Here are some quotes I selected from Jim Harbaugh’s Thursday press conference, courtesy of the 49ers.
If his Monday theme was “man up,” his Thursday theme was “embrace challenges” – specifically scoring touchdowns on offense and beating the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday night.
Has T Joe Staley been cleared to practice?
“He’s been cleared to do some walk through, but no, he’s still going through a series of – as you guys like to say – protocol. For lack of a better word. I’ll use it.”
Are there any similarities between the Ravens defense and the defense you’ll see on Monday night in terms of attacking and pressure?
“Yes. There’s a lot of similarities. They’re two of the best defenses in the league. Two of the best defenses that we’ve played all year. You could find a lot of similarities in terms of scheme, in terms of great players that are very well-coached. Have a lot of experience and confidence in their system. Again, the challenge is dealing with the Pittsburgh Steelers defense. Our guys are excited about that. They want to take that head on. It’s a big challenge, and one that our guys embrace.”
Does it benefit you at all on the schedule to have Arizona right before Pittsburgh so you kind of get a preview for that defense?
“It could be. Yes, I guess it would be. Two similar style defenses. Two 3-4 based defenses. As opposed to a 4-3 and a 3-4.”
Defensive Line Coach Jim Tomsula visited us and said that never is it spoken about, this streak of no rushing touchdowns allowed or no 100-yard rushers, it’s never discussed. But that that unit takes a lot of pride in stopping the run. What’s your assessment of how that group approaches it?
“I think it’s exactly the way you just said it. I think you just summed it up very well. That’s how they approach it. It’s not something that’s talked about but they do take a lot of pride in it.”
It’s an impressive feat, wouldn’t you say? Have you seen a streak like this?
“I can’t say that I have. I think the way our guys, our coaches, our team approach it, is how it plays in to situational football. How it helps us to accomplish the one and only thing we want to accomplish and that’s be a winning defense. Win the next game. It’s a big factor. It’s a big factor, being able to contain an opponent’s running game. To shut down an opponent’s running game. To keep them out of the end zone.”
In terms of the pass rush with LB Aldon Smith, has he exceeded expectations on the pass rushing front?
“Yes, I would have to say yes. The expectations, where are those ever? Other than let’s go to work and let’s see if we can’t get better than we were yesterday. Can’t say enough good things about him. He’s doing a great job. I loved the hustle play the other day in the ball game. He kind of missed the sack, but then turned and ran and chopped, ripped the ball out of the quarterback and he got us a turnover. I thought that was kind of Justin Smith-like, in a lot of ways.”
You said that he might get more downs in the run game. Would he come in for LB Ahmad Brooks or LB Parys Haralson on one side?
“Well now we’re getting in to talking scheme and how we’d approach the game. We don’t ever like to tip anything off.
Was that the strategy to limit what he does? He’s not an every down guy so he can just focus on pass rushing right now?
“I think that was part of the progression when we first started making the transition of being a defense end to an NFL outside linebacker. Like we’ve said from the very beginning, he’s been a quick learner. Adapted very well.”
How has CB Chris Culliver progressed throughout the year?
“Really well. Been a major contributor. It’s great to watch it in practice because he’s getting better and better in practice and it’s showing up in the ball games. In special teams and on defense. Again, he’s a committed guy, a quick learner. Works very hard at it, practices very hard. He’s got a knack for getting his hands on the ball. When you see it in practice, you know you’re going to see it in games.”
Are you approaching the game like Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger is going to play?
Do you guys do anything that’s different to hone in on the red zone, to focus and study it? Try to self scout it and figure out where it’s missing?
“Yes, all those things and more.”
Do you change the practice schedule at all to emphasize that more or do you keep the same routine?
“We’re going to work on it more.”
What day is generally your situational day?
“For the red zone?”
“Well there’s going to be more than one.”
And that’s different than usual?
“We’ll go from two to three.”
Alex said the other day that in the past few years, Vernon has been one of his best red zone targets. He doesn’t seem to be getting as many looks this year. Is it a factor of you guys are using him differently, he’s being double teamed, all of the above? Why not more Vernon Davis in the red zone?
“Don’t really address the scheme part of it. Who, why, where, what we’re trying to get done or what we’re going to try to get done this week. Know this – we’re trying to score touchdowns. It’s important to get points when you’re in the red zone. You have to have points because that leads to winning football. We’re trying to score touchdowns.”
Let me just ask you from the opponent’s point of view. Have they picked up on the fact that he was such a good target for Alex that they are concentrating on him in those situations?
“I’m not going to speak for the opponents. Just write your article or talk to the opponents and make your observations. I’m not going to talk about what we’re going to do schematically.”