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 (1:01 PM)
Hello. Good morning from the West Coast.
Chris (Calabasas, California)
Will Delanie Walker dress for this game and, if so, would he be used? ALSO: Is Kyle Williams going to be gun-shy about making plays after the concussion?
Mike Sando (1:02 PM)
Delanie Walker will not play in this game. I've seen nothing from Williams to make me think he'll be gun shy. This is a playoff game. Guys will go all out, I would think.
Chris (Calabasas, California)
Exactly what, if anything, do we know about Harbaugh's game-plan against New Orleans (offensively or defensively)?
Mike Sando (1:05 PM)
We know the running game will be well conceived. The 49ers do more within their run game than other teams. People familiar with his offense told me this before the season. Pete Carroll brought it up independently following the Seahawks' game against the 49ers in Week 16. We should expect misdirection wrinkles in the run game. On defense, the 49ers probably will not blitz a great deal. That has been their tack to this point. I think the Saints will play heavier personnel and try to strike down the field against the 49ers' base defense.
Steve (San Jose)
Hey Mike, how are you feeling about the 49ers for Saturday? Have you spotted Freddy P. Soft in the building?
Mike Sando (1:07 PM)
No signs of FPS. I've been leaning toward picking the 49ers, but did notice Brian Burke's model favoring the Saints pretty decisively. I will make my prediction Friday. I give the 49ers a good shot at home.
James (Moses Lake)
Why is there so much talk of Matt Flynn going to the Seahawks? John Schnieder has seen Matt Flynn at Green Bay and never once had I heard of him being on the radar until now.
Mike Sando (1:09 PM)
We think alike. That has been my take for some time. People change their opinions based on new information, so it is possible the team will consider him. I just never have heard Flynn's name come up as a viable option for Seattle.
Mike, who do you believe could turn around the Rams, with the right personnel of course, and make them better?
Mike Sando (1:12 PM)
Jeff Fisher and Steve Spagnuolo could. My point is that the personnel must improve for any coach to succeed there. Just about all we learned about the personnel in 2011 was negative. The Rams are close to starting over on their offensive line. They need more top-line talent at receiver. They need a young running back. They need outside linebackers and defensive tackles. They could use cornerbacks, too, now that Ron Bartell and Bradley Fletcher are coming off serious injuries.
gospodin81 (Rochester, MN)
Great job on the blog, Sando! Do you think having Justin Peelle in for Delanie Walker might not be such a bad thing considering how much the Saints blitz? With Peelle blocking, it will open up Davis in the passing game and not have Davis block as much.
Mike Sando (1:15 PM)
I like how you are thinking. With so much attention rightfully on Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham, I think Davis is an "X" factor for the 49ers. He's come on lately in the red zone and down the field. The Saints have had some issues in coverage. I could see Davis having a 100-yard game Saturday.
Could the seahawks daft a quaterback?
Mike Sando (1:18 PM)
In theory, they have to. In reality, they might do so only if they can get one early. They already have their short-term starter in Tarvaris Jackson. They already have a developmental quarterback they like in Josh Portis, unless their feeling on him have changed. With Jackson coming back as no worse than the No. 2, and with Portis in place, the Seahawks do not really have room for another backup quarterback. They need someone with the potential to start relatively quickly, and it's no sure thing they will find one drafting 11th or 12th overall.
Chris Marino (Calabasas)
Do you know/get the impression that the Saints might be looking past San Francisco?
Mike Sando (1:18 PM)
I do not get that feeling at all. They know the 49ers' defense is legitimate.
Chris (Broadview Heights, OH)
Based on what the Browns have in "assets" (two first-round picks and a high second), what do you think it would take for Arizona to discontinue the Kevin Kolb era and ship him to Cleveland? Some talk in the area about it due to the Browns' need at QB and the Heckert connection.
