Chat with Mike Sando
Welcome to SportsNation! On Thursday, we'll have ESPN.com NFC West blogger Mike Sando stopping by to talk about the latest NFL happenings.
Sando joined ESPN.com in 2007 after nine seasons covering the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma (Wash.) News Tribune. He previously covered Washington State University football and basketball for the Spokane (Wash.) Spokesman-Review. Mike grew up in Northern California before attending Whitworth College, graduating in 1992 with a B.A. in political studies. He lives in the Seattle-Tacoma area with his wife and their two sons.
Send your questions now and join Sando on Thursday at 1 p.m. ET!
Hi Mike, how do you see the 49ers farring this weekend without Clements and Staley in the lineup, will Singletary rally the troops to pull out a very winnable game against Tennesee?
Mike Sando (1:02 PM)
No outcome would surprise me here. The Titans have been horrible in some games, so they could get blown out. But they did have a bye week to regroup, they did play better last week and they do have good players on that team. Also, the QB change could be giving them a spark. This is a game the 49ers should win, but one they could lose. I think the three-game losing streak helps them a little bit. They should have urgency for sure.
Bill (St. Paul)
Mike, the all important question for the 49ers is what kind of faith do they have in Alex Smith for next year or do they use their 2 1st round picks in an effort to land someone like Jimmy Clauson
Mike Sando (1:03 PM)
Alex Smith is the favorite to open the 2010 season starting quarterback. Even just maintaining his current level of play might be enough. He looks pretty good and I think his development could buy the team options in the draft and spare them from making another early mistake on a QB.
John Quarando (Saint Louis,MO)
Have Coach Spags and GM Billy Devaney left any impressions on you so far this early in the rams careers?
Mike Sando (1:07 PM)
Steve Spagnuolo has impressed me tremendously. That might sound strange given his record to start the season, but Spagnuolo is very consistent in his message, he is not self-serving when things are going wrong, he appears to be unflappable and his defensive schemes are very good -- all things you want to see from a head coach taking over a difficult situation. Billy Devaney will be measured by the players he acquires, plain and simple. It's a little early to make judgments there.
Mitch (Austin, TX)
Hey Sando, big Seahawks fan here. It seems as if some players on the Seahawks are starting to point fingers saying that not everyone is giving 100% or that they're not playing with confidence. But at the same time, these are the same players that are not finishing routes, not blocking defenders through the entire play, and can be seen standing with their hands on their hips before a play has even finished. Who's to blame for this? Is this a sign of poor morale, bad coaching, or just a lack of discipline?
Mike Sando (1:10 PM)
It's a sign of losing. Unlike the Rams, who are admittedly starting over, the Seahawks saw themselves as legitimate contenders heading into the season. It's a big letdown to find out otherwise. I have not seen overt finger pointing. We're all free to make what we want of the T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Deion Branch stuff. Neither was a huge deal to me. Both might qualify as bad form, but I would not take either to necessarily mean things are out of control.
Dan (Tucson, AZ)
What the heck happened to the Cards' run defense last week and how do you see them rebounding against the Bears this weekend?
Mike Sando (1:11 PM)
The Cardinals appeared out of position. Doug Farrar of Football Outsiders put together a piece looking into a couple of those defensive breakdowns. I would expect more from Arizona's defense this week. The Cardinals seem to play better when backed into a corner.
Keith (Phoenix, AZ)
Mike, with the struggles the Cards have had throwing the ball, I still contend, like I did in last week's chat, they need to run the ball more with Beanie. Using the pass to open up the run, or just passing all the time, isn't working in any regard... maybe they should move to using the run to open up their passing game. Seeing what Beanie can do makes me think at this point they could become a solid rushing team, which will open up their long pass plays (via play action, etc.).
Mike Sando (1:13 PM)
Yes, they do need to run the ball more to open up the passing game. Steve Breaston and others said so after the game Sunday. It's tougher to run the ball when the score is 28-7, though. I think that was the main issue relating to the ground game.
Marco (Nuevo Mejico)
Still picking the Cards to win the West? 49ers have played the Vikes and Colts pretty hard. Granted, they lost both, but 'A' for effort?
