(Did Collins' injury pop up on Monday?)
Nick Collins hurt his shoulder in the game, so it was something that revealed itself Monday. I anticipate that he'll go though. He's going to need some relief from practice time this week.
(When you watched the way San Francisco ran the ball on Monday night, what gives you cause for concern?)
No. 1, to lose a player the caliber of Frank Gore and continue to have the production, I think that says a lot about what their run-blocking unit was able to do. It's something that we've looked and I'm sure it will probably be a starting point when they come into Lambeau Field. They did a very good job and I think anytime you get a defense on its heels like that and stick with it, you run into those types of games. The 49ers, they were very impressive running the ball on Monday night.
(Where is Nance at in his recovery?)
Dimitri is getting better. I anticipate that he may be cleared tomorrow. That's the timeline that we are on as far as the information that I was given today before practice. We'll see if he is able to go at practice tomorrow.
(You are back home for the first time since Week 9. How important is that since you have had some success at Lambeau?)
No. 1, you have to win your home games. Everybody knows that, especially this time of year. We feel it is an advantage for us to A, play at home, and B, to play at home this time of year. It's December football. There really are no re-dos. To be able to play at noon in front of our crowd, I know everybody is excited to get back home and have that type of environment that we are blessed to have here with our fans. We're looking forward to it.
(Is Chillar scheduled for surgery?)
He is going to (get) a second opinion and the surgery has not been scheduled yet as far as I am aware of. I had a chance to visit with Brandon yesterday. Anytime you lose players to IR, you never want to see that happen. Brandon hurt that shoulder in the Chicago game in Week 3, and it's really a credit to him on how he fought through week in and week out to get back out on the field and he finally just couldn't do it anymore after the tackle on the kickoff coverage there in Atlanta. Spencer re-injured his hamstring that he injured over there in Detroit, but I can't say enough about Brandon Chillar, the way he fought through to get back on the field for us.
(How do you feel about your backup linebackers, Wilhelm, Walden, Francois and Briggs?)
I like the way they prepare. Walden and Briggs have come in here and really brought a little bit of juice to our locker room. Francois, I can't say enough about him. He can play inside and outside. Those guys are preparing and it's where we are as a football team. No. 1, they have bought into the system, the way we play here, and as long as they do what we ask them to do and we've put them in positions that they can do those things, they definitely can contribute to our team. I'm glad they are here.
(Was Gordy brought up because of his special-teams abilities?)
We're excited about him both special teams and as a corner. He has definitely got some toughness. I really like his work ethic. He has the speed you are looking for. He would obviously start on special teams if given an opportunity to be up on the 45. He has earned this opportunity. We have history of bringing our players up off the practice squad and this is another example of that.
(Can you explain why the Packers have had so much success against the 49ers?)
So much success? How many times have we played them? We played them last year, and I guess twice (also in 2006).
(But it has been lopsided over the last decade…)
I remember back in the late 1990s it was such a great rivalry, two excellent football teams. Last year we were able to play very well coming out of the gate and they came on in the second half. The game out there three years ago was a totally different situation. They are a very talented football team. You have to be impressed with what you see on film and that's really what we go by. They have the opportunity to challenge you in all three phases, so this will be an excellent contest for us.
(In what ways have you seen Quarless develop since you got him?)
Quarless is really going through what you watch most of your rookies go through hopefully within the first year. Sometimes it takes an offseason for your rookie players to get to the level first of all of getting in shape. Get in pro football shape to be able to play a 35-45 play game. Also from a mental challenge to be able to play in all of the different personnel groups that we play in and also to play all of the different positions. He has really picked it up very quickly. You could see that throughout the spring and training camp. He has fought through a shoulder injury also that occurred in the Washington game. So I've been very impressed, just with the leaps and bounds that he has really made here in the last two or three weeks. Smart, has a lot of ability, and look for him to continue to improve. He has earned his opportunity.
(What is your level of concern on special teams after losing guys like Chillar and Havner?)
It's no secret when you have injuries the first unit that is challenged is your special teams and it's been going on every week for us. This is our 12th game of the season and we are going to line up with our 12th different punt unit. That's just part of the challenge. I am very confident in the way they are coached. These guys are putting extra time in. They are here on their off day. They are here Tuesday night. The Tuesday night meeting is growing and growing each week. The commitment is there. The challenge of the 49ers is that they have some very good special-teams players. There are some things that they are doing uniquely well this year, but I have confidence in our players. It's just a part of stepping up and it's part of the character that we have expressed all season.
