Taking it as it comes

The upset of Tampa Bay was positive reinforcement that the 49ers are on the right track, but coach Mike Nolan and his team have no time to look back now that they might have to break in a new starting quarterback for the fourth time in five games.

Here's Nolan's takes on a variety of subjects from his Monday news conference:

On Sunday's victory over the Buccaneers: "I'm proud of our football team. The first thing that comes to mind is the way they fought back after last week's loss against Washington. To perform the way they did yesterday against a very good football team, I believe it speaks volumes about the maturity of our guys and how they're coming along. Although they are a young team, as I've always said, it doesn't mean they're immature. They are mature in the way they responded. I think it says a lot about the guys. We don't dismiss losses in the things that we do. I believe that was very evident in the way the week went and everything that they did. Nobody is pointing fingers, everybody stays together and plays on target. That says a lot for our team, and I'm very pleased with the way they responded."

On what made the difference in the team's performance this week: "We won't dismiss anything that happened in the victory. Certainly every game is not a perfect game, and this game was no different. From that respect, there's a lot we can learn from this. It's a lot better to sit here with a victory amongst the errors that we had. Overall, the thing that did make the difference in this football team is the preparation that they did last week. We minimized our mistakes in the game. We had some, but when they did occur, we weren't challenged on those mistakes. I believe that good teams that prepare well are usually the luckier teams because you prepare and you minimize the opportunity for your opponent to get you. That was very evident yesterday. I felt very good about that."

On keeping the same goals: "We still have a long way to go. We're at 2-5, but 2-5 is a lot better than 1-5, which is where we were a week ago. It allows us to stay on track with two things. One is our purpose, which we will never get off of. That's the personnel, structure and chemistry. It's also with our goals; our goals being to take command of the division. At some point, that is what we'd like to do. It does keep us in that hunt. When the day comes where we can no longer do that, then I'll say something different. That's important to our football team to know that, and it's something that they're always trying to pursue and attain."

More on the game: "As far as the game goes, offensively, defensively and on special teams, I have a few things to point out. Offensively, I thought we ran the ball extremely well. Tampa Bay had the number one run defense going into the game, so that was a very good thing for us. One of the things that made the biggest difference in running the ball was the mentality of our offensive line and the offense in general. We played a very physical game against a very physical football team. I thought it was great that we came out on top in that area. We had zero turnovers in the ballgame. Everybody knows how important that is. We also had zero sacks, so those were a couple of areas that were extremely important in us winning the ballgame. The areas where we need to continue to work on and we're not as good as we'd like are the third down area and penalties. We were the least penalized team going into the weekend, tied with Indianapolis, and I don't know where we are coming out of it, but we had some penalties in the ballgame. The thing I liked about them is that they were aggressive penalties. You certainly don't like personal fouls, and you don't want someone to get hurt, but when they did throw the flag on that one, it wasn't like there was a malicious intent by anyone. It was just a pushing and shoving match and he got a personal foul. The mentality that we played with in the game was very good. I think that's what led to that."

On what was accomplished defensively: "Defensively, we accomplished two out of our three ‘musts.' The first one was to stop the run, which it is in most games. That was to hold them under 100 yards, which we did. If I'm not mistaken, they had 40-some yards in the game rushing the football, which is outstanding against a team that was fourth or fifth going into the game running the ball. Their football team has the personality that we are trying to attain, and that is the ability to run the ball on offense, complement it with the passing game, the ability to stop the run on defense and play great pass defense. We did a good job yesterday. We commanded the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, running the ball on offense, as well as stopping the ball on defense. Our second goal in the game was to hold them to zero explosives. An explosive is a run over 15 yards or a pass over 20. They did not get any runs over 15, but they did have two passes. One was obviously the 78-yarder for a touchdown, but it didn't cost us the game, so we're very fortunate in that respect. We minimized the amount of them, and that was important. The other thing was third-down efficiency. We accomplished that goal in this game defensively. It was our best game this season on third down, and that was important. Our guys will gather a lot of confidence from that, because they're (Tampa Bay) a very good third-down football team. As a matter of fact, I don't know where they rank on third down off the top of my head, but I know they rank well because they're one of the teams that have the shortest distance to go on third down. They had an awful lot of third-and-ones and third-and-two-to-fives, which are the short third downs. That's because of the offense that they run, and they do a great job of that."

