"Good morning. We're on the Bengals preparation, but there's also a Browns game we probably want to talk about too."
The first question I have is, when you look at nine sacks, what's that a reflection on?
"The coaching phrase is lack of execution. You'll hear that all the time and coaches don't want to tip their hand as to on this play, this was our scheme and it didn't work. But, it's a reflection of trying to give help to those who are the blockers, the five blockers. Sometimes a person that was giving help was the one that got beat on the sack. It also is often time's a reflection of the score of a ballgame. If you're behind in a game, there's a tendency to want to catch up and get through the air, caught up. But, there was a series of factors where we had an opportunity to make a play, especially in the first half, in the first portion of the third quarter and we failed in almost every instance to make a play. And that's going to affect the outcome of the game, affect your emotions and affect the stat line."
G/T Erik Pears seems to be responsible for three of those nine sacks. Are you going to give more help on his side because he's been struggling?
"Talking about that, that's exactly what we were trying to do. So, the second sack specifically, we had [FB] Bruce [Miller] over there and the tight end. But, the person that was beat wasn't Erik or the tight end. So, you're trying to give help over there. There was a third-and-three, we had run the ball, we were on the other side of midfield and then we kept the tight end next to Erik to block him. And at times, you wonder if that's unfair to a guy like [T] Joe Staley because he's oftentimes out on an island. And when he's going up against good players, he's the one that has to kind of fight the solo fight and he does a very good job of that. So, there was examples in that case. We tried to throw a screen, [QB] Blaine [Gabbert] knew the rule with the lineman downfield on the screen. You're kind of betwixt and between. If you throw the ball away with the lineman downfield, it's five-yards and a loss of down for a penalty. He thought he could get back to the line of scrimmage. A couple of those other ones Blaine feels bad about because he felt like the ball came out of his hand. There was a scramble where there was really no one around him. He thought that the down marker was laid down and that he got above the line of scrimmage. And then the other one that was a critical play in the game was they ran a goal line style defense to stop a fourth-and-one run. We ran a goal line style play. Like a lot of goal line plays, if they bring a guy off the edge, it's a race to get the ball up and we didn't get the ball up. So, I think those stats are a reflection of how the game played out. It's unfortunate because when you watch the tape, there were some chances. The pass that we had to [WR] Bruce Ellington in the first half. We had a third-down call in the red zone after a turnover where our receiver didn't run a slant route. I think everyone saw that. And then the fourth down play. So, we felt like we had three or four opportunities to maybe affect the momentum of the game and we didn't."
On that fourth down play, is it he just needs to get rid of the ball on that?
"It's a goal line style play. So, we expected for them to play the goal line defense and if you think back to the Atlanta game specifically, both fourth down opportunities, we ran it. So, we were in a pretty confident level during our preparation for the game. What we repped during the week was that we were going to see that goal line front and you know, there was a lot of banging of [TE] Blake Bell as he got out. But, he did the right thing by just kind of making the lane change and getting out there. And I think that, you know, that was one play that Blaine mentioned to me if he would have had over, he would have put a little more air, just get it up early. If you think back to the [TE Garrett] Celek touchdown in the Atlanta game, it was one of those things when it works and he's wide open, it looks great. When it doesn't work, not only do you feel bad, you feel like was that an opportunity to run it? But, the way they played that defensive front, we felt we had an opportunity and it was one of those we didn't convert."
When you draw that up, do you know that that defender is going to be on the quarterback really fast on that play?
"Yeah, it's just like any goal line play. There's often times, those goal line plays that happen so quickly because you're not using the vertical field, you can use the horizontal field. So, in the case of the Atlanta game, if you remember Celek just went out to the side and as soon as you get to the top of your drop, it's a simple throw out. But, we went for the throw up and you know, Blaine didn't get it out of his hand. Give credit to [Cleveland Browns LB Nate Orchard] 44. We had seen on tape where he chased down the line. He went right to the quarterback this time. It's one of those things that, it's a risk-reward play. And again, you don't want to always be the type of team that it's always fourth-and-one and you always run the ball. That would have guaranteed a first-and-10 on the plus-29. When it doesn't work, you feel bad that it didn't work."
What about emotionally? What's your evaluation of your team's energy level and their emotional investment?
