Monday Night Football Open Thread: Considering Playoff Possibilities In Packers Vs. Vikings

We're back for another week of Monday Night Football, and while the matchup does not feature a 49ers regular season opponent, it does feature a potential playoff opponent in the Green Bay Packers. They face off against the Minnesota Vikings in a rematch of a highly entertaining game a few weeks back. The Packers won 33-27 in Minnesota in Christian Ponder's first career start. It will be interesting to see how the Packers scheme against Ponder in their second matchup against him.

Until recently, while the 49ers have run up a big lead in the NFC West, it has been difficult to simply assume playoffs are inevitable and start thinking about possible matchups. While I certainly hope the 49ers are not thinking that far ahead, as fans it is a little easier to consider the possibilities.

The 49ers have plenty of work still in front of them, but the win over the Giants put them in a strong position to secure that second first round bye. More importantly, the 49ers kept pace with the Green Bay Packers who remain undefeated. The Packers are playing excellent offensive football and may very well go undefeated in the regular season. However, if they do lose, the 49ers have a shot at grabbing home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

There is a lot of time left on the season, but just for the heck of it, here are the tiebreakers if the 49ers and Packers finished tied with the same record:

1. Head-to-head
2. Conference Win %
3. Win % in common games (requires minimum of four such games)
4. Strength of victory
5. Strength of schedule

There are actually 11 different tiebreakers, with the11th being a coin toss. Since the 49ers and Packers don't meet this regular season, so it moves further down. For our purposes, every loss helps, but a loss against the Bucs, Lions, or Giants would be especially nice since it would get the 49ers the common games win tiebreaker.

Again, it is really early for this kind of discussion, but that doesn't meant it isn't relevant in light of tonight's Monday Night Football game.

For those looking to chat more about the 49ers, I've posted Jim Harbaugh's Monday press conference after the jump.

Head Coach Jim Harbaugh
Press Conference - November 14, 2011
San Francisco 49ers

Listen to Audio I Media Center

As you reflect on that game last night, what was the thing that stood out to you that you guys did particularly well?

"The thing that stood out to me the most was why you love football. It was competitive, it was two really good teams with really good players that were playing at a high level and competing at a high level. It makes us feel good that we won the game. I'll be forever proud of our players, the way they played, the way they competed, and the effort that they gave in the game. Honestly, I don't think I'd feel much different right now had we won or had we not won the game. It was just that good of a game that was very evenly matched. Players on both sides making plays, defending plays, tackling, just great football. I think I'd have the same attitude today that I would have no matter what the outcome would have been yesterday. Move on with a great week of preparation this week, there are some things to correct, get fixed, get better at, and see if we can't get a mile an hour faster today." 

There's one thing that QB Alex Smith has done really well, well a lot of things Alex has done well this season, but he seems to have avoided a lot of pressure in the pocket. How do you explain that, is it better footwork, is it better pocket presence? What has helped him make that leap?

"He's just good at it, extending a play, very athletic. Huge examples in this game that led to points, we had the ball at our own, it's kind of hard to remember all these yard lines but, a scramble for 15, a scramble for 11. One of the times we were 3rd-and-17 at our own 33, you're really kind of on the cusp of field goal range, and we didn't pick up the first down, but he was able to use his feet and make that a much easier field goal. Another third down conversion, we put Alex in some tough third down situations yesterday and he converted multiple times for us. One time where it was 3rd-and-22, we were on our own 29, hits [WR] Braylon Edwards, a pickup of 18 and we're able to kick the 50-yard-plus field goal. Just playing really good, that's how I account for it; he's a really good player." 

The Giants averaged starting their drive on their own 22-yard line, seems kind of amazing. Can you just talk about all season long you guys seem to win the field position battle, all of that goes to special teams I guess, can you talk about how important that has been to some of your success?

"That's really important, something that's really, again, proud of in our football team because it's a team statistic. That's a defensive statistic, that's an offensive statistic, that's a special teams statistic as it relates to kickoff, kickoff return, punt, punt return. All those phases of the game come into play and field position is very important in football. Proud that we're doing well at it. A lot of credit does go to the players, goes to the coaches. [Special Teams Coordinator] Brad Seely, been talking about it all year, he's just a phenomenal football coach Isit in on every meeting, I don't say a word, I just learn. He's a great coach, figured out the onside kick; put us in that position to steal a possession. The non-flashy things that don't show up on the statistics. The tackles, the scheme, the eating up a block, the technique that carries over to the entire football team both offensively and defensively. He just does a great job and I've almost got the feeling that ‘ok, we've got him now', we've got Coach Seely now and at some point, some smart organization is going to hire him away from us. We'll be playing against him, and that probably can be said for, the same with [Offensive Coordinator] Greg Roman and [Defensive Coordinator] Vic Fangio, but all those guys." 

