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Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Jim O’Neil talks Armstrong injury, Panthers, Seahawks

Sep 20, 2016 at 12:02 PM--

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Opening comments:

"Obviously, not the outcome we wanted going down to Carolina, but I do think that there's a lot of very teachable moments that came out of that game and I think it's a great opportunity for us as a defense, us as a unit to grow and learn from those mistakes and make sure that they don't happen again. The one thing that I'm positive about is that the mistakes we made are very correctable, and I love how our players came to work today. They came to the meeting room notebooks opened. They were very willing to learn, to be coached and very determined to make sure that whatever mistakes happened in that game weren't going to happen to us again as a defense. Huge challenge this week going against Seattle. It's obviously the team that's had a lot of success in this league over the past few years. It's going to be a great challenge for us defensively again. Division opponent, so it'll be exciting."

How big of a blow is it to lose LB Ray-Ray Armstrong?

"It sucks. But, I've said all along that we're going to need [LB Michael] Wilhoite, we're going to need [LB] Gerald [Hodges] to help us win football games and those guys will step up and they'll do a great job in that role."

How had he done the first couple games in your opinion?

"I thought he was playing his butt off. He was playing a really good game for us. He made some splash plays in that Carolina game. It's just one of those unfortunate deals that happen in this league. You can't worry about it. You've got to move on. I feel bad for the kid though, just because I know how hard he's worked to get to this point and have the opportunity to be a starter in this league and two games in he loses his season."

Obviously, huge disparity from Week 1 to Week 2. Obviously there's a difference in opponent, but just statistically, opposite ends of the spectrum. At this point, do you have any sense of kind of what defense you have and is that still--?

"Yeah, I think that Week 1 a lot of things went our way. I thought we played good team defense. Our guys made a bunch of plays. Week 2, some things got away from us. We made some mistakes, but they made some plays too. You've got to tip your hat to them. [Carolina Panthers QB] Cam Newton threw some great balls. Their wide receivers went and made some plays. They had some good schematics in the run game. A lot of it we like to say was us, but some of it was them too. I don't think that, I'd like to hope that we're the defense that's more towards Week 1 than we were Week 2. That's what we all want to be. But, the thing that's great about this league is we've got a chance to go out this week and do it again."

How did you feel about your pass rush? Obviously Cam Newton stepped out of a couple situations where another quarterback might have been sacked. Do you feel pretty good about your pressure?

"Yeah, I thought we had a couple opportunities to sack him. We had a couple free runners on third down where we generated some rush. I thought our guys at times did a good job pushing the pocket. Part of our game plan was we wanted to keep him in the pocket and if he was going to execute and beat us on plays, we wanted to have him do that inside the pocket versus getting out on us and making those background plays that he's done such a good job of. And again, I've got to give Cam credit, he threw some great balls from inside the pocket and the wideouts made some plays for him."

There was a play, the long touchdown pass to Carolina Panthers TE Greg Olsen, where according to S Antoine Bethea and head coach Chip Kelly, they'd done one thing, they showed a tendency to do one particular route. How are these guys coached up when they're alerted to this tendency that's overwhelming, are they told to expect it and break on it?

"Yeah, trust your technique, trust your training. Otherwise, what are we doing here all week? We coach them up and 'Toine took a shot. Now, do I want it to be a 78-yard touchdown? No, but that's what happened. We'll learn from that. We'll grow from it. It was a good play call and Greg Olsen ran a hell-of-a route on him."

So, my question is, so Antoine did what he was coached to do on that play?

"He took a shot. He gathered pre-snap information and he took a shot. We want our guys to play fearless. We don't want our guys to play scared. So, if guys study their asses off all week and they see something formationally or something that tips them, we don't want to be that team that never makes any plays. We want our guys to go try to make some plays. That's what this whole league is about, is making football plays. Obviously, in that situation it didn't work out."

How do you take that though and apply it to a quarterback like Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson who's known just from scrambling more than anything? Does he have scramble tendencies that you can see on film?

"Well, I think it's a very similar situation. I think that Russell's not just a scrambling quarterback. I think he proved that last year in the second half of the year with his ability to stay in the pocket and throw the football on the executed drop back pass game. But, he still has the unbelievable ability to extend plays and make you pay downfield. So, every game plan is going to be different. We're not going to attack Russell the same way we attacked Cam, but there are definitely some similarities. It's a great question."

DB Jimmie Ward was in good coverage throughout the game. He obviously was burned for two touchdowns at the end, maybe due to a height disadvantage with Carolina Panthers WR Kelvin Benjamin. As a coach, how do you coach up going against bigger receivers? Do you teach them to like hand technique as far as putting a hand in-between the guy's arms to bring it down rather than going for the ball?

"I think one of the things that we've done a really good job with and I think [defensive backs coach] Jeff Hafley does a great job teaching is guys being violent at the reception point. I think where Jimmie got in a little bit of trouble was with some things leverage-wise. Jimmie is going to be, Jimmie is one of our best defensive players. He's going to be an elite corner in this league. Every day he learns more and more and more and those are situations that he's going to learn from, he's going to grow from and it's going to make him better."

