Mike Nolan - From the Media Room

On Monday, San Francisco 49ers head coach Mike Nolan addressed the Bay Area media and discussed the things on his mind as he prepares once again for the Seahawks: the 30-19 loss to Green Bay, Alex Smith's recent downturn in performance, what's up on the injury front, and the overall state of a 5-8 squad that has lost three straight games.

Opening remarks
“I’m disappointed in the loss. As I said after the game yesterday, I think it was evident in looking at the tape and reflecting on the game that there were many critical points in the game where we didn’t respond. We had some situations field position-wise where we would turnover the ball. There were some times in the game where we played really well and there were times where we would shoot ourselves in the foot. It was evident on both sides of the ball, offensively and defensively, that that occurred. We gave up a couple explosive plays. We’ve done that the last few weeks after playing some real good defense. We did it in New Orleans prior to this game and then we did it again yesterday. We gave up some explosive plays that cost us. Two touchdowns, in particular, were big in the game.

“Outside of that, we need to capitalize better on the opportunities that present themselves, like getting the ball inside the five and getting seven points instead of three. Defensively, we’ve been doing a better job inside the five. That’s two weeks in a row now that we’ve stopped people inside and forced field goals after the adversity that we had faced. We have to be consistent in doing that. We’ve stopped people the last two weeks inside the five, but yet we gave up two big plays that were touchdowns. We need to do a better job with that.

“Overall, in looking at it, we are a young football team and I think that’s a sign of our youth. At the same time, we were bigger than that for three weeks when we beat Minnesota, Detroit, and Seattle. We have not been bigger than that issue the last few weeks, so that’s something we need to continue to work on and get better at. It’s the responsibility of all of us, coaches and players alike, to make that happen. As far as getting it corrected, it falls on all of our shoulders. Naturally we’re striving for consistency in our play and we’ll continue to do that. The work ethic has been good around here and it always has been. I don’t look for that to drop off. I believe that we have the structure in place to just get better and better. Along the way, we’re showing signs that we’re not there yet, so we need to continue to work to get through that.

“At 5-8, we aren’t where we want to be. Certainly at 5-5 three weeks ago, we felt very good about the prospects of certain things, but with the last three losses, we’ve got our work cut out for us these next three weeks. With a short week going into Seattle, it makes it all the more pressing to get back on track.”

Has there been any thought to playing QB Trent Dilfer to teach Alex Smith?
“I do not consider sitting Alex for that, because we know what we set out to do when we set out to do it. I’ll reflect on the whole thought process of us building this thing. Part of that thought process was that we had to bite the bullet when we lost a few players this off-season. In order to get everything right, in order to make Alex the best quarterback you can make him, I think there’s a greater setback in doing something like that with him. I think Trent Dilfer, as competitive as he is and as much as he would love to play, would be the first to say, ‘Coach, bad decision. You’ve got this young kid here that is going to be a hell of a quarterback. Make him learn.’ That’s the reason for that. Yes, he has struggled some in the last few weeks, but so has our football team. He does play the most critical position. It would be easy to say it’s all his fault, but it’s not. There have been routes incorrectly run, there have been breakdowns in protection. He made a couple plays yesterday. As a matter of fact, with the one that was called back, he had a guy right in his face and he put that ball right on the money. It was enough for Brett Favre to tell (offensive coordinator) Norv Turner after the game that the kid really could do some good things. I hate to use the word kid, because Alex is maturing all the time, but at the same time, he is a young player that has an awful lot to offer. That would be the reason not to.

“It’s like changing tracks in the middle of the thing, saying ‘Now, I really don’t like what we’ve been trying to do.’ It’s kind of like saying all of a sudden that we want to change all of the structure around here and we want to do it a new way, because we want a quick fix. I’d like to be there like everyone else, but at the same time, we set out with a plan. It’s important that we stay with it, because we do want to build through the draft and supplement with free agency. After this season will be our first true opportunity to get things right. It’s so easy to be tempted. Believe me, no one more than myself would like to jump a few tracks and say, ‘Damn it. I want it now.’ It’s the old ‘I want patience and I want it today.’ But you can’t go there and live by what you preached in the beginning. Otherwise, it’s a conflict, a contradiction, the whole thing.

“I believe we have the structure in place, the things in place, but it doesn’t fall when you want. It’s certainly disappointing to lose a game any way you lose. There’s nothing comforting about it, but when you can put a reason to it – not an excuse, but a reason – for why you lose the way you lose, it keeps us headed in the right direction. When I say that, what I’m pointing to is that yes, we are young, yes, we are inexperienced. The inconsistency, in my opinion and my assessment of what we’re doing, has a lot to do with that. But it doesn’t change the fact that we have to press on. When people rest and say, ‘Oh, it’s okay because you’re young,’ those people have to go, whether that’s coaches or players. They need to go because then they become part of the problem and not part of the solution. When I say these things, I’m not saying ‘Just rest assured, it’s better.’ I watch closely the people around me and when I have someone say, ‘Rest assured, I’m going to be patient by sitting back’, there’s a time and place for us to make a switch with those people. From my standpoint, I look very closely at the people who work real hard through it. Like I said, we’re on the right track. It’s disappointing. In those three weeks we won, we’ve kind of gotten their hopes up and said, ‘Look, you can do it. Do it every week.’ When someone else starts going, ‘I heard coach say that we’re young and we don’t have to do this…’ He didn’t say that you didn’t have to do that. He was just trying to say, ‘This is what we need to overcome, guys. Let’s get on track.’”

