NFC West: Byron Leftwich

Around the NFC West: QB draft lessons

February, 19, 2013
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The Arizona Cardinals head to the NFL scouting combine with the seventh overall pick in the 2013 draft and an unsettled situation at quarterback.


Their division rivals from San Francisco were in a similar spot two years ago. The 49ers passed on the available quarterbacks at No. 7, choosing outside linebacker Aldon Smith in that slot when Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker and Christian Ponder were available.

San Francisco took quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the second round.

Two years later, Smith set a franchise record with 19.5 sacks. Kaepernick played a leading role in the 49ers' push to Super Bowl XLVII.

The lesson learned was a familiar one. Do not reach for a need at the expense of talent.

NFL teams holding the seventh through 10th overall picks have drafted five quarterbacks in that range over the last 10 drafts. Ryan Tannehill, Locker, Gabbert, Matt Leinart and Byron Leftwich were the selections. Andre Ware (1990), Todd Blackledge (1983), Phil Simms (1979) and Marty Domres (1969) were the only other quarterbacks selected in that range during the common draft era.

Someone's still searching for that first TD

December, 22, 2012
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Quarterback Ryan Lindley has played five games, made three starts and attempted 141 passes during his rookie season with the Arizona Cardinals.

One thing Lindley has not yet done: throw a touchdown pass.

The sixth-round draft choice has a chance to end the streak against the Chicago Bears on Sunday. No quarterback since at least 2001 has attempted more than 91 passes over a full season without connecting for a touchdown at least once, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

The chart shows Lindley and Pittsburgh's Byron Leftwich among 10 quarterbacks since 2001 with more than 50 attempts in a season and no touchdown passes.

Lindley has 141 attempts, including 120 in games he started. Ken Dorsey had 91 attempts for Cleveland in 2008 without a touchdown pass. Dorsey has the second-most attempts among the 10 scoreless players with more than 50 attempts in a season. Former Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart is also on the list. He had 77 attempts and no scores in 2009.
Alex Smith's candidacy as the San Francisco 49ers' starting quarterback heading into 2011 sent me searching for some context.

The charts show some initial findings.

Smith
The first one shows quarterbacks since 1970 who met the following criteria, as provided by Pro Football Reference:
  • First-round draft choice;
  • Has thrown between 40 and 60 touchdown passes;
  • Career passer rating was no higher than 85.0;
  • Has played in no more than six seasons.

Smith's new coach, Jim Harbaugh, is one of the players on the list. Some of the players enjoyed moderately successful careers. Vince Young, Greg Landry, Harbaugh, Dan Pastorini and Archie Manning were named to at least one Pro Bowl.


The second chart eliminates Smith's statistically horrible rookie season, when he had one touchdown and 11 interceptions for a very bad team.

It shows statistics for quarterbacks drafted in first rounds since 1970 based on the following criteria, also according to Pro Football Reference:
  • Second through sixth seasons only;
  • Had thrown between 40 and 55 touchdown passes;
  • Had thrown no more than 45 interceptions;
  • Had started at least 40 games during this period.

Harbaugh again makes the list, but I was most struck by similarities between the numbers for Smith and Harbaugh's old teammate, Jim McMahon.

Smith and McMahon could not be less similar in terms of personality, overall approach, supporting cast and on-field results. McMahon went 22-1 as a starter from 1985-87.

The Harbaugh comparison is much more relevant. Both players failed to meet expectations early in their careers despite their diligence. Harbaugh's personality was much more aggressive, however, and that raises a very fair but harsh question: Does Smith have the right makeup to salvage his career in a manner the way Harbaugh did after leaving Chicago?

Colleague Kevin Seifert showed some daring by sending TCU quarterback Andy Dalton to the Minnesota Vikings at No. 12 in a recent ESPN.com mock draft.

He wasn't arguing for Dalton's value so much as saying the Vikings' need for a quarterback might compel them to take one there.

