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Eric Mangini talks facing Aaron Rodgers, OLBs covering Larry Fitzgerald, improving pass rush

The San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator met with the media on Thursday. He discussed the many issues facing the team, including how to deal with Aaron Rodgers, why OLBs were covering Larry Fitzgerald last week, and more. We have a full transcript. You can listen to audio here, or view video here.

Opening comments:

"So, we are full-go on Green Bay. Obviously, another really, really good quarterback, another really, really good offense, very effective in running. What they do, and I'm sure you watched the game Monday night, he's so effective with cadence, with his pre-snap reads in terms of evaluating what you're in and getting them into a good play and his talent, not just to throw the ball, but his ability to create plays moving out of the pocket, pretty impressive too. So, got plenty of work to do."

One of the teams that has played the Packers the best over the last few years is the 49ers. Do you go back and look at what you guys did in 2012, 2013 and take away anything from those games?

"Yeah, you look at those games and obviously, [49ers head coach] Jim [Tomsula] was here for those games. Talking to him and trying to go through it and it's one of those things where you look at it from a scheme perspective and then you look at it from a personnel perspective and see where you can do the same things that were done before and where maybe it's not going to work out quite the same way just because it's different matchups. But, you do definitely try to draw on that and played Green Bay quite a few times over the course of time and then had [former NFL QB] Brett Favre with me in New York. So, had some feel for what they did there. Just to get his input on offense when he did come in."

You mentioned Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers' pre-snap reads. Game planning against him, do you focus on disguises that confuse his pre-snap reads or pressure packages that stresses his protection?

"Well, you try to do both and we try to give sameness and likeness every week. [Former Baltimore Ravens head coach] Ted Marchibroda was a big believer in that when I worked with him in Baltimore. And, he was talking about it from an offensive perspective, the whole idea of the more things can look exactly like something else and guys have to make decisions after the snap, that's the best-case scenario. When you get a quarterback that is as knowledgeable as he is, is as good at getting them into the right place as he is, it's a problem if they know it early. And, we've always, I mean, I've always talked about it whether it's [New England Patriots QB Tom] Brady or [Denver Broncos QB Peyton] Manning or [New Orleans Saints QB Drew] Brees, all the, the list goes on and on. But, those guys that have so much experience, if they know what you're in, it's going to the right place and every pass play has an answer to the different coverages. It's your ability to make sure that he can't get to that answer until he's in his fifth step, then he's got to see what it is."

On the Cardinals, I think it was their last drive of the first quarter, there was two plays within a five-play sequence where Arizona Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald lined up in the slot, an outside linebacker was on him, gave him a bump and then kind of passed him off to maybe, no one was there. What happened, I mean, generally speaking on those plays,  and what was supposed to happen?

"Yeah, I don't remember the one play and we were on base defense. So, Arizona does a lot of things early and I thought base had some good flexibility in terms of pressure package and coverage. But, there's going to be some times, the one that stands out to me, is where Larry pushed in hard to the internal part of the coverage and then rolled back out. It's a tough one, because you assume as a seam player, I don't want to get into too much stuff, but as that outside player, when he pushes in like that you're thinking he's running across the field and then he bowed back out. I remember that one. The other one I don't remember, but I think it was different coverages each time, so it wasn't one specific thing. Sometimes it could have been cover-two, it could have been cover-four, split-safety stuff as opposed to post-safety stuff."

Obviously, all defenses are complex, to learn some of this stuff on the fly. Is it safe to say there's, at this, three games in there's still a lot of thinking going on rather than just reacting?

"Well, there's going to be thinking every week because the way that Arizona played was so different than the way that Pittsburgh played. More personnel groups, more personnel variation, different, so there's always going to be that level. And then, Green Bay plays radically different than both Arizona and Pittsburgh plays. So, there's going to always be the element of that. And, you're trying to have enough in a package where you've got versatility, you can handle the problems that they create, you can attack the things that they do without getting too far across that line to where you're reacting and adjusting. And, it's a balancing act that you go through and this is really a learning process. I've said it before, you're learning about the guys, guys are learning about me, guys getting in the system. It's going to keep building." 

Did you evaluate the zone defense that you guys have been playing and what do you need to do to tighten that up?

"Well, it's any zone, there's multiple zones, so you go running down the line. Each one has different things that you have to do, and it's everybody working together. It's a function of not just the backend and the holes in the zone and the spots where you're weak, but it's the frontend too. Being able to generate enough pass rush, whether you bring four or five or three. And it's those two things working together. And, getting back to the earlier point, it's also not giving away which one you're in because once they know, cover-three you're going to throw certain things, cover-two you're going to throw certain things. So, it's post-snap and it's the coordination of the front and the backend improving."

Generally speaking, would you feel like your guys are getting beaten individually or do you think it's more collective?

"Well, I don't think it's ever a function of one guy in any play. I mean, every now and then, a guy falls down or something like that. But, it's collectively us getting better as a whole group, as opposed to, ‘OK, if we just fix this one thing we're fine.' And, you're going to have variations. So, there's different things that you've got to improve on in those different zones."

