We did not get the most inspiring of comments from San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Geep Chryst in his Thursday press conference. At one point, he was asked about the fact that the offense was statistically the worst in the league. He countered with a look at the team's numbers against the New York Giants and Baltimore Ravens, and some intriguing comments:
to throw some statistics back at you in terms of drive production, in the two games, [New York] and Baltimore, we had 20 drives. Of those 20 drives, we scored 11 times, five touchdowns and six field goals. Throughout the league for the last three decades, you basically score a touchdown one out of every five drives no matter what. So, if you're ahead of that, you're doing well. The other games, again, there's no secret that this organization wants to run the ball and when you're less effective running the ball or you get behind in games, that materially affects how many runs you're going to call. But, if we hadn't had the Giants and Baltimore game, I think I'd be really concerned. That being said, you have to own every game and ultimately have to get better with the challenges that are there within the offensive line, the challenges that are there within the running back. So, we like our long-term optimism for improvement, but you look at the statistics, they exist kind of on their own as factual, but they have to be taken in context. And the way we look at it is, every game is a chapter in which you've got to attempt to win and after two weeks, again, the frame of reference of again the Giants and Baltimore. We took a step back against a good Seattle team and we hope to right the ship and have a good game against St. Louis."
It is true that the 49ers found offensive success against the Giants and Ravens. However, at the time of those games, those two teams ranked among the worst in the league at defending the pass. The Giants have improved, while the Ravens continue to have issues. Whatever the case, that "step back" against the Seahawks seems more like reverting to what we can expect more of from the offense this season. It is hard to figure out what this group has going on thus far. They had great success running against the Minnesota Vikings, had decent success passing (albeit mostly in garbage time) against the Pittsburgh Steelers, then were horrible against the Arizona Cardinals and Green Bay Packers.
I don't think the unit is generally as bad as we saw against Arizona and Green Bay, but against a strong defense like the St. Louis Rams, consider me skeptical that they bounce back.
"Alright, back at it. Tough loss against a division foe Seattle. So, you'll have some questions on that, I'm sure. And we're moving on to another tough opponent on the road. St. Louis is a talented defense and one that will provide some challenges, but we're confident with the game plan we've been putting in during the week that we've got some answers."
One of the things that head coach Jim Tomsula said Friday was that the break kind of allowed a time to really hone in on things and self-diagnose. How did you use that time?
"The first thing you look at there structurally as a coach, for example, we were using formations to try to, just take the Seattle game, one of the objectives going in even though it was a short week, we think [Seattle Seahawks S] Kam Chancellor is a really good safety. Since he's gotten back to that team, it's been a good team. We didn't want to give him any momentum plays. He's as big as a linebacker, has ball skills. So, we felt like we did an effective job of using formations to manipulate that. When they did bring pressure, the second series of the game for example, we had [TE] Vernon [Davis] one-on-one with 56, [Seattle Seahawks DE] Cliff Avril, a great matchup. Credit to Cliff Avril. He was on the backend of a blitz that we picked up with max protection. But, he ran with Vernon. Give him credit. That play didn't work. But, when you look at it from a coaching perspective you look at the personnel and how you're using it, formations which is a natural part of it, and then the plays that are complimenting to that formation. So, the last two chapters in both the Giants game and Baltimore game, those things had a way of working and Seattle's a good defense and they didn't work quite the same way. And, we're moving on to the Rams and the challenges because they're, again, a talented team, on the road, the challenges that they present."
When you face that defensive front then, is it a matter of using similar formations and plays or do you have to come up with something that's unique for the Rams?
"Right. That's the hard part. You want to be consistent with what you do, but you can't be predictable. You want to use your personnel groupings to get your best people on the field, but you can't do that on every down, time after time and become predictable. So, we feel like playing them twice a year that we've got a plan and we're trying to communicate that. We did a nice job yesterday, really coming back after a little bit of a break and then again today, just finishing a walk-thru. So, I think we've got a good, clear vision of what the game plan is, but it always varies from week to week without getting outside of your nature."
Jim also said after last game that you guys needed to shore up your pass protection and it's been a problem throughout the season. So, what changes are you trying to do? Is it personnel yet or is it still schematic?
