San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh was tight-lipped about Dee Ford’s injury, but did speak on Javon Kinlaw, the busted coverage late in Week 1, Richard Sherman playing field cornerback, and much more.
I’m going to shoot my shot here and ask you about DL Dee Ford and what your level of concern is or if you know the reasoning as to his absence from practice today?
“Not overly concerned. [Head coach] Kyle [Shanahan] and the performance staff will get that all out to you guys soon.”
So, are you saying it wasn’t a vet day, the reason that he didn’t practice today?
“Again, I’ll leave it up for Kyle and those guys, but from my understanding, there’s no concern.”
I realize this is the other side of the ball, but there was a block that T Trent Williams threw in the game the other day that’s kind of making the rounds. A lot of people saw it. I’m wondering, did you guys watch that in a team meeting? Did you see it? What was the reaction like when that happened and what did you see in it?
“I saw, I think we all saw it. Awesome. I don’t know many human beings his size who can do something like that, to a linebacker nonetheless. Usually you see those guys rolling out on DBs, but not a linebacker, but no hesitation, run through another human being like he wasn’t even there. It was awesome. So, it’s football.”
I know we’re going back a little bit, but it didn’t work out with former Seattle Seahawks DE Ziggy Ansah. Was there anything, was it financial? Was it him not fitting in? I know he’s got a connection with defensive line coach Kris Kocurek. What happened there?
“Again, that’s more for [general manager] John [Lynch] and Kyle. Whatever discussions happen, I’m not part of that. So, that’d be more of a question for them.”
Could you take us back to the play and explain the blown coverage on Arizona Cardinals WR DeAndre Hopkins’ final catch where he was able to get through and nobody tracked him across the middle that got him to the one-yard line?
“We called man coverage and the huddle call didn’t get out to the defensive backs. So, that’s an egregious mistake across the board, all the way, starting with me, obviously. But obviously, it’s a lack of communication, but it wasn’t a coverage bust. It was just a complete blown call. So, yeah, unfortunate it happened when it did.”
A lot of your defenders talked about how tired they were and I guess, understandably so with, what, 78 or 80 snaps. When you’ve gotten a chance to watch the film, at what point did you see that defense really start to get fatigued and then broken down? Was there a snap count there around the sixties or seventies where that became really apparent on film?
“I felt like we were rolling along pretty good. There were two plays in particular that really, I don’t know if you want to put the bear on our back, if you want to call it, it was at third and 10 backed up. We’re off the field. We get called for holding on Hopkins and then on the second and 21, [DL] Kerry Hyder [Jr.], they scrambled for about six yards. So, it’s going to be third and 15, which is very favorable for us and we get called for a foul on the sliding quarterback with Kerry Hyder. Those two plays combined added about, I think it was 18 or 20 plays to the defense in a very short amount of time. So, we approached 50 in the second half. So, it wasn’t apparent until the very last drive where you saw the blown coverage, some communication issues pop up just from, if you want to call it fatigue. Just there was a lot. It came a lot there in the last drive when I noticed it.”
It’s a very small sample size, but without CB Richard Sherman in the last two seasons, you guys are 0-3. Obviously, it’s an impact because he’s very good. Not having him, does it change your approach or what you do in the secondary?
“From a leadership standpoint, for sure. Just having him out there, his communication skills and all the things that he does, locker room adjustments on the field, communicating on the sideline. All those different things. That’s where he’s better than anybody in football. Obviously, there’s going to be some things that possibly can change. There might not be any changes. So, I’ll kind of leave the game plan part in my back pocket, but losing someone like Sherm, obviously it is a very big deal.”
It might not have shown up in the stat sheet, but wanted to know your impressions of DT Javon Kinlaw’s NFL debut and how do you want to see him progress in the coming weeks?
“We were very pleased with the JK and how he performed. I know it doesn’t show up on the stat sheet, but he played with a tremendous amount of violence. He made a couple of plays in there that didn’t show up on the stat sheet, that there aren’t many humans that can do what he did. He had two fantastic pass rushes. Quarterback, obviously, got rid of the ball pretty quick. So, it goes unnoticed, but he’d won clean. So, we’re very excited for him. He just needs to continue to find ways to get better and not get caught up on stats. It’s about putting your best foot forward every single play and trusting that the results will come, but people see tape. They know it’s happening.”
