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Saturday, June 20, 2009
Mailbag: NFC West can't worry about respect

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Joe in the Army (overseas) writes: The blog is great. Keep up the great work. Some of the best 49er and NFC West info around. I was reading the e-mails and see the NFC West fans are getting ready and all seem to feel good about their teams. The 49ers are looking great under Iron Mike. The Cards are coming off a Super Bowl year. The Hawks seem to look strong after a injury-plagued year. The Rams ... well, let's just just say all the NFC West teams have been in that rebuilding state.

So, with at least three teams looking real good, is the NFC West finally going to get some respect? Are we done hearing about the weak west, the soft west or the NFL's worst division? I know I'm tired of hearing that.

NFC West Team 2008 Division Record 2008 Non-Division Record
ARI
6-0 3-7
SF 3-3 4-6
SEA 3-3 1-9
STL 0-6 2-8

Mike Sando: Thanks, Joe. NFC West teams need to enjoy more success against non-division opponents. The Cardinals were 6-0 in the division and 3-7 outside the division last season. Their 3-1 postseason record outside the division deserves recognition, but NFC West teams still have much to prove.

An Arizona victory over the Colts in Week 3 would help. A 49ers victory at Minnesota, also in Week 3, would help. The Seahawks visit Indianapolis in Week 4. The 49ers are home against Atlanta in Week 5. Let's see the NFC West win a few of these games before wondering why the division doesn't command respect.


Geoff from Puyallup, Wash., writes: Sando, maybe I'm cherry-picking here, but in your June 13 post regarding the Cardinals' defense, you mentioned the 49ers' Patrick Willis as the only other player in the division who can deliver devastating hits to force a fumble. How can you possibly forget Leroy Hill's hit on Ike Hilliard that knocked Hilliard out cold and gave Lofa Tatupu a concussion? I challenge you to find another hit in NFL history that caused two concussions!

Mike Sando: I'll give you that. Hill can also deliver violent hits. He doesn't do it as regularly as Willis does, however. Adrian Wilson also punishes more regularly. Carefully re-watch the Cardinals' game at Seattle last season for evidence. Wilson punished Matt Hasselbeck repeatedly. That was the game where Hasselbeck seemed out of it afterward, eventually apologizing for his postgame comments.


craig from Tacoma writes: As a Seahawks fan, the latest fiasco in Denver has me excited. The first-rounder we acquired from the Broncos keeps looking better and better. Your thoughts?

Mike Sando: The Seahawks were picking fourth in the 2009 draft and wishing they could pick 10th or 12th based on how they perceived player values. I'm not sure how high they'll want to select in 2010, but an early choice would help them focus on a quarterback, if appropriate.

I'm also wary about writing off teams in June. Lots can change in terms of team dynamics. Right now, though, it's looking like the Seahawks will add a pick in the top half of the first round and possibly in the top 10.


Nick from Seattle writes: Seattle's running back situation scares me a little. Our feature back is Julius Jones, an exceedingly average, inconsistent back that occasionally lapses into terrible (fumble machine). What options does Seattle have if Julius Jones doesn't perform?

Mike Sando: Ahman Green, Edgerrin James, Warrick Dunn and Deuce McAllister are out there.


John from Australia writes: Hey Sando, love the blog down here in Australia. Big-time 49ers fan. I was wondering what you think of the upcoming rematch of Adrian Peterson vs. Patrick Willis. They are both first-round picks from 2007, and they both burst onto the scene to become elite, if not the best, players at their respective positions in the NFL. When they met in 2007, Peterson finished with just 14 rushing yards, with Willis and the 49ers' defense getting the better of the matchup. How do you see it playing out this season?

Are you excited for the rematch? Is this an interesting battle to keep your eye on for the next decade? Also how do you like my nickname suggestions for the 49ers backfield combo of Frank Gore and Glen Coffee: Smash and Smash, or Smash and Smasher. Certainly goes along with Singletary's theme and sends a message to the rest of the league, don't you think?

Mike Sando: I love the Willis-Peterson matchup. The 49ers and Vikings do not play frequently enough to turn it into a running feud, but when the teams do play -- as they do Sept. 27 this season -- it's worth watching. On the nickname front, let's see what Cof
fee offers before calling this duo Thunder and Frightening, or anything else.


Gabriel from Los Angeles writes: What's up, Mike? Are there any chances of the Rams landing Brandon Marshall (receiver is a desperate need)? And what are the chances of the Rams moving back to Los Angeles within the next few years? Thanks.