Mike Sando (1:16 PM)
Yes, definitely an "A" for effort. Alex Smith's improved play, coupled with Michael Crabtree's faster-than-expected development, could enhance the 49ers' chances to win the NFC West. I thought San Francisco probably lacked the offensive firepower to ultimately win the division. I would still give the Cardinals an edge, but the 49ers offensive capabilities have changed since I made predictions. I think they have a better chance now.
Mike, you said LT and QB are two positions the Hawks will look at drafting with their two first round picks, but with Walter Jones and Matt Hasselbeck coming back, even though both will get hurt, would the Hawks take two first rounders to start on the bench?
Mike Sando (1:18 PM)
The offensive lineman would probably be good enough to start somewhere else on the line if Walter Jones did beat the odds and return at a high level. Any quarterback drafted would sit behind Matt Hasselbeck for as long as Hasselbeck remained a top-flight quarterback. That would actually be preferable to throwing the young quarterback onto the field too soon.
Do you see the 49ers going to the spread more since Alex Smith looks great when he runs it. They seem to have the offensive weapons to use it more.
Mike Sando (1:21 PM)
Yes, the 49ers will probably incorporate more of these formations -- perhaps not right away, but as the season progresses and depending on the opponent and situation. They are not going to entirely abandon their identity or even significantly alter it. But their personnel does give them some options. They can use Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis, Delanie Walker and one other wide receiver to give some spread looks while still having good enough blockers on the field to run the ball. Ideally, Davis' versatility would allow them to leave the fullback on the field and still force teams to play the pass.
Mike, after last week's start, what do you think of Alex Smith (especially considering the patchwork offensive line)?
Mike Sando (1:23 PM)
The more I see from Alex Smith, the more I like. There have been zero "cringe" moments in this latest incarnation. There were lots of them before. He is showing good poise. He seems to have better pocket awareness and just better awareness overall. You can obviously see that the game has slowed down for him. He's not struggling to keep his head above water. He has played only six quarters, so let's not overreact, but I do think we've seen enough for 49ers fans to have some optimism.
Hyman (Rochester, NY)
Hey Mike,When does the story for Seattle start to turn into: General manager Tim Ruskell has built this into a defensive team, we hired a defensive minded Head Coach and their defense can't tackle and can't stop anyone. Frankly, you could say that since Ruskell started drafting the defense has gotten worse. It could also be said that both the secondary and defense has continue to slide since Mora arrived. Shouldn't Ruskell be a bit nervous about his job? You can only lean on the Injuries for so long. Their entire starting defense was on the field last week (minus Lofa) and they got picked apart. Where do they go from here?
Mike Sando (1:27 PM)
Ruskell is in the final year of his deal and he does have reason to be a little nervous. That said, replacing a general manager when the head coach is coming off his first season carries risks. It's not something that should be done lightly. To your broader point about the defense, I think you are 100 percent correct. The defense has played great in a few games, generally against bad teams. And the Seahawks can always point to losing Marcus Trufant, Leroy Hill and Lofa Tatupu as legitimate issues. But it's absolutely fair to question whether the Seahawks have made sufficient strides toward becoming a hard-nosed defensive-minded team.
Hey Mike, if the cards lose sunday and the 9ers win, will they be in first place of the NFC West?, If so, by how much? .5 games?
Mike Sando (1:29 PM)
They will be tied for the division lead, with the 49ers enjoying the tiebreaker based on their head-to-head victory. If the teams split the season series, then the team with the best record in division games would prevail.
Cassius (North Dakota)
Mike, I hate talking about the draft already because I'm not ready to throw in the towel on the Seahawks season quite yet. I am curious though, If Hasselbeck finishes the season healthy and if they can find enough value, could you see the Hawks drafting two o-linemen in the first round? Thanks.
Mike Sando (1:32 PM)
Yes, I could see something like that happening. That would depend on what was available at other positions. If there weren't a strong enough QB prospect to justify taking one early, the Seahawks would be wise to look at other areas, including the offensive line. We have seen general manager Tim Ruskell use offseasons to fortify positions where issues became problematic. He brought in veteran safeties a couple years ago to defend the deep ball. He signed a veteran wide receiver and drafted one in the third round to address that problem area. Tackle has been a big problem this season. Look for the team to address it. At some point, though, the Seahawks need to address these things before the problems arise.
Ismael (Omaha, NE)
As you mentioned, lets no overreact on Smith, but if Alex continues to improve and play good as I think he will, do you see the Niners taking an offensive tackle and defensive end in the draft or could they be bold and take two offensive linemen with their first picks?