Your defense was in its base personnel package for more than 60-percent of the plays Week 3, according to Pro Football Focus. Was that the game plan going in? Why did you make that decision and looking back was that the right way to play it?

"Well, they really weren't in much sub after the game got a little bit further along the road. So, I think that probably got skewed just because of the personnel group they were in. They were primarily in big people with an extra tight end or two extra tight ends, or 12-personnel with two tight ends. So, early in the game we had some base. Then we moved to more of a substituted package. But, that's been varied each week."

Is it really possible to disrupt an offense like Green Bay's? Is it really possible to do that or do you have to take a different path?

"They're very efficient. He's very efficient. And, even, it's one of those unique things because even when you disrupt Aaron Rodgers, the plays that he can make outside the pocket, it's different than some other guys. So, when you do disrupt him, you need to disrupt him in a certain pattern to get the lowest probability of him then taking a broken play and turning it into a big play. And, what I really respect about him is, you saw it, where he catches you with 12 guys on the field or he quick counts you and then he comes back and he hard counts you. There's an inherent discipline that has to go into whatever you play, because, looking through the list, I don't know how many plus-20, plus-30, plus-40, plus-50 yard plays he has when guys jump offsides and he just gets a free play. He had a 52-yard pass interference. He had another touchdown to another. You get in those situations where you think the official is going to call it and he doesn't. And, for us, eliminating self-inflicted wounds, that's always going to be priority number one, whether it's cadence, whether it's missed tackles or any of those things that are under our control, that's a starting point."

You mentioned it being, the problems need to be solved collectively in the pass rush. What's your stance on how the pass rush has played and what do you guys need to do to get Rodgers off his spot at a better rate than you have the last two weeks?

"I don't think there's one thing that you can do throughout the course of the game with Aaron to get him. Stuff in the first quarter is probably not going to be as effective in the second half after he's seen it. So, you have to have a couple different pitches there. With the pass rush in general, it's a balancing act. You've got four and you're ability to get there with four. And then, if you want to bring five and zone blitz, or something like that. Then you do have some voids in the zone. And then, if you want to bring six and max pressure, you've got the pluses and minuses with that because if you miss a tackle or hit a screen, there's some weakness there. So, I would say the pattern is still the same of it can't always be four, can't always be, it's got to be those things mixed in. And, whatever you're doing, you've got to do it better than you did it the week before."

How would you evaluate what DL Arik Armstead's done, particularly last week, and do you feel like his play has warranted a continued increased role?

"Yeah, I was excited for Arik getting his first sack and really [CB] Ken [Acker] getting his first interception. Those are big moments for guys in the NFL. In terms of Arik's role increasing or decreasing, we've got him a fairly good volume of plays here for a young guy and we've got some depth in the defensive line, so you want to make sure all those guys can play and you've got freshness through the four quarters. But, his role each week could be a little bit different. It could be 20 this week and 30 next week or vice versa. Some of it depends on how much his, again, say in a substituted defense versus something else. Because, those guys have strengths that you play to and bigger groups versus smaller groups."

During the game on Sunday, LB NaVorro Bowman looked pretty frustrated, a lot of kind of this. I don't know if it's frustration or a what's going on here type of thing. Obviously, he's very competitive. No one is thrilled about losing like that. But, have you talked to him and got a sense of kind of where he is?

"Well, he wasn't alone in his frustration. Everybody was frustrated. When you get into a situation like that, nobody wants to be in that situation. Nobody works hard all week to be in that situation. Nobody expects to be in that situation. And, the frustration, the value in frustration is what you do with it. The value in frustration is how do you respond to it? How do you channel it? What do you do the next week to make sure the things that happened the previous week don't happen again? And, that's where the energy needs to go. So, whenever you get into that situation, I've talked to guys, not just Bo, but throughout my career and had those conversations. What do you do? What do you do about it? If you don't like what's happening, how do you, start with yourself. What things can you fix? And then, how do you become as positive an influence as you possibly can on the group. And, from leadership, what you're always looking for is it's easy to lead in those moments where everybody is high-fiving you and giving you lots of love. Leaders come, leaders are really revealed in those toughest moments, in the darkest moments when you're not getting any of those things that you work so hard for. That's where true leadership comes up. And, those are conversations that you have with guys, not just like Bo, but everybody because it applies to all of us. We're tested in the dark times. It's easy to do anything when things are going well."

CB Tramaine Brock seems a little slower than a couple years ago. Is he completely healthy?

"Yeah, Tramaine's healthy. I mean, I don't necessarily see that same thing and I haven't timed him in the 40 but--.

How would you evaluate how he's played so far this year, Tramaine?

"I think he's done some really good things. What I've liked about Tramaine is he's worked in the slot, which is totally new for him and he's done, I think he's done well in there and he's really worked it, at working in there as well. It's not an easy, it's like being a slot receiver. The world is totally different because of all the stuff that comes at you. So, I've enjoyed it. I've enjoyed working with him and I think he'll keep getting better as we go as well."