SANTA CLARA – Here’s the transcript of Alex Smith’s Wednesday press conference from the 49ers media tent, courtesy of the 49ers.
What does the Giants secondary try to do and what’s their philosophy?
“That’s a great question. I think it’s still early in the week and still kind of getting a feel for it as we move along. But, they’re a tough group across the board. You look at all four pass rushers, they have multiple, but the four that are in there at any given time can all rush the passer. And I think they know that and I think they like to play tough outside. They get in your face, press you a little bit, and they let those guys do what their good at and rush the quarterback. So, they mix it up though a lot in secondary, throw a lot at you. So, still kind of getting a feel for it. Play a lot of different personnel in there. Not necessarily matching, do a lot of different things personnel-wise. So, we’ll have to be good with that.”
The delay of game penalty in the first quarter against Washington, you guys obviously lose five yards, but do you also lose the element of surprise on that? Do you think that looking back you really had the—
“Yeah obviously going back, third and one, we’re right there about the 50. And in my mind that’s a fair tradeoff for a time out. I think looking back, I know coach tried to get it called, but I would have liked to have gotten it called. I think third and one is a lot different than third and six there, and it’s a momentum changer. It was kind of a mix up with the personnel change. We’re substituting. We weren’t necessarily trying to substitute late, then all of a sudden the ref is standing over the ball for what felt like 10-12 seconds. Really I thought it was going to get bumped, that’s kind of why I was still just rolling. I thought he was going to bump the clock for us because he stood over the ball so long. He ended up not. Kind of a mix up. But like I said, I think looking back you’d love to error on taking the timeout.”
You guys do so much personnel changing and it’s obviously designed to keep the defense on its toes, is it also a challenge for the officials, everything that you guys do?
“Well yeah, just with the new rules with the NFL, you have to let the defense sub and match your substitutions. And then depending on the hash now with the umpire in the back it can be the ump or the ref spotting the ball. So, it could be either one of them standing over the ball, so there are different procedures. And then when you’re subbing guys in, they have to report eligible. They’re trying to report to the white hat. There’s a lot that goes into it. So, yeah those guys have a lot on their plate as well with the refs trying to follow the rules. I just thought, like I said, I thought for sure he was going to bump the play clock for us because he stood over the ball so long to let them substitute. So, apparently he didn’t obviously, so.”
Did you ask him to bump?
“Yeah I did when we were standing around he’s standing over the ball, I asked him to bump it, and talked to him afterward. I felt like we got the substitute out early enough that we weren’t trying to do it last second. Although we were trying to operate fast, we weren’t trying to do it last minute, so.”
Is that where he usually announces the eligible receivers?
“I’ve seen a lot of refs do it back behind still standing behind the quarterback, and they’ll still report him eligible. They’re on their mics so they can still do it that way. And usually it’s the ump who will stand over the ball, and then he runs out last minute. This was a little different with the head ref doing it.”
I know you’re thinking about this week and not beyond, but a couple of your teammates have said we want to be in control of our own faith, we don’t want to be botching in December waiting for somebody to beat somebody else, would you like to clinch as soon as you can?
“Yeah, I think every team would, no question, would love to. I hope every player would say that. Yeah as early as possible, but we’re halfway through. There’s still a lot of big games ahead of us. So, I think it’s too early to get into that. But, no question obviously if you’re going to ask me that I’d love to take it.”
It could be two weeks from now, I mean if you guys keep playing—
“If it happens that early, great, but it’s not something we’re talking about in there.”
At 7-1 with the second best record in the league, I think a lot of people still aren’t sure how good the 49ers are, do you think this will be a gauge of where you guys are against an elite team like this?
“You’re right. It’s going to be a great test for us. A great opponent coming in here, this is a team that’s played high-quality football for a while now, the Giants. They’re good in all phases of the game. They’re disciplined. They’ve got a lot of good players over there. They’re coached well. So yeah, I think it’ll be a great test for us. It is just another game with that said. But, no question each game they all get bigger. This is bigger than last week’s, so absolutely, this is a huge game for us, huge test.”
Do you care if you get national recognition, or do you still kind of like that underdog, under-the-radar thing?
“I think a lot of the guys in there could really care less. If people all of a sudden are going to be kind of jumping on our bandwagon so to speak, but I don’t think guys care. Just focused on football, we’re focused on each game. It sounds cliché, but it’s the truth. It’s the type of guys we have.”
Alex, last Sunday I asked you why the offense was struggling in the red zone, and then I realized it’s difficult for this offense to even get down in the red zone these past two games, but what are some of things you can focus on you’ve been struggling with recently?
“I think there are a lot of things that play into that. For one, I think the third down is what sticks out in my mind more than anything. We left some stuff out there on third down really could have converted a few times. And then with that you’re getting more plays. You get more opportunity to get into the red zone to score. I think with that, some of the red zone especially late when we got down in there. When you’re looking at a deal when it’s late in the game and you’re up multiple scores all of a sudden there, especially that last possession you kick a field goal you make it a 16-point game. I mean that’s a big advantage. All of a sudden it’s two touchdowns and two two-point conversions, which is tough to do in the NFL. So, I think they’re all different and it all kind of goes into the game situation. But, no question you’ve got to get down there, and you’ve got to score touchdowns. You can’t always get away with kicking that many field goals.”
I was going to say it seems like Giants QB Eli Manning’s been able to do have the five comeback wins just this season, do those third-down conversions take bigger importance then this Sunday?
“Absolutely, yeah. I think that’s something we’re always focused on. It’s huge situational football. When you talk about third down and red zone, those are the top two, and in both areas we need to get better at.”
Alex, one of the more unique things you’ve been praised for this year is being able to hold onto the ball while taking vicious hits, you probably don’t want to work on that, but is that a skill, or is that something you’ve improved on?
“Yeah I do, I do think it is a skill. It’s tough to, like you said, to always practice in the true sense of the word, but I think there are things you can do. You look at the quarterbacks that have been the best at it across the board—[Patriots QB] Tom Brady sticks out in my mind. The guy takes a lot of pride in that, holding onto the football in the pocket, and has been great at it for his whole career. Those are turnovers, putting the ball on the ground, it’s not something that always takes priority for a quarterback. So much attention goes to the passing game, but those are huge deals. So, yeah no question for me so much of just goes into ball carriage. Two hands on the football in the pocket; when you get hit all of a sudden, you’re a lot safer with the football. Whereas in the past if you don’t, you only have one hand on the football, it’s just so much easier for the ball to come out.”
Do you do hand exercises or anything like that?
“I do a lot of exercising, nothing specific for ball handling. I just try to get stronger in general. But I really think it’s more fundamentals in the pocket and just having two hands on the football.”
Did you feel that hit from LB Ryan Kerrigan on Monday?
“Yeah, absolutely. It was good. Looking back you’d love to get rid of the ball there and just throw it away, or go take off, not pull up like that. Certainly didn’t see him coming, but yeah I felt that one.”