On the play of special teams: "The last aspect is special teams, and we continue to be strong in the special teams area. One thing that stood out to me was Joe Nedney's performance. He was five-of-six, and four of those five were over 40 yards. Had we got six, I believe that would have been a 49ers record, but nonetheless that was a great performance by Joe. He continues to kick off very well. We always have the element of surprise with Joe on kickoffs, so Joe's quite a weapon for us and he's continued to do an outstanding job for us all year. The other area of special teams that was important in the game - not going into it because we didn't think about it – was with the injuries we had going into the game, a lot of people had to step up and perform in the kicking game that may have been a backup or maybe a third-stringer like (QB) Cody Pickett. Before he goes in at quarterback, he has to cover a punt the series before, and he goes down and ends up making the tackle That says a lot about the players, as far as them stepping into the kicking game."

On what he told the offensive line to change their performance in this game: "The most important vision on the offense is the offensive line. As a defensive coordinator, all the best offenses that I've gone against, and even to this day, with Kansas City being one of the most explosive teams, it's an offensive line that plays great. Whether it be the Giants when they were good, or the Cowboys when they were good with (former Dallas QB Troy) Aikman and all of those guys, it was always an offensive line that stood strong. Did they get recognized for it? Sometimes, but sometimes not. Certainly all of your skill players get most of the recognition, but the reason those teams have a running game and a passing game is because the protection is there on the pass and there are holes there on the run. I expressed that to our offensive line. I said, ‘The foundation of our offense is going to be built around you.' With that foundation and with that being built around them, it's as much of a mindset as it is a talent issue. It's important for me that the offensive line has a ‘big brother' mindset. Whether it be sacking your quarterback, or laying on a wide receiver, or holding a back down with all those things, it's important to me that our line is there for the skill guys. That was basically the gist of what I told them. They have to take on that role of, ‘Guys, we're the big brothers, and whatever goes down with this offense, we're going to be the guys that will always be there.' Whether that made a difference or not, I don't know, but if it was anything, they were given the green light to be that. Certainly, we don't want to let our emotions get the best of us, which it did yesterday a couple of times with a couple of tussles out there, but as long as there's no malicious intent and it's just fair play, that's what we're looking for. I will say that George Warhop and Mike McCarthy, the offensive line coach and offensive coordinator, preach this same thing. They have been from the very beginning. I was just trying to give it a kick start and make sure it goes in the right direction. I wanted them to know that it was OK to be who they want to be. They want to be tough.There's no offensive line that doesn't want to be tough. I don't know that they all want to be recognized. Most of the time, the offensive line knows that it's just part of the business, but they do want to be able to play tough and play physical. They want to be known that way. If you want to take a player's will away on defense, it really comes from the offensive line. I've been a coordinator on defense for too many years and I can tell you that if somebody took our will away, it was the line. That's going to be a foundation for our offense. That's why we drafted two offensive linemen, that's why we signed Jonas Jennings and that's why we have guys like J. Newberry."

On whether the running game contributes to that tough mentality: "Sure it does. In watching yesterday's game even when we didn't get a couple of yards early on, you could see that mindset. They were after it. Even though somebody might have made the play for a yard or two it wasn't a frustrating issue, because we could say that they're really playing together well. We always preach to our guys that it is the third or fourth quarter where you really see it show up. That's what we're looking for.

On whether it's a concern that players were on the line of being too aggressive: "I would love for them to go right to the line every play. They can go right to that line and stop. When you cross the line, that is when you get flagged. It's a game of sportsmanship, but that guy on the other side wants to do the same thing. I always view this from a defensive perspective. As a good as the defense was from where I just came from, I always knew that if someone just pressed the envelope to the very end then they would test our will. It's not just the running game, but it also opens up the passing game. The best example playing in football of that is the Kansas City Chiefs. They have an outstanding line. They run that ball, but you can see everybody open on a pass all the time. It all works together, but their line creates it. They play together well and that is what we're developing. That's our goal."

