SANTA CLARA — This is the transcript of Jim O’Neil’s Week 15 press conference, courtesy of the 49ers’ P.R. department.
“Good morning. Disappointing ending to Sunday’s game obviously. I thought our guys prepared. I thought that they worked real hard at it. I thought they gave tremendous effort. Obviously, we let it slip between our fingers there in the fourth quarter and overtime which like I said was disappointing. I do think we did some good things as a defense. I thought in the secondary the guys did a great job on [New York Jets WR Brandon Marshall] 15. That was a big emphasis for us. We didn’t want him to be able to take control of the game which Brandon Marshall has been able to do throughout the year. So, I thought that those guys did a really good job there. I thought we did some really good things up front when it came to rushing the quarterback. We executed and we had some guys win some one-on-one battles. We did some good things pressure-wise which we can build on. I think for three quarters we played pretty good football. The guys executed, the guys flew around, so it was good to see. Just individually, I thought that [DL] Glenn Dorsey, [DL] DeForest Buckner and [DB] Jimmie Ward all had great games. DeFo and Jimmie probably had their best games so far of the year. Questions?”
What about that fourth quarter that you mentioned? You played well in quarters one through three. Is it just fatigue at that point that you start to break down?
“I think that that would be a good question for the players. What we talked to them about today was when things go bad in a football game or you are tired in a football game, the thing you’ve always got to fall back on is your technique and I thought at times in the fourth quarter we lost some of our technique at every level of the defense. Whether it was tackling, whether it was our eye discipline, whether it was getting a little bit high in the trenches or in the back pedal when we were in man coverage. So, there’s just some things when you are tired, if that was the case, or you are not having a great game, you’ve got to be able to fall back on your technique in this game and I thought there were times that that got away from us.”
How has DeForest Buckner improved as far as in the run game? It looked like early in the season, he was kind of part of the problem with the run defense. Now, it looks like he’s really taken steps.
“I don’t know if I ever thought he was part of the problem. I think he’s really progressed as the year went on. I thought early actually in the season, he was making most of his plays in the run game and then he was making a lot of plays with exceptional effort and I think we’ve seen him transform into a guy that can now make plays in the run-pass game and he’s been unbelievable. There’s just a couple little things that you probably don’t see unless you really study the tape, but he had a quarterback hit early in that game. We were running a pressure and he was able to get a pre-snap read on what the protection was. Instead of popping for contain, he just pressed the B-gap and he ended up getting a hit on the quarterback which caused an incomplete pass. He’s just grown so much mentally and his ability to gather pre-snap information and make plays because of that has been really fun to watch him throughout the year.”
Do you almost take it for granted now that you never have to take him off the field?
“It’s awesome, isn’t it? It’s so awesome. He wants to be out there. Obviously, there wasn’t a lot of plays for us defensively in the first three quarters and then you get into the fourth quarter and you’re trying to win the game and you get into overtime and there’s just no way you can take that guy out and there’s no way he wants to be out. So, just the reps he’s been able to get and how much he’s been able grow has been great for him.”
Is part of that, what you said earlier in the year in regards to him is when you’re a rookie basically just try to do your job, not be the one that makes the mistake and then you eventually get to the point where you’re doing your job but then you’re the one making a play, changing momentum. Do you feel like he, is it a confidence thing? Has he gotten to that point?
“Yeah and he’s had to step into that because of some of the guys that we’ve lost throughout the year. So, he’s probably had to get into that role a little bit sooner than we anticipated, but he’s done a great job. He has. He’s making some big time plays for us right now and that’s what you want when you draft a guy seven overall. He’s done a really nice job.”
Is his stamina unique?
“It’s very rare for a guy that’s that big and the amount of energy it takes to defeat offensive linemen in the run game and pass game and he’s able to be out there for 84 plays is rare and chase the ball the way he chases the ball. If you look at his numbers compared to the other defensive linemen in the league, it’s pretty impressive with how many contacts he has to the ball.”
Is it reminiscent of another player you’ve had?
“I’m not going to compare guys. He’s a young guy that I think that has a bright future that you can definitely build things around here.”
When you’re rotating defensive linemen to keep them fresh, who’s making those decisions? Is it defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro or is it the plans?