Do you think you have three head coaches in waiting on staff?

"Yes, yes I do. I believe that. Been around a lot of coaches, seen a lot of coaches both as a player and as an assistant coach and as a head coach. There is no doubt in my mind those are three great coaches." 

What does CB Carlos Rogers do so well that other cornerbacks don't do like he does?

"He just does a great job playing within the scheme. He's gottremendous instincts, experienced man player, experienced zone player, knows where to put his eyes when he's in zone, knows where to put his eyes when he's in man and has an instinct to get the football. Tackles, there's not a lot of holes in his game, and he's a great study player. Studies the matchups, studies the game, understands how the rest of the secondary is playing, how that applies to the linebackers, how they're playing, how it relates to how the defensive linemen are playing. He's got a big picture view of the defense." 

He was talking to us about risk taking, and how at his position he has to trust instincts and take risks and they paid off a couple of times obviously in this game. What is your philosophy on that? What do you tell players about taking risks? He said if the guy had done a different route, I would have been out of luck and it would have been a big play...

"I think, first of all, Carlos does a great job of knowing when to take a risk and when not to. As it relates to a defensive back, they've got to be able to do it. It'd be very selfish for a defensive back to always be taking risks, to play outside of the framework with the defense. If he's got a deep third, then he's got to be in the deep third, he can't let somebody get behind him. When you have the discipline not to jump a route because you want to get an interception. He's got a very good feel, he's a veteran player, and that's what I tell him, that's what Vic tells him, that's what [Secondary Coach] Ed Donatell tells him is we want him playing within the framework of the defense first and foremost, but, when there's evidence that you can make a play and a player feels like they can take a risk and make a gamble, then they have that freedom to do it, too." 

How far back would you let K David Akers attempt, furthest back for a field goal? That 52-yarder looked like it had the distance to go 60.

"Depending on the field, depending on wind, he's hit a 59-yarder so far this year. We've seen him do that in practice. Depending on wind conditions, somewhere 59, 60, 60-plus." 

Now that you've had a night to sleep on it, looking back, is yesterday's game enough to get rid of the whole ‘East Coast' bias off of the 49ers?

"I don't know anything about that." 

How's RB Frank Gore today and would it make sense to take a little pressure off of him in terms of resting? Doe he need some rest?

"We'll find that out. It would definitely... next guy up [RB] Kendall Hunter, next guy up [RB] Anthony Dixon. Came in with some real fresh legs and gave our team a boost, talking about Anthony Dixon. Kendall has been doing that all season long, but I thought he was magnificent yesterday. I'm sure Frank, we'll see. I would plan on him playing, you just feel like right now, we've got a stable of backs, we've got Frank Gore, we've got Kendall Hunter, we've got fresh legs in Anthony Dixon, this bodes really well for our football team." 

Anything being checked today, an MRI or anything just to give him piece of mind?

"Yeah, he'll get it checked on. Spare no expense checking on Frank." 

You guys have scored quite a lot of points, winning a lot of games, what do you make of where your third down percentage on offense sort of fits in to all that because it's been good some games but other games it doesn't seem to be as good as what you'd expect for how many points you're scoring? 

"Third down, sometimes it can be not only just converting on third down but where you put yourself on third down. If it's third and one, or third and two, or third and three, or third and 12 and we've been in too many third and 10-plus situations probably to really have a high third-down percentage. Those are things that we're working on improving and want to improve. Yesterday was a case where the offensive line was protecting extremely well, Alex Smith made some cold blooded throws, best day of... he was really accurate in this football game and he bailed us out a bunch. Bailed us out on third and 17, third and 22, third and 15, I don't know how many times we were in third and 10-plus, but he was bailing us out with the throw or using his legs to get us into field goal range or pick up first downs. That was good. You don't want to live in that realm; you don't want to live in ‘hey we've got to pick up another third and 15 here'. Those are things we'll continue to try improve on." 

Would you describe his performance as magnificent, as well, as you described Kendall's?

