Q. When you look at DE Genard Avery and what he was able to do in very few snaps, is that a role for him going forward as a situational-type pass rusher? (Ed Kracz)
JIM SCHWARTZ: That was sort of the breakout game we’ve been waiting for from him. He’s always been a skilled pass rusher. It’s just fitting him in with all the other stuff. I think he’s really done a good job of refining his technique and limiting his — sticking with what works best for him.
I think he had too big of a pass rush repertoire earlier in his career, and Coach Burke [run game coordinator/defensive line coach Matt Burke] and Coach Wash [director of player personnel/senior defensive assistant Jeremiah Washburn] have done a really good job of just sort of honing in on what works for him and he’s starting to embrace that. He’s certainly made a difference in this game. He was fresh when he came off the bench, which is a big thing for our guys that are coming off the bench, and he gave us that changeup and made some big plays for us in the game.
His pressure led to the first interception, which I think was a huge play in that game, sort of maybe flies below the radar when the game is all said and done. They [the 49ers] were driving. They were in the red zone. We got that pressure, got that interception, and I think that that was a key turning point in that game.
Q. You obviously had to do a lot of shuffling in the secondary with your cornerbacks. Can you explain your decision to have S Jalen Mills on the outside and it looked like you basically split the safety duties between S Marcus Epps and S K’Von Wallace and what has Wallace shown you to earn that starting spot? (Jeff McLane)
JIM SCHWARTZ: Well, different packages. I wouldn’t consider one the starter over the other in the game. They were all just sort of starting in their own package and we sort of compartmentalized and spread the contribution around a little bit.
But our depth was a little bit better at safety than it was at corner, and [CB] Cre’Von [LeBlanc] and Robey [CB Nickell Robey-Coleman] mean a lot to us when it comes to the slot and those kind of things. We thought our best option there, not having Trev [CB Trevor Williams], not having [CB] Avonte [Maddox], our best option, not having Craig [CB Craig James], our best option was Jalen Mills. He embraced it and I thought he did a really good job in that game. Covered well and tackled well.
Q. You were asked about Genard Avery, but your overall pass rush the last two weeks has been awfully good and consistent. Obviously, that’s important to this defense. I mean, you made it clear that that’s the engine that runs this whole train. Talk about that and DT Malik Jackson’s play the last four games, he’s really come on. (Paul Domowitch)
JIM SCHWARTZ: Malik is playing outstanding football for us, as are a lot of guys. Once we got healthy on the D-Line and got [DE] Derek Barnett back and got [DT Javon] Hargrave back, I think you really saw a big jump from those guys, just production-wise. We talked about [DE Josh] Sweat’s contribution and being a much-improved player.
Malik has — we missed him last year, he only played one game for us, or three quarters of one game. Came back. He’s not only played well on the field. He’s been an outstanding leader for us. He’s got a great tempo on gamedays. He’s a really smart player. He’s a veteran player and he’s a hard match up. He’s a different kind of match up for the guards. I think we have some different kind of guys. We got some, you know, we got Fletch [DT Fletcher Cox] in there, Hargrave, a little bit more of a bull rusher. We saw [DT Hassan] Ridgeway have good pass rush and using his power, and Malik can do a lot of different things. He’s got one of the best set of D-line hands that I have been able to be around or coach.
He’s really good, and it’s a tough match up for some of those guards. He’s also played with just great tempo. You see him chasing plays down. I think we’ve seen that from all our D-Linemen, but Malik, Fletch, and Barnett really stand out that way, making tackles on run plays down the field. Barnett made a couple plays on passes down the field. That’s the kind of effort we expect from our guys, too, and Malik has led the way that way.
Q. Was this a case of you sort of deciding that you were going to let 49ers TE George Kittle get his and then try to stop everybody else, or was he just sort of that good and he was able to be that productive? (Bo Wulf)
JIM SCHWARTZ: We were trying our best to stop him. We didn’t have very much success. No, we didn’t take that approach. He made catches against pretty much every coverage. Late in the game we were playing a lot of two, and that just gave him sort of free access and he made some plays there.
But he made plays against our quarter’s coverage, against our three, against man-to-man, against blitz. He was just a tough match-up for us, and he got the ball a lot of different ways, but we were still trying to stop him. He’s an outstanding player. Not just his ability as a receiver, but we saw with his run after the catch or even a run play, he’s an outstanding player. So that was hats off to him and a little bit of disappointment from us. We tried a lot of different things. None of them really had much effect.
