Brian Johnson

Q. What can you do to kind of jump-start the offense earlier? What do you see from those slow starts? (Reuben Frank)

COACH JOHNSON: We’ve just got to find a rhythm. Initially, it’s just about the first first-down. And I think really you’ve just got to think really short term of, what can we do to get the first one going, and then we can roll a little bit.

Obviously the last two weeks haven’t been great with our first drive. And that’s something that we’ve got to continue to look at, continue to improve upon.

Q. Are you aware that you’ve become sort of like a focal point for criticism when things don’t go well on offense? (Tim McManus)

COACH JOHNSON: For me, I don’t really pay attention to all the outside stuff. But that’s just the nature of the job. Very simple, call the plays that work.

When they don’t work, that’s ultimately my responsibility, right? And I accept that with open arms. And for me, I’m never going to waiver. I’ll always remain confident and steady with our approach.

Q. On the flipside of that, your name is coming up with head-coaching rumors. I can’t imagine that will slow down if the team keeps winning. How do you deal with that? (Zach Berman)

COACH JOHNSON: I think the biggest thing is you control what you can control. And ultimately what I can control is how we get ready to play each and every week and going through our process and making sure that we’re putting the guys in the best position to be successful, and we’re giving our team a chance to go out there and win every single week.

So, there is always outside noise and stuff outside of the building that is far beyond your control. And for me, it would just be a complete waste of energy to even worry about it; we’ve got enough going on here where my focus and attention is way more pressing.

Q. When it comes to those two sides of the spectrum — you talked about insulating yourself from it — is that something you’ve always had the ability to do, or is that something you’ve learned with age? (Dave Zangaro)

COACH JOHNSON: It’s something, I think, for me, personally, I’ve always been able to do that, even going back to my time as a player. When you play this game and when you coach this game, criticism is a part of the deal. It’s not going anywhere. For me, I never take it personally.

I always want us to perform at an elite level on a consistent basis week in and week out. I think that’s a part of it.

But being criticized does not affect me in one way or the other. I think for me the biggest part is do the people that are in this building have the confidence and trust that we can go out there and execute and play to our best each and every week and try to go out there and win football games.

Q. How many of the first plays are scripted? Obviously, I know you have some leeway within that, but how many of those plays? (Jeff McLane)

COACH JOHNSON: I mean, there’s generally a script. We spend a lot of time on openers and things that we like. But I do think when you mix that with what the defense is doing and trying to figure out what their game plan is as well, it becomes a little bit of a chest match, so to speak.

So, for me it will always be about adjustments and how can you find the next answer. So, when you script these openers, obviously you want them to be really successful and you want to go down and score.

But a lot of times, too, I think one of the key components is what kind of information are you finding for later in the game? And what kind of information are you finding to help you adjust and help you put your players in the best situation possible?

So, I think it’s a mix. Obviously the last two weeks for us haven’t been great. There have been times where we went down the field and scored on the opening drive. And we obviously went three-and-out the first drive in this past game against Buffalo.

So, for us, we always just want to be cognizant that we’re putting ourselves in a good position to start.

Q. It seems it’s been feast or famine too. Can you explain why it’s been that way, like, either three-and-out or touchdown. Have you noticed that trend? (Jeff McLane)

COACH JOHNSON: I think just really it comes down to moving the chains and putting yourself in a position to get the first first-down. I think when you think about it in the macro versus the micro of, all right, we’re going to go down and score.

But sometimes it’s just as simple as putting all your focus on how can we get these 10 yards to get it going. When you can get into some different things and get an opportunity to run more plays. Obviously the more plays we run, the more opportunity our guys have to make plays. And that’s something that we just have to be really aware of.

Q. The 49ers defensive line, what kind of challenges do they present? (Martin Frank)

COACH JOHNSON: They have a great unit. They obviously have a lot of resources across the defensive line. We played them last year and they were very talented. They play hard. They’re extremely fundamentally sound.

It will be quite the challenge. I’m sure our guys are really excited for the opportunity to go out there and play on Sunday.

Q. Rewinding to your talk about being able to handle criticism, dating back to your playing days, did that come naturally for you, or is that from playing quarterback at a major sort of college level? (John McMullen)

COACH JOHNSON: I think it’s both. It could be a personality trait, and I think you learn just certain things through experience. For me, it’s about trying to analyze what’s really important and just be very, very matter of fact about, okay, if something isn’t working, what is the answer? And be really, really solution based.

That’s just kind of how I live my life is to find solutions and problem solve and be able to do things like that.

So, I guess to answer your question, it’s probably both. I’ve obviously had that experience and a little bit how I’m wired as well.

Q. In some ways on that, in terms of coaching and building an offense with QB Jalen Hurts, a coach might have an offense that has one check to go to. Seems like you guys give him a lot of options, a lot of trust on your end for him to do that and also from him to do that. Does that come from your experience as a quarterback, too, or in what ways does that work for you and how does that process play out? (Brooks Kubena)

COACH JOHNSON: Well, we do give [QB] Jalen [Hurts] a lot of ability in terms of how we built the system over the last three years in having some freedom to get to certain things based on how the defense is playing.

I think one of the things, when you build a system, is you want to have answers. You want to have answers for specific defenses or specific looks that you can take advantage of, and be able to get to those.

