49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh chatted with the media before practice yesterday and was asked about the team's slow starts the last two weeks. The Eagles jumped out to a 20-3 first half lead and while the Bucs only lead 3-0 at the half, it was a struggle throughout the first half for the 49ers.
It's hard to say for certain what the problem was those two weeks. Some would blame the travel east, but the 49ers jumped on top of the Atlanta Falcons in the Georgia Dome early last year. That's not to say travel wasn't an issue, but it could go beyond that.
This week the 49ers face a Tampa Bay Buccaneers squad coming off a tough Monday night victory that sets up a short week and cross-country travel for them. The 49ers jumped on top early at home against the Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys the first two weeks. A strong start could put the team in a position for a complete effort. The 49ers have put together solid efforts in specific spurts, but are still looking for that total effort. Maybe Tampa coming off a short week will provide the means for that.
Head Coach Jim Harbaugh
Press Conference - October 5, 2011
San Francisco 49ers
Do you see the Buccaneers as a similar team in terms of what they want to accomplish offensively, establish the run, the way that you do?
"That would be a compliment, to be a similar team to the Bucs. Outstanding football team."
Do they do a good job?
"Yeah, they do a very good job. Offensively, their balance, the ability to have a strong running game, the ability for the quarterback to make plays, speed team, very athletic football team both sides of the ball and special teams. Wouldn't call them a finesse team at all. It's speed. It's a strong team, it's a physical team. Really all across the roster. The quarterback is a big, physical, strong-armed, intelligent guy. Very hard to get on the ground, very hard to rattle. He's a very Ben Roethlisberger-like kind of guy. Excellent football team. Really well coached, too."
What can you take from what they did to the 49ers here last year?
"Watch it definitely. They're a team that is multiple at scheme, but they're very good at what they do. They're very confident in their approach, the scheme that they run. That shows up. Hopefully we have a little chip on our shoulder after that last year, what happened to us last year was not good."
Frank Gore's touchdown run against Philly, it seemed, looking at it on replay, the blocking was pretty much, I would think, ideal. Is that how you saw the blocking and set up on that run? Is that what you want to see every time?
"Yes. That was a well-blocked play. There was a couple other examples of the same thing in the game. The timing was there, the angles were there, the pad level was right. Even though Frank hadn't run the play all week in practice ... it was interesting because about Thursday or so, Frank went up to [Offensive Coordinator Greg] Coach Roman and said ‘so you want me to cut off [TE] Delanie's [Walker] block and get the ball through the A-gap and then cut left and get the cut off of Delanie's block?' and it's just the way it transpired in the game."
And that's the play you kind of finished out the game with?
"The play I'm thinking of was not the touchdown run, it was the one on the touchdown drive. But it was just an example of the timing was there, the angles were right, the pad levels were there and also Frank, mentally had taken the mental reps during the week at practice and just fit right in to the scheme without taking a rep. It was pretty impressive, that a guy is that focused and dialed in, even though he's not getting a rep on the field. Great example to the young players."
How is WR Braylon Edwards coming along and might he be back after the bye week?
"Yeah, I won't put any limitations on when he'll be back. He's coming along really well. He's got an upbeat demeanor, got a clear look in his eye, and I think he's chomping at the bit to get back. Working very hard at his rehab."
What have you seen out of S Dashon Goldson? He came in here late, but it doesn't seem like he's missed anything?
"He played a terrific game. We were talking about it yesterday in the office with Dashon. He made some real big hits in the ball game, recovered the fumble, almost had an interception. Could have had a pick, he got his foot twisted a little on the turf. But I thought it was a real solid game for Dashon and had a chance to be a spectacular game."
The last couple of weeks, Frank's been slowed by an ankle so RB Kendall Hunter got a chance to play. Has he done well enough in those two games where he's going to have a regular role in the offense? Get an X number of touches regardless of whether Frank is fully healthy or not?
"That's very possible. That's all part of the game plan week to week, but as far as Kendall, he has done very well. He's graded out very well at his position. Last week, worked with [QB] Alex [Smith] on the scramble play to make a big play in the ball game. He's making the most of his opportunities."
Was that play, is that what they were supposed to do on that play or was that more ad-libbing from the situation?
"Right, right. That was them. I'd love to stand up here and say that that's something we coached them to do but I'd be fibbing. That was those two guys being football players, making the play."
Does that impress you that a rookie like that will have the wherewithal to connect with his quarterback on a play like that?
"Absolutely. [WR] Joshua Morgan did a similar thing in the ball game on a different scramble drill and that one resulted in about a 10-yard gain. But yeah definitely, Kendall having the instincts, the wherewithal, the spacial awareness to find the soft spot and then get into it and Alex finding him. Throwing it across his body into the middle of the field is dangerous but he felt it and then made the play. We made a big deal of that, that was something we made a big deal of in the meeting when the unit was watching the film."
This is not to make a right guard controversy, but with the progress that the line made last week, might you stick with the lineup that worked so well?