Q. We got to talk to T Jordan Mailata on Sunday night and the first thing he did was credit DE Joe Ostman for preparing him for the game Sunday. Obviously, Ostman has been doing a lot on the scout team but how have you seen his work with the scout team shape his development during his time with you guys? (Daniel Gallen)
JIM SCHWARTZ: Joe is just another one of those guys that’s just an ankle sprain or, whatever, a headache away from being in the game for us. A lot of our practice squad guys are. I sort of view our practice squad this year, it’s really not a practice squad. It’s more of a taxi squad. Those guys could all get the call Sunday morning and have to go out and play, and we have confidence that Joe would be ready and would be able to contribute if he got the call.
He prepares himself very well and just through his effort, he’s preparing the offense. He’s one of the best workers that we have, and I think that the people that have complimented Joe on his practice habits, haven’t started or ended with Jordan Mailata, [T] Lane Johnson, a lot of other offensive lineman have all complimented him and felt that he helped them get ready.
But I don’t think Joe is really trying to help those guys get ready. He’s trying to help himself get ready, he’s practicing as hard as he can and he’s trying to get himself ready for when he gets that call. It’s not a matter of if, it’s probably when, just when it comes to injuries, when it comes to all the different things that come up, we’ve seen a lot of different guys come off our practice squad and contribute on Sundays.
Q. We’ve talked before about the disconnect between how you guys view LB Nate Gerry and maybe how the fan base does. With that in mind, how do you think he’s played so far this year and what has he done to earn the amount of snaps he’s gotten so far? (Dave Zangaro)
JIM SCHWARTZ: You know me, I’m not a big, like, tell you how a guy is — tell you how a guy’s playing, but Nate has been a very solid player for us, and has helped us win a lot of games.
And I would just caution this: There’s probably a lot of plays that people outside of our building think might be his fault; that he just happens to be the closest guy when someone else made a mistake, and I think they end up blaming him a lot of times. He’s sort of the closest guy just from plays, and I mean that’s just sort of the way the ball bounces. We just need to be more efficient overall, and more consistent overall and he just plays his part in it.
So I think that any time that you have people outside the building that grade players, you can get things like that. I tend to try to keep our evaluations in-house and just work on improving in our own building.
Q. One of your DBs made the point last week that when you’re playing a lot of man-to-man, your back is to the ball more so maybe you’re not going to be generating as many interceptions in a defensive backfield. Is that something that you accept when you go to that defense and then what are the up sides to that that make it a good trade-off? (Tim McManus)
JIM SCHWARTZ: Every week we’re going to do what we think is best to best compete in that game and give us the best chance to win. There’s a lot of ways that you can make interceptions in man. Your back isn’t necessarily to the ball, but your eyes aren’t on the ball, which I think is the difference. We don’t play with our backs to the ball because just sort of the layers of our man-to-man.
But your eyes aren’t there, and sometimes balls can sort of fall into dead spots and things like that, but there’s still plenty of ways to get interceptions, hitting the quarterback and having some balls float. We saw one of those late in the game. [Genard] Avery got a hit on the quarterback. The ball was up there forever. We were in zone coverage then. We didn’t make the interception.
Our goal was to stop offenses and keep scores down. We’re not trying, — I’ve said this before: If you try to get turnovers, you’re probably chasing the wrong thing. Just do your job in the scheme and let’s try to do what we can do best to stop an opponent, keep the score down, get off the field on third down, win in the red zone, all those things that are important to us. And if you do those, then the plays will come to you. We were in a bit of a turnover drought the first three games, and all of the sudden ended up with three in this, and I don’t think any of the three had to do with somebody trying to do more than just their job in the scheme.
Q. What stands out to you from this Steelers offense through their first three games of the season? (Jimmy Kempski)
JIM SCHWARTZ: They challenge the whole field with the run game, with the pass game. You have obviously an experienced quarterback that is not afraid to throw balls into tight coverage. Trusts his receivers. You see that a lot. Got a lot of different play-makers at those wide receivers. They have got an experienced offensive line. There’s a lot of things, but it’s one of those teams that I think if you devote too many resources to take in any one player or one aspect of their offense away, they certainly have the capability to make you pay in other ways. So it’s going to take a good, solid team outing to play well on Sunday.