Mike Sando (1:33 PM)
The 49ers have proven they will take the player they consider to be the best available. The Michael Crabtree pick proved that. The 49ers did not address their biggest needs early in the draft. They went with the best player.
Jason (Greeley, CO)
How do you feel the new coordinators are doing in Arizona? I love what the defense is doing this year under Bill Davis, but I feel the Cardinals miss Todd Haley on offense.
Mike Sando (1:35 PM)
The Cardinals haven't done a great job offensively and we know this because mostly the same players are producing lesser results. It's as though the league has adjusted to the Cardinals. Now, the Cardinals need to adjust back. There is time. I think Arizona is working through some identity issues on offense, too. Some of those might have become issues even if Todd Haley were the coordinator. We should not make the mistake of assuming everything would be Super Bowl-caliber on offense if Haley had stayed. We cannot know that. On defense, yes, Bill Davis does seem to be working toward what Ken Whisenhunt wanted from him. Last week would stand as an exception, of course.
Tanner (Mesa az)
Do you think the cardinals can have a 10 win season still?
Mike Sando (1:36 PM)
They gave one back Sunday. I've put them in the nine-win range, with a chance to get to 10. That still sounds about right to me.
Joe Staley is a big loss. Can Barry Sims get it done for 6 weeks?
Mike Sando (1:37 PM)
I think that would be asking a lot. Sims did what a veteran backup should be able to do Sunday: He got his team through a game after a starter suffered an injury. Sims should be able to hold up for the short term. It's a bit of an upset if he does it for the full season, although this scheme helps him.
Kevin (San Francisco)
Mike, what do you think of Vernon Davis' emergence this year? Who would've thought, around week 8 of last year (whenever Vernon got kicked off the field), that we could be sitting here talking about Smith to Davis being a great TD connection for the future.
Mike Sando (1:39 PM)
It's a terrific story. Davis, coach Mike Singletary and tight ends coach Pete Hoener deserve credit for this turnaround and obvious maturation. Singletary's handling of Davis has proven perfectly suited for Davis. I'm not sure every player is going to respond the way Davis has responded. Chilo Rachal, for example, seems to have regressed, with Singletary's rants not having the desired effect.
How is Shaun Hill handling his new role?
Mike Sando (1:42 PM)
Very well, by all accounts. I saw some really good things on the 49ers' sideline Sunday. Hill was laughing with and encouraging Vernon Davis. Someone in street clothes I took to be Jason Hill was obviously happy for Alex Smith. Joe Staley was consulting with Barry Sims after Sims went into the game. Those are things I look for on a sideline.
Jason (Greeley, CO)
We are around the halfway point of the season. What/who has been the biggest surprise in the division this year?
Mike Sando (1:43 PM)
Possibly Michael Crabtree. He stayed away longer than I expected and then was prepared to contribute right away once he did return -- a surprise.
Assuming the Rams continue on this record and have a top 5 draft spot, what position do you think they draft? Should they get Bradford or another QB or defense?
Mike Sando (1:44 PM)
They should consider a quarterback. They should consider a receiver. They should consider a defensive lineman even though the organization has taken a few of them early in recent seasons.
Why will the Niners not spread the field the entire game? They have not shown any consistency in the run game.
Mike Sando (1:45 PM)
It's not in their DNA, apparently. This team's whole identity is built around wanting to pound people.
Mike, do you think Kurt Warner's struggles this year are primarily because of poor offensive line play or do you think there is something else at work, such as injuries or age? What is the solution for the Cardinals passing offense?
Mike Sando (1:47 PM)
Trent Dilfer and I broke down some of the issues on the blog Wednesday.
Brandon (Bellevue, WA)
I just wanted to give some respect for the integrity you have shown in responding to people's complaints, specifically in the MVP watching, concerning your choices in ranking teams/players. I find it humorous that a lot of them accuse you of bias but inevitably do so when you haven't ranked the team/player that they bleed for high enough. I suppose irony is lost on most fans. I have read your stuff for years now and I admire how you don't ignore dissent but rather address it in a very respectful and professional way even though I am sure it is hard to keep from pointing out some people's idiocy.
Mike Sando (1:50 PM)
Thanks, Brandon. I welcome criticism of all kinds. Valid criticism helps me improve. Off-base criticism lets me better explain myself.
