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49ers Vs. Giants: Dealing With The Giants Pass Rush

San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman chatted with the media before practice yesterday and ended up spending much of his time discussing the 49ers offensive line. It is probably fitting given the challenge they will face from the New York Giants impressive pass rush. Football Outsiders ranks them number two in pass rush and they have the counting stats to back it up as well as they lead the NFL in total sacks.

Jason Pierre-Paul and Osi Umenyiora are the big sack man with JPP getting the larger number of snaps, but Umenyiora getting plenty of play on passing downs. The left side of the 49ers offensive line will be in for a challenge this weekend. Joe Staley and Mike Iupati have had their ups and downs but have been fairly solid lately. The 49ers have kept Alex Smith off his back for much of the last couple weeks, which is key to preventing ugly second and third and longs.

The 49ers offense is not built to consistently get out of long situations, so big sacks can be a backbreaker for the team. The team has improved in that area, but they still struggle. They are not giving up a ton of sacks lately, but the 49ers aren't exactly airing the ball out too frequently. Smith has shown an improved ability to step up in the pocket and generally has had better pocket presence. Nonetheless, the offensive line has a big task in front of them this Sunday against the Giants pass rush.

Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman
Press Conference - November 10, 2011
San Francisco 49ers

Listen to Audio I Media Center

Opening Statement:

"Getting ready to play a really good football team, the New York Giants. They're a really good team, very well coached obviously. Had a lot of success there. Lead the league in sacks on defense. [Giants DE Osi] Umenyiora hadn't played the whole season, been very limited, he's got a bunch of sacks already. They're very talented in that regard, they have been for awhile. Definitely one of their greatest strengths. They fly to the football. A lot of bodies to the ball, very aggressive front. When you go back over the past year and a half and you look at them, they'll change their schemes up a little bit and they're smart. They're going to game-plan you according to what they think they need to do against you. They're a good team, really excited about the challenge. Had a great day at practice yesterday, got to have a better one today. Any questions?" 

Head Coach Jim Harbaugh called QB Alex Smith an elite quarterback yesterday. In your opinion, what does he do that is elite?

"I think he plays the quarterback at an elite level. He's demonstrated that this year, leading his team into a 7-1 record thus far. Alex does a lot of things very well. He's a very tough guy and he doesn't talk about it. Those are the guys you've got to worry about; the guys that don't talk a big game but show up and get it done. He's getting better all the time. He had his best day of practice, I'd say, all year. He gets better and better and better. We didn't have him the first week of training camp because of the league rules and ever since that time, he just keeps getting better, keeps understanding the offense better and is just a pleasure to work with and I know his teammates feel the same way." 

What about his skill set fits so well into your offense?

"I think he tries to do his job at a high level. Quarterback position, you have to do your job at a high level. You can take all the metrics you want and ‘hey let's take them to the lab and test them', all that stuff, but in real time, that's what we care about on the field. That's the kind of guys we look for: selfless guys that do their job at a high level and consistent basis." 

Why was yesterday his best practice all year?

"Because it was the most recent one and he keeps getting better, therefore, his last practice was his best one, and I mean that sincerely. The more you do it, the better you get at it. Knowing where guys are, seamlessly eliminating a read pre-snap perhaps on a pre-snap look and just moving smoothly into your next read, it's just time-on-task and the more he does it, the better he gets at it. That's why." 

Talk a little bit about T Anthony Davis and his progression this year. Last year as a 20-year old rookie on that right side, he was targeted a lot and had some issues. It doesn't seem to be there this season to the extent. What was the focus to help him this season and how has he progressed in your eyes?

"Mike Solari and Tim Drevno do a phenomenal job coaching the offensive line first as a collective unit and also as individuals. With Anthony, every offensive lineman is a target on every play. That's a tough, tough job. It's a street fight every play. To the transition from college to pro is a huge transition for offensive linemen, nowadays more than ever because of the multiplicity of defenses. I've learned this from a lot of the coaches I've worked with, defenses used to be a lot simpler. They're going to line up in this front or that front and they might blitz you. But now, with fire-zones, odd location fronts, guys walking around, you have to be able to think on your feet, communicate verbally and visually with the people next to you. It's a tough job and Anthony is getting better every day just like Alex is. He's doing a great job and he's starting to become much better at his fundamentals, therefore he gets to play faster, therefore he becomes a physical presence and that's what we've seen from him. Need him to keep bringing it on, but his day to day preparation has been outstanding." 

You mentioned Solari and Drevno and that was sort of an arrange marriage: two guys with equal responsibilities, I believe, coaching the same position group. How have they molded, meshed, worked together in coaching the offensive line?

