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!
Mike Sando (1:02 PM)
Good morning/afternoon. Here we go.
Hey Mike, I love the Niners progress this year, but I can't help thinking Alex Smith won't be able to get them into the Super Bowl. Any chance the Niners trade whatever it takes to reunite Luck with Harbaugh next year?
Mike Sando (1:05 PM)
First, let's pause for a moment and consider this: A 49ers fan is now worried about Alex Smith's ability to reach the Super Bowl. We've gone from wondering whether Smith should re-sign with the team to wondering if Smith could beat out Colin Kaepernick to wondering how long before Kaepernick would take the job to wondering if Smith can be a Super Bowl quarterback. I'd say the season is already a success. Jim Harbaugh values quarterbacks, but I do not see the 49ers mortgaging everything for a shot at the top pick. Harbaugh strikes me as the type who thinks he can win without an all-time great behind center.
Michael (Salem, OR)
Do you think that Harbaugh really thinks of Alex Smith as elite or is he just trying to show some confidence in his QB? It seems to me if you really think you have an elite QB that you make him more of an integral part of your offense, elite QB's need to have the ability to put the entire team on their back if they need to and I don't think that Alex has shown that this year although he's come close. Are they just not asking him to do enough because he can't or because he doesn't need to?
Mike Sando (1:08 PM)
Harbaugh knows an elite quarterback when he sees one and there's no way he thinks Alex Smith is elite the way Aaron Rodgers is elite. When Harbaugh spoke of Eli Manning as an elite quarterback, he marveled at things such as arm talent, stature in the pocket, rare physical ability, etc. When he refers to Smith as elite, I think he's talking about Smith's ability to carry out his assignments at high level. Those assignments are not as challenging as the assignments truly elite quarterbacks carry out. We'll know pretty soon what Harbaugh really thinks of Smith. The next contract Smith signs will tell us where he stands compared to quarterbacks earning elite QB money.
What overall rank would you put Sam Bradford this year? He has three touchdowns, three interceptiosn and four fumbles (three returned for touchdowns). He has to be below Colt McCoy, Matt Moore, Curtis Painter, and even Blaine Gabbert.
Mike Sando (1:10 PM)
I'd put Bradford in the bottom five of the league this season even though I think some of the struggles are directly related to: Steven Jackson missing time, the team running out of talent at receiver, a tough schedule, an underachieving offensive line and Bradford getting injured just as the team was finally upgrading with Brandon Lloyd at receiver. I think Bradford needs to demonstrate more than once over the remaining eight games that he can be a difference maker.
J. Beal (Denver, CO)
Hey, Mike - To what extent do you think that the 49ers success in games with early kickoffs this season will hurt the division's case that it really sucks to play football when your body says it's too early?
Mike Sando (1:11 PM)
The 49ers' success in those games CRUSHES the West Coast teams' case for later kickoffs.
Sando, this may sound crazy to you and a lot of other people, but I was arguing for Alex Smith to make the Pro Bowl the other day. He's on pace for 3,000 yards, 20 touchdowns and four picks for a team that should go 12-4 or 13-3. I think Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers are in for sure, but as for the third QB, if he hits those numbers and the rest of the Niners' season goes that way, I don't see how you keep him out. What are your thoughts?
Mike Sando (1:16 PM)
No chance. Matthew Stafford already has 19 touchdowns and four interceptions. Eli Manning has 15 touchdowns and six picks. Cam Newton will command respect for his all-around production. Michael Vick can get into the discussion based on reputation, provided he steps up. The season Smith is putting together reminds me a little bit of the 1990 season Steve DeBerg put together for Kansas City. Those Chiefs teams ran the ball and played tough defense. DeBerg had numbers close to the ones you discussed. I'd have to look at that 1990 Chiefs team more closely, but DeBerg did not go to the Pro Bowl that year.
If the Seahawks somehow end up dropping out of the Top 10 for draft picks next year and most of the elite QBs have been taken, what position do you think they would look to next with their first-round pick?
