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Friday, October 17, 2008
Mailbag: Angst rising among NFC West fans

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Nicholas from New York writes: hey mike, long time reader, first time writer. do you think that tim ruskell needs to worry about his job up in seattle?

I really don't like how the nfl has so much turnover. I believe continuity is what makes great franchises but i cannot ignore some of his mistakes over the years... Hutchinson's loss i will never forgive. the past years would have been radically different if we held on to him. signing alexander to a huge deal ... drafting tiny corners in a league dominated by big recievers ... trading a #1 pick for a small reciever with pedestrian speed who cannot stay on the field. Sure, julian petersen and lofa tatupu and patrick kerney were good, but all of them are small which contributes to them getting worn down in gritty games.

signing like 8 backs in the offseason and paying them all wayyyy tooo much ... please stop the bleeding ... i hope holmgren can stay around and be the gm after he retires this year. he is the best thing to ever happen to this franchise!

Mike Sando: I don't think Tim Ruskell needs to worry about his job right now. I will attempt to provide some balance to your thoughts, which are naturally born of frustration.

All of your points make sense if the team is 1-4. Then, we must ask why the team is 1-4. If we think the injuries at receiver and quarterback are the difference between 1-4 and, say, 3-2, then we need to revisit the premise. I personally think an offense without such a drastic injury situation would have been enough for Seattle to win the home games against the 49ers and Packers, but not enough to reverse the other unfavorable outcomes.

The stability thing works both ways. Everyone wants stability, but if Shaun Alexander had gotten away, fans would be ripping Ruskell for failing to keep the league MVP. Even if Alexander had left and gotten hurt elsewhere, people would make the case that Alexander would have continued to flourish in the Seattle system. This would have been a reasonable point. The decision on Alexander had risks either way.

Five or six years ago, no one was emailing me to suggest Mike Holmgren should remain GM. I was getting a lot of email suggesting he should be fired as GM and even fired as head coach.

Let's wait to see what happens next season. If the team tanks, we'll have some more answers.


Josh from Seaford, Del., writes: You mentioned the possibility of nolan being gone in the middle of the year. Who on the staff would become interim coach? I'd hate to see Martz take over when they have a Mike Singletary eager and ready to take a head coaching job.

Mike Sando: Martz would probably have the most credibility based on what is happening on each side of the ball. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky would also be a candidate in that situation.


Pav from San Francisco writes: Hi Mike, appreciate the work as always and you are great with getting to questions, so I am hoping this one fits in. I was reading (and correct me if I am wrong) that the 49ers will now have 2 extra roster spots from putting Spencer and Keasey onto IR. Who do you think is out there right now who is young with good or great upside who they can sign to hopefully reap some reward from later this year and into next season? Thanks.

Mike Sando: Thanks, Pav. There aren't enough good players to go around with 32 teams and 53 players per team. I don't see anyone out there who is going to make a difference. The 49ers haven't either, or else they would have signed one.


Mark from Easley, S.C., writes: Mike, I really like the way you are being unbiased in your NFC West blogs. I have read several articles and comments on how Steve Breaston might give the Cardinals some options in handling the Anquan Boldin situation.

But my question (since Anquan is going nowhere this season) is just how lethal can these three guys be together, once Anquan is back? What do think is the best way for the Cardinals to utilize these three receivers? And how will opposing teams try to stop them and if they do try will that not open up the running game?

With Hightower and Arrington the Cards now have some speed at running back. Wow, defensive coordinators are going to have their hands full!

Mike Sando: Thanks much, Mark. Appreciated. Having each of those three players should help the running game as well as the passing game. I think it opens up the possibility of more two-back, three-receiver groupings. The Cardinals can use those groupings to dictate mismatches in the slot. If teams try to match coverage, the Cardinals should have an easier time running the ball. Seattle used that group very effectively during Shaun Alexander's best years. The key is forcing defenses to defend the slot receiver with a defensive back. It makes sense as long as you don't have a great tight end. The Cardinals have been banged up at tight end.