"Alex, yes? He'll get the game ball. Ooh shouldn't have said that. I like to tell the... don't print that. Can I take that back? Cunning, you guys. There are a lot of other people to talk about, too, in this ball game. Again, [DT] Justin Smith, tremendous job, like a closer in baseball, there he was batting that ball down. The neat thing about it, and these things don't show up on the stat sheet, they don't show up as a sack, they don't show up as an interception, they don't show up as a tackle for loss, but as Justin is walking out onto the field, he's walking out with [DT] Ray [McDonald]. He's telling Ray, ‘Ray, be conscious of the b-gap, stay in your lane, take away the b-gap, get your hands up,' and the last thing he said was ‘he's going to throw it in the b-gap'. How Justin Smith knows that, just an example of him thinking through the game and communicating that to Ray, and sure enough [Giants QB] Eli [Manning] sets up and tries to hit that little short post throwing right through the b-gap and there's Justin to knock it down. I read Justin's comments that he was tired and that he was just lucky to be standing there and put his hands up, but that wasn't the case. He was thinking it through and just as he had foreseen, that ball came his way and he was there to knock it down. He's a great player, consummate team player doing a great job and a great job leading this football team. The other guy is [LB] Patrick Willis. I know we've talked about Patrick before. But, the great players in the league, and deservedly so, they're very much talked about and ballyhooed for their greatness as a football player, I think Patrick is the least talked about great player in the National Football League and doesn't get talked about near enough for just how great he is. David Akers, as well. Talked about him yesterday, just having a sensational season. Darn near perfect and flawless yesterday. Touchbacks, onside kick, field goals, doing a heck of a job." 

Has Justin Smith ever miss a chance to deflect praise? That comment he made after the game basically made himself sound lucky.

"It's pretty powerful. He is a great team leader; Patrick Willis is a great team leader, Alex Smith is a great team leader and I could give 50 more examples of guys that are just like that. Your great players have humility about them and they lift other players up. In Justin's case a lot of times, he diminishes himself to lift up Ray or to lift up [LB] Aldon [Smith] or Patrick, and Patrick does the same exact thing when you hear him talk about [LB] NaVorro [Bowman] and what the defensive line does for him in keeping blocks off of him. I just think the bigger they are, the bigger they are and those two guys are really shining examples of just the kind of character team we have and the kind of locker room we have. There's been a couple, I've gotten this question many times through the start of this season and the offseason, what have you done to change the culture, what are you doing to change the attitude, what have you done? The truth is, I have not changed it. Just met these guys, been around these players and said this is exactly what we want. These are exactly the kind of team guys we want; these are exactly the kind of character guys we want. I'm not going to touch the culture; these are shining stars for what kind of guys you want and what kind of locker room you have." 

A lot of new coaching staffs come in and they decide they want to create a new identity, as they call it, for their team whether it be physical or whatever it may be. When you and your staff got together before in the offseason and looked at this team and assessed it, did you have sort of a core belief of what you thought it could be, what you wanted it to be, what was the thinking behind building what you have now?

"Well, I don't think you create an identity, to me. I think you become it. You become what you are. You become your identity. From my standpoint, being around these guys, this team, these coaches, it's the team, the team, the team. It's about the team." 

Why did you challenge that play on the Giants last drive?

"For a couple reasons. One, our guys were starting to get tired I thought and needed a little bit of a blow. The other thing was just take a shot at being incomplete. It was on the boundary, he went to the ground, you never know if the ball might have moved. I was watching the Raiders/Chargers game on Thursday night and to the eye it seemed like a touchdown pass. To the slow motion, the slowest of the slow motion, it looked like a touchdown pass that San Diego got. And then it came up with the ruling that the defender was out of bounds and had his hand on the ball, and the ball was moving patch of his jersey was on the white. So, hey you never know. May as well take a shot, it was a big enough play to do that. There was only three or four minutes left in the game, we still had another challenge, we still had time outs and didn't think that those timeouts were going to be critical for us at the end." 

Is there anything to be said about disrupting another team's rhythm like just taking a timeout?

"Oh, don't give me too much credit on that one. Let's not go too far with this [laughs]." 

Obviously the rhythm there, you take time out, is there any sort of psychological game there in trying to take them off their game?

"Could be, I wasn't thinking that at the time. Those other factors were why I threw it." 

