"Good afternoon. I'd just like on behalf of the offensive staff to send out best wishes to [Houston Texans head] coach [Gary] Kubiak, [Denver Broncos head] coach [Jon] Fox and their families. Our thoughts, prayers are with them and their families and their health. [Offensive line] Coach [Mike] Solari is growing his beard. Therefore know two things: number one, it is November. Number two, we have Sean Connery on our coaching staff now. It's always great to come in. We have a great staff. They're working very hard as always and doing a great job as are our players. Getting ready to play a very good Panthers defense. Just talking about their defense a little bit. They're much heralded. They're very talented to a man and I think the statistics back that up. They're at the top of the league in scoring defense. They're number two against the rush and their film and the results pretty much speak for themselves. Their D-line is playing at a very high level. Their defensive tackles, the rookie three-technique is playing at a very high level. [DE Charles] Johnson and [DE Greg] Hardy on the edge, two savvy, experienced that players are doing a great job. Their linebackers, [Thomas] Davis, as fast as they come, [Luke] Kuechly is all over the field, great instincts, great transition, and [Chase] Blackburn seems to get better with age. So [CB Melvin] White, [CB Captain] Munnerlyn, [S Mike] Mitchell and [S Quintin] Mikell. Mikell was in St. Louis, we know him. He's doing what he did in St. Louis, doing a great job on the back-end. So, we got our work cut out for us and love how our players are approaching this week in meetings and practice. Any questions?
What's the significance of coach Solari growing a beard? Is it because his line's been playing better?
"No, it just seems like every November. I've never really probed him on this, but every November he starts to grow the beard. He's been doing this a long time and I think it's just, ‘Hey, it's November and it's the back-end of the season and it's when we've got to be playing our best.' So, I kind of like the look."
You got off to a little bit of a slow start with the run game this year, yet here you are going into the second half of the season #1 rushing team in the league. How much have players relied on you with that? It seems like they kind of got off to a slow start too, but has the line really been paving the way for that running game? Is that why you guys are #1 in the league right now?
"It's one of the reasons. There's never just one reason. And I know everything gets over examined so much and everything seems to get titrated down to one thing, but it's not. It's a lot of different things. It's the blocking of our wide receivers, which is not often commented on or acknowledged, but it's very important. If you're not carrying the ball, you're blocking somebody. The quarterback's blocking somebody with a fake, with maybe getting us out of a bad play and into a better play, if that were to happen. The running backs, Frank [Gore] I would say specifically is just getting better and better. I think there's a little cohesion going on there with our offensive line and they're doing a great job and they're a big part of it. [TE] Vernon Davis, big part of it. [TE] Vance McDonald, [FB] Bruce Miller, big part of it. We're very fortunate to have that stable to where you can move, mix, match, move people around and kind of shuffle the shells around as they say. So, it's a lot of different reasons, but we're just getting started. It's halfway through the season and we've got a lot of improvement to make."
Have you been able to run despite teams focused on stopping the run? I mean have you been able to run despite eight-men boxes and things like that?
"Yeah, it's a challenge. It's a challenge every week and Carolina's an interesting team because I really believe they think they can stop the run with a seven-man front and they've been doing that quite well. And that's always, from a football perspective if you're a defensive coordinator and you feel good about playing seven-man spacing against an offense and stopping the run game, man you are living large. You're playing with house money. And it's going to be a challenge because they're the best team we've seen that plays the run in seven-man spacing."
The rookie three-technique whose name you didn't try to pronounce.
Star, yeah. Talk about him. What does he bring and how important was he putting into that mix to be able to stop teams with seven men?
"Very big. Very big. He reminds me a little bit of [Ravens NT] Haloti Ngata in a sense that he's big, strong, but he's explosive and he can penetrate and get off blocks. And that's what these guys have done. They get off blocks as good or better than anybody in the league. Their linebackers play off their front very well. Kind of reminds me of us a little bit with how our linebackers play off our front. Different scheme, but they have really good cohesion there."
Will he be pretty much across from G Mike Iupati?
"It could be Mike. It could be [G] Alex [Boone]. I mean they'll play different sides. They'll move him around a little bit."
How important is it for you to establish a threat early in the game on Sunday other than Gore and WR Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis?
"We're just going to run our offense. We need to execute our offense. In the run game, we've got to be efficient. Everybody's got to do their job. The backs have got to hit holes against this team. You can't stutter your feet and then we've got to throw it to the open guy. You can't wish people open against this defense. They're too good. They've created too many turnovers and their offense has been very opportunistic converting those turnovers into points. So, it's more of a big picture thing than just this guy, that guy. If coverage dictates throw the ball to Bruce, we throw it to Bruce. That's how you play winning football."
Will this be one of the first teams this season you expect seven men in the box? Most of them have been eight or nine or more. Have there been any other defenses this season that just come with seven?
"No, absolutely not, and I say that emphatically. But we've seen some extreme looks. And it's a credit to the coaches and whatnot you go against. They draw up things that you haven't seen before and then you have to adjust during the game."
Head coach Jim Harbaugh and Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera played together under former Chicago Bears head coach Mike Ditka. Do you see different or I guess similar styles or philosophies and personnel of these teams, what they like to do, anything you could point to?
"I wouldn't draw any conclusions other than they're playing very good football. And they're a physical defense. Seen a bunch of their offense and really not going to comment on that, but their defense is playing very good football. I think with coach Harbaugh you're always going to have tough, physical, well prepared, competitive teams that play extremely hard. I'll only speak about us and that's what we're all about."
Have you talked about the wide receivers blocking and the importance of that in the run game? You have guys like WR Mario Manningham and WR Michael Crabtree that are kind of working their way back. Is it a challenge to get their blocking up to speed when they're coming off of an injury?
"That's an interesting question. It's definitely factored in about what you're going to try to ask them to do coming off an injury. But if they heard me say that they would not be happy. They want action, they want to be in the fray and they do a tremendous job. Michael Crabtree does as good a job as I've ever seen consistently blocking down the field since I've been here. And Mario, same thing, does a great job. And it's a great and unique thing when you see our offensive line flying 15 yards down the field, our receivers competing like maniacs down the field. It's a special thing to see. I don't think you see it too often."
How do you expect to use Mario on Sunday?
"That remains to be seen with Mario. It's day-to-day with him and we'll see how it progresses through the week. Thought he had a good day yesterday, but it is day-to-day."
He said he expects to be up there making plays. Do you expect him to be making plays?
"It's day-to-day, it's day-to-day."
You've had extra time to prepare for the Panthers and there are obvious benefits to having the time to prepare for a team, but is there also a danger of the game plan becoming too exotic or taking on too much volume? Is that something you consider and how do you balance that?
"I think you just have to balance that every week. And you just got to try to make great decisions when it comes to what gives you the best chance to win the game."