49ers OC Mike Johnson's Offense: Aggressive, efficient, bells and whistles

SAN FRANCISCO - OCTOBER 10: Frank Gore #21 of the San Francisco 49ers runs against the Philadelphia Eagles during an NFL game at Candlestick Park on October 10, 2010 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

The 49ers offensive and defensive coordinators spoke to the media today and Mike Johnson had a fairly interesting Q&A with the media. I don't know how satisfied folks will be with the answers he gave out, but many of the questions seemed to be drawn straight from the readers of Niners Nation. Of course some of the issues addressed are fairly common knowledge, but it's nice to see the questions asked of Johnson.

Johnson was specifically asked what kind of offense he wanted to run:

I want to run a balanced, efficient, running offense that has all the core run-action passes, naked's (bootlegs), boots, keeps, have the ability to spread you out when that dictates, and then be efficient on third-down and a highly explosive red zone offense.

One area in which many folks have complained is the overabundance of runs up the gut, which can lead to predictability for an opposing defense:

On the stat that says they run up the middle 66 percent of the time and whether that makes it easier for defenses to predict what they are going to do, and whether they need to have more of a mixture of runs:

"I think it makes it easier for the defense to stop it if you don't have all of the complements. And that goes into what we were just talking about again. We have to make sure that we complement our core runs. Our core run is the power play, which is an inside run. It's one of the best runs that (RB) Frank Gore runs, and it's something that he has been successful with his entire career. And it's up to myself and the other coaches to make sure that we complement that core run with all the bells and whistles to make sure that they can't just come down and squeeze the A gaps with eight-man pressure."

He seems to think the bells and whistles will be furthered this week as the team works toward becoming more efficient. When asked for the definition of efficient, he indicated it was a four-plus-yard play. Obviously we'd all like to see a mix of deep plays, but at the end of the day, if you gain four or more yards on every play, you're going to score every time. Generally speaking you won't gain four or more yards on every single play because defenses obviously won't allow that.

While the running game is an important component of the offense, deeper passes are also essential to keeping defenses honest. If Alex Smith isn't looking deep and completing passes deep, we'll just see the Raiders stuff the box on Sunday in hopes of beefing up their struggling run defense.

Offensive Coordinator Mike Johnson
Post-Walk-Thru - October 14, 2010
San Francisco 49ers 

Listen to Audio I Media Center

On whether he has gotten into the groove of play-calling and what he wants to establish on a game-to-game basis:

"I think it's evolving. I think that as that game got going the other day, it started getting into a rhythm and a comfort zone of what we want to become. Overall, I think we're making improvements in some areas. I think we're getting better on third down, improving in that area. I think we're getting back to the way we were last year in the red zone, being efficient there. There are still a couple areas though. I think we want to improve as an offense and I think we're going to make some of those improvements this week."

On the 2010 draft and his thoughts when WR Michael Crabtree was available for them to take:

"Well, we knew we liked Crabtree. We knew he was a good football player, we knew he was aggressive, we knew he was a playmaker, touchdown deal, and to have him fall in our lap, we had a couple other guys that we were targeting, the personnel department and that area, and he fell in our lap and that was a decision that we had to make and I'm happy that we have him."

On what worked well for the team in the two final drives of the Eagles game:

"Well, I don't know if it's just that situation. I think the one area that we have to really make improvements on is really taking care of the football. If you look at the first drive, we come out and score, the second drive we were going again and then we have a fumble. So, I think that area right there is the area that we want to improve on. Those are the disruptions that are really stopping us from becoming explosive and efficient from an offensive standpoint. To answer your question, in the two-point, two minute situation and fourth quarter two-minute situation, I think it's something that we've practiced and it's something that we're comfortable in. Takes away a lot of the thinking and you just go out and react. And that's where I think we have to become a better offense in the middle of the game and not worry about anything else, but just react to every situation that is shown because our team is very capable of being the team that everyone thought we would be, and the team that I think we're going to be from here going forward."

On whether teams have been putting cornerbacks on TE Vernon Davis more than in year's past:

"I think there are some teams that have placed corners on him, they've placed safeties, and they're trying to jam him at the line of scrimmage, and that's where we as coaches and myself, we have to find ways to make sure that teams do not take him away. And I think you saw that in the second half of the game against Philadelphia. He's an explosive guy and sometimes we have to make sure that we do not let teams take him away and that we're still attacking them with Vernon Davis."

On how the Raiders limited Chargers TE Antonio Gates and whether that gives him a heads-up as to what to expect them to try against Davis:

"Yeah, well you know what you're going to get. The Raiders are going to be a defense that, they're going to place a couple guys on him, we know who those guys are going to be, and it's going to be up to Vernon and the rest of our guys to beat those guys one on one. But it gives you a good picture of what to see, what to expect, and how to attack them in certain ways."