[+] EnlargeSam Bradford
AP Photo/Winslow TownsonDid the Rams "reach" to get quarterback Sam Bradford in the first round last year?
"To me," Seifert later wrote with first-year Vikings coach Leslie Frazier in mind, "there is no better time to jump to the other side than in a coach's first year, giving him a building block for the rest of his program."

The key, of course, is not mistaking anchors for building blocks.

Steve Mariucci was the San Francisco 49ers' first-year coach when the team used a 1997 first-rounder for Jim Druckenmiller, a blunder softened only by Steve Young's presence on the roster. That experience should not directly influence the 49ers' thinking as they consider first-round quarterbacks for new coach Jim Harbaugh, but it's a reference point.

With Harbaugh and the 49ers in mind, I went through recent drafts to see which teams with first-year head coaches used first-round selections for quarterbacks. More precisely, I looked at all first-round quarterbacks since 2000 to see which ones had first-year head coaches.

Six of the last eight first-round quarterbacks -- Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco and JaMarcus Russell -- joined teams with first-year head coaches. All but Russell remain franchise quarterbacks in their teams' eyes. All but Russell are still playing for their original head coaches. Four of the six had winning records in 2010.

For most of those franchises, value and need lined up pretty well, and first-year coaches benefited.

"If you don't have a quarterback, you're drafting maybe a different kind of running back, maybe a different kind of offensive lineman, than if you have somebody," Lions coach Jim Schwartz told reporters at the scouting combine. "We had Calvin Johnson, but our ability to get Jahvid Best, Nate Burleson in free agency, to draft Brandon Pettigrew -- those pieces were because of the quarterback that we have."

We could also argue that the St. Louis Rams were better off building their offensive line and other areas of their roster before making Sam Bradford the first overall choice in 2010. They could have drafted Sanchez or Freeman instead of defensive end Chris Long in 2009, then spent subsequent selections on players to build around one of those quarterbacks.

Bradford and Denver's Tim Tebow were the "other" first-round quarterbacks in the eight-man group featuring Stafford, Sanchez, Freeman, Ryan, Flacco and Russell.

In general, getting the right quarterback for a first-year head coach puts a franchise in strong position for the long term. There's no sense forcing the issue, however, because the wrong quarterback can drag down any coach, regardless of tenure.

A coach such as the Vikings' Frazier might have a harder time waiting. His contract runs only three seasons and ownership expects quick results. Harbaugh has a five-year deal with the 49ers. Expectations are high, but there's less urgency for immediate results.

The first chart shows the 14 first-round quarterbacks since 2000 that landed with returning head coaches.

The second chart shows the 14 first-round quarterbacks since 2000 that landed with first-year head coaches.

Seventh pick too much for Kevin Kolb?

February, 17, 2011
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As promised, Kevin Kolb's potential trade value has provided a starting point for additional discussion.

"Shades" from Chico, Calif., used the recently concluded NFC West chat to question why NFL teams seem to over-value draft choices, and specifically whether the San Francisco 49ers would be foolish to consider trading the seventh overall choice for Kolb:
These are unproven, college players. Kevin Kolb has been an NFL starting QB, has had success, and has a nice upside. If he were a collegiate player, he would surely go high -- perhaps even with the No. 7 pick if he were as he is today. Can somebody, anybody, please, please give me a triple Oy Vey? I'd be all teeth to see the 49ers land Kolb and it doesn't seem like a No. 7 pick is too much of a reach, given the state of the QB situation. Of course, I'd rather trade a large turkey leg, a Prince Purple Rain CD, a sack of frozen burritos, a case of frozen Otter Pops, a BBQ-slathered porksteak, and a gigantic bowl of corn for Kolb. Smile.

This is a question I'd like to throw open for discussion, then revisit Friday.

First, I'll provide a chart showing the last 20 players drafted seventh overall, with how many seasons they played and how many Pro Bowl seasons they have earned, courtesy of Pro Football Reference.

Clinching the NFC West title and winning a playoff game has dropped the Seattle Seahawks from eighth to 25th in the 2011 NFL draft order.

