SANTA CLARA — This is the transcript of Blaine Gabbert’s Wednesday press conference, courtesy of the 49ers’ P.R. department.
In the film review of Seattle, what stood out to you about the third-and-manageables that–?
“Yeah, it was a lack of converting third downs and after watching the film we were in third-and-three to six the entire game. I think we were in third-and-three to six the first six or seven third downs. We pitched a big goose egg there. If you could have told me going into that game we were going to be in third-and-manageable for the majority of the game, probably 90-percent of our third downs, I would take that bet any day that we’d convert a good number of those. But, we didn’t. That was the story of that game. We didn’t convert third downs and it showed. But, after watching that, seeing where we can improve on, there’s a lot of good learning experiences that we had in the film room there on Monday and Tuesday watching that tape.”
ME: Early in the game you faced a third-and-four near midfield. You threw a pass to WR Jeremy Kerley, which got broken up. Do you remember that play?
ME: He ran a curl route into a squatting linebacker. The pass was a little low and it got broken up right away. This was right around midfield. I was wondering if you remember the play if you could take me through your decision making process. It seems like you looked at the left first, then you–?
“Yeah, I think we were running a mesh route and I think [Seattle Seahawks LB Bobby] Wagner just read my eyes and drove on the shallow cross, I think, if that’s the one you’re referencing. We’ve just got to do a better job. I’ve got to do a better job seeing the whole player, seeing the free guy, where he’s going, especially kind of post-snap stuff. He’s got me for the run and the pass, so we’ve just got to do a better job manipulating him and just find the open guy.”
ME: One more question about the third downs. You converted one with a pass to WR Torrey Smith in the fourth quarter. Do you remember that one, about a 10-yard pass on a third-and-three?
“Yeah, over the ball? Yeah.”
ME: Can you take me through that play, how you got to Torrey Smith? Your decision?
“It was just kind of their stack cover three zone that they run and they run very well. And, we just kind of had a zone beater on there. The linebackers kind of flushed underneath and we just had that void over the ball and that was where the read took me and he did a good job getting the first.”
Obviously, it’s different things different times. I’m thinking of the one play to RB Shaun Draughn where you had to get rid of the ball in a hurry and he hadn’t turned his head around yet. Can you put your finger on what the different things are? Obviously, first and second contribute to what you’re trying to do on third down. It feels like it’s timing sometimes, it’s accuracy sometimes.
“Yeah, there’s a ton of different factors that go into why you execute or don’t execute on third down. Sometimes, for instance the Rams game, we picked up a few running the ball with my legs, got a couple throwing. So there are a lot of things that kind of play into where you go with the ball on third down and how you convert. Every game is going to be totally different. Some teams play man coverage. Some teams drop eight in zone. Whatever it is that week you just have to do your best job to execute the play that’s called and hopefully you have enough yards and sometimes if you’re in third-and-long you’re just adding to the pun. You’re trying to catch the ball underneath and knife and try and get the first down that way.”
You’ve done this long enough now that you know the over analysis that goes on for quarterbacks and the amount that they’re scrutinized. The main thing people look at the 49ers now and they say ‘This quarterback, this offense, throws short of the sticks too often.’ Fair? Not fair?
“I mean, everybody is going to have their judgment on whatever you do. People are going to pick it apart. Right, wrong, good, bad or indifferent. That’s just kind of the nature of the beast that we’re in. But, what we do on third down is we have a breakdown of the tendencies that they have, the pressures that they run and what plays that we think are going to be successful. And at the end of the day, when we go out there we have to execute whether it’s third-and-one or third-and-15. We’ve got to go out there and execute the play and try and achieve that first down. I’m not saying you’re going to get it every single time because that’s unrealistic. That’s what we’re striving for, but at the same time we have to do the best of our ability of getting to the sticks on third down. Whether it’s a catch and knife in a zone coverage, beating man coverage on a shallow cross, or if it’s third-and-seven, let’s say, you hit an end cut past the sticks. It just depends on kind of how the game flow is going, what coverages they are running and the play that’s called.”
Against Seattle, another one on third downs, eight times it was third-and-short, it was four yards or less. Six passes, only one converted. Was that just mostly because Seattle took away the run game so you guys couldn’t run?
“No, I wouldn’t say that at all. It was just kind of the way the game was going and there were plays, if we break a tackle we get the first down, if we make a throw we get the first down. Like I’ve said a ton today, we just have to execute the play that’s called. The quarterback’s got to make a play. The offensive line has to be on their blocking-scheme. The receivers need to get open. There’s 11 guys on offense that have to work together for any play to work, much more on third down. Those are huge plays in the games and we know that. We just have to do a better job of executing there this coming week.”
How do you balance wanting to get rid of the ball on time, quickly and avoiding sacks and also wanting to be able to get things further down field?
