Q. With CB Avonte Maddox injured, how much does having someone like S Jalen Mills in the secondary help you if you need to kind of mix and match personnel? (Mike Kaye)
JIM SCHWARTZ: Obviously Jalen’s played that position before. We value flexible guys in the back end, guys that can play multiple positions. We’re going to keep our cards a little close to our vest of how we’re going to cover up some of our packages and how we’re going to play personnel. No sense tipping our hand right now. But we’ll have a good plan come Sunday.
Q. From a personnel standpoint against Cincinnati, seeing the ramp-up for LB T.J. Edwards and CB Cre’Von LeBlanc a little bit playing time, is that more of a game-plan thing or is that sort of reflective of how you think they’re coming along as players? (John McMullen)
JIM SCHWARTZ: Well, it’s a little bit of both. I like both of those guys. We trust our players in all the packages if we put them in. But it was really just what we were trying to accomplish out of a package, we were putting a little bit bigger players in with an eye towards stopping the run, which was such an important point for us, particularly coming off of the week before and then also playing a player like [Bengals HB] Joe Mixon. We really wanted to devote resources to controlling the game and not letting them run the football. I thought those guys did a good job with that. It was more game-plan oriented and how we were playing package based on down and distance. It was nothing else.
Q. We have seen CB Trevor Williams play a little bit. He’s a guy with some NFL experience. What have you seen from him dating back to training camp? And how ready is he to take a bigger role if you need him to? (Dave Zangaro)
JIM SCHWARTZ: I think it’s an important point. He’s played. It wasn’t his first time when he had to go in and play the game. He didn’t bat an eye. He was ready. Probably said to himself, ‘Yeah, what took you guys so long?’ I mean that’s what you get with those guys. And he covered with confidence. He wasn’t perfect, gave up a completion, but they also tried to double-move him on one play. He played it like a veteran player, didn’t bite the cheese on a play and went out and battled. In overtime we played 12 straight snaps of man-to-man. It was four-man pass rush and man-to-man every single snap. And not only was Trev up for that challenge, but all the other guys too. Strap [CB Cre’Von LeBlanc] made a play, Robey [CB Nickell Robey-Coleman] made a play, Slay [CB Darius Slay] made a couple. Those guys really took it upon themselves and it really put — they wanted that pressure on themselves to go get those guys covered. And I was also proud of their execution, but I was really more proud of the attitude that they went into that overtime with.
Q. When you look at that game Sunday you guys started out really strong and finished really strong. End of the first half, beginning of the second half they had some long drives. How do you get that consistency, the way they were playing early, the way they were playing late, what’s the next step as far as doing that for sixty minutes or 70 minutes? (Reuben Frank)
JIM SCHWARTZ: I think a little bit like the Washington game, we did a lot of really good things in the game, but there were a handful of plays, three or four plays, maybe it’s a sack opportunity that we miss or a penalty that keeps a drive alive that adds 15 yards or jumping offsides on a second and long. Those are the plays that kept those drives alive that put us in some of those situations. It’s a different situation than we had last week. Last week we were just poor in pretty much every area, including defensive coordinating. But this week I think we can look to refine where we were and get those stops that we needed. We did a good job on third down, probably except for one play. Got drives stopped for the most part, limited big plays, we just need — there’s just that one more play that can keep a drive alive and there’s a fine line in this league. Everybody’s good. You give an offense too many opportunities, they can go score.
I was happier with our response to adversity. We talked about that last week and how we’re taking the field after turnovers or bad field position and giving up touchdowns. We took the field after a turnover, forced a punt. Took the field after a punt and a penalty and they’re already in field goal range, held the line, held them to a field goal attempt. After another turnover, we gave up a couple first downs, but we held them to a field goal attempt, and I thought that was a really positive step for our guys also.
Q. A few years ago we saw Tim Jernigan struggle a little bit with moving from two gap to your aggressive front. I’m wondering if we’re seeing the same a little bit with DT Javon Hargrave. I know the scheme — he did obviously do some one-gapping with the Steelers, but he mentioned last week that there is a little bit of an adjustment period. Have you seen that so far early in the season? (Jeff McLane)
JIM SCHWARTZ: You know what, last week wasn’t his best game, but I think we could probably go man-for-man along our team and coaching staff and we would say it wasn’t our best game. And it was his first action in the scheme. He’s missed so much time in training camp and no off-season program. So not that you excuse anything, but I think it wasn’t a surprise that he wasn’t playing his best ball. But I thought he made a really big jump from last week to this week. He was disruptive. He was gaining ground to the quarterback on some of those heavy play actions, which is one of the things we expect from him. He was around the football a lot. I thought he took a really big step, and I think he’s going to fit really well for what we do.
