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Gold Standard: How will DeMeco Ryans attack Justin Fields?

Does last year’s matchup tell us anything?

While a tremendous amount of focus will be on Trey Lance on Sunday, there’s another quarterback from the 2021 draft class playing in the game that deserves just as much attention. Last year when the 49ers played the Bears, Justin Fields was able to make some big plays against them. On today’s Gold Standard podcast, Levin Black and I explored how DeMeco Ryans and company will attack him on Sunday.

Last year, the 49ers were primarily a zone team. According to TruMedia, they played zone coverage about 72 percent of the time, man coverage about 21 percent of the time, and a hybrid coverage about 7 percent of the time in 2021. I expect that trend to continue against the Bears because Justin Fields is an incredible runner.

He gashed the 49ers for more than 100 yards on ten carries in their matchup last season, and man coverage will always open up more space for a quarterback who can run. With just one major receiving threat in Darnell Mooney, there won’t be much pressure on the secondary.

Luckily for the 49ers, they have incredibly fast linebackers who are also good in pass coverage. San Francisco could have the fastest linebacking corps in the league between Fred Warner, Azeez Al-Shaair, and Dre Greenlaw (assuming he plays). In addition, by sticking with zone coverage primarily, they will be more ready and able to limit Fields’ gains on the ground.

Up front, the strength of the team’s front four will be readily apparent. Chicago’s offensive line was horrible last year, and they didn’t add a difference maker this offseason to help in that area. On the other hand, last year, the Niners generated pressure in 2.5 seconds or less on 25.8% of opponent dropbacks, so there is little doubt that the 49ers will be able to get to Fields without having to bring a ton of extra blitzers. That will leave more players available to make life miserable for Fields down the field all day long.

This is a game where things are set up to work exactly as DeMeco Ryans and company intended. Pressure with four and drop back into zone, limit the space for Fields to operate on the ground, and tighten throwing windows through the air. Unless the offense or special teams are turning the ball over relentlessly, the 49ers should be able to have their way on Sunday.

Other topics in today’s show

  • Why it matters that Trey Lance isn’t a captain (3:16)
  • Kyle Shanahan could have made him captain and chose not to (7:11)
  • Bears preview: How will DeMeco Ryans attack Justin Fields? (19:48)
  • Will Shanahan take off the training wheels on offense? (22:02)
  • How much will the weather be a factor? (23:11)
  • Will we finally see the Trey Lance offense unveiled? (25:13)
  • Season-long preview (31:09)
  • Why Jimmie Ward’s injury could have a massive impact on the year (32:00)
  • Where are the 49ers’ losses this year? (34:14)
  • Places on the schedule where the Trey Lance narrative will flip during the year (37:18)
  • Who wins the NFC West? (40:45)
  • A weird quirk about the schedule that works in the Niners’ favor (45:30)