The 49ers are wrapping up their day of rest on Halloween and hopefully you all are able to enjoy the night. If you're home watching Monday Night Football, feel free to pop in here for some discussion. Tonight's game features the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Diego Chargers.
Three weeks ago this game looked like a stinker, but all of a sudden the Chiefs appear to be turning things around. If the Chiefs win this game, we will have a three-way tie in the AFC West between the Chiefs, Chargers and Raiders. The Chiefs would have victories over both the Raiders and Chargers so I believe they would hold the tie-breaker for now.
Amazing how quickly things can turn around during the NFL season. They were ravaged by injuries and were having a regression after last year's big season. The AFC West could be in store for a wild finish. The Chargers have been playing the best of those three teams but it has not been any sort of landslide thus far.
If you are looking for some 49ers chatter as well during Monday Night Football, I've posted Jim Harbaugh's press conference transcript after the jump.
Head Coach Jim Harbaugh
Press Conference - October 31, 2011
San Francisco 49ers
What does W.I.N. stand for?
"What's important now."
What is important now for you guys?
"Today? Reviewing the film, learning from that, players getting treatment, day off for the fellas. Preparing for the Redskins."
The one thing that is striking when looking at your team is that on running plays, your offensive linemen are often well down the field, far down the field at the end of the play. It seems like all of them can move. Does that allow you to be more creative in the type of running plays that you guys do? More pulling than maybe you would if you didn't have this athletic an offensive line?
"Yes. It's highlighted by some very athletic offensive linemen. [T] Joe Staley in particular, but also [G] Mike Iupati, does a great job getting up on the second level. [C] Jonathan Goodwin does a great job getting up on the second level. [T] Anthony [Davis] as well. [T/G] Chilo Rachal, [T Alex] Boone and [C/G Adam] Snyder all do a good job. They're all big, big men who are very athletic as well."
Is that an example of something that you had to see your guys do before you could really start building the offense that we're seeing now? And see them in person to see what they could do before you could do that?
"Yes, you have to see people in person. Understand what they do well, what they can do better and fit that into the game plan. That's something you do have to see in person."
Have you seen improvement at all from Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis from the beginning of the year to now? And if so, what areas?
"That's a good question. I think definitely we've seen improvement in Mike and Anthony. And then those two highlighted probably have made significant strides just in pretty much all facets of their play. Pad level, understanding all the intricacies. Two younger players both in their second year. How to work together. Those things, as it relates to the offensive line, probably more so than any position group on a football team really needs that. They both really take a lot of pride in playing as a unit and also their individual play. Both working extremely hard. The thing the team likes about both those guys, they don't roam the hallways as prima donna number one picks. They're both from the get go, from the start of this thing they've spent a lot of extra time with [Strength and Conditioning Coach] Mark [Uyeyama] and [Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach] Kevin Tolbert, [Offensive Line Coach Mike] Coach Solari. They're in early, they're staying late. Doing all the things that allows them to have improvement."
This team has been so determined to keep things in the present and ‘What's Important Now', I assume is part of that. At what point do you want them, can you say look at the bigger picture? You're the number two seed right now. At what point do you embrace that or do you ever embrace what's possible down the road here?
"As a time line? December. We'll get to December and see how many wins we have, see how many we need as it relates to the season. We're always living in the future in some regard in terms of planning and making that December as good as it can be. Making this Sunday as good as it can possibly be. There's always a degree of that."
Before the season started, you may not have, but did you project ahead and say ‘Gee, we might be 6-1 now'. Did you ever think about a record or things like that?
"No. We talked about, you asked me a lot about that when we first started for projections, for expectations. Those expectations were to have good meetings, to have a good practice and they haven't changed in that regard. The expectations are to put a good game plan in for this week, have a great week at practice, have great film study, great meetings with our players. That plan hasn't changed."
When you talk about getting prepared for December, or however you phrased that, you're looking to December now. Is that game plan, is that getting players who might not be playing as much now ready for December, what's generally what you're talking about that?
"You asked me specifically about - ‘when do you start looking at the record.' My specific answer to that was - ‘when we get to December, we'll look and see how many wins we have and how many we need'. So that was a response to a direct question."