Why hasn’t the passing game been as effective as it was earlier in the season?
“I don’t think everyone had us identified with what our strengths and weaknesses were at that point. Now they know what our strengths are. Our strengths are running the football. That’s our biggest strength. Now that’s what you’re getting, a loaded box with tight coverage on the outside. We did get some of that earlier in the season, but they mixed it up. Earlier in the year, teams are also trying to find their own identity defensively. They’re doing different things. Pass situation, play it pass coverage. Against us, in a pass situation, they still might just load the box, get pressure with it, and play tight coverage. I believe that’s what happened to us. We’ve got an identity, so people say, ‘This is what they are. Take it away.’ That’s why I think the beginning of the season looks a little bit different than it does now.

“We’re still very capable of playing better than we did. It’s a disappointment. Let’s put it this way: You don’t even have to go back to the beginning of the season. You can take half the ballgame that was positive and half the ballgame that was negative. You can look at just the positive and say, ‘Why can’t you do like the half-positive?’ That’s what I like to look at, because that way I can say, ‘Guys, we can do it today.’ If I got 60 minutes of the nonsense no-good, then I would have to go back to early in the season like you said. I don’t really have to do that. I can go to half the ballgame and say, ‘Today, we can do this. We need to do it more consistently.’ That, to me, leaves better hope than going back two months or whatever it may be.”

What do you attribute to Alex passing better in the second half?
“Sometimes it’s just more opportunity. When you start to get out of the game, when it becomes two scores, you just start throwing more. Is that why it’s effective? It’s kind of like you have more chances to let your hair down and let go. You could say ‘Why don’t you let your hair down earlier and let go?’ Because we have Frank Gore. That’s kind of foolish to say Frank doesn’t matter and we’d like to have our passing game go. We need to do as we have done sporadically. We need to put the two together and make that work, rather than say, ‘Frank, you’re on the shelf. Let’s start chucking.’ That’s not how you win games. That’s how you try to get out of a ditch that you’ve created for yourself. We need to play a more consistent overall game, offensively and defensively, in order to get a victory. When we do it that is how we win.”

With Frank Gore, should other offensive weapons become available?
“They should and the guy that has to deliver the ball to them is in the pocket, which needs to be protected by five other guys a lot of the time. It’s easy to pinpoint certain guys. Without question, you can see by game plan that we try to get the ball in their hands. To run a reverse to TE Vernon Davis, you know Vernon is going to carry the ball, because you get to hand it to him. When you’ve got to drop back, go through a progression, get protection, and deliver a ball, you’re not guaranteed to get it to him. You can design it to, but if they take him away, you’ve got to go to your next guy. I would agree that you do want to use your playmakers, but they all have to work together. There are some routes that are designed to go to those players and maybe they cut their routes short. Maybe they fall down on the square and the other guy intercepts it. Maybe on the post, they don’t shield and the guy intercepts it. Maybe the guy doesn’t run to the corner and they intercept it. The interception goes on the quarterback’s stats, but it is a collective issue.

“It would be real easy to pinpoint. It’s a lot easier to solve problems. But when it’s not that simple, the truth of the matter is that you have to get everybody playing collectively to get it right. And not everybody plays perfect on every play, don’t get me wrong. You don’t need 11 guys to be right on every play to get it right, but you do need the critical people who are involved to do that. As far as your playmakers, it is the objective to get those guys more and more involved. Vernon has only played in six games. He does some good things. He does some things that a rookie would do. A.B. (WR Antonio Bryant) is new to this system. He does some good things. When he gets to pushing a little bit, the routes change a little bit. A good assessment of Alex two weeks ago was that Alex was trying to play to our formula. I thought that he tried to control the ball well, not turn the ball over, rely on the running game and take the sure thing every time. We missed some opportunities down the field and I believe Alex would say the same thing, as well. This past week, I think Alex thought, ‘That’s not the way for me to get better or to help our team win.’ So I thought yesterday Alex did go down the field more with the ball. Sometimes, he made some nice plays. Unfortunately, one of those big plays came back with a penalty. A couple other times we had some turnovers because of it. At the same time, I believe his effort was to try to do his job better and put the ball down the field. That’s something you can see in a young quarterback learning. One week, it’s ‘I don’t want to make a mistake.’ The next week, it’s ‘That’s not the way we win games. We need to make plays.’ It gets you a couple of times.”

Where did breakdown occur on the first interception?
“As it was practiced during the week, Vernon came open late. (TE Billy) Bajema was the guy we were anticipating to be late. Right there in the flat, they grabbed him, so he couldn’t get out. At that point, Alex has run with it. He probably should have kept it and tried to do something there, as opposed to putting it down the field.”