Mike Sando (1:18 PM)
Pass-rush help would be the top priority beyond quarterback, in my view. The team is set at receiver and has already invested early picks in the offensive line. Running back is a position teams can often address a little later, unless there's a special talent available.
leon (san diego)
How come we don't see more of Leon Washington in the run game? And since the Seahawks probably aren't going to be able to land Andrew Luck, what quarterback do you think we should get?
Mike Sando (1:19 PM)
The Seahawks want a harder-nosed identity in the ground game. They want to pound it with Marshawn Lynch primarily. On the college QBs, I have not studied them.
What steps can the Cardinals take to help their offensive line? Nothing has changed since Kurt Warner has left, just much slower throwing QBs. I don't want to draft on need like we did for Levi Brown. What should the Cards do to fix this problem quickly?
Mike Sando (1:21 PM)
There is no quick fix. The Cardinals haven't drafted young prospects on their offensive line. They have patched with veterans. They have even replaced veterans with veterans. They need to use the draft to upgrade at outside linebacker and offensive tackle.
SFC_12thMan (Seattle, St Louis, San Fransisco, Arizona)
Is it possible to get an article marking the improvements in Seattle's offensive line over the first half of the season? I for one think it's remarkable Robert Gallery is the weakest link after only eight games. These rookies (while not perfect) have been progressing far better and sooner than I ever thought they would. Your thoughts?
Mike Sando (1:23 PM)
James Carpenter has actually regressed some the last couple games, in my view. Even on one of Lynch's big runs over the right side against Dallas, Carpenter whiffed on his block. I'll touch on the line in my five observations piece.
As a Seahawks fan, these 49er fans make me cringe. If Alex Smith wins the Super Bowl this year, will they be saying next year, "I don't think he has what it takes to win multiple rings"? You're 7-1 based on the system you execute to near perfection. If you want more from Smith, you'd be changing the system. Which do 49er fans want?
Mike Sando (1:24 PM)
There's nothing wrong with 7-1, that's for sure. I think it's important to understand how the team is winning and how the quarterback position plays into that, but at a certain point, you're right. Just enjoy the success.
Michael (Boulder, CO)
I'm a huge 49ers fan, but the one thing that actually worries me more than Alex Smith (since Harbaugh seems to have really had a calming and confidence-inspiring effect) is if Gore were to go down for weeks at a time. Is the offensive line/running game solid enough such that Kendall Hunter could fill in and actually succeed?
Mike Sando (1:27 PM)
I'll reserve judgment given that the running game performed pretty well at times without Gore last season.
Gabe (Kettering, OH)
Hey Sando, if Alex Smith continues to play at this level, or even better, for the rest of the season and possibly lead the 49ers to a playoff win, do the 49ers re-sign him? Also, where would Kaepernick fit into all of this?
Mike Sando (1:29 PM)
Yes, they should re-sign him. The terms will be important, obviously. I think they could get something done for decent starter money -- not franchise QB money, but enough to establish him as the starter until the next QB is ready.
Why do people think that all it takes is a little draft capital to get Luck? Can I trade you a billion dollars for your wife? Get over it people...
Mike Sando (1:30 PM)
Would the billion be in cash? Haha.
Brian (Rochester Hills, MI)
Are the 49ers for real? How far could you potentially see them going in the playoffs?
Mike Sando (1:31 PM)
I could see the 49ers going to the NFC Championship Game round and losing at Green Bay. I do not buy outright the notion that the 49ers would need a great QB to win one playoff game.
Travis M (Tucson)
How can the 49ers stop Eli Manning in the passing game this weekend?
Mike Sando (1:34 PM)
They should be able to get some pressure. Manning has done a great job overall and especially when opponents have come after him with five or more pass-rushers. The 49ers have not needed to send additional rushers to get pressure. That gives them a good chance to get after Manning, I think.
James (Moses Lake, WA)
Is Robert Gallery a bust? He isn't playing at the level he was expected to this year.
Mike Sando (1:35 PM)
Overall, yes, you could make that case. He's generally been better since having groin surgery and can still provide value for the investment, which was not a huge investment by free agency standards.
James (Santa Clara, Ca)
Is Michael Crabtree finally coming along? He's looked great ever since the Detroit game.
