NFC West: Rich Gannon

Tim Brown's inflammatory comments toward former Oakland Raiders coach Bill Callahan provided the launching point for the latest "Inside Slant" podcast with Kevin Seifert.

It's not every day a Hall of Fame finalist -- Brown, not Seifert -- suggests his former coach blew a shot at the Super Bowl by changing the game plan, perhaps out of hatred for his own team.

Brown has since backed away from the word "sabotage" when describing Callahan's alleged plan to ditch a run-heavy game plan.

Kevin and I discussed potential ramifications for Brown in Hall of Fame voting. That included a run through the 15 modern-era finalists and which ones might stand out as most deserving. Brown's comments regarding Callahan have no bearing on his credentials, according to Hall bylaws.

I also used the opportunity to revisit run-pass ratios for the Raiders against Tampa Bay during the Super Bowl in question. Turns out Oakland was even more pass-happy during the first half of its game against Tennessee for the AFC title.

The Raiders attempted passes on 56.7 percent of first-half plays against the Buccaneers. That was below their season average (62.3) and their sixth-lowest rate in 19 games that season. I singled out first halves because score differential tends to influence play selection later in games.

The rate of pass drop backs, which includes sacks, was at 66.7 in the first half for that game. It was higher for the Raiders in 10 games and lower in eight games before that Super Bowl.

Oakland's full-game rate of pass drop backs was at 81.7 percent for the Super Bowl, a season high. The Raiders' 17-point halftime deficit was also a season high by six points, putting Oakland in obvious passing situations while playing from behind.

MossWatch: Smooth sailing at midseason

November, 9, 2012
11/09/12
11:55
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The seventh installment in a series tracking the feel as wide receiver Randy Moss continues his career revival with the San Francisco 49ers.

Randy Moss was a fine, upstanding NFL locker-room citizen through the 2012 offseason and training camp.

Just wait til the regular season, we whispered. Moss will become what Moss has always become in the eyes of past employers: more headache than asset.

"Moss impresses wherever he goes," we wrote back in May, noting that Moss had previously impressed the folks in Minnesota, Oakland, New England and Tennessee before departing each team amid suggestions he had worn out his welcome.

This history stayed in our minds when the 49ers gushed about Moss' commitment and professionalism during June minicamps. Moss' humility resonated as training camp opened. The 49ers lauded his character and goodhearted nature deeper into camp. Moss caught a touchdown pass in the opener, suggesting his addition was helping on the field, too.

More recently, questions arose over Moss' relative lack of playing time. But with Moss flashing speed and elusiveness during a 47-yard touchdown reception against Arizona on "Monday Night Football" in Week 8, the feel surrounding Moss' addition is positive.

Most telling, I think, are the recent stories explaining how Moss' blocking has inspired teammates. CBS analyst Rich Gannon had questioned Moss' passion for blocking when the Titans signed the veteran receiver in 2010. The 49ers' receivers have shown a passion for blocking predating Jim Harbaugh's arrival as head coach. Moss has, by all accounts, embraced the mentality. There are few better ways for a receiver to demonstrate his commitment to the team, particularly when that receiver isn't catching many passes.

Moss has 13 receptions for 235 yards and two touchdowns through eight games. His 18.1-yard average would be Moss' highest since his rookie season. The 49ers have a 6-2 record, which should make everyone happy. Moss has flashed with touchdowns in high-profile games against Green Bay and in the Monday night game. He has played roughly 20 snaps per game and appears primed to help as needed during the second half of the season.

So far, so good for Moss and the 49ers.

Rapid Reaction: 49ers 24, Cardinals 3

October, 29, 2012
10/29/12
11:31
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers' 24-3 victory over the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium in Week 8:

What it means: The 49ers affirmed their status as the most complete team in the NFC West and the clear favorite to win the division. Their 6-2 record gives them a two-game lead over Seattle and Arizona, with St. Louis lagging three games back. San Francisco appears ready to pull away from its rivals over the second half of the season. The Cardinals appear less likely than Seattle to challenge for a playoff spot.

What I liked: The 49ers' Michael Crabtree and the Cardinals' Patrick Peterson went head to head on a national stage. The young first-round draft choices matched up several times in the first half. Crabtree enjoyed a clear advantage this time. He now has won two of their past three matchups.

Crabtree outmuscled Peterson to grab a high pass in the end zone. He broke away from Peterson and kept his balance during a 22-yard reception to set up a David Akers field goal. Later, Crabtree left Peterson on the grass en route to another scoring reception. The 49ers' passing game hadn't gotten going like this since the game against Buffalo three weeks ago.