I think a key point to where we were in overtime, you guys have mentioned that, our guys were fresh and playing their best in the overtime period and that’s hard to do. We took the field three times in overtime and got three stops and didn’t give up very many yards, and if you would count the sacks and everything else I don’t think it was very many net yards at all in overtime. Well one of the reasons we were able to do that is mixing some of the packages. You guys had talked about that before with different guys out there keeping some guys fresh for the fourth quarter in our pass rush. And it wasn’t enough to get us the win. We judge ourselves on wins and losses, but I think you saw the affect it had. And Javon had a lot to do with that. He was very effective in this game.
Q. I know you said that turnovers come in bunches but when you sack a rookie quarterback eight times and not one of those results in a fumble or an errant throw that’s picked, one, how surprising is that, and is the ability to force a turnover something just some defensive players have a knack for doing or is there something that guys can be coached to do? (Rob Maaddi)
JIM SCHWARTZ: Well I would say this, if you’re hunting for turnovers, you’re going to put yourself in bad position and we have seen that for probably a hundred years in the NFL. If you’re going outside the scheme or you’re just playing risky out there just to try to make a turnover, a lot of bad things can happen to you. Our philosophy is always make the plays that come to you. And you did mention, one of the reasons we put a lot of emphasis on our pass rush is there is a high incident of turnover when you’re hitting the quarterback. Errant throws, ball security in the pocket, usually one hand on it. And I got to take my hat off to [Bengals QB] Joe Burrow. We hit him hard and hit him a lot and he was very secure with that football. We probably only had really one opportunity. He floated one in overtime that we had a chance to maybe get that turnover, but he was very careful with the ball, took a lot of hits and I thought that that probably had a lot to do with the game. But if you’re playing physical football, if you’re playing responsibility, if you’re doing your job, and you’re around the quarterback a lot, I think the turnovers will come and they always have for us if we keep our eye on those things.
Q. The 42-yard gain, what in the world happened there? The whole middle of the field just opened up like the Red Sea it looked like. (Les Bowen)
JIM SCHWARTZ: We played that defense — and that’s a variation of different defense. You guys probably thought it was something that it wasn’t. But when you play anything where you’re sort of back in zone and you’re attacking forward, it’s a little bit like kick off cover. You have to go be aggressive and fill gaps, and if you sort of hesitate a little bit, you can create some gaps. And in the past when we have run schemes like that, we have almost paid the price for being too aggressive on some of those. Guys come down, and this time we paid the price for probably not being aggressive enough with our kickoff.
I always joke that Fipp [special teams coordinator Dave Fipp] can coach that better than we can because there is a lot of kickoff cover components to it. If we fit it a little bit better, take a little bit more aggressive attitude with it, I think we can surely limit that play. Those are the kind of plays we want for them to do. We want them to throw it short so we can run up and tackle. But you got to get the guy on the ground, you got to fit it right, you got to be physical and we failed on that play. That was one of the few times I thought we were really playing well on third down, but obviously that wasn’t one of our better plays. It led to a field goal.
Q. I wanted to ask you about your two rookie linebackers, LB Davion Taylor and LB Shaun Bradley. You’ve talked in the past about the difficulty making the college to pro transition, both at linebacker and safety, but how close is Taylor to getting some defensive snaps and how close is Bradley to getting significantly more snaps? (Paul Domowitch)
JIM SCHWARTZ: Well you know they’re as close as anybody else that’s — they’re as close as Trevor Williams was last week. I do know this, we do a lot of stuff with making sure our guys that are backups are prepared to play, put them in front of the group and quiz them and things like that. And Davion had a little bit of that this last week and he gained a lot of confidence of the team by being on top of the whole game plan, even though he wasn’t expected to go out there and play. And that’s what those guys have to do.
