49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio chatted with the media today and had plenty to say about Giants tight end Jake Ballard. In a matter of weeks, Ballard has quickly developed into a significant weapon for the New York Giants. He is their third leading receiver behind Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz with 23 receptions for 395 yards. Ballard is in his second season with the Giants after signing as an undrafted free agent in 2010.
Ballard bounced back and forth between the practice squad and the 53-man roster in 2010, but has emerged as quite the weapon in 2011. It will be interesting to see how the 49ers defend him this week. Last week the 49ers did not use much in the way of man-to-man defense as they faced an offense that was focused in on their tight end.
Now the 49ers defense faces a Giants offense that has several more weapons than the Redskins. Hakeem Nicks is progressing fairly well this week, but even if he doesn't practice, the 49ers still have to deal with Victor Cruz, Mario Manningham and Jake Ballard. Add in Brandon Jacobs and this is certainly no gimme for the defense.
The last two weeks the 49ers have faced very questionable offenses. This week's matchup gives them a nice little challenge to see where they stand heading into the second half of the season. The 49ers have done good work against quality offenses, but they have had some struggles as well. The Cowboys blew them up late in their comeback and the Philadelphia Eagles were ready to blow them out in the first half. The 49ers settled down against Philly, but it is still worth noting. Hopefully we'll see a complete four quarter effort against the Giants.
Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio
Press Conference - November 10, 2011
San Francisco 49ers
How good of a test is this Giants offense in terms of evaluating your entire defense?
"It'll be a great test because the one thing about the Giants offense that I think you can say, it strikes you right from the start of looking at them, is their balance. A lot of times when you get ready for an opponent you look at who's their playmakers, what one or two guys. And these guys spread the ball around, and they've got a good receiving corps. [Giants QB Eli] Manning has always liked to throw the ball to the tight ends no matter who's been there. [Former Giants TE Jeremy] Shockey, [Former Giants TE Kevin] Boss, now the tight ends that he has here. The tight end gets action in this offense, no matter who it is. So, they spread the ball around very well, so it's hard to zero in on one guy because they spread the ball so much."
It seems like [LB] Patrick [Willis] has covered a lot of tight ends this season more so, do you like that matchup or is it just sort of best man available scheme-wise?
"Well as we all know, Patrick's a great player, and coverage is one of his aspects that he does well and we feel he can cover most tight ends in the league. We don't feel we're being unreasonable in asking him to do that. Obviously, we'll mix it up. We didn't play hardly any man last week for a good part, most of that game. So, we'll mix it up, but when we feel he has to cover man, we like the matchup."
How often do they go to three wide receivers?
"Obviously, like a lot of teams, the third down area. Any two-minute stuff they'll be in it. They mix it in some on the early downs, but not prohibitively. They do it some though."
Did they change much philosophically with [Giants RB Ahmad] Bradshaw out?
"No. They just put in the next back. They have [Giants RB D.J.] Ware and [Giants RB Brandon] Jacobs. They've got a good backfield crew."
Are they more apt to go to three wides if [Giants WR Hakeem] Nicks is healthy, is in the lineup?
"I don't think so. I think they just run their offense. They've got a good stable of receivers. The one thing, their injuries to the receiving corps has helped them. I believe [Giants WR Mario] Manningham missed some time. Obviously Nicks has missed some time because they've gotten receivers that have developed. This [Giants WR] Victor Cruz has really developed into a nice player. So, whosever evaluating the receivers for the Giants has been doing a good job because they just plug the next one in."
[Giants TE Jake] Ballard had a few really important catches in the last game against the Patriots, what kind of challenge does he bring to your defense?
"Well it's like anything else, if you start paying a lot of attention to the receivers, the tight end becomes a viable option for any offense. And Eli is very comfortable throwing to the tight end. He has been since he's been in this league. He started off with Shockey, and then Boss and now these guys. So, the tight end for the Giants is going to get some action."
Why do you think that is that the tight end has been a part of their offensive philosophy?
"Well two reasons. One, if you pay too much attention to the receivers and play a lot of cover-two, or two-man, the tight end becomes a viable option. Also, I think Eli just from a quarterback standpoint, likes to throw to tight ends. So, I think you combine those two things together and tight ends get action in this game in their offense."