Alex Smith's finger injury obviously isn't a factor any longer. He completed 18 of 19 passes for 232 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Smith got the ball to his receivers and let them do much of the work, including when Randy Moss shook Jamell Fleming and Paris Lenon along the sideline for a 47-yard touchdown.

For the Cardinals, Daryl Washington collected two more sacks, giving him eight for the season. That's tremendous production from an inside linebacker. Washington should challenge for a Pro Bowl berth this season, particularly with Dallas' Sean Lee out for the year. The 49ers' Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman also are in the mix for Pro Bowl berths at inside linebacker, of course.

Cardinals rookie receiver Michael Floyd, although inconsistent, flashed talent by making a left-handed grab while falling to the ground in the final minutes.

What I didn't like: The Cardinals' defense had no answer for the 49ers' offense. San Francisco ran the ball at will early in the game, then succeeded through the air before and after the catch. Arizona has been much better on defense much of the season. However, four of the Cardinals' five most recent opponents -- Miami, Buffalo, Minnesota and San Francisco -- have moved the ball too easily on the ground, through the air or both ways.

This was the first time all season Arizona allowed more than 21 points in a game.

Of course, Arizona's offense deserves a fair amount of the blame. The defense can't do everything. Quarterback John Skelton threw inaccurately with and without imminent pressure. That has been typical for him. On some plays, inaccuracy made it nearly impossible for Cardinals receivers to make gains after the catch. Receivers had to reach for balls just to make catches, allowing defenders to close ground.

Smith, despite his strong passing performance, held the ball too long, taking sacks. He risked injuries unnecessarily while setting back the offense. Smith took hard hits from Calais Campbell and Darnell Docket after having time to unload the ball.

Also, 49ers guard Alex Boone committed a face mask penalty to kill a promising San Francisco drive early in the game.

Advantage, Goldson: Niners safety Dashon Goldson leveled Cardinals receiver Early Doucet following a short reception over the middle. Goldson celebrated by holding both arms skyward. This one might have been personal.

Goldson and Doucet brawled during a Week 11 game between the teams last season. The league levied a $25,000 fine against Goldson and a $10,000 fine against Doucet. Doucet was the instigator, but the NFL cited him for only unnecessary roughness, while Goldson was cited for fighting, which carries higher fines.

Doucet returned to the game.

Draft-pick comparison: The Cardinals selected Peterson fifth overall in 2011 when they could have taken Aldon Smith, who went to the 49ers two picks later. Both have been impact players overall, but Smith had the better night Monday. He had two sacks.

Fitzgerald shaken up: Larry Fitzgerald remained in the game and was on the field in the final minutes despite getting shaken up when he went face first into the grass during the first half. There was no injury announcement made in relation to Fitzgerald. He returned to the game quickly.

Roof open: While states in the East weathered Sandy, the Cardinals opened the roof for this game. The official play-by-play sheet said the temperature was 90 degrees at kickoff. The thermometer on my rental car read in the 80s several hours earlier. Either way, the NFL lucked out with its scheduling for this game.

Not the 2002 Raiders: Arizona is the first team since the 2002 Oakland Raiders to go from 4-0 to 4-4. Those Raiders went 11-5 and reached the Super Bowl thanks to MVP quarterback Rich Gannon.

What's next: The Cardinals visit the Green Bay Packers in Week 9. The 49ers have a bye before facing the St. Louis Rams at Candlestick Park in Week 10.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A Monday night defeat to San Francisco would make the Arizona Cardinals the first NFL team in a decade to go from 4-0 to 4-4.

That would be bad. How bad?

Well, the 2002 Oakland Raiders were the last team to go from 4-0 to 4-3. That team fell to 4-4 after losing a Week 9 game to the 49ers in overtime. Those Raiders rebounded to finish 11-5 before advancing to the Super Bowl, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

The 1993 Philadelphia Eagles also went from 4-0 to 4-4 to 4-6. They finished 8-8 and missed the postseason.

The 2002 Raiders featured MVP Rich Gannon at quarterback and Jim Harbaugh as quarterbacks coach. They led the NFL in yardage while finishing second in points. The current Cardinals rank 31st in yards and 27th in points on a per-game basis.

Warner, Moon, Young paved Manning's way

February, 29, 2012
2/29/12
3:50
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The Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers have some experience with highly successful older quarterbacks.

Peyton Manning will be 36 if and when he resumes his career with a still-unknown team.

