How Will Coach Jim Harbaugh Handle Potential Overconfidence?

49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh chatted with the media yesterday and again hit a couple high notes but didn't get into many specifics. He is a hard nut to crack, but the victories are coming by a combination of execution and great game-planning and he more or less said that with his comments. The players and coaches are coming together and taking care of business. It's pretty simple and Harbaugh is not going to give away any game-planning secrets, so we get fairly basic press conferences. I can live with that.

One amusing question revolved around some comments from Vernon Davis to Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber. Apparently at some point Davis told Barber to get his boys to play hard, or something along those lines. While it'd be nice for the team to just handle their business and move on, for a lot of these guys it has been a long time since they played on a winning team. Part of the process of improving as a team is learning what it's like to be a winner.

The 49ers have a lot of work to do to develop a level of consistency over the entire season, but this is one time I don't think a little confidence is a bad thing. As the season moves along, Coach Harbaugh will face more and more challenges even as the team improves its play. Whether it be getting off the mat after the loss to Dallas or keeping the team focused on the task at hand after the big win over the Bucs, Coach Harbaugh will be challenged week in and week out.

Heading into Detroit, we have two teams playing with extremely high levels of confidence. It will be interesting to see who can sustain that confidence in six days.

Head Coach Jim Harbaugh
Press Conference - October 10, 2011
San Francisco 49ers

Listen to Audio I Media Center 

Film review, how did that go? Watching everything from yesterday?

"It was good. Really on all sides of the ball, defensively, offensively, special teams, you really look at it and say that was solid, very good football. May not have been flashy, but it was good, solid football. Everybody played with great effort. Everybody played hard. There was exceptional play in the ball game. Thought [QB] Alex [Smith] played lights out. Defensively, very solid, very good game. Very good understanding by our players of what we were trying to do defensively, understanding Tampa Bay. I thought [Defensive Coordinator] Vic [Fangio] called a great game. Tremendous calls in the game that whether you say it's good or lucky, maybe a little of both, to have the right call on at the right time. When certain schemes that Tampa was using, lucky or good, we had the right call to not be stressed in those occasions. Thought the secondary played extremely well. Two interceptions, really three more times where we had our hands on the ball that could have been picks. Their understanding, the secondary's understanding, a lot of credit to [Secondary Coach] Ed Donatell and all the fellas back there. They had seen the routes in practice, they were in the spot that they were supposed to be in and broke extremely well on the football and made big plays. [CB] Carlos Rogers got probably the biggest play in the game. After a turnover, gets the interception back for us and takes it in to the endzone. It was interesting, too, because before Carlos went out, after we had fumbled the ball, I kind of turned around and there was Carlos and he said ‘don't worry about it, we'll get it right back'." 

He said that or you said that?

"He said that, to paraphrase him. Then he went out and got the interception and took it back for a touchdown. Thought that was huge in the game. [CB] Chris Culliver, his snaps were very good, very solid. He was the nickel man, nickel corner. [S] Dashon Goldson, big hits again. You turn on the film and you're seeing each week now, the last two, three weeks, where he's coming up with a big, physical hit in the ball game and I think he's starting to find quite a bit of rhythm. Defensively, [LB] Patrick Willis was the player of the game. 13 tackles and good tackles. Solid tackling by our whole defense. I thought the defensive tackling was really good, especially on their back. 27 [LeGarrette Blount]. He didn't bleed yardage on us like he's been able to do because we tackled very well. Thinking especially of Patrick's open field tackle where he made the tackle around the lower legs there, but he took one more step to get in position to be in that position, where a lot of guys will dive for the legs and get stiff-armed and come up short. He took one extra step to get himself in that position. Special teams was solid, not flashy. Thought [WR] Ted Ginn did a nice job in his returns. Very close to having a couple punt returns for touchdowns in the ball game. We play a little bit better, we've got a chance to be very, very good in special teams. Back to offense, great performance by the offensive line. Best pass protection we've had all year. They were just playing hard, playing well, playing together. Any time you can be that balanced as a football team, running-pass 200 yards passing, 200 yards of rushing and make big plays and keep the quarterback clean, that's a great testament to how the offensive line is playing." 