There's been some great fourth and one decisions around the league, I think there was one in the Atlanta game yesterday, the Rams had one. As a coach are you a big play the certain percentages guy, or is it a feel of the game? How do you balance that all in your head on those decisions?

"Think you take a lot of things into consideration. Time and score of the game, and the biggest thing is what's going to happen if you don't get it. What situation are we going to be left with? And then the biggest factor is can we get it. Do we have the play on fourth and one to pick it up, or fourth and five to pick it up. That's do we have that at our disposal, or do we feel good about it, or not feel good about it." 

What's the farthest in your own head do you think you remember taking one of the worst field positions that you've gone for on a fourth and one?

"I can't recall." 

When it comes to the offseason acquisition, we've talked about K David Akers and CB Carlos Rogers, I'm just kind of curious how well C Jonathan Goodwin has adapted and how important that relationship is that he and QB Alex Smith have evolved over the last few months?

"I think it's critical. That's the guy who touches the ball every play just like the quarterback, the center does. Does a great job of communication. Talked about it last week, Jonathan got the game ball last week, our one and only guy on offense to get a game ball. He does a great job communicating to the sidelines just telling us coaches exactly what's going on, just clear and concise and we're able to make adjustments a lot based on what he's seeing and saying. And he's just been a solid performer week in and week out, and he's playing really good football. And I think he's helping the other guys too. I really think that the reason you're seeing improvement from [G] Mike Iupati, [T] Anthony Davis, [C/G] Adam Snyder, [T/G] Chilo Rachal, those guys I think they're benefiting from Jonathan Goodwin." 

The last two weeks you guys have played opponents that have pretty much come out and said, "to stop the 49ers, stop Frank Gore." Yesterday Gore, zero yards, you guys still win, how important is that for you guys to put that out there on film, or just in your mindset that you don't need Frank running for 120 yards to still win a football game?

"We've said it before, we think it's really important, we think it's really important to be good at both phases. We'd really like to be a 50/50. Throw it 50, pass it 50 percent of the time, run it 50 percent of the time. Be good at both. And I think we're making progress in both the running game and the passing game. But, the importance of it is, back to another baseball analogy, fast ball, curve, you need both." 

Does it feel like it's been so long that you've played a team from your division? And what's your biggest thing that you've learned about the 49ers in those two plus months since you opened against the Seahawks?

"Knew what I knew back when we played the Seahawks about our guys, about our players, and how they go about their business. Very humble, very hardworking, very blue-collar approach from our guys. And they're all alike. I could just-[TE] Delanie Walker, just pull a name out, Delanie Walker. Fabulous, fabulous football player. Contributes in so many ways to our football team. Multiple catches yesterday, breaking tackles, always fighting for the extra yardage. You'll never see Delanie Walker run out of bounds. You'll never see him not trying to get the most out of each time he has the football. And when he doesn't have the ball he's blocking. You can always count on Delanie Walker will be blocking for whoever has the ball. And he plays a lot on special teams as well. Just have so much respect for Delanie. Great team guy, consummate team guy." 

What'd you think of his stiff arm?

"I loved it. As soon as he caught that ball, I was confident he was going around that tackle and that was a linebacker. It really showed his acceleration and his strength. An arm tackle is not bringing down Delanie Walker." 

What's your offense's fast ball, the run or pass?

"I don't have an answer for that. I think they're both good." 

Akers tackle, what did you think of that?

"We need some work there." 

In Washington, you had the snaps issue but things worked out the other way yesterday, did you do anything to clarify things with the League offices?

"Yes, we talked to the league last week as I mentioned that got a very good interpretation of exactly what to tell our players." 

Did it have anything to do with the quarterback head bob?

"No, no it did not." 

What did you have to change then to make it comply, or did they change?

"I really... it's confidential." 

Aren't you guys allowed to talk to the officials beforehand and kind of go over certain aspects?

"Yes, but they made it clear that those communications are confidential and not for me to stand up here and... It's been good, it's been good communication. They've explained it and we feel like we know what to tell our players at least, where it's not vague, it's not arbitrary. It's a shift, it's a normal shift. We do it all the time, we do it on first down, we do it on second down, we do it on third down, teams have seen we do it on third down. It's not the intent to draw the other team off-sides; the intent is to change the strength of the formation. I don't see how anybody could really have a problem with it. Shifting is a part of football and they've seen it every game that we've played." 

Just to be clear, is there anything based on that that your team had to differently from the play where they got the penalty?

"No." 

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