"Well, again, you're trying to, again within that, the pocket is an intense place especially if the protection is getting edged and you're seeing that throughout. But, one of the things you want to be willing to do, a little bit like in the Baltimore and the Giants game, is throw on first and second down. You can't be, again, along the lines of predictable. Run, run, see how close you can get on third down and then, you know, try to come up with a third down play. So, you need that mix and balance within your offense. I think that's one of the best ways that you can do it so that not every time we drop back is there an issue with the protection, but you're trying to keep a defense off-balance and that's one way to do it. And then varying your protections, moving the pocket, all those things you've kind of heard us talk about all year because it is what it is and you're just trying to get better and improving. Again, we felt like we improved that aspect of the game with the Giants and with Baltimore, but not quite as improved against Seattle. So, we'll see where we're at with the Rams. It'll be a good challenge."
What needs to happen for you to decide on one player at right guard?
"You try to play to their strengths, right? So, you know, when we put [G Andrew] Tiller in there, he really provided a nice boost when we were in New York. Try to use him as a point of attack run game. We did some things in the run game and try to use his strengths. But, then you're trying to use [OL] Jordan's [Devey] strengths as well and then on the practice field you're trying to ramp up and get some of the young guys back and we've all got an eye on [G/C Daniel Kilgore] Kilgy and trying to hope he gets back in the mix too. So, we feel like we're making strides. But, when you face a talented defensive line like Seattle is or like the Rams are, you're going to be tested. And that's the challenge of the game."
Is C Marcus Martin going to get reps at right guard when Kilgore comes back?
"Right, when you only dress seven offensive linemen out for a game, you have to have swing guys. Traditionally the tackles are the swing guys. [G/T Alex] Boone is pretty unique in that he can play both guard and can swing to tackle. That protects us on game day. And then most of the time, the interior three, if you're a guard you should be able to play center. So, we've been repping, for example, Jordan Devey at center some just to keep that going. We've been repping Andrew Tiller at center. Those swing guys are critical when you only have seven dressed out for a game, especially if there's injuries."
You said ramp up and get the young guys back. What exactly do you mean there?
"OK, remember throughout all of fall camp, [OL] Ian Silberman for example, and [T] Trent Brown, we've been repping them a lot in practice. They've been getting quality reps in practice. If you think, we actually started Ian against Denver. Now, you look back in retrospect, we know how good Denver was having gone against them for two days. That's a quality opponent that he went against, but it was also a little bit of wake-up call because it's a different intensity with that defense and the third preseason game, traditionally the most game-like, to see where we're at. So, he's got some long range upside, but you're trying to get him to a spot where he feels confident playing in the game."
When you have the two right guards and one seems to be kind of a power guy--?
And one seems to be a little bit more move and finesse--?
Do you run the risk of becoming too predictable depending on which guy's in?
"Right. For example, the first drive of the second half we tried to run behind Andrew on a third-and-two, try to play to his strength. And, we had used a formation where if we get by that first wave, we're up to a corner who's a support player with [FB] Bruce Miller blocking. So, again, we felt good about that, but we just didn't match at the point of attack. And again, sometimes the defense made some plays. In that particular case, the defense made a play at the point of attack, we didn't get the first down. But, you look back at it, there was a design to it that we liked and we would've taken that matchup."
Along those lines of being a little too predictable, how hampered are you then in pass protection and not being too predictable when RB Carlos Hyde is not out there practicing?
"You know, the guy that's really quietly done a nice job has been Bruce Miller. We've used him some on third down. He understands the protections, because that's the hardest things for rookies. We've hard that for running backs coming in, or a guy like a [RB] Jarryd Hayne, that's really hard for him to understand all the subtleties within blitz pickup and all the protection and as a result I think Bruce provides a nice opportunity. He's got a nice savvy. So, guys like that help the line. We need to help understand how whether you're a receiver running a route a little bit quicker or a tight end maybe asked to block instead of going out for a pass. All that helps those five linemen because it's a tough job that they have."
Is WR Jerome Simpson ready to integrate--?
"He's done a nice job, when he hasn't played, of being engaged. He's really well liked in the locker room. So, we're just trying to get him back to running plays, plays that he's run in his past and trying to fit him in. Of course, that means you've got to move the checkers around a little bit in terms of those other receivers. We also have [WR] Bruce Ellington coming back and getting healthy. So, we really like where that position is going and again, we hope to get Jerome ramped up yesterday's practice, today's practice and then Friday because he's got a lot of juice."
How hampered is your running game right now though with Carlos and his foot, RB Reggie Bush and his calf, Jarryd and his relative inexperience? What are some of the things that you need to do there?