Mike Sando: Nothing the Rams have done this offseason makes me think they would take a chance on a players with Marshall's off-field question marks. And I see no reason to think Los Angeles is ready to welcome back the NFL within the next few seasons. It's a threat, but perhaps an empty one.


Ryan from Washington, D.C., writes: Hey Sando, could teams enter poison pills in rookies' contracts? Like when the Seahawks and Vikings both tried to shaft each other with the Steve Hutchison and Nate Burleson signings? Seems like it could be an effective way to retain the players they plan to put on the practice squad.

Mike Sando: I see nothing preventing teams from doing that, but I also see no reason for college players to sign anything restricting their options once the contract expires.


Jason from Fayetteville, N.C., writes: Why won't the 49ers go after a great pass rusher like Juluis Peppers? They have two first-rounders for next year. They could give back the first-rounder Carolina gave up to them. If we could get him, would Peppers play a lot of linebacker with Willis, Takeo Spikes and Manny Lawson? If that could happen, we could have the best linebacking corps in the NFL.

Mike Sando: It takes two teams to make a deal. My sense is that John Fox and the Panthers need to win this season. Having Peppers on the team gives them the best chance of succeeding. If I were the 49ers, I'd be a little hesitant betting a first-round pick and huge money on a player making the conversion from defensive end to linebacker.


Bryan from Wilmington, Del., writes: With all the injuries and question marks that the Seahawks have at wide receiver, why haven't they attempted to bring back D.J. Hackett? He is a free agent, he had great chemistry with Matt Hasselbeck and he surely would add some depth, which clearly was a problem last year. I am aware of his minor injuries that hampered him over the last couple of years, but I think it would be wise to sign him. What are your thoughts?

Mike Sando: The Seahawks certainly could have used Hackett last season. Mike Holmgren didn't seem too concerned about losing him. In retrospect, that might have been telling. The promise Hackett showed a few years ago was undeniable, but he never took the next step. The Seahawks need proven, consistent performers at that position. T.J. Houshmandzadeh qualifies. Hackett does not.


Matt from Seattle writes: I keep reading how Aaron Curry is doing in Seahawks team drills/practices, yet he isn't signed. It's normal for draft picks to practice with the team before getting a contract in place. Doesn't it seem like a risk? Should any rookie that hasn't signed go out and tear a knee up or something else, the team wouldn't have to offer them a contract, or at least as big a one. Right? Doesn't it seem like rookies should wait until they get inked. Wouldn't they and their agents want to cover their backs?

Mike Sando: Teams sign agreements saying they will negotiate in good faith even if a player is injured. The risk still seems to be there, but can you think of a time when an injury prevented a first-round choice from getting paid?


Adam from Seattle writes: I looked at the replacements post. You have Bobby Engram as the key loss and T.J. Houshmandzadeh as the key gain. I totally disagree with that when I look at the defense. Aaron Curry's replacement of Julian Peterson is going to have more of an impact than Houshmandzadeh's replacement of Engram. Yes, Engram was good, but better and more important to the team than Peterson? I dont think so.

Mike Sando: I know which player Hasselbeck relied upon in the clutch. I also know how badly the receiver situation needed to be addressed this offseason. Those factors contributed to my choice. Curry's addition following Peterson's departure also would have been worthy, particularly if the Seahawks are right about Curry's potential as a pass-rusher.


Chris from Issaquah, Wash., writes: First things first, Mike. You mentioned that "The Cardinals have less to prove than the other teams in the division."

How is this even REMOTELY possible? All other teams in the NFC West are starting the year with different head coaches than they started with in 2008, and the Cardinals are defending NFC Champions. When was the last time a head coach was fired after one year? The first year is usually a chance to show what your team is capable of doing. THEN you place expectations that the team will improve.

I will say that there are some remaindered expectations for a few teams in the league starting with new coaches, as with the Seahawks, but no one expects any other team BUT the Cardinals to win the NFC West. EVERYONE would say that either team that wins the division not named the Arizona Cardinals would be exceeding expectations should they win the division.

All these teams need to prove is that they made some choices/moves to improve off last year's record. The Cardinals need to prove they weren't a one-hit-wonder and at the very least win the division. A lot to ask what with the 'jinx' and the fact that both the Hawks and 49ers played the Cards very strong even with their teams in disarray [Hawks-Injuries, Holmgren leaving, 49ers-firing Mike Nolan midseason]. Wouldn't you say?