RJ from parts unknown writes: Sando, first I want to say great job with the blog! I have a couple of questions. First, how do you see the Seahawks finishing up this season? Is it unreasonable to believe we are destined for a top 10 pick? If that is the case, is a player Like Taylor Mays from USC a real possibilty for the Hawks seeing as our safeties aren't playing too well this year to go along with them aging?

Mike Sando: Thanks, R.J. Amazing we're talking about such a high possible pick. Seattle has done well taking a safety early -- Kenny Easley comes to mind -- but in general teams do not value the position that high. I would think the defensive line would be a place to target again.


Mikkel from Denmark writes: Hi Mike I'm a Seahawks and I see that without Matt Hasselbeck at QB we're not much of a team, and the desire to put Seneca Wallace out at WR raises the question, 'When should the Seahawks draft a QB?' It seems as if we'll get a high draft pick for the 2009 draft so would a new franchise QB make sense? It would give him a year or two to learn from Matt before he would take over, and it would give the 'Hawks another backup to free up Seneca Wallace to move around the field...

Mike Sando: I think they'll draft a quarterback in 2009, probably in the first few rounds. They considered it heading into this draft. Chad Henne was a possibility.


Aaron from Portland, Ore., writes: Hi Mike, I've really enjoyed your reports on the NFC West. It has been a refreshing change considering this division gets very little coverage nationally. I have a question that I would love to see thrown into your blog for discussion -- If the Seahawks lose their next three games (Bucs, Niners, Eagles), which is appearing likely, then the season is obviously lost.

Do you think Holmgren would be willing to step out mid-way through this season so that Mora can start coaching and rebuilding this team? I see no point in Holmgren lingering around for the rest of this year once the Seahawks are out of the playoff race. This would give the Seahawk's players a half season to get acquainted to Mora's coaching style, and hopefully give the Seahawks an advantage heading into next season.

Mike Sando: That doesn't strike me as Holmgren's style at all. I did briefly consider how tough it might be for the organization to play for the future while the head coach plays for the present. That thought evaporated when I thought about the makeup of the team. Young players are already playing.


Chris from Arizona writes: The Cardinals were excited to get Gabe Watson back against the Bills, and he made a few plays. But for all the talk about the d-line's work against the Cowboys and Romo, I did not see Watson mentioned. After reviewing the tape and the personnel, can you say why that is? Did the Cardinals play more 4-3? Or was Watson just a no
n-factor?

Mike Sando: The Cardinals' smaller, quicker players seemed to flourish in this game against the Cowboys' big, slower offensive line. Watson played about a dozen snaps against the Bills. I didn't see how many he got against the Cowboys, but Arizona rotated players up front. That would probably explain it.


Jess from La Quinta, Calif., writes: Great article re -- Seahawks D. When you lay out facts like that (especially the 4 straight 3-n-outs Week 1 @ Buffalo) you get the total picture of a team decimated by injuries and a defense that then is forced to win games for you. That doesn't always work in this league, at least not since the Ravens and Giants played in the Super Bowl.

I'll tip my Stein of Black Butte Porter on Sunday night in hopes that we can surprise Tampa Bay on a National stage, yet I won't be surprised to see yet another double digit defeat. I do expect Holmgren to start getting creative again with Seneca Wallace. Upon Hasselbeck's return, I look to see more of the Branch, Engram, and Wallace 3 WR sets with Hasselbeck throwing a go route to Wallace to kick off a game a la 2005 NFC Title Game vs. Carolina. Thanks for writing such a great Blog and column, I look forward to reading them daily.

Mike Sando: Thanks, Jess. Some thought I was giving the defense a free pass, but the idea was to provide a bigger picture. Glad you saw it!