On how essential it is to the offense to get WR Michael Crabtree involved in plays:

"It is very essential. I think we said earlier, a couple weeks ago, that we want to make sure that we get the ball to 85 (TE Vernon Davis), 15 (Crabtree) and 21 (RB Frank Gore) every week and make that we get those guys opportunities to make plays. And the more we get those guys the ball, if you look at our touchdowns the other day, Crabtree had one, Vernon had one, and Frank Gore had one. So if we get those guys the ball enough, those guys are going to make plays and score points and that's going to be a big part of what we do going forward."

On whether he wants QB Alex Smith to be more aggressive with the ball and how he can help him do that:

"We want our entire offense to do that, not just Alex Smith. We want our entire offense to come out and attack and react, not play back on our heels. And that's something that we're pushing forward with our tempo, some of the things that we're going to do going forward. We want an offense that's attacking. And it starts with Alex Smith, but it doesn't end there. It's everybody. And I think our entire offensive team has played that way to a certain point at portions of every game. And we have to make sure that our entire team is going and attacking, not just Alex Smith."

On whether the eight runs in first-down situations against the Eagles is attacking, and whether they need to attack more:

"Well, there needs to be a better mixture, I would agree with that. If you look at our eight runs though, six of them were efficient. And our deal is to make sure that we're in third-and-short, and put ourselves into manageable third-down situations. And the answer to the other part of that equation is we were 63 percent on third-down. So all of those things kind of go together. But you're right, there needs to be a better mixture of run-pass, but the bottom line is to be efficient on first-down and have a four-yard-plus play most of the time in the game."

On whether he is cognizant of the number of run plays on first downs and whether it is just the feel or if they keep track of it:

"We do keep track of that, and that's what (offensive assistant) Chris Beake does for me in the box. And he was aware of that and I was aware of that. If you look at our last game against Atlanta, there was a better mixture of run-pass, but that defense dictated that. So the one thing that we didn't want to do was to make sure that we weren't in a third-and-long situation. So therefore we made sure that we were efficient on first down. First drive we go down, we score. Second drive, we're going down again, and we have a disruption with the turnover. So, I think that the mixture is definitely something that's on my mind, and making sure that we have a better balance of run-pass, run-action pass keeps all those types of things that go into that. And going forward, I think we'll do a better job with that."

On the stat that says they run up the middle 66 percent of the time and whether that makes it easier for defenses to predict what they are going to do, and whether they need to have more of a mixture of runs:

"I think it makes it easier for the defense to stop it if you don't have all of the complements. And that goes into what we were just talking about again. We have to make sure that we complement our core runs. Our core run is the power play, which is an inside run. It's one of the best runs that (RB) Frank Gore runs, and it's something that he has been successful with his entire career. And it's up to myself and the other coaches to make sure that we complement that core run with all the bells and whistles to make sure that they can't just come down and squeeze the A gaps with eight-man pressure."

On whether that core run has been successful this year:

"It's been efficient. So, successful, efficient. The bottom line is that we haven't won games, so we can't say that we've done what we wanted to do. But I think going forward we're going to evolve into what we want to become, and that's a more balanced, well-rounded offense that has all the bells and whistles and all the complements to complement our core run, which is the power."

On his definition of efficient:

"Efficient? A four-plus-yard play." 

On whether RB Frank Gore's fumbles were due to fatigue or trying to hard:

"No, I don't think - I think Frank just had an off-night. I think he'll be the first one to tell you he had an off-night. The first fumble was a very good hit on the ball. And he was squeezing the ball and the guy put his hat right on the ball and it popped out. Now, we still have to hold that, but they made a play there. The other one I think he was carrying a little loose and he fumbled. We have to make sure that we lock that ball up and have it secure on every single play. But I think it's something that we just have to make sure that we handle. We have to make sure that we take care of the football."

On inheriting the offensive plan and whether everything is there play-calling wise:

"I think a good portion of it is there, but like I said earlier, we are evolving into what we want to become. And the first week you can't change everything and do everything that you want to do or it's total disruption to the offensive team. So, as we go forward, I think there will be an evolution into the type of offense that I want to run, and we want to run as an offensive staff. So to answer your question, it's a good portion of it, but not everything we want to do, no."

On the type of offense he wants to run:

"I want to run a balanced, efficient, running offense that has all the core run-action passes, naked's (bootlegs), boots, keeps, have the ability to spread you out when that dictates, and then be efficient on third-down and a highly explosive red zone offense."

On whether RB Brian Westbrook has a part in that evolving plan:

"Brian Westbrook's role will increase. And it goes back to what I said a couple times already. You can't change the entire offense in one game, because if you look at our practice and the way we practice and the reps you have, you don't have time to make sure you get everything taught properly. But as we go forward, I think his role will increase and he will help us out. And we're going to use him and we're going to use other guys also."

On how much control he has over the game-plan and whether there is truth to the perception that he is being held back by what Singletary wants:

"It's all perception. It's all perception. And I think, like I said, going forward you will see a different style, slightly. But we have a core philosophy that we believe in, that coach Singletary believes in. But I think you will see a better balance of all the things I've said earlier. And I think going forward you'll see that."

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