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 (1:00 PM)
Good to be here. We'll get rolling here soon.
Mike, what are your thoughts on the 49ers essentially not playing and sometimes not even suiting Lamichael James and AJ Jenkins? Not many teams in the NFL giving their 1st and 2nd round picks this type of treatment. Any insight into the decisions there?
Mike Sando (1:03 PM)
Yeah, I see no trouble with it. Strong roster. Fewer openings for playing time. Picked later in the draft order than most teams. This coaching staff has shown an ability and even an eagerness to mix up personnel and get creative. They obviously want to win. They're in position to bring along these draft choices without on-the-job training. I'd like to see them work in a few of the picks as the season progresses. But there's no need to force anything, either.
Sando, seems like there have been some good performances out of the QBs in the NFCW so far, but I still get the feeling most of the QBs are about as stable as a house of cards. How would you rank the stability at the position (as far as play) for the division?
Mike Sando (1:06 PM)
The situation in St. Louis is stable. Sam Bradford is making progress. The situation in Arizona is a little more fluid. We've seen some good things from Kevin Kolb, but not enough to just disregard some of the negative things we've seen -- including that fourth-quarter pick Sunday. So that situation needs some time to play out. The situation in San Francisco is pretty stable. We've seen what Alex Smith can do, and we've seen the team win games -- big games -- with him as the quarterback. We don't know what it all means for the future. And then in Seattle, there are two options. The Seahawks are in the very early stages of developing Russell Wilson, with mixed results.
Are the Cardinals better than the 49ers?
Mike Sando (1:08 PM)
Over the course of a 16-schedule, I don't think they are as good. But they have shown they can beat the 49ers. They can win close games. And their defense has closed the gap to the point that Arizona isn't miles behind.
Matt (BAY AREA)
William Gay is obviously a liability in man coverage. Fleming has flashed great plays, aggressively driving at the ball playing from both the corner and slot. With Toler looking more and more like himself do you think Gay is this years AJ Jefferson?
Mike Sando (1:10 PM)
We didn't see teams challenge William Gay to the degree Miami challenged him. That was sort of a wake-up call. I'd say Gay is a stopgap for the Cardinals this year. The team has some other options. Over time, teams will stay away from Patrick Peterson, probably. I'm interested in seeing how the Cardinals defend Danny Amendola. That is a potentially tough matchup. Davone Bess had his way from the slot.
Mike, great blog, you make it really easy to keep up on my team even though I am an out-of-area fan.What are your thoughts about the Seahawks' struggles with pass defense? We have some great corners but we keep getting burned by long passes, especially on 3rd downs.
Mike Sando (1:12 PM)
Thanks. I'm going to break out something on this later in the day. Rick Venturi does analysis for 101ESPN St. Louis. He thought two things: Seattle played way too much zone coverage; and Danny Amendola was a big problem for Marcus Trufant (Seattle used Earl Thomas against Amendola and that did not work either). The Rams owned the middle of the field Sunday. I think Seattle has a very good secondary, but needs more from its outside pass rushers on the road.
B (Glendale, AZ)
Sando, after facing four of the top 11 rushing defenses in the league, what can we expect from the Cardinal's running game tonight against the Rams? Thanks.
Mike Sando (1:16 PM)
Those rushing defenses rank so high in part because they've played the Cardinals. That is a small part of the equation to consider. Arizona does not get much push. Take away Beanie Wells and things change. No LaRod Stephens-Howling last week. Ryan Williams not ready for the no-huddle package. Those things are going to affect the rushing stats. I think the Cardinals will have their best rushing game of the season. They should be able to run at Robert Quinn.
erockez (Santa Clara)
I hear (from and inside source) Brandon Jacobs is healthy and really his playing time is up to the coaches. Is he going to fall victim to too many players and not enough room? What is his value? Really in preseason before he got hurt he was running well!
Mike Sando (1:19 PM)
I think the 49ers would say publicly that Jacobs is healthy and his playing time is up to the coaches. His carries will definitely be limited based on the depth San Francisco has at the position and what each of the backs offers from a special-teams standpoint (not much from Jacobs in that area). Note this: The 49ers have rushed Frank Gore only on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 this season. Gore has five carries for four yards with one touchdown and two first downs. Two first downs on five carries is not great.
Kris G (Indy)
Hi, Mike. I enjoy your MVPWatch posts. However, I consistently notice comments from viewers wanting to read about more than just the QBs. Do you foresee columns by yourself or your colleagues springing up to track DPOY, OPOY, or something as a way to address these requests, or is the MVP perceived as the only thing worth tracking like the Heisman in the NCAA?
Mike Sando (1:20 PM)
That is a good idea. We should have "Watch" lists for those other categories. I agree that it's too bad QBs dominate it, but they also win the award a bunch of the time. Thanks for sharing that view.
