether any team will name Leinart a starter at any point in the future.

We do know the Cardinals didn't do enough to shore up the position following Warner's retirement. It's fair to hold Whisenhunt and general manager Rod Graves accountable for that. However, Whisenhunt has done a good job overall. We're still only halfway through this season and Arizona has a decent shot at claiming a third division title in a row -- during a transition season in which lessons must be learned.


Gregory from San Jose, Calif., writes: The 49ers finally got a game where every break went their way. With the same luck Troy Smith received -- that Hail Mary pass between two Pro Bowl defensive backs, defensive support (three fourth-quarter turnovers) and help from officials (two Denver touchdowns called back) -- the 49ers would be 7-1 under Alex Smith.

But every break, tipped pass for an interception, penalty went against the 49ers. The only game that they really blew was against Kansas City. Every other game could have been won had even one out of three or four key plays gone the 49ers' way.

Troy Smith's passer rating of 115.2 is being hailed as so good. Turn the Hail Mary into an interception and the rating is 80.6. The 49ers finally hit an easy part of the schedule and Singletary sees Troy Smith and a win streak as the only way to save his job.

As a fan, I'm sick of the Singletary-based run first offense killing us. Finally using the "11" personnel package with three wide receivers was opening running lanes for Gore and giving Alex Smith targets in the passing game.

Mike Sando: Sustainability is one thing I consider when deciding what to make of game results. For example, the Cardinals' 30-20 victory against New Orleans was huge for Arizona, but hardly an indication the team would keep winning games with Max Hall at quarterback. The Cardinals became the second team in NFL history to score 30 points without a rushing or passing touchdown. We knew that wasn't going to happen again, most likely.

Troy Smith did get some breaks. Facing a weak Broncos team was one of them. I just don't think we can blame Alex Smith's starting record this season on bad luck every week.

Alex Smith played poorly at times and made the necessary late-game plays only twice all season, against New Orleans and Oakland. He did not make enough plays in most other games. Smith has one touchdown and three picks in the final two minutes of halves. He has a 43.0 rating in fourth quarters of close games (defined as leading or trailing by no more than seven points). The lost fumble against Philadelphia was disastrous.

Troy Smith had one decent performance in his first start. The ends justified the means to a degree. No one should be anointing Troy Smith as the savior in San Francisco. Giving him another start seems reasonable, though.


Adam from San Diego writes: I did a small comparison of Charlie Whitehurst and Matt Schaub. Both were drafted by teams in the third round (Whitehurst 81st, Shaub 90th). Their teams both had good, young quarterbacks when originally drafted -- Philip Rivers in San Diego, Michael Vick in Atlanta. Likewise, both were traded at age 27 or 28 for a second-round pick. Both look to have similar styles as well. Worth looking into?

Mike Sando: Good thinking, Adam. Both are quite tall, also. Schaub had some injury troubles, missing 10 games over his first two seasons with the Texans. Whitehurst is leaner than Schaub and I've wondered what that might mean for his durability. He says he's more comfortable at his current weight than when heavier, however, and that is important.

There are a couple differences. Schaub was the No. 2 quarterback in Atlanta. Whitehurst was the third-stringer in San Diego. The Texans viewed Schaub as an immediate starter. The Seahawks asked Whitehurst to compete for the job, but they never appeared close to naming him their starter heading into his first season with the team.

Schaub made his first Texans start against a Kansas City Chiefs team that would finish the 2007 season with a 4-12 record. Schaub worked as the starter through training camp and the regular season.

Whitehurst has to hit the ground running in Week 9 against a 5-2 New York Giants team coming off a bye, with no guarantees he'll remain the starter once Matt Hasselbeck's concussion symptoms subside.

Unrelated side note: Schaub and Whitehurst both had Chester Pitts on their offensive lines in their first starts.


Scott from St. Louis writes: Hey Mike, on the MVP Watch, would Sam Bradford climb into the top 10 if the Rams go above .500? Seams to me without him the Rams could easily be 0-8 right now.

Mike Sando: I've asked that question already this season. I do think Bradford's stats would have to continue improving. Twenty-five qualifying quarterbacks -- those averaging at least 14 attempts per game -- have higher passer ratings to this point. Passer ratings aren't everything, but quarterbacks need strong stats for MVP consideration.

Bradford has five touchdowns and no interceptions in his past three games. The Rams are 2-1 in those games. Let's say the trend holds over the next three games. Bradford has 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions to this point. He would have 16 and eight, the Rams would be 6-5 and our conversation would stand on firmer ground.


Stephen from North Carolina writes: The benching of Hasselbeck for the Giants game seems to smell a little to me. All reports were he seemed fine after the game, and the concusion report was a little bit of a suprise. As a Seahawks fan, I am taking this benching as Pete Caroll waving the white flag and saying the G-men are too much on defense for the banged-up offensive line, so lets see how Charlie Whitehurst does. Any other way to see this?

Mike Sando: I would not dismiss the stricter rules governing concussions. This could be a situation where doctors previously might have cleared Hasselbeck in time for the game. It's tough to know for sure. But there's also logic in what you're saying and we'd be foolish to think those considerations weren't part of Carroll's thinking in formulating a plan.


Don from Lexington, Ky., writes: Dear Mike, can you please call Mike Brown and tell him his Cincinnati Bengals should do whatever it takes toget Matt Leinart from Houston?

Mike Sando: Not seeing that solving anything for the Bengals at midseason. Carson Palmer has had lots of leg injuries over the years, though. I wonder whether his legs are close to shot at this point.


