Vic Fangio talks Tony Gonzalez, Candlestick Park, defensive health

Thearon W. Henderson

49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio met with the media Friday afternoon and had plenty to discuss heading into the home finale. We've got a transcript for your reading pleasure.

Since you have all of the same guys in the same places as last year, what's different about your defense this year as far as the way it's executing your scheme and what it's accomplished? I think you're back up there right there at the top like you had been last year. What's different right now about this defense?

"I don't know that there's a whole lot different. Like you said, a lot of the same guys are playing. We do have some new guys that have filtered in there. I just think the guys are playing confident and fast like you would expect being in the same system basically for three years. That's a byproduct of that. We've added a thing or two that we haven't done in the past and that's paid some dividends for us. But, overall I think we're the same, basically."

Are you guys healthier than you were a year ago at this time?

"Probably. Last, I think at this time last year, [DT] Justin [Smith] wasn't playing and [LB] Aldon [Smith] was playing with a shoulder that needed surgery. So, in that regard, probably."

Why do you give Justin a day off each week? I think I know why, but can you annunciate it?

"Well, he has an injury or two that he's nursing. And he's 34 years old. And he's earned that. The way he plays on Sunday, it has no negative affect on him. So, it's good to do."

I think he's also averaging significantly fewer snaps this year versus the last two. Was that by design or is that just how things have sort of played out this season?

"I think it's more of how things have played out, the types of games we were in. Maybe a little bit by design, but not a whole lot."

How did CB Tarell Brown play Sunday against Tampa?

"He did good. It was his first action. I believe he missed three games was it, and the last half of the New Orleans game. And, I thought he played well and he played a side that he hadn't played in the last three years and adapted well to that. So, it's a good thing that he's flexible and can play both sides for us."

Does CB Tramaine Brock remain as the starter?

"Right at this point he will."

As good as your defense was last year, over the last six weeks including playoffs you averaged allowing almost thirty points a game. Is it better suited to kind of carry out this year because you are healthier, because everybody seems to be playing their top of their game right now and you guys have that momentum still on defense?

"Well, those games you're eluding to, they always weren't as bad as those numbers indicate. There are stories to be told behind a lot of those points that if you just look at a scoreboard or a play-by-play it doesn't tell the true story. So, I just think we're playing like we've always played. We've done a good job of eliminating the big play. And, been doing well on third down and that equates into playing good defense."

Will you miss the, with Candlestick's final game, will you miss those halftime walks?

"No. This is the last stadium in the league that I think you have to do that in. I've been through all of them here in the last 30 years and this is the last one. I hope they have the same visiting locker room in the new stadium that they have for them at Candlestick after having been the visitor here many times."

Do you even go down at halftime?

"Yes."

How much time do you have with your squad?

"Not a lot. Six or seven. Six minutes. Seven minutes."

Can you always get on the elevator?

"Most of the time."

Does it make a difference as far as what you can, how in depth you can get at talking to your team in a road game as oppose to a home game?

"Not really. But, it just, you don't feel the stress. You know you're going to get up and out, up and down at a normal stadium. Here you always got to fight through the crowd, which can be a little bit chaotic at times. Just nobody's fault. There are just a lot of people going up and down those steps. And then you've always got the elevator there. You might have to wait for it. There's only one, where these new stadiums usually have a bank of three or four there. But, luckily in the last three years, we've been fairly successful at home and the fans have been cordial going up and down."

Have they given you any tips or any advice on your way back up to the booth or on your way down?

"Not really. They're, for the most part, encouraging."

What was it like as a visiting coach? Would you hear all kinds of things when you'd go through the stands?

"No. These people here have really, for the most part, have been cordial. Now, I remember I came here, my first 13 years in the league I was in the same division with the 49ers through their heyday with [former 49ers QB Joe] Montana and then [former 49ers QB Steve] Young. So, I was a visitor here 13 years in a row. And, wasn't always up in the box then, but most of the time I was. They were always pretty cordial."

For those who don't know what it's like, how would you describe the visitor's locker-room?

"Very small. It's a closet."

Anything else like it in the league in your experience?

"Not now there isn't, I don't believe."

Do you have to go through the crowd in Buffalo?

"To a degree. If I remember right, the last time I was there you'd take a golf cart up to a bank of elevators. So, it's not quite the same."

Tampa had some success doing some up-tempo stuff, hurry-up stuff, and that's been something last year that was a little bit problematic for the defense. When you look at the film Sunday, was that an execution thing? I know LB NaVorro Bowman said that the defense was, he thought they just kind of took their foot off the gas. Was that what you saw? Are you concerned about that?

"Well, you're always concerned when you give up a touchdown drive, particularly at the end of the half. You know, we missed a tackle on the first play which gave them positive yards on a run. We had a mental mistake on the 26-yard play that they got during that drive which gave them that. We got the penalty on [S] Donte [Whitner] which gave them 15 yards and then before you know it you're in the red zone and they made a good play in the red zone on us. So, yeah you're concerned about it. But, I think we can eliminate some of those by our own play."

Their record may not indicate it, but what do you think the biggest challenge will be for your defense Monday night?

"They're still very good on offense. Anytime you've got [Falcons QB] Matt Ryan playing quarterback, [Falcons TE Tony] Gonzalez at tight end, [Falcons WR] Roddy White and [Falcons WR Harry] Douglas at receiver, and the backs of [Falcons RB Steven] Jackson and [Falcons RB Jacquizz] Rodgers, they're still very explosive on offense and have thrown the ball extremely well this year. And their running backs are running hard. So, they're very, very capable of putting up points. And you've seen a lot of their games they have put up some good amount of points. To me, they're still a very explosive offense, one that we're going to have to play our best against them."

He's not young, but what makes Tony Gonzalez still a threat and so dangerous?

"He's a tremendous talent, number one. And then you combine that with great instincts for the tight end position. And anytime you've got great instincts and great talent, it usually equals greatness. And that's what he's been throughout his career and will be in the Hall of Fame for."

NaVorro was talking a little bit about that last play in last year's Championship game. Was that an un-scouted look? He said that I think White lined up in a spot that he hadn't lined up all day so he knew what to expect. Can you kind of take us through that play and what was the tip-off for NaVorro?

"It wasn't an un-scouted look. That was a formation that they get into, I don't know if you want to say regularly, but they use. And, we were in a base-call first at that time and I don't know that he knew what to look for, but it was fourth-and-four. It wasn't like they had to score a touchdown. They were still looking for a first down. And, he played the route tough, used the leverage and help that he had and made a great play. To me, the biggest thing he did on that play was he didn't panic, and played."

Since Week 12, you have the highest percentage of sacks per play in the NFL and that's kind of coincided to when Aldon came back. How much better has your pass rush gotten since that and what's it meant to the kind of defensive roll that you're on right now?

"Anytime you can add a great pass rusher to your team, which Aldon is, it's going to help your pass-rush. It not only helps the production that he gives you, but he draws attention and helps other people get production. We've had some games where we've been able to get after the passer some and guys have taken advantage of it. Aldon's one of the top pass rushers in the league and anytime you have him playing your pass rush is going to be better."

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