Defensive Coordinator Robert Saleh Press Conference

Defensive Coordinator Robert Saleh

Press Conference – September 10, 2020

San Francisco 49ers

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When you look at the Cardinals offense and the fact that they were able to run the ball so effectively, particularly after getting Arizona Cardinals RB Kenyan Drake last year despite using a lot of three or four wide receiver sets. Why do you think that it is and how difficult is it to defend an offense like that given that they like to spread defenses out?

“Give them credit. They’ve got a good system. They’ve evolved as the course of the year went on and they’ve just got different blocking combinations, different gap schemes, different zone schemes, and then you add the element of the quarterback. They just do a really good job. So, it’s a challenge every week in the run game, but no doubt with these guys, it’s definitely a challenge.”

With Arizona Cardinals QB Kyler Murray, you’ve seen a lot of quarterbacks take big leaps from year one to year two. What are you expecting to see out of Kyler Murray this year?

“He doesn’t get enough credit, and maybe he does, I’m just blind to it. That second half of the year, when it just seemed like he was playing a lot more quarterback, not to say that he wasn’t running, but he wasn’t running as often, he was playing a lot more quarterback. It just seemed like he became a much better football player and their offense was humming. They became a very explosive offense towards the second half of the year. A guy like him and from everything you read about and hear about from people around the league is he’s just got an unbelievable mindset and an unbelievable work ethic. He’s got weapons all over the place on the offensive side of the ball and his head coach is a pretty darn good play caller. You expect the guy to make a jump and so with Kyler, I do think we’re going to get his absolute best.”

DL Nick Bosa said yesterday that you guys are better prepared to face a mobile quarterback like Kyler Murray. Without giving away anything schematically, what is it about your defense that is better prepared this year?

“I guess you could say reps. You go through it a couple of times. We had [Baltimore Ravens QB] Lamar Jackson you play against. You get [Seattle Seahawks QB] Russell [Wilson] a couple of times a year. You just have an understanding of the speed and you can’t simulate the speed that Kyler has on the football field and all the different things that they do schematically to kind of stress you with. You have to defend the entire field and they do as good a job as anybody in football making you do that. It’s a challenge and it takes reps to really understand the speed at which they play and the space that they create and the mindset that you have to play as an individual. So, it’s going to be a tremendous challenge on Sunday and we know we’re going to get their absolute best. So, we’re excited about it.”

Second day in a row, bad air quality. Just wondering how it was practicing out there and any concerns on Sunday, especially on defense with you guys flying around, that this could be an issue?

“No, air quality seems good. I know all the photos, I’ve been getting a lot of phone calls about the photos, but the air quality has been really good. Shoot, I grew up in the heart of the Ford motor company factory. So, it doesn’t smell any different to me. All kidding aside, the air quality has been fine out here. So, I don’t think it’s going to be an issue on Sunday.”

What is unique about the Cardinals offense schematically? What makes it different than the other 31 offenses in the NFL?

“They find different ways to attack you when you look at the perimeter both inside and outside. They do a really nice job with formations and hiding their schemes. They do a really good job with their blocking combinations, their gap schemes and all that stuff. So, you add the element of the quarterback and they’re very smart in how they use him. The fact that he’s actually, usually you look at running quarterbacks and they’re not really good throwers. This kid, the more he played quarterback, the better he got. There’s no doubt he could sit in the pocket and be [Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB] Tom Brady if he wants to, not to put him on that level yet, but he can sit in the pocket and be an unbelievable pocket passer or he can be a scrambler. He can be a runner, he can be whatever he wants. He’s a very, very talented quarterback and his sky’s the limit, in my opinion.”

You may not have looked too closely at him given where you were going in the first round of the draft, but what are your thoughts on Arizona Cardinals LB Isaiah Simmons? For the Cardinals, obviously there’s talk, that maybe he can match up with TE George Kittle and not neutralize him, but have a little more success than they’ve had in the past.

“Isaiah is a tremendously gifted athlete. He’s long, he’s fast, he’s got quick feet. He’s dynamic in the sense that he can play multiple positions for you. He can play safety, he can come down and play linebacker. He’s got great cover skills. It’ll be a tremendous challenge for not only him, but Kittle if he gets matched up on him. He is a gifted individual and him getting his first shot at it, it’ll be fun to watch. We liked him coming out, but he was one of the better players, obviously, and deservedly got drafted in the first round there. He’s dynamic. It’ll be interesting to see the way they use him in that scheme.”

