Turnovers. That’s all anyone seemed to talk about today at the 49ers’ facility. Alex Smith’s streak of 185 passes without an interception. NaVorro Bowman’s crucial fourth quarter interception of Aaron Rodgers that prefaced a touchdown run from Frank Gore on the very next play. And there’s always the supposedly unsustainable +28 turnover differential from last season, in part due to a turnover-free streak that has reached six straight (regular season) games.
The interception streak
Jim Harbaugh: “Well, it’s a great streak to have. That’s one that any quarterback, any quarterback, would be proud to have. And a lot goes into that. Talent. Taking care of the ball. Knowing where everybody is on the field. Knowing defenses. And that’s a heck of a streak. Like to keep that one going.”
Smith: “There’s a lot of different statistics, and they all have different correlations to winning, and the turnover battle is the number one. In the history of the NFL, it’s the strongest correlation to winning and losing, is the turnover ratio. We understand that. You can’t go out and play like that. Can’t just go out there and be conservative and try not to turn the ball over and expect to win games. But the goal is to still go out and try and execute and execute well and win the turnover battle. And we’re all doing that.”
(Note: Ruthless Sports Guy wrote a post on his site about the incompletions Smith threw on Sunday — there weren’t many.)
Harbaugh Q&A (he wasn’t especially expansive during this exchange):
On the flip side of that, obviously the defense is getting turnovers and takeaways. That’s why you guys are winning the turnover margin. LB NaVorro Bowman gets that reception against Green Bay. And we’ve seen him warm up these practices, getting balls thrown at them. Is that just something that you guys work on every single day since you’ve started offseason program?
“In some form or fashion, yes.”
And like it is on offense, is the same message preached on defense about the turnovers and that has to be done?
We see defensive assistant/quality control coach Peter Hansen throwing them the ball every day. He can wing it really, really, really well. Do you think that is nice for developing their hands against a guy like Packers QB Aaron Rodgers?
He’s what, 6’8”? That’s a lot of arm speed to get going, right?
“It is. It is. Yeah, he might be the tallest coach in all of football.”
(Photos of Hansen working with the linebackers can be found at the bottom of this post.)
Bowman: “I’m a defensive player so not too many balls get thrown my way, but whenever they do I try to catch them and we work at that every single day.” (That was a response to a question I asked — the 18-second video of my question and Bowman’s response can be seen below.)
The turnover margin in 2011 was just a fluke … or was it?
Harbaugh on whether the 49ers are suspicious about six games in a row without a turnover, and the 49ers’ commitment to taking care of the ball: “No, we’re not superstitious. In fact, we’re superstitious about not being superstitious. As far as taking care of the ball though, that’s ball security. And how that relates to your team being successful, we’re very serious about that … Tom Rathman does talk about it daily, and coaches it daily. And does a fabulous job, or as good as job as any of us have ever seen done in that regard. And I think that the men that are handling the ball, and Tom Rathman, all deserve a lot of credit there. Again, a streak we’d like to keep going.”
Bowman: “We have this thing called Takeaway Thursday where we try to get as many turnovers as we can and see where we end up and go into the game with that type of mindset … It’s just being ball hawking. Trying to get the balls out. Those are the things that go into the game and if we practice it, it’ll show up in the game … We’ve came up with probably or 9 (turnovers) in a three-hour practice. Just everyone running to the ball. The coaches do a great job setting up the drills that get our mindset focused on that.”
When I saw Bowman grab that pick off Rodgers, it looked so familiar. That’s because during the parts of practice that are open to the media (about the first half hour or so, which consists of position-specific drills), Bowman and the rest of the linebackers often catch passes from close to point blank range from Hansen. Of all the linebackers, Bowman seems to have the best hands from what I’ve seen (which is why I asked the question in the video above).
Here are some photos from today’s practice that show what I’m talking about…
Larry Grant (one of the few drops):
(He caught it.)