Brian Johnson

Q. Head Coach Nick Sirianni talked yesterday about how he feels like you guys as an offense need to make more of a commitment to the running game. Just what are your thoughts on that and what it will take to get it to where it was earlier in the year? (Reuben Frank)

BRIAN JOHNSON: It always starts with being able to run the ball efficiently and effectively. We’ve got to continue to do a better job at that.

Part of it, too, is just finding that balance of patience, you know what I’m saying? Of just being able to continue to hammer attempts and try to get the guys in a good rhythm and a good flow.

Q. How tough is it to be that disciplined? They come out, score in the second half, down two scores. Does that make it more difficult to stay disciplined and say, ‘hey, we’ve got to’ — (John McMullen)

BRIAN JOHNSON: I think it’s just a function of how the game is going at certain times. It’s always a balancing act in terms of when you’re in a two-score game of being able to try to score quickly and get yourself back in it and still being able to hammer some of those attempts in the run game.

We have to do a great job of balancing that.

Q. We haven’t seen QB Jalen Hurts have as many attempts in zone read or anything like that. Is that something the defense is doing or something you guys are getting away from a little bit? (E.J. Smith)

BRIAN JOHNSON: No, we’ve had some zone reads and stuff called. Some of them have been pulled. Some of them have been gived. That’s definitely a part of what we try to do offensively and that’s something that we’ll continue to use.

Q. Are defenses defending the zone read differently this year? (Jeff McLane)

BRIAN JOHNSON: I think each team is just really independent on how they defend it. I wouldn’t say it’s been an overarching theme in terms of how teams are playing us in the run game. I think it varies from week to week.

Q. It’s been a few weeks since you’ve been without TE Dallas Goedert playing on the field. What have you noticed when it comes to teams trying to defend you guys, especially in the middle of the field, without him versus when he’s with you? (Chris Franklin)

BRIAN JOHNSON: Structurally, the defensive coverages for the most part have stayed pretty consistent, particularly because of the skill that we have on the outside. There hasn’t been a ton of variance in terms of how we’ve been played differently.

I guess a couple times they’ve maybe doubled [WR] A.J. [Brown] a little more throughout the course of the season since Dallas has been out, but there hasn’t been an overwhelming change to how we’re being played defensively.

Q. When you talk about patience with the running game, if RB D’Andre Swift has seven yards on his first four carries, how do you balance ‘we’ve got to keep giving him the rock’ or ‘it’s not happening this game so let’s try other stuff?’ How do you work it? (Reuben Frank)

BRIAN JOHNSON: I think that’s feel and feeling how the game is going and what is needed in that certain point because, to your point, you could have seven yards on four carries and then break one for 30, and now you’ve got 37 yards on five carries or whatever it is. Those numbers, that average looks a little bit different. Now you’re averaging seven yards a carry or whatever it is.

We have to just continue to pound at it until one of those explosives pop. I think for us that’s something that we have to be really committed to.

Q. QB Jalen Hurts’ time to throw stood out, I think it was 3.72 seconds. Was he holding the ball longer than you would like? Was he holding it the appropriate amount? How would you assess that? (Zach Berman)

BRIAN JOHNSON: I would assess that the offensive line did a fantastic job in pass protection all evening. Against an excellent front. I can’t give [T] Lane Johnson enough credit to how he performed in that game on Sunday night blocking one of the best players in the league in [49ers DL] Nick Bosa. It was really a sight to see when you go back and watch that film in terms of how those guys protected all night long. They did an excellent job.

Q. On the second sack that QB Jalen Hurts took, you guys max protected two guys on the route versus basically seven. What’s the teaching point there for Jalen when you have a play that’s clearly going to be dead? And did you need to have someone release to give him some sort of checkdown or something like that? (Jeff McLane)

BRIAN JOHNSON: No, that was — what ended up happening on that play is, as we actioned across, the back kind of got picked and wasn’t able to get out in his flare control. That was a play we’ve run quite a bit in terms of just throwing that deep stop route to [WR] DeVonta [Smith].

For us, part of it is just understanding, ‘okay, when can I extend and make a play’ or when to just say play the next play? Obviously, any time you take a sack or a negative play when you don’t have to is something that — we don’t want to get put behind the chains. You’d obviously rather be second-and-10 than second-and-19 situation.

Q. We’ve talked about this with QB Jalen Hurts before, but because of his ability to escape it, is it tough to come up with hard fast rules for how to handle some of those situations? (Dave Zangaro)

BRIAN JOHNSON: It’s definitely not black and white. You’ve seen Jalen make play after play after play being able to extend and create, and that is definitely a part of his game, and that’s a part of his game that we welcome, and that’s what makes him who he is as a player in terms of being able to use this really unique skill set that he has, that very few people have, and create explosive plays for us offensively.

So, I think there’s always some grade to that, right? It’s our job to just continue to detail that out and coach it up.

Q. Going back to Zach’s question with the ample amount of time to throw didn’t necessarily lead to completions. What do you attribute that to? (Olivia Reiner)

BRIAN JOHNSON: I think when we talk about being able to activate our scramble rules and being able to make some plays down the field. So, I think, a couple of those times, there were some opportunities for us, and we didn’t connect for a couple of different reasons. But that’s something that we have to continue to improve upon.

Q. When it comes to playing time, WR Quez Watkins was more involved for the first time since he got back, TE Albert Okwuegbunam was more involved. Was that just how the game went? Was that part of the game plan? (John McMullen)

BRIAN JOHNSON: I think it’s really just how the game went. Those guys did a great job of being ready when their number was called. We got into a situation late in that game obviously where we were kind of on the ball in some no huddle two-minute modes, so the ball could kind of go wherever the coverage dictates. That ended up happening late in that second half.