Mike Sando (1:37 PM)
Crabtree has impressed me all season with his blocking and increasingly with his receiving. The nature of the offense isn't lending itself to huge plays for him. Officials robbed Crabtree of a clutch TD grab at Cincinnati as well.
Matt (Lady Lake, FL)
I know John Clayton was the author of the mid-season report cards, but what grade would you give each NFC West team? What would the 49ers need to do to keep/improve that grade given the high expectations that the first half has set?
Mike Sando (1:45 PM)
I'd give the 49ers an A-plus for functioning so well following staff changes and without minicamps. Sensational job across the board. The Seahawks would get a C grade. They are what we thought they were -- a young, rebuilding team yet to declare its hand at quarterback. The Cardinals get a D-minus grade because they invested so heavily at Kevin Kolb and have not gotten the results. The Rams get an F grade because their defense has been so bad.
Sando, do you think Joyner is off his rocker? Do you think that he has actually watched a 49er game. How much credit do you giv his pretenders rant?
Mike Sando (1:49 PM)
K.C. Joyner watches and breaks down every play from every NFL game every season, and has done so for years. He is very thorough. I think he did not account for the defensive performance against the Lions, and I'd like his thoughts there. I also think the general premise -- that teams need stellar QB play to win in postseason -- is often true but not always true.
Juan Moreno (Houston, TX)
I don't buy into the notion that if and when the 49ers reach the NFC Championship Game they would lose to the Packers. I believe the 7-1 Niners are still a work in progress and have a tremendous upside and by then they would be a heck of a lot better than they are now.
Mike Sando (1:51 PM)
Would you feel better about wagering a month's salary on the 49ers or Packers in that scenario? I'm not asking you to bet. Please do not! But which team would you feel better about backing in that game? Has to be the Packers. Doesn't mean the 49ers could not win. Just means the Packers probably would win.
KoryB55 (Fresno, CA)
Is the progress of Anthony Davis in the last 3-4 games an indication that his potential to be a first-round talent on the offensive line is still intact?
Mike Sando (1:53 PM)
To a degree. The 49ers aren't asking their tackles to hold up in pass protection for extended periods while Alex Smith flings the ball all over the field. The 49ers are playing to Davis' strengths and he has improved in that framework. He has also refined his technique to avoid the tripping calls that hurt him in the Philly game.
Do you see the seahawks finishing the season with more wins or less wins than the first half of the season? I feel like we have a much easier schedule the second half of the season and I could see us putting together a win streak at some point.
Mike Sando (1:54 PM)
The Seahawks are in very good position to finish with more than four total victories this season. After playing Baltimore, they have a four-game stretch against teams with losing records.
Jake (Taghaz, Afghanistan)
Matt Hasselbeck is playing pretty well in Tennessee. Do you think he would have produced those kind of numbers in Seattle this year if we would have kept him, or is it more of a product of his supporting cast in Tennessee?
Mike Sando (1:56 PM)
Hasselbeck would have been more vulnerable to injuries in Seattle because the protection was not good early in the season. I think he would be putting up better numbers than he did last season and better numbers than his replacements are putting up, but he would not be producing the way he is in Tennessee, where the protection has been better. I would counter that only by saying Seattle has better weapons at receiver than Hasselbeck enjoys in Tennessee, so that is a consideration. Overall, I think Seattle would have a chance to win more games if Hasselbeck were the quarterback. But part of me also thinks keeping Hasselbeck for this season would have risked a higher choice in the draft. This team needs its next quarterback. Finding that next quarterback would have been tougher had Hasselbeck stayed.
Can you name three quarterbacks who haven't cost their teams losses this season? I can only think of just Rodgers and Smith? Any others?
Mike Sando (2:00 PM)
Smith threw a killer interception against the Cowboys. That turnover led to a quick Cowboys scoring drive as Dallas tied the game in the third quarter. He had a hand in that defeat even though the defense blew it in the end. Overall, though, Smith hasn't been asked to flat-out win games, and so he hasn't been as susceptible to losing them. The game-winning drive against Detroit works in his favor, though.
Mike Sando (2:00 PM)
Thanks for dropping by the chat. Sorry for focusing so heavily on the Cardinals.