Eli from parts unknown writes: Hey Mike, What would it take to get Tim Ruskell to be more agressive in making some trades? It seems like Paul Allen is not involved in this organization at all. The fans of Seattle would like an agressive GM/Owner like Jerry Jones who will make some moves/trades to pick up quality, not quantity. Building through the draft is good when you make the right choices but cmon, Willaims to Dallas? It should have been us that made that trade, wouldn't you agree? I guess Hasselbeck will never know the feeling of having at least one quality/elite WR as long as we do not take risks in Free Agency/Trades, what do you think?

Mike Sando: To play devil's advocate here, would you like another trade along the lines of the one that brought Deion Branch to Seattle for a first-round choice?


Drew from Seattle writes: Can you tell me when Hasselbeck will be ready to play? Or Wallace, I just don't want Frye to start for two more weeks. Is Branch ready? Will the Seahawks miss the Playoffs? Should I look forward to the draft? I have lots of questions as I am in panic mode.

Mike Sando: I'll try my best here. Unknown on Hasselbeck. Don't hold your breath. Wallace has a chance this week but I'm not sure if he can last a game. Same for Branch at this point. Yes, I think Seattle misses the playoffs. You should look forward to the draft at this point, with one eye on the field.


Joe from Davis, Calif., writes: Sando, I know you're well aware of the disgruntled 49er fans that comment on this blog. With that said, what are your thoughts on what is going on in San Francisco? What course of action would you take to right the ship?

Mike Sando: Coaching hires go in cycles. Tough guy replaces nice guy, and vice versa. The 49ers need credibility. If things don't change and a coaching change becomes inevitable, I think they might be wise to hire someone with more credibility than the organization currently enjoys.


Jared from Los Angeles writes: Hey, Mike, love the blog. My question is about the 49ers offense: J.T. O'Sullivan was brought in because he was familiar with Martz's offense, which I've heard is quite complex. That being said, the juggernaut of the 49ers O is definitely Frank Gore, and I just don't see him getting the carries he deserves. He's averaging 5 yards a carry but only averaging 18 carries a game. I know he gets a lot of touches on passes out of the back-field, and that Martz running-backs don't typically put up for huge rushing numbers, but when you have such a turn-over prone QB I think it only makes sense to feed the ball to your dominant back and control the clock. He should be a work-horse, 25+ carries a game. What do you think?

Mike Sando: Thanks, Jared. I think we're seeing tradeoffs here. The 49ers weren't going to get anyone more qualified than Martz to restore the offense. Now they are living with the fact that their personnel doesn't ideally suit the offensive system. It's better than last season, no question, but still not perfect.


Chris from Santa Clara, Calif., writes: Mike, as a lifelong niners fan, it pains me to watch them on Sundays. Yes, I can confirm that Nolan is playing his corners 10 yards off, as someone mentioned earlier. This is allowing every opponent to throw underneath the coverage at will. Do you even think that the niners should attack more instead of sitting back in the prevent defense the entire game? That is all on Nolan.

Mike Sando: That type of strategy reflects what Nolan thinks about his safeties. He's not trusting them in coverage. Would you?


Markus from Vancouver, Wash., writes: I really like Mike Holmgren, however even going back to 2005 Super bowl season, his offense has been to plain. It is completely predictable. Not a single trick play ran that I've seen in the last few years. He needs to bring in some trick plays even a reverse once in a while to put defenses on there heals and open up the game some.

Mike Sando: Trick plays are fun but they are not going to fix an offense. Seattle's offense has ranked among the league leaders in recent seasons. I wouldn't trust backup quarterbacks and backup receivers with trick plays requiring flawless execution.


Ripvw from Seattle writes: I love your blog. I have three questions: 1. Why is Seattle keeping two kickers? 2. Do you think the current punter is an improvement over the previous one? 3. How has the departure of assistant coaches affected the team this year? Thanks, Oneply

Mike Sando: Thanks much. They're keeping two kickers because Mike Holmgren likes the veteran, Olindo Mare, and Tim Ruskell likes the young prospect, Brandon Coutu. The arrangement seems to be working well. Mare is responding to the pressure with a great season so far. With the punter, there's not much to choose from. The offense isn't good enough to put Jon Ryan in position for inside-the-20s. His net average is only 34.4 yards, low. I can't say that situation ranks in the top 10 things affecting Seattle right now.


