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Eric Mangini on 49ers run defense woes, Arik Armstead development, facing backup quarterbacks

The San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator met with the media on Thursday. He discussed the struggles of the run defense, how Ian Williams fits in the scheme, Arik Armstead's development, and a second straight week facing a backup QB. We have a full transcript. You can also listen to audio here, and view video here.

Opening comments:

"Third down, red zone today, that's our emphasis. Just got through with walk-thru. Getting ready for a very good Cincinnati team, create a lot of problems. It's funny, I was just telling [49ers manager of football communications] Mike [Chasanoff] that I've known Marvin since 1996. We were together when he was a defensive coordinator for that first Ravens team and he said, ‘Yeah, I was 11 years old.' So, thanks, appreciate it. So, I'll open up for questions."

Just looking at the defense overall, obviously you guys gave up two big runs to Cleveland, but what's been the problem with the run defense this year for the most part?

"Well, it's been some different issues. The big plays this past weekend, really with any run, you may have an explosive run, but an explosive run shouldn't ever be any more than I'd say 10 or maybe 20-yards. And you've got two levels of the defense. You've got the first level and you've got to have the fits with the defensive line and the linebackers and then you've got the second level with the secondary and that second level funnel is so critical to making sure that those runs don't go for that type of yardage. So, it breaks through and you've got the corners coming in and the safeties funneling it inside out. If you lose leverage in any one of those spots, that's when those runs become long runs. I think the secondary overall has done a good job throughout the course of the season, but it's part of this process with these young guys in terms of learning exactly where you fit and reading the different angles of insertion on the back, because if you fill it two to three yards or you're too quick to come up the line of scrimmage, instead of being able to come off and make the play you get caught up in the wash. And it's the same thing for the corners, where if you start inside like this instead of imagining like a five-yard wall, an imaginary wall and come over the top, often times you get caught up in that wash. Things we needed to fix on the first level and then also continue to get that second level funnel as sound as it possibly can be."

Yesterday, Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine made some pointed comments complimenting his own team and taking a pretty overt shot at the preparation and intensity of the 49ers. What did you think? Were you offended when you heard those comments?

"You're the first one to tell me about them. Look, I like Mike. I've known Mike forever. He's worked my football camp. He's a friend of mine and we talked a lot prior to the game and we talked some after the game. I honestly haven't read his comments, but I know Mike is a good guy. I've said things that maybe come out differently than I want them too and after the fact that I kind of look back at it and say, ‘Oh, I wish I had phrased that differently.' But, just in terms of my relationship with him and all my experiences with him, he's always been fantastic."

He's been rather quotable. After the game talking about their success running, he said they saw weakness in your defense and they were able to take advantage of it. Do you know what he was getting at and was that a fair assessment?

"My experience with any sort of postmortem on a game is sometimes you do see some things that you can exploit. Typically you don't call your shot ahead of time like, ‘Hey, I'm about to hit this one out of the park.' So, those postmortems can be a little bit more generous than necessarily what your thought process was going in. But again, you'd have to talk to him in terms of what he saw or didn't see."

What stands out to you the most about NT Ian Williams in scheme and how valuable has he been to your defensive scheme this year?

"Ian is outstanding. Ian is a guy that has, again I didn't spend as much time with these guys over the past two seasons as I did with the offensive players, but he in one-on-ones through training camp from the other side of the ball, I always admired how he worked. And that's something that regardless of where you are on the field, you can always appreciate work ethic and that to me is one of his greatest characteristics, greatest assets. Plus, he's also very steady, very consistent, very coachable. He's a really good role model for the young defensive linemen and he's a great story, a guy that has worked his way up and become a really good player."

You had Houston Texans NT Vince Wilfork for one year when you were a defensive coordinator in 2005.

"I love Vince."

He was 325 and Ian Williams is 305, are you surprised at how well he's been able to hold the point of attack at nose guard?

"Yeah, he and Vince are a pretty different package. But, Ian has the advantage of being explosive off the line of scrimmage. He plays with a low center of gravity and he's a very good technician. So, with that type of leverage and that type of explosion, even with guys that are bigger than you, you can get underneath their pads. You can create the momentum going into them. Vince can do a lot of things, but even if he didn't do them correctly he's still tough to move. Ian has that really solid leverage, really consistent technique, which helps him a lot. That's something that when you look at a guy like [DL] Arik Armstead who's got to continue to learn that, because he's dealing with a different package with his height, how important it is to maintain that low center of gravity."

LB Gerald Hodges seems out of position a fair amount of time. What are you seeing from Gerald?

"No, I don't think Gerald is out of position a lot of the time. I think what Gerald and I have talked about is, and I mentioned this before, is sometimes you can hurry but you don't rush. He's very quick to see things and very quick to react, but you can be too quick, you can be too fast. There's a patience that has to come with those run fits, because even though you're working to the front side A-gap, you have the backside A-gap and so until that back commits front side and there's no chance of cut back, you can't either. Really it's something that I talk about with [S] Jaquiski [Tartt] as well when we are just talking about tempoing the ball. You've got to be at that same depth so that you can react when he reacts. I like Gerald's aggressiveness. I like all those elements to it. But, it's just sometimes you've got to slow it down a little bit and counter your tendency to get there too quickly."

