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Saturday, January 21, 2012
Mailbag: Yes, Falcon ripped Alex Smith

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Good morning. I've been a poor steward of the mailbag lately. Apologies for that.

Our regular interaction in the comments sections, on Facebook and via Twitter has steered me away from the NFC West post office for too long.

Let's do something about it on this Saturday, one day before the San Francisco 49ers play the NFC Championship Game at Candlestick Park.

Yohanny from the San Fernando Valley recalls Atlanta Falcons receiver Roddy White ripping the 49ers back in April for showing interest in bringing back Alex Smith as their starting quarterback. Sure enough, as White tweeted back then, "Why is the 49ers wasting their time with Alex Smith?"

Mike Sando: Thanks for the reminder, Yohanny. I'd forgotten about that. For the record, White caught five passes for 52 yards and no touchdowns during the Falcons' 24-2 wild-card playoff defeat against the Giants. Smith became the first quarterback in NFL history to participate in two lead-changing drives in the final three minutes of a playoff game.

The 2012 scheduling rotation does pit the NFC West and NFC South champions against each other. The Falcons' inability to win their division in 2011 means the 49ers will face the Saints instead next season. Too bad. I wouldn't mind a 49ers-Falcons game with White's comments as a backdrop.


mahndrsn from San Francisco, upon reading Dan Graziano's piece referencing better-than-expected weather for the NFC Championship Game, noted that the field at Candlestick Park is going to be wet anyway. He says high tide is scheduled for four hours before kickoff, roughly when officials would be removing tarps protecting the field. That could leave nowhere for the water to go, creating soggy conditions even in the absence of rain.

Mike Sando: Always good to hear from our lead meteorologist here on the NFC West blog. Weather forecasts change, of course, but the one I consulted late Friday night suggested there would be rain Sunday afternoon.

While I think weather is a relevant factor, I reject the notion, implied by others, that the 49ers need poor field conditions to prevail. The implication carried some weight before New Orleans visited last week. Everyone knows the Saints have had a tougher time winning outdoors. They would obviously prefer perfect conditions.

I don't think the 49ers need to play in a mud bog to beat the Giants. The game against New Orleans showed they can beat the NFL's most prolific offense on a relatively fast track.

Quarterbacks prefer good weather to bad weather. Teams relying more heavily on their passing games definitely prefer better weather. The 49ers have stopped just about everyone from running the ball. It's reasonable to think they'll contain the Giants' ground game, putting more pressure on Eli Manning. The worse the conditions for passing, the tougher life becomes for those most reliant upon passing.


Will from Dix Hills, N.Y., respects my opinion while taking issue with the reasoning behind my prediction that the 49ers would defeat the Giants. He points to the Giants' convincing victories over what he called four playoff-caliber opponents in recent weeks. He also said the Giants played in a much tougher division than the 49ers.

Mike Sando: First off, thanks for the civility. Always appreciated.

Your perception of the NFC West might need some updating.

The 49ers went 3-1 against the NFC East this season. The lone defeat came in overtime against Dallas in Week 2 after the 49ers blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter. Seattle and Arizona each went 2-2 against the NFC East. The Seahawks beat the Giants on the road. The Cardinals led them by double digits in the fourth quarter before losing a tough one despite a monster day from Beanie Wells.

The NFC West went 2-2 against the NFC North, compared to 0-4 for the NFC East against that division. The NFC West went 3-1 against the NFC South, compared to 1-3 for the NFC East against that division.

As for the Giants improving lately, there's no doubt about it. They're a dangerous team. They could beat the 49ers or any team in the league. I still felt comfortable taking a consistent, rugged 13-3 team at home against a less consistent, less rugged 9-7 team traveling across the country.


Hopeless from "The Wasteland" asks whether the St. Louis Rams could "be any more incompetent" after giving away home-field advantage for upcoming games that will be moved to London during the 2012, 2013 and 2014 seasons.

Mike Sando: There is no way to spin this as a competitive advantage on the field for 2012. I give Rams executive Kevin Demoff credit for participating in a chat that subjected him to a beating as bad as any the Rams took on the field last season. He gets paid to think long term, and the franchise does stand to benefit from this arrangement down the line. But there are also some short-term battles for the organization to win. Some sort of credible assurance that the team hopes to remain in St. Louis might help.