The slide will continue with every additional Seattle victory.

Beating St. Louis and New Orleans over the last two weeks has not filled draft needs, of course. Seattle still needs to identify its long-term quarterback. With that in mind, I've put together two charts showing quarterbacks drafted around where Seattle could have and currently would select.

The first chart shows every quarterback since 1990 drafted between the fifth and 15th overall choices, including six selected between fifth and seventh. Seattle would have been drafting in this general range if St. Louis had won the NFC West.

Arizona (fifth) and San Francisco (seventh) hold picks in this range, so the chart adds context for their choices as well.

Five of the 11 quarterbacks drafted fifth to 15th since 1990 have earned Pro Bowl honors. The three with plus signs next to their career start totals appear likely to start considerably more games in the future.

As the second chart shows, one of the nine quarterbacks drafted 20th through 30th since 1990 has earned Pro Bowl honors. One other, Tim Tebow, remains early enough in his career to qualify as a potential candidate for such honors down the road. Again, plus signs highlight totals likely to increase substantially over time.

Aaron Rodgers, the lone Pro Bowl choice from this group so far, was an exception as the 24th player chosen in the 2005 draft.

NFL teams have drafted 22 quarterbacks among the top four choices since 1990. I'll list them below by overall draft spot.

First overall: Sam Bradford, Matthew Stafford, JaMarcus Russell, Alex Smith, Eli Manning, Carson Palmer, David Carr, Michael Vick, Tim Couch, Peyton Manning, Drew Bledsoe, Jeff George.

Second overall: Donovan McNabb, Ryan Leaf, Rick Mirer.

Third overall: Matt Ryan, Vince Young, Joey Harrington, Akili Smith, Steve McNair, Heath Shuler.

Fourth overall: Philip Rivers.

First-round draft thoughts: QBs

March, 27, 2010
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A few things I found interesting when updating college conference affiliations for NFL draft choices in the draft file I maintain:

Alex Smith was the only first-round quarterback from a current Mountain West team from 2000 to 2009.

His 49ers teammate, David Carr, was the only first-round quarterback from a current WAC team during the same period.

The Mountain West and WAC aren't the most acclaimed conferences for college football, but get this: The Big Ten produced no first-round quarterbacks during the first 10 drafts of the 2000s. Drew Brees came close, but he was the first pick of the second round.

Sixteen of the 26 quarterbacks drafted in the first round since 2000 came from teams currently affiliated with the SEC (six), Pac-10 (six) or Conference-USA (four).

Eight of the 26 have been named to a Pro Bowl: two from the ACC (Philip Rivers, Michael Vick), two from the Pac-10 (Carson Palmer, Aaron Rodgers), two from the SEC (Jay Cutler, Eli Manning), one from the Big 12 (Vince Young) and one from the MAC (Ben Roethlisberger). The ACC list could grow in the near future thanks to Matt Ryan.

The C-USA quarterbacks were J.P. Losman, Byron Leftwich, Patrick Ramsey and Chad Pennington.

A quick look at NFC West quarterbacks, regardless of draft status, and which conferences their college teams call home:
The chart below breaks down first-round picks from 2000 through 2009 by position and current conference affiliation. Some defensive linemen turned into outside linebackers in the NFL (Calvin Pace, for example). I've left college positions in place.

NFL teams made 317 first-round selections from 2000 to 2009. This includes 32 every year except for 2000 and 2001, when the league had 31 teams, and 2008, when the Patriots forfeited their first-round choice.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky and Mike Sando

Is more better?

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is confident the answer is yes. At the recent owners' meeting, he talked about expanding the regular season from 16 to 17 or 18 game, while cutting back the preseason, which he acknowledged doesn't meet the league's standards for its product with its fans.

Owners could vote on the issue this year, but such a change would then have to be bargained for as part of a new agreement between the league and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA).