With Mike Greenberg steering the Manning conversation this way, I visited Pro Football Reference for precedent. A search for the most productive seasons from quarterbacks at least 36 years old turned up memorable ones from NFC West alums Steve Young, Kurt Warner and Warren Moon.

The chart shows quarterbacks meeting that age criteria. Each passed for at least 25 touchdowns in a season. I've sorted them by NFL passer rating.

Manning is in another category while recovering from neck problems that sidelined him for the 2011 season. He also would be switching teams for the purposes of this discussion. Brett Favre (2009) and Warren Moon (1997) appear in the chart for their work in debut seasons with new franchises.

None of the players listed was coming off a career-threatening neck injury, however. Rich Gannon's career ended following one.
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Conventional wisdom says the San Francisco 49ers need to score touchdowns, not field goals, to defeat the New Orleans Saints in the divisional playoffs Saturday.

But if the 49ers play the game their way, on their terms, they'll win with David Akers hitting at least a couple field goals — perhaps even the game-winner. After all, Akers set a 49ers franchise record for scoring on his way to the Pro Bowl this season.

ESPN's Rick Reilly explains why that would be a fitting scenario after all the Akers family has been through over the last year. Just one year ago, doctors discovered that Akers' 6-year-old daughter had a cancerous tumor. Akers himself had lost most of his career earnings to a fraudulent investor. He missed two field-goal attempts during the Eagles' 21-16 playoff defeat and soon found himself out of work. Reilly: "So there it was, the trifecta — nearly broke, a sick kid at home and silently dumped by the team he'd given 12 terrific years. Akers is a guy who's insecure about his footing in the NFL anyway. He'd been a waiter at a Longhorn Steakhouse in Atlanta, a substitute teacher and a kicker for NFL Europe in Berlin, where he nearly died during a one-month hospital stay for salmonella. The man who saved him from that life was then-Philadelphia special teams coach John Harbaugh, who called him up for a tryout in 1998. Akers stuck. And he's been terribly fond of Harbaughs ever since."

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News goes back in time with 49ers legends as they reminisce on the 30th anniversary of Dwight Clark's winning catch from Joe Montana in the NFC title game against Dallas.

Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Clark sees parallels between that 1981 team and the current one. Clark: "It's way similar. We shocked everybody that year and this team has shocked everybody. I see similarities between Bill Walsh and Jim Harbaugh. Bill was a genius. Harbaugh comes up with some schematic thing on the field and I shake my head and say, 'Where the hell did he come up with that?' They have a similar way of creating plays."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch updates the Rams' search for a coach and general manager. Tennessee's Lake Dawson interviewed for the GM job, Atlanta's Les Snead was on his way to do so and Arizona's Steve Keim was also expected to interview. Thomas: "Meanwhile, the Rams expressed interest in Cincinnati offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, but Gruden quickly let it be known that he's staying put with the Bengals and would not interview for any head-coaching jobs." Noted: Keim would fit best if the Rams hired Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton as head coach. Dawson would fit best if the Rams hired Jeff Fisher.

Also from Thomas: a chat transcript with a different take on how much money the Rams will save now that Josh McDaniels is working for New England. Thomas: "As I wrote about today, McDaniels will receive $1.5 million from the Rams next season. But whatever the Patriots are paying him gets subtracted from that total. Say the Patriots are paying him $1 million, then the Rams are on the hook for only $500,000 and they get $1 million freed up to hire the new coaching staff. Also, whatever McDaniels gets paid for the rest of this season with New England gets subtracted from McDaniels' $1.5 million he earned from the Rams this season." Noted: I thought that would have been the case if the Rams fired McDaniels, and that the Patriots would assume the full salary given that St. Louis never did fire him. I'll follow up on this.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams should hire an offensive-minded head coach if they fail to land Fisher. Miklasz: "If the Rams hire a defensive coordinator, what kind of staff would he be able to put together on offense? Again, it's imperative for the Rams to expedite Bradford's progress, ratchet up this offense, and join the NFL's modern age. An offense-oriented HC would have the necessary acumen to supervise the development of the QB and the offense. He would have a better feel (and a better chance) for putting together a quality staff on offense. NFL people will tell you that it's easier to find a defensive coordinator than an offensive coordinator."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the team knows it must improve on offense. Urban: "The Cardinals’ first drive of the season went for a touchdown, starting at the Cards’ own 46-yard line and ending with Beanie Wells’ seven-yard run for a score. The next week, a first-quarter interception set up a short (37 yards) drive for another early touchdown. But the Cardinals didn’t score a first-quarter touchdown after than until the final game of the season against Seattle, far too long a drought. The Cards only scored 36 first-quarter points all season, putting them in a near constant hole. The flip side, of course, was the often strong finishes, especially once the defense became stout. In the fourth quarter and overtime, the Cards outscored opponents by 54 points. The big plays would pop up — 22 total on the season of more than 40 yards — and the Cards did gain 4.2 yards per rush attempt, but it didn’t happen enough. During the Cards’ 7-2 closing kick to the season, the most points they scored in a game was 23."

Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle says NFL analyst and former quarterback Rich Gannon does not expect improvement from Tarvaris Jackson. Gannon: "I think what you see is what you get. I don't know if it's going to get a whole lot better with Tarvaris Jackson, and that's really my concern. Is he a good player? Certainly. Is he ever going to be a dominant player at his position? Is he ever going to be one of the elite players? Is he going to be a Pro Bowl player? I don't think so." Noted: Gannon might be right. That was the sort of thing people thought about Gannon years ago. Gannon went from Chiefs backup and sometimes starter to league MVP with Oakland. That path is obviously unlikely for Jackson, but it seemed unlikely for Gannon as well.

Leading Questions: NFC West

February, 14, 2011
2/14/11
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With the offseason in full swing, let’s take a look at one major question facing each NFC West team as it begins preparations for the 2011 season:

ARIZONA CARDINALS

What happens to the offensive line?

We've been asking, answering and asking some more questions about the Cardinals' quarterback situation for months. Let's tap a few brain cells to discuss the guys up front.

Center Lyle Sendlein and right guard Deuce Lutui are without contracts for 2011. Left guard Alan Faneca might retire. Right tackle Brandon Keith is coming off hamstring and knee injuries that shortened his first season as a starter. The Cardinals do not have fresh talent in reserve. They have drafted only one offensive lineman in the first four rounds since Ken Whisenhunt became head coach in 2007. Twenty-seven teams have drafted more. As much as the team trusts assistant head coach Russ Grimm to get the most from its offensive line, Arizona could use fresh young talent for him to groom.

The Cardinals went through the 2010 season with the NFL's oldest offensive linemen, counting backups. That wouldn't matter so much if left tackle Levi Brown were meeting the Pro Bowl expectations that came with his status as a top-five overall selection in the 2007 draft. Brown was underwhelming at right tackle to begin his career and a liability at left tackle last season. His salary balloons in 2012, so this could be his last season in Arizona.

ST. LOUIS RAMS

Can the defense take the next step?

The Rams allowed 328 points last season, tied for the third-lowest total since the team moved from Los Angeles for the 1995 season. They allowed seven rushing touchdowns, their lowest total since 1999 and down from 50 combined over the previous two seasons. But with starting defensive linemen James Hall and Fred Robbins turning 34 this offseason, and with questions at linebacker, the Rams' defense will not automatically go from competitive toward dominant.

Hall will be looking to become the 14th player since 1982 (when the NFL began tracking sacks as an official stat) to collect 10 sacks in a season at age 34 or older. The others: Trace Armstrong, Chris Doleman, William Fuller, Kevin Greene, Rickey Jackson, Ed "Too Tall" Jones, Tony McGee, Steve McMichael, John Randle, Warren Sapp, Bruce Smith, Michael Strahan and Reggie White.

Robbins is coming off one of his finest seasons. He joined Keith Traylor, Jeff Zgonina and Ray Agnew among defensive tackles to set career highs for sacks at age 32 or older in the free-agency era (since 1993).

Getting similar production and continued good health from two older players is no given. The Rams also need to find help at outside linebacker after losing 32-year-old Na'il Diggs to a torn pectoral muscle 12 games into the 2010 season. The Rams are set at middle linebacker with James Laurinaitis, but they could stand to upgrade around him.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

How well can Jim Harbaugh coach up a quarterback?

When the 49ers' new coach needed a quarterback at Stanford, he recruited one. Andrew Luck set records and led the Cardinal to national prominence. Recruiting isn't a significant part of the equation in the NFL, so Harbaugh will have to settle for the best quarterback he can draft or otherwise acquire. He might even have to give Alex Smith a shot.

The 49ers will need Harbaugh to do what his recent predecessors could not: get good production from limited or flawed talent at the most important position.

Rich Gannon was well-established as an NFL quarterback when Harbaugh arrived as his position coach in Oakland for the 2002 season. The pairing reflected well on all parties. Gannon set career highs for completed passes, attempts, completion percentage, passing yards and passer rating. Gannon was already a good quarterback and the Raiders were already a good team, so it's tough to measure Harbaugh's impact.