"Yeah, you just deal with it. I thought there were a couple runs there that really Carlos was phenomenal. There's a couple runs, again, we tried to use some formations where [WR] Anquan [Boldin] had to be a main part of the blocking element. A couple of those runs in the first half where Anquan did a hell-of-a job on Kam Chancellor, blocking really at the point of attack. So, within that, you've got to have your teammates help so that maybe it's a little bit better blocked so that, you know, you used to joke that you want to knock down all ten bowling pins. But, sometimes a good back makes that element that's unblocked miss. So, full credit to Carlos. I know that he feels bad about putting the ball on the ground, but I think that he's been tough and trying to go through it, but we've got to be smart. It's a long season and he's a good running back and I know that he's not as effective as he wants to be, but he wants to be out there. So, you need your teammates to help you out, whoever that is."
Along those lines, it seemed like Indianapolis Colts RB Frank Gore was really good at picking and choosing when he was going to get hit. If he saw guys, he would just hit the ground instead of taking a big hit where as Carlos tries to stay up and deliver as many hits as possible. Is that a topic of conversation? Do you guys ever address that?
"Not really. I think that all good running backs, Frank is phenomenal in terms of always taking a glancing blow instead of a full blow and Carlos never wants a play to end and he's made a lot of plays, including in this Seattle game, where he's stepping out of a tackle or spinning out of a tackle. But, there's a point at which the play is blocked for six and you get eight, don't try to get ten. And I think that just comes with experience. I don't think that his desire to get additional yards is a bad thing and the hits that he's taking, he's worked really hard to condition himself. I think it's just more specific to maybe where his foot is at in terms of effectiveness than, you know, spinning, trying to get an additional two or three yards. He's a competitive, tough player. We love having him on our team and we just want him back healthy as quick as possible."
A big picture question. You look at the stats, you're going to love this question, but you're last in points.
You're last in yards.
Three games, you've had ten first downs or fewer. Is this what the offense is capable of? Statistically, it's the worst offense in the league. Do you have the worst offense in the league?
"That's a fair question, but I would have to say right off the bat that when we came in before the Green Bay game, you have to play with the hand that you're dealt, whatever that hand is. And we felt, again, to throw some statistics back at you in terms of drive production, in the two games, [New York] and Baltimore, we had 20 drives. Of those 20 drives, we scored 11 times, five touchdowns and six field goals. Throughout the league for the last three decades, you basically score a touchdown one out of every five drives no matter what. So, if you're ahead of that, you're doing well. The other games, again, there's no secret that this organization wants to run the ball and when you're less effective running the ball or you get behind in games, that materially affects how many runs you're going to call. But, if we hadn't had the Giants and Baltimore game, I think I'd be really concerned. That being said, you have to own every game and ultimately have to get better with the challenges that are there within the offensive line, the challenges that are there within the running back. So, we like our long-term optimism for improvement, but you look at the statistics, they exist kind of on their own as factual, but they have to be taken in context. And the way we look at it is, every game is a chapter in which you've got to attempt to win and after two weeks, again, the frame of reference of again the Giants and Baltimore. We took a step back against a good Seattle team and we hope to right the ship and have a good game against St. Louis."
What can you draw on from QB Colin Kaepernick's last two outings in St. Louis and is that something--?
"Again, we've had to go in there, two years ago we had to go in there on a short week, Thursday night game, back against the wall because we had lost two games going into that and we came away with a hard-fought win. They were amped up for it. They felt like we were in a vulnerable position because I think the previous year in 2012, they went 5-1 within the NFC West and we had the upper hand there. Last year's game, remember we had a big long pass just before the two-minute drive and that was like it broke some ice and we end up scoring three touchdowns in the second half and made some big plays in addition to that. So, Kap's played well there. But, every season has it's own unique challenges. I think that you can draw from some of that, but you need to have your own game plan for this Sunday against this defense with where you're at with your team."
Quick follow-up on the Trent Brown, Ian Silberman. Would you say that those guys are close to being able to play or--?
"You know, that was the great value of preseason games right, because you can kind of put them out there and test where they are. You're looking to put them out in the games, the regular season it's a little bit harder within the continuity of the offensive line to rotate them, say you do with a defensive line. But, the best thing that we can do as coaches, which we have been doing, is you put them in practice situations and you have them compete. And they're competing out there, but sometimes we can draw an assessment about where they're at from practice. You know, they didn't pick up the right guy on a blitz. That's the same is true of running backs who are rookies as linemen who are rookies, for example. So, if you're playing a blitzing team and you're turning a defensive end free, say on one specific play, then that's probably not going to give you the confidence to be put in in a real game. So, you're trying to get better without ruining anyone's confidence."
And they are showing--?
"They're getting better. Yeah, they're getting better."