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49ers' defense needs to be in a 'zone' against Aaron Rodgers

The 49ers need to get some pressure from Arik Armstead and their defensive front against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The blitz obviously worked for the San Francisco 49ers in their season-opening 20-3 win against the Minnesota Vikings, the 49ers harassing Teddy Bridgewater with five sacks.

Showing it and then attempting to drop into coverage against the Pittsburgh Steelers? Not so much in a 43-18 defeat.

And last week’s defensive look du jour, a zone defense, was picked apart by the Arizona Cardinals in a 47-7 rout.

"That’s kind of the downside of the zone; you’re not close to people," 49ers free safety Eric Reid said this week. "But we’ve got to do a better job of breaking to people on the throw, a little better job of getting pressure on the quarterback, just so the quarterback isn’t so comfortable."

The 49ers have had only one sack since the opener -- rookie defensive lineman Arik Armstead getting to Carson Palmer last week.

"Aaron Rodgers is obviously dangerous if he’s comfortable in the pocket," Reid added, "so that’s something that we need to do this week."

Rodgers, the reigning league MVP, has thrown 10 touchdown passes without an interception thus far. In fact, he was thrown 159 straight passes without one. So yeah, the 49ers’ revamped defense has its work cut out for itself.

Especially if it employs a zone defense against a veteran quarterback like Rodgers.

"Well, it’s any zone, there’s multiple zones, so you go running down the line," said 49ers defensive coordinator Eric Mangini. "Each one has different things that you have to do, and it’s everybody working together. It’s a function of not just the back end and the holes in the zone and the spots where you’re weak, but it’s the front end too, being able to generate enough pass rush, whether you bring four or five or three. And it’s those two things working together.

"It’s also not giving away which one you’re in, because once they know -- Cover 3, you're going to throw certain things, Cover 2 you’re going to throw certain things -- so it’s post-snap and it’s the coordination of the front and the back end improving."

Like any defense, a pass rush’s best friend is strong pass coverage, and pass coverage’s best friend is a strong pass rush.

The 49ers had neither in Arizona, but need to have one or the other against the Packers.

"Seems like every play there’s something that we could have tweaked, that would have given us a better chance on that play," Reid said. "But like I said, we’re just going to keep working at it and get the kinks worked out."