When you said we are also looking at the future as a team I thought you said and I just wondered generally what facets do you look for? Are you getting players prepared for December or are you getting game plans to prepare? Just generally.
"Just generally it's just a philosophy of life, of how we approach things as a team. There's the one philosophy that's ‘yesterday's a mystery, tomorrow is a mystery, we live for the present, it's a gift' - that kind of thing. That's not us. We reject that. We live for the future to make tomorrow better, to make this Sunday better. Everything that we can do today so we can have a better future."
DT Ricky Jean Francois after the game was saying that before you even got in there to address them post game they said ‘man, that was ugly.' A few of them got together and said ‘we played an ugly game but we found a way to do that' and that says something about maybe how far this team has come. They're talking about it even before you get in there. What does that mean to you that they're sort of taking accountability for, ‘this is an ugly one, we did it, and now we've got to clean some things up'?
"I disagree that it was ugly. I still think it's a beautiful thing when you win a football game in the National Football League. They're so hard to do. But, I think what they were probably feeling walking up, going into that dugout there, you walk into that tunnel and you get into your locker room, things were going through my head like, ‘gosh, I wish we would have done this better or called a better play in a particular situation' and there were a few of those. I think everybody probably had that accountability going on, knowing it wasn't always clean. You kind of reflect on that first. What did I do? What could I have done better? Still a beautiful thing to get a win and it's also positive that guys have broad shoulders and take accountability and ask themselves those questions, ‘what could I have done better? What can we do this week that's going to make us a better football team?' If we can all expect that from each other, demand that from ourselves, keep asking those tough questions and not be satisfied, to keep getting better. That was a good football team we played. No apologies for the way our team played. I think it was a great win for us and very proud of our guys."
One of the Mike Ditka documentaries that ran last week, they had a nice shot of him flipping the bird and you had said that you had that framed, I believe. Do you have that somewhere in your home or where do you have that picture?
"Yeah, it's at my house."
Displayed prominently somewhere?
"It was more prominently displayed and then it fell and the glass broke and I haven't gotten the glass replaced yet."
Speaking to one of your players, he said the fun about playing in your offense is just the varying week to week for each team. He estimated that only 40-50% of the playbook was what they've seen. Would you say that's accurate?
"No, I wouldn't put a percentage on it. I think the intent that this week, as it was last week and how it's been every week, is come up with a game plan that's going to put our players in a position to have success. We don't take any credit for that. We don't take any credit for really any of that. It's the players. They're the ones that are out there playing. They're the tough guys, they're the workers. We do what we can to put them in a position to have success and take advantage of what they do well."
What have you seen from them to make you believe that they could handle all the stuff you put on their plate with all the personnel groups and formations and the diversity of the offense. What have you seen from them?
"Talent, quick mindedness, very good study habits, excellent retention, a willingness to learn it and learn more. A willingness to be stimulated by new concepts and principles."
A lot of people when they saw you at Stanford thought ‘well, he has such smart players there, they can absorb all of that.' Not every player in your offense went to a school like Stanford. Have you been surprised at the intelligence level to be able to pick all that stuff up?
"No, I haven't been surprised. These are smart, committed men. I think a lot of times youngsters that go to really good schools are very good test takers which sometimes is not a reflection on how quick you are, how smart you are, how well you're going to pick things up. That's a willingness, that's a work ethic, that's intelligence. All those things are combined in that."
You mentioned you didn't like the reverse call in the fourth quarter there. Was that your call, was that Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman's call and what didn't you like about it?
"Well, I didn't like that it didn't work. I think we could have done a better job kind of detailing that out. I don't think the timing was where it should have been and noticed it during the week and really didn't get it corrected. Secondly, probably didn't need that call at that point. What we needed was a first down. We didn't need a big-hitter with the risk of being a big loss. We needed a first down and in retrospect, the way it worked out, you go back and say ‘wish we had done something differently.'"
Was that your call or Greg's call?
"It's all of our calls but Greg called it. We talked about it and approved it and all wanted to do it. It's all of ours."
