Q. The normal departure time for road trips has been mid-afternoon on the day before the game. For this trip departure time was in the morning yesterday. What was the thinking behind the time change?
A. We look at each individual road trip on its own merits. They changed the kickoff time on this game several weeks back, and we thought we’d show respect to that change by simply moving the transportation end of our day up. We got up and traveled, and got that element of our day over. And then when we got out here to the Bay Area, we did some of the things we normally do in Pittsburgh before a flight – meetings and walk-through. We just thought with the time change being moved up and with the length of the flight, that was appropriate.
Q. Back in the day, NFL teams would travel to the site of a road game and conduct some kind of practice at the home team’s stadium. Why isn’t that done anymore?
A. Security has become an element of that, with drones and high-powered lenses, and things of that nature. When you’re working particularly in an outside environment, an unsecure outside environment, some of the intimate details of your walk-through or your final preparations could be compromised. And so that’s why in today’s game, people have moved to indoor facilities or hotel ballrooms. Hotel ballrooms are probably the direction we go.
Q. Halftime for an NFL game that’s not a Super Bowl is 12 minutes long. What happens in the locker room at halftime?
A. Initially, coaches get together and make necessary adjustments, have discussions, additions, subtractions to our plan. Players take care of their personals – use the restroom, get any minor injury things looked at, any necessary equipment things are handled. After several minutes of that, then it’s the adjustment element of it when the players get with their coaches. There’s a player-coach exchange formally, talking about things that need to happen. And then the last thing that happens is there is an exchange between players, talking about what has been presented to them and how it may affect them in terms of how they work together. Then we’re back out on the field.
Q. Part of football lore long has included stories of dramatic adjustments made at halftime that spur the team on to victory. Any truth to that?
A. It’s more of a matter-of-fact situation, particularly with the level of preparation at this point in a season – and not just for us, but I’m talking about all of us at this level of football – you go through so many potential hypotheticals that a halftime adjustment could be something like, “Hey, we thought there was a possibility that this, this, and this could be occurring. These two things are occurring, and this isn’t, and so this is what we’re doing moving forward.” So I think that’s the nature of the discussions in today’s game. You’ve already talked about the possibilities, and now you’re talking about the realities. And that’s what halftime adjustments are in today’s game as opposed to, “Hey, they’re doing this sight unseen. This is what we’re going to do to it.” I think those days are beyond us.
Q. When it comes to making in-game adjustments, what kinds of adjustments actually are possible?
A. I don’t want to understate it, because it can be subtle but at the same time significant. You can do something as simple as changing the leverage on some coverage people, and change the whole complexion of a play. “Hey, we’re playing inside leverage, but we saw some things in the first half and so when we’re playing this call, let’s play outside leverage.” From one player to the next, that’s very little. That’s inches in terms of one player’s alignment, but it can be significant in terms of our ability to cover people from a route distribution standpoint. And so sometimes it might seemingly be subtle, but the result of those things could be significant.
Q. During your news conference last Tuesday, you referenced “smoke and mirror play” with respect to defensive looks you presented to Philip Rivers because of a couple of your interior defenders being unavailable. Would you expand on what constitutes “smoke and mirror play.”
A. Sometimes you have to use the art of deception, particularly when you’re minus a few weapons. That’s what you do when you’re down some people – you bogus pressure, you play zones, you play some man, you mix things up. We knew going into the game we were going to be down a couple of sub-package players, and that could make things potentially difficult if they had athletes inside, particularly on possession downs. So, sometimes those adjustments, the art of deception, the smoke-and-mirrors only lasts a set amount of time, particularly when you have a veteran quarterback like Philip Rivers. You only get so many snaps from him looking at it from an in-helmet perspective. That’s the chess match, when you have to make calculated decisions with the pieces at your disposal.
Q. Kam Canaday was injured during the game last Sunday night, but he was able to come back and finish. You were asked about a backup long-snapper and you chose to keep those cards close to the vest. Is there a reason for the secrecy?
A. It’s just interesting fodder for me. Over the years, having the perspective of being here a long time, you know how testy those circumstances are when you go to your backup snapper. I can recall about 10 years ago calling on James Harrison when Greg Warren sustained a knee injury. I remember our two options were James Harrison and James Farrior. And I called them both over and I said, “Who wants to do it?” And it wasn’t so much about who wanted to do it, it was the fact James Harrison was less resistant to doing it. The backup long-snapper isn’t listed on the depth chart. We have a plan. It’s not a comfortable one. I’d just as soon not talk about it.
Q. Today, your offense will be without starting running back James Conner. Is it possible for an offensive line to compensate for the absence of a starting running back when it comes to the ability to run the football?
A. Not tangibly, but intangibly, certainly. Their willingness to ensure that the backup running back has a good day. Their willingness to ensure that guy gets to the line of scrimmage clean. The intensity with which they work. Sure, those things are possible. Tangible? You’d have a tough time measuring it. But from an intangible standpoint, certainly.
Q. In the grand scheme of things, is it more likely that a great back can overcome a mediocre line, or a great line can make a mediocre back look better than he is?
A. It’s six of one, half-a-dozen of the other. I think both things are capable of occurring, You just see it. Top-quality backs who make people miss and break off long runs, which can have nothing to do with blocking. And at other times, with a dominant offensive line group it doesn’t matter who’s toting the football, they’re going to get you. I think both are capable of being accurate descriptions.
Q. Earlier in the week, you indicated a running back by committee approach, but you also said, “That is our intention as we sit here today, but we have a preparation week in front of us, and sometimes division of labor is revealed to you through that work.” What was revealed to you through the week of practice?
A. I like our overall approach. We have enough things in place from a preparedness standpoint to highlight all the assets the guys bring. But even as we get into the game, I just want to be open to roles evolving. When you’re without a significant piece like James Conner, and you have capable options and men, you want to be open to one of them or more than one of them ascending in some way, or maybe (be open to) game circumstances changing that. We have a plan. We feel comfortable with the plan. Part of that statement, for me, is just stating that we’re willing to be light on our feet and adjusting to things that we see. One of the interesting things about watching the Pitt Panthers play this season is you didn’t know which one of those backs was going to kill people. It seemed like, over the course of games, in some weeks it was Qadree Ollison and in some weeks it was Darrin Hall. Pitt’s ability to ride with the hot hand really defined them advancing to that ACC Championship Game. And I share a similar mentality. We’re going into this game capable of utilizing all of the guys at our disposal, but things may occur in-game that dictate the flow and direction of this thing. I don’t care who gets the credit.
Q. Granted that the team has lost two in a row, but do you view what’s been happening as an overall decline in performance, or has it been just a couple of instances where your team just hasn’t made the necessary plays to win the game?
A. It depends upon what type of comfort you’re seeking. It doesn’t matter to me. The bottom line is we didn’t win the games. I always choose the accountability approach – the things that we didn’t do – as opposed to the things that happened. I’m not one who believes that things happen to us in stadiums. We dictate what happens to us in stadiums, positively or negatively. I focus on the things we weren’t able to do and the things we didn’t do well, and appropriately so, because addressing it from that perspective ensures that we make the necessary adjustments to minimize the possibilities of those things moving forward. That’s just a prudent business approach. I think sometimes when you talk about things just happening, that means an unwillingness to alter your approach or to change when necessary, and then you leave yourself susceptible to things repeating themselves. I’m always open to making the necessary adjustments, open to acknowledging that we are falling short in some way, whether it’s real or not, because that puts you in position to stay ahead of the curve.