 
  Matthew Emmons/US Presswire
  Commissioner Roger Goodell is in favor of expanding the NFL's regular season.

Would it be the right move? AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky backs the bigger regular season, while NFC West blogger Mike Sando is against it.

They do their best to hash it out in this week's edition of Double Coverage.

Kuharsky: The NFL will never trim the preseason without converting some of it to real games, and the preseason is unquestionably the biggest rip off for ticket buyers in sports. Goodell clearly realizes that fans are fed up with meaningless exhibition games decided by fourth stringers that cost full price and are a mandatory purchase for season-ticket holders. Yes, a lot of things will have to be adjusted to accommodate an 18-game NFL regular season -- pay, the size of rosters, TV deals, etc. But more professional football that counts is a good thing, and taking the schedule further into February, the worst month on the sports calendar, is fine with me. I think it needs to be 18 -- not 17 -- games in order to keep balanced home and road schedules. If it's 17 and you talk about neutral sites, we're talking about leaving all these palaces built for football unused for actual games.

Sando: We can all agree there's a problem. Look, I know what it's like to fork over full price for preseason tickets, all while watching a horrible product on the field. That was my fate as a Raiders season-ticket holder years ago. I could barely afford my upper-level seats for the regular-season games and it was maddening to pay for games that didn't count. But I also think the NFL needs to think hard before further diluting its product. We already have too many teams. The league clearly doesn't have enough quarterbacks to make it through the current 256-game schedule. Adding two games per team would add 64 starts for quarterbacks.

Kuharsky: Funny, I never pictured you wearing a silver-and-black dog collar, Mike. As for 64 more quarterback starts, I'm fine with that too. The team that picks Peyton Manning over Ryan Leaf and the team smart enough to have Byron Leftwich as its backup instead of Ryan Fitzpatrick should reap the benefits of choosing correctly as often as it can. A team like the Bears that constantly fails to address the position effectively should suffer the consequences. If it's a side effect to a longer season that the teams that scout and groom quarterbacks the best have an advantage in a longer season, so be it. It's the most important position in the game. If the resources you have for finding and developing a player or players are insufficient or ineffective, here are a few more games where the people who are good at it get a chance to show you why you should be better at it.

Sando: Quarterback injuries are the real problem here. We can talk about the league putting skirts on quarterbacks and legislating contact out of the game, but quarterbacks will keep getting hurt. It's the nature of the position. Fifty-three quarterbacks started games in 2008. The number was 64 in 2007 and 50 in 2006. The Browns had four starters last season. The Chiefs, Lions and Seahawks each had three.

 
  AP Photo/Michael Conroy
  An expanded regular season schedule would force teams to groom a backup QB, like the Colts' Jim Sorgi, in case injuries occur.

The more games the NFL adds, the harder time quarterbacks will have staying healthy. Don't know about you, Paul, but I'd rather watch the third-stringer play in August than January. Think about it. If you're a Colts fan, would you rather endure a couple of meaningless games in August or would you rather endure Jim Sorgi starting a playoff game after Manning's body finally gives out in Week 19?

I don't think people understand what a 16-game schedule does to these players' bodies. The NFLPA understands, and that's why I think the 18-game schedule could be a tough sell.

Now that we've settled that issue, what about the record books? The jump from 14 to 16 games three decades ago already diminished the 1,000-yard season. If the league goes to 18 games, players would have to average only 55.6 yards per game to reach 1,000 yards. I realize the AFC South had only two 1,000-yard receivers last season -- the Cardinals had three, by the way -- but that seems ridiculous.

Kuharsky: A tough sell until players negotiate themselves two or three more in-season paychecks. And you want more quarterback development? There it is -- teams better get or groom themselves a quality backup because he will play. Wear and tear is definitely the biggest issue, and to make this schedule boost happen the league will have to give in on pay as well as on issues of jobs, service time connected to pensions and benefits. I would be in favor of a second bye week as well, which would help with recovery times and work just fine if the regular season started earlier because of a shortened preseason and ended later with a Valentine's Day Super Bowl.

