49ers vs. Packers: Week 3 will be DeMeco Ryans’ biggest test yet
By Peter Panacy
49ers defensive coordinator has faced off against two sub-par offenses, but Week 3 against the Packers will prove to be an entirely different story.
San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans can be proud of the No. 10-ranked scoring defense in the NFL through two weeks of the season.
And he should be proud of the fact his defense held the Philadelphia Eagles to just 11 points in Week 2, especially facing off against what’s been the bane of Niners defense in recent years, mobile quarterbacks.
Despite some fourth-quarter desperation and weirdness in Week 1 against the Detroit Lions, Ryans has largely passed his first two tests in his new role.
Week 3 against quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the 1-1 Green Bay Packers, however, will be an entirely different challenge.
Yes, the Packers were blown out on the road by the New Orleans Saints in Week 1. But Week 1 games can be awfully weird and flukey. Just ask the 2016 San Francisco squad that blew out the Los Angeles Rams in Week 1 that year before going 2-14. Instead, Green Bay’s 35-17 Week 2 win over the Detroit Lions was probably more revealing.
Rodgers might not be as mobile as Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts. But Rodgers is still elusive enough out of the pocket at 37 years old. And despite the Packers still being without left tackle David Bakhtiari because of injury, Rodgers has been sacked only four times this season.
Roughly an average mark of sacks per game around the league.
Granted, Ryans’ pass rush might be the most formidable Rodgers has faced this season. Yet the future Hall of Famer has more than enough prowess to overcome that 49ers strength and then some.
Packers will look to expose 49ers run defense
The Lions were effective enough in Week 1 with interior runs versus Ryans’ wide-9 defensive alignment. While getting defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw back from a knee injury in Week 2 helped against Philly, the Niners are still allowing opponents an average of 5 yards per rush.
Certainly a juicy opportunity for Packers running back Aaron Jones, who had 115 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns last Monday.
It’ll be interesting to see how Ryans looks to curtail Jones, who’s also the best running back San Francisco has faced this season. With starting linebacker Dre Greenlaw out with a groin injury, increased pressure will be placed upon fellow backers Fred Warner and Azeez Al-Shaair to limit Jones’ gains on the ground and through the air. That’ll be a decisive X-factor for Sunday night.
DeMeco Ryans, 49ers must deploy more Cover 2 looks vs. Packers
Even though the 49ers have received some solid playmaking from rookie cornerback Deommodore Lenoir over the first two weeks, he’ll be in for a massively tough test against Rodgers’ favorite target, wide receiver Davante Adams in Week 3.
Adams, who torched Detroit for 121 yards and a touchdown in Week 2, saw himself winning many of the one-on-one opportunities he faced.
Adams versus Lenoir is another one of those X-factors, but Ryans shouldn’t be tempted to let the rookie handle his business on his own. No, Ryans would be wise to draw up more Cover 2 plays with both safeties back, even if it means leaving players like Jones to do more damage underneath.
If anything, the relative lack of other pass-catching weapons at Rodgers’ disposal might actually work in the Niners’ favor here. Especially if someone like Lenoir can count on additional over-the-top help from safeties like Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt.
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Yet Ryans has still stuck with plenty of Cover 1 and Cover 3 looks, which plays into Rodgers’ ability to fit passes into tight windows regardless of solid coverage. One-on-ones from Lenoir might have worked with Hurts and Lions quarterback Jared Goff trying to hit small windows and frequently missing.
But that won’t be the case with Rodgers.
Perhaps San Francisco’s pass rush alleviates the concern a bit here, as the four-man rush has been notably successful this far.
Still, Ryans and the defense can’t rely solely on that and will have to game plan accordingly in what’ll certainly be the first-year coordinator’s biggest challenge yet of 2021.