Hyrun from Bellevue, Wash., writes: I see Shaun Alexander was picked up by the Redskins. If he gets a chance to play, how do you think he will do? Do you feel we let him go a little premature? I mean he never seemed healthy after his MVP year. I for one never became an Alexander hater.

Mike Sando: The Seahawks could no longer count on Alexander to stay healthy and produce. They have unquestionably upgraded the running game this season even though the passing game is a mess. Alexander could benefit from competition in Washington. He never had that in Seattle and it showed, in my view. He's in a position now where he must produce in the short term or risk being released after two or three games. The Redskins signed him as short-term insurance.


Tim from Colorado Springs, Colo., writes: On the ESPN power rankings, it seems you have enough voters that you could throw out the top and bottom before averaging. That might help remove some of the apparent "bone-headedness". What do you think?

Mike Sando: I'm against anything that requires additional calculations by me. Seriously, though, I would need to see how the figures might come out differently.


Patrick from Phoenix writes: Just a heads-up -- Jeff Sagarin has the Cards 4th based on his computer program. Thx for the 6th, though. more confidence than s
ome of your cohorts.

Mike Sando: And to think, the Cardinals can't lose this week.


Chris from Corvallis, Ore., writes: Mike, If the 49ers had tried to hire cam cameron instead of Mike Martz, how much better would the offense be and what do you think their record would be? Martz forgot about Gore against the Pats and Eagles when it mattered most to try and boost his ego, and it cost them the game.

Mike Sando: I can't say for sure that Cam Cameron would have resonated with players the way Mike Martz has resonated. Cameron is a laid-back guy who was coming off a 1-15 season. Martz has a bigger name, and I think the 49ers needed someone with that type of name recognition to catch their attention, at least in the short term.


Jeff from Victorville, Calif., writes: Hey Mike, I keep hearing Coach Nolan talking about how mistakes are being made in each game and how he and the rest of the organization will evaluate and work on fixing those mistakes. Well, the biggest mistake's taking place on the field in my opinion are all of the turnovers made by O'Sullivan. Let's face it, the defense held the Eagles to not one, but two field goals after two O'Sullivan turnovers to keep them in the game and when they got the ball back, he aimlessly turned the ball over once again which of course put the final nail in the coffin. I believe his turnovers have been the biggest factor in all four of their losses. What are your thoughts?

Mike Sando: You've hit the bull's-eye on this one. Turnovers at the quarterback position kill a team's chances. O'Sullivan seems to have a knack for the fourth-quarter miscue.


Deric from Twin Falls, Idaho, writes: As a Seattle fan where do we go from here? Additionally what's up with the phantom calls always coming against us when we pull off a great play, it's almost as if the refs don't want us to get momentum because we are "supposed" to lose.

Mike Sando: Long term, the Seahawks could be in for an interesting offseason as Ruskell gets a shot to remake the roster without concern for what Mike Holmgren might be thinking. On the officiating front, I thought the two penalties in the San Francisco game influenced the outcome. Both were bad calls. One wiped out the Deon Grant interception. The other was the holding call against Floyd Womack, which was one of the worst calls I've seen this season (and there have been plenty from which to choose). I thought the holding call against Mike Wahle was more defensible. I also think teams tend to make their own breaks. Nothing is going right for Seattle at this point.


Harold from Columbia, Mo., writes: Chike Okeafor also played well for the Cardinals - which brings up an interesting situation. You had injuries to Okeafor and Berry last year - who were back this year - the Cards drafted Calais Campbell - Kenny Iwebema - Brought in Robinson - Laboy - and Haggans. This essentially gave them significant depth on the D-Line which gave the Cardinals the ability to rotate fresh bodies. They also didn't seem to have Darnell Dockett in the game in certain passing situations - so that must say a lot about the depth at D- Line. I think this is also what they envisioned - similar to the Giants approach. You have to give the front office and coaching staff credit for all these moves. Including Sean Morey/Rod Hood as free agents. Travis Laboy looks like a steal when you compare his contract with Calvin Pace.

