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49ers vs. Cowboys: Vic Fangio Discusses The Philosophy Of The 49ers Defense

49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio spoke with the media on Thursday and took some time to assess the performance last week as well as the plans for the coming week against the Dallas Cowboys. Naturally he wouldn't reveal much of anything about the game-plan, but that is sort of par for the course, and understandable at this point.

He was asked if the defense would be more pressure, laid back and recover, or some complex mix of things. As any coach would likely say, Fangio basically said it would depend on the opponent each week. When you lock yourself into a specific game plan (see Singletary, Raye) and you're not sufficiently talented to impose your will, you can't just set into one game plan no matter the opponent.

Some other interesting comments from Fangio:

  • Shawntae Spencer was not in NFL game shape last week due to missing all of camp - not really a surprising comment. We'll see what kind of playing time he gets this week
  • Fangio has been somewhat surprised by Ray McDonald as he apparently has been better than Fangio expected
  • It sounds like the Madieu Williams hit was ruled legal by the league, although it's not 100% clear
  • Parys Haralson could be settling in as more of a two-down player for now
  • There might have been some additional extra man pressure planned against Seattle, but for the most part it wasn't necessary thanks to the play of the defensive line (and I suppose the Seahawks offensive line)

Head after the jump to view the rest of Coach Fangio's comments to the media.

Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio
Press Conference - September 15, 2011
San Francisco 49ers

Listen to Audio I Media Center 

When you look at the Cowboys, what are some of the aspects of their offense that concerns you or that you really have to focus on?

"Well, just their overall talent level just jumps off the screen at you. Starting off with [QB Tony] Romo, [WR Dez] Bryant, [TE Jason] Witten. [RB Felix] Jones, [WR Miles] Austin, you name it. These guys are loaded up. They've got a good line. These guys played really well against the Jets in the first game. They scored 24 points against the Jets, who's one of the better defenses in the league, and had opportunities to score more that they didn't take advantage of. So, the Cowboys will definitely be, when it's all said and done, one of the better teams in the league, record-wise, this year." 

You said a good line, a lot of people sort of look at them and say, boy that's an area of vulnerability with basically three first-time starters, what makes you say that they're a good line?

"They've got the, I think it was a top ten draft picks put in at one of those starters, so obviously he's the guy that was highly thought of by everybody, us included. He is a first-time starter but he's a good player. They still have [T Doug] Free at left tackle. I thought their guards at center played well in the game against the Jets the other night. These guys ran the ball well against the team that was loading up to run the ball. It may not have looked it statistically, but they were competitive running the ball the whole game. That played a big part I think in them getting the 24 points and having those other opportunities for more." 

How much did you use the first series of the Seattle game to gage how you were going to call the rest of the game? You saw the defensive line get nice pressure, did that kind of tell you I don't need to call so many blitzes, I can be a little bit more conservative in the approach?

"Not so much the first series. I think that's something you're deciding between each and every series in the game, not just the first. The complexion of the game changes as you go out. Obviously in the first half we played well. It wasn't going as well in the second half. We were up and down a little bit. So, the complexion of the game changes from series to series, and you react to that." 

To follow that up though, in terms of the limited lockout time, time together, lack of OTA's, and this team still coming together under a new coaching staff, how long before you really think you have a firm handle on the type of personality of defense you have when you can really start dictating, is it two game, three game evolution as the season opens up? How long before you get a firmer grasp?

"I think what you're trying to get at there takes more than one game and the preseason. But really your team evolves during the season. You kind of get a feel, both from the coaching standpoint and the players, just what your dominant personality is going to be, what style best suits you. Now that can change from week to week also. We go into a game with a complete-pressure package. If we need it, we think it's the right way to go, we use it. If we don't, we'll play four-man rush coverages and stuff. So, to me that's game-to-game and it can change within a game." 

From your perspective so far, do you have any idea if it is going to be a pressure team? Or is it going to be a complex change up team? Is it going to be a laidback recover team? How does it feel so far?