Brandon (Bellevue, WA)
Steven Jackson is a beast but it took him until week 8 to get a TD. That is largely because of the teams lack of getting into the Red Zone. Will the Rams give Jackson more chances to score as the season progresses or do you think that he will just get monster yardage but only 3-5 TDs?
Mike Sando (1:52 PM)
Steven Jackson did lose a fumble inside the 5 against Minnesota, so it's not all on the team. The Rams are moving the ball decently some of the time. They have had far too many turnovers in the red zone. Becoming more efficient in the red zone is a primary point of emphasis during the bye week. Steve Spagnuolo said so this week. I could see Jackson scoring 5-6 touchdowns from here on out.
Matt (Palm Beach, FL)
With Clements possibly done for the season do you see the 49ers keeping him on the roster for next season and possibly moving him to safety?
Mike Sando (1:53 PM)
The 49ers do not see Nate Clements as a safety. The injury might come at a good time for him. Clearly something wasn't right with him in recent weeks. I doubt he suddenly forgot how to play. Let's see if he uses the down time to regroup and comes back strong late this season or next season. As I recall, his contract isn't a huge issue until after the 2010 season. The team can use the remaining weeks to evaluate the talent at corner beyond Clements. And if that talent is good enough, the team could make a decision on Clements next season.
What is your opinion of the Zona oline, they were getting blown up by Peppers left and right.
Mike Sando (1:56 PM)
Charles Johnson also gave the Cardinals problems. I think the Cardinals' offensive line is just OK and not ideally suited for the style Arizona is playing.
Dan Doelling (St. Louis)
The St. Louis media had backed Bulger for two years now, while the home town fans have gone in the reverse direction. The media has finally snapped into an awakening and said it is time for a change. Fans and now media believe that Null should get some 4th quarter time, otherwise he could be considered a wasted pick especially if we go for a QB next year. What is your look to the Rams current starting QB position- Bulger or Null, or a Bulger/Null mix, etc.?
Mike Sando (2:00 PM)
Keith Null? Really? Look, I'm all for taking a look at the future, but if the Rams start playing scout-team-level players in key roles, how in the world can Steve Spagnuolo expect the veterans to toe the line the way they have done so far? Remember, Spagnuolo needs Steven Jackson and Leonard Little and James Hall and the other veterans to help him establish a standard for how the Rams practice, play and conduct themselves overall. It's hard enough to expect those players to go along with what is already obviously a rebuild project. Once you start putting in players who would likely prevent the team from winning, good luck. I say it's too early to start thinking that way with Null unless the game is practically over. There's no way Null is going to be the starter next year anyway.
Sean L. (Tacoma/Fife, WA)
Sando-With things falling apart in Seattle, I'm worried about that Mora is only making things worse for the future. I questioned Ruskell's decision to name him head coach from the beginning, but halfway through the season Mora is looking like a disaster. The on-field performance speaks for itself, but his demeanor with the media drives me nuts. Calling out Mare, then taking it back. And most recently putting everyone on notice to be fired. Obviously, he's not cutting any starters, so that's essentially an empty threat. Is all this fip-flopping going to effect free agents wanting to play for Seattle? And the bigger question, shouldn't have Seattle looked at a big name coach(cowher,gruden, billick) to entice FA's rather then going with a coach whose only HC job he lost for his poor PR skills?
Mike Sando (2:03 PM)
I see no effect on potential free agents. Mora can charm them with his charisma in the offseason, and money talks, anyway. The other questions -- about Mora's demeanor and whether he has answers -- are valid ones. Mora has to prove he can handle that aspect of the job. Threatening the team heading into a game against Detroit accomplishes ... what? At the same time, sitting back and letting things fall apart doesn't work, either. Mora is in a tough spot because his team isn't very good (or isn't playing well).
Robbie (Seattle, WA)
Hey Mike, I asked you last week about Louis Rankin taking over for Edgerrin James. Now that he has, how do you see him doing on kick returns? And possibly a couple series a game?
Mike Sando (2:05 PM)
I have never seen him play when it counts and I know little about him. I do think the special-teams angle came into play. Edgerrin James wasn't helping in that area and wasn't giving the team a lot as a runner. It's probably an upset if Rankin makes lasting contributions.
Mike Sando (2:05 PM)
Thanks for dropping by the chat. See you on the NFC West blog.