"We all care if St. Louis buys tickets this year," Demoff said during the chat. "If we didn't, we wouldn't be hosting sessions like this, going on radio and TV today to explain our thinking or sending an email to season ticket holders before the news was announced."

Demoff promised to "be open and honest and communicate throughout the process."

The Rams know they appear indifferent to their fans. Owner Stan Kroenke was as noncommittal as could be when asked about the team's stadium lease situation during the Jeff Fisher news conference. Following that performance with the London announcement isn't helping.

I'd have a hard time feeling good about paying for Rams season tickets in the current environment.


Travis from Scottsdale, Ariz., asks whether the 49ers' success with Smith puts pressure on Ken Whisenhunt and the Cardinals to better handle the quarterback situation. He wonders whether Matt Leinart could have succeeded with the coaching Smith has gotten.

Mike Sando: That is a fair question. The Cardinals have so far failed to develop any of their young quarterbacks into established starters. Leinart flamed out. The staff's excitement over Max Hall was badly misplaced. John Skelton has shown positive signs, but we still can't be sure he'll develop into anything more than a decent No. 2 quarterback. Kevin Kolb has been a disappointment so far.

Meanwhile, Smith turns into a playoff quarterback the first year Harbaugh shows up.

In fairness, though, the tough times Smith went through also gave him seasoning. He's been around a while. He's started games. He has a feel for the game. He's smart and diligent. The quarterbacks Arizona has tried out post-Kurt Warner lacked seasoning. They had not played much.

I'd wrap up this discussion by saying the pressure is on Whisenhunt and the Cardinals to develop Kolb in 2012, no matter what happens with Smith in San Francisco from this point forward.


Joe from Phoenix wanted my thoughts on St. Louis' Lance Kendricks and Arizona's Rob Housler in light of the success tight ends are having around the league.

Mike Sando: Kendricks struggled more than I expected once the season got going. He still finished with more receptions (23) than any rookie tight end in the league. Now he'll have to change offensive systems. He'll no longer be playing for Josh McDaniels, who was a driving force behind the team's decision to draft him. We'll need to reassess on him once the Rams' install their next offense.

Housler had some problems with injuries. His 12 receptions ranked third among rookie tight ends. I know the coaching staff thought he needed a full offseason to make the transition quickly. The lockout prevented that from happening.


Adam from Berkeley, Calif., calls himself a Seattle Seahawks fan behind enemy lines. He wanted my thoughts on cornerback Richard Sherman and what to expect at the position with Marcus Trufant and Walter Thurmond coming off injuries.

Mike Sando: Sherman was arguably the best rookie cornerback in the league this season. Teammate Brandon Browner was a first-alternate to the Pro Bowl, but I thought Sherman surpassed him as the season progressed. There's so much to like about what Seattle is establishing in its secondary. The corners are big, physical and confident. The safeties are already Pro Bowl-caliber.

Trufant has quite possibly played his final down as a Seahawk. The team has moved on with younger players. I do not think the Seahawks would value Trufant enough to keep him around at the expense of a younger prospect. Their philosophy is to continually seek younger upgrades.

Thurmond figures to come back, but the injuries he has suffered put him at a disadvantage. The hope should be for Thurmond to return and factor into sub packages. He's going to have a hard time cracking the starting lineup.


Daniel from Lebanon, Ore., asks what the Seahawks have planned at quarterback. He wonders whether there's any chance the team would make a play for Peyton Manning. He thinks the team is a consistent QB away from contending.

Mike Sando: The Seahawks want to add a quarterback through the draft, but we all know they could have a hard time doing that realistically in the first round. I see no easy solution here. I could see the Seahawks drafting a quarterback in the second or third round, then returning with Tarvaris Jackson as the starter.

If Manning is healthy, I suspect he'll play for Indianapolis. The odds of him landing in Seattle would be slim -- certainly nothing the Seahawks could bank on.

The Seahawks have been better on the field than they probably anticipated. This has hurt their draft status and made it tough to select a quarterback early. In retrospect, the case for Seattle drafting Andy Dalton appears stronger.