NFC West: Steve Scarnecchia

Mailbag: Perspective on video scandal

November, 28, 2010
11/28/10
8:00
AM ET
Ed from Watertown, N.Y., thought my previous item about the Denver Broncos videotape scandal treated the New England Patriots unfairly.

Mike Sando: To review, the Broncos fired former Patriots video staffer Steve Scarnecchia for taping the San Francisco 49ers' walk-through before the recent Broncos-49ers game in London. Scarnecchia worked for the Patriots in the early 2000s. The Boston Herald reported and then retracted its 2008 story claiming the Patriots had filmed the St. Louis Rams' walk-through practice before New England defeated the Rams in the Super Bowl following the 2001 season. Suspicions lingered, fairly or not.

My feeling is pretty straightforward. The admission from Scarnecchia lends some credence to past allegations/suspicions regarding the Patriots taping the Rams' walk-through practice, whether or not those allegations or suspicions were merited. At the very least, these latest developments regarding the Broncos make it easier to envision the Patriots acting similarly when Scarnecchia worked for them. For the first time, we have confirmation that a person employed by the Patriots during the Spygate era videotaped an opposing team's practice in violation of league rules (while with another team).

I also said the Rams, like the 49ers, have a right to feel cheated (even though the 49ers protected themselves by running fake plays during their walk-through). How the Rams or 49ers feel stands independent from what can be proven. It just looks bad in the wake of Spygate when a former Patriots video staffer gets fired for taping a walk-through practice for another franchise years later.

That doesn't prove the Patriots filmed any walk-through practices. Nor should it necessarily diminish what they've accomplished. I'm not interested in rehashing that side of the discussion. The Patriots have a successful organization either way. They have a terrific team. I've got them ranked second on my power rankings ballot, with Tom Brady as my favorite in the weekly MVP Watch.

The league did hand down harsh punishment against New England for filming opposing coaches' signals. The nature of this latest incident involving the Patriots' former employee -- specifically, the fact that it involved taping a walk-through session -- revives suspicions in my mind. I think that is fair.


Brett from Laveen, Ariz., writes: Mike, how do you feel about the job Billy Davis is doing as the Cardinals' defensive coordinator. I personally feel like the play-calling is uninspired and the players are tuning out whatever he has to say. How else do you explain the sloppiness that has plagued them all season? I understand that the linebackers are a weak spot, but come on, I expected a lot better out of this defense. Also, if they did fire him, do you think a Wade Phillips or even a Mike Singletary would be a possibility?

Mike Sando: No on Singletary. He has never been a coordinator. He has no ties to Whisenhunt. He has a better job and might not become available for months or longer.

I would not expect the Cardinals to make a change during the season unless the defense worsens considerably or spirals out of control. That is not happening right now. The defense is allowing too many big plays. Sometimes it appears as though players lack confidence. That's going to happen when a team struggles.

Davis is ultimately responsible for how the defense plays. Coach Ken Whisenhunt fired Davis' predecessor, Clancy Pendergast, after the Cardinals ranked 28th in points allowed per game (26.6) during the 2008 season. The Cardinals are allowing 29.2 points per game through Week 11. Thanks ranks last in the league.

From a coordination standpoint, sometimes it appears as though Adrian Wilson isn't being put in position to do what he does best -- blow up offenses with well-timed blitzes and all-around disruptive play near the line of scrimmage.

My biggest complaint about this defense is its failure to finish. That was a problem in the playoffs last season (albeit amid injuries) and in the Super Bowl two seasons ago (before Davis was coordinator). That has been the problem lately. Arizona has allowed 34 points in its last three fourth quarters (and another 34 points in its last three second quarters). More help from the offense would take off some pressure.

This team has been accustomed to getting more points from its offense. Having more points on the board allows a defense some leeway to play more aggressively. Arizona's sacks per pass attempt are down from 7.25 percent last season to 5.63 percent this season. The team hasn't been in position to rush the passer as much because its offense isn't scoring enough points. The margin for error is pretty slim right now and the Cardinals' defense isn't holding up its end consistently.

