Good afternoon. We just completed our first practice in preparation for the NFC Championship game against a very, very good San Francisco 49ers team who did accomplish some outstanding things outside of the 13-3 record. They are plus-28, which is amazing, and they only turned the ball over 10 times over the course of the regular season. The thing that was most impressive to me as I studied the fact that they lead the league in field position, where they took the ball over at the 33.5-yard line and that is a nice start for anybody. They also lead the NFL in the opponent’s drive start, the field position for the opponent. The opponent started at the 24.3-yard line. The defense is fourth in the NFL and their offense really showed what they can do the other day. Alex Smith obviously had a very good day in bringing his team back to victory over the New Orleans Saints. They made some outstanding throws down the stretch in that process. Their special teams is outstanding, they are top ten in both punt return and kick return. Ted Ginn has done an outstanding job with that, they are a good football team and we look forward to the challenge. Regarding today’s practice, Eli started practice but did not finish. He has a stomach bug and that is why he appears on the injury list. Hopefully it is just a 24-hour deal and he will feel better tomorrow.
Q: How much do you take from the game in the regular season?
A: You can always take a lot because you can see yourself against the opponent. How much have the two teams changed? Let’s talk about their team, they are a team that was playing very well at the time and continued to do that throughout the course of the remainder of the season. Again, even though their numbers are not great offensively for a 16-game season, the way that they play, you have to understand that they do an outstanding job complementing their defense and special teams in not turning the ball over and of course, they were plus-four the other day. They are a team that has been very steady and they have a philosophy in how they play and they have not wavered from it. The thing that occurred the other day, when they needed to make the plays and the score went back and forth in the last four minutes of the game, they certainly showed that they can bring the ball down the field.
Q: Because you haven’t been able to run the ball successfully, do you plan on running the ball?
A: We are about balance. We rushed the ball 29 times when we were out there and we did win time of possession. We did have 70 snaps to their 52. We did all the things that you want to do but we just didn’t score enough points.
Q: Is the turnover margin a sign of a good team?
A: It certainly is because when you do that, you are eliminating the errors that get you beat. They certainly made that a top priority and the players bought into it and have done a good job with it.
Q: How much is the weather on your mind?
A: I have looked at it at a glance but it is what it is. There isn’t going to be anything that we can do about it except go play in it. If we have to put the ball in a bucket of water a couple times this week, we will do that. We are going to prepare for whatever happens and hopefully be able to play our game.
Q: Do you think their field is better than it has been in the past?
A: I don’t have any indications.
Q: How does the rain affect your game planning?
A: I am not going to change the plan. It is not going to change what we hope to do going in. Once we are in the game, if it becomes a factor then we would have to make adjustments.
Q: What makes Eli so good in bad weather?
A: The same thing that works in the cold, he just stays focused. He believes he can get it done and takes the aggressive position and that is that we know where we are going and that perhaps the other side of the ball doesn’t.
Q: Do you have momentum or is it that you are playing well as a football team?
A: I think we are playing well. I think we are completing each other. I think there are areas to be improved upon, as I said the other day. I think our guys are having fun and are excited about the opportunity that is created for them. It is a great challenge and we are excited about it. We continue to try to take those areas that are most concerning for us and we can continue to complement each other.
Q: Are they blitzing more now on defense?
A: They have a pretty steady number outside of one or two games in terms of how they do pressure, whether it be dog or blitz. They do a little bit more with the dog rather than the blitz. They have good players and when they isolate and go one on one, they are able to get there.
Q: Why do you think the special teams have been so good?
A: Consistency and continuing to work at it. Pointing out the areas of concern and doing a good job of illustration and guys just improving over the course of the season. We started out with a very young group. I told this to a bunch of you that I was looking at our punt group a few weeks ago and I thought to myself, ‘we have all rookies out there. What is going on here?’ They have gotten better and they have done a good job. They continue to learn and they have done a pretty good job.
Q: What do you say to the rookies?
A: Everything is new to them so you have to do a great job of anticipating what will happen so that they have a head start on that stuff.