You faced Arizona Cardinals QB Kyler Murray three times now and you haven’t done a great job of containing his scrambles. What’s the coaching point for your, I guess, defensive linemen in particular the next time you face him and scrambling quarterbacks like him?
“Whenever you play a scrambling quarterback, you really have to honor the level of the quarterback as a pass rusher. So, it really starts at the defensive end spot. You want to rush and capture a corner and try to get over the top with speed, but when you do that, you open up those B gaps. You just think about, there’s four pass rushers, you’ve got five lanes that you have to defend, so you’re always going to be a gap short. For those guys, understanding the level of quarterback. We had a couple of cover means where it’s a large human being out in space on the quarterback. We had one with [DL] D.J. Jones playing cover me which, when he gets flushed, he’s right there to swoop him up. Kyler is a special, special player and he’s going to do that to a lot of people for a very long time. But, we do have to do a better job containing them, keeping them in the pocket and it starts at the defensive end spot.”
You guys stuck to base a lot. That maybe surprised people given that the Cardinals spread it out more than any other offense in the NFL. Can you explain why you guys stuck to base despite how many receivers they threw out there?
“They played a lot of two tight end sets. I think people misunderstand a lot about Arizona. They do run a power style football game, and you do have to stop their run game. They run and will screen you to death if you let them. Coming out of the game, we felt really good about the way we handled their run game. I know there’s a lot of yards, a hundred of them were scrambling. When they actually had a designed run, it was less than four yards a carry. Their screen game is a big part of what they do, getting the ball out of the quarterback’s hands quickly and so those are things that they do. If you get small on them when they go 12 personnel, they can turn it into a power game very quickly. So, they’re pretty dynamic in the way they do things. It’s a good system that they’ve got.”
New York Jets RB Frank Gore is going to start against you. He’s 37-years-old, probably real close to you. Do you expect every year this’ll be his last season? Do you have a Frank Gore memory for us through the years?
“Frank, I’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for him. Obviously, I’ve never had a chance to really interact with him, but all I’ve heard from people around this building and people who’ve interacted with him in different buildings is that he is the first one in, last one out. Takes unbelievable care of his body and has such a deliberate approach to the game and the way he approaches every single day and so it’s no surprise that when you have people who are built that way, they do last as long as they have. When you turn on the tape, he’s still the same patient, physical, downhill running back that he’s been his entire career. I’m pumped for him that he gets to continue to live out his childhood dream and excited for us that we get the challenge to go tackle him.”
It’s been said that you guys were making the decision with the number two pick in the 2019 Draft between DL Nick Bosa and New York Jets DL Quinnen Williams. Obviously, it seems like it’s working out, but how do you reflect on that decision and how close was it between those two guys?
“Coming out of college, Quinnen was an unbelievable football player. Still think the sky’s the limit for him, but for us it was Bosa or bust, to be honest with you. If he was there. I don’t know if there was much indecision. I think the entire organization was on the same page with that one.”
What is the most challenging thing that you’re presented with when you’re facing the Jets this Sunday?
“[New York Jets head coach] Adam Gase, some people might say differently, but I think he’s a fantastic offensive play caller. He creates a lot of dynamic concepts. Their quarterback is getting a lot better and so they will stress your defense. He does understand defensive football. He understands scheme. He understands how to attack the coverages and he does as good a job as anybody doing it. When you just talk about challenge, it’s eliminating the explosives that he’s going to find within your defense and making sure that you’re on top and covering things and playing disciplined football and the quarterback is good enough to exploit it if you let him. So, they’ve had great games against our system in the past. When you look back the last year with Dallas and when he was with Miami playing Jacksonville and all that stuff. So, he’s a very, very talented offensive mind and he’s got a very talented quarterback. So, that in itself will always be a challenge.”
What is the thinking or what’s the advantage of playing field and boundary cornerback this year? Why switch it up this season?
“The field corner in our scheme plays with a lot more vision. When you look at the corners that we have, some guys can play with a lot of vision. For example, Sherm had four of his five interceptions when he was playing the field last year, where he played with vision and he could go take things. He’s got an unbelievable skillset to be able to go do that. So, to be able to have guys who play with vision, who have the mental makeup to be able to play routes and play the game with the quarterback, to get another set of eyes where we can go get the football, it felt like that would be a very advantageous thing for us to do this season as opposed to left and right, and not taking advantage of the skillset that each player has.”