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Chalk Talk: Shanahan Discusses Turnovers

Andrew Hirsh:Obviously this last month has been hard on you guys, but it's not like you aren't moving the ball: Currently the offense is fifth in the league in yards per game. Given that fact and the way you're converting outside the red zone, do you feel like you're a few tweaks away from breaking through?

Kyle Shanahan: Yeah. You look at everything each week. I know we went up against a tough defense last Sunday, but I was happy with how we moved the ball. I was happy with how we ran the ball. We had a bunch of opportunities to score enough points, but we didn't capitalize. Every week you try to look into what those reasons were and we've been pretty consistent with those: it's been interceptions, fumbles and penalties. Those are things that, no matter what we do, no matter what our numbers are, you're not going to score enough points.

AH: Do you feel like there will be a point in the near future when the offense is forced into a high-pressure situation, converts and sees everything fall back into place?

KS: Always. It's going to happen. You watch every game around the league, and for the most part I'd say 90 percent of these games come down to a couple plays. That's how it's been for us lately, and we haven't gotten those plays done. If you look at those games, minus Houston, they came down to a couple plays. We got those done, and that's been the difference for us. It's a very fine line between winning and losing. You have to keep things in perspective; you can't just panic, especially when you're doing some good stuff. But we also understand we aren't going to win games if we don't fix the issues we've been dealing with.

AH: When you identify one of those issues—like Matt Ryan's pick in the end zone, for example—what kind of process do you go through to fix it?

KS: You have to make sure you take it one play at a time. When you go through something like this when it happens week after week, you start to press more. You want to score more than anybody; Matt wants to score more than anybody. When you score and feel like you've got it going and you get a penalty that pushes you back, it's like, 'Now we have to score.' We messed that up. We had a penalty and missed an opportunity. We needed three points there, that's just what you have to learn from it. It's a deal Matt knows that he's been through plenty of times. Everybody will make a throw like that once or twice a year. Unfortunately it came at a time when we couldn't have it happen, so it gets magnified, but it's not something Matt and I have to talk about a lot. That's pretty much Football 101 for him.


AH:** Based on what I've seen, it looks like Ryan is doing the vast majority of things right, but when he slips up, it happens at really crucial points. Can that, to an extent, be attributed to bad luck?

KS: I think at first it starts as bad luck. But the more stuff goes (wrong), you start to press. And sometimes when you press, you're not thinking as clearly; it's hard to be at the top of your game. It happens to all of us—coaches and players. The way you get out of that is you have to be tough-minded. You have to fight through it and try not let that adversity affect you. We have to get this changed, and the only way to get this changed is to score more points.

AH: Something I've noticed about Ryan over the years is his ability to rebound after making a big mistake. Rarely does he let an ugly interception derail an entire game. How has he's been able to do that?

KS: I think it's because he's a tough guy. Matt makes mistakes, but he's not scared to fail, either. Guys who are scared to fail usually end up failing again. Once Matt makes a mistake, he wants to get out there as bad as anyone. It's been a tough week on us, and the only thing that's going to make it better is for us to get to Sunday. We can't wait to get there so we have an opportunity to fix this.

AH: One topic I've been thinking about recently is sample size. If a baseball team loses four games in a row because of avoidable errors, most fans will let things play out before going nuts. Obviously in football, where you have a much shorter schedule, everything is put under the microscope. Ryan isn't at his best right now, but I don't think it's fair to say he's falling off because of one rough patch. He has a great track record and, based on QB age curves, there's no reason to believe he's deteriorating because he's 30. So I guess my question is, do you think the nature of football can lead to overreaction when it comes to small samples like November?

KS: Yeah, definitely. That's why I think this is the most exciting sport there is: every game matters. There's only 16 of them, and when there's games you believe you should have won but gave away, those are tough to rebound from. I think we've had a few too many of those lately. You can only have so many of those on the year, and we have to make up for them. The way to do that is taking care of the football.

AH: Along those lines, Tevin Coleman's fumbles have been troublesome. How has he responded to the adversity he's faced?

KS: He's been good. It's frustrating for him, you know? He makes a great play, makes a huge run and we're down near the red zone again, and there's a guy behind him. Tevin is a very fast guy; he made a lot of big plays in college. What he has to learn, and what I think he's learned the hard way, is in the NFL, there's always someone behind you. I don't think he totally believed that because no one's been behind him his entire life. No one caught him. But in the NFL, the're going to. There's going to be pursuit. He thought he made that last guy miss and he was opening himself up to go score, and the linebacker made a hell of a play. It's something he has to realize and, unfortunately, he's learned that the hard way. It has to get corrected.


AH:** Tevin seems like a pretty resolute guy, but whenever a rookie makes a number of key turnovers, there's going to be concern about the kid's psyche. As his coordinator, what do you do to make sure he maintains the confidence he needs to develop properly?

KS: I make sure he knows how much I believe in him. I think Tevin has a chance to be a great running back, and I think the only thing that will hold him back is the turnovers. Anyone who has the ability that he has, the toughness he has—I think he's going to have a hell of a career. But he has to fix the turnovers. He knows that as much as I do, just from being honest with him. When he does correct it, I think you'll see his confidence go to another level.

AH: It's always important to stay even-keeled throughout the ups and downs of an NFL season. How do you, as someone who's constantly open to widespread praise and criticism, make sure the noise doesn't become a factor?

KS: I've gotten better with experience. It's human nature to try to hear stuff, but you can't let that affect you. You have to work as hard as you can and trust in yourself and your preparation. You've got to call what you think is going to work. Earlier in the year, we got a lot of praise, and I tried my hardest not to list to that, because I know when you get a lot of praise, it's way too much. When you're getting killed, it's a little too much, also. So it's somewhere in-between, and you try to remind yourself why you coach. It's not to get told that you're really good or really bad, it's because you love what you do, you love the sport.

AH: I'm sure having a longtime coach for a father helped you learn how to navigate those waters.

KS: I've seen him go through it, so I had to deal with it just as a son growing up. You had to go to school after your dad's team got killed and everyone's killing you about your dad and you want to fight everybody and stick up for him. So you get thick skin as you get older. I've been through it my whole life; I support my family doing it. And once I became a coach myself, it started to happen to me, and my wife and kids go through it now. It's part of the business. There's lots of ways to handle it, and I've always been told tough times don't last, but tough people do. If you can be tough, you'll get through it, and you're going to be a better person for it.

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