Jim Harbaugh Talks Lions Defensive Front

49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh met with the media yesterday and bounced around a whole laundry list of topics (transcript after the jump). The most interesting part in my mind was a very brief comment he made about the Detroit Lions defensive front:

Is there any major differences in the way their defensive front is presenting itself this year versus the last year when you faced them?

"Some, yes."

You're not going to elaborate?

"It's early to elaborate on that. But yes, we're noticing some differences, some adjustments, yes."

The 49ers found some great success on the "Wham" play when Delanie Walker seemed to have little trouble taking Ndamukong Suh out of the picture on key Frank Gore runs. I would have to think both teams know that happened and will adjust accordingly. The 49ers averaged 7.0 yards per carry against the Lions last year, absolutely decimating their line. There is no doubt the Lions have looked closely at the 49ers rushing attack and will adjust.

The good news is that we know the 49ers will have their own adjustments as well. After last week's game, B.J. Raji had an interesting comment about the 49ers success running the ball:

"Coming into the game, they were a downhill team. We did all right with that, but they really beat us out-flanking the toss plays and that plays, quite frankly, we didn’t really prepare for. You have to credit them for doing some unscouted looks."

The 49ers coaching staff clearly did a great job preparing for the Packers and catching them off-guard in both the rushing and passing game. We'll see how they adjust for the Lions this Sunday.

Head Coach Jim Harbaugh
Press Conference - September 12, 2012
San Francisco 49ers

Listen to Audio I Media Center

Your quarterback has a streak of 185 passes without an interception, better than former 49ers QBs Joe Montana or Steve Young did. What enables QB Alex Smith to play that kind of mistake-free football?

"Well, it's a great streak to have. That's one that any quarterback, any quarterback, would be proud to have. And a lot goes into that. Talent. Taking care of the ball. Knowing where everybody is on the field. Knowing defenses. And that's a heck of a streak. Like to keep that one going."

In addition to that, you guys haven't committed a turnover in six straight regular season games. Are you superstitious at all? Do you believe in jinxes? Is that something you bring up with the team? Or do you kind of just leave that alone?

"No, we're not superstitious. In fact, we're superstitious about not being superstitious. As far as taking care of the ball though, that's ball security. And how that relates to your team being successful, we're very serious about that."

Everyone talks about not committing turnovers and how important that is in the NFL. Obviously you're not going to divulge any secrets to how you're doing it. But, anything you could just generally put your finger on as far as how you guys have been so successful?

"Commitment to taking care of the ball. [Running backs coach] Tom Rathman does talk about it daily, and coaches it daily. And does a fabulous job, or as good as job as any of us have ever seen done in that regard. And I think that the men that are handling the ball, and Tom Rathman, all deserve a lot of credit there. Again, a streak we'd like to keep going."

On the flip side of that, obviously the defense is getting turnovers and takeaways. That's why you guys are winning the turnover margin. LB NaVorro Bowman gets that reception against Green Bay. And we've seen him warm up these practices, getting balls thrown at them. Is that just something that you guys work on every single day since you've started offseason program?

"In some form or fashion, yes."

And like it is on offense, is the same message preached on defense about the turnovers and that has to be done?

"Yes."

We see defensive assistant/quality control coach Peter Hansen throwing them the ball every day. He can wing it really, really, really well. Do you think that is nice for developing their hands against a guy like Packers QB Aaron Rodgers?

"Yes."

He's what, 6'8"? That's a lot of arm speed to get going, right?

"It is. It is. Yeah, he might be the tallest coach in all of football."

Speaking of tall guys, Lions WR Calvin Johnson presents obviously a big challenge for you guys. In terms of the defensive game plan, without revealing it, what do you see in Calvin Johnson? Is that where it starts when you prepare for the Lions?

"That's one of the places that it starts. There are a lot of tremendous football players on their team. I think all the superlatives that have been associated with Calvin Johnson as a football player are accurate. He is a proven football player. And we're going to have to do a great job defending him."

Is there any major differences in the way their defensive front is presenting itself this year versus the last year when you faced them?

"Some, yes."

You're not going to elaborate?

"It's early to elaborate on that. But yes, we're noticing some differences, some adjustments, yes."

CB Carlos Rogers yesterday really praised the scout team for how they prepared the defense for the Packers. He said that even S Michael Thomas was playing a little bit of wide receiver last week. Is that something that you look for in composing that scout team, the practice squad, that guys that can do a lot of different things and are smart enough to be able to pick up a new position?

"Yes, but the single greatest factor in composing the developmental squad is that they're players that we feel we can develop. Future starters on future championship teams, that's how we approach it first and foremost. And definitely expect that those guys are going to be excellent in practice as well. And they did a great job last week. I think it was somewhat of a shock for them having to play two positions at times, receiver and defensive back, in [WR] Nate Palmer's case. [G] Al Netter playing on the offensive line and the defensive line. Mike Thomas playing receiver. [RB] LaMichael James did an outstanding job as a running back and a receiver. [WR] A.J. Jenkins runs a go route and, ‘hey, hustle back, you have another one.' A little different than it was for training camp for those men, but they did a great job. I think that's where it all starts, I really do. Any three-and-out that you get in the game I believe first starts on the practice field with the guys that are demonstrating the opponents' offense. Or any big play that you get on offense, it first starts with the men that are demonstrating the defense. Similar in all kicking situations, it all starts there. Those returns, or those downs inside the 10 or the 20 really starts from that great, great look. So, I was really pleased after one week with our guys on the developmental squad. And they were good on the sideline, too in Green Bay. There were times I'd look back there and saw a guy shading guys with a towel. [DT] Tony Jerod-Eddie at one point had six cups of water and Gatorade in his hand and was dispensing it out to the guys. Just that ‘whatever you can do' mentality showed up there on the sidelines in Lambeau Field. I thought that bodes well for us. Got the right guys."