Mike Sando (1:22 PM)
That is a good "talker" but not something I expect to happen. Too many things would have to come about. Tom Heckert, Mike Holmgren and Pat Shurmur would have to like Kolb. Arizona would have to pay a $7 million bonus to Kolb in March just to have him on its roster heading into the draft. The Cardinals would have to feel good about drafting a quarterback early, something they have not done under coach Ken Whisenhunt.
Hey Sando, of all the attention the Saints offense and Niner defense is getting, the 'X' factor in this game might be the saints ( lack there of) defense. Sando, they're not very good on defense. I know they blitz a ton, but Alex is comfortable against the blitz. I see this game actually coming down to the Niner offense and I see no reason whatsoever the Niners can't put up 30 on this very undermanned Saints defense. What's your take?
Mike Sando (1:24 PM)
That is one of the scenarios that has played out in my head, yes. Alex Smith has been very good at home this season. The Saints' defense should be less effective outside the noisy Superdome. I do think the 49ers should score into the 20s without much trouble.
How is the Saints' defense at covering tight ends? Should we be looking for Vernon Davis to create matchup problems for the Saints' defense?
Mike Sando (1:29 PM)
I see opportunities for the 49ers in this area. Davis had some productive games late in the season. He needed time to grasp the offense and has turned a corner in that regard, according to Davis and offensive coordinator Greg Roman. That makes sense. Meanwhile, the Saints' Roman Harper is banged up and could not run with Davis, anyway. I do think this is an area for the 49ers to exploit.
Doug (Los Angeles)
Hey Sando, so what's the deal with Fisher? Why is it taking so long? And if the Rams can't get Fisher, but want an "experienced" HC, why haven't they talked to Billick? He would be a good plan B, wouldn't he?
Mike Sando (1:32 PM)
The time Fisher is taking makes me wonder whether he's excited about either opportunity. But these things can take time. The Rams want the right coach, not just an experienced one. They like Fisher, so his experience counts for a lot. They apparently do not like as much the other candidates with head coaching experience. They will not put experience before the candidate himself.
So, uh, when Dan Marino set the yardage record in '84, he lost to the Niners in the Super Bowl. Just sayin'.
Mike Sando (1:34 PM)
Not bad, not bad. But Marino did beat a current NFC West franchise in the divisional round before reaching the Super Bowl that year. Seattle was in the AFC West back then, though.
Stephen (Palo Alto)
Bill Barnwell said the Saints could force the Niners to use a nickel in their base package. Do you think this will limit Aldon Smith's effectiveness or Willis/Bowman in coverage?
Mike Sando (1:36 PM)
I've also been wondering how the 49ers will get Aldon Smith on the field if the Saints go with fewer than two wide receivers. Will take a look at what Bill has written. Thanks for the heads up.
James (Moses Lake)
How close are the Seahawks to having an elite "D"?
Mike Sando (1:37 PM)
They need another pass-rusher and another linebacker, in my view. Then they would be right there.
Young Jeezy (ATL, shawty stand up)
I'm hearing a lot of people tripping about the Saints blitz packages and the 49ers offensive line. Could you see the Saints mixing things up and playing a lot of coverage with 3 man-rushes to through the 49ers off track? Perhaps making Alexander Smith throw into coverage is the right way to play this. No?
Mike Sando (1:38 PM)
I think the Saints will mix it up and try that. They have to stop the run, though. Also, Smith has done a nice job scrambling to keep alive drives when receivers did not come open.
Bryan (Harrisburg, PA)
Hey, Mike. Why is it taking so long to re-sign Calais Campbell in Arizona???!!!
Mike Sando (1:39 PM)
We're two months away from free agency, so Campbell has nowhere to go for a while. The Cardinals know they can use the franchise tag. Campbell is not going anywhere.
Usually on the NFCS chat. Saints fans have long memories of the NFC West games with the 49ers. This game is set up in reverse. 49ers now have the vaunted defense and Saints have a surgical QB with tons of weapons. Can only hope offense rules in this meeting as well.
