Eric Mangini said he has a better grasp of his personnel headed into a Week 11 road matchup with the Seattle Seahawks.
Following a well-timed bye week, the defensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers commented on what he's learned about his group nine games into the regular season.
"With our guys, they work at it and there's a lot of smart guys and they care," Mangini said on Thursday. "So I feel very comfortable with whatever we put in that we are going to execute it."
"And some of it's not just what you can and can't call," he added. "It's how specific you can get versus each opponent, the range that you can have."
Prior to Sunday's road challenge in Seattle, Mangini's group ranks 27th in total defense, allowing 392.4 yards per game and 24.8 points per game on the season. The unit, however, has allowed 21.7 points per game over its last six contests, including 20 points to the Seahawks in a Week 7 home defeat.
Mangini's rested defense is coming off an impressive home victory over the Atlanta Falcons before the bye week. Atlanta's potent offense produced 16 points and 302 yards in a one-point loss.
"I was really proud of the way that those guys that went in responded," Mangini said.
Now as the defense switches gears to a rematch with Seattle, Mangini said the bye week was used to examine core coverages and defensive fronts. The defensive staff also broke down plays that contributed to breakdowns and worsened the group's statistical rankings. The coordinator also pointed to looking back at concepts that were practiced in the offseason and deciding if they're worth being used in the remaining seven games of the regular season.
"It's weighing all that out and thinking, 'OK, short term and long term, what do we like for Seattle, and then what do we like over the next block of games?'" Mangini said.
In Week 7 against Seattle, the 49ers quarterback Russell Wilson a season-high five times and recorded a pair of interceptions. A problem area, however, was run defense. Marshawn Lynch rushed for a season-high 27 carries and surpassed the 100-yard mark (122 yards) for the only time this season. He also added a 1-yard touchdown plunge in the first quarter on his third goal-line attempt.
Lynch's production, however, has been on the decline this season due to nagging injuries. His yards per carry average this season is 3.8, which is .5 yards lower than his career average. From Mangini's perspective, there hasn't been a drop off in production from the nine-year pro.
"He's strong," the 49ers coordinator said. "He's got a great stiff-arm. If you try to tackle him high, he'll throw you off, he'll bat you off. He's tough. He's aggressive. His numbers, I mean, that could be a lot of different things. I don't know exactly what it is, but in terms of the player that he is, he's hard to deal with, and he brings an attitude to running the football that not all backs have."
Lynch is far from the only play-maker Mangini's defense will have to contend with on Sunday. Wilson's comfort level out of the pocket can lend itself to big plays in the run and passing game.
"You've got to stop (Lynch), and then you've got to stop Russell and there's a lot of different problems," Mangini noted. "He drops back, he can throw it deep, he can move around, extend plays. So if you just focus on (Lynch), there's problems down the field that they get you with."
San Francisco's defense enters Sunday with an enhanced secondary. With Tramaine Brock (shin) and Kenneth Acker (concussion) both inactive against Atlanta, the 49ers relied on Marcus Cromartie and Dontae Johnson to defend the perimeter. This week, however, Brock and Acker have returned to practice and appear to be on track to play in Seattle.
So how will San Francisco utilize its growing group of cornerbacks in Week 11?
"They're all getting reps and prepping like they're going to play and they're going to play a lot," the coach said.
The last key storyline for the 49ers defense this week is NaVorro Bowman's return to Seattle. Sunday will be the first time Bowman has played on the road against the division rival since he tore two ligaments in his left knee in the 2013 NFC Championship game.
Mangini said he hasn't approached Bowman about the subject this week, but the coordinator respects the significance of the return.
"I don't know what the range of emotions is there," Mangini said. "It wasn't really field related, it was one of those types of things that's freaky and sometimes happen and there's no great explanation for why it happens."
Bowman is the NFL's third-leading tackler with 88 stops as of Friday morning.
He'll look to add to his statistics, all while San Francisco attempts to deploy its tactical changes from assessments made in the bye week.