I completely disagree with the record-book argument as a factor. A 1,000-yard rushing season hasn't meant much for a running back since the league went from 14- to 16-game regular seasons in 1978. A recalibration there is long overdue already. Fans and media can handle it if the benchmarks don't come in nice round numbers. That's hardly a reason not to play more.

This isn't baseball, where we know the numbers automatically, where 56 and 2,632 evoke images of Joe DiMaggio and Cal Ripken. What's the all-time rushing mark? I admit I've got to run to pro-football-reference.com to get Emmitt Smith's 18,355 yards. In 2008, Drew Brees was in range of Dan Marino's season record for passing
yardage (5,084), but it's not like a high percentage of fans or media know Marino's mark by heart. When Brees or someone else breaks it with two extra games, we'll understand the framework of it.

 
  Luc Leclerc/US Presswire
  Brady Quinn (10) was one of four Browns quarterbacks to start a game in 2008.

There is nothing that can happen in an 18-game season that I can't count on you to put in context, and a spreadsheet, to help me comprehend. You and I and all our colleagues can evaluate production in an 18-game season in the context of league history and the old 16-game paradigm.

Sando: Any discussion of extending the season should indeed pull baseball and basketball into the fold. Both sports play more games than most busy people are willing to follow. The NFL enjoys a tremendous advantage by playing fewer games than those other sports.

If not for the physical demands of football, short-sighted owners would trade the long-term good of the game for profits associated with seasons running 82 or 162 games. Jumping to 18 games isn't going to kill the NFL, but it's certainly going to dilute the regular season while putting more players at risk for injuries. Is that progress?

Kuharsky: It is to me if the primary argument against it is that it dilutes the regular season.

Eighteen games is still a reasonably small season, every game is still going to have a big bearing on the final standings and, again, we're talking about trimming half the pitiful preseason sham. I don't feel like it will put the NFL in the neighborhood of baseball, basketball or hockey in terms of over-saturating the sports landscape. A lot of taxpayer money went into building these stadiums. Let's put them to meaningful use more often.

ESPN Radio's Colin Cowherd always talks about the NFL's willingness to evolve. I think an expanded regular season qualifies as just that.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Brian from Maryland writes: Hey Mike, been reading since you started the blog, first time posting though. I wanted to cover the long-looming question about the Niners' first round pick. Everyone keeps stressing the "obvious needs" like SAM, OT, WR, QB ... the list goes on. We have heard names ranging from Orakpo, Maybin, Brown, A. Smith, Oher, Sanchez, Maclin ... the list seems to go on and on.

What I think people fail to realize is that the Niners will fill multiple positions in the draft, so it is important to find where the largest drop-off occurs per position.

