Run Game Coordinator/Offensive Line Chris Foerster Press Conference
Run Game Coordinator/Offensive Line Chris Foerster
Press Conference – October 5, 2023
San Francisco 49ers
A couple weeks ago, you talked about RB Christian McCaffery and the patience he shows hitting holes. You said there are some runs in which there might be a hole, but you need to wait and not hit the hole because there are things that are developing, and I took it to mean maybe down blockers, wide receivers or whatever. Is that what you were referencing?
“I’d say very few times this year has he been impatient. Now is that why there’s more yards? Is that why he’s having the year he’s having? I don’t know if that’s exactly it. But, I’d say there’s fewer misses and from his perspective, there’s a better understanding of every play as we put it in every week, he’s gotten a much better feel for what we’re doing through training camp and the offseason and everything. I’d say that’s probably a part of it. I don’t think he’s missed anything this year. I think he’s been on point with all the runs. In fact, when this past week a couple plays were supposed to do something and it wasn’t there and he took what was available and scored. So I mean, he did a great job this week.”
But is that concept of, I’m sure a lot of running backs in the NFL run through the open hole and you don’t wait to run through the open hole. Is what you guys teach like unique or different in that regard?
“No, it’s just certain styles of plays. There’s a thing called with running backs, in zone running, I can say this in zone running – inside and outside zone running – there’s a big coaching point to press the line of scrimmage, to press the landmark. So, if your landmark is the outside leg of the tight end, if your landmark’s the inside leg of the guard, you want to get as close to the line of scrimmage to set the zone blocks before you make your break. So, there may be a big hole that expresses itself really early in the play, but you’re three yards deep in the backfield. That hole looks like it’s there, but if you cut back to that hole, not everybody’s going to be able to set their blocks because it’s not like everybody’s going to block man, we’re zoning and he needs to draw defenders to the zone block and then whatever hole’s there will be on people. But if he does it too soon, let’s say I’m going to block, I’m double teaming someone here and I’m getting ready to come off and block you, but the ball isn’t here and you’re not there, so if he cuts back, you just go over there and I’m stuck over here, I can’t block you. But if he keeps coming, you come to me, he draws the blockers to me, that’s what zone running is and that’s that patient piece that sometimes you go, holy cow, there it is. But when you hit it, we don’t have half the guys blocked because you didn’t draw – it’s his job in zone running to bring the blockers to us. Now when everybody’s man blocking bang, everybody’s on a man, whatever hole shows you hit that hole. And [former San Francisco 49ers RB] Frank Gore was a great gap scheme runner and man scheme because what hole was there was what you hit. And Frank could get through a slither that was that big, but if he saw it and he knew the play, it’s like, I’m going to hit that hole. And eventually that hole may get a little bit bigger because I know the concept of the play, but it’s not so much drawing what zone blocking is, which is you need to press to draw the defenders to the blockers.”
Is he reading the hole or is he reading the landmark?
“He presses the landmark and he reads it. How we do it is he reads a gap, but he just reads what starts to come open. So, for example, if you’re going to run at the outside leg of the tight end, if there’s no defender there, he’s just going to run there and just keep running. But all of a sudden, the defender’s there and we’re blocking him out there, then he’s going to kind of start to work back. Then one gap at a time, eventually, we hope there’s a hole. If there’s not, then you just run and fall down and get three yards.”
People have said that the way to attack Dallas Cowboys LB Micah Parsons is to run right at him. I assume that’s easier said than done?
“Well, yeah, I mean you can run at him. He’s a good player. We tried to run at him and he beats blockers and makes tackles and you can run away from him, he is going to run really, really fast and catch up to you when you run away from him. There’s a lot of different things you can do. You just have to make sure you account for him like we have every other good player we play against and he’s a great player. These other great players, you just to have a have a plan as to how you’re going to deal with him. You can’t say every single play you run away, every single play you run at him, that wears itself out as well. There has to be a balance that you have to decide what kind of plays you run at him, what kind of plays you don’t run at him, and how he defends things, what position he’s playing, they move him all over the place. So, the position matters too. You think, oh, we’re going to run this play at Micah Parsons, take advantage of x, y, z and then, oh crap, he’s lined up at the three technique, or he is lined up over the center and you’re like, oh, well so much for that plan. So you just have to have a well-balanced plan to take care of a great player. And that’s what we’ll hope to try to do it. It’s really hard because he’s a great one.”
How would you evaluate OL Colton McKivitz? The numbers seem to indicate that he struggled a little bit as a pass protector, but it also shows that you guys are averaging like 4.7 yards a carry running behind him. What does the film show?