Randy from Peoria, Ariz., writes: Chuck Price gets no points from me regarding Matt Leinart, specifically the Titans game last season. Matt didn't throw a touchdown pass. If the Cardinals get just one touchdown from Matt, then it's a two-score game for the Titans at the end. That's all that was needed, one passing touchdown.

Matt left that one touchdown on the field along with our unrealized win. The Cardinals' defense, indeed, gave up the game, but Matt could've supplied headroom.

There are other issues Mr. Price put on the table that could easily have been refuted, but there's neither time nor space to do so this morning. One thing is glaring against what he has to say, namely: Matt's third string for the Texans. No game thus far has been favorably impacted by Matt's presence. Schaub is not worried.

Mike Sando: The point on Leinart against Tennessee was that he avoided turnovers, whereas his replacements this season have turned over the ball at an alarming rate. We're not even talking about leading touchdown drives at this point. We're talking about not giving possession to the other team unnecessarily.

As far as Leinart in Houston, timing had something to do with his third-string role. The Cardinals cut him shortly before the regular season. Rosters were set. It was unrealistic to think Leinart would land somewhere in a No. 2 role. Let's see how the league views him after this season. If Leinart can do no better than a third job, your point will hold up better.


Larry from Portland, Ore., writes: Just what are the Hawks going to do for quarterback when Charlie Whitehurst gets knocked out of the game? As of Friday, they did not have a third quarterback on the roster of their website.

Mike Sando: They'll sign Zac Robinson from the practice squad before kickoff. Robinson has just as much regular-season starting experience as Whitehurst.


Randy from Peoria, Ariz., writes: Hello, Mike. I rarely see any comments from you regarding Cardinals' current third-string quarterback John Skelton. Are you up to speed on the Cardinals view of Skelton? Do they provide any detailed justification with respect to playing the Hall/Anderson rotation, while yet excluding their third-stringer? Do you surmise anything regarding what the Cardinals coaching staff is doing/thinking in the absence of any direct knowledge gained from their offices where Skelton is concerned? Thanks very much. Warm regards to you and yours.

Mike Sando: Thanks, Randy. The team feels as though Skelton is more of a long-term project than Hall at this stage of their careers. That was the feeling during camp and Skelton has had little chance to change those perceptions. I supposed the team could become desperate enough to give Skelton a chance later in the season. To this point, though, I've heard no rumblings.


Damon from Salt Lake City writes: Mike, given the obstacles, the peer-accolades, and the record-setting pace, how can you overlook Philip Rivers on the MVP Watch list? Yes, the team is doing poorly, but the fact that he is completing significant yardage and TD passes with one second-string receiver, a beat up key tight end and a handful of scrubs from the practice squad has got to indicate something.

Mike Sando: You answered the question in six words. "Yes, the team is doing poorly." We're deep enough into the season to start excluding from serious consideration players from losing teams. Rivers has been on the MVP Watch list quite a bit this season. He'll be there again if he can produce some more victories.


Edgar from Albuquerque, N.M., writes: I'm not delusional and I'm not holding my breath, but I was wondering, can Kurt Warner return to the NFL this late in the season? I guess my real question is, what is the cutoff date for retired players to return to a football team? It would be awesome and I know it won't happen, but I'm just curious. Thanks.

Mike Sando: Warner is on the reserve/retired list. The team could activate Warner from that list at any time if Warner chose to return. The Cardinals do hold Warner's rights. We sometimes hear about players filing retirement papers. That process is a formality. Players can unretire simply by asking the league for reinstatement.


Alejandro from Seattle writes: Thanks for keeping the blog, Mike. Your blog stands out as particularly honest and straightforward. I am confused. When Seattle released T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Baltimore picked him up, we ended up paying the salary. However, when Minnesota released Moss, I was told that whatever team grabbed him would have to pay his $3 million salary. How do the two situations differ and if there were less salary considerations, would another team have gotten him?

Mike Sando: Good question. The waiver system was the difference. No team claimed Houshmandzadeh off waivers. He cleared waivers and became a free agent. At that point, another team could sign him to a new contract, with Seattle paying the difference between his new salary and the guaranteed portion of his Seahawks salary.

In Moss' case, the Titans claimed him off waivers. This means they claimed his Vikings contract, too.


Daryl from Virginia writes: Is anybody looking at David Terrell coming back into the league and is he playing anywhere today?

Mike Sando: Mike Williams' resurgence with the Seahawks probably has a few former NFL receivers thinking they've got a shot. Terrell tried out with Kansas City in mid-September last season. I haven't heard anything about him and do not see his name listed with the UFL. Terrell and Koren Robinson were the top two receivers chosen in the 2001 draft.


Richard from Stockton, Calif., writes: Do you think it's possible for the 49ers to win the division following a 2-6 start? They've got eight games left and five against division foes. Please help Rams fans realize that no rookie will lead his team to a division title without receiver help.

Mike Sando: The Rams do have a shot at the division title because they have the best quarterback. The remaining schedule works against them, but the rest of the division works for them. Where are the Seahawks, Cardinals and 49ers headed?

Arizona has the best shot, in my view, if the Cardinals get even decent consistency from from the quarterback position. Do we have any evidence they'll get decent consistency from that position? No.

Seattle was looking good a couple weeks ago, but the injury situation has become ridiculous.

Anyone following the 49ers should have questions about their coaching and quarterback situations. Those two areas tend to be important. The 49ers play four of their final six games on the road. They are 0-4 in opponents' stadiums this season. They went 1-6 in their final seven road games last season.