Jarred (Clovis, CA)
Morning Mike, how has Aldon Smith adjusted to being an every down player? His sack numbers are good so far so it seems fair to say he is rushing the passer well but how is he doing against the run? It can be difficult to assess just by watching the live TV broadcast of a game and I would be interested to hear your take on the subject. Thanx!
Mike Sando (1:23 PM)
The 49ers have played 76 snaps of base defense in four games. Only two teams, Green Bay and Atlanta, have played fewer snaps in a 3-4 or 4-3. The 49ers keep playing teams heavy on three-plus wide receiver usage. Buffalo will be the same this week (Green Bay and Detroit fell into that category previously). Minnesota and the Jets are more conventional offensively. The 49ers fared much better against the Jets. Aldon Smith's strength remains as a rusher from sub packages. Haven't really seen enough of him in the regular situations to have a strong opinion. The 49ers have allowed only 4.2 yards per play from their base defense, though. That is good. Only three teams -- Seattle, Minnesota and Atlanta -- have allowed fewer per play from base.
With how well SEA runs the ball, you'd think our play-action game would be $. Seems as if they only throw on critical downs when the defense knows it's coming. Against Carolina's D this week, do you foresee more pass attempts on early downs in an attempt to get Wilson & the receivers into a bit of a rhythm?
Mike Sando (1:27 PM)
Russell Wilson leads qualified NFL passers in completion percentage off play-action throws (20-25 passing for 225 yards wtih one touchdown and a 117.5 NFL passer rating, according to ESPN Stats & Information). Running the ball well is not always a prerequisite for play-action success. Kevin Kolb went 5-5 for 115 yards and two scores on play-action throws against the Dolphins even though Arizona averaged only 1.9 yards per rushing attempt. Arizona accomplished this, in part, by using heavier personnel groups and run-oriented formations to create the impression a run was coming. Also, it helps playing against gambling defenses. The Rams have been among the worst defenses against play-action, by the way. That is one area to watch Thursday night.
"Ryan Williams not ready for the no-huddle package.">>This isn't true. He was supposed to be in for the no-huddle package but the coaches miscommunicated. He will be in for the no huddle tonight... NE, SEA, PHI and MIA all have solid run defenses...
Mike Sando (1:28 PM)
Well, I was sitting 10 feet from Ken Whisenhunt on Monday when he said Ryan Williams wasn't ready to participate in that package. Here is what Whisenhunt said: "There's no question Ryan is not as big a part of that package, just because of where he is as a player, as a young player, but we were going against a good team, a good run team, one that hasn't been as good against the pass. With where we were trailing by 13, we had to get away from the run a little bit in order to try to make that deficit back up. We had some plays that we thought would work and we hit some big plays on it. It's disappointing that we're not running the ball better, but that's something that we can work on."
Jeff Fisher sure seems to have got the Rams pointed in the right direction but the offense still isn't clicking. Is it the scheme, personnel or just a poor O-line holding them back?Also would Fisher use two 1st round picks next year shoring up the O-line?
Mike Sando (1:31 PM)
Bad offensive line play is the No. 1 thing. I think they are not great at running back with Steven Jackson playing hurt. They have had injuries at center, left guard and left tackle. I could see them drafting a left tackle early and moving Rodger Saffold to guard.
Any chance Petey opens the playbook this week instead of blaming the players for lack of production on third down?
Mike Sando (1:32 PM)
We all saw how Pete Carroll responded to giving up the embarrassing fake field goal for a touchdown. He came right out after halftime and tried an onside kick. It reminded me of the frustrated basketball player giving up a turnover and then sprinting down the court to commit a foul. I've wondered in the back of my mind whether Carroll might decide to showcase Wilson a little more in this game against Carolina. If you're going to throw three picks playing close to the vest, hey, might as well throw it.
Mike, could you comment on the impact the schedule has on perceptions people have about teams. For example, the 'Hawks are 2-2, both division losses, but both on the road. AZ has 3 or 4 at home to start the season, etc.
Mike Sando (1:36 PM)
Yeah, that is what I like about the 49ers being a 3-1 team right now. One home game so far. Won at Green Bay, won an East Coast game against the Jets. They now have three in a row at home. They're going to be at least 5-2 after those three home games, I feel confident saying. 6-1 is the most likely record at that point. An improved division (and a controversial simultaneous catch) is what stands between Seattle and 3-1. The Cardinals look like a 2-2 team that has gone 4-0. That is a credit to them -- their coaching, resilience, amazing defensive play, etc. They are outperforming expectations. Having three of the first four at home has helped that, sure.
Eddie Roche (Wellesley Hills )
I think the Rams re-birth under Fisher highlights the point that having a good HC can mask a multitude of sins. The Rams don't have the most talented team in the league (understatement) but they are maximizing the potential of players (Bradford mainly) that looked lost at times last year under the previous regime. I just think it's crazy how Fisher has injected what was a hapless Rams team last year into a team that is at the least competitive and willing to engage the enemy instead of cowering away like they would last year. Even in 2010 the Rams had games for the taking that for one reason or another they would squander away.