Gannon is long since retired. Harbaugh is back in the NFL for the first time since the two were together on the Raiders in 2003. The 49ers don't have a legitimate starting quarterback under contract. Harbaugh has been meeting with Smith and keeping open his options. The stakes are high in the short term because the 49ers have enough talent elsewhere on their roster to compete for a playoff spot.

Outside expectations for Smith are so low that Harbaugh could appear heroic if he could get even a 9-7 record out of the 49ers with Smith in the lineup.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

How much more roster turnover lies ahead?

The Seahawks were fearless in overhauling their roster during their first year under general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll.

The team added Marshawn Lynch, Leon Washington, Chris Clemons, Stacy Andrews, Tyler Polumbus, Kentwan Balmer, Kevin Vickerson, Robert Henderson and LenDale White, though Seattle parted with Vickerson, Henderson, White and 2009 regulars Deion Branch, Julius Jones, Owen Schmitt, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Josh Wilson, Lawrence Jackson, Rob Sims, Darryl Tapp, Deon Grant and Seneca Wallace. The Seahawks watched a couple other starters, Nate Burleson and Cory Redding, leave in free agency.

If those were the moves the Seahawks felt comfortable making right away, I figured there would be quite a few to come after the team's new leadership watched players for a full season. And there still could be, but similar wheeling and dealing could be impractical or even impossible if the current labor standoff continues deep into the offseason.

Teams cannot make trades without a new labor agreement. They cannot know for sure whether or not a salary cap will come into play as part of any new deal. It's just tough to act as decisively as Seattle acted last offseason without knowing the rules. That's a disadvantage for Seattle and other teams with much work to do this offseason.

On the air: Cardinals in Week 14

December, 7, 2010
12/07/10
4:35
PM ET
Bill Macatee and Rich Gannon get the call for CBS when the Arizona Cardinals face the Denver Broncos at University of Phoenix Stadium in Week 14. Kickoff is at 4:15 p.m. ET.

Gannon becomes the second retired MVP quarterback to work a Cardinals game this season. Kurt Warner was in the booth for Fox last week and in Week 5.

CBS has eight crews. Fox has seven. The networks rank their crews, with higher-ranked ones drawing more attractive assignments such as Super Bowls, playoff games and marquee matchups.

Earlier: 2008, 2009.

On the air: Seahawks in Week 12

November, 23, 2010
11/23/10
4:13
PM ET
Bill Macatee and Rich Gannon get the call for CBS when the Seattle Seahawks face their former AFC West rival, the Kansas City Chiefs, at Qwest Field in Week 12.

Kickoff is at 4:05 p.m. ET.

Gannon played for the Chiefs from 1995 to 1998.


CBS has eight crews. Fox has seven. The networks rank their crews, with higher-ranked ones drawing more attractive assignments such as Super Bowls, playoff games and marquee matchups.

Earlier: 2008, 2009.

Like old times: On the ground in Oakland

October, 31, 2010
10/31/10
1:04
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OAKLAND, Calif. -- Seeing an Oakland Raiders fan sitting beside a Seattle Seahawks fan during my flight to Oakland -- there were no injuries, only some obligatory smack talk -- brought back memories from old AFC West battles between the teams.

Seattle's game at Oakland in Week 8 is the team's first road game against the Raiders since the 2002 opener, the Seahawks first game back in the AFC West. Oakland won that game, 31-17, during a Super Bowl season featuring MVP quarterback Rich Gannon throwing to Tim Brown and Jerry Rice. The Raiders finished that game with a 423-186 yardage advantage as Seattle committed 13 penalties and converted only once in 11 third-down chances.

Matt Hasselbeck is the only Seahawks player left from that 2002 game. Then as now, the Seahawks were playing without their starting left tackle. Floyd Womack started at left tackle in that game while Walter Jones held out for a new contract. This time, Tyler Polumbus starts at left tackle for Seattle while Russell Okung recovers from an ankle injury.

Seattle last won at Oakland when Jon Kitna overcame a rough start and three Jeff George touchdown passes for a 22-21 victory on Dec. 14, 1997.

The Raiders are favored Sunday. If you haven't graced us with your prediction for this and other NFC West games, please do so right here.

On the air: 49ers in Week 6

October, 12, 2010
10/12/10
3:54
PM ET
Bill McAtee and former Oakland Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon get the call for CBS when the San Francisco 49ers face their cross-bay rivals at Candlestick Park.