Vernon wasn’t the primary receiver?
“The primary is just to get the first down in the flat.”

Why didn’t Antonio Bryant start the game?
“It was my decision, as I told you yesterday. He was tardy for the special teams meeting on Saturday. He was about five minutes late. That was the reason. The only reason I’m telling you is because I don’t want people speculating that it was more than that. That’s what it was. Every meeting is important. I know that some might say, ‘Special teams meeting? What does he do?’ He’s on the hands team. As we all know, earlier in the season we won a game, because he took one in the mouth on the hands team and won the game for us. Everything we do is important. I don’t want to make light of any situation. It was a meeting. It was important to me. It was important to the team. We’ve got to be on time for that.”

Is that your policy?
“It changes. Sometimes it’s a fine. Sometimes it’s something else.”

Will he be back in the starting lineup Thursday night?
“Yes. He paid his price.”

What is the situation at cornerback for this week?
“Donald Strickland and Sammy Davis are both questionable right now. I won’t know until later today. There are some MRIs and things going on today.

Other injuries?
“T Adam Snyder will likely be out. Still questionable this week will be TE Eric Johnson and LB Derek Smith. CB Shawntae Spencer today will be questionable, but I would hope that he would be upgraded.”

Is Eric Johnson ahead of Derek Smith in terms of recovery?
“That I don’t know. I can’t answer it. I would say not. I’d say they were pretty close.”

How do you turn around game-planning so quickly for Seattle?
“Typically on Saturday, some of the guys do a lot of work for the next game. They kind of knock some out so that the week isn’t so hectic early on when you’re game planning. A lot of that work has been done. This morning, we didn’t put the same closure to the last game as we normally would do, because of the urgency in getting ready for the Thursday game. There has been more time spent this morning on Seattle than is typical for a Monday.”

When will you share game plan with the team?
“We’ll be hitting it today. What would be the normal meeting times will be spent on Seattle today.”

Have you done a Thursday night game before?
“Not as a head coach, but as an assistant I’ve done it maybe two or three times. This off-season knowing that we were going to have a Thursday game, I did quite a bit of research on it with the different teams that have done it. Naturally, Detroit and Dallas are two teams who do it every year because of Thanksgiving. We looked into it quite a bit. We’re basically going to go by our early schedule that we used last year at the beginning of the season. We’ll do an earlier schedule and then we’ll come in and meet later. Our days will be abbreviated on the field. We’ll be out in shells, instead of pads, so we’ll be lighter there. There’s a considerable amount of cut back going on, but you try to hit the normal game situations that you normally have.”

Are you a fan of Thursday night games?
“If you win on Thursday, I say it’s the greatest thing ever, because you get that long break after. It’s tough. It’s tough on coaches, tough on players. That’s why we have a game once a week. The game is physical. We’re not playing baseball or basketball or some other games. I think some players would say that if we went ten days in between games, they would like it because you get a chance to come back physically. It’s tough. Even the guys who aren’t severely injured, as you know, have a lot of bumps and bruises that don’t ever get reported. There are a lot of aches and pains that go with it. On a short week, getting back by Thursday, they’ll have to take good care of themselves these next few days to get prepared for the Thursday game.”

Would that make you rotate your players more?
“I don’t think we’re in a position to do that on our team. I don’t think, if we were fully healthy, even that way I don’t think our team is there yet. Our depth is not such that we would. The drop-off is a little more dramatic.”

Is LB Manny Lawson more of a first and second down player?
“For right now, he is. It just minimizes some things. He is a rookie. I don’t want to lose sight of that. We could just have him on third down, but we need him on first and second down. We have third down people in Roderick Green and some other people who could do some of that. Manny is a backup to those guys and he has gotten some reps in the last few weeks. For right now, as a young player, he’s got enough to develop in what he’s doing.”

How has his role changed since when you drafted him? He was drafted as a pass rusher.
“He has worked a lot in practice on those things, but in the games, he’s been limited. The other thing is that you need a fresh body in there on third down until a guy really comes on. Good players who have been in the league a long time know that adjustment. It’s every down and they have to gear it up on third down pass rush. For the young guys sometimes, they get winded on first and second and then they have to stand on third. The other thing is that on the defensive line, you can spell guys often on the regular downs. In a 55-60 play game, they might have, on the high side, 40 plays in the game. For us right now, and for Manny in particular, we wouldn’t be able to spell him on the regular downs so that he would have all that juice on third downs. For that reason, we try to keep Roderick Green and a few other guys rested for those situations. Brandon Moore is the only one right now that is in most all of the time, but Brandon has played five or six years. It has hurt him a little bit, because he doesn’t have the same juice, but so it be. He’s one of our better guys.”

How did LB Jeff Ulbrich play Sunday?
“He played okay. We lost. I don’t want to get too high on anybody.”

Is it still to early to expect LB Jay Foreman to play Thursday?
“We’ll have to wait and see. He might have to play a little bit this week.”

How did DE Bryant Young play Sunday?
“B.Y. played a lot. He played well in this game.”

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