The San Francisco 49ers offense has been abysmal thus far, and Geep Chryst is getting his fair share of blame. The 49ers offensive coordinator met with the media on Thursday and offered some of his thoughts into the team's struggles. He had some pointed comments about the offensive line getting whipped at the point of attack. He also made reference to being played the hand they've been dealt, which would seem to reference personnel issues. I don't know entirely what to make of it, but give it a read.
"This will be a brief statement about the Rams game and then there are probably some other questions. But, we got the ball to start the game. We thought that we had a chance to go down the field, get points on the board. We got three. We thought we had an opportunity to get seven. We didn't. And then at the end of the first half, again, you have a chance to make it a one-score game. 13-10 feels a little bit different than 20-6 going into the game. So, felt like we had some opportunities. Through the context of all that, guys started to go down. [RB] Reggie [Bush] went down. [RB] Mike Davis went down. So, guys had to step up. That affects what we're doing in terms of the game plan for this week and who we have playing. We've got the two running backs coming in, both [RB] Shaun [Draughn] and [RB] Pierre [Thomas]. They've done a nice job getting better. That's kind of where we're at with things, but I know we need to either visit the Rams game or kind of get to some of the other questions I'm sure you have. But, that's kind of where we're at as we sit here one practice and a couple of walk-thrus into Atlanta preparation."
Does Pierre's experience allow him to learn things quickly and be ready to--?
"Yeah. I think that, you know, you look back at what [RB] Carlos [Hyde] did and the production he had in the Minnesota game. And then he's been really tough trying to work through that injury, but I think it was the right thing to do last week and we knew early in the week, meaning that [RB] Kendall Gaskins was going to get some playing time, Mike was going to get some playing time. But, at the end of the day, with both Reggie and Mike getting injured, you just felt awful thin. And, we're fortunate that we had him earlier for a workout. I know that the personnel side's working really hard to get quality names. And Shaun Draughn's been a nice addition as well. He's been playing football and we'll see where they're at. But, when you have injuries, when you have to make adjustments, it's just, you just keep moving forward. And so, we're trying to get those guys ramped up. Pierre's played in that NFC South, has been productive, but we like Shaun too and they've really done a nice job with [running backs coach] Tom Rathman of learning the playbook, doing what's required to be ready to be active both hopefully on Sunday."
As you stand here today, do you have any idea how the playing time is going to be split up on Sunday?
"You know, that's what we love about practice is we like to figure that out. But, Shaun got in a day before so he's maybe a day ahead in terms of the learning curve. And they've been working in the morning and at night. So, he's a sharp, bright kid, which means I think he can learn and be ready and be available. Pierre came in a day later. I think he's probably where Shaun was, which means he's slightly behind in terms of where the playbook is. But, I would fully expect that they'll have command of the game plan. They don't need to know the training camp playbook, but command of the game plan. And probably have to see them on the field in practice and probably, hopefully, look forward to seeing them play on the field on Sunday. But, that's kind of the plan."
You're going to have a new running back then, probably, a new quarterback, a new tight end. Are you going to have new offensive linemen as well?
"Again, we're working through a lot of the practice stuff. We're valuing the practice reps. We're trying to give some of these young guys, like we talked last week, an opportunity to earn it. But, you still have to earn it within the community of the team. And that's where the practice reps are important. We've been giving them opportunities, but they also have to seize that opportunity and base that as much on merit as just change for change sake. But, there's that possibility too."
When you're backed up against your own goal line, how much autonomy does the quarterback have to get out of a certain call?
"You know, in that particular case, there is the availability to rise up and throw the ball out to [WR] Torrey [Smith], specifically. You know, you're backed up. I think that was the play that Reggie was hurt, sliding in. And then we had some extracurricular's which led to penalties. So, we were trying to figure out where were they going to spot the ball and we were also figuring out, you‘d prefer to have the most veteran back in there. So, there was a lot going on into it. But, yes, as part of our standard operation, you have the opportunity to rise up and throw out to an open receiver. But, that's still at the discretion of the quarterback. You know, is there a threat of a ball being tipped? All those things are factored in. It's a window of opportunity, but it's not a mandate."
Obviously, you've been here ever since QB Colin Kaepernick got here. Why is it that it just didn't work through the first eight games and this move was--?
