Q. When it comes to pass protection, good pass protection, is there more to it than just the quarterback not getting sacked?
A. No question. You can look at it from several aspects. First, it’s the individual skill-set associated with one-on-ones – the sets, the hand usage, the ability to anchor. But there is also the collective element of it, too, a coordinated protection, the way that the five guys collectively work together to block the myriad of things that they see. So it’s a really challenging aspect of play. It’s challenging in a very individual way, but it’s also very challenging in a collective way. It is a one-fail-all-fail proposition, and so it really pushes the urgency through the roof.
Q. In terms of the outcome of the pass protection, what are some of the things in addition to not allowing the quarterback to be sacked that you’re looking for?
A. A clean pocket affects accuracy. Forget whether or not he gets sacked, if he has the ability to step to throws and follow through throws, his accuracy goes way up. If the quarterback is being moved off the spot, if he’s having to retreat or escape laterally, either to the right or to the left, it affects his ability to function in a very big way. So, stats or sacks just tell part of the story. Sometimes you have an opportunity to affect the normal flow of an offense simply by making the quarterback move off a spot, or not allowing him to have enough space to follow through on his throws. Obviously there is an attrition element associated with quarterback hits. That has been minimized a lot in recent years by the player safety initiative, but when a guy is picking himself up off the ground repeatedly, there is an erosion, if you will, over the course of a football game.
Q. Is it an oversimplification to say that the three interior offensive linemen need to anchor and the two tackles need to run the outside rushers around behind the quarterback?
A. I think that’s a general place to begin. There is more minutiae and intimate details within it, but certainly if you’re looking at a place to begin, if you’re looking for some things that are required for good pass protection – you have to be stout up front so that the quarterback can have that space for his follow-through that creates accuracy and that he’s not moved off the spot, and then for protection of the football the tackles have to be good on the edge in terms of running people by. Particularly in today’s game, those edge rushers are not hunting the quarterback, they’re hunting the ball.
Q. Is it ever part of the assignment for the pass protection to open throwing lanes for the quarterback?
A. Very much so. Quick-game, for instance. And all of the short, rhythm passing from time to time. Different guys have different philosophies. Sometimes you’ll see in some offensive groups, the tackles cut-block 100 percent of the time in quick-game, and they’re cutting because they’re trying to get the edge players’ hands down so that the quarterback can find throwing lanes on hitches and slants, the quick-hitting perimeter plays such as those. That’s an element of play, and so by concept it often dictates the techniques or the blocking style that’s employed by the guys.
Q. A few weeks ago when we were talking about the running game, you mentioned that an efficient run on first down pretty much involves winning the line of scrimmage and the back falling forward. How would you evaluate the offensive line so far this season when it comes to winning the line of scrimmage?
A. It has been spotty. It really has. And some of it has been born out of circumstances that are outside of their control. When you’re missing significant components on the perimeter, people are stacking the box, and that makes winning the line of scrimmage more difficult, particularly when they have you outnumbered. Some of it has been week to week. We faced some really stout defenses, some of which we didn’t know were really stout at the time but has been revealed to us over the course of a larger body of work. New England’s defense is approaching legendary in terms of some of the things they’re doing. San Francisco’s defense is really, really good, and I’m talking about some of the best defenses in the National Football League. In Week 1 and Week 3, it wasn’t necessarily evident, and that’s more evident to us now. So we haven’t had the dominance that we’d like, and some of it is due to lack of execution by us. Some of it is due to circumstance. Some of it is just due to stiff competition. We need that line of scrimmage to be won this weekend.
Q. How is cadence used as a weapon for the offense?
A. It’s used in a lot of ways. Pace is used in a lot of ways. Sometimes you beat defenses to the punch with up-tempo play, (snap the ball) on the first sound. Sometimes the speed with which you get up to the line of scrimmage makes play-calling challenging from a defensive standpoint. So the quicker you get to the line, the quicker the defensive coordinator has to make a decision, the quicker the defense has to get communicated and lined up. So that’s just an element of pace. Also, some of the false cadences, hard counts and so forth, in an effort to get a free 5 yards and make sure the defense is fundamentally sound in that way is another use of pace. There are a lot of uses of pace. We try to work in all areas and utilize different ones at different times.
Q. It will be B.J. Finney today in place of Maurkice Pouncey. What skill-set does he have that will allow him to get that job done against the Bengals.
