Q. What changed from those first two drives? Were there any adjustments or guys just tightening things up? How much easier does it make it for you as a defensive coordinator when that front four is getting home and you don’t have to blitz that much? (John McMullen)
JONATHAN GANNON: Yeah, I would say they had a good plan to start the game, all un-scouted looks, which we figured they would do.
I think the main two things that changed were we cleaned some technique issues up after the first couple series there. I think guys settled in a little bit better and started trusting their keys. We talk about alignment, assignment, key, technique. If you don’t have those, if one of those four things is wrong, it’s hard to play good team defense.
I think really it’s a credit to our players, they settled down and just started getting back to the basics of that. That’s really pre-snap that we can control everything. The technique part is post-snap. But alignment, assignment, where they put their eyes, that’s all pre-snap. I think we kind of settled down and did a better job of that.
We got to some different things we had in our back pocket that we knew we were going to run and got to some of those calls. They executed well.
Q. Head Coach Nick Sirianni always talks so much about his core fundamental values, and specifically he walked us through what ‘connecting’ means on Sunday. After the game what were those moments like on the way home, being able to enjoy that moment with him? Any congratulatory messages that stood out to you, personally for you, getting your first victory in your position? (Josh Tolentino)
JONATHAN GANNON: I mean, I think really when he talks about connecting with the players, coaches to coaches, players to players, coaches to players, it just makes the good moments a little bit better because you’re truly invested with the people that are on your team.
It was pretty cool for him to get a win his first game. It was cool for the players. Players put in a lot of hard work leading up to that point. With week one there’s always this unknown. We knew we were playing Atlanta whenever the schedule came out the beginning of May. There’s a lot of buildup without being a lot of buildup just mentally, I think.
When you go out and execute, and get a win on the road week one versus a good opponent, it’s pretty cool.
Q. What kind of challenges do the 49ers present preparation-wise because they have two different quarterbacks with different skill sets? Are there examples in your past of other times you were forced to prepare for two different healthy quarterbacks, and if so, how did that go? (Jimmy Kempski)
JONATHAN GANNON: Yeah, the challenges with San Francisco, we got to be ready for everything. They present a lot of different challenges. They obviously have two quarterbacks that can possibly play, that have been playing.
I think the greatest challenge to playing them is this is a very well-coached, physical football team. We’re going to have to match that intensity. They do a really good job of blocking. They do a really good job of running with the ball in their hands, creating RAC after contact from everybody from all the backs that touch the ball to the tight ends, to the receivers. They catch and run with the ball extremely well. We just got to have a good plan with what we’re doing with everything that they could throw at us.
I would go probably playing New Orleans a couple years ago right when they kind of started with the Hill [Saints QB Taysom Hill] kid, you had to have a different plan for that. That’s the first one off the top of my head that you go back to.
There are teams that by which tailback is in the game, you have a different thought process. Which receivers are aligned where, there’s a different process to how you want to play. We’ve got to have a plan for everything and execute at a high level to give us a chance to win on Sunday.
Q. When we talked to you last week you told us to expect that basically everybody who was dressed would have some kind of role on defense. The question was about the secondary, but it seemed to apply across the board on Sunday. Where did you develop that philosophy and kind of what’s behind it? (Tim McManus)
JONATHAN GANNON: The first thing is I think to keep people fresh. We do feel good about the people that are up on game day that they can go in and play winning football. That’s the first thing.
The second thing would be, I never wanted to have a guy that was up for six or seven weeks and only playing on special teams, then somebody gets hurt and he has to go in. He goes from zero plays the first five weeks of the season to 70 plays right off the jump. Sometimes you can’t help when that happens. I always feel like it’s good to get guys snaps when you can get them snaps if it fits what we’re trying to defend and what we’re trying to do.
I thought the coaches did a really good job of executing the plan that we talked about and that we had going into the game, and then also adjusting as the game went on how it kind of unfolded what our position coaches did with some of their guys. I thought they did a really good job.
Q. Back to the two quarterbacks for the 49ers. What are your initial thoughts on the way 49ers QB Trey Lance has played so far? With having to prepare for two quarterbacks, do you find you have to take extra time in practice to prepare for two different packages? Is that a detriment to you at all? (Chris Franklin)
JONATHAN GANNON: I don’t think it’s a detriment. That’s just part of how you have to prepare for the game. There’s not a lot of tape on this guy in the pros. He played a lot in the pre-season, played some snaps against Detroit. That will be part of our plan. We got to have a good plan for when he’s in the game. Our guys will be prepared with, ‘Hey, this is this guy’s skill set, this is how we have to defend him.’
It’s a little bit different than defending [49ers QB] Jimmy [Garoppolo]. Jimmy, this is his skill set, this is what we have to be aware of and defend. When they make adjustments, we’ll have to make adjustments. We’ll prepare our guys with the first start of how we’re going to roll. If we need to make adjustments, we’ll prepare them kind of later in the week, ‘Hey, here is the next wave, so to speak, of here’s what we’re going to do.’
It’s kind of cool. Our players, they’ll be excited to start — they’re already prepping for San Francisco, but they’ll like the multiplicity of how we’re going to play this week.
Q. What type of emphasis do you place on third down defense? What makes a good third down defense in your opinion? (Zach Berman)
JONATHAN GANNON: Good question. That’s loaded.