"That's a question that you ask yourself on the plane ride coming home when you're frustrated. But, you're a part of a team and we know that the 2012 team that he stepped into the huddle with had a lot of really nice characteristics. And it was, probably, I don't want to say years in the making, but he showed up in 2011 and walked into the huddle in 2012. But, some of those elements had been in place and been put in place in terms of the O-Line, in terms of the defense, in terms of the stability that he walked into. In 2015 here, we know that in the NFL the roster will churn, what, 30-percent every year it seems like. Well, here we are a couple of years down the road. We still have some core elements of that 2012 team, but there's a lot of pieces that are new. I think that the vision that we had of what this offense would be or maybe how we would contribute to a victory was what we saw in the Minnesota game. And then one by one, some of those elements, take Carlos Hyde for example which was a critical element, they're no longer out there. We still have to find a formula. And with the new line and with all the things that have been going on, Colin has had a high expectation for himself to win football games and when you're dealt challenges, it's harder to win that football game. You put not only pressure on yourself, you become frustrated when the games aren't wins. So, Colin's a hard worker. He hasn't worked any less hard. He's applied himself in the way that he plays the game in a lot of the same ways, but it's a team sport and I think it's important that we all understand that just because [QB] Blaine [Gabbert] happens to be in there, we're not trying to say, ‘Lose QB, blame QB, tape at 11.' It's a more overarching thing that we've got to get things solved and we're willing to try anything, including a new quarterback at a position to try to get us going."
From what you said, it sounds like you reference that Minnesota game, Colin had 165 yards, threw 26 passes, you ran for 230 yards. Was he just, given the circumstances that changed around him, was he being asked to do too much this year with his arm?
"Well, first off, I think that you look at how Minnesota's defense has played or their team has played since we played them, I think they were a worthy opponent there and we had the upper hand. I think we were firing on all cylinders and operating on full strength. I think that any run game, no matter who your quarterback is, helps you to play the position. You get more single high coverage because you can now drop an extra individual into the box. Your play-action should come to life if you're running the ball. And so, there's been a consistent effort within the game plan and within the practice field to have the runs, but when you lose the productivity of a guy as talented as Carlos, it's hard to keep that efficiency. I thought that at times in games, including let's say the second half of the Giants game, we ran it effectively. But, in terms of a consistent run game, it puts a little more pressure on the quarterback when you don't have it. So, I would have to say that, again, if each game is a chapter in a season, what we saw that first chapter is what we hoped to see but through circumstance, we haven't replicated all of that success that we had in Minnesota."
Head coach Jim Tomsula has gotten up after practically every loss and said, "Blame me, it's my fault." I won't be impolite and rattle off numbers, but the offense has not been good.
How much responsibility do you bear?
"You feel like you bear it every call that you make. You feel that you bear it every practice that you do. And, you know, you try to get under the hood and say, ‘OK. What is it that we're failing on?' And at the same time, as a coach, you know that the hand that you're dealt. You're also responsible for what's on tape, which is different than what the stats may bring. If you have, let's take the Pittsburgh game, Kap set a career attempts and completions record, but a lot of that was, in a coach's mind, some empty yards and empty completions after the game was out of reach. It's still a statistical fact, but you have to watch the tape. Just as I think the frustration for everybody is when you have an opportunity, and they may be more limited compared to other years that you've had for Kap. When you have an opportunity, let's take the throw to [FB] Bruce Miller right before the half. It feels like you have to hit that opportunity, because it's not an unlimited batch of opportunities. And in a game such as that, when at the end of the day, the Rams offense had three big plays that led to their three touchdowns, we really didn't match that with any big play. Yet, you watch the tape and you felt like, ‘Hey, if we hit this pass to Bruce' or there was an example in the first half when we still had a 3-0 lead and really in the first quarter, Reggie crossed the face of a defender. We feel like that could be a big-play opportunity. Even with Torrey backed up at the one-yard line, that may or may not have been a big play opportunity. And when you're struggling on offense, it seems like the struggles lead to less opportunities, which puts more pressure on, you better hit this one otherwise you're going to have the statistical profile like we have."
Do you think Colin in 2012 played better because he might have been thinking he was competing with Kansas City Chiefs QB Alex Smith to maintain that starting job and do you think going forward, maybe that same notion could spur something out of him this year?
"With regard to 2012, I think he was excited about playing football and was looking forward to contributing and making plays to win. And, it seemed like those plays, whether it was the Chicago game in his first start on Monday night, it seemed like there was all these ample opportunities to make plays. It seemed like almost every drive there were these opportunities to make plays. And, you get to 2015 here, it seems like the margins seem smaller because of just where we're at as an offense or where we're at as a team. And as a result, you have to feel like you've got to hit your mark a little bit more often. And when you don't, you become frustrated because you look at the scoreboard and you're behind, and that creates frustration too. So, competition is good. I think every NFL player knows that there is competition. In terms of bringing out the best, I think Colin wants to bring out the best independent of who's around him, which changes or who he's competing with, which in this particular case is Blaine."