"That's a great question. They were brought together because Jim wanted them together. He's the one that arranged the marriage. I don't know what that makes him, the father? They've done a great job and it's just like our whole staff. We have to work together to solve problems and find solutions and that's what they do. They work well together. Everybody checks their ego at the door and we find what works best. I've worked with Tim before, he worked with me, we worked together at Stanford so there's familiarity there and that helped bridge the gap of system changes. They work great together." 

Did you see that initially or has it been a working process?

"Fundamentally, yes, it has been from day one just because of the people you're dealing with, professionals. But the more we work together I think the better we get it, understanding each other, understanding our players and evolving. It's been great and a real credit to them." 

We're only able to see the start of practice and it seems like the guards go off in one direction and the tackles are elsewhere. Is that how they divide it, guards and tackles?

"It's really week-to-week. It's what we need to do that week and it changes every week. So it might be centers and guards, it might be right-side, left-side, it might be tackles, tight ends, every week there's a different emphasis. We do what we need to do on a weekly basis so it changes it up. We've got the man power and we just all switch it up." 

You use a lot of big players on offense, extra tackles, extra backs. What's the benefit of using big players on offense?

"I think the benefit of using big players is you have big people on the field, therefore you're probably going to be bigger than your opponent. If you can use that to an advantage, you do. Beyond that, I think that's pretty much it." 

Did you see that come into play at the end of seasons at Stanford? As season goes on, a defense becomes more petite, you guys take advantage in December?

"I think you have to look at it, each opponent differently and see what the matchups are and go from there. I think every team is different, every defense is different, set up differently. It might be more of an advantage one week and really not an advantage another week. You kind of look at things and see how it will all match up." 

The former GM here Scot McCoughlan used to say that we draft big guys so that at the end of the season, if we do make the playoffs, those big guys are going to really start to take advantage at that point. Is that part of your philosophy as well?

"Not really. That's one man's philosophy and that's great but no, not really." 

Back to Alex, how much of his success has to do with his preparation and all the stuff he puts into it?

"Great question. A lot. He is on it, on the details. He's in here at night every night, he'll even sit in meetings with us and we'll talk through some things. He's usually a day ahead and very involved in the game plan and spreading that message. Phenomenal in his preparation, just a true professional that wants to do all the little things so it comes to him that quick on game day." 

When you say ‘at  night' what time are we talking?

"9:30, 10:00."

Evidently the Giants like to sub in the safety for a linebacker quite a bit. Given the way you guys can run, would you expect to see a lot of that?

"I think we'll probably see some. They're not going to tell us ahead of time but when you look at what they've done, they've been very multiple on defense. New England was in there with six O-Linemen, two tight ends, two backs and they were in nickel defense. We've got to be ready for anything, they can do whatever they want, we can do whatever we want. They've been very liberal with that package and they're a very game-plan oriented defense and team, so we're going to have to adjust on the fly." 

The package that you see them using, is that a reflection... did you see that 10 years ago or is that in response to this becoming a more passing field?

"I think some people in the NFL over the years have favored using a nickel package. Some people look at nickel, they look at it as if ‘how fast can we get into nickel' because they're just more comfortable in nickel personnel, things that they can do. I don't know if the Giants are in to that but they're definitely pretty liberal about when they're in the nickel package." 

How much do they move around Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul?

"He will move around quite a bit. He's having a phenomenal year, he's a very good player, as are all their front seven. They'll move him around quite a bit. They move their defensive front and rotate them in and out quite a bit. So, they get a fresh rotation and you really can't book who's going to be where." 

So he'll play both ends and inside the nickel?

"Yes, he'll play all over the place. You've got to be ready for him to do that." 

Similar to Detroit, what they do with Ndamukong Suh?

"Yes, rotation-wise, they do a very nice job of keeping their guys fresh." 

What has C Jonathan Goodwin brought to the team?

"Jon is a guy that does his job day in and day out at a high level. He's got a great attitude, he's a great teammate. He's very consistent in his execution and he's constantly working on his technique. Winning means a lot to Jonathan and he kind of gets everything organized as most centers do. He's done a phenomenal job of it. He's a very steady hand. He's been there and done it and carries that experience very well. I think it reflects of him very highly and rubs off on everybody else." 

You're on pace to throw 418 passes which by today's standards is not much at all, how much of that is a reflection of just the offensive philosophy and then also the fact that you guys have been up quite a bit in the second half?

"Well when you're up, you're not going to throw as much, right? And your yards per carry aren't going to be as high because you're facing loaded defenses and your defensive stats will probably be down, so to speak, because the other team's been throwing it around. The only stat that matters is winning, everything else is statistical analysis and information gathering. Whatever we need to do to win, we'll do. If it's throwing it, if it's running it, whatever that equation is on a week-to-week basis, we'll do. Everything else really is water cooler talk." 

Do you feel confident that Alex Smith can throw 40 times in a game and you could win if you ever came across a team that could stop your run?

"Most definitely."