“Well, any offense is based on rhythm and timing. So, when a guy is open, if he’s my first, second or third read the ball is going to come out. That’s just, that’s football. You’re not going to hold onto the ball hoping some guy down the field gets open per se that’s not really in your first three reads. So, playing quarterback, it’s rhythm and timing, getting the ball out. When your guys get open, give them the ball and then let them do what they do best and that’s go make plays after the catch. Down-and-distance-wise, that’s kind of where, that’s where we’re at. Whatever route is called, whatever route progression is called, whatever combination is called, that kind of dictates the rhythm and timing of the play.”
ME: It seemed like the passes short of the sticks were a function of head coach Chip Kelly’s game plan and the plays that he was calling.
“I wouldn’t say that at all. I would say that’s an unfair assessment. When you’re third-and-one to two or third-and-three you’re not calling 15-yard routes. That’s not smart football. When you’re third-and-one to four, you’re calling underneath routes where you can catch and carry. You’re getting the ball out because that’s when you’re most open, coming off on rubs and picks, beating man coverage. You’re not calling 18-yard in cuts on third-and-two, so when you’re in third-and-manageable you’re calling underneath stuff, letting guys get open quick and get the first down.”
ME: That’s what I’m saying. It seemed like it was the game plan. It was the plays that he was calling. How much input do you have in the game plan and can you go to Chip and say, ‘Look, on third-and-four, can you give me a six-yard route to throw, can you give me a seven-yard route to throw as oppose to a two-yard route?
“We’re in here a lot of hours watching a lot of tape putting this game plan together and like I said, when it’s third-and-one to four, you’re not running 15-yard routes. You’re running routes that are near the sticks, around that area and we just have to do a good job executing and converting on the third downs.”
What’s your simplified scouting report on the Cowboys?
“They’re a good defense. They play well together. They’re playing hard football right now and they’re rolling. The defensive line does a great job moving around. Their secondary’s playing really well in man and zone. So, we’ve just got to do a great job all week with our film study, how we master this game plan, how we practice throughout the week and just go out there and play the type of football that we know how and we’ve got another opportunity to do that this Sunday and put the past behind us and go play a good Cowboys team.”
After these two rough road games, what comfort level do you have playing in this stadium?
“Any road game’s tough. You’re in hostile environments. But, those are great experiences to have early on in a football season. Going to Carolina, playing a great Panthers team. Going to Seattle on the road, playing a good Seattle football team and then having a home stand and playing another quality, quality football team. But yeah, you get into a routine. You get into a rhythm. You’re at home. So, you don’t have to travel. Not using that as an excuse by any means, but we’re here, we’re in our routine, home game, playing in front of our fans. So, it’s a thing that we can definitely lean on.”
Adding up on that, is there something to be gained by not having to go silent? Is there a benefit to that? Does it make a difference having your cadence?
“No. I thought we did a great job using the silent count this past week. The offensive line, the coaching staff and myself included just, we did a good job changing things up so they really couldn’t get a jump on it because a lot of the defensive lines, when we’re playing on away games, they try and get a beat on the silent count. Throughout that entire game, we changed up the beat on that and I don’t think they got a key on that. But, yeah, using cadence, being able to change things and use verbal communication will definitely help.”
You’ve talked a lot about taking what the defense gives you. Obviously, the defense isn’t going to yield first downs or try and give you touchdowns. How do you find that balance of striking the defense downfield versus–?
“Just throw to the open guy. Yeah, that’s a cliché answer and it sounds so simple, but if they’re max dropping zone at the sticks, you’re not trying to force a ball in there. There’s ways to pick apart zone and there’s ways to pick apart man. We find that by film study, by putting plays together. We know where they’re vulnerable in certain coverages and it’s just up to the players to go out there and execute.”
As you said, this is not your first time doing this and when the offense isn’t going well, the most popular guy in the stadium is the backup quarterback. So, how do you just kind of block that out and continue doing what you do?
“You stick to your routine. Like I said, it’s not my first rodeo going through this. Everybody has their own opinions. Everybody has the best answers for what’s going on. But, it’s up to the guys in that building. It’s up to the 11 guys on the field on offense to get this thing right. The way to do that is just stick to your routine, stick to your preparation, stick to the way you practice throughout the week and the beautiful thing about the NFL is you’ve got a game on Sunday. So, it’s a quick turnaround and we’re just focused on the Cowboys.”
Chip had said that he scripts situations. Are you aware of the situations the coaches script going into a game because obviously I’m thinking of the first play of the game when RB Carlos Hyde had a miscommunication–?
“Yeah. There are situations that we go through every week in practice. Whether it’s the end of the half, a four-minute situation at the end of the game, two-minute at the end of the game, there’s many situations that we’ve gone through throughout the summer in training camp and the mini-camps and now throughout our weekly preparation just so when those situations do arise in the game you’re prepared for them.”
Just to be clear, so you knew in Seattle what play you were opening with or was it–?
“Yeah. We’ve just got to be on the same page. That was a one-off deal and that can’t happen. We both know that. But yeah, that’s not a situation you practice. We definitely go through a lot of situations throughout the week in practice to prepare you for the game.”