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49ers vs. Eagles: Dealing With The Playmakers

San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio chatted with the media before practice today and discussed some injury news and how he plans on dealing with the Eagles big play offense. Although Jeremy Maclin remains questionable for Sunday's game, that still leaves Desean Jackson and LeSean McCoy. I'd say that's a tough pair of players to contend with no matter what the circumstances. Add in Michael Vick and it's going to be an interesting set of circumstances for the 49ers defense.

The 49ers have generally moved their corners around to different locations and as far as I can tell, they've traded off assignments throughout games rather than focusing on specific players. If that holds true on Sunday, Desean Jackson might get Carlos Rogers one play and then Tarell Brown for the next four plays, or vice versa. Given how Rogers has performed this season I'd prefer he get the primary coverage of Jackson, but Brown stepped up last week with some excellent coverage at times on A.J. Green.

One cornerback who likely won't see as much playing time is Tramaine Brock. He has a cast on his hand and is dealing with either a break or a deep bruise. This has allowed the 49ers to work Shawntae Spencer back into the lineup with a bit more regularity. Brock played in spite of the cast so I'd imagine he'll be active again this Sunday, but a bit limited.

Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio
Press Conference - September 29, 2011
San Francisco 49ers

Listen to Audio I Media Center

Where do you start when you start looking at the threats that the Eagles present to you?

"You can start anywhere you want really. The thing that jumps off at you is the speed of their skilled people. Starting with their wide receivers, [WR Jeremy] Maclin and [WR DeSean] Jackson are about as fast a tandem you'll ever play against. Both of them are extremely fast. So obviously you start there, then obviously the speed and elusiveness of [QB Michael] Vick and his strong arm and his ability to get it to these guys deep down the field. This team is a big play team. They take their shots at the big play and that jumps off the screen. Then last but not least is the running back who, really, I think makes it all go for this team. He's very quick, very elusive. He's got an unusual running style. He's kind of like Barry Sanders in a way that a run can be started outside left that can end up outside right or vice versa. He's very elusive. He jump cuts, he'll give ground, he's always looking to make the big play in the running game. He is what makes those guys go. He's kind of like the new Brian Westbrook for them when he was the guy for them back in their hay-day, four or five years ago."

This team has lost four in a row to the Eagles. It seems that speed that you were talking about has really hurt the 49ers. Where is your own team's speed on defense? Do you think that's improved over the year?

"I really don't know the answer to that question, again from not studying the guys much in the past. We do have some new secondary guys that haven't been here in the past which hopefully has improved that speed. We've got good speed at inside linebacker with both [LB] Patrick [Willis] and [LB] NaVorro [Bowman] and [LB] Ahmad [Brooks] outside brings good speed. Probably our speed is a little bit better than it's been in the past, but this speed that we're seeing this week is probably the fastest offense we'll see from a speed standpoint. Not just one guy, but several guys. It's topped off with the speed of Vick when he starts running." 

It seems like you've described kind of a high-risk, high-reward offense. Defensively, do you change what you guys do because of that?

"I don't think they're a high-risk, high-reward offense. They just like to throw the ball downfield more so than other teams. It's not like he's throwing a bunch of picks or anything like that. He's only been sacked four times in three games, so it's not like it's that type of offense. It's just that they have the speed and the quarterback arm strength to throw the ball downfield and they use it, which is good coaching on their part. So, I don't look at it as a high-risk, high-reward deal for them." 

When you face a quarterback like Vick in the past, will you have a linebacker spy on him? Is that something you would possibly do on Sunday?

"As always, when you play a guy that can run around, that is an option. Sometimes it's a good mixture, some teams do it a lot, some teams don't do it at all. To me, it's an option. Whether we'll use it or not, we'll see how the game goes. Spying him is one thing; it's hard for that guy who you've got spying him to get him down. He's a hard guy to tackle in the open field. The guy's made some amazing plays. Guy's have had him dead to rights with sacks and he gets out of them. Spying him may not be the miracle worker you think it is, but it is an option." 

CB Shawntae Spencer saw a lot of play time. Was that brought on by CB Tramaine Brock's injury or was that a veteran that's ready to play now and you got him on the field?

"Both. He was ready to go; the injury opened it up for him. We had planned on playing him last week regardless of the injury and will continue to play him." 

S Donte Whitner seemed to be moving around okay yesterday. Are you expecting he'll be good enough to go on Sunday?

"I don't know the answer to that. He's highly questionable right now. He started to do some things in practice, but did not finish at all. I don't know his status for the game right now. I don't know that anybody does." 

Do you have a veteran who's ready to step in for him?

"Yeah, [S] Madieu [Williams] came in last week and played well for him. The one thing we've got, we've got five safeties that we dress so there are guys back there that have to come step in and play for him." 

I don't know how intimately involved you were with the decision to elevate NaVorro to a starting role after one year, letting [LB] Takeo [Spikes] get away. Is there anything that you've seen from him that has really surprised you as far as seeing the actual product on the field?

"Not really. There really was no decision to make, getting back to the first part of your question, when Spikes was no longer here, he was the guy. There wasn't much of a decision there. He's played well, he can run well, he's a good athlete, we like his athletic ability. He still needs to improve in some areas. He's basically, like you say, a first year starter, so almost a rookie per say as a defensive player. But he's played well, but he can play better and we expect him to play better moving forward. He's been active for us. He's benefitting from playing behind our defensive linemen who do a good job of holding the point there for him and not letting people get up on him. He's played well the first three weeks." 

Does he also benefit from offense's keying in on Patrick?


Do they target him now?


Going into the season, you were talking about having Patrick blitz more and pressure more. Has he done much of that the first three weeks?

"He has. I'd say in the one game, he did it more than the first game. He did it more in the second game than the first game and last week he did it a couple times. He has. We kind of mix it up between him and NaVorro." 

With Brock, is that a four to six type of thing where he has his cast on?

"Well, he can play but he will have some limitations because of his injury to his hand. Playing corner in this league is hard enough full speed, to put a cast on your hand makes it even a little more hard. He'll play and he was able to play a little bit last week and he'll be available." 

Is it broken? A broken hand?

"I'm not sure if it's a break or a bad bruise or whatever but I do think he might have a little break in there." 

He had an interception with that, right?

"Not last week. The week before. He hurt it during the game, I don't remember when he hurt it but he wasn't wearing a cast I don't believe or something at the time."