I think personnel is an issue, too.

I'm not seeing dominant play from any single player on the defense. Some of the young talent has fallen off, too. Cody Brown should be emerging as a pass-rush threat, but the 2009 second-rounder isn't even on the team. The Cardinals cut him after a serious wrist injury ruined Brown's rookie season. Another recent second-round choice, defensive end Calais Campbell, has not built upon a strong 2009 season.


Mark from Littleton, Colo., writes: What would you think of Jeff Fisher as a 49ers candidate if he leaves the Titans with his coaching staff? One of your colleagues suggested that the owner down there will have to choose between Vince Young and Fisher. He also suggested that if Fisher leaves many of his staff would go, too.

Mike Sando: I'm more inclined to favor an offensive-minded head coach for the 49ers after what the team has gone through recently. The team does need a credible head coach, however. I would rather have a credible defensive-minded head coach such as Fisher than a riskier candidate with an offensive background.

The 49ers need their next head coach to handle the quarterback situation effectively. Has Fisher done that with the Titans? Young's issues insulate Fisher from criticism to a degree.


Brandon from Seattle writes: Let's say Matt Hasselbeck is the quarterback of the Cardinals instead of the Seahawks this season. Every roster is otherwise exactly the same. Are the Cardinals in first place? Are the Seahawks?

Mike Sando: That's a fun one. Derek Anderson took a pounding early this season. I'm not sure Hasselbeck would have held up as well physically.

Max Hall might have gotten a chance to play under that scenario. Hasselbeck would presumably be back in the lineup by now and possibly hitting stride. Arizona likely would have split with Seattle and possibly defeated Tampa Bay. Arizona would realistically be 5-5 with Hasselbeck under center. Minus Hasselbeck, Seattle probably would have lost the Chicago game and the second game against Arizona without picking up additional victories.

The more I think it through, the more I think the Cardinals probably would sit alone atop the NFC West if Hasselbeck had been their quarterback (with Charlie Whitehurst at quarterback for Seattle).

49ers, Rams have right to feel cheated

November, 27, 2010
11/27/10
5:29
PM ET
So, the San Francisco 49ers were unwitting victims of a Spygate-style taping scheme before their recent London game against the Denver Broncos.

My thoughts:
  • Steve Scarnecchia, the person responsible for the illicit taping earlier this month, worked for New England when the Patriots allegedly taped St. Louis Rams practices before Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002. As a result, I'm more comfortable removing the word "allegedly" from the previous sentence. The Patriots employed cheaters. Scarnecchia's father, Dante, still works for the Patriots.
  • The fact that a former Patriots employee would confess to spearheading similar efforts for the Broncos even after the massive Spygate fallout reveals a level of arrogance bordering on unfathomable. The NCAA phrase "lack of institutional control" comes to mind. Why would the Broncos hire Steve Scarnecchia in the first place if another Spygate-style scandal were even remotely possible?
  • Josh McDaniels' run as Broncos coach was already unfortunate on numerous fronts even though Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall weren't blameless in their handling of events leading to their departures. I mean, what would the team's McDaniels-led leadership do differently if their primary job were to embarrass team owner Pat Bowlen? This videotaping fiasco leaves Bowlen with even more egg on his face.
  • I realize NFC West teams can be intimidating -- wink, wink -- but what's so special about their walk-through practices? I'm sure a sharp coach could pick up some helpful information, but at what cost? Again, the level of arrogance astounds.
  • McDaniels said he never watched the illicitly taped walk-through practice. We should not automatically trust him. The 49ers won the game, so the competitive-advantage angle isn't relevant. The Broncos are fortunate on that front. Any concerns the Rams might have had stemming from Spygate seem more credible following this repeat performance.

Niners coach Mike Singletary declined to discuss the incident when speaking with reporters following practice Saturday. He said he learned of the situation only Saturday and had not yet heard from McDaniels. The team issued a statement declining comment.

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