Roman on the red zone problems: “We’ve got to run it better down there to start.”

SANTA CLARA – Here’s what offensive coordinator Greg Roman said at his Week 14 Thursday press conference.

ROMAN: Getting ready to play the Cardinals, who have obviously won four of five. They’re one of the hotter teams in the league. They’re hot for a reason. The defense is playing really well, keeping people out of the end zone – the Dallas game is probably their best game defensively all year. They did a phenomenal job. They’re playing with high energy. They’re just really solid across the board. You see some of their younger players are making strides. They’re pretty darn stout up front – they’re very physical. The game we had the first time with them was an extremely physical game. I believe we had almost 90 snaps of offense in that game. I remember driving back from the game to here, because we were getting ready to play Baltimore on Thursday, and saying to myself: “Man, that was a physical 90 snap game. We’ve got to get ourselves rested in a hurry.” So, we know what they’re all about. They know what we’re all about. Whoever prepares well is going to probably win the game. Any question?

Q: Do you think playing 90 snaps against the Cardinals the first time took its toll on the offense four days later against the Ravens?

ROMAN: I do, yeah. It is what it is. We hadn’t been playing near that many snaps, and in the course of that game, just the way it unfolded, we played almost 90 snaps and it was a physical game. It wasn’t spread/shotgun, throw it around the yard. There was a lot of physical plays involved there. It is what it is again. It probably took its toll a little bit.

Q: Does Vernon Davis get even more attention down near the end zone?

ROMAN: Vernon gets a lot of attention. Teams that double down there usually put one of their doubles on him. One of the teams we played very recently, they usually double the slot receiver and the single receiver, and they chose to double the single receiver and Vernon. And that was after the entire year being very predictable with who they’re doubling. They were doubling slots. When they played us they were doubling people. So you’ve got to be able to adjust when that happens, and rightfully so. It’s probably pretty smart on their part.

Q: Which team was that?

ROMAN: I don’t really want to say.

Q: They probably know.

ROMAN: They do, they do know. It was very recent, very recent.

Q: Very recent?

ROMAN: Very recent.

Q: Teams have made a concerted effort to take away Vernon in the red zone, and Braylon Edwards has been injured. Have those things contributed somewhat to the red zone issues?

ROMAN: No question. Braylon’s definitely a big-time weapon down there, and if people are going to commit two to one, it doesn’t make a lot of sense down there throwing the ball into double coverage, especially when you have points in your pockets with a kicker of our caliber. You’re not going to force the ball into double coverage. That makes no sense. Not the winning edge. So, bottom line is we’ve got to run it better down there to start, and that starts at the 20 yard line in. We’ve got to run it better and we’ve got to execute better in the passing game. The passing game takes more time because timing is so critical – time and space. You limit the space, it’s an advantage for the defense – there’s less space for them to defend. It’s always the last piece of the puzzle – throwing it down there. From a run standpoint down there, people have been loading up on us. The safeties are aware now. They’re really almost in the box. So, you’ve got to find ways to be effective down there, run and pass. We’re going to keep chopping wood. Our guys are working hard at it, and I’ve been through this before where you’re pressing you’re pressing you’re pressing and then you bust through. So we’re waiting for that seminal moment where we bust through.

Q: Alex has thrown one interception in his last 160-something attempts inside the red zone. He’s obviously very careful down there, and obviously the windows are tight and sometimes you have to take chances. What’s the balancing act there between being careful, not making mistakes and then trying to chuck it into the window?

ROMAN: I think Alex has done a really, really good job. A lot of times after the fact he’ll say things that just make perfect sense. Alex has a great sense of where we are in the game and the feel for what we need, making cost/benefit decisions in split seconds. He’s got a good feel for when we’ve got to pull the trigger and when to err on the side of caution. That being said, every play is designed for success and a lot of times the window are literally inches. It’s something we’ve got to keep working on to improve.

Q: When you asked these guys to put more in during training camp, did that put more pressure on you guys as a staff? Like, “We’re asking a lot of these guys, we’d better come through here.”

ROMAN: I think we put that kind of pressure on ourselves all the time regardless. It’s week to week, finding answers. And it’s not easy in the NFL. Every team’s tough. St. Louis’ defense is a tough defense, and you’ve got to find ways. There are no freebies, really. Everybody did such a great job of being blind to that whole situation, and we just marched ahead.

Q: Have you ever had a kicker as good as David Akers on any other team that you’ve coached?

ROMAN: Well, I’m going with David. Been around a lot of really good ones, but love him. David spoke to the team early in training camp – hadn’t really spoken to them other than, “Hey, how you doing?” – and I immediately got a feel for just what kind of guy he was. What a great team guy. What a great asset to have in the locker room. Just a great person. And a great kicker. Inspires confidence.

Q: Does he affect your play calling at all, knowing he’s so good at those 50+ yarders? Will that change what you might call in those situations?

ROMAN: It might, it might. I think that would probably hold true for everybody. Now, every game (special teams coach) Brad (Seeley) will say, “Hey, we’ve got to get to this yard line for a field goal based on the wind conditions, how warm-ups went, going this direction, going the other direction – he does such a great job of plotting out everything for us. We just kind of work off that. Brad and Jim talk before the game and then we adjust accordingly.

Q: What difference have you noticed in Crabtree from Week 1 to now as far as how he’s running and how does that difference change your offense?

ROMAN: I think physically he just keeps making progress. It’s incremental. It’s .1 percent per day. The great thing about Michael is that there has been no dip in that progress. That’s a credit to him. He’s got a great attitude, does anything, does it 100 miles an hour – blocking, whatever it may be, asserting his will on the field, playing physical. His progress has been steady as can be expected coming off that type of injury. Feet are very important for receivers. Coming back from that kind of injury, it’s a process, and it’s been incremental. Really, there’s been no dip. He keeps getting better and he keeps getting in better football shape and whatnot. It’s been great. Look forward to it continuing.

Q: He had that 52 yard touchdown catch where he ran past the cornerback. Is that something he could have done in Week 3? That speed?

ROMAN: Well if you ask him I know what the answer would be – yes. I don’t know. Can’t answer that, but there’s probably something to it. He’s running better. You get better at football by playing football. That’s a fact. He’s been able to just play football consistently, and he’s a competitor. He wants to help the team and he just keeps getting better. It’s very good for the 49ers.

Q: He’s been recently taken off the injury reports. What are the things that he wasn’t doing that he’s now able to do during practice?

ROMAN: I think taking more reps. He’s able to take more reps. The more you play the better you get, and that’s allowing him to get into a little bit of a groove. The power of repetition – you cannot substitute anything for that, especially for a player that’s relatively young.

Q: With a lot of colleges searching to fill head coaching positions, have you been contacted at all?

ROMAN: You know, I’m focused strictly on this. Not that I’m aware of, that’s for sure. Everybody’s working hard. The staff’s doing a great job. I lean on our offensive staff quite a bit and they’re just doing a phenomenal job. We’re really excited about this game down in Arizona.

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