When did you know that Joe and Isaac were legitimate options to throw fairly long passes to?
"During the last couple months. Working with them and seeing them. Isaac's always playing catch, he's always throwing, he's catching, he's running around. You just see it, and see that we could start practicing this, we can find a way to implement this."
But you'd been kind of waiting for the right time to give those guys a go?
"Yeah, you want to make sure it's been practiced and combed through and feel like you have the right look for it in a game and see evidence on tape that something like that would work."
What sticks out for the second half, the offense obviously struggling so much more in the second half. Anything catch your eye?
"Yeah, quite a few things. Wasn't as clean as it was in the first half. Different things factored in to that. We've got [WR] Braylon [Edwards] stepping out of bounds where we would have had a nice completion that would have put us in phase there on the pitch count, so to speak, with picking up the first down. Had a good shot when we overthrew [WR] Michael [Crabtree] in the fourth quarter. There was the reverse we talked about that took us out of getting a first down on that play. A combination of those things."
Defensively, you guys are number one in points allowed. How much is that attributed to the run defense or what's the main drive behind it?
"I think that's huge, the run defense is huge. Our guys take great pride in it. They do a great job coming off the ball, knocking blockers back. [DT] Justin Smith, again, in this ball game was outstanding in doing those things. I think a lot of it starts with those guys up front. [DT] Ray [McDonald] has done a tremendous job of it all year along with Justin and then [DT] Ricky Jean [Francois] comes in and plays very well, as well. Isaac, that's where it starts with those guys. Not getting penetration, knocking blocks back at the point of contact, and then we're getting great play from the outside backers as well. [LB] Ahmad Brooks had an outstanding game, setting the edge, physical with the tackles, knocking blocks back as well. [LB] Parys Haralson has been unheralded, but playing outstanding first and second down defense. Again, setting the edge, playing physical, not allowing balls to bounce and condensing and restricting the holes. Then the two inside backers are playing as good of football as you could hope or want. Another great game by [LB] Patrick Willis. That's huge to be able to have that front seven playing as well as they are playing together. Not always having to commit an eighth defender or an eighth hat into the box when you can stop the run with those seven."
With Patrick serving as the captain of that unit, can you give us an idea of what he says to the team before every game after you give it to him to break down the team in the pregame?
"It's very team oriented first of all. It's offense. It's defense. It's special teams. It's a mentality of starting fast. Those kinds of things that he emphasizes, and he lets his passion come out. He lets his passion show. And that's not something that Patrick said, ‘hey, let me do this, I want to be the guy that gets up here and talks to the team before we go into the locker room.' Guys have gravitated toward him, and they want and expect a shot of adrenaline from him in that situation."
You've talked about RB Frank Gore's vision. Alex has talked about Frank's vision. Frank says he knows where he's going to go before the play even happens. Is that natural talent, instincts? Is that pretty special in a running back to be able to do that, or what's your take?
"My take is that's something that those men crawl out of the crib understanding and knowing how to do. It's an instinct that sets them apart from everybody else who's blessed with strength, and speed, and running ability. There's an instinct and a vision that they possess that they've been blessed from mom, dad, and God to have. And there's that attribute that Frank has, there's the ability to turn his feet over, and to stop, and to jump, and to cut, and to get his feet to go where his eyes are telling him to go. That is special. Then he has ability to get torward, and lower his pads to get through the narrowest of windows. He's one of the all-time best, and we're lucky to have him."
You know you've been very efficient, very effective in the passing game, do you also need to be more prolific?
"We're always striving for that. And we're chasing perfection in every area that we have on our team. So, yeah we're close to having some really big hitters in this ballgame. And we did get a couple big hitters. We're throwing the ball, threw the ball deep down the left sideline. [WR Michael] Crab[tree] made a nice play on the stutter-go. So, your completion percentage is going to lower the farther you throw the ball downfield. I think there's evidence of that, and experience just watching all quarterbacks and receivers. So, it's nice to hit them. It's nice to hit them, and yeah we'd like to hit a few more."