What's unique about, this is the second time in a row you're facing a backup quarterback, what's unique about that perpetration and can it be a little bit more difficult just because the sample size is a little bit smaller?

"Yeah, it's always a problem. I know everybody hates when a coach doesn't name a starting quarterback. But, what it does to the other side of the ball, what it does to the people that are getting ready is it forces you to look at two sets of tape and split your time, split your preparation. Whenever you're dealing with a backup quarterback, especially in his first start where he's got the full week of preparation is you don't have a ton of game film, that's one component of it. The second thing is you don't know what their feeling is on what he can and can't do well versus what the starter can and can't do well. But, they obviously have very strong feelings on it. So, you're preparing for the system. You're preparing for things that he does and strengths that he has, but maybe there's plays that he really likes that you're going to get more of. Maybe there's things that he's a lot more comfortable with that he and the coordinator like more, because the quarterback gets to drive a lot of that stuff especially later in the week. You guys have all seen it, ‘Hey what do you like?' So, there's not a huge body of data to pull off of in terms of tendencies and play calling patterns."

Does that make halftime more valuable in a game like this where you sort of hone your broad game plan to wherever they've gone with theirs?

"Yeah, that's an element of it. The other thing that comes into play is relationships. Sometimes you'll see backup quarterbacks go in and the guy that doesn't get the ball very much suddenly gets it a ton, because they are buddies and they've been throwing to each other on show team, whatever it is. The numbers spike dramatically with new quarterbacks to different players. It's just that's who he likes throwing to."

So, you don't think they'll use Cincinnati Bengals WR A.J. Green at all?

"I would imagine he likes him. I'm just guessing. I mean, if I was playing quarterback, I'd throw to him too. As bad as I throw it, he'd probably catch it."

Why do you not play Arik Armstead in the base defense?

"We do. Arik plays some in base. And with those defensive linemen, everybody has a different skillset and what you're trying to do is keep them all fresh or as fresh as you possibly can throughout the entire game. So, Arik has been effective in nickel. He's been effective in dime. So, if that's where he's going to get the core of his stuff, then you've got to work some other guys in to kind of give Ian and [DT] Quinton [Dial] and guys like that some blows in base, because what you don't want to do is get late into the game and lose something in those sub-packages that maybe was a real strength if you had balanced it out."

How is Armstead playing against the run? You've seen him play well as a pass rusher.

"I think Arik's done some really good things against the run. I think the thing with Arik and [LB] Eli [Harold] and [Jaquiski Tartt] JT, all those young guys that are playing in the box is some runs they've seen a lot, some runs they've only experienced a few times and the speed with which those runs hit, the fits, the feel, you can coach it, you can practice it, you just don't get it at that same level. You've got to experience it and some of this is growing through that."

You've mentioned tempo and the speed of these run fits. Are the Bengals specifically tough in that area because they have two different backs that complement each other so well?

"Well, they've got that and they've got a very good offensive line. They've got tight ends that block effectively. They've got receivers that can threaten you vertically that you've got to make a decision on how you want to play them. Eight in the box, seven in the box. How you want to mix that. So, they put pressures on your number count because how many times do you want to leave a guy like that out on an island. You've got to go through that decision making. So, you'll get some seven man boxes where they've got numbers. I think that both guys do present different problems and the plays that they call. There's some misdirection, there's some counters, there's some powers, there's a creativity to it and combine that with shifts and motions, good package, really good package."

There's been a fair amount of discussion after the game partly because T Joe Staley and LB Ahmad Brooks said that some guys may have overlooked the Browns, whether their energy was right. As far as the defensive performance, do you pin that to any sort of intangible-like energy or was it just not a good defensive performance?

"We're trying to get consistent on the road, period, regardless of who we play. I thought we made real strides against Chicago. We want to be able to play on the road as effectively as we play at home. I don't think it was a function of overlooking a team. A thing I've learned a long time ago is that you better focus on strengths, you better focus on what a team does really well. That's what we talked about, because as soon as you look past anyone it's a problem. I didn't see that. I didn't feel that. For us defensively, we're looking for consistency on the road whether it's the Browns or whether it's anybody we play."

But, when one of your players says that he felt that, Ahmad Brooks, don't you have to put some stock into it or take it seriously?

"Well, if Ahmad felt that and he said that, that's how Ahmad felt. I can't speak for every one of our players. I didn't get the general sense from the group that that was the consensus. Really that's, if each individual addresses their feelings, I can tell you though one thing that we talk about a lot in our room is the importance of finding a process to get you to where you need to get to to play at the highest level. That process is different at home than it is on the road. I've learned and some of it was just through experience myself of if you start looking past somebody and that's the time where you get hurt the most."