Gannon last worked a 49ers game with Ian Eagle last season (against Tennessee).

This is the first Raiders-49ers game at Candlestick Park since 2006, when San Francisco prevailed, 34-20.

CBS has eight crews. Fox has seven. The networks rank their crews, with higher-ranked ones drawing more attractive assignments such as Super Bowls, playoff games and marquee matchups.

Earlier: 2008, 2009.
MIAMI -- We're approaching 1,700 comments on the piece about Jerry Rice's potential standing as the greatest player in NFL history. I have also heard from people through the NFC West mailbag. Those comments and my responses follow.

Greg from Carlisle, Pa., writes: Hey there Mike, Jim Thorpe should probably be on any football great list. I guess it was NFL though. Jerry Rice is an all-time great, but best ever? Please! The man played with two Hall of Fame quarterbacks and a great offensive line. Not to mention the great mind of Bill Walsh. Rice benefited from these tremendously. Put him on a terrible team, and he looks like a normal great receiver like an Issac Bruce.

There are more than 10 players that are better than Jerry Rice, and that is with no doubt. Probably 10 or 20 more. Of course that is only my opinion. Even a guy like Brett Favre is an all-around better player than Jerry Rice. Mark it down! Wide receivers aren't even involved in a lot of the game. Rice had Joe Montana and Steve Young to make him involved. Watching Rice his last few years was painful. Best WR ever? YES. Best player ever, not even close.

Mike Sando: I think the most accurate way to put it is that Rice had the best career. Lots of factors go into that, including enjoying team success thanks to having great teammates. Rice made his quarterbacks look good, too. People questioning Kurt Warner's credentials often point out how he played with great wide receivers. I always counter by asking what those receivers ever won without Warner as their quarterback. Warner wasn't the only reason those teams won, but he was a big reason.

Rice was a big reason for the 49ers' success. We did cover some of the ground you alluded to through the comments Aeneas Williams made about what it's like playing on good teams.


James from Baytown, Texas, writes: I think Barry Sanders is the best running back of all time, because of what he accomplished and who he did it with. Now, I really don't like comparing different eras, because for one, the players' skill sets have changed and rules have changed. Like today we have defensive ends, defensive tackles and linebackers running faster than running backs. If that would have happened back then, the players would have been assumed to be taking steroids.

This is the same reason you can't compare quarterbackss from different eras. The rules are set up for a QB to stand upright in the pocket and pick a defense apart. Defensive backs can't even touch a reciever now, when back in the day, the reciever had to fight the DB all the way up the field. So, comparing the Bradys and Mannings to the Montanas and Elways would not be fair, because their eras are totally different. It's still a fun barber shop argument, though, we just love to have.

Mike Sando: Great points, James. Some have said we should look at where players ranked when they retired. For example, Steve Largent ranked first in all-time receptions when he retired. Those numbers reflected NFL history to that point. Where he ranked, not how many catches he had, should stand as the more telling indicator.

The rules changes and corresponding styles of play definitely affect production. John Elway had a career passer rating of 79.9. Brian Griese has a career passer rating of 82.7. Those figures seem comparable, but there is absolutely nothing similar about how they played, what the accomplished or what they meant to the league.


Dan from Duluth, Minn., writes: Why is Emmitt Smith not at least in the discussion? You've got Walter Payton and not Emmitt? Come on, there is more to his game than just longevity and even still you gotta give him props for being an indestructible beast at a position with a ridiculously short career span. You Cowboys haters will do anything to keep a Cowboy out of any discussion about the greatest -- apparently even exclude the NFL's all-time leading rusher. Wow.

Mike Sando: It's a positional thing to a degree. I loved the way Smith played the game and wouldn't have a problem with him being in the discussion. Remember the way he ran against the Giants in that playoff game despite a pretty serious injury? I won't forget it. Great, great player. My thinking was that Sanders, Brown and Payton were better runners, and that is why I left off Smith. Perhaps I was wrong there. The Cowboys conspiracy theory is admittedly more fun, though.


Matt from parts unknown writes: Greatest of all time? Rice surely is ... but Tim Brown's stats put him in the Carter, Harrison, Owens comment you stated.

Mike Sando: Brown was one of my favorite players to watch. I remember the touchdown he scored to win at Buffalo in 1993. Rich Stadium was such a tough place to play back then. The Bills could be dominant there. Buffalo had hammered the Raiders, 51-0, in the AFC title game after the 1990 season. Brown caught 10 passes for 183 yards in that 1993 game, a 25-24 Raiders victory. Brown provided the winning 29-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter. That is one of my lasting memories of him.