  • QB -- While there is absolutely no reason for the Niners to draft a signal-caller after cutting Alex Smith's contract [see end of 2006, start of 2007 when he was last fully healthy], we must explore it due to everyone else's concerns. I think we are fine with Hill and Smith for now, as Smith will get his shot and get to learn, making him more comfortable with the system. Hill enters as the starter, and Smith will get a shot. Per Matt Maiocco, if Smith never gets a shot, then Hill was the right call. If not, he will be ready and the fans will love him since they will want a change at the position. Can anyone honestly tell me that we would be talking about Matt Cassel like we do if he did not sit for years behind Brady? I think they sit with what they have at QB ... plus the drop-off in QB's cannot be fully determined with the inconsistencies of drafting the position.
  • OT -- A very deep position in this draft, where the drop-off is almost negligible from rounds one and two. Unless looking for a book-end left tackle, any team can find a quality starting tackle [specifically a strong right tackle] in the second round. This is where the Niners need to be focused. Although it is not popular that the Niners have not signed an OT, Phil Loadholt seems to be a perfect fit for the supposed "run-heavy" Niners, and will be around for pick 43. Enough said, Singletary and McCloughan should be writing this draft card today.
  • WR -- While it remains a position of need for the Niners, Josh Morgan and Jason Hill are emerging, and Brandon Jones makes me comfortable enough for now. If the Niners were to add a player, it should be a big-body or someone proven (the anti-thesis of Maclin, Harvin, Heyward-Bey, etc.). I don't trust Nicks' separation ability for the next level, so if Crabtree were to fall, I think it's a no-brainer, but I don't see that happening. I think we can forget WR for the Niners in round 1. Once again, with QB also, it is an unpredictable position to draft, (Morgan a 6th, Hill a 3rd, Bryant Johnson a 1st).
  • SAM -- The Niners need an imposing force on defense, someone who strikes fear in opposing QBs. While Willis is amazing, he is not a rush 'backer who can get into the QB's head. Orakpo would be the perfect fit, but it is looking like he will not be available for the Niners at 10. For this reason, I think the Niners bite the bullet a bit and go with Everette Brown, who will need to add weight. Maybin showed he needs to play at 235, not 255, 265 like necessary for a SAM. So Orakpo or Brown look like the candidates. I think decent options can be found later, but the Niners need their version of Merriman/Suggs who not only gets sacks, but alters gameplans. Orakpo is this player, and hopefully Brown will be. If the Niners do not go with a rush OLB in the first round, I have to think it will only be because someone unexpected falls to them in the first round, [see Crabtree, Raji, Monroe].

So, the Niners go Orakpo/Brown in 1st and Loadholt in 2nd. Sounds like a quality draft to me ... fairly easy on the cap too.

Mike Sando: Great stuff, Brian. You have done the heavy lifting here. Not much more for me to say, other than to keep it coming. I agree that the 10th overall choice is too high for targeting a right tackle. The team should probably focus on a linebacker with pass-rush ability in that spot. And if someone falls to them unexpectedly, reconsider.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

NinerTico from Sacramento writes: Hi Mike, great Job as always. It seems we, the 49ers, have re-signed Alex Smith for two years -- backup contract. What do you think will happen at #10 now? Sanchez or no?

Mike Sando: The 49ers' plans are difficult to predict because the team seems to make decisions inconsistently at times. Last offseason, the general manager was quoted as saying there was no truth to reports suggesting the team had interest in Mike Martz. The team then hired Martz as offensive coordinator.

The quarterback race last offseason was another head-scratcher. Alex Smith was supposedly a clear favorite. Shaun Hill's arm supposedly got tired. J.T. O'Sullivan got the job. And so on.

More recently, the team talked about smashmouth football, only to bring in Kurt Warner for a visit, only to explain it by saying teams can be physical in the passing game as well. The team also left open the door for Michael Vick and Terrell Owens, only to issue a denial on Vick and ultimately show no real interest in Owens.

What does Smith's new deal mean? The answer would be anyone's guess at this point. The 49ers remain in position to draft a quarterback early. They don't have too much tied up in the position from a financial standpoint.

If they think Smith is going to be healthy enough to legitimately contend for the starting job, they might be less likely to consider a quarterback with the 10th overall choice. But if they were planning on taking Mark Sanchez, this deal with Smith would not kill those plans.

The Smith deal buys time at a more reasonable price. The 49ers would still like to see Smith develop, but they now have less to lose if it never happens.

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Mailbag: No way for Holt to go out

March, 8, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Greg from Jacksonville writes: It sure is a shame that a hall of fame receiver who is 11th in league history in career receptions has to ask an organization to release him. You would think a team with an asset of that caliber would choose to make him happy rather than alienate him out of the gameplan. His receptions for yard percentages are more than any receiver in the past decade and his yards per game average is more than any receiver in history.

However, that is not what I want to talk about. Just because they will save a few million in salary cap, there is no excuse for the Rams to treat Torry Holt this way. There are few players left in this league that come to work everyday and consistently challenge the work ethic of everyone on the field without holding press conferences about it. His lack of off-the-field antics leads to his lack of publicity for the great things he did for this organization. Lets give credit where credit's due.