What are you seeing from Alex Smith at this point with your offense that may be surprising you or you didn't expect from him five games in?

"Just in a process of playing well. Playing better each week. Doing a great job, making cool headed decisions. Like I said, he played lights out. When you really start knit-picking and combing through his performance in the ball game, probably two decisions in the run game he would have liked to have had back, and two throws that weren't perfect. That's four out of a lot of plays. A lights out performance by him, winning performance by him. Right from the get-go, too. Rolled off the pregame and took the first snap and played extremely well from there." 

It seems like the first three and a half games, you guys are sort of up and down a little bit. The last six quarters, things have clicked. Can you put your finger on why things clicked after halftime of the Eagles game?

"Maybe numerous things. I think our guys are understanding. They're working extremely hard; we had a great week of practice for the most part. For the most part, every guy playing extremely hard, giving great effort. Those are the guys that are doing it. They're the ones that do it. Lot of credit to them. Thought a lot of credit to our coaching staff. Mentioned Vic and the guys on defense, [Defensive Line Coach] Jim Tomsula, [Secondary Coach] Ed Donatell, in particular, I think they really had the defense understanding what Tampa was trying to do in the passing game and also shutting down the run was big, when teams have struggled to shut down the run against Tampa. Offensively, thought the same thing: excellent plan and executed very well by our players. They understood what we were doing and to the point toward the end of the game where we were saving some things, not wanting to show. Just tells you that you have enough, you have more than enough schematically and I thought our players and coaches did a great job of teaching and learning that this week." 

How much after a game like this do you almost search or stretch for things to coach to? Usually if you win, there are probably more things that obviously stand out to fix.

"Definitely, we're going to keep improving. That's the intent, improve. We're not going to change, but we're going to strive to improve."

Can you tell us how serious the situation WR Joshua Morgan's facing?

"More serious than what I thought after the ball game yesterday. Josh is going to be out for an extended time, longer than we anticipated and longer than we hoped, longer than we can afford to have him out. We'll have a better idea after today. He's going to have a procedure done. I just feel sick for him and for our team. There's nobody you can afford to lose when you have a 53-man roster, 46-roster on game day. Especially him, Josh was really playing well. He and all the receivers blocked extremely well yesterday and that has shown up the last two weeks. It's remarkable the effort they're giving and how physical they are going about blocking. Josh in particular, just really coming into his own, catching his stride. Feel bad for him; feel bad for us because that's a tough loss for us." 

Is the hope that he can recover and come back and help you guys out later in the season possible? Playoffs?

"That's a hope. We'll have a better idea after today and tomorrow and assess the situation." 

Do you need to add somebody to the 53-man or the 46, or is it more practice squad that is a concern with wide receiver depth at this point?

"I'm looking at it right now, somebody's got to come up to the 46 which would make somebody have to come on to the 53 at that position. Best guess right now would be that we add somebody or we bring somebody up from the practice squad. That's a job for us here in the next 24, 48 hours." 

Is WR John Matthews someone who could... you just added him last week, but he's obviously got some background with you. Is he familiar enough to be a contributor, given he just joined the team?

"We'll make the assessment, what's best for the team like we always do. John will have a license to be that guy, [WR] Joe Hastings. Then we'll evaluate other guys, we'll bring some guys in for a workout." 

Procedure today for a broken ankle? Would that be accurate?

"I wouldn't say broken ankle, no. He's having a procedure, surgery today." 

On his leg?

"Yeah, a bone in his lower leg." 

When you look at the other option for receivers, obviously TE Vernon Davis has done really well the last few games and over his career. TE Delanie Walker, is he an option at wide receiver? Or is that something where you'd use him differently?

"No, you're exactly right. He is that option and has been that option and has been fulfilling that role all season. You can even see it in the reaction that we get from opposing defenses when we go to two wide receivers, two tight ends, Delanie being one of those tight ends, the nickel personnel is coming on the field. Not every time, but a good amount of the time. Yes, we look at him as a tight end, receiver and blocker. He gives us great flexibility and that's why we think so much of Delanie." 