“I know he’s doing a good job. He’s had the bad play. The Pittsburgh game was an outlier. We left him alone and he fought the best fight he could and he lost some battles. And obviously the guy had a good day and he got beat once on Sunday. And the rest of the day he had a really good day against the same players. And so whatever, I don’t know the evaluation process and how it goes, he’s not graded any better or any worse run or pass. Obviously, you’d like to not have the sack he gave up. But he did a bunch of really good things in the game as well. Everybody’s got room to improve our whole group up front, we have room to improve. Obviously, Sunday there were some nice things in the protection game. We had a good game and so on and so forth, but there’s just still, we have so much work to do to improve and Colton’s part of that process. He has to get better, [C] Jake [Brendel], all of them do. They all have work to do. [T] Trent [Williams], all of us, it’s the season, it’s just different. I don’t know why. I don’t know how to describe it and as well as we may or may not be playing, our record is good. We can play better. I think it’s just the offseason, training camp. You play your way into the year to see what you are. The good thing is, I had a very high expectation. I was really hard on him in training camp. I feel we should have hit this ground running this year, but you have to play in the games, you have to get back in the game condition. You have to get a feel for how things are going this year, the defenses, how they’re defending us differently based on what we did a year ago. And it’s just a process. And the good thing is that I think that our jump off spot, different than a year ago, is higher. Where Colton is, where the inside tier three players are, we jump off at a higher spot. So, as we go through the season four games in now, we keep progressing. I think it gets better and better. So, I’m not down on Colton in any stretch of the imagination, pass protection, run game wise. He’s just got some work to do.”
Frank Gore had an affinity for not running right into defenders. He didn’t take the big hits. Is that something that it’s a running back quality or a tendency and does Christian have that same type of maybe tendency to not go straight into a guy?
“We saw two plays. A, Christian’s not afraid to take a guy on, but Christian also knows how to take a hit as you’re kind of alluding to. His ability to make a guy miss, I mean, unbelievable. We ran the play where Trent was leading, we kind of ran a counter play and Trent and he were going through the hole in the first or second quarter of the game. I don’t remember where it was. And there was a backside safety that came down late and it was free and he kind of just jumped over him, kind of like he jumped over the guy on the swing screen we threw to him that he scored the touchdown on. There was a free guy that dove at his leg and he just naturally picks his leg up and makes him miss and goes on to the next guy. That’s the un-coachable trait. That’s the trait of holy cow. We don’t stand out there and throw bags at him and make him jump over them. I mean, heck, he has that trait and that’s why he’s great. You see that on tape, you see that as you evaluate the kid. He just has a tremendous ability to make people miss. And obviously they all do. You have to be able to avoid the big hit and know when to fight the good fight and when the fight’s over.”
I think you had one target to TE George Kittle and WR Deebo Samuel, obviously he’s coming back from an injury. This is an offense where you have so many weapons. What do you make of that when you have a game where one of them is almost not involved at all and are guys okay with that knowing that in the grand scheme the offense is executing?
“Well, every dog has his day in our offense. I think there are days that all of a sudden Deebo comes out. You didn’t think [WR Brandon] Aiyuk a couple weeks ago comes back from injury you didn’t expect that day. They just, sometimes it just happens. Sometimes it’s the way the defense plays. Sometimes it’s the play called at just the right time. Other times you have the play design for George and you call four of them and you catch the wrong defense or you have the play design for Deebo last week and, oh darn, it just wasn’t right. And then all of a sudden, every one you called for Aiyuk, bingo, we hit the right coverage in the right play. So, it’s not like the plays aren’t called or designed to get to everybody. And that’s what the players understand. We put this play in for this coverage, we put this play in for this defense and oh, here we called it, and guess what? It’s not there. Or guess what? You’re wide open for a touchdown and the right tackle isn’t good enough or the running back or the quarterback misses the throw or x, y or z happens and next thing you know, it isn’t there. I’ve never played the Madden game or any of that stuff. I don’t know what they are, but it’s not like you can say I’m throwing it to George and you get to throw it to George, it just doesn’t work like that. There is a coverage, you read it and you do the best you can and some of them you can design. That’s why sometimes not forcing, but you can always say, ‘Okay, I’m going to throw a screen to Deebo, I can hand Deebo the ball.’ You can always do that, but it’s a little bit harder to do that with George. A little bit harder to do that with BA and with Christian, same thing, you can throw him a screen, you can throw him a check down, you can hand him the football, you can guarantee his touches. With the other guys, it sometimes gets harder, but they know their day is coming and next thing you know, George one of these days will have a breakout day and some will be by design and some will just be because that’s the way the play played out.”