How about we give it up for a guy who wouldn't be caught dead talking trash about his team, even though they went 2 and 14. Even though each week he continued to put up hall of fame type numbers, his team continued to lose, but each week he showed up and performed. Guess what, you never saw him screaming at an offensive coordinator. Week after week, he tried his best to keep morale high on the sidelines, and regardless of the win loss percentage, sources say he did a pretty good job.

If anyone had every right to become a trash talking hot shot it would have been him, but he's not that guy, even though there is no question he had the stats to back it up. I hope he finds a suitable home soon, because any team would be lucky to have him.

Mike Sando: The way the Rams phased out Holt last season did not sit well with other players on the team. It was a factor in the Rams' demise last season, based on what I know. The new regime is not part of that. The new regime has a mandate to start over. I think that makes this a more natural time to part with Holt in a move that would benefit both parties. The Rams would benefit by clearing needed cap room and infusing youth into their roster. Holt would benefit by having a chance to catch on with a contending team.

While I agree that Holt was not a prima donna or troublemaker, he did clash with Scott Linehan during one well-publicized sideline dispute.

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Mailbag: Sloppiness an issue for Cards?

November, 4, 2008
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Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Chris from Phoenix writes: After the Cardinals outstanding preformance, I can't help but be worried about the lazy and sloppy ending to the game. The body slam by the rookie cornerback and the ill advised penalties just made the Cardinals look vulnerable. How worried should us fans be if we see this kind of play against teams such as the Giants?

Mike Sando: I would differentiate between these transgressions. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie apparently thought Torry Holt was still inbounds when he slammed him down. Bad play. Rookie mistake. Not likely to happen repeatedly.

The penalties should concern you. On offense, the Cardinals sometimes have problems lining up and snapping the ball on time. They just do. I chart the penalties and it's not pretty. Steve Breaston couldn't get lined up right two or three times earlier in the season. Arizona had another one of these Sunday.

Those types of things matter a lot more when the stakes are higher. I think Arizona needs to clean up that aspect of its game for the postseason. The Cardinals also need to finish plays more consistently on defense. Too often a lapse lets an opponent turn a big gain into a huge one. Steve Smith, Marion Barber and Derek Stanley come to mind.

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Mailbag: Questioning Rams' firepower

August, 17, 2008
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Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Kyle from St. Louis writes: I have to disagree with you on the Rams not having the offensive personnel to move the ball down the field. Granted, my biased opinion is factoring in health and Jackson being there. Still, Holt's knee is better, and at 32, he still gets it done. With protection, Bulger is as accurate a QB as there is. Jackson in a beast. Bennett is serviceable at WR, but Avery and Burton should provide explosiveness. They also have Brian Leonard at fullback/running back, and Randy McMichael at tight end, and Al Saunders knows how to utilize that position. Please don't tell me you think Seattle, for example, does have the weapons to score more so than StL.
Mike Sando: I think we're on the same page here, Kyle. I meant the Rams lacked the firepower to move the ball consistently in this second exhibition game because Steven Jackson and Torry Holt were not playing. I also agree about McMichael. However, I'm less impressed by the Rams now than I was a month ago. This team lacks depth. Dante Hall is the third receiver. Can Holt's knee hold up for a season? What about Orlando Pace? Bringing back Jackson will help a great deal, but Marc Bulger already looks like a guy worried about getting hit.

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Video: From Engram to Leftwich

August, 12, 2008
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Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

James Walker and I addressed several subjects in our NFL Insider segment this afternoon. We discussed Aaron Rodgers, Bobby Engram, Chad Pennington, Aaron Smith and Byron Leftwich.

We both liked what Rodgers showed in the exhibition opener. I explained how the Seahawks might have to compensate for Engram's absence. We discussed the merits of adding Pennington at the likely expense of John Beck in Miami. James got into Smith's grotesque injury. And we both discussed Leftwich's signing in Pittsburgh and whether he's a good fit as a backup.

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