It’s difficult to make adjustment from college to NFL and particularly with all the different layers that offenses are giving you. But I think one of the biggest things is getting yourself ready to play when you’re not getting practice reps. And all those guys are really working hard on scout team and those things and refining their technique and paying attention and being ready to play. Coaches have said for a long time, the hardest thing playing in the NFL is being a backup because you’re expected to go out there and perform when the game’s on the line when you haven’t have any reps in practice. But we have confidence in those guys. I like where both of those guys are progressing. And as they get a little bit more experience their opportunities will increase.
Q. How big a loss is Avonte Maddox, especially if he’s going to miss multiple weeks just in general like how well was he playing and everything like that? (Martin Frank)
JIM SCHWARTZ: Well, you guys know I never really talk too much about how guys are particularly performing. I would say this: If you look at our secondary, even though [S] Jalen Mills was there but he’s playing a different position, you had three out of four, four out of five, five out of six players playing either new to the scheme or new to a position. Whether it’s Robey [CB Nickell Robey-Coleman] at the nickel or whether it’s Slay [CB Darius Slay] at the corner or whether it’s J-Mill playing the safety position or Epps [S Marcus Epps] playing the dime position, Avonte playing corner after bouncing around a little bit more. And the communication between the secondary is one of the things that’s most important. And we have taken our lumps a couple times with that, just having quick miscommunication in the red zone can cost you a touchdown. I think the biggest thing is it just sort of derails that progress a little bit. The settling in. I’ve heard coaches say, the same way with offensive line, that unspoken communication, you just know that the other guy’s going to pass the stunt to you. You’ve played next to him for a long time, you know how he’s going to react. And I think it’s the same thing in the secondary. So I think that we’ll miss him as a player on the field, but also it’s just going to put more on our guys to keep that communication up and keep making progress on that, even though we’re adding different guys to the equation back there.
Q. Looking ahead to the 49ers, they have a ton of guys that have been injured and we have seen a lot of young pieces kind of fill in here in the last week. Obviously, the question about quarterback as well with 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo and QB Nick Mullens. How does that affect your game plan this week, looking at all the injuries that San Francisco has right now? (Kristen Rodgers)
JIM SCHWARTZ: We really don’t concern ourselves too much with their injuries. Everybody’s dealing with that in the NFL. I think the biggest thing there is their scheme has a long track record. We played that scheme with the same head coach, same offensive play caller in 2017, going back to Atlanta in 2016. In my career going back, before that I was in Buffalo and [current 49ers head coach] Kyle [Shanahan] was in Cleveland and he was in Washington when I was in Detroit. So I think there’s so much of that, it’s really just a matter of different players at those different positions.
There’s been some changes since 2017, obviously when they have different guys in there, but whether they have a running back that’s started the season or a guy that’s coming off the practice squad, it really doesn’t change what they’re trying to accomplish in the game. And Coach Pederson [head coach Doug Pederson] says all the time, tells us, hey, it’s a faceless opponent, it’s a faceless opponent. Your challenge in a lot of ways is operating efficiently and doing what you do, and I think that any time a team has injuries you have to take that same kind of approach of faceless opponent, let’s go out and do our job, let’s go battle the scheme, and let’s respect every player that they put out there regardless of if they’re an all-pro player or a guy that’s just brought up from the practice squad. Everybody in this league can play and everybody’s expected to be able to perform if they get put in the game.
Q. Does T.J. Edwards as a second linebacker fit in the category of getting more size on the field like you mentioned or is that the way you’re going at the position now? (Zach Berman)
JIM SCHWARTZ: No, it was that package. Cre’Von [LeBlanc] at the nickel and T.J. at the other linebacker and a lot of it was game-plan oriented for what Cincinnati was trying to do. And it had the affect — I don’t know if you watched too much — but they didn’t attack the middle of our defense a whole lot. They kept trying to get to the edge. They kept trying to get the ball on the edge. Well, what we thought was what Joe Mixon does best is run inside, so let’s try to force him to the sideline and take a power runner and try to make him get outside like that. It was more just game-plan decision and things like that. The numbers worked out the way they worked out, but our goal was to control the game by stopping the run, don’t let them continue to churn first downs, and let our pass rush have pass rush opportunities. The week before we had a lot of third down and twos. This week I think we only had one, and our pass rush was able to rush and we were able to get sacks because of our ability to stop the run.