Mike Sando: Agree completely. The Cardinals did a nice job fortifying their front seven. The move will continue to appear smart as long as Okeafor and Berry are healthy. Their recent injury histories expose the front office to criticism if they can't finish the season.


Kyle from Kennewick, Wash., writes: I'm starting to believe it's really possible for the Seahawks to finish the season 2-14. Looking at their remaining schedule, it's brutal. Now I think they could win against Miami, San Fran, Rams. But that only puts them at 4-12. Regardless, my point is they don't win more than 5 games this season and like I said, 2-14 is a real possibility if they continue to play the way they are. What are your thoughts?

Mike Sando: They have to go 5-6 to even reach 6-10. I do see the very real potential for five or fewer victories.


Spooneycardsfan from parts unknown writes: Hey Sando. Love your style of not being a critical jerk even though the teams in the NFC Worst aren't very good overall. Also loving the fact that my Cards now have three WRs with over 20 catches. In a perfect world, with Warner using the short passing game to possess the ball and the Cards running up huge numbers against weak division defenses, could we get three WR's into the Pro Bowl? Has it ever happened before?

Mike Sando: Thanks much. I don't like critical jerks either. I don't see three getting into the Pro Bowl. Sometimes having more than one great receiver can diminish the appreciation for each as individuals. People think about Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce, not one or the other, for example. I feel safe in saying a team has not put three receivers into the Pro Bowl after the same season. Let me flip it around. If anyone remembers that happening, let us know.


Russ from Maryland writes: Sando, it seems to be a trend with niners not being able to finish a game.Its like they fall apart when they get ahead. Would you say that it is bad coaching decisions on both sides of the ball , the lack of execution by the players or both. What is your perception of where the niners are going to be with Nolan after the Giants game going into the bye week?

Mike Sando: Well, they have one more game, at home against Seattle, before the bye. Losses to the Giants and Seahawks might be enough to force a change at the bye. That is my feeling, not a fact.

My perception would be that San Francisco will be 3-5 at the bye unless Matt Hasselbeck can get the Seahawks' offense going in Week 8.


Hopper from Phoenix writes: Mike, love the nfc west blog. your tireless efforts to provide info beyond the wire svc tidbits are appreciated. now, please stop proclaiming "10 wins and home playoff game". you are going to screw it up for us. thanks, long (LONG) suffering cards fan

Mike Sando: Thanks much! You are right, Hopper. I need to shut up or I'll bear the responsibility for some sort of unforeseen setback. You notice I ended my Sunday night column by saying none of this matters if Kurt Warner gets hurt. Trying to cover myself.


Cedric from Memphis writes: Hey Sando, I love you man. I commend your work because you have the worst job in America, having to sit through and watch the NFC West teams and break it down.

Well, defend my Niners this week, I dare you. Why can't or why won't they bring more pressure on D? And, why in the world would Mike Nolan not run over and choke Martz until he called a run after they were up nine and had just picked Mcnabb off? Wouldn't a long sustained drive ending in points have broke the Eagles spirit and taken a helluva lot of time off of the clock, thus leaving the Eagles not enough time to score two touchdowns?

Help, I'm going crazy right now, with a much worse version of the Mike and Mike show going on in San Francisco, I might have to do like that Cub fan and sell my loyalty off to the highest bidder. If Nolan is axed, please tell me that Martz will be tossed right along with him and do you think we could get Bill Cowher or someone of that calibur or are there any up and coming coordinators that would build on the youth and promise we have now? Keep it up and you deserve a raise.

Mike Sando: If you're Bill Cowher, why would you take a job with the 49ers? I think that is the question. Any big-time coach is likely going to evaluate the overall health of the franchise. That includes the stadi
um, the quarterback, the ownership, etc. The 49ers do not have a lot going for them that way.