Michael Crabtree expressed some frustration in Detroit that he hadn't been able to get in the end-zone partly because you know the officials didn't see it that way twice-
"I think he's been in the end-zone three times now, and got the satisfaction of one touchdown, right. I would be frustrated too."
Well he hugged you after the touchdown play. Had you talked to him about that?
"We spoke about that after Detroit because I really, really think Michael's been playing great football. The last three weeks especially. He just keeps getting better and more comfortable, and his abilities are shining through. And his consummate team type of guy the way he's blocked. The evidence of whatever the team needs him to do he's willing to go do. He switched from his X position to Z this week on a week's notice. And whatever I can do for the team was his approach and his answer when we asked him to do that. But, after Detroit I said, you know, ‘you played a heck of a game.' Some of the catches he makes that were on the boundary, or eight-yard gains, or 13-yard gains to keep drives alive. That's extraordinary catching ability that he has. And we watch him here in practice do the same thing. And his comment was well, ‘yeah but I haven't scored a touchdown.' So, that was important to him, and it was great to see him get the satisfaction of that touchdown pass because he does so much more for the team that doesn't get talked about outside of our meeting room in terms of the way he blocks, and willingness to do what needs to be done. Catch the ball over the middle, some guysjust refuse to do that. Not on our team, but Michael sets that example. Go in and make the tough catch, dig out the safety to make the tough block. And then make the fabulous catch, the long catch, and the separation that he got where we overthrew him, he's doing a heck of a job."
A lot of coaches might say you know I don't think about the touchdowns, don't think about the touchdowns, why do you relate to the fact that that matters to him?
"It's a great feeling to score a touchdown. Just to get into the end-zone, I understand it. Been there a few times, and that's a good thing."
Are you happy with your post-game handshake performance?
It looked like you eased into this one.
Jim, do you expect Ray McDonald? Is that a long-term thing, or is it something that you expect him to be back soon?
"We'll see. I haven't talked to Ray yet today, to find out where he's at. But, we'll play that as we always do. He'll be working through it, and we'll find out where he's at after a couple days here."
Did WR Braylon Edwards come out of that first game back feeling pretty good?
"Seemed to, yeah."
Jim, you mentioned December, but it's mathematically possible you could have the division clinch before the Thanksgiving game, do you have to guard against taking the foot off the gas pedal just because you do have such a big cushion already?
"Well I think the approach is just not even concerning ourselves with the standings until we get to December. Then we'll see how many we have, see how many we need. But, again I'm not taking credit for this because it's our players that are doing it. The way they come back with the motivation, with the knowledge of how important every single game is. How important the preparation is. How important the practices are. Our guys are doing that. And as a coach you can say all you want. You can talk and give speeches, and motivate, but, if the players are not the ones that are hearing it, listening to it, and putting it into action motivated by a knowledge and inner drive that this is important, it would do no good. So, I trust our team. I worry less about things like that because I have the evidence to know how they approach each week."
Were you able to do that when you were a player? Is it something you had to learn? Did the coach teach you the philosophy of taking, of how you approach the whole season?
"No, I think I had that from an early, early age. Just how important and fun games were, and how important the preparation was. And just I always had fun at practice. Practice was being outside. That was where the medicine was. Didn't have to think about anything else that was going on in my life expect scoring a touchdown. That's a wonderful feeling. You've got a real focus and clarity on what's important now. So, I've had that from an early age."
What do you mean that's where the medicine is?
"Just to be outside. To see a horizon. Not to be inside. The din of being inside but, to be outside. The grass under your feet, the air, the clouds. It's just footballs flying in the air. That's thinking of only one thing. That's medicine to me."
Did you talk to your brother yesterday? Do you talk to him every Sunday? And he did come back and beat a team right in your division.
"I haven't talked to him yet. I look forward to talking to him about it. But, I haven't. Texted him and he texted me back."
You appreciate that though I'm sure?
Came back and beat a division, one of your teams that you have to face.
"Oh yeah, yeah. [Laughs] Yeah, well I always, until we play them, I root for my brother to do well, especially when they're playing one of our division teams."
Is that one team that you're always looking for the Ravens, on postgame highlight shows, and stuff like that?
You guys are getting more air time now to as opposed to week 1.