Editor's note: This is the final part in a series that spotlights three 49ers-Saints matchups to watch Sunday, 1:25 p.m., at the Superdome
[MATCHUP NO. 3: Pass defense vs. Jimmy Graham]
[MATCHUP NO. 2: Aldon Smith vs. Charles Brown]
49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman vs. Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan
Tale of the tape
Roman: 16th NFL season, third as coordinator
Ryan: 16th NFL season, 10th as coordinator
When Rob Ryan got fired after last season as Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator he was confident he would land on his feet rather quickly.
“I’ll be out of work for like five minutes,” Ryan said.
Five minutes turned into a month. And, perhaps, if the New Orleans Saints had to do it over again, they would’ve secured Ryan’s services on his accelerated timeframe.
A year ago, the Saints had the worst defense in the NFL. And with virtually the same cast of players returning, Ryan has brought his attitude and aggression to Sean Payton’s coaching staff.
Ryan has transformed the Saints into an attacking 3-4 defense. The Saints rank seventh in the NFL in total yards allowed, including the league’s third-ranked pass defense.
A year ago, under Steve Spagnuolo, the Saints allowed 7,042 yards -- the most in a single season in NFL history. Spagnuolo replaced Gregg Williams, who was suspended due to his role in the bounty scandal.
Ryan is the third Saints defensive coordinator in three years, and the defense has returned to a style that features a lot of blitz packages.
“If you go back two years and look at what they were doing and who they were doing it with, their personnel hasn’t changed a whole lot,” 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. “I think they’re back more to playing a style of defense similar to what they played two years ago.
“They’ve been very opportunistic. They play hard. They’re playing with a lot of confidence.”
The heat is on Roman this week after the 49ers’ struggles in their passing game reached a low point in a 10-9 loss to the Carolina Panthers. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick completed just 11 of 22 passes for 91 yards. He was also sacked six times for minus-45 yards.
Roman is considered one of the top offensive coordinators in the league and a possible head-coaching candidate. He is known for his creativity and abundance of formations in the run game.
Clearly, the 49ers are a run-first team behind a powerful offensive line and running back Frank Gore. However, the 49ers have struggled in the passing game. Roman said he accepts the blame for the team’s lack of production through the air.
“I think it starts with me and I think any time we don’t have success, it definitely starts with me,” Roman said. “And we’ve got to get it fixed. And it’s something we’re working hard to do, guys are working hard to do.
“And I don’t think there’s any question, any time we fall short, I’m looking at myself first and foremost and got to get things fixed.”
The 49ers’ overall plan of attack does not figure to change against the Saints. Gore is among the NFL leaders with 700 yards and seven touchdowns. And the 49ers will want to run the ball, chew up the clock and keep Saints quarterback Drew Brees off the field.
And the 49ers should have opportunities to gain yards on the ground against the Saints, who are surrendering an average of 5.0 yards per rushing attempt.
But the 49ers must be able to convert third downs through the air. A week ago, the 49ers were successful on just two of 13 third-down opportunities. Against the Panthers, the 49ers’ first two drives stalled when third-and-short run plays were stuffed.
“We’ve got to be better in the third-and-short situations,” Roman said. “We’ve been really, really good at it this year up until last week and we need to be better there. But, any time you’re in third-and-10-plus, it’s not where you want to be.”