"Yeah, in some form or fashion. That's all part of the game plan and how you implement the guys there. Definitely in a similar form or fashion we'll be going forward there."
Without an offseason, it seems like you're getting to know your team's capabilities better and they're getting to know you better, which you want. Do you feel like that? It seems like an improvement every week.
"That's what we'd like to have, that's what we'd like to keep striving for. I do, I believe that. The experts say 21 days, that's what you need to get acclimated to a new home, a new situation. We're long past that now so, I believe that our players know what to expect, we know what to expect from them, and keep making real progress. That's the intent."
Why centerpiece that play that you just described with Hunter?
"Why centerpiece it?"
Why talk about it, why bring it up?
"Well, we were talking about Kendall and that was a centerpiece play, it was a big play. It was a unique play, something that took instincts and took some real feel so I highlighted it."
The 49ers, we were told, worked out three running backs yesterday. I understand the team is always looking to upgrade a roster, but what might you be looking for by bringing in three more running backs?
"Just getting the lay of the land, in case something happens. Like to be prepared before you have to be prepared, that's what we're looking for."
LB NaVorro Bowman's play he made on Eagles QB Michael Vick in the open field was notable since not many people got to tackle him in the open field one-on-one. He's made several plays like that this season. Has he surprised you just as far as how well he's played so far?
"Really pleased with how he's played. NaVorro got a game ball for his efforts in the game against the Eagles. He was involved in four third-down stops - by pressure, by recovery of a fumble, by open field tackles. I wouldn't say surprised because we all felt like he was this kind of player. It's great when a guy lives up to that and keeps pushing through that. I think he has a high ceiling."
How will you guys compensate for the loss of DT Will Tukuafu?
"Next guy up."
Is that DT Demarcus Dobbs?
"Next guy up would be Dobbs and [NT Ian] Williams."
Both of those guys have been inactive. Will both be active or will you pick one to be activated on Sundays?
"Well there will be one for sure and we'll see how we play it out. Both those guys are on notice that things are changing this week."
When you sat down with Alex in the spring and said ‘I want you here', did you envision the kind of performance you saw Sunday? Is that what you saw, the potential there?
"Yes. I was really, really happy for Alex the way he played. He was really happy with his teammates for lifting him up and that's a big time accomplishment when a quarterback can have a 20-point comeback, the team can have a 20-point comeback in a ball game. Those are rare. Good start, keep building on it."
Last week you had some fumbles that set up pretty wild scrums. As a guy who's been at the bottom of a pile, how eventful does it get underneath there where we can't see?
"It can get pretty eventful. There's a lot going on down there, a lot of guys giving each other the business. Liken it to an arm wrestling match because most of the time, one person has half of the ball, the other guy's got half of the ball or he's digging in there to get a piece of it. It can be two, three minutes that feels like fifteen, twenty minutes of just constantly wrestling for that ball. You're strained up trying to keep your leverage on the ball and increase your advantage and hold on the ball. Then there's other guys that are tugging at your legs, sometimes giving you a shot in the ribs, or gauging the face or the neck. It's eventful, it's eventful."
"Pretty much, that's been my experience. Talking to the fellas that have been in scrums this year, things haven't changed much in the last 20 years."
What was the worst thing to happen to you?
"It was probably one of my proudest plays as a player, to go in to one of the piles, had half of the ball and was able to work it and came up with the ball. It was exactly how I described it, like an arm wrestling match. Couldn't even lift up my arms after I was done because I was straining so hard to keep the leverage of the ball."
I didn't know if as a quarterback, you tried to stay out of it because you know guys are going to take advantage of you down there.
"No, loose ball, you have to go out and get it. You're called upon to do it, you're there, you've got to get down in there. It'd be hard to live with yourself if you turned that down as a quarterback or any other position. It's some things that really bother a man all the way to the rest of his life."
The team has gotten off to slow starts the last two games. It seems like getting off to a quick start against Tampa Bay could be an advantage, this one particularly because they're traveling after a Monday night game. What are some of the struggles you saw in your team in those two games against Cincinnati and the Eagles in the first half that you struggled to get on the board?
"We definitely want to get off to a fast start. There's a mentality, you want to get ahead and stay ahead. Hopefully we can do that in this ball game."
Is there anything in particular that stands out?
"No. As to why one phase didn't get off to a fast start and the other did. Nothing comes to mind."
You're linked to the coach across town Hue Jackson, who is in his first year and an offensive guy, too. Kind of a shot in the dark here, but do you know Hue at all and if so, can you talk about his coaching style or what you know of him?
"I know coach when he was at the Ravens with [Ravens Head Coach] John [Harbaugh] there. Got to know him a little bit there. Went out and visited their practices a few times last year and the year before that. Been around coach a few times and learned a good amount of things from him, just watching him coach and I've got great respect for him. Does a fantastic job."
I guess you don't have much time to keep up with what his team is doing?
"Yeah, just looking at it through the keyhole."