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Thursday, September 11, 2008
Mailbag: Second-guessing personnel moves

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Eli from Seattle writes: I'd hate to say it, but the topic at hand has been Seattle's WR situation & blame is pointing it's finger at [Seahawks president] Tim Ruskell for not being more aggressive in Free Agency as well as in the draft. No WR's went in the first round, so he basically had his pick of any of the top recievers coming out of college late in the first, but of course, did nothing. He seems to be too reserved w/his moves & doesn't take chances as well as having way too much faith in late round picks.

All of the Elite/Top QB's in the league have at least one star WR, yet Hasselbeck has never had any unless it was late in their career (Jerry Rice). Ruskell's motto is to build through the draft but our Pro Bowl QB is not getting any younger. Why doesn't he make some trades (like NE last year [Moss] or CLE this year [Picks 1, 2, 3]) to pick up some proven players rather than take chances? These 5th, 6th, & 7th round pick receivers have talent but not enough to contend with playoff caliber teams in both divisions. Is this not obvious enough?

Mike Sando: You could also criticize Ruskell for being too aggressive in acquiring Deion Branch from New England for a first-round draft choice. That was an aggressive move for a receiver. Branch is injured.

Letting D.J. Hackett go was a calculated risk. That risk did not pay off.

Trading up in the draft to select Lofa Tatupu was an aggressive move that drew criticism but paid off.

Paying lots of up-front money for Patrick Kerney, then 30-ish and coming off injury, was a big gamble that paid off with a 14-sack season.

Giving up a third-round pick for Nate Burleson was a risky move that didn't pay off early, then paid off last season, then didn't look as good when Burleson got hurt this season.

The receiver position was fine before injuries wiped out Bobby Engram, Branch, Burleson and even Ben Obomanu. The later-round picks you alluded to were never expected to start. They were expected to be the fourth, fifth and sixth receivers on the roster. We should not forget this when analyzing the Seahawks' moves at receiver.


Tyler from Mason, W.V., writes: Mike, buddy, I have to say that the Niners could pull .500 or barely better this year. I will admit to occasionally being a "homer" but hear me out. Seattle weak on receivers loses to the niners (who minus the turnovers can be solid). Niners take out the Lions, then drop the Brady-less Pats, then beat Arizona (we will NOT lose both!), st. louis (twice, easy), the dolphins, bills, and then to end the season on a good note, the skins. Although still early and always dangerous to make predictions, these make sense to me.

Mike Sando: I'll buy it only if you had the Cardinals winning the opener. Something tells me you had the 49ers winning that one, too!


Eric from McLean, Va., writes: Terrell Owens was flagged with a 15 yard 'unsportsmanlike' conduct penalty after scoring a touchdown in Dallas' victory over Cleveland this past Sunday. Exactly where is the line between 'unsportsmanlike' conduct and other touchdown celebrations? When Aaron Rodgers did the 'Lambeau Leap' Monday night after a touchdown, he didn't get an 'unsportsmanlike' conduct penalty. Nor has anyone ever received a penalty for that specific act. Wouldn't you agree that involving the crowd as part of your celebratory act is using a prop to celebrate? The crowd is not a natural a part of the game. It would seem to me the 'Lambeau Leap' is just as much of an infraction of the rule as bending down and pretending to be an Olympic sprinter. Your thoughts?

Mike Sando: The line is drawn on premeditation in a lot of cases. The Usain Bolt sprinting simulation was clearly choreographed. Leaping into the stands qualifies as more spontaneous. That is the thinking, to my knowledge. I am personally amused by some of the celebrations. The guy punching in his PIN on the ATM (goal-post padding) made me laugh. I don't have a problem with choreographed celebrations as long as they are not excessive. A quick routine doesn't bother me so much.


Eugene from Fremont, Calif., writes: When looking back at the 49er game this past weekend, one play stands out, Spikes' fumble on the kick off is where that game ended. Thinking back through the last few seasons it seems that special teams mistakes like that tend to hurt much more than an offensive turnover. Are there any stats out there on how often a team loses a close game when they turn the ball over more on special teams?

Mike Sando: I like the question very much. I do not have an answer. However, what you say makes sense because of field position. A turnover during a return is generally going to happen in an area of the field where the opposing team can capitalize easier.


Aaron from St. Louis writes: Last year "Coach" Scott Linehan survived an 0-8 start. I highly doubt he will keep his job long enough to repeat that. How long can Linehan last going winless before he packs his suitcase?

Mike Sando: I would be guessing, but I'm thinking he wouldn't want to be 0-4 or 0-5 this season.


E.J. from Manhattan Beach, Calif., writes: We finally won... but did anyone else notice that Kurt Warner came out flat and the offense didn't move the ball or score in the red zone? Wasn't that always the argument against playing Leinart? It appears that the coaches "opened" up the playbook and spread the field for Warner, who is prone to turn the ball over and use poor game management. Is it possible that Leinart could succeed in an "open" system too?

Mike Sando: The Cardinals seemed to think their defense would not allow many points in this game. They played conservatively on offense. I think that made it harder for Kurt Warner to get into a rhythm. Warner and coach Ken Whisenhunt said as much after the game. That's why they decided to open up the offense more early in the second half.


David from Scottsdale, Ariz., writes: Mike, should 49er fans really be surprised by the turnovers in week 1? Five might be a bit high, but turnovers and getting the QB sacked are well documented side effects of a Mike Martz offense. This is like buying a full size Hummer and being shocked, just shocked, that the gas mileage is poor.

Mike Sando: Possibly, but let's look at the nature of the turnovers. One was on special teams. The Zak Keasey fumble could have happened regardless of the system. The 49ers did not attempt many passes. The one interception didn't strike me as the product of some sort of aggressive scheme. Your thinking might play out o
ver the season, but I didn't think these specific turnovers fit the profile. Jon Kitna did throw 20 interceptions last season.


Jamie from Banff, Canada, writes: I read that Mike Holmgren commented about the trick play Buffalo ran last Sunday, saying that Atlanta had wanted to run a similar play a few years ago, but was told it would be called for 'Unsportsmanlike Conduct'. Any idea if the league is looking into Buffalo's use of this play?

Mike Sando: The league is aware of the play, yes, and I think teams will have a harder time pulling off such tactics again this season.


Collin from Syracuse writes: I watched every second of that 49ers vs Cardinals game and i, being a 49ers fan, acctually liked what i saw from the 49ers. Frank Gore looked good and most of those turn overs could have been avoided with the exception of the first one. The first week will bring that and the offense looked good and so did the defense allowing only FG's on most drives. I want to know what you thought about the game and think they can and will turn it around next week.

Mike Sando: Winning in Seattle will be difficult, but I also saw improvement from the 49ers' offense. I just don't know if this team's improvement is going to show up in the win column often enough. Might be a case of too little, too late.


Matt from Scottsdale, Ariz., writes: Is it still too soon to say that the Cardinals defense is the real deal?

Mike Sando: Yeah, I would say it's early for that. Let's see how the Cardinals fare against better teams.


Chris from Seattle writes: There is a reason JT O'"I forgot the ball" Sullivan was 3rd string in Detroit last year. He is not qualified to start for a team, regardless of his knowledge of the crazy Martz system. The niners would be better off with Arnaz Battle at QB, ok that may be a stretch but Dante Culpepper could have walked in and given the passing game instant credibility. Especially since they just need enough to keep the D honest so they can run Gore all day long.

Mike Sando: Not sure we have enough evidence to make that judgment. But we'll find out soon enough.