Would you expect to get WR Braylon Edwards back after the bye week?

"I think that's a good possibility. We're definitely hoping for that." 

So right now, are you comfortable with Ginn, WR Michael Crabtree, WR Kyle Williams as your three guys moving forward and then adding Braylon to the mix later?

"Yes, but that's still thin. We've been dodging bullets which you always try to do. You try to dodge bullets, and we didn't dodge one on this occasion. Crab, and Teddy and Kyle Williams, we feel very good about where they're at and excited, anticipating getting Braylon back. But I think best guess right now is another receiver is added to the 53." 

You said that this may not have been flashy, is that a word you'd like to see applied to this team, any team you coach?

"Good, solid football ... very good with that." 

You said that Alex made two decisions in the run game he might have wanted back. What do you mean?

"Then you start getting into scheme, and elaborating on that, which I don't want to do. You're chasing perfection out there, every player is. I think the point I was trying to make is that he was close to that. It wasn't perfection but it was excellence. We'll keep chasing that and keep trying to improve and chasing that standard. I thought it was lights out performance and he was outstanding." 

You mentioned after the game yesterday that you don't take a knee with four minutes left, but you guys did go for it on fourth down. In retrospect, what was the thought process of going for it on fourth and three and not just kicking the field goal there?

"The thought process was to make a first down, get back into running the clock down to the point where you can take a knee. There is no second team on a 46-man roster, offense, defensively, or special teams. You kick the field goal, you expose the kicker. You take a knee, now the defense is back on the field, you don't want to put your defense back there. Next option is throw a short pass, which we did. Try to get the first down and now you're taking more time off the clock. Run the ball, you're still, in my experience, more times offensive linemen are rolled up on a run play than a pass play. Really, you're trying to dodge bullets at that point. The intent is to get the clock down to where you can take a knee. This occasion, we didn't dodge it." 

Jim, CB Carlos Rodgers said he's allowed to be himself here. He needed a fresh start. No comparisons, you're not a comparison guy, what kind of impact, what has he meant to this team?

"He's a real steady guy. He's a football guy. He's one of those players that I really enjoy being around because they ask questions, they have suggestions. They want to know how things are working on the bigger scheme than just themselves, and how that applies to the entire team, or their unit. And we've had some good conversations, some good back-and-forth, where he's come up with some good ideas that we've implemented. And then some that we didn't think was the best thing for the team. But, on a whole he's just a bright team guy. He's playing extremely well. So, that's what he brings. He's a pro." 

Is he an entertaining guy? We got to see a little dance there after the pick six, and he's been entertaining us the last couple of weeks.

"He's been a great guy in the locker room. Everybody enjoys Carlos' company, including me and the coaches." 

Do you have like a group of veteran guys that you rely on for counseling? I think when [Former 49ers Head Coach Steve] Mariucci was here he had a dirty dozen group of vets that would come in and talk to him, do you rely on that, or is it more individual communication?

"Well it's both. But, we have a group yeah. Unity counsel to put a name on it of veteran guys, and captains are included in on that." 

About how many guys?

"Including the captains, twelve."

Like a dozen.

"Thirteen. There might be 13. Twelve or 13." 

Is LB Blake Costanzo now a captain?

"We have two captains, Frank and Patrick. And then based on the play of the previous week there's a special teams captain that was added each week. So, Blake was last week." 

A number of your players after the game said that they were having fun out there. And that was something that struck me.

"I'm glad you brought that up." 

Well, is going for it on fourth down, I think all the players agreed with that call, they like going for it, is that part of your message to the team to kind of make it enjoyable out there for them, especially in a game like that?

"I think the offensive players, a lot of players they want to go for it every time on fourth down. And that's a good mentality to have. And sometimes you do, sometimes you don't. You go by what the game dictates. But, yeah I like them having that attitude. A couple things I really liked in the ballgame, just from a morale standpoint, first was the crowd. I thought it was just outstanding the loud, in their seats right from the beginning. Third downs when the opposing team had the ball, they were up, and making noise. There was chants going on during the game. When Josh was down on the goal line there, they were chanting his name. And I think our team feeds off of that. And then our team, I noticed the talk and communication behind me on the bench. Everybody in the game. Everybody playing vicariously through their man at their position the entire ballgame. And giving each other good feedback on the sideline. Those things are great. And then out there with Josh. Look around, here's Frank saying something. He's right out there. And Vernon are there helping Josh with the self-talk. There's just several examples of that from a morale standpoint. And, I do see our guys having fun. And you want to see that." 