With how short of a time QB Brock Purdy’s been a starting quarterback in the NFL, is his processing to go through what you just talked about pretty remarkable?
“Yeah. The guy plays the position really well. That’s all I can say. He’s just a quarterback. From the time he started playing it, he just sees the field. His ability to know where to go with the football, I don’t know what that’s a product of, I don’t know if it’s his previous coaching, I don’t know if it’s his coaching now. It’s probably a culmination of everything together. I always think some of it is when you look at a guy’s physical abilities you look at his height, weight, you look at his speed, you realize that he’s a little bit of a shorter guy. Certain things you have to be pretty quick to do because as that pocket, you’re not six-foot-four [former New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB] Tom Brady that can stand there like a statue as the world’s coming at you and still deliver the ball. You have to make it quick. I don’t know that that’s it. I really don’t. But I’m saying sometimes it’s a byproduct of your coaching growing up, you as a kid and just how you survive and play the position and you learn to play the position. You learn, I need to get through my progression properly if I’m going to have the space and the pocket I need to deliver the football. And now he’s taking a step to this level where now the defenders are bigger, the rush is more intense. This week, he’ll know, he played against these guys last year, it’s going to be very intense. And being able to make decisions and deliver the ball accurately is just something that he’s learned to do over time. And it is remarkable because some guys never learn it. Some guys are always late to throw the ball. They’re just going to rely more on arm talent. They’re going to wait for a guy to get open before they throw it and still get away with it. Or they’re going to rely on their feet and say, I don’t care if the pocket’s coming in around me, I’m going to make a play. That was [former Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos QB Peyton] Manning. When I was with Peyton, sometimes you would say he didn’t even let the play develop. He’d say, well, it’s cover two, this ball’s going to the check down. Well yeah, it’s going to the check down if cover two plays out like cover two. And literally they’d get back there and they stop this so, then you’re going to go to the check down. Peyton would sometimes say if it was a really big rush team, I’m not going to be able to allude this rush, so I have to make the decision now. So, it’s cover two bang, that ball’s going to check down. It’s single high, this is where the ball should go. I’m going to believe what I see, I’m letting the ball rip on single high and I’m not going to wait because of who he was. He wasn’t going to be able to extend plays like [Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick] Mahomes. So, there’s all those physical limitations with a guy that then tie into how they have to play the position, understanding everything that goes into it.”
You could leave the tight end in to block, you could use your backs to block. You guys, looking at the numbers in the first month, have allowed the offensive line to be on an island largely, and you’re getting five out in the pattern. You’re making them defend the entire field and Brock’s getting rid of it quick. Why is that the preferred plan?
“I think there’s a lot of different reasons to do something. Again, [Head Coach] Kyle’s [Shanahan] got a lot of different reasons for doing it. One thing is, when you’re not certain, to me, this is me talking when you’re not certain what they’re going to be in. If I know they’re going to be in single high, and I know I can probably get fewer guys. When I don’t know if I may get a three-man rush, a four man rush, I may get cover two. I need all my guys out so I can progress and have someone to go to. I leave a tight end in, all of a sudden, it’s not the right coverage and I want to throw the ball to Aiyuk, but now I don’t have the flare control underneath it. I can’t, I’m holding the ball because this guy’s blocking, I may have ten days to throw the ball, but there’s nobody open. I can’t answer that question as to why we decide to do that more. I’m assuming it is for some of those reasons because maybe you don’t know exactly what they’re going to be in and you’re trying to give your quarterback the most options. Maybe it’s the way Kyle feels best about attacking that defense. Maybe it’s the way we feel Brock, those are good plays for Brock and getting the guys out with the options. And then sometimes, there’s so many variables that go into it, but that’s a good observation and usually what it is. And I think that led a little bit to the Pittsburgh game where there was a little bit uncertainty and all of a sudden, they’re not playing like we thought they were going to play. We need to get these guys out to be sure. And all of a sudden now you’re leaving Colton maybe in some more one-on-ones that we hadn’t planned on doing, but boy, if we leave the chipper in there, sure, [Pittsburgh Steelers LB] T.J. Watt, but then there’s nowhere to go with the ball. You’re holding the ball longer and then the other guys start showing up and then it’s like, well, you took care of T.J. but the quarterback didn’t have anywhere to throw the ball. So, it’s that constant trade off and it’s that cat and mouse game of what are they in, what do we have called, how do we get to the right play? It’s not like we come to line of scrimmage every play and we aren’t Peyton Manning, we’re not Omaha, Omaha checking some other play and then throwing the ball. We know what they’re in or we’re able to see what they’re in, we’re calling it and he’s executing it and that’s the way we end up.”