SANTA CLARA – Vic Fangio spoke in the media tent Thursday morning. Here’s what he said, courtesy of the 49ers.
So the obvious thing is looking at how the defense has played in six quarters without DT Justin Smith. How big is he to just the overall defense?
“Well, he’s a great player, one of the best defensive players in the NFL. And anytime you lose one of those guys it does have an adverse effect on you. But, I don’t think the problems we’ve had, in the last game in particular, were because of Justin not being there, OK. They just outplayed us, outcoached us in that game. And we weren’t very good. We could have had five Justin Smiths maybe. That wasn’t the issue in the last game.”
What was the issue?
“We just didn’t play good. We didn’t coach good. And those guys just whipped us.”
Is there a sense that when Justin Smith’s in there they’ve got to put two guys on them. Is that overstating things?
They didn’t play DT Ricky Jean Francois that much different than they would have Justin Smith?
“No. No, their run game is their run game. And they’re going to block it the same all the time.”
I saw Justin coming off the field from this morning’s walk through. Do you see improvement in him? Or are you hopeful that he will be able to play again this season?
“He told me he’s getting better each and every day. That’s really all I know. He said it’s getting better.”
As a coordinator, do you have to kind of get it in your mind that he’s not coming back and adjust if he does?
“Not really. It’s like anything. You can lose anybody early in a game. You’ve just got to go. It’s too far along here to change the system because of one guy being out. And we’ll be fine.”
If he does come back, will he be Justin Smith? Will he be able to be 100 percent even if he were to come back in these next couple of weeks?
“I don’t know that. That’s a better question for him and the medical staff. I just know he’s getting better.”
You had a nice haul yesterday as far as Pro Bowl guys. Just what are your thoughts on seeing those six guys go?
“I was happy for them, for all of them. Very well deserved in all of their parts. Just always happy for the other guy’s success, and happy for these guys in particular. They’re good players. They go about their business the right way. And they’ve been rewarded for it.”
Any coincidence that all six of those guys they play sort of in tandem? The two inside linebackers, the two guys on the right side, the two guys on the backend?
“What do you mean two guys on the right side?”
Well, LB Aldon Smith and Justin Smith, lining up together?
“I think it’s just more a coincidence than anything else. They’re good players each in their own right. And playing next to those other guys just helps the situation.”
S Donte Whitner made his first Pro Bowl though, it’s his seventh season. How has he elevated his play this year maybe that you’ve seen?
“Well, he’s just gotten better within our system. We signed him last year after camp had already started. He was on the fast track to learning what we’re doing. Did a good job with it last year. And I think he just picked up where he left off last year and feels that much more comfortable with the system and what we’re doing. And I’m happy for him. It’s his first time making it, like you said in his seventh year. He didn’t quite have the success in Buffalo that people thought he would have, but, he’s been able to find a home here and excel here.”
Going back to the Seattle game, did the defensive backs and the secondary look tired from having to face Patriots QB Tom Brady so much? And what kind of toll did that lingering effect have on their play do you think?
“I don’t know. It’s always hard to quantify something like that. I don’t know the answer to that.”
Did they look tired to you, though?
“I don’t think so. We just didn’t play good.”
What kind of year is CB Carlos Rogers having?
“He’s having a good year. He’s played a lot for us. He’s our nickel, which is a stressful position. And he’s our left corner in our base package, which is a stressful position. And I think he’s handled it well.”
When you look at Arizona, there’s still a lot at stake, the final game of the season. They’ve been in offensive flux. But, when you look at it what pops out to you? What are the biggest concerns you have facing them?
“Well, obviously [WR Larry] Fitzgerald is their biggest concern. Now they have [RB] Beanie Wells back. He’s a good running back. They’ve got a good group of receivers. They have the ability to be an explosive attack with their receivers. They got a new quarterback that’s going to start and did well last week when he came in late in the game. And probably will do a lot better this week because he’ll get the bulk of the snaps in practice. So, he’ll be more prepared and ready to roll. So, these types of games happen every year in the NFL. And we’ve got to go out and be ready to play it like it’s the first game, not the 16th game.”
Do you want to see your guys have a complete game defensively in terms of least points allowed, a lot of turnovers, just to get the momentum going into the playoffs here?
“Well, I would like that because that would just probably lead to a victory. And that’s really all I want right now is a victory. But, we always want to play good. Every play you play, you want to play at your best. And we’ve just got to play good. Whenever we line up next week against somebody in a playoff game, we’ve just got to line up and play.”
How important is momentum going into the playoffs? Or is it not?
“It can be. But, you’ve still got to go out and play. Look at Baltimore last week. They had no momentum. They had lost three in a row. Probably should have been four in a row. Down the fourth and 29 and they converted. Zero momentum and they blew out the Giants last week. And now they’ve got momentum. Momentum is great, but it’s tenuous. You can get it back real fast and you can lose it real fast. So, you’ve just got to keep playing.”