Defensive Coordinator Robert Saleh Press Conference

Defensive Coordinator Robert Saleh

Press Conference – November 3, 2020

San Francisco 49ers

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Looking back on the Seattle game, can you correct me if I’m wrong, but it always seemed like, in terms of your safeties, like DB Jimmie Ward in specific was always about a step slow in getting to the scene after the play. Was there something that was causing him to be late or not giving safety help and then why no DB Tarvarius Moore at all on defense?

“To answer your first question, when you’re single high and you’re going, we ask those guys to go red line to the red line. So, the corner’s got to do a great job, we call it a red line, which is basically in between the sideline and the numbers on the football field. The corner’s got to do a great job of keeping that receiver, we say win the red line. So, he’s got to keep them on the field side of that red line. Of course, then the receiver is trying to win the red line where he can keep space, so the ball can get dropped closer to the sideline. So, there’s a battle going on there and so for the corner, winning that red line, he’s got everything from the red line all the way out to the sideline, and if he can keep it on that red line, that’ll give the safety enough time to get over there. There are things that we can do a lot better to being able to see if we can get the safety to go sideline to sideline based on indicators and formations and all that stuff. To answer your question, it’s just not the safety who’s got to get over there. When you’re blitzing and you have to play single high, and you’re trying to put pressure on [Seattle Seahawks QB] Russell Wilson, people are going to be left in one-on-one situations. Where Seattle’s done a great job is up until the game on Sunday, it was [Seattle Seahawks WR Tyler] Lockett who was getting all the targets and all the attention and not [Seattle Seahawks WR] DK [Metcalf]. So, they’ve got a two headed monster over there that’s pretty tough to deal with. To answer your question on T-Moore, we were looking for some ops to get them out there. Jimmie Ward being healthy. He does so much for our defense. I know there’s things that may not be seen to the naked eye, but there’s a lot of things that Jimmie Ward does that kind of helps us out with regards to disguise and all that. So, finding T-Moore an opportunity in there, we just didn’t get to it with the way the game was unfolding.”

I’m curious as to what your process is for preparing for a Thursday Night game, how much work you were able to do on the Packers, maybe before Sunday? Also, how much different does this Packer’s offense look compared to the two times you prepared to go against them last year?

“Leading up to the game or leading up to Sunday, I really just focus on the team that we’re playing on that particular week, but as soon as the game was over, then I watch our tape. I dove right into the Packers stuff. It’s a full-out grind. We probably ended up being here on Mondays about four or five hours later than we normally are and then tonight will be the same thing. So, you’re cramming. You’ve got to find a way make up for three extra days lost. So, not a lot of sleep, but I will be honest with you. They’ve done a great job. [Green Bay Packers head coach] Matt [LaFleur] and [Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator] Nate Hackett have done such a great job evolving that offense to where there is a complexity to it that wasn’t there a year ago. A year ago, there was still a lot of the stuff from previous years with [Green Bay Packers QB] Aaron Rodgers and not that they weeded all that out and they moved on, but they’ve added an element to it that makes it extremely dynamic and very, very difficult to defend. They’re playing very, very fast. They’re playing very efficient. Aaron looks unbelievable. The running game has been fantastic. So, they are so, so much more improved. [Green Bay Packers offensive line coach] Adam Stenavich, their O-Line coach is clearly doing a phenomenal job with that O-Line, both run blocking and pass blocking. So, it’s going to be a tremendous challenge on Thursday.” 

I noticed early in the game, Seattle was running a ton of hard counts and you guys didn’t bite on any of them. I’m wondering if that’s just something I happened to notice this game, or was that probably something they thought they could get you guys with? And is that you, defensive line coach] Kris Kocurek? Who gets the guys ready to be able to not to bite in those kinds of situations?

“It’s been the case all season. There’s no crowd noise, so teams have been smart utilizing their hard count. Our guys have gotten used to it. Kocurek does a phenomenal job preparing those guys to make sure that they’re not really listening to the hard count, but just watching the ball, trying to eliminate as much noise as possible as they can for themselves so they can get off on the rock. Teams have been smart. Offensive teams have been smart taking advantage of the fact that there’s no crowd noise and because of it, a lot of teams have been able to play with their cadences more, try to draw you offsides, try to get free plays. So, it’s a discipline, I guess, that unfortunately we’re getting used to because there’s no fans, but hopefully we get some fans back in the stadium soon.”

What is the difference between the two safety positions in your scheme this season?

“Just from the strong safety, free safety, I don’t know if there’s much of a difference. Our travel rules tell them do one thing, but they both are interchangeable in the sense that sometimes the strong safety is down, sometimes the free safety’s down. So, with regards to that, their skillset could differ. Jimmie Ward has a skill set that’s very unique for a free safety in that he can play corner, he can play nickel, he can play free safety, which we ask him to do all that stuff, especially when it comes down to third down. So, he’s a tremendous asset to the team in terms of our third down stuff where he can get down, he becomes the down safety, if you will. And he can play zone, he can blitz, he can play man. So, a lot of times he’s doing things that really doesn’t allow him to make plays, but he’s doing a lot of things for other people to make plays because of his unbelievable versatility.”