(How would you describe the progress that Tramon Williams has made since he got here?)
I can't say enough about Tramon. I am just so proud of him as an individual, and I think he is an excellent example for Frank Zombo, Sam Shields and Nick McDonald. For a young man not to be drafted to coming in here and taking full advantage of the resources in the offseason program. Tramon is that example that you point to. He has done everything that we have asked him to do from a professional standpoint. He has taken full advantage of it. He has earned every opportunity that was given to him and he has done something with it. I take a lot of pride in seeing a man like Tramon get paid and accomplish what he did financially this week. I feel very good about Tramon Williams and just the path that he has taken. I look forward to moving forward with him.
(Was it tackling that made him a complete player?)
Coming off of last season, that was his No. 1 goal to improve and he has definitely done that so far this season. It was something that was emphasized really as our whole football team we felt we needed to be better tacklers, and that's illustrated every day at practice. So he wasn't alone in that category, but he has definitely improved that part of his game.
(Aside from that really windy game at Chicago, do you feel like there is no environment that you can't play your spread game and pass the ball?)
The environment is part of it. Wind to me is always the challenge in the game because bad weather, you can easily make the argument that the advantage goes to the passing team because you know where you are going and so forth. When you say bad weather, there is different levels as we know playing in Green Bay, Wisconsin. But in the coldest games, you go back to the NFC Championship Game, I didn't think the ability to throw was a factor that day. So if you can throw the ball on that evening, I think you can throw it at any time outside of the wind games. But I'm not looking to run 'Big 5' 20 plays a game. We'll make that real clear. It's nice to have that as part of your offense.
(Does it blow you away a little bit what Tramon has done?)
It's a great story. You all go back to his college experience. We were able to pick him up from his experience there in Houston. Most of you were there; when he was on the practice squad you could see the ability. Then you get in the classroom, he is the guy sitting in the front row, he has his book open taking notes. He is here in the offseason. He was blessed with a lot of God-given ability, but sometimes it takes individuals a little longer than others. He is a testament to hard work. His work ethic is why he is where he is today.
(Is it more comforting as a coach at this stage of the season to be No. 1 in fewest points allowed rather than yards allowed? Do you look at that more?)
Well, that's the most important statistic in our view. That was our feeling coming into the season. We did some things from a statistical standpoint that were very positive last year, as you've already stated, with the yards, particularly the run last year. But points is what it's all about. Defensively we're No. 1, offensively we're eighth as far as scoring points. You want to be, … that's the category you want to be No. 1 in. But the most important statistic is our win-loss record, so we have the four losses. We've definitely made progress with our defense, but there's also other factors there too. Our field position is much better this year, and when our defense plays to a productive offense, so it's really how it all fits together. No. 1 in points, that's what we're looking for from our defense.
(You've said there's a lot of football left, and a lot of things can change quickly. Is the margin of error for all NFC teams shrinking because there is such a logjam?)
Frankly, I don't really even address what's going on around us. We can just look back to the video of our past game. The margin of error, that's a great picture of the difference between winning and losing in this league. The little things turn into big things, and the little things turn into real big things when you get into December football. We're really focused on improving ourselves, the things that we didn't do well in the area of fundamentals, whether it was blocking, tackling, taking care of the football, taking the football away, making the proper adjustments. That's really what we're focused on. We just need to fine-detail our work. We've done a lot of positive things as a football team, but it's the little things that have caught us in the four losses.
(Is that what you point to as a whole? You and Aaron get asked a lot about the record in close games, and it's not always about what happens at the end of games. But is that what you harp on when you look at those records?)
There's so many different ways to address it. The talk to the team today was really off of what we talked about last week – the ability to go from good to great, and the factors that are involved in that, and it always points back to the fundamentals of football. People may get frustrated that I'm redundant up here, but at the end of the day that's how you play football. You have to block the other guy, you have to finish the block, you have to get off that block when you're on defense, you have to tackle, you have to break tackles, you have to take the football away, you have to take care of the football. In pro football there are so many adjustments that are made on every single play – the communication and the exactness, the details of that. Those are the four things we focus on, and that's never going to change, as long as I'm standing here.