Jim, their series of penalties late third quarter, early fourth quarter, Vernon sensed not only did they lose their cool, but that they gave up, and he actually gave [Buccaneers CB Ronde] Barber a little pep talk, ‘get your guys to play hard.' Do you mind that? He said the competitor in him said, I want them to bring their best at me.

"Vernon does that on our practice field as well. And I think Vernon's always coming from a place of, good place. A team place, a competitive place. I have no comment on their-what they did in the ballgame or specifically to what you're saying. But, me being around Vernon, he's always coming from a true place." 

You've had time in Michigan, what do you think this means seeing the Detroit Lions undefeated after four weeks and you're going to be facing them after they've played again?

"They're playing good football. They really are. And excited about the challenge. And anticipate a great day of film study today, put a plan together. Because it's going to be hard. It's going to be tough. And then getting our players back here reviewing the game against the Bucs, and get a preview on the Lions. Anticipating a great opportunity for preparation this week. I think our guys will be focused. They'll understand the nature, the volume of this game, and what it means." 

Will you allow yourself a few moments to socialize out there, how many friends and family do you expect to have?

"I don't have many friends. I've got these guys. These coaches and these guys, and a few close friends, but not many. Just yeah, focus on the ballgame. And it demands that. This league is hard. It's tough. Most of these ballgames are three-plus hours, every second, every minute. Hard. Rough. Painful at times. Like sitting in a dentist chair for three hours. But, it's at the highest level and this week is that kind of game. It  kind of epitomizes that kind of struggle in the National Football League." 

Jim, you could make the case that the offensive line has made the most dramatic improvement the last couple of weeks, could that be just as simple as the fact that they've had some time together to kind of get with the system and all that kind of thing?

"Yeah that kind of nature of the business here that we're in that I've noticed from my short time being a head coach in the National Football League, it's trying to sum it up as best or worst. People outside the team do. You're either the best, you're the worst. And, sometimes that goes for players. Sometimes that goes for coaches. It goes for the team. And different units on the ball club. But, to me, this has been a steady process for our offensive line, and they're talented guys, who are working extremely hard. It's very important to them. One thing I've learned about them, they like a challenge, and they have the ability to respond to it. And you like to see that. You like to see us pushing us to get better. And you do everything you can to continue that." 

What's the one thing you've learned most from Al Davis?

"The one thing, the bullet points. There's not one thing. There's hundreds of things, all very important. I don't think there's a day go by that I don't try to implement something that I did learn from Mr. Davis. And, then I start thinking about it, you multiply that by the thousands, and thousands, and thousands, maybe hundred thousand people that learned same things, similar things, that are out there in the world implementing those things in their jobs, or in their coaching, or in their playing. And that's powerful. Powerful, powerful. He was a great man." 

What's one thing?

"Just win." 

That's the most important thing in sports, isn't it? I mean, when you get down to the essence?

"It's important. It's very important." 

Coach, are you going to be watching the game tonight, or do you get anything out of from the scouting standpoint from watching the game on regular TV, or do you just wait for the coaches' tape?

"Last week, personally I watched a little bit on TV. Maybe half a quarter, quarter when all's said and done. You're watching a lot of tape from the previous games. We have a lot of tape to go through. So, if I can get that done, maybe I can get two quarters in tonight and see. But, I would like to watch them live a little bit. And hear some of the sounds, and what the TV picks up that you can't pick up on the coaches' copy." 

How things change, it used to be the FedEx truck would come and you wait for that Monday night film to arrive, now it just shows up in your computer system, right, are you able to just get on it first thing in the morning?

"Yes. We'll be able to first see that on Tuesday. But, I don't know exactly what hour, what minute it arrives. But, it gets there pretty quick."

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