SANTA CLARA — This is the transcript of Vic Fangio’s Tuesday press conference, courtesy of the 49ers’ P.R. department.
How is DT Justin Smith, his health?
He was listed with a back injury. Is that a minor thing?
“News to me.”
Do you expect him to play on Thursday, no questions?
“It’d be news to me if he didn’t.”
His snaps are a little bit down this year compared to last year. Is that him sort of regulating himself, or are you guys doing it to make sure that he’s fresh?
“Both. Both. There’s times he takes himself out if we get an extended drive. And there’s times we roll guys in there.”
What about playing a game on short rest like this? Everything I know about the NFL, that’s a tough physical task to do. Does it have to figure in the way, how you’re going to use your personnel or any of the game planning you do?
“Yeah, it is a tough physical test but I think it even becomes a tougher mental test. You’ve just got to not let it distract you that you’re playing a game three days after you’ve just got finished with one with only three days in between the games. And it goes for the coaches and players, too. We’re squeezing six days of work into three. You’d like to get everything done that you get done on a normal week. And it stresses everybody, but it’s equal for both teams and it’s only a distraction if you allow it to be.”
Your last four or five games, you guys have really improved in sacking the quarterback and creating turnovers. Anything specific you can point toward in those departments?
“No, we haven’t changed the way we play, the style or the system we’re in. We just seem to be playing games where we’re getting them, particularly on the sacks. The sacks, it’s more important that you have a good pass rush game. And sometimes the stats numbers are up, sometimes they’re not. I think two or three games ago, whenever I think we played New Orleans we only had two sacks, but our pressure was good in that game. So, sometimes you can have four or five sacks and really overall your pressure wasn’t good. So, can’t measure it all by the sacks.”
Are you noticing, with LB Aldon Smith being back that, opposing offenses, their protection’s changing in the sense that it puts other guys in better matchups?
“Possibly a little bit. But, I think just like we do on defense when they’ve got a great player that we’ve got to defend, you give them some attention but you can’t do it all the time. So, you’ve got to go out and play.”
Does the mere presence of Aldon on the field though seem to make everybody better for lack of a better term, in terms of being able to get to the quarterback?
“Anytime you put a good player on the field no matter what the position it is, it’s going to make the other 10 guys play better and the unit play better.”
Where has S Antoine Bethea made the biggest impact in your defense?
“Number one, there’s been a seamless transition as far as him. We lost our quarterback of the secondary last year and replaced him with Antoine, and he’s taken over those duties and it’s been basically seamless. So, number one he’s been a leader of the secondary from a quarterbacking standpoint. And two, he’s gone in there and played his position very well.”
Kind of following up on the previous question, these two teams play hard-hitting games against each other. That’s documented. Do you think the short rest will take away some of the hard hitting? Or is it just their instinct to do that?
“No, I think it’ll be their instinct to just go. In the atmosphere, and you get a sold-out stadium, the excitement, that’ll take over.”
How were the Cardinals able to get seven sacks against Seattle last week?
“Well, they pressured a lot. There was a couple times there that the quarterback wasn’t sure of the protection. Guys got beat. There was just a little bit of everything.”
Seahawks QB Russell Wilson’s getting a lot of rushing yards, too, this season, more than he has. Is he quicker to run? Or does he just not have as many options when that happens?
“It’s a little bit of everything. They’re a tough running game to defend. They’ve got [Seahawks RB] Marshawn Lynch, who we all know is if he’s not the best back in the league he’s second to somebody, I wouldn’t know who that would be. And then you’ve got [Wilson] back there who could pull the ball at anytime and become a runner himself. So, it’s like defending Lynch and his great running style, and when Wilson has the ball in his hand, he’s like defending [former Lions RB] Barry Sanders with his quickness and speed and elusiveness. He’s a tough assignment. He’s got more rushing yards than most of the running backs in the league.”
Can you talk about what you’ve seen in LB Aaron Lynch thus far?