A. He is very stout and always has been. He’s very square and he doesn’t lose ground, and that falls in line with the discussion we were having earlier about being able to keep a clean pocket so that the quarterback can follow through and not have to move off the spot, and thus he has a chance for his accuracy to be where it needs to be. B.J. has always been very stout, and it helps him at center and it also helps him at guard when he gets an opportunity to start and play there as well.
Q. In terms of both the individuals who have had to step up and then the unit as a whole, how has the defensive line responded to the season-ending injury to Stephon Tuitt?
A. They’re going to continue to write that story as we proceed through the upcoming weeks. It’s easy to bridge the gap over a short period of time, for guys to expand outside of their normal or anticipated roles for a short period of time. The mental wear and tear with an expanded role over a longer period of time, the physical wear and tear over an expanded role over a longer period of time will tell the story. We’ve done a nice job keeping consistent pressure on the quarterback, and it has meant more snaps for Javon Hargrave and Tyson Alualu. They’ve been able to handle it and handle it very well over a short period of time. What’s that going to look like from a cumulative standpoint as these snaps pile up? They’re going to continue to write that story, but we’ve also been able to supplement some of that stuff with a hybrid group in there that includes Vince Williams. We’ve been thoughtful with that, cognizant of that, and really want to spread Stephon’s snaps around to a group of people in an effort to keep all of those guys up in a positive way.
Q. When you’re watching and evaluating video, either of your own team or an opponent, can you gauge the effort of an individual player or a unit?
A. Easily. There are certain things you look for from a coach’s perspective, and time has taught me that. Changes of speed in pursuit of the ball. Changes of speed in pursuit of a block. If there is a change in speed, that means they weren’t going full speed. Guys staying on the ground. You’re going to get knocked down in football some, in a lot of ways whether you get blocked to the ground or you miss tackles and so forth. A guy’s ability to spring to his feet and continue to play. You’d be shocked at the amount of plays made by guys who at some point in the course of that play were on the ground in some form or fashion. Those are two key things that I look for when I talk about guys hustling and playing at full speed. I’m looking for changes of speed, which is an indication they weren’t going full speed the whole time; and guys staying on the ground. It’s OK from time to time to get knocked down. That’s part of football. You’re going to lose some physical battles. You get tripped up. It’s close quarters combat. You have to get to your feet and get moving.
Q. Is that something players notice about other players?
A. No question. Their level of awareness is environmental. If you teach it, and if you hold them accountable consistently, if it’s something that’s talked about and described, it’s outlined for them. One of the things I always outline is us being a tough and physical defense, so how do you do that? You play at full speed all the time. You never turn down a hit. You never get passed up by a like athlete. And you don’t stay on the ground. If you’re meeting those criteria, then chances are you’re playing with the type of urgency and speed that allows you to play the type of ball you want to play.
Q. If you had noticed sub-par effort from an upcoming opponent, would you point that out to your players?
A. I point it out if it’s a teachable moment in some way. I think all of us in this thing are looking for opportunities to teach. Forget how it relates from a matchup standpoint relative to a game. There are just some football things, things that happen in a game, whether it happens in our game, or in preparation for our game, or things that just happen in football in general, often times watching video is an opportunity to teach. I may acknowledge it, or I may not. If I’m acknowledging it, I’m not acknowledging it in an effort to provide comfort for us as we prepare for somebody. I’m using it as an opportunity to teach because that video is your walking, talking, breathing resume. It is for players, and it is for us as coaches. You want good, quality things on video.
Q. You speak of your job as being one where you have to give the players what they need. What did Mason Rudolph need from you this week?
A. We had some non-football discussions, to be quite honest with you. Not necessarily about the fight or what transpired, but he’s a young guy. He’s new to the public life. Often times, some things are said about you that are untrue that don’t characterize you in an accurate or appropriate way. And when you live a public life, you have to learn how to absorb that and not be consumed by it, and move on. You want to aggressively defend yourself, your name, your honor, and so forth. In many instances, it’s not worth your time. It’s fruitless. People who don’t know you are going to believe what they want to believe anyway. So we had a lot of discussions about that, because I live somewhat of a public life, and I get interesting things said to, and about, me. I’ve had a lot of these discussions with my sons over the years, and it’s cool to be able to have it with him and hopefully help him adjust to the things that come with this game at this level. Which is a public life, inaccurate portrayals of you, assumptions being made about you, etc. And sometimes it’s general hate and envy. It’s all a blessing when you really look at it. They are good problems to have. And we had an opportunity to talk about some of those things this week.