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49ers vs. Eagles: Blitzes And Ball Control

49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman chatted with the media before practice today and addressed some of the performance against the Bengals while focusing more on the upcoming game with the Eagles. Roman noted that the Eagles had blitzed more against the Giants than they had in their first two games against the Rams and Falcons.

We've heard a decent amount (posted here and elsewhere) about how Alex Smith has solid passing numbers against the blitz. He has a QB rating of 143.1 against the blitz this season, which is good for third season. Whatever is qualified as "the blitz" aside, here's where I've found myself scratching my head. One of the many problems with the traditional QB rating statistic is that it does not address sacks in its formula.

Alex Smith has been sacked 11 times this season, which is tied for fourth worst in the NFL. Now whether you want to blame the offensive line or Smith (both have been responsible for sacks at different times), his 143.1 QB rating against the blitz does not reflect the times the blitz has knocked him on his backside before he could throw the ball. While Football Outsiders' DVOA/DYAR stats and ESPN's Total QB Rating have their flaws, I like that they do try and factor in sacks and other such plays when categorizing quarterbacks. I'd love to see those ratings for Alex Smith against the blitz. I don't know how they would be, but I think they could add a bit more context to that 143.1 rating.

As we've discussed before the Eagles pass rush is quite impressive. Establishing will be one way the 49ers can slow down the blitz and Roman mentioned how we might see all three running backs. This is also assuming Frank Gore plays. He's looking like a game-time decision and if he can't go, we could see the Kendall Hunter/Anthony Dixon dual threat in action. Of course, it remains to be seen how much of a threat they are, but it's fun to consider nonetheless. Maybe we get a glimpse into the 49ers future on Sunday.

Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman
Press Conference - September 29, 2011
San Francisco 49ers

Listen to Audio I Media Center

[Opening Statement]

"We're having a great week here in Ohio and it's giving us a chance to spend a lot of time around each other. The goal every week is to get better, that's what we're working on. Got a tough Eagles defense we're getting ready to face, a lot of talented players. The front four is extremely good in all phases. I believe they have 12 sacks, all by their D-Line. They're a really good, aggressive defense. It's a little different than what they've done; they've changed the scheme up a little bit. They play fast, they play hard. Today's our more situational day, as is every Thursday, and I'll throw it out to you guys."

Do you expect [C/G] Adam Snyder to start this week?

"Right now, we're working with different combinations and there's nothing set in stone. Whoever practices the best will probably play."

The false starts from last game, what was the main cause? Was it more technique or were there other aspects?

"It was certainly a problem in the first half of last week's game. We got it corrected thankfully and were able to be a lot more productive in the second half. It was a function I'd say, a multi-leveled function of communication."

This might be a really dumb question, but when it comes to a silent snap count, what does that entail?

"Silent snap count is a snap count with no verbal cues. Silent snap count allows crowd noise to, basically, be eliminated from the equation. It's a visual cue that triggers the snap count. So, there's a lot of different ways to do it, we have a way of doing it. Now, the closest people to the quarterback's voice are obviously the center and guards, the backs. The further you move out, the tackles and tight ends, they're usually the ones that are most affected by crowd noise and if you watch film, you'll generally see that they're slightly off the ball later than others. There are advantages to it."

Was that one of the problems last week with the false starts?

"Yeah, the overall communication was really the problem."

Are you able to practice with noise this week?

"Yes, we are. We practiced with noise yesterday. Youngstown State has been phenomenal with their facilities. The hotel setup has been as good as it gets really."

With so many high picks on the offensive line, probably the most asked question I get, what's wrong with the offensive line? What is wrong with the offensive line with the yards per carries so down and the sacks the last few weeks?

"I'd say yards per carry, that's on everybody. It's not just the offensive line. There are good plays; there are not so good plays. Run and pass. Everybody's got to make improvement. We've got to improve working together. I'd say that's the biggest thing, working together."

It seems like the defense, whether it's linebackers or defensive linemen, is able to penetrate the line on a lot of runs and obviously trip these guys up before they get going. Is that an issue?

"You never want to allow penetration on any running play. If you look at every run that was successful and every run that was not successful, some of them were a function of a combination block, some of them were a single block, some of them might have been the back not hitting the proper hole, some of them might have been just simply a bad run into a bad defense. That is definitely one of the things that come up on any running play is denying penetration."

It seems every week we ask you for an evaluation of [QB] Alex [Smith], just because he's the quarterback. We've heard that he's a tough guy and that he's shown a lot. What else are you seeing out of Alex as far as his quarterbacking ability?

"I tell you what, last week we started off the game and it was not very good across the board. I think another thing you can look to is his ability to hold it together and move the team in the clutch. It was a great thing last week, staying poised, not being affected by certain stances and performing when we needed him to perform. That's what allowed us, one of the reasons, we won the game."

[T] Alex Boone, I know he was on your development squad in 2009, kind of broke in a little bit last year and has been used in short yardage situations. What have you seen in this guy, I know he's kind of been a little bit of a project for you?

"He's doing great. Alex is doing great. Love his enthusiasm for the game of football. He's what I call an old school guy. Loves to come off the ball and hit people, he's physical, he's a big guy. He's a great guy to have around and he helps build a really good mentality that you want out of an offensive lineman, tough, physical, gritty kind of guy."

Do you see him getting more reps at some point? You talk about his enthusiasm, but he really hasn't played a whole lot.

"Whenever we call certain personnel packages that brings him into the game, he gets some pep in step when he's running into the huddle, and he's yelling and screaming and hooting and hollering. He is somebody that is improving and the more he improves, the more his chances of playing will increase. He is getting progressively better so that's a very bright thing."