"Sure. I think it's a common question to ask when you lose because you remember the game as a loss. You know, we went back and watched the line play in the Chicago game. I thought that there was a lot of intensity. I thought, when you watch the end zone copy of the line play in the Cleveland game, for example, there was drive where we got the ball near midfield after the [LB] Ahmad Brooks fumble (recovery). And again, we ran the ball for a 15-yard gain. What they chose to do was bring [Cleveland Browns S] Donte Whitner off the edge and Bruce Miller had a hell-of-a block. We get 15-yards on the play, now we're saying, ‘Hey, we're in the edge of field goal range.' That's the next play was when we threw the ball to Bruce. Good protection, good throw, we didn't catch the ball. Bruce feels bad. He comes back, we run another run play. Bruce Ellington actually goes down and knocks Donte Whitner, we all know Donte, flat on his back. It's probably the best block I've seen a receiver make this year. So, we can assign the fact that you know, is a team flat or emotionless or whatever those things are. I think in a context of a game, you forget all those little plays and you start to react to what the scoreboard says and when the scoreboard says you're losing or when the scoreboard says at the end of the game you've lost, you have a passionate reaction, a disappointment. And when you come in for the postgame commentary, oftentimes, that's what's reflected. You think back to the Arizona game. There was some visceral reaction to the way that the referees, on both sides. That's what the emotions and the passions of football bring out. But in terms of, were they, if you read some of the Cleveland commentary, were they the team that showed up? Were they team that competed and were they the team that won? Well, in the first half, they had a field goal blocked, they had a fumble, they had an interception and they had a punt returned to their own 32. The way I see it, again, we failed to capitalize when we had those short fields. And you think about momentum in football. Statisticians will tell you that if you've completed five straight passes, your chance of completing that sixth pass is no greater. But, you go to any game and you watch any game, they featured the Bills comeback against the Oilers, you feel this energy, this emotion. Fans do, coaches do, players do and football's a great sport because of that emotion."
One of the ways that you failed to capitalize on that was there were negative plays. They're happening a lot in the first quarter. Whether it's sacks, penalties, how is that stunting what you guys could do in the first quarter?
"Number one, we look close at what our openers will be and what is the best way to get Blaine, Blaine has done really well in situational football. Two-minute, red zone. Where he hasn't done as good of a job as we need to as a team is third down. The other place where we've struggled is we've gone three-and-out too often at the start of games. So, you look at that. The other thing that we look closely at is, you hear oftentimes us compliment this team about how they practice, the energy and the enthusiasm that they bring. But, there's no real way when you have an [G] Andrew Tiller, who's really starting for the first time, or a Blake Bell who's starting, how do you simulate game reps, how fast things happen in games. We can do our best in the practice reps, but there's an invaluable experience that you have playing at the speed of an NFL game goes at. And I think that sometimes you watch that on tape is that we have negative plays. We don't see something, we don't react to something and oftentimes it's an inexperienced player. We're trying to give them experience, we expect them to get better, we've made improvement, but not for this game."
Talk about openers, how many are you scripting? Former head coach Bill Walsh used to script 15.
"Fifteen is the standard. What's at issue is, if you don't get first downs, for example, we had six drives in the first half. The one thing we knew going in was that we were going to alternate series with [C] Marcus Martin and then [G/C] Daniel Kilgore at center. So, you kind of parse it out as to what would be good with Marcus in there, what would be good with Daniel in there. And that's the way, but if you don't get first downs, your 15th play is in the middle of the second quarter and that's a killer. And again, the scoreboard is dictating stuff that may be different than what you thought going in. We thought it might be a neutral game, a zero-zero game and actually we thought that some of the plays, like the throw to Bruce Ellington might give us an opportunity to have a play to get into scoring territory."
You kind of alluded to it a little earlier, but when you see or hear the comment that Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine made yesterday, that it appeared to be kind of a shot across the bow of the 49ers coaching staff and just the preparation and the energy with which you guys played. Does it anger you? Does it upset you?
"First off, you don't pay too much attention to it. I enjoy, you know, getting onto task for the next week, but sometimes you can gather valuable information from people in the postmortem of any game. So, you try to take it in what's the context that he was trying to say. And what was the context of them? Well, he's shining his star, saying that, you know, even though we lost seven in a row, look how we showed up. We're a team that fights and does not quit. He also said in the context of the quote that he praised the veteran leadership. Well, it's ironic. I was talking to [Cleveland Browns T] Joe Thomas and [Cleveland Browns TE] Gary Barnidge and [Cleveland Browns QB] Josh McCown, all guys that I've coached in the past before the game. So, some coaches will try to use the media as a megaphone to praise or compliment. He also said in that context that [Seattle Seahawks QB] Russell Wilson, he did not consider an elite quarterback either. They asked him if he was an elite quarterback or a top-10 quarterback and he said no. So, you can't overreact. Everyone has an opinion, but you can't overreact. I do know, like I said, if they were the tens across the board in all the things that he said and we were at one across the board, then I don't think that they would have had a field goal blocked. I don't think they would have had a turnover, which we know is critical to the game. I don't think they would have had a fumble. I don't think that they would have allowed a punt to come back. So, you're caught between having to execute plays and given opportunities, make opportunities. And I think that becomes what's frustrating for all of us on the team and the fans included, is that it was a 10-3 game in the second half. We actually threw the exact same pattern combination that we hit in Chicago to [WR] Quinton Patton. But, what did Quinton Patton do just before the start of the snap? He was leaning forward on his motion. We've gone in motion a thousand times. Why did he on that one play do that? You know, is it a lack of experience in going in motion? Was he excited about making the play? We completed the play. Again, that's a plus-23 in a 10-3 game, the way that we had been operating in the red zone and what we did at the end of the game in terms of the end zone, we could tie that game up right there. Instead, that's a penalty. The next two plays are sacks and it materially affects how you feel about the game. I know it affected me, how I felt about the game. So, that was what happened in that game and we have to move on to Cincinnati and it takes turning the page, having a game plan and moving forward."
