Film Review: Uncovering the weaknesses on San Francisco’s elite defense in the NFC Championship
Once an Eagles linebacker from 2012-2015, DeMeco Ryans will now coach against one of his former teams in the NFC Championship.
Ryans runs one of the most prolific defenses the league has seen in quite some time to pair with a dynamic offense. He, Kyle Shanahan, and the San Fran Francisco 49ers bring their squad full of playmakers to a hostile environment at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday afternoon to face the Eagles.
Dip n’ Dunk against zone in NFC Championship
Typically, DeMeco sticks to the scheme that ranked his defense top in the NFL: rushing four and playing zone coverage. Linebacker Dre Greenlaw earned PFF’s fifth-highest coverage grade (81.2) and graded Fred Werner as their 10th-highest coverage linebacker in the NFL (*minimum 250 defensive snaps played).
San Francisco drops into zone coverage on nearly 75% of passes and unleashes their dominant pass-rushers to collapse the pocket. The old saying “death by 1,000 paper cuts” applies to straining their zone using motion and route combinations that put defenders in difficult positions.
Dallas and Seattle utilized quick hitch, out, or flat routes combined while sending another receiver vertically downfield as methods for success on their first touchdown drives. Doing so should remove the linebacker or safety and provide space for AJ Brown and DeVonta Smith to get open against the 49ers’ outside cornerbacks in the NFC Championship.
Seattle 1st Touchdown Drive vs. San Fran
Dallas 1st Touchdown Drive vs. San Fran
Take advantage of cornerbacks in one-on-ones
Deommodore Lenoir and Charvarius Ward lock down the outside spots while Jimmie Ward mans the vital slot position. On the outside, they’ll switch between press and off coverage looks, but Ward is more susceptible in press situations while Lenoir can be tested when he’s giving receivers a lot of space underneath. If Shane Steichen and Jalen Hurts can surgically pick apart DeMeco Ryans’ Cover Four zone, he should move into a Cover One man-to-man scheme. That’s where Jalen Hurts and the chemistry he’s built with his receivers come into play.
Ward holds the title for the lowest PFF coverage grade amongst all defenders in the NFC Championship at 50.9 this postseason. The 49ers have played one more game than the Eagles, but Charvarius has allowed a 63.6% catch rate (7-for-11) for 113 yards (16.1 yards/catch) through San Francisco’s two playoff matchups.
In the Wildcard Round, DK Metcalf went for 88 yards on five catches and a touchdown against Ward.
Lenoir is more challenging to best in press coverage, but CeeDee Lamb took him to school when matched with him on the outside. The Dallas receiver caught all three targets against Lenoir for 69 yards and had a little fun breaking his ankles on a designed run.
If Shane Steichen does not become obsessed with home run shots, and Jalen Hurts methodically picks apart that zone defense, San Francisco is in trouble for the NFC Championship game. DeMeco Ryans will be forced to stick that zone or risk putting his cornerbacks on islands against one of the league’s top receiving duos.
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