Go ahead and include Brown in any discussion about all-time great receivers.


Ray from Hannibal, Mo., writes: Mike, I'm a huge Niners fan and love your blog. I don't know if you ever caught this Ralph Wiley column comparing Rice to Jordan, but it is a neat read.

Mike Sando: Thanks for that. Jordan was more dominant as a basketball player than Rice was as a football player, I think, but that also has a lot to do with the nature of their sports. Basketball definitely highlights the individual more than football. That worked against Rice because the ball wasn't in his hands all the time. Jordan probably touched the ball on the vast majority of offensive plays. He also played great defense, impractical for an NFL wide receiver.


George from Buffalo writes: How do you have a list of greatest players ever and not have the all-time sack leader on the list, Bruce Smith. What a bogus list without it!

Mike Sando: Sacks became a stat in 1980, so I would not base a list of all-time greats solely on that category. However, it's true that Smith was a great, great player.


Steve from Odenton, Md., writes: I believe Rice playing for the Niners played a large impact on being voted to so many Pro Bowls. Don't agree? Look at London Fletcher. Identical stats to Ray Lewis, but Fletcher makes one Pro Bowl as an alternate! If Ray Lewis had played for St. Louis, would he have gone to so many Pro Bowls and be in the same conversation as the best ever?

Mike Sando: Ray Lewis was much more of a force at linebacker than Fletcher, and that is no knock on Fletcher. Lewis was the heart, soul and fists for one of the NFL's all-time great defenses. He dominated games physically and emotionally. Fletcher might be underrated. He probably should have gone to more Pro Bowls. But that has nothing to do with Lewis or Rice.

Rice put up historically great numbers. Remember, too, that when he went to the Raiders late in his career, he put up big numbers for two seasons and Rich Gannon became league MVP.


Tom from parts unknown writes: Johnny Unitas had a career rating of 78.2 Was that good for that era? Even so, why is he called one of the best ever? I don't think above average play coupled with longevity should get you in the talk of best ever.

Mike Sando: See earlier item referencing Elway. And please do brush up on NFL history. Unitas topped our list of greatest quarterbacks.


Nick from Littleton, Colo., writes: Jerry Rice is great no doubt. But a better story would be how an organization can be a six-time winner of AFC championships and have only two players in the hall. The Denver Broncos have consistently, since 1976, won games and conference championships. The Chargers have seven Hall of Fame players and one AFC championship. Please help spread the word. Rod Smith, Shannon Sharpe, Randy Gradishar, Tom Jackson, Louis Wright, Steve Atwater, Floyd Little, Dennis Smith, Tom Nalen, etc. These are all great football players that get no respect. How does the best tight end ever not make the hall on the first ballot.

Mike Sando: I have written that story, Nick. Shannon Sharpe will make it in. The only question is whether it happens right away given the other players ahead of him in line.


Bob from Winter Garden, Fla., writes: Mike, I am sure that you are a bright young man and a good writer, but you quote statistics like they are indisputable proof. You should remember that statistics are for losers.What you should be thinking about when deciding who was the best ever, the proof should be who dominated the game, league, etc., more than anyone during the time that they played. There is only one answer and that is Jimmy Brown. If you had ever seen him play, you would be convinced. He was bigger, faster, stronger than any linebackers in the league. He describes his talent as "strength, power, speed, vision and balance". He is the best football player that ever lived.

Mike Sando: I do not dispute what you are saying. I offered the case for Rice while acknowledging that statistics are not everything. The basic conclusion was that it's tough to make a case against Rice.

Thoughts, observations on 49ers offense

November, 11, 2009
11/11/09
8:35
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Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Thoughts and observations after taking a closer look at the 49ers' offense during a 34-27 defeat to the Titans in Week 9 (full personnel report available for download here):
  • The 49ers struck deep to tight end Vernon Davis on one of two plays Sunday when they showed I-formation from base personnel. The formation and personnel suggested a likely running play. The 49ers threw deep instead. It worked.
  • What if their formation and personnel suggested a passing play, only to have the 49ers run the ball instead? The 49ers accomplish this with second tight end Delanie Walker, who has good receiving skills. But ...
  • The 49ers have not developed a three-receiver offense outside 2-minute situations or third down. They have dropped back to pass 123 times in 134 plays with more than two wide receivers on the field, usually in obvious passing situations.
  • Why not sprinkle in a few more three-receiver groupings on early downs and outside the 2-minute offense? Rookie first-round choice Michael Crabtree has generally played well. Josh Morgan projects as a potential No. 2 receiver. Jason Hill's sudden emergence against the Titans suggests he might be ready for the No. 3 role. The issue is whether the third wide receiver offers enough value to justify removing Walker from the field.