“He’s done a good job for us. He’s gotten better and better as the season has gone on. He’s been ready when he’s had to be called upon for fulltime duty. And he’s been ready to sub in there like he did last week getting snaps in the nickel and the base.”
Speaking of Lynch, you’ve had contributions from several rookies. Do you manage any rookie wall? Do you believe in any of that?
“No, and I don’t think the rookie wall applies to these guys because most of the guys that you’re talking about haven’t played the whole season. They’ve come in here recently. [LB Chris] Borland, this is only what, his fourth or fifth start coming up. [CB] Dontae Johnson hadn’t played much football really. Aaron, same thing. I think he’s played 300 snaps. So, they haven’t been in there every play every game. So, I don’t think there’s anything there.”
How’s Aldon been at setting the edge in the running game?
Was that an issue at all against Washington? Setting the edge?
“On one play there was, one play there was.”
Is that just a unique style of running?
“No, and Seattle runs the ball similar as Washington does. So, we’ve got to be better in that area.”
What were the shortcomings against Washington?
“We didn’t fit it right a couple times. One guy got blocked out of his gap where he should have been and should have been easily. Different things at different times.”
Your guys’ numbers at home versus on the road are pretty dramatic in favor of how you guys play at home. Usually when we think of that it’s the offense with the crowd noise and all of that. How would you explain how well the defense plays here versus perhaps on the road?
“I don’t know. I don’t know.”
LB Michael Wilhoite wears the green dot now. What does that entail? What does he have to do to fulfill that duty?
“I call down the defense.”
“To [linebackers coach] Jim Leavitt, well to all the coaches, but Jim Leavitt’s got the walkie-talkie and he pushes a button and tells Wilhoite what we’re in and Wilhoite relays it to everybody.”
Once that call’s made, then does he have other responsibilities?
“Oh sure, yeah absolutely.”
Why did you pick him to wear it instead of someone else?
“You always want it to be an inside linebacker because they’re in the middle of the action. And Mike’s more experienced than Chris.”
Do some teams have safeties do it?
“I was with a team where we had a safety do it one time. The only problem with having a safety doing it is if you get a deep ball that he’s involved with, he can be far away from people more times than a linebacker could.”
S Eric Reid a little while ago was saying that maybe the stuff that you’re doing with the safeties is a little more complicated this year than it was last year. Maybe because he’s not a rookie this year. How different is the stuff you’re doing with the safeties? Is it because he’s maybe allowed to do more because he’s a little more veteran?
“I don’t see it that way. I’ll have to ask him what he’s alluding to there. I don’t see it that way.”
The rotation that you had with LB Ahmad Brooks and Aaron Lynch on Sunday, was that kind of what would have played out against the Giants?
“Yeah, similarly. Not exactly. It becomes a little bit of a crapshoot with that stuff because you put a guy in for a series, maybe it’s a three and out and you put a guy in for a series and maybe it’s a seven, or eight, nine play series. I’m not really thinking about that during the series as to who goes in and who doesn’t. So, it’s hard to make it ironclad as to exactly how it’s going to happen.”
Right. So do you keep track of that? Or does somebody else keep track of the personnel moving in and out?
“Well, for that position, I do in between series. [Defensive line coach] Jim Tomsula has the ability to change those guys during the series if the series gets extended.”
CB Perrish Cox particularly plays every defensive snap. Now he’s doing punt returns, too, taking some big hits every now and then. Would you rather he not do that, that the team has an alternative punt returner?
“Yeah, in an ideal world you’d rather not have him do it, particularly with our corner situation the way it is right now. But, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. We’ve got only three linebackers, ILBs, sometimes suited up and they’re covering kicks, too.”
On the Marshawn Lynch run in the conference title game, Eric Reid said that play really got to him and in the offseason he was thinking about it a lot. Did you guys have any conversation about that play? And what did you see on that play?
“Well, he just didn’t leverage it correctly and got caught a little bit out of position, which consequently caused him to miss the tackle. No, but it’s been talked about in the offseason.”