I would say what makes a good third down defense is get them third-and-long as much as you can because your percentages go up a little bit.
I think it’s having the ability of presenting different looks of third down, like how you align your people, what you’re doing from those different alignments, then guys winning one-on-one matchups.
I thought we did a pretty good job of that this last week. Everyone sees the D-line rushed extremely well. I thought they made [Falcons QB] Matt [Ryan] uncomfortable in the pocket early, we hit him a few times. That just affects quarterbacks typically.
The other thing that goes into the D-line playing extremely well is the back end, what they were doing. You talk about the disguises of what we were showing, the coverages that we were playing. I thought they executed the coverages for the most part at a very high level. When the ball came to certain guys, we won our individual matchups.
Really, it’s a matchup-driven game, and you’re trying to affect the quarterback pre- and post-snap. From there the coverages behind it, if you’re not pressuring, you’re trying to give the D-line one more tick of time to where they can get there.
If you are pressuring, when you’re pressuring, their job is to get there a little bit quicker because you have less in the back end covering. We talk about our guys rush and cover, cover and rush. It’s all 11 being on the same page executing at a high level. That’s how you play good third-down defense.
Q. When you face a 49ers Head Coach Kyle Shanahan offense, an offense that uses so much play-action and misdirection, what is the messaging to your linebackers, safeties about keeping tabs on the football? (Rob Kuestner)
JONATHAN GANNON: Yeah, we just broke a staff meeting here now and that was kind of the last thing we just talked about was whatever your job is within the defense, you have to look at the right thing. The reasoning behind what they do, all the motions, adjustments, all these people moving around, looks are different, is to get your eyes in the wrong spot, then they take advantage of that.
We have to be in a phone booth of what we’re looking at because this is my guy that is going to tell me what I have to do. From there you have to practice it the right way and keep reiterating to our guys shrink your world and lens. You don’t have to see everything. You don’t have to see the big picture. Some guys do, but not a lot of them.
If you’re a guy that just needs to look right here, look right here. Don’t worry about where 44 [49ers FB Kyle Juszczyk] is going, what the quarterback is doing, don’t worry about [49ers WR] Deebo [Samuel] running across the formation. You just look at this guy right there. That’s how you’re going to win your individual matchup.
I think a lot of it’s just shrinking it down for our guys, ‘This is where you put your eyes, this is how you play.’ From there it’s football. There’s no call that we’re going to call that’s, like, the perfect magic call versus Kyle Shanahan. It’s our guys executing at a high level, destroying blocks, tackling, covering. That’s what the game comes down to.
Q. DT Javon Hargrave clearly had a good game, and the numbers backed it up and what we saw live, but how did the film bear out for him? Obviously, quarterbacks don’t like it when there’s a defensive tackle in their laps, but is there more emphasis being placed on those type of guys? It seemed like there was a long period of ends and ends and it was all about getting pressure from the edge rushers. Has that changed a little bit in recent years? (Jeff McLane)
JONATHAN GANNON: The first part of the question is Javon played really well. We expected him to play well. He had a great training camp, the joint practices he played really well.
That whole unit, there’s a lot of guys, when he was out there, who he was playing with, [DT] Fletcher Cox, B.G. [DE Brandon Graham], [DT] Milton [Williams], Sweaty [DE Josh Sweat], [DE Derek] Barnett, those guys are helping him be the best version of himself, as well. Those guys are winning at a high level. Certain guys get a single block, and they win. Javon had a couple singles because of Fletch really. They want to double Fletch. Well, you can’t double everybody.
Personally, I expected him to play really well, and he did. I think the emphasis between inside and outside guys, you need all of them. There’s really no premium — everyone used to talk about you need an edge rusher and a good corner. What we talked about way back when, you need all 11, all 22 to be good players. Certain positions aren’t ranked ahead of other positions.
I would think that he executed. You’d like to be able to win from inside and win from outside. When you have the people to do that, it makes the quarterback’s job pretty hard.
Q. When it comes to the defensive line rotation, how much of that is predetermined going into a game and how much is dictated by the flow of it? (Dave Zangaro)
JONATHAN GANNON: A little bit of both. We had kind of a number in our head as a staff where we wanted to see everybody. Then the flow of the game – that is a great question – kind of dictates if you can stay with that plan or if you have to deviate a little bit.
I thought [Defensive Line Coach] Tracy [Rocker] and Wash [Director of Player Personnel/Senior Defensive Assistant Jeremiah Washburn] did an excellent job. You’ve heard me say that before. We had 10 D-linemen up and they all played. It keeps those guys fresh. You see the effort they’re giving out there in the run and pass game.
It’s a little bit different with those guys because every snap they got hands on them. Where in the back end it’s not always like that. They’re bigger guys. That position, it’s hard for big guys. What they’re doing every snap, in my opinion, it’s hard for them to do that 60-plus plays.
We always want to keep our guys, kind of all of them are playing, and we want to keep them fresh. That’s what we try to do. But understand that’s hard for the coaches to do that because you saw we have different packages, the flow of the game is a little bit different.
Like I said, Coach Rocker and Coach Washburn did a really good job with that because it came out basically how we as a staff wanted it to come out.