Why do you think those margins are smaller?
"We're not blocking well at the point of attack in the run game. The opportunity to throw from a clean pocket, we did that an awful lot in 2012. And again, it's not unfamiliar to other quarterbacks that are challenged throughout the league from year to year. It's just, when you play more and more football from year to year, you're going to have good years, you're going to have years where you challenged to do so. So, from a football perspective when you watch the tape, independent of the stats or independent of the commentary, you see that and yet you try to have to figure out a way to effectively produce within those windows of opportunity."
Kaepernick talked a couple of weeks ago about being protective about throws, maybe explaining some of those. Did you find yourself maybe being protective about calls at some point and might that change with the quarterback change?
"First off, I think it's a valid point, right? You go through a four-interception game, two are returned for touchdowns, this concussion bomb goes off. You feel responsible that you've kind of contributed to a loss of a team. So, you come back the next week the one thing you're not going to do is miss it the same way twice. But, there are chances where you watch where Kap probably hasn't done that in year's past. And now all of a sudden we have an interesting flip. You're a young player, you come in, you're looking for opportunities to make plays to win. Now it's flipped a little bit and it's I don't want to make a mistake that provides an opportunity for the team to lose. It sounds semantics, but I think that there may be some of that going in. You don't want to hurt the team. It's a fundamental, any player, ‘I don't want to miss a block or miss a tackle or miss a field goal.' But, maybe with perspective Kap can breathe a little bit and say I want to get back to what my core principles are which was I enjoyed this game and make it about the sport and not about all of the, whether it's outside expectations or outside criticisms or really your own expectations or your own criticisms. You don't want to fail in front of everybody. It's really that fundamentally simple. And so, you shift to ‘I need to protect this throw. I need to protect my teammates.' And sometimes that's a hard way to play when your opportunities may be a little more limited."
I was referring particularly to your calls. An awful lot of short passes or handoffs on third-and-long. Were you protecting against some of the same things in your calls?
"It's a fact that we've had people injured. And it's a fact that you would never want to call a play that exposes anyone to just getting bolowed. So, what you're trying to say is, within these margins you want to make the best call available. And sometimes the best call, especially if it's third-and-long and you're struggling with the matchup, the best call is yeah we may catch it and carry it. Think about the call where we had the little pop to [WR] Quinton Patton in the Packers game. That's a very conservative call, but the player kind of made it right even though it was after an offensive penalty, second-and-18 or whatever it is. So, you want to think that there's still a call that protects the risk but you still have an opportunity to make a play. In that particular case Quinton did a really nice job and made a play. But, you have to factor in how's the game going. In the packed-up territory on the second and third-down calls, we were having trouble blocking their front four. They're a very talented front four. I don't think whether you called a run or a pass, if you're getting penetration up the middle it really matters because we're getting whipped at the point of attack and those are examples where whether you call something like a bomb, throw it downfield, or a quarterback sneak. If you're blown up and you're backed up in the interior it's not going to turn out alright. It just won't."
I had a question about Blaine. What have you seen from him in these practices that you like and particularly, can you talk about or evaluate his ability to just get the ball out quickly?
"So, when we got Blaine on board here, there were some similarities to what we felt Alex Smith went through. Alex came here, was very young and played, had to slug out a lot of tough situations. And we felt like Blaine had all this talent and as a young player maybe a change of scenery would be good for him. He's really applied himself well in the classroom learning it. He's engaged and active. He's a really bright guy. He probably didn't have some of the injury history that Alex did as well. Last year I thought he practiced well, but in the preseason games he got a little skittish, a little ‘I'm not ready for this.' With another year within the system, another year within the organization which is always more comforting, I thought he had a really good preseason. His attributes are different. When he played well, whether it was at Missouri, whether he played well in Jacksonville or in our preseason games or on the practice field he does get the ball out differently. That's just his style of play. We'll see if that matches up with a spark that we want to get in terms of the pass game getting the ball out. But, our charge is to still get the run game going to get the play-action going and mix that in with some passes. And it'll be some quick passes as well as some down the field stuff. That's just what a game plan has in football. We have to let it play out. By no means are we saying this point moving forward this is anything of a permanent or etched into granite nature. But, where we are as an offense we've got to do something and we'll leave no stone unturned trying to come up with a plan to win on Sunday. And we're excited about it. We're excited about these young running backs. We're excited to see what Blaine will do given the opportunity and we're working hard to try to get that win on Sunday."