Q: What have you seen from Justin Tuck as he has worked through what has been a frustrating season at times because of the injuries?
A: I like the adjustments that he made and he just decided that he is not going to allow any more distractions from the standpoint of the hurts. He has made that decision and he has stuck with it and I think it is a very smart move and he has been very productive since doing it.
Q: What does having Osi on the field do for your defense and the team?
A: It is one more outstanding player. It is what we said from day one, we have some outstanding football players and the more we have on the field, the more they complement each other, the better off we are going to be. That is what happened with being able to get this group on the field. As I mentioned the other day, the thing that has always made a great impression on me, I don’t care what it is, shells or pads, he is going full speed. He sends the right message to everyone else. He really enjoys all aspects of the game from the defensive end point and he is constantly trying to put pressure or against the run going all out. He continuously does that and when he plays, it is another weapon and it is a very real consideration for the opponent and how they are going to protect.
Q: How much more is being asked of Eli now compared to other years?
A: We have always asked a lot of Eli since the day he got here. He has been able to handle it and he has proven to us that he could. Anything that we felt we needed to put us in a position to play well or win, we put it on his plate and he has done the extra work in the classroom to understand everything and he has gone on the field and been able to create the mental picture again. We have always given him a lot and he has always handled a lot and there is nothing different about that now.
Q: What did Justin Tuck say to you on the sideline during the Green Bay game?
A: He was trying to tell me that he saved me from getting wet.
Q: What do you see from their two inside backers?
A: They are outstanding. They are very, very good football players. They are the guys that solidify that whole defense. They are very active and when they pressure they do a nice job with that. The definitely give you some thought about how you are going to pick those guys up. They do a very good job and they are right in the middle of their defense and all the communication goes right through those two.
Q: What do you say to the receivers in terms of yards after the catch considering the 49ers are a good tackling team?
A: Don’t let them tackle you and make them miss. They are a good tackling team in all aspects. First of all, ball security. You have to take care of the ball because when they are around, they are going for the ball.
Q: How do you stack up to their toughness?
A: They do play tough and physical and that is a challenge always. Who is going to win the physical battle is a big part in this game.
Q: How is the offensive line gelling now?
A: We have been on a little bit of a run where we have rushed the ball better. We have a substantial group of veteran guys who have played together. We have a couple of newcomers in there with Baas and Boothe now at that left guard position. They are all veteran players and are very smart. They work very well together. We haven’t had the success in one regard that we hoped to have had with the rush but we do try to maintain some balance. I neglected to really emphasize enough the other day the outstanding job that they did in order for us to throw the ball up in Green Bay. The perfect illustration was the play at the end of the half, if the quarterback really can’t shuffle up there, it makes it very difficult to put the ball up there where he has to. Those people upfront provided the opportunity for us to put the quarterback in the position to make that play. You can always look at exactly where things start and they start upfront on both sides of the ball. If they are having success, then you have a chance and if they are not, then you don’t have a chance.
Q: How does the film study change when you face a team for the second time?
A: We are certainly going to pay attention to our game because you can see our people against their people but I look at last week’s game and I spent a lot of time looking at that. I spend a lot of time looking at the more recent games but I am aware of the divisional games. I do take a peek at those as well. We have people assigned to looking at all the games so if there is any difference, it shows up and we can be aware that something did show up in a game that was a little bit different.
Q: When you say divisionally you mean in your division?
A: Yes, the people in our division.
Q: Do you talk about the 1990 game that you were a part of?
A: I have thought about that and we will talk about some of the things that occurred there but only from the standpoint of the history and the tradition and what a great event that was at that particular time. That was a long time ago and I think some of our players because they are historians will know a little about that game and the great players that played in that game.
Q: How much does a healthy Frank Gore change things as opposed to the first time you played them?
A: He makes a big difference and there is not a question about that. If you look at the way he is utilized and how much they put on the runners when they come in. How much emphasis they put on the run game, he is certainly someone you must pay attention to.