There’s been a couple of times this season where the boundary cornerback has gotten picked on a bit. If the offense is lining up it’s best receiver on the boundary, do you need to switch that up? Do you need to have CB Jason Verrett or somebody else playing boundary cornerback if one guy’s getting a lot of balls thrown his way?

“That’s a fair question. We have tremendous faith in the way [CB Emmanuel] Moseley plays, same thing with Verrett. They’re both fantastic football players. Usually that boundary corner, we have the ability in our system to cloud the boundary, we have the ability to lean the safety over to the boundary. So, it’s a lot easier to protect the corner to the boundary, at least in our system, than it is to the field. We have ways to protect the field also, but it’s much easier to do it on the fly in the game with the way we have it set. So, having one or the other, it’s been working out really good with the way we’ve had it set up this year with those two guys getting very comfortable with the looks that they’re seeing with the differences of the routes that come between the boundary and the field. They get very comfortable in the game on seeing things once, twice, and being able to react faster. As far as the whole thing with DK, the young man is a phenomenal football player, and Moseley did a great job on him last year, and he did. And I’ll be honest with you, you guys saw the third and two, he made an unbelievable play at the end of the game there where he batted the ball out on the throw to the end zone. With respect to DK, Moseley slipped on one of them that would have been a catch tackle for about eight yards, but then he split the defense for a 46-yarder. Then they had the unbelievable catch on the go ball that I thought was a great throw and catch between the two, which would, in my opinion, it would be Moseley’s one loss on a go ball that he’s had in a while as our corner. Then, there was a couple of situations where we felt like we had a double on them, but they were still able to manipulate the formation to create some space and a couple of times where [S] Marcell Harris was right there in position to breakup the pass, where we had some safety leaning to him, but they did a great job. They were creating different formations and sets to create just enough space for them to get 10, 12-yard completions to move sticks, but we’ve got to continue to find ways to get better at, in terms of when you know it’s getting into a certain spot, we’ve got to become more efficient.”

How difficult was yesterday for you just saying goodbye to New Orleans Saints LB Kwon Alexander and even just kind of some of the, I know the injury stuff has been happening all year, but when it continues to pile up the way it did yesterday, what was that like for you?”

“Like everybody, including [head coach] Kyle [Shanahan] and [general manager] John [Lynch], and when we had to break the news that he was being traded, there is a lot of pain just from a personal standpoint with Kwon and what he’s brought to us, not only as a man, but as a player. More so the man than player, even though players are unbelievable. The energy, the leadership, the honesty, the practice habits, all of it. Kwon is one of the more genuine human beings I’ve ever been around. He’s been nothing but perfect in my opinion, when you talk about free agents coming from another team and getting the contract he got and what he became. You can’t ask for much more. So, it sucks, it hurts to see him go, but aside from player, just losing that person and that personality is not a fun thing. So, it’s not anything exciting to talk about for sure.”

The other part of the Alexander trade obviously is it seems like you guys think highly of LB Dre Greenlaw. We’ve seen the plays that he’s made, but in terms of the everyday stuff with Greenlaw in the building, how has he grown since the last season and what are you excited about him in this expanded role now?

“So Greenlaw, last year when Kwon was hurt, you saw Greenlaw step up. He did a really, really nice job. Guys around the locker room love him. He works his tail off. He’s still finding his niche with regards to where his voice falls with regards to the rest of the locker room, but he’s earned everyone’s respect with the way he works. We’re excited about his future because he’s second year in the league and he’s already making plays that five, six-year vets struggle to make. So, we’re excited about him and the direction he’s going. So, for Greenlaw, we’re excited about him and getting his opportunity again. This isn’t the first time. He got to do it as a rookie and now he’s got another opportunity to go do it, and he just has to understand that he doesn’t have to make it, we’re not looking for a super star. We’re looking for someone to get better. If he gets better every single day, we trust that he’s going to be pretty damn good.  And that tandem between him and [LB] Fred [Warner] will be awesome.”

With the emotions of Kwon Alexander and that trade and then also the loss on Sunday, how you temper the emotions of your defense at this point?

“The messaging is the same. The main focus every day is to find a way to get a little bit better every day and you trust that if you get better and better, utilizing every second to get better all the way up to kickoff, you trust that the results can be in your favor. One of the great and bad things about this league is it’s very, very harsh, and you’ve got to be able to move on and move forward and find ways to let the past be the past, learn from it and find a ways to get better off of it. Appreciate the learning experiences you’ve gotten from Kwon, appreciate the learning experiences you had from your loss, whether it’s wins or losses, and you move on and you get yourself ready to prepare for the next one, because if you dwell on anything that happened yesterday, you’re taking away from what can happen today. So, the focus has to be on today. Those players know that. At such a young age, they go through the ultimate rollercoaster and they’ve learned already in their early twenties on how to move on to the next part of life. That’s what football basically is on a day-to-day basis.”