With Jalen [Hurts] being the type of player that he is, we can do some unconventional things and some things that are probably not as traditional as people are probably used to seeing because he has such a unique skill set and ability.

I’ve always said when you have people that have rare traits and the ability to do stuff like that, it’s not a bad thing to lean into that. I think that’s something that we’ve obviously done here for the last couple of years. And it’s worked.

Q. Are those things typically things that happen during the game that you need to see in order to make a correction for it in that way? (Brooks Kubena)

COACH JOHNSON: Both. It can happen either way. Sometimes going in and sometimes defenses will play differently and you’ve got to adjust accordingly in the game. So, to me, it happens both ways.

Q. What happened on the fumble, the exchange fumble between QB Jalen Hurts and RB Kenneth Gainwell – (Jeff McLane)

COACH JOHNSON: We just had an RPO play. We just have to execute it better. Just mishandled the exchange. It was one of those plays where it could have been a pass, it could have been a run. They pressured into it. Defense made a really good play.

Q. What do you like about the horizontal passing game? As far as there was a handful of a third downs this year where I guess you’re trying to get guys in space or get blockers in front of them? (Zach Berman)

COACH JOHNSON: Philosophically, I think one of the things is you talk about balance, and you want to make the defense cover every blade of grass, horizontally and vertically.

When you do have players on the perimeter like we have that are really, really dangerous with the ball in their hands, those plays can turn into pretty explosive plays, and you just create one-on-one opportunities in space with dynamic people with the ball in their hands.

Conversely, all of those things aren’t always created equally, because sometimes they’re an extension of the run game. And you might have to — those might get you out of a bad run. Otherwise, you might have had to run for a negative gain. While it may be like a two-yard gain or a three-yard gain, it might have got you out of a negative-two run.

So, they’re not all built the same in how you deploy them, but I think it’s a necessary part of making the defense have to cover the entire length and width of the field.

Q. QB Jalen Hurts mentioned the spark that RB D’Andre Swift has given you guys the last couple of weeks. How valuable has he been both because of what he’s able to do in the run game and also how versatile he is? (EJ Smith)

COACH JOHNSON: D’Andre has been awesome. He’s been a pleasure to have. He’s an unbelievable person. He plays extremely hard. He’s been really, really productive. He’s been very, very versatile for us.

Can’t say enough great things about D’Andre. And he’s somebody who I’ve always had a ton of respect for, even going back to his days at Georgia when we played those guys. He’s a fantastic player, even better person, and I’m happy for the success that he’s having.

Q. The walk-off play, you sort of had that motion that was going to be maybe a bubble part of it, and QB Jalen Hurts obviously ends up with the quarterback draw. When is that decision made? What is he looking at on that particular play? (John McMullen)

COACH JOHNSON: Well, just offensively, all these different plays that we run, they all have multiple options. The play could play out a number of different ways based on what’s presented to you defensively.

So, for us, we have our read keys and where our eyes should be on certain plays and certain formations. And those guys did a great job of executing that play versus a zero pressure.

And hats off to [C] Jason [Kelce] and [QB] Jalen [Hurts] and to our entire offensive line and all those guys of making sure that we executed that and got in the end zone.

Q. QB Jalen Hurts is first or second in a bunch of statistics. When trailing in the second half or overtime, is there a defining characteristic that makes him rise in those moments when behind? (Jeff McLane)

COACH JOHNSON: I think the true testament — not only of Jalen [Hurts] but of a lot of people in this building — is confidence and having that feeling of never wavering, being just really steadfast and trusting your preparation, that when your team needs you most you’re going to be at your best. And I think that is a quality that a lot of people in this building have, a quality that Jalen [Hurts] has for sure, and it serves you well when you get into these tight competitions where it’s a dogfight until the very end.

For us the last couple of weeks, there’s never been any panic. It’s just been very matter of fact in terms of this is what we need to do to go win the football game, let’s go do it.

And I know watching the game, even talking to my mom after the game, you’re going to give me a heart attack after these wild crazy finishes. But when you see the guys on the sideline, there’s no panic, there’s no stress, there’s only action.

And that’s what it has to be about. And, for us, we’ve got the right type of people in the building I think that thrive when those moments arise.

Q. Earlier in the season you guys had issues when it came to the red zone. Now in red zone efficiency, you guys are 13 of 15 the last four games. What do you attribute to that change in success in that area, and what are the conversations like when you’re starting to find out? (Chris Franklin)

COACH JOHNSON: Again, it’s action based. So ultimately our job is to be problem solvers. And this thing is constant weed picking. There’s never going to be a moment where it’s like, okay, guys, we’ve got it made, everybody just sit back and relax. There’s always going to be something that pops up. There’s always something that we’re going to continue to try to work on, get better at.

We talk so much about having a growth mindset, right, and being able to identify problems but, more importantly, solve problems. I just can’t give enough credit to our players and how they’ve attacked, how they’ve executed at a really, really high level in the red zone and just understanding how important scoring touchdowns is down there.

I mean, it’s a huge part of us having success offensively, the difference between kicking field goals and scoring touchdowns. I mean, other than that and turnovers, those are probably two of the most important things you can talk about in terms of offensive football, having success. It’s something that we made a focal point on. We weren’t very good at it at the beginning of the year, but guys kept working, kept fighting, kept climbing, and turned it into an actionable item.