Mike Sando: The Cardinals are the most proven team in the division. As a result, they have less to prove. That was my thinking. I hadn't considered your perspective. Glad you shared it.


Josh from Corona, Calif., writes: I just want to know why out of all of the replacements you could of chose with SF you chose Dre' Bly over Walt Harris? I think Dashon Goldson will make a major impact taking over for Mark "hasn't caught an interception in like three seasons" Roman. Or maybe even Josh Morgan taking over Bryant Johnson's spot.

Mike Sando: I tried to find situations where tea
ms acquired players to replace players. The 49ers made relatively few moves along those lines. Mark Roman is still on the team. Harris is likely headed for injured reserve. That was my thinking.


Tony from Springfield, Ill., writes: Noticing the uproar that Cards fans are not posting enough begs me to say for my part, for the first time since I have been a Cards fan (since 1978), the organazation is to my mind doing all the right things. Historically, the only Cards fans you heard from were ticked off Cards fans. I think, for once, we as a Cards fan base are happy with what's goin on in this offseason. We are all looking to kick some more butt next season.

Mike Sando: There's nothing stopping confident, well-adjusted Cardinals fans from reaching out. I'd like to hear from them more regularly.


Paul from Washington writes: I've really enjoyed reading your blogs over the years, especially your spread sheet analysis'. Great work. Thanks for the hard work! Have you done any comparing teams' defenses to time on the field vs. pressure on the QB? Perhaps even quarter to quarter? I ask because I keep reading how bad the Seahawks' defense was last year, but watching the games, it sure seemed like they were on the field a lot more than the offense. Thanks in advance!

Mike Sando: You're welcome. I ran a statistical correlation between offensive time of possession and defensive sacks per pass attempt. The correlation was .351 for last season. I think that's strong enough to validate, in general, what you are saying. Some of our more mathematically capable contributors might be able to advance the conversation.


Kyle from Gilbert, Ariz., writes: First off, great coverage of the whole NFC west! I know there has been way too much talk regarding Mike Vick and his potential return; and I do understand the Seahawks and coach Jim Mora have stated they have no interest in adding another QB this season. With the Mount Rainier hike with Roger Goodell and Mora, do you think the topic will be brought up in conversation considering Mora and Vick's past relationship? Could this possibly influence the Hawks to pick up Vick as a wingback style of player?

Mike Sando: I suspect not. It's important to remember that Mora inherited Vick in Atlanta. He would have more invested in Vick if he had been part of the team that drafted him. I think Mora likes Vick and values the time they spent together, but not to the extent where he wants Vick on his roster under the current circumstances.


Max from Gilbert, Ariz., writes: What is it going to take for the Cardinals to get respect? They already proved what they could do by beating three teams in the playoffs no one said they would, and they came 17 seconds away from beating the so called 'best' team in the league.

They have not lost anyone big. The biggest loss they had was Antonio Smith, who isn't that big of a deal. He only had three sacks. They got Bryant McFadden and drafted a promising running back in Chris Wells, so they have only improved this season.

Yet, no one still considers them a legitimate threat and some are not even picking them to win the division. If they play like they did in the playoffs last year, this team is going to go places and yet no one seems to reconize that. So, obviously they need another good season for respect, but why do they not have that now?

Mike Sando: Assuming they are getting no respect -- and that is difficult to prove -- perhaps they need to play consistently well for a full season. They started 7-3, finished 2-4, then got hot in the playoffs. Let's see them validate that late-season run. I think that is fair.


Gary from Portland writes: Hey Mike, please explain to me the difference between a nose tackle and a three-technique tackle that the Seahawks are going with on defense this season. Thanks for the great reading and keep up the good work.

Mike Sando: Thanks. The basic difference is that a nose tackle seeks to hold his ground, occupy multiple blockers and generally get in the way. He lines up near the center. The three-technique tackle lines up wider, between the guard and the tackle (closer to the guard). He is more concerned with knifing into the backfield and making plays than holding his ground.

The "three" in three-technique corresponds with where the player lines up. A zero-technique defensive tackle would line up directly over the center. A one-technique alignment would be shaded toward one of the center's shoulders. A two-technique alignment would line up on the inside shoulder of one of the guards. A three-technique lines up on the guard's outside shoulder. And so on. Football 101 has a diagram near the bottom of this page.