Is the Cardinals offense sort of frustrating at times, just the way they sort of dink and dunk, sometimes? They throw a lot of screens, a lot of short passes, read option stuff that’s not necessarily beating you down the field. Does that sort of necessitate patience?

“It makes you disciplined, and that’s what I’m talking about with making you defend the field. They do as good of a job as anybody in football. So, it takes an extreme amount of discipline on both sides of the ball. It really creates a battle of efficiency and precision where, defensively, you’ve got to be precise. For them offensively, they’ve got to be precise and they do a very good job teaching, their players do a great job executing and because of it, you just saw them get much better as the course of the year went on. Then you add the fact that they get [Arizona Cardinals WR DeAndre] Hopkins and they’re another year into the system. It’s going to be a good challenge for sure.”

How has LB Fred Warner looked in these last two practices and when he’s on the COVID list, what’s he able to do physically? Is he able to work out and kind of stay in shape for when practice does resume for him?

“Yeah, he’s looked good. I think whatever the performance crew has going for him, he looks fine to me. It’s exciting to be around him and all that stuff. He looks good, so not expecting any restrictions for him.”

Head Coach Kyle Shanahan said yesterday he watched the NFC Championship game the other day and was just reminded how much the crowd fueled you guys and how much you guys fueled the crowd and Nick talked about the difference it makes on third downs. Obviously, not going to be a crowd on Sunday. Is there any concern about the adjustment there, or once the game starts, you’re just not really worried about it?

“You don’t worry about it with the game starting, but I do think one of the greatest things for a team that has the pass rush that we have is having home field advantage where another team has to do silent count. The fact that we’re not able to use it, I’m assuming that they’ll be able to use their cadence. We’ll see how it goes in the game, but yeah, it’s the homefield advantage right there and if you’ve got to play every game as a road game on defense, it’s not that it’s going to be a huge disadvantage or anything, it’s just getting off the snap count is not going to be as fun. We can still utilize our skill set and still play our game. We know it’s not there anyway, and we’ve just got to roll. So yeah, not having a crowd, it’s going to be different out there for sure.”

The last time we talked to you, you mentioned the red zone defense and the 49ers went from allowing 41-percent of red zone drives to end in a touchdown. That was when S Jaquiski Tartt played through December one, which was third in the NFL. That jumped to 62-percent by the season’s end, which was 26. Just going back to the Cardinals, what challenges do they present in the red area, just with a mobile quarterback and knowing that he can just zone read, and especially now that they have DeAndre Hopkins?

“When you’ve got a quarterback who can run it in, you’ve got a running back who can pound it in and you’ve got receivers you can just throw the ball to, they present a tremendous challenge in the red zone. You’re right. We did not finish the year in the red zone the way we wanted. We were third in NFL until the last four weeks of the season. It wasn’t good. Looking at ourselves, scouting and all that stuff, that’s definitely things that we can fix both as coaches and players. When you’ve got a group of guys like they do from a skills position standpoint and they can pound it in, and they can run it in with the quarterback, they can throw the ball to any one of the receivers and then go get it, it’s definitely a challenge. So, we’ve just got to make sure that we’re very detailed and understand that when it gets into the red zone, it’s all about precision. It’s going to happen quick and if we’re on our job, we’ll at least have a chance to compete.

CB Richard Sherman has been a left side guy most of his career. Might that change at all this year? Figure I’d shoot my shot here.

“I don’t know. No, you never know. Sherm’s a dynamic football player. So, any way we can use him to help us win football games, we’ll do it. It doesn’t mean anything at this point moving forward.”

You had tremendously high praise for Kyler Murray just now. He’s clearly a phenomenal athlete, but you’re talking about him as a quarterback. Just how advanced of a passer, a pocket passer, does he look to you on film?

“That’s what I was getting at. As the year went on, I know he got dinged up a little bit and I don’t know if that’s why he didn’t run it as much towards the second half of the year, but when he actually played quarterback, I felt like that’s where he progressed the most, playing quarterback. Does he have room to improve? Absolutely. But, you could see that he’s very, very capable of sitting back there and he goes through reads. You can see him deliberately going through a progression. He’s not a one read, throw the ball, run. He’s not that. He can be a pocket passer if he needs to be, so obviously he’s got to get more reps at that and learn, but he’s very, very capable and has proven it. His arm, he’s got a hose for an arm. He’s shown that his accuracy improved over the course of the year. He’s gifted and the more reps he gets and the more opportunity he has to be a drop back passer and play quarterback, the better he’s going to get. They’ve definitely got a good one over there.”