(So when you look at the records in close games, is there something fluky to it, or is there something symptomatic?)
I think I just answered the question. It's the difference between making 10 plays as opposed to only making five. It's nothing fluky about it. Football is football. You don't line up on Sunday afternoon and you're given one opportunity to win the game. There's hundreds of different types of opportunities that go on inside that game, and you can break it down by play. Did you win the play or did you lose the play? And when you're winning 60 percent plus of your plays, you should be winning those games. There was a lot of offensive production this past week, but the bottom line is we didn't get in the end zone enough. The things that kept us out of the end zone, that's what we concentrate on, for example.
(San Francisco quarterback Troy Smith is pretty mobile. Rodgers had some important runs against the Falcons. Michael Vick has had a lot of success. Is the day here where a quarterback in the NFL is not only going to be judged by his passing but his ability as a runner?)
Are you referring to his quarterback rating?
(Just in terms of being able to get a starting job in the NFL.)
I think it already is part of it. No different than … I know when I evaluate a quarterback coming out of college, I give him an in-pocket grade and an out-of-the-pocket grade, and his overall athletic ability, because you're always looking for where he is in his development and what he has to offer and how far you can take him in those two areas. I think that day is already here. I think the Randall Cunninghams and the guys before, Steve Young and the ones before have created that awareness of the importance of a quarterback that can move his feet to make plays to win games.
(Do you get the sense the offensive line has some unfinished business after last Sunday?)
Well, the offensive line did not feel good about the run performance. I think every one of them would echo that if you asked them. But the other part of it, the pass protection, was outstanding. When you're spread out that much, when you've got open-end tackles 60, 70, 80 percent of the game, that says a lot about your offensive line from a pass-protection standpoint. The most important thing for an offense is to move the ball down the field and score points. We were going up and down the field. We had four drives plus-80 yards. That part of it, the offensive line did a very good job. There's always going to be a situation or a play that you want to improve on week in and week out. But the bottom line is scoring points. We didn't score enough points this past week, and we need to learn from that and carry it into San Francisco, because we're going to have to score points Sunday.
(In the close losses this year, you seemed to come out of the Chicago game thinking you had won 60 percent of the plays …)
Well, it's kind of hard to do. You may win the play, but if they call a penalty on you, you can't say OK, we won it, but that was a bad call. I'd like to say that, but if they call it, it counts.
(But you felt like you dominated that game …)
We felt we were extremely productive in that game.
(How about the other three?)
Washington … Washington was a little bit of a different game. We had a chance to win that game. I don't know why we're going down memory lane. We should be talking about the 49ers here. This past week we won in certain areas that were highly productive, and there were other areas we didn't. They won the run matchup on both sides of the ball. I think you can definitely say that. But in the passing game, I wouldn't say that was true for us. So, you go through that. But not as high as probably the Chicago game. That would probably be the highest of the four losses if you're looking for a win-loss percentage. I don't carry it around in my pocket.
(How do you think Vernon Davis is playing right now? What kind of problem does he pose?)
I think last year's game is an excellent illustration of what we think about Vernon because he did such a great job in that second half. The vertical big plays that he hit on us really gave the 49ers an opportunity to get back in the game. We were winning I think 23-3 at halftime. He's a unique player. What I like about him is he's tough and physical in the run game part of it too. He's not just a receiver. He can really run. He's a powerful man, and he has the ability, when you can stretch a defense vertically like he does, it not only gives himself opportunities, but it makes the guys on the outside better. I'm a big believer in the fastest way to the end zone is through the post. You can never have enough big guys that can play inside and stretch it, and I think he's definitely one of the premier big guys in the league to play inside and get vertical.
(San Francisco really struggled early this season. What have they done to turn it around?)
I think Troy, you really have to point to the quarterback. I think he's given them a spark. He's run around and made some plays, and that's really probably the difference between them winning and losing early in the year. Defensively, I've been impressed with the job Greg Manusky's done this year. We were watching third down right before practice with the players. They're ranked seventh in the league on third down. They still do a very good job on third down. That's going to be an area we need to play very well, specifically in the third and 1-to-6, 1-to-7 range. I think they do a very good job there. There's a lot of very positive components of this football team. They've got a lot of very good players. But I would have to say the difference is probably the quarterback. I think he's sparked them.
(Where does Donald Lee stand?)
Donald Lee will be up this week, and he's ready to go.