On whether he got a sense the line was feeding off Kevan Barlow's running: "Without question. They feed off of each other and that is where you get a great bond between the two. Then you get receivers down the field. All of those things attribute to making a successful offense. Billy Bajema did a very good job blocking and he continues to get better and better each week. It takes eleven guys to make it happen, but everything on offense starts with the line."

On whether he expects Cody Pickett to be the team's starting quarterback for Sunday's game against the New York Giants: "I would expect that, but we'll see. I haven't got the final, but based on what I saw yesterday I would say so."

On whether there's any comparison with Cody Pickett and Ken Dorsey to Alex Smith and Tim Rattay: "Right now, it's not, because one is injured and one is not. What I like about Ken is his height. When he stands in there he has great vision, but when you are short as Tim was he has to maneuver in and out of the lanes. When you watch Ken drop back and step forward he's got good vision. But the mobility of Pickett compared to what Ken gives us is different. They both have some strong qualities. I thought Ken would've played at a little higher level than he did, but he managed the offense very well. We ran the ball well. By no means have I lost any confidence in Ken and everything that happened, because I believe in him. He just pays the price too much. Yesterday I think he was looking too hard to make the perfect play. As you already mentioned, Cody Pickett can make something happen."

On whether the team needs to sign another quarterback: "Right now we do not. After we find out where we're going to stand tomorrow I'll know more by the evening."

On where Alex Smith's injury is at right now: "It's questionable."

On the challenges of starting a fourth different quarterback in the past five games: "As you all know when we started we kept four quarterbacks. There was not a lot of experience in the group at all, but each guy had something to give you, so you didn't want to let anyone go. We're fortunate that we took that mindset in the beginning and not just let a guy go. They all have something to offer. We're blessed that we kept them all."

On how long it will take to get Pickett up to speed since he hasn't taken many snaps: "We have exactly to Sunday. That is how long it's going to take."

On how difficult that is: "He's been in the system. If you bring a guy from an outside system he has a lot to learn. He has to learn language, the plays and the players. Cody sees our guys and he knows all of our guys. For example this is a lot better situation than if Tampa Bay wanted to go to Tim Rattay. That's difficult for them, because Tim is trying to get used to the environment. If nothing else he's trying to figure out what time that he needs to show up for a meeting. In our case Cody's been here and the guys know him. The guys in the huddle like him. It's not like you have to get in the huddle and the guys are like, ‘Who is this Tim Rattay guy?' That's what Tampa would have to do if they did it. When they get in the huddle with Cody they know who he is. They know what he stands for and he will compete."

On how much of the offense has to be changed to fit Pickett: "Percentage wise it's hard to say. He has strengths that are different from all the other guys, so it will be curtailed to him."

On what the win over Tampa Bay shows for the team when looking at the big picture: "It reinforces what we've been saying all along, not only to the team but to the outsiders as well. Our guys believe in what we're doing. There is an atmosphere and attitude in this building that is going to stay. It's not going anywhere. Like I said, it's the purpose and the purpose is fine. What we're trying to do is obtain that goal and it takes work. One day you would like to have them all in one. When you have the right personnel, the right chemistry going, then there is only one thing, it's the goal. You just keep rolling with the other stuff. You will obviously check it, but you don't have to always drive it home. Right now we have to drive things home all the time. That is because you are trying to instill that in the building and everybody that goes out on that field. Even though we are almost midseason, there's still a process they're going through. As a matter of fact, with this structural change regarding practice, there ought to be a little bit of an adjustment on their part. When they get in this thing, this environment for two, three, four and five years then I'll say ‘What's the goal guys?' When it breaks down you just get right back to the goal and talk about the goal again and what we did wrong and why we missed it. Right now we are working with a lot of things."


Niners Digest Top Stories