Did somebody get an award at the end of the week for practice squad?

"Yes. Developmental squad. Developmental squad you mean? Yes, offensive was [TE] Garrett Celek. Special teams was [WR] Nathan Palmer. Defensively was [LB] Cam Johnson."

Why do you like to call it the development squad instead of the practice squad?

"Because that's for developing future starters on future championship teams." [laughing]

A lot teams rotate the developmental squad and give guys tryouts based on a week at a time. Is it about building continuity for you, just building loyalty with those guys?

"Not going to rule that out. It's something that we have done sparingly."

You're running back corps, your posse is pretty deep. RB Frank Gore, is it likely that he will continue to be getting 12 to 15 carries a game? Or do you have a target number if RB Brandon Jacobs comes back? How does that influence your decision making or does it at all?

"The possibilities are that. They're possibilities, and we could do whatever the team feels it needs to do to win the ballgame, win the next game. That's the single most important thing."

Do you have a target number of carries for runners going into a game or is that something that evolves as the game unfolds for you, for Frank Gore and others?

"That can vary. That can vary going into a game. There can be a target number, but you always like to leave the possibility out there that anything can happen."

How do you react when TE Vernon Davis tries to dunk after a touchdown. As a coach seeing that, is it wanting a guy to be able to celebrate a nice play and also being a little bit cautious?

"In terms of injuring himself?

What's your reaction when you see him do that?

"There's a couple of different schoold of thought on that one. I like, me personally, celebrating all wins, all in their own personalities is the way I think about it."

You guys sort of put yourself in a position right now of being the team in the NFL that everybody looks at, for right now. Is that a physiological challenge, now that you no longer, if you ever did, play the underdog card. You're the big target now, you're the big dog.

"Well just because you say that doesn't mean that that's what we think. That's not the way we think. ‘The' team, that's your words. For us, it's just our team. We believe in hard work, and preparation is the thing that puts us in the best position to be successful on Sunday. And the next game is the single most fundamental factor that we need to get done, is to win that game. Secondly, you'd like to improve as a team. Every guy you'd like to come out of this week being better than what they were when they went it. And as a team, you want to come out as a better ball club when you come out than when you went in. Those are two things that you'd like to get done this week and winning the game being the single most important factor."

Did you see QB Alex Smith, did he play faster mentally you think against Green Bay than he did in the NFC Championship game? Have you seen him improve in that aspect?

"I thought he played extremely well in this ball game. I think that was apparent to everybody. I guess your question specifically, ‘Did he play mentally faster?'

Yeah, picking up the pace quicker than before?

"I don't know. I'm not in his head. He just played really well. We get behind Alex and we go. That's what we do. We have complete faith in him in all those regards, mentally, physically, etc."

The Lions game on Sunday came down to the wire, Matt Stafford threw 3 INTs, do you feel like the Lions regressed a little bit or the St. Louis Rams improved that much from last year?

"It was a good, hard fought football game, like all these games are. You never know what the percentage will be this year. But it just seems like every single week it's coming down to the last possession in some form or fashion. Either you're trying to score to go ahead or tie the game or you're trying to defend somebody that's trying to go ahead or tie the game. Is it 80 percent? 85 percent? Maybe this year it'll even be 90 percent of the games. It just seems to come down that way, that's how competitive this league is."

Do you grade players after watching the film?

"We do, yes."

Okay, did anybody get a perfect grade Sunday?

"We don't really share the grades."

You don't need to tell me who, but did anybody get a perfect grade?

"We don't share that information. That's for the players and the coaches.' [laughing]

If somebody did get a perfect grade, then how do you tell them to improve?

"Well we went over this the other day."

I'm curious about it because it was a very impressive performance on Sunday. Is it a challenge to try to get people to do better than that?

"We were not perfect."

Is G Daniel Kilgore your backup long snapper?

"Yes."

Given that there was an injury to a long snapper this week, does that make it even more important for a guy to get his reps? How many reps is he getting?

"Per day? Per week?


Whichever.

"Yeah, he's getting reps. I don't know the exact number of reps that he's getting per day or per week, but he is practicing it."

We came in yesterday, we saw Vernon Davis was out with the JUGS machine getting passes.

"How many passes is he getting per day or per week? [laughing]

If you know that, that'd be great [joking], but are you impressed with the fact that he comes in, he seems to be always be working on that machine, and having been in the league since 2006 now, made his mark and he is still working that hard. What's your perception and your reaction to that?

"That we know Vernon and we know what makes Vernon tick, what his goals are, what his ambitions are, his dreams are. When you know that, it doesn't surprise you that he's out there every day trying to get better and trying to improve."

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