Mike Sando (1:39 PM)
No question about it. As I mentioned to Bernie Miklasz the other day, Fisher could live off $100 a month. He wouldn't even try to pay the cable bill, but he would find a way to eat well and stay in his lease. His team got 19 points and picked off three passes while the other team ran the ball at will and did not allow a touchdown from the Rams offense. That is coaching.
Can Jeff Fisher out coach the Whiz and get this team above .500?
Mike Sando (1:40 PM)
It won't be out-coaching Whisenhunt, in my view. It would be Arizona traveling on a short week to play a hungry team that plays to its strengths.
Pete trusts our Defense so I personally loved the onside kick. They nearly recovered it and the held the Rams to 3 points off a FG most kickers in the NFL couldn't muster.
Mike Sando (1:42 PM)
They did almost recover it. But with the Rams' kicker being money from 60, which we all knew he was, that lost field position represented lost points (regardless of what happened next). What the onside kick represented meant more to me than whether it was executed right, etc.
Mike, follow up on perception/schedule question. Do your stat sources track how teams do "the second time around" within division? Is it a case of home field advantage? Revised strategy against a familiar opponent?
Mike Sando (1:45 PM)
I have looked at that myself. Check out the 49ers' results last season. Beat Seattle 33-17 at home, then 19-17 on road. Beat Giants 27-20 at home, lost to them in rematch 20-17, also at home. Beat Arizona at home 23-7, then lost at Arizona 21-19. Beat Rams 26-0 at home, then beat them on road 34-27. Venue was a big part of the results in rematches, but I thought teams were better prepared for the 49ers a second time around. Now, the 49ers beat the Lions in Detroit last season and in San Francisco this season. I haven't dug much deeper than the game results. It's an interesting angle.
What's your opinion on Darrell Bevell?
Mike Sando (1:47 PM)
I'm picturing Pete Carroll in the driver's seat, Tom Cable riding shotgun and Bevell drinking from a sippy cup while Dora the Explorer plays in the back. OK, that is an extreme example, but let's face it, Carroll sets the tone for how they are playing offense, and Cable outranks Bevell on the flow chart, too.
Who wins tonight?
Mike Sando (1:48 PM)
Do not know. Thinking Rams have a good shot at home, will probably pick them.
I blame the election year on the Flynn vs Wilson debate
Mike Sando (1:52 PM)
True story: I was on a flight to Arizona for the opener and happened to be seated next to an older lady. She seemed nice and exceptionally sharp. Really on it. Anyway, I was busy working and didn't engage her in much conversation. We get off the plane and there's security detail waiting for her. A guy I knew on the plane pulls me aside and asks if I knew who that lady was. It was Sandra Day O'Connor, the first female U.S. Supreme Court justice. I shared this on Facebook and someone asked whether I asked her about Kolb v. Skelton. I thought that was hilarious. Really regretted not engaging Her Honor on that flight. What an opportunity missed. It just never entered my mind to speak with her (I'm kind of a stay-to-yourself guy on planes).
Penner (Everett, WA)
Does Seattle lead the league in False Start and Delay of Game penatlies? I feel that is a huge factor in putting Wilson in those bad passing situations
Mike Sando (1:54 PM)
Seattle leads the NFL in accepted and declined penalties overall with 42. Seahawks rank second in false starts with 10 (Dallas has 12). Seahawks do lead the NFL in penalties for delay with four. No other team has more than two.
Brandon (Pullman, WA)
Do you think this whole system where Cable is in charge of the run game and Bevell is in charge of the pass game is a good long term solution for our offense?
Mike Sando (1:57 PM)
Think I'd rather have one guy leading an offense. Now, it's easy to overreact after a tough game. But sure, I wonder about a team with a defensive-minded head coach developing young quarterbacks. Just hard to evaluate what kind of job the offensive staff is likely to do. There is no Jim Harbaugh or Mike Holmgren type to make you give them the benefit of the doubt. Just gotta see.
How much of the (relatively) poor play of the Cardinals defense Sunday would you attribute to Dockett being out? I wouldn't go so far as to call him a Justin Smith type player, but the defense definitely seemed different. Was that more Miami perhaps? Thanks Sando.
Mike Sando (1:58 PM)
I'd give Ryan Tannehill a lot of credit. That said, the Cardinals were really close to picking off a couple more passes, and those plays -- which easily could have gone Arizona's way -- would have changed the defensive tenor dramatically. I'd say they missed Dockett, but it's tough to know what difference one defensive lineman is going to make.
Drew Bledsoe (Washington )
As a pacific northwest guy Sando, can you just admit that I am the greatest QB to ever come out of that state?
Mike Sando (2:00 PM)
John Elway was born in Washington state. Had a pretty good career.
Mike Sando (2:00 PM)
Have a great day. Thanks for dropping by the NFC West chat.