Mike Sando (1:42 PM)
I remember those days well. The 49ers had some pretty good defenses as well, though. They had Hall of Fame players on that side of the ball. The Saints are much more of a prolific passing team than the 49ers were back then. Times have changed. Joe Montana never passed for 4,000 yards. He never had more than 31 TD passes in a season. He attempted more than 500 passes just twice in a season. The game has changed.
Given the scrutiny and criticism that Alex Smith has come under this year what can you see as the outcome for him, in relation to his position in the team for next season, if he under-performs in this game?
Mike Sando (1:45 PM)
I believe the 49ers will re-sign Smith either way and go into next season with him as their starter. But we should not mistake Jim Harbaugh's support for Smith as unconditional. It is conditional support, and the team will try to upgrade the position. I do think Harbaugh feels as though he can win with Smith, though. He's 13-3 with him, after all.
Bert (St. Paul, MN)
Is Marshawn Lynch dumb enough to leave the ideal situation that he is currently in?
Mike Sando (1:47 PM)
Are the Seahawks dumb enough to let him get away? Lynch and the Seahawks are good for one another. Both sides should realize that and work out a deal. I see Lynch returning even if the team has to franchise him. He gives the Seahawks an identity. I do have questions about his ability to hold up physically in light of how he runs, but durability is a concern for every back (Adrian Peterson comes to mind). Seattle should not feel bad about committing money to Lynch on a long-term deal. He proved his worth and is 25 years old with moderate wear and tear.
Chris Marino (Calabasas, California)
Sando: Do you think Frank Gore will get used much in the short (or long) passing game on Saturday? Also, will the 49ers ever use screens (or moreso than they have) to ward off blitzes and keep a defense honest?
Mike Sando (1:49 PM)
Ted Robinson and I had this discussion on KNBR last night. Frank Gore has seven dropped passes this season. His drops have been puzzling. Alex Smith has completed 79 percent of his screen passes, which is a middle-of-the-pack figure. Screens take coordinator between the backs and offensive line. It is possible the 49ers haven't had time to refine their screen game while installing a new offense coming out of a lockout. With two weeks to prepare, might we see a screen pass or two Saturday? I tend to think that would be a good idea.
Sando - do you answer questions submitted before 10AM? I sent one asking about players the Seahwaks might trade and just want to know if I should be proactive and send in the question early, or wait until after 10 AM. Thanks!
Mike Sando (1:53 PM)
Good question. I turn on the auto-update feature, so some of the earliest questions might slip through. I'll go back to the beginning and check out some earlier ones. The Seahawks have already parted with most of the dead weight on their roster. Some of the players they might consider moving -- Justin Forsett comes to mind -- do not have contracts for the 2012 season. I see some players in limbo. Mike Williams comes to mind. But I do not see meaningful candidates for trade that other teams would covet. No team is going to acquire Marcus Trufant's $7.2 million salary for 2012, for example.
Patrick (Washington DC)
Mike, say the 49ers actually make it all the way to Indianapolis and win the Super Bowl with their stout defense, solid running game and excellent special teams play. Would that actually be bad for the NFL? Would the NFL want to have to highlight this team all offseason in the era of the quaterback and high-flying passing game? I would think NFL headquarters must be rooting against the Niners. What's your take?
Mike Sando (1:56 PM)
I don't think the league would mind having a tradition-rich team win a sixth Super Bowl title, although if you conducted an accurate poll of league officials, I'm sure you'd find quite a few Giants supporters. The league offices are in New York, after all.
Cards played better down the stretch ... good sign or false hope?
Mike Sando (1:59 PM)
It's a good sign, but not proof things will continue on their current trajectory. The 2011 Rams should remind us not to buy into the most convenient narratives. We should expect continued improvement. Fans should demand it. But there are still big questions on offense, and not enough evidence to suggest the quarterback situation is resolved favorably. Getting to 8-8 was great, but doing so without figuring out Kevin Kolb was not so great.
Mike Sando (2:00 PM)
Thanks for dropping by the chat. My pleasure as always. Only two more days til kickoff. Really looking forward to this one.