Q. You kind of mentioned with Joe Ostman that everybody’s just an ankle sprain or maybe a headache away. It was LB Alex Singleton against the 49ers and he made obviously the big play in the pick-six. What has he shown you and what do you like about his game? (John McMullen)
JIM SCHWARTZ: He’s a young player for us, but he’s got a little bit of experience coming from Canada. I think he was Player of the Year in Canada on defense. He does have some experience. He has good instincts, has sort of done a little bit more, was on our practice squad. Got promoted. Played special teams. Had a chance to play a little defense. I don’t think his interception was his best play on defense. He sort of was there. J-Mill [Jalen Mills] had really good coverage on that. I think J-Mill had an opportunity to make that interception. I was sort of standing right there and saw that ball and was like, man, the corner is going to pick this and all of a sudden it was right to Alex.
So, I don’t necessarily view that — It was great play. It was a great thing for our team, and a great thing for him, but he made a couple plays in the run game I thought that were probably better plays for him, and he does have some flexibility as a player. He can play outside. Can also play inside. Took advantage of the time that he had.
Q. You’ve been really complimentary of CB Cre’Von LeBlanc over his tenure here, he’s obviously been through a lot of adversity with getting waived, injuries, but what do you like about his overall personality and approach to the game and how he handles himself through all this stuff that’s going on? (Mike Kaye)
JIM SCHWARTZ: He’s a worker. He’s tough and he’s very competitive. You can take all the other things, you know, put him over on the side, put him in a different category, size and speed and weight and three-cone drill and all those other things.
When you have those first three, when you’re a worker, when you’re tough and when you’re competitive and when you’re a DB, I think that those are good attributes to really lean on and he has that. He’s a good tackler. He’s tough. He’s on blitz in this game. He did a nice job on that.
It wasn’t like he was free on the blitz. He had to be the guard. And it was just tenacity and effort that beat that guard.
And that turn, we talk about Alex’s play, but that takeaway, the offense was able to cash that in for a touchdown. I think we turned that ball over on like the plus-35 or — I can’t remember exactly where it was, but it was in 49ers territory. I really thought that you look at that, that was such a key moment in that game, being able to generate that pressure, being able to create that turnover, set the ball up for offense, our offense was able to cash that in for a touchdown, and everything else after that was sort of, I won’t say gravy, but I thought that that play that play was big. And Strap [Cre’Von] has made a lot of plays like that for us. Got some flexibility. Can play inside, outside, dime role, nickel role. He’s really carved out a significant role for us on defense.
Q. When you guys got CB Darius Slay, you knew you were getting a three-time Pro Bowl cornerback, but has he so far even exceeded your expectations, and what did you see on the final play because he ended up having to make a play on the ball to secure that win? (Rob Maaddi)
JIM SCHWARTZ: He was one of those guys, just sort of — just like a lot of those situations, the ball is up and you’ve got to get it on the ground or knock it down. So he’s a guy that when the game’s been on the line the last couple weeks has come up with some big plays for us, going back to overtime the week before and knocking down a couple key passes. This week, same thing. Each week his job in the game plan is a little bit different. Might be shadowing a different receiver. Those kind of things.
But I said before, he’s got good length as a corner. He’s got good height. He’s got really long arms so he can match some of those big receivers, but he also has the feet and the quickness to match some of the smaller guys, and he’s another guy that’s very competitive in coverage, and it’s made a big difference for us for sure.
Q. As a follow-up to the previous question on S Jalen Mills, is this a short term thing until CB Avonte Maddox gets healthy or can you see him staying at corner there after? (Zach Berman)
JIM SCHWARTZ: Well, we’ll see. We’ll do what we think is best each week depending on who we have available to the game. I thought that was a really unselfish thing for him to do. He was still a developing player at safety, and making some plays there and also having some learning on the job, growing pains at the position.
But when the team was in need and our corners were, you know, our corner position was way down and we ask him to do it, it was never even a hesitation. It was like, ‘Hey, whatever you need.’ He worked really hard during the week. Because he had been working on different things. It’s a different set of eyes playing safety and corner, but we’ll see going forward. We just got to Tuesday and we really don’t know where our guys will be on Sunday, so we’ll just take it day-by-day and do what we think is best, what gives us the best opportunity to win on Sunday.