"Again, I think it's going to be more week to week basis. What we best need to do to stop the opponent that we are going against. We have a complete package where we can pressure a lot. We have a package where we won't pressure a lot. And again, that will change more so by the opponent than what we maybe want to be in a particular game, or as a personality. We're capable of playing both styles." 

From my perspective is it seems like you tried a pretty basic game plan against Seattle, there wasn't a lot of pressure, you weren't bringing six or seven people at a time, is that correct?

"No, we didn't bring six or seven very often, and I don't know that many people bring six or seven very often. But, we didn't pressure as much as maybe we thought we might have to if it was going well or not so, stayed with it. In fact, one of their big plays of the game was against the pressure. So, one of the few that I did call, in retrospect wasn't good. To me, I know the point you're trying to get to, it's not so much that we're behind because of the new staff and lockout. It's more or less what best fits us against that opponent we are playing." 

How much did you rely on [CB] Carlos Rogers this week? How much input did he have because he has a lot of experience against the Cowboys?

"Very little. You'd ask him you know, did you play against this receiver, what did you think about him? Very little. All that stuff is overdone." 

With [LB] Parys Haralson, he's always been a three-down player the last few years, he's been a three-down player, now that he's a two-down player, can you extract more out of him? That you're feeling maybe he's not wearing down during the course of a game? What's your philosophy on that?

"There's no question that probably one of the reasons he was able to come in their late and get that last sack on that last play for us was he was fresher. The other guys had just rushed a bunch of plays in a short period of time, and he came in there a little fresher and took advantage of the situation. So it helps. It helps to be able to be able to roll those guys when you get into a fourth quarter of a game and it's a lot of pass rush. That's the most taxing thing that happens in a football game is guys rushing the passer." 

And then on that play, he was in for [LB] Ahmad [Brooks]?

"He was in for Ahmad on that play." 

What is the status of [CB] Shawntae Spencer right now? Is he still working his way back from the hamstring? Or is it simply a matter of you like [CB] Tramaine Brock and [CB] Tarell Brown more at this point?

"Not necessarily. He's still working back. I think a big mistake you can make any time a guy is injured, although he may be cleared medically, you're talking about with Shawntae that he basically had zero training camp for us. He not only didn't have the offseason because of the lockout, he had no training camp. He got hurt very early on the second practice we were in. So he essentially had no training camp. He's not in football shape as of last week. Although he's cleared medically, he's still not really ready to play NFL football regular season last week. Now he would have played if he had to, and we were prepared to play him. But there comes a point in time even though you're cleared medically, that your body needs to be right to play in an NFL game. And he's getting closer to that." 

A lot of people, these teammates here and just in past articles, coaches have talked about [S] Donte Whitner and his intelligence. You only need to tell him something once and he kind of gets it, can you talk about if that struck you and how so?

"First off, one of the reasons he's so intelligent football-wise is because he is an intelligent person, number one. Number two, he really likes football. He gets into learning football, studying the game plan, studying the opponent, doing the right thing. So it's a combination of him having an innate intelligence along with a true love for the game and wanting to do well. When you combine that together, you get a very smart football player and we're very happy we have him."

Have you had any conversations with the league about that hit that [S] Madieu Williams had and is that a legal hit? Is that something that you coach?

"It was a legal hit."

Did the league tell you that?

"I guess I don't know if I should say that or not. But it was a legal hit." 

So that, OK, you answered the question, but that's what you guys teach how he played that ball?

"Yeah he did nothing wrong there." 

As far as [DT] Ray McDonald, he seemed to play very well on Sunday, I assume he's a guy you looked at, since he was a free agent, on film and during the offseason, what stood out and did he surprise you at all with the way he played?

"In the game? Or just since being around him?" 

Yeah, I guess in the game and looking at him.

"He's been-I don't want to use the word surprised, but he's been better than I thought he was. He's really played well for us right from the get-go. He's defended the run well. He's given us good pass rush. He has definitely emerged and picked his game up to another level than I think it's been in the last year or two. And, we're really glad to have him. He's a good football player, both run and pass. He's not just a one-trick pony. He can play both."