Brett from Richmond, Va., writes: Have the 'Hawks quit on Holmgren? I get the feeling they have just watching the games. Of course, they will say they haven't but, as a fan, if I can correctly predict the conventional play-calling that doesn't scare any other defense, maybe the 'Hawks D does too. Excuses are just that, I can recall many 2nd and 3rd string quarterbacks carving up the 'Hawks but cannot recall any of ours doing similar. Holmy's been great for the franchise but he should step down immediately and let Mora begin the transition. This season is lost.

Mike Sando: I watched for signs of that in the Green Bay game but did not see it, really. The defensive guys seemed to be giving good effort. They had some big hits. On offense, I think the problems are personnel related. The "quitting" angle would be something to consider later in the season if things really spiral.


Julian from Frankfurt, Germany, writes: Hey Sando, great coverage of the Cards vs. Cowboys game. What do you think of the Cards after this win? From what I saw, they overcame at least questionable officiating, bad penalties and for the first time this season even turnovers. The defense showed up today making plays except for those two long TDs, we even got TDs from our Special Teams and once again, as soon as the offense starts clicking, they are very hard to stop. Do you think these Cards are for real or was it just the Cowboys losing the game rather than the Cards winning it like most reporters are probably going to say.

Mike Sando: It's important for the Cardinals to feel like they can win that type of game even though things didn't all go right. That makes it easier for Ken Whisenhunt to get across his message credibly. I do see the Cardinals winning this division at this point. It's easier to say now that Seattle has fallen off so dramatically.


Jon from Seattle writes: I would appreciate your views on the e-mail I sent to Mike Nolan which I have qouted below -- Coach Nolan, I hope this reaches you. I cannot believe the state of my team. I call it my team because the team would not exist without its fans. I have been a Faithful fan for a very long time but your decisions are the worst in the league. In the first half you do not challenge a dropped pass, then you challenge an obviously good field goal. "I do not understand how you can call yourself a head coach and suggest you quit. If I were to perform the way you have as head coach in my job I would have been fired a long time ago. Please quit and give my team a chance.

Mike Sando: I respect your passion, first, and I understand the frustration. I've been a fan rooting for bad teams and it's a helpless feeling. Here's hoping that letter makes you feel a little better.


Pat from Columbus writes: Does Seattle know that they don't have to run a draw on third and long every time?

Mike Sando: Classic complaint from someone rooting for a bad team. As a Raiders fan years ago, I can recall lamenting with friends about the "Al Davis draw play" in just those situations. Running that play is an admission that you can't protect and/or you can't trust the quarterback to avoid disaster.


Dain from Sedona, Ariz., writes: I have yet another question on the officiating from the Cowboys/Cards game. This one has to do with Laboy's offside call at the end of the game though. Now everyone knows that if an offensive player is "injured" and they don't have any timeouts the refs run 10 seconds off the clock, or they charge the team a timeout if they have any left. So why couldn't they have just charged the Cardinals a timeout since they had two left? The clock still stops like the Cowboys wanted, the injured player gets off the field, and Nick Folk misses a 57-yard attempt. If the Cardinals are out of timeouts, then they get a 5 yard penalty. Doesn't that make a little more sense and helps keep a game from ending on technicality?

Mike Sando: The league decided this was a penalty because LaBoy was walking off the field. If LaBoy were still down on the ground, the Cardinals could have been charged a timeout. The rules do not allow teams to trade timeouts for penalty yardage in those situations. At least that was what I took from officiating director Mike Pereira's explanation.


Chris from Bakersfield, Calif., writes: Mike, so what I've learned in the last couple of weeks, is that you can't tackle the QB, and you can't move while scoring a TD. Does the NFL plan to make adjustments to the rule book regarding these fines, and penalties to clearly state what is legal and what is not? Thank you Goooo Cardinals!!!

Mike Sando: No known plans along those lines. Commissioner Roger Goodell is making his mark with fines on these issues, no question.