Q. What makes RB Kenny Gainwell a good two-minute, four-minute back for you guys? (Tim McManus)

BRIAN JOHNSON: I think Kenny is very, very versatile in his ability to make plays in the passing game, obviously, but also in protection. He’s extremely stout. He does a great job being able to pick up different defensive blitzes and protect in the pass game. I think his versatility is something that’s really, really unique.

Q. How much better has RB Kenny Gainwell gotten in that area? (Reuben Frank)

BRIAN JOHNSON: He’s improved a bunch. In terms of his awareness and his understanding of pass protection, he’s done a great job in that for us all year. It’s something that he’s continued to grow in since 2021, when he first got here.

There’s been plenty of times throughout the course of his career, and particularly this season, where he’s done some amazing things in protection that really don’t show up on the stat sheet. You go back to the Rams game or just different games, Kansas City, or wherever we’ve played, and he’s made some big plays that have allowed us to extend, that have allowed us to convert some big downs throughout the course of the year.

Q. How is RB D’Andre Swift doing in that aspect? You talked about T Lane Johnson having a great day against 49ers DL Nick Bosa. He did get beat inside once, and D’Andre came up and — he had a great move, and D’Andre was right there to help. How much has he improved? (John McMullen)

BRIAN JOHNSON: D’Andre is a very versatile back as well. He has a ton of ability. He’s having a fantastic year. I can’t say enough good things about his overall game and how he approaches it each and every week, willing and ready when his number is called. And he’s made a bunch of plays for us throughout the course of the year in various ways. Whether it’s in the run game, in the pass game, jet sweeps, protection, he’s been able to do a lot for us.

Q. Did the 49ers do a better job sticking with the secondary — do a better job of sticking with your guys than any team you guys have played? (Bob Brookover)

BRIAN JOHNSON: I would say credit to those guys. They played a fantastic game. Obviously for us, we didn’t perform to the level that we’re accustomed to or that we expect to. But hat’s off to them. They did a fantastic job. We’ve got to get ready to go this week.

Q. How much did the fact that you guys had to settle for field goals on those first two drives, change the game plan as far as you’re asked a lot obviously about the running, not running as much. Do you think that would have been a lot different had you guys scored touchdowns there, gone up 14-0? (Martin Frank)

BRIAN JOHNSON: Yeah, we talk about our ability to score touchdowns in the red zone being a very critical factor in our success offensively. For us to drive the ball down there those first two drives and not capitalize was a huge disappointment.

It’s been something that we made a push throughout the last couple of weeks in the season, and for whatever reason, we weren’t able to come away with touchdowns there, and that was definitely not what we anticipated.

Q. What self-correction stood out on the tape when it comes to the end of those two drives? (Josh Tolentino)

BRIAN JOHNSON: The first one, we get down there, and I think we have a third-and-seven. We throw one-on-one to A.J., and 7 [49ers CB Charvarius Ward] makes a great play. Those are plays that happen, so we end up having to settle for the field goal.

The second drive, we’re second-and-five, probably around the 12-yard line or so, second-and-five, and they play off a zero-coverage red zone defense that we expected. We called a pass play, and we ended up getting sacked.

So, at that point, that puts you in third-and-21. Then we’re just playing for some yards to get [K] Jake [Elliott] an easier field goal at that point. So, I think that was kind of how that sequence played out. But obviously, if you had to do it over again, I’d like to put the guys in the best position possible to go score touchdowns. That’s what it’s about.

Q. What makes the Cowboys so good at home? They have won 14 in a row. Do you see a different team at all on film between home and away? (Bob Brookover)

BRIAN JOHNSON: When we’re watching it, I’m not really watching when they’re at home versus when they’re away. I’m kind of just watching just the overall scheme of what they do. They’re obviously very, very talented. They’re obviously very well coached.

It’s a big division game and there’s a lot at stake. I expect both teams’ best effort, and I know everybody is excited for a great contest on Sunday night.

Q. You mentioned activating the scramble drill, how much coaching goes into that in terms of when to do that and how to find space? (Dave Zangaro)

BRIAN JOHNSON: That’s something that we talk about a lot. If you watch football on Sunday, you see just so many plays that get created off of extension and secondary action. That stuff has to be detailed out.

I think the biggest thing you don’t want is really just duplication. You want to try to create as much space for the quarterback and not have guys on the same spot on the field. Just being able to read and react and play off of each other and finding the necessary space to give the quarterback the most opportunity to make a play.

Q. You spent a lot of time working with Cowboys QB Dak Prescott early in your coaching career. What role did he have in you developing as a coach? (Zach Berman)

BRIAN JOHNSON: I was very, very fortunate to be around Dak in college. I can say we’re still extremely close. He’s somebody that I have a ton of respect for. I think for me early in my coaching career, not only him, but just being in that room with the guys that are still in that room — we still have a group chat to this day. Those relationships that you build coaching, they last a lifetime.

That’s not just with my guys that I had at Mississippi State, but guys that I’ve coached throughout the course of my career. You spend so much time together, you get a chance to know each other on a different level other than football, and I think that’s what makes this game really, really special and important is the relationships that you build throughout it. You get a chance to cross paths with so many great people, whether they’re players, whether they’re coaches, people in the front office, people in the building. Those relationships are what make it special.