Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

49ers defensive coordinator Eric Mangini plans to mix things up to contain Aaron Rodgers

The 49ers defense is going to try a multitude of different things in order to slow down Aaron Rodgers.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. - 49ers defensive coordinator Eric Mangini says he has a very specific plan of attack when it comes to slowing down Aaron Rodgers, and it has something to do with patterns.

"He’s very efficient. And it’s one of those unique things because even when you disrupt Aaron Rodgers, the plays that he can make outside the pocket, it’s different than some other guys," Mangini said Thursday. "So, when you do disrupt him, you need to disrupt him in a certain pattern to get the lowest probability of him then taking a broken play and turning it into a big play."

Mangini's new-look defense hasn't played well over the last two weeks, allowing 676 passing yards to Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Palmer while the 49ers were out-scored 90-25. 

The pattern Mangini mentioned has to do with waves of pressure. If Rodgers were to elude the first would-be pass rusher, there needs to be another player there to finish off the play. And if he escapes again, Mangini hopes the secondary can hold its coverage long enough to prevent a completion to one of Rodgers' talented targets.

Easier said than done, of course.

Over the last two games, both coming on the road, Mangini's defense tried a multitude of things to slow opposing quarterbacks. He's still trying to come up with the right mixture of pressures and coverages, while trying to avoid putting his secondary in compromising situations.

It all starts with disrupting Rodgers within the pocket, and preventing him from escaping. But making quarterbacks uncomfortable has been an area the front seven has struggled with in the early going.

“I don’t think there’s one thing that you can do throughout the course of the game with Aaron to get him," Mangini said. "Stuff in the first quarter is probably not going to be as effective in the second half after he’s seen it. So, you have to have a couple different pitches there. With the pass rush in general, it’s a balancing act.

"So, I would say the pattern is still the same of it can’t always be’s got to be those things mixed in. And, whatever you’re doing, you’ve got to do it better than you did it the week before.”

With starting defensive linemen Quinton Dial, Glenn Dorsey and Ian Williams combining for just eight sacks in their careers, the 49ers are relying extensively on their outside linebackers to provide the pass rush.

However, Ahmad Brooks and Aaron Lynch, who had 12 sacks combined last year, are rushing the passer less in 2015 than they did last season under former defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. According to Pro Football Focus, Brooks and Lynch are dropping into coverage on 40 percent of pass plays, which is more than double the rate of 2014.

The lack of pass rush has made things tough on the secondary.

"But, it’s collectively us getting better as a whole group, as opposed to, ‘OK, if we just fix this one thing we’re fine.’ And, you’re going to have variations," Mangini said.

The struggles to make quarterbacks uncomfortable might lead to an increased role for defensive linemen Tank Carradine and rookie Arik Armstead, who registered his first career sack Sunday in Arizona.

"(Armstead's) role each week could be a little bit different," Mangini said. "It could be 20 this week and 30 next week or vice versa. Some of it depends on how much (we're) in a substituted defense versus something else. Because, those guys have strengths that you play to and bigger groups versus smaller groups.”


Chris Biderman is the Editor-in-Chief of Niners Digest and covers the 49ers from their headquarters in Santa Clara. Chris has been writing about the team since the spring of 2013. The Ohio State alum received his Journalism degree in 2011 and has been working in sports media since 2008. Chris, a Santa Rosa, Calif. native, is also a contributor to the Associated Press covering sports throughout the Bay Area. You can follow Chris on Twitter here.

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