SANTA CLARA – Here’s the transcript of Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz conference call Q&A.
Q: What do you make of this matchup and all the hype?
SCHWARTZ: It’s a good time to be in Detroit right now. The weather’s been good. The lions are playing well. The Tigers are in the playoffs. The Red Wings are just starting. There’s some good things there. I think any time you have a 4-1 team and 5-0 team matched up early in the season it’s going to get a lot of hype. That’s warranted for these two teams.
Q: How critical is Jahvid Best to your success?
SCHWARTZ: The thing that’s the most critical to our success is scoring points, no matter how we have to do it. Whether it’s 12 play drives where you’re running it four yards a pop, whether you get it all in one, whether you throw for it all in one, or whether you methodically move it down the field throwing the ball. You don’t get any extra points for running it or passing it. The idea is put it in the end zone and score and be efficient and take advantage of what the defense is giving you and take advantage of your strengths and I think that offensively we’ve done that. Not consistently through the first five games, but we’ve done that. The one thing that we hadn’t done in the first four is break off long runs, and we were able to get a few in this game.
Q: Is there any way to truly prepare for your crowd noise? They brought in big speakers this week to prepare for it.
SCHWARTZ: I don’t know. If that works for you that’s fine. Our crowd was a big part of the success on Monday Night. They were loud and I don’t know if I can ever recall a game where there were nine false starts on the offense – eight on the offense and one on special teams. The Bears had a very, very difficult time communicating. We’ve played in those games. We play in very difficult places to play like Minnesota. We’ve played out in Seattle before. Our fans made it a good home field advantage and we need to keep that going really regardless of who the opponent is.
Q: How nice is it as a coach to be able to have nine guys you can rotate in on the defensive line?
SCHWARTZ: The defense line is, and no disrespect to Calvin Johnson or Matt Stafford or anybody else on our team, it’s the heart and soul of our team and it’s the strength of our team. It was last year and it will be again this year. It is again this year. And one of the things with keeping 46 players up on gamedays instead of 45 and a third quarterback, it’s allowed us to keep an eighth defensive lineman active, and last Monday we were able to keep nine up, and that’s not a position where somebody plays only if somebody else gets hurt. We rotate guys through. We try to keep them fresh, not just over the course of a game, but hopefully over the course of a season, over the course of their careers. We have some outstanding players up there that play at a high tempo and the reason we’re able to do that is they’re not of the field for 99 percent of the plays.
Q: How happy were you to see Jahvid Best get going last week?
SCHWARTZ: I felt highly for him long before we drafted him, just watching him through his college career and watching his explosive plays that he had against great competition out there in the Pac-10. He fit very well into what we wanted to do offensively and the role that we had for him. Last year was a little bit frustrating after the first couple games where he really, really played well against Chicago and Philly, and I think he scored our first five touchdowns last year at the beginning of the year. He unfortunately got a couple turf toes, and one turf toe is bad enough, but a couple of them is even worse. He went through about ten weeks where he really struggled. At the end of the year we were starting to see that again. Broke off a real long run against Chicago right before the half. He took a check down and went for about 50 yards for a touchdown against Miami late in the season when we were down ten points with four minutes to go and we needed to score fast. Jahvid’s a guy who can score any time he touches the football. He has big play ability, he made big plays last year, it’s just a matter of him being healthy and getting the touches. A lot of it has to do with the way people play our other players. If they want to devote too much attention to a guy like Calvin Johnson, then a guy like Jahvid Best can make him pay.
Q: Much of the personnel is the same here. Do you sense from afar a true transformation of this team under Harbaugh here?
SCHWARTZ: Well, sure. Any time you talk about where your record is, 4-1, that’s obviously a big change. Defensively, they’re very sound. They run a very good scheme. They run the Pittsburgh Steeler 3-4 with a little Carolina, Houston, New Orleans –type flavor thrown in from Vic. They’re well coached in that. They rarely make mistakes. They have outstanding linebackers. And I think that all that comes together for them and it shows in their red zone defense. I think they’re first in the NFL in red zone defense. If they’re not, they’re real close. They’re probably top-10 in third down, top-12 in third down, and that’s helped them keep points off the board and allowed them to run the football. I think those have been big things. You have an outstanding running back in Frank Gore, an outstanding tight end, and put all those things together it allows Alex Smith to make good decisions. He’s only thrown one interception so far this year. You don’t have to look far past the “+10” on the giveaway/takeaway to understand why the 49ers are 4-1 right now. I think that’s definitely a sign of good coaching.