How do you think [DT] Ricky Jean Francois played last week?
"He played well. He did a nice job. He went in there for [DT] Ray [McDonald]. We still played the run well after the first play in the game, we didn't play that one well, but it wasn't his doing there. And then after that we were fine. So, he went in there and did a good job. Like I've said, I think I said to you guys early in the season, we think we've got four starters in the D-line with Ricky being the fourth one. And he's now played for [DT] Isaac [Sopoaga] one week, and he's played for Ray another week, and he's gone in there and backed up that statement that I made."
Do you expect Ray to start this Sunday?
"Don't know yet. He's definitely made a lot of progress. We think he's ahead of where he might have been usually with a hamstring. But, it's still up in the air. With a hamstring he's going to have to show in practice that he can play."
Are you hesitant with that injury considering what happened with [CB] Shawntae [Spencer] earlier this year he came back, maybe came back too early, and then aggravated it?
"Definitely, I think that goes with any injury, but particularly with a pulled muscle I think the guy needs to show you in practice that he's ready to play before you put him out there in the game. You can't let him not do anything all week and then he says he's fine on Sunday, and he goes out there. Invariably he's going to reinjure himself."
What was it on that last drive against the Redskins, obviously it was the end of the game, they seemed to be moving the ball quite well. [Cowboys QB] Tony Romo did it earlier in the year and [Eagles QB] Michael Vick as well, but the does secondary in the fourth quarter really needs to sure up?
"Yeah and the Giants have done that in two of their recent wins. They were down 10 to Arizona and came back and won, scoring 14 points in the last five minutes. They did it last week to the Patriots. The game changes in the fourth quarter in those situations. Number one, you've got four downs that you've got to stop, not just three and the quarterbacks become much more aggressive with the ball. They're willing to take chances because the game's on the line. Whereas in the middle of the game, they don't want to put the ball in harm's way too much worrying about the interception or the turnover. At that point in the game they're going to cut it loose. So, you also get many turnovers at that time in the game too, but they're not entirely publicized. And it's just a tough situation defensively to go out there and get a team stopped. But, the good ones are able to do it."
Would you consider that a successful drive for you guys defensively that you made them make 11 plays to score a touchdown?
"No, because the result wasn't good. The 11 plays was fine. They never really got a chunk on us. They just-we never found a way to make a play to get off the field. And usually in those situations what you have to do is get a big play yourself, maybe get a sack to where now the yardage is in your favor or you've got to make a pick. You've got to knock the ball out and we never quite made those plays in that situation. So, it was not because it set up an onside kick possibility."
I think a lot of the people watch at home and they say the 49ers are in their prevent defense. Do you guys change your defense at all in those scenarios, end of games and things?
"No, obviously we're going to call defenses based upon the situation. And if the clock's definitely in your favor and it's a two or three score game, and yeah we may call a little more conservative defenses, if that's the word you want to use. But, we weren't there. We'll mix in some three-man rush, but we mix in three-man rush throughout the game, and nobody says it's conservative then. So, that's just part of what we do and we're going to mix our coverages in those situations."
What's your assessment on the pass-defense as a whole through eight games?
"Well, since we have the second best record in the league, I'd say it's the second best pass-defense in the league."
You've had so many pass breakups do you feel like you're being challenged in that regard, and are you happy with the way the guys have been playing the pass?
"Yes, overall we've played the pass very well."
[CB] Shawntae Spencer's used to being, obviously starting all 32 games the past two years, obviously his role's much different. From your perspective, how is he dealing with that role?
"I think he's dealing with it fine. He's like any pro, when he's not getting the playing time that he's used to getting, I'm sure it bothers him to some degree. But I think he understands the process of what happened here. He missed all of training camp. He got to finally play in the Cincinnati and Philadelphia games. I think he played over 70 plays in those two games, and then he got an injured foot, which put him out for the next couple weeks. And guys have come in and played well, and we're going with the guys who are playing well yet. And Shawntae, through his own admission, says he's not 100 percent yet, but he is capable of playing."
He was capable of playing against the Redskins obviously, health-wise?