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Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Aaron Weinberg of Seahawk Addicts says recent history is against Matt Hasselbeck staying healthy enough to produce at age 34. I looked from 1983 through 2008 for quarterbacks 34 and older who started at least 10 games and finished with passer ratings of 90 or higher. Randall Cunningham, Steve Young, Vinny Testaverde, Rich Gannon, Joe Theismann, Warren Moon, Steve DeBerg, Brett Favre, Trent Green, Jeff Garcia, Steve Beuerlein, John Elway, Brad Johnson, Phil Simms, Dan Marino and Kurt Warner combined to do it 25 times in 26 seasons. Can Hasselbeck join the list?

Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press checks in with former Seahawks linebacker Julian Peterson. Peterson: "Football is an adverse sport anyway. But coming from 0-16, a lot of people in the sports world, analysts, have written us down as the 32nd team already, knowing that anything can change, subject to change, injuries can happen, anything. But we're not looking upon that and try to say, 'Oh, we're going to be the same old Lions from last year.' It's a whole new year. We've got a whole new coaching staff, whole new players, a whole new mentality. So this is going to be great for all of us."

Gary Plummer of the 49ers' radio team breaks down a Rams-Seahawks play from last season illustrating the experience that helped Walt Harris make an interception. He also points out areas where Rams receiver Donnie Avery could stand to improve.

Kevin Lynch of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers' scouts think fifth-round linebacker Scott McKillop could be a steal. They'll have a much better idea two weeks into training camp.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says rookie draft choices Glen Coffee and Nate Davis are close to signing contracts. Once they sign, first-rounder Michael Crabtree will become the 49ers' only unsigned draft choice.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee expects the 49ers to sit out the supplemental draft Thursday.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says rookies Cody Brown and Will Davis, making the switch from college defensive ends to NFL outside linebackers, aren't the first Cardinals players to change positions. Antrel Rolle did it entering last season. Roy Green and Fred Wakefield also made successful transitions.

Revenge of the Birds' Hawkwind thinks Pat Ross is the favorite by default to back up Lyle Sendlein at center for the Cardinals this season. Seems to me the Cardinals should be looking to upgrade their depth at that position.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' contract negotiator would be "shocked" if any of the team's rookies failed to sign in time for training camp. Kevin Demoff also left open the possibility of a deal for safety Oshiomogho Atogwe before the July 15 deadline for franchise players to sign long-term deals. Demoff: "We've been talking with O.J. since January. We value O.J. as a player, and we understand where the market is. ... We're not there on a long-term deal yet, but we could be there by Wednesday."

VanRam of Turf Show Times expresses excitement upon reading Football Outsiders' forecast for the Rams. Not that Rams fans should schedule vacation time for Super Bowl week -- yet.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Jeff Chadiha's piece on the smartest and dumbest NFL moves this offseason ranked Kurt Warner's re-signing with Arizona among the most enlightened.

  Warner

No question, the Cardinals had to bring back Warner. Warner's mostly sensational 2008 season commanded a deal that makes him the starter for 2009 and probably 2010. The question I have is whether the Cardinals can realistically expect Warner to continue performing at a similar level at age 38 and 39.

I flash back to early 2006 when the Seahawks felt compelled to reward Shaun Alexander for his MVP season. Letting Alexander walk after that season would have been politically inconceivable, but such a move would have been prescient.

Like Alexander, Warner is nearing the end of the expected shelf life for players at his position. Unlike Alexander, Warner has quite a few ascending young players around him on offense. That should help him. Also, my perception is that quarterbacks generally do not fall off as quickly as running backs once they hit a certain age.

A few quarterbacks over the past 25 or so years have exceeded 3,000 yards passing past age 37. Warren Moon, Brett Favre, Vinny Testaverde, Doug Flutie, Joe Montana and Phil Simms did it. Several others managed the feat at age 37 -- Rich Gannon, Steve Young, John Elway, Dave Krieg, Dan Marino -- for the final time.

I'm reasonably sure Warner can put up impressive numbers for at least one more season. And if I were the Cardinals, I would rather take my chances with Warner than with any of the other options that were available to them. But to assume Warner will remain atop his game for another year or two? Perhaps we shouldn't go quite that far.

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