One other Cleveland guy, [WR] Ted Ginn [Jr.] has obviously helped you in the first game as a kick returner. As a wide receiver, what do you see from him?

"Ted understands the game of football really well and Ted's fast. Ted's really fast. He's done a great job of catching the football, so Ted gives you the ability to stretch the field vertically. That's one of the big things he brings to the table. He's done a really nice job for us and he's a great team guy. Love having him around. Met his father yesterday. He's a high school football coach and mentor to many. Great football family and he's a heck of a player."

As far as the wide receivers and pass distribution, they haven't been heavily involved. I think they've combined for 20 catches. What is that a function of? Why haven't they been more involved?

"I think our receivers are doing a great job. They are heavily involved in the game plan. A game goes different directions sometimes. Last week, the focus went more towards [TE] Vernon [Davis] and the tight end position, just based on what the defense was doing. Every week's different, but they are heavily involved every week and they're doing a great job."

Do other teams play that spread out formation that the Eagles do with their defensive lineman, or is this unique to what you're going to see this year?

"No. The Eagles? No, not everybody does it, but the defensive line coach of the Eagles was formally with the Titans for quite a while and was very good. And the Titans played the same defensive front for years. And there are three or four teams that try to emulate that front."

Is that the reason why they have 12 sacks, and all of them by defensive lineman? Is it that their front creates something?

"Well they are talented players and they are definitely one-gap players. They are attacking the gap. You run into two-gap defenders and one-gap defenders. And two-gap defenders are going to play more at the line, play thicker through an offensive lineman, more down the middle. These guys want to get on an edge, draw a line in the dirt, and run that line as hard as they can. So, it's definitely more of an up-field, one-gap mentality."

Does that create more of an opportunity for the running game when you play a team like that?

"Not necessarily. There's the other seven guys too. So, if they load them up in there and it might fall-steer everything more towards the pass. But, they have the ability to play off, play seven-man fronts, eight-man fronts, eight-and-a-half-man fronts. So, they can do it all."

With obviously [RB] Frank [Gore] is so good in all areas, what about the other two guys, [RB] Kendall [Hunter] and [RB Anthony] Dixon? Are they as spot on with blitz pick up and protection, or how are they coming along in those areas?

"Well Frank is about as good as you can possibly get in those areas. He understands the game inside and out. He is a consummate football player, so. Are those other guys at his level yet? No. It's a work in progress. They're doing a good job every day. Frank's the best you'll find, in my opinion. You look at the Dallas game, you could put a highlight reel of pass protection with Frank in there that I've never seen in one game."

I think he had an issue Sunday, was that more ankle related?

"Yeah he had something he's working through right now. And hopefully he'll be full speed Sunday."

If he is, or I don't think you've had a game yet where all three running backs have played in the same game, is that an option to try and get all three of those guys in the mix? They're so different style-wise.

"Yeah they all bring unique style. And it's very possible that you can see all three. I think it's somewhat probable you'll see all three."

Coach, the goal of the offense is control the ball. Against the Eagles, with their explosive offense, has that come up a little bit more that let's try to get some sustained drives here, the more we got it, the less those guys can make plays?

"Yeah it all starts with execution first. And you got to be able to execute plays to make first downs to stay on the field, so. I think when you're looking at any opponent you definitely measure those types of things with how you're going to plan your attack. And all those plans go out the window if you don't execute. If you execute, then you can really keep the ball. And keeping the ball is the function of really making first downs. When you make big plays, big touchdown plays, it's usually shorter drives. But, they're not bad either, so we'll take them both."

Greg, are the Eagles able, I guess they don't have to blitz as much this season due to the additional cornerbacks, just the secondary that they have, they don't need to take those risks, is that accurate?

"You know it's interesting, it's an interesting question because they still have the full package of blitzes that they had, they just have chosen to not use them as much up to this point. Now, they blitzed the Giants a lot more than they blitzed the prior teams, so. They'll evolve like everybody else does, I'm sure, as the season goes. But they've shown the multiplicity of blitzes. We know they have them. They've brought them. It's just not as frequent."

If you had to guess, the fact that they haven't been doing it as much I guess through three games, is the secondary, the cornerbacks that they have the possible reason?

"I think that and the change in philosophy with the defensive front. Widen those ends out and having them just run their line, which is different than how they used to play. And then everything works off that. And I think they both factor in."

Do you think Alex has done, I mean his numbers against the blitz are pretty darn good, do you think he's at the point now where he's starting to be a concern? Are teams are starting to think twice about just throwing the kitchen sink at you guys?

"You never know. Cincinnati started off the game last week with two blitzes. And then they stopped blitzing for a little while, and then they decided to start blitzing again. So, it's kind of the flow of the game I think. People like to change it up, and we've just got to be ready for anything. They're not going to tell us ahead of time, so. But, it definitely changes throughout the flow of the game."

Does having [FB] Bruce Miller in there instead of [FB] Moran Norris, does that change what you can do? Is he more of a receiver, less blocker than Norris?

"Well Moran is one of the better blocking fullbacks in the league, so. We think Bruce as a rookie will develop into that type of a player. Bruce is doing a great job for us and he's pretty good in the run and pass game. So, little bit different skill set, but both productive."

It seemed like he knew what to do on pickup, knew which guy to get, but maybe needs to work on that technique a little bit?

"I would say yeah. I would say that he's totally on top of who to block. And it just comes down to winning that one-on-one battle. Anytime a team blitzes, there's going to be one-on-one matchups people have to win."