Q: Back to Jahvid for a minute. How does it change to dynamic for him when he’s back there by himself?
SCHWARTZ: It doesn’t really matter. We get in a lot of one back sets and two back sets. We use a tight end as a fullback at times, Will Heller. So it’s not like we don’t run out of two back sets. He can do all those things so it really doesn’t make that much of a difference.
Q: How much to you credit your four-game winning streak at the end of last year to your 5-0 start this year?
SCHWARTZ: I think it was important. I don’t know that there’s a whole lot of carryover from year to year. I think the confidence that it built in some of our players helped us in some of the situations we’ve been in this year. We were down 10 points with four minutes to play down in Miami last year and we came back to win by seven. Scored 17 in the last four minutes. That helps when you’re down 20 points on the road knowing that you’ve got enough fire power that you can get hot real quick. And we did it without our starting quarterback. Shaun Hill and Drew Stanton stepped in and won those four games for us. I think the teams gains a little confidence. They know that we have a good quarterback in Matt Stafford but they also know that guys like Shaun Hill and Drew Stanton, if called upon, can lead us to wins. And it wasn’t just them. We had a lot of players injured at the end of last year. Those wins came against teams that had a lot to play for. Particularly Green Bay. We beat them 7-3 and almost knocked them out of the playoffs. Next week went down to Tampa. Won in overtime. Basically knocked them out of the playoffs. It wasn’t like we were playing teams that had their cars warmed up and were resting starters for the playoffs or any of those situations. I think there was some confidence that came from it. I don’t know if there’s any other reason than they are good players who are well coached within a good scheme and they fit that scheme. Put them in good positions enough times and we know they’ll make plays. There was some difficult situations that we did. Probably the biggest thing that that did was for a whole year or so, all we had to hear about here was the longest losing streak in history of the National Football League had ended, the longest road losing streak in the history of the National Football League, and the longest division losing streak in the history of the National Football League. We haven’t run one in in Minnesota since 1989 or whatever. All those things came up and now the players don’t have to hear about that in the locker room anymore. Now we’re on winning streaks. We’ve won a bunch of games in a row on the road. We played three of our first four on the road, had a difficult draw and managed to win those games. We’ve won division games in a row. We’ve sort of exercised some of those demons and I think it makes it a little easier on the players to be able to concentrate on just doing their jobs, rather than having to hear questions and things from the past brought up all the time.
Q: What are your thoughts on Alex Smith? What is he doing well?
SCHWARTZ: I’ll let Jim coach him. But he’s got good mobility. He’s taking care of the football. He’s executing the offense. They’re running efficiently. And I think those are the things you expect from a quarterback.
Q: Players at Cal used to rave about the things Jahvid Best could do in practice. Have you had a similar experience with him?
SCHWARTZ: Well, it took about half a practice before anybody that was covering him backed up about 20 yards because they all saw how fast he was and the moves that he can make. We very rarely go full contact in practice, but we knew he was going to be elusive. We knew he had great speed. I think that the players saw that quickly and respected.
Q: Have your players really embraced the city of Detroit perhaps more so than teams you’ve coached in the past?
SCHWARTZ: This is a blue collar town. It’s a great sports town. It has a long history of being a great sports town. We have the Red Wings – one of the most successful franchised in the history of the NHL. The Pistons have won championships recently. And the Tigers were just in the World Series just a few years ago and they’re doing well. We needed the Lions to get back to being there. They were a championship team back in the ‘50s, and then experienced a little bit of a drought. Maybe a little bit more than a drought. But blue collar towns take a lot of pride in their sports teams. There’s a connection to the city. And we like to think of ourselves as a hard working team. I think that reflects the work ethic of the city of Detroit’s people.