You mentioned Joe Staley earlier. Is he, I know nobody's 100-percent at this point in the season. Is he dealing with maybe a little bit more injury-wise then--?
"First off, I think that the battle that he had with [Chicago Bears DE] Willie Young in the Chicago game was really fun to watch. And if you watch the end zone copy, you know, Willie Young had mentioned how he told the kids he's going up against Joe Staley and that he told the kids not to bug him. He put extra time and extra effort in. So, you've got motivated players going against a Pro Bowl tackle in Joe. And then like I said, because we've been conscious of giving some of these younger players help, whether it's Marcus or [OL] Jordan Devey or Andrew Tiller. We're trying to give those guys help, so often Joe is on an island. That's a frustrating, hard thing to do and we've got to make sure that on any game plan, it's balanced enough that he's not always got the tough task on the play. But, I appreciate how hard he's been playing. Oftentimes, when you watch those end zone copies, he probably sleeps well at the end of the day because there's a lot of battling going on."
How has Andrew Tiller been playing?
"Great. You know, again, another guy that we highlight as someone who did not have a single start coming in. He's done a nice job and kind of settled into himself. I think the game is slowing down. I think that's the one thing you hear. I was listening to the [Golden State] Warriors last night. Festus Ezeli, what a great name to say, but he said that the game was slowing down for him this season. Well wait a second, they won a championship last year and he was a contributor. How fast can you be an immediate contributor as a starter in the NFL? How fast can you become a productive starter? And Andrew's done a hell-of-a job because he's come in and continued to play well and make plays and I think the game is slowing down for him, at least from what you see on tape. He's seeing where the linebackers are. He's seeing where things go and he's got a long way to go and this will be a hell-of-a challenge against a very good front seven. But, you've got to give him credit because he's ramping up quickly. Just as Kilgy played well in the second half, he's going to start his eighth NFL game coming up here. We consider him to be the veteran because he's been around, but you know, it's all about trying to get familiar with how fast the game goes and we're excited to play Cincinnati."
You mentioned, obviously accurately so, Ellington's drop and Patton's penalty and this guy missed a block and everything. Obviously, people look at the offense as a whole and it's ranked last. A lot of people are pointing to you. You've had injuries, you've had personnel issues and all that. When you look at this season, how do you evaluate yourself? Are there things you say I wish I had that back?
"First off, what you evaluate is, we went back through the other day, we have completions to 19 different 49ers. Proud of that stat because that means there's a lot of people that we've had to quickly fold into and ramp up for games. And your question, the question I ask myself is, is this a trend? Concussion protocol or injuries, is this the way that the game is going in which case the stuff that you work on in training camp as part of your core offense or the stuff that we ran off of 13-personnel or with [RB] Carlos Hyde, we can't use that. We can't use that because we don't have three tight ends dressed out. We can't use that because we don't have Carlos Hyde. So, any analysis of the offense starts with who are the people that you have and what do they do best and then can we put them in a position to execute. You watch teams, getting ready for Cincinnati, how fun is Pittsburgh to watch as an offense? There's [Pittsburgh Steelers QB] Ben Roethlisberger throwing to [Pittsburgh Steelers WR] Antonio Brown and there's [Pittsburgh Steelers TE] Heath Miller. What jumps out at me are the savvy plays that they make outside of the chalk line, outside of what the scheme is. And that's what we're trying to do. We're trying to get better. I thought that since Blaine has come in, how would I evaluate the offense? Blaine's done a nice job with the offense. I thought for four games, we were making those strides. The two losses being to two pretty good, playoff caliber teams and then this was step back. But, each game is a chapter and you have to author what you can in the chapter. And at the end of the day, I feel incredibly responsible for it. I know what my preparation is. I know how hard the staff that works on the offensive side works. I know how hard [head coach Jim Tomsula] Jimmy T works at it. We would love to pour experience or playmaking ability or all of that into every player that's out there. We want them to be successful. We want to put them in a position to be successful. But, at the end of the day, and that's the beauty of the game, you either make a play at that point in time or you don't. And that's football."