He was in good coverage for the most part when the ball was up in the air. It's just a matter of high pointing the ball?

"Yeah and some of it's being off and not being pressed and winning early instead of trying to win late against wide receivers. So, there's a couple things that you can do to mix it up and those are things that those guys are trained to do and we've got to do a better job training them and continue to work it."

Going back to last season, this defense has given up 32 points per a game on the road and only 15 points per a game at home. How do you get the guys to play as well on the road as they have been playing at home?

"I don't know anything about last year. I know for us, it starts with our week in practice. We've got to have a great week of practice. Guys have to prepare themselves to win and then we've just got to go out and play good team defense. The thing I was proud of is, I don't want to say not as bad as that game went, we gave some stuff up but seven minutes to go in the fourth quarter, our guys showed a lot of resiliency as far as fighting back into that game and it was a seven-point game. We caused a turnover, the offense kicks a field goal, then we get the touchdown on special teams or the fumble recovery. It's a seven-point game with seven minutes to go in that game. And then it was on us to go three-and-out when they got the ball on our side of the field. They made a play on third down and then they ended up getting a field goal, which made it a 10-point game, but we were right there with a pretty good football team with seven minutes to go. That's not what you want. You don't want moral victories. You want to win football games, but I was proud of how the guys fought all game and to me that showed a lot."

After watching the tape, what was your diagnosis of the run defense?

"I thought we were really good at times and there was probably six or seven plays where we didn't play good defense. And it wasn't just one thing. I think they, I don't know the exact number, you guys will probably kill me if I'm wrong, but I think it was 24 or 25 rushes, they were three yards or less, which is pretty good. And then there were, I think six of their runs accounted for over 100-yards. Two of them were plays that we conceded. It was third-and-extra long or they had the field goal before half. So, we gave up two explosive runs and then there were four runs where we didn't do a good job executing as a defense. We weren't very assignment-sound, whether it was we lost our eyes on the play or we didn't play to our help and those are the things that we've got to learn from, we've got to correct and we've got to be better this week when we play against Seattle."

How did DL DeForest Buckner do in that regard against the run?

"I thought DeForest had a really good game. I thought he played really hard and I thought he chased the ball and had some great hits downfield on some second effort plays that are great to see. And that's the first thing we preach to our guys is we're going to play relentless. So, anytime you can pull plays out and you know, DeForest and [NT Mike] Purcell had a couple, [DT] Quinton Dial had a couple. You get those big men who are chasing the ball downfield and hitting running backs, I mean, you put that on tape, that's good stuff. Offenses don't like to see that."

Seattle's offensive line, is that a unit you are looking to attack? They've had some struggles kind of out of the gate here.

"Well, I think they're going to get their right guard back and you know, they're a physical group. I'm still kind of evaluating the tape. It's been a pretty quick turnaround from Sunday to Tuesday. But, I wouldn't say that they're struggling as an offensive line group. I know that they haven't scored a lot of points, but they're moved the ball on people. So, again, I've got to watch it a little bit more before I can answer that question."

Do you rely on LB NaVorro Bowman a little bit more this week just because of his knowledge of the Seahawks?

"Yeah. I think we have a lot of guys in our room that have played a lot of game against the Seahawks and I think that they know what this game means. They know what this game's going to be like as far as from a physical standpoint and they know what it's like to play up there."

Back to the Olsen touchdown and Antoine. Does a guy like Antoine have even more freedom than most to make those pre-snap reads?

"I wouldn't say he has more freedom than most. We want all of our guys to study tape. We want all of our guys to take coaching. We want all of our guys to take shots when they see something. Antoine might be able to absorb a little bit more coaching and absorb a little bit more from film study because of his experience and how smart of a football player he is, but we want all of our guys to make plays and those guys know that everybody's going to have a chance to make plays in this system. Where you get in trouble is when guys try to make plays that they're not supposed to. If you just play within the system, you trust your coaching, everybody will make plays. That's how the system's built. It's not built for one guy to make all the plays. Everybody will have a shot."

You mentioned Wilhoite and Hodges in replacing Armstrong. Could S Jaquiski Tartt be a guy that could see an increased role and increased use of that three-safety set?

"Yeah. I mean, he's a guy that's a hell-of-a football player and we're going to keep trying to find ways to get him on the field. Again, each week, our game plans will be very specific as far as our personnel groups and again, we're still in the very beginning stages of building our game plan right now. So, I don't know. I don't know yet."

Numbers-wise, do you need another inside backer in that room or could someone like LB Marcus Rush potentially get elevated?

"No. I think at MIKE, we're two deep. I feel great about NaVorro obviously. I feel great about [LB] Nick Bellore and then like I said it was a three-man competition for a long time to see who was going to win that WILL linebacker position. We still have two guys that we feel are NFL starters."

* Transcript provided by the San Francisco 49ers


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