“We have a plan. We go into every game with a plan in each position group on how we’re going to roll guys. Like I said, early in that game, we were a lot of three-and-outs. I think there was only one drive that really extended us defensively in the first three quarters and then you want your best players to play in the fourth quarter when you’re trying to close a game out and you’re trying to win a game. So, there was no way Buck, personally if that’s who we’re talking about, was coming out of that game. There’s no way you’re taking an [S] Antoine Bethea out of the game. There’s no way you’re taking a Jimmie Ward of the game. We’re trying to get a win.”
Did you see his stamina as early as training camp? Did you know Week 1 this guy’s probably going to play a ton of snaps throughout the year?
“I think he’s been built that way probably his whole football life, coming from Oregon. He knows how to prepare himself. He’s a very mentally tough guy. So, it’s probably what he’s used to.”
You mentioned some of the good things you were able to do pressure-wise. Why were you having so much success in that area?
“I thought the coaching staff did a good job. We schemed up some stuff against their protections which we could take advantage of. We knew we had to give [New York Jets QB] Bryce Petty some different looks. So, and then guys executed. We won some one-on-one battles. We hit the pressures the way they were supposed to be hit and generated some free runners and when guys did come free, they made the play. They got the quarterback on the ground, which was good. That hasn’t always been the case where we’ve have free runners and we didn’t finish a play or whatever. The guys did a pretty decent job finishing this past game.”
What’s the message for the secondary going up against Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan this week?
“Obviously, we’ve got to execute. We’ve got to mix it on him. They’re as good of an offense as there is right now in the NFL. He’s as good of a quarterback as you have right now in the NFL. They’re probably the most complete offense that we’ve faced all year. So, it’ll be a challenge. We’re going to have to play really good football.”
I wanted to ask you about Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan since you worked really close with him. He’s producing again. He did it in Houston. He had a really good season in Washington. They’re averaging a lot of points. Why is he able to beat defensive coordinators so consistently now for eight, nine years?
“Kyle and I are good friends. Obviously, we worked together for that year in Cleveland. I think he’s got a really good scheme and they have really good players. So, they’re year two of the system and you can see how they’ve taken off from year one to year two. The quarterback’s really comfortable. Their receivers are really comfortable. Their offensive line’s very athletic which matches what he wants to be run game-wise. So, he’s done a nice job. They’ve done a nice job there. They really have. They’ve built it around that scheme and they’ve done a good job.”
Do you see him as an NFL head coach?
Talking about Buckner, it seemed like DL Ronald Blair also had a very active game on Sunday. Is this the point in the season where you typically see rookies start to get it and start to take off a little bit?
“Yeah. I think everybody’s probably a little bit different. Buck’s obviously played a lot more than Ronnie. So, Buck’s probably further ahead than where Ronnie’s at for us. But, you can just see Ronnie in the past four or five weeks where he’s become a bigger part of what we’ve been doing. You’ve really started to see him grow and like you said start to make some plays and be more active in the backfield with some things.”
Has he gotten bigger? There was a point when he was drafted, people weren’t sure what position he was going to play. It seems he looks more like a defensive lineman now. Do you see it kind of going in that direction, to be a defensive lineman style?
“I think he’ll always be in that tweener outside backer, defensive lineman. I think that this offseason will be big for him in terms of shaping his body. But, he’s a solid 280-285 pounds. So, he’s been pretty consistent with his weight since we’ve had him.”
Jimmie Ward’s interception, he said that was a call you made. Did you expect something from New York Jets offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, you kind of knew that offense?
“It was more just self-scouting ourselves and it wasn’t a call that we were in in that situation a lot. So, again, we wanted to give the quarterback a couple different looks and I made the call and Jimmie did a hell-of-a job executing it and made a play. I would have loved to have seen him stay up and get in the end zone. But, the offense went whatever it was, one play later. So, it was good to be able to start the game, you get an interception, offense scores, we’ve got all the momentum. They go down, they score again. It was unfolding the way we wanted it to.”
How did LB Aaron Lynch play Sunday?
“Solid. Probably what you expect for his first game back. He hasn’t played football in a long time. So, he did some good things for us in our sub packages. We hope we can build from that going into his second game here.”
How’s he been from a mental standpoint, just dealing with the suspension then coming back and then having the injury?
“I’m sure at times he was frustrated. But, for us football-wise, he’s been really good. He’s attentive in the meetings, takes notes, asks questions, studies tape, texts the coaches if he has questions when he’s at home. So, I don’t have any complaints when it comes to him in regards to that stuff.”