Defensive coordinators play big role in Rams-49ers rivalry

Oct 1, 2022, 10:56 PM | Updated: Oct 2, 2022, 10:57 am
FILE - Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris watches players prepare for an NFL foot...

FILE - Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris watches players prepare for an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals on Oct. 3, 2021, in Inglewood, Calif. Morris is facing the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday just over one season after he led them for 11 games as their interim head coach. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong, File)

(AP Photo/Kyusung Gong, File)

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — The play-calling head coaches get lots of the attention around the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers.

But the success that Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan have had as coaches in Los Angeles and San Francisco has had as much to do with the play of their defenses.

Those performances have made the coordinators of the two units among the more prominent candidates for head coaching jobs soon with the Rams’ Raheem Morris looking for a second shot at a full-time job and the Niners’ DeMeco Ryans looking for his first.

But before the coaching carousel starts up again there are more immediate focuses with the two coordinators and teams vying for NFC West supremacy heading into Monday night’s showdown between the Rams (2-1) and 49ers (1-2).

For Ryans, the challenge will be devising a defense to slow down Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp.

“Those guys are always in sync and they’re always on the same page, which makes it tough as a defense to defend those guys because they’re so good, they’re so precise at what they do that they make it a really tough challenge,” he said.

For Morris, the challenge will be dealing with the diverse run game from Shanahan that can turn the smallest of mistakes into a game-changing play.

“The mental stamina it takes to get those things done, that’s the type of game it is,” Morris said. “That’s what I mean by it’s Niner week. All of those things matter, all those things will be in play.”

Ryans has made a rapid rise up the coaching ranks following a stellar, 10-year career as a linebacker in the NFL. He has risen from a quality control coach in San Francisco in 2017 to inside linebackers coach the following year to defensive coordinator the past two.

His ability to design a defense, motivate and teach his players, and know the right moments to make a call has helped San Francisco rank in the top five the past two seasons in yards per play allowed (4.94) and points per game allowed (20.1).

Niners linebackers coach Johnny Holland, Ryans’ position coach in Houston his first five seasons, saw this coming.

“I knew immediately after about a month being around him that he was going to be a special player and got some special talents as a leader,” Holland said. “It’s not a big surprise what he’s doing. He’s such a sharp guy, a leader and a lot of energy and understands people. So the sky’s the limit for him. He’s going to do very well and eventually he’s going to be a head coach.”

Ryans has devised a defense that has made life difficult on Stafford and the Rams and might have been good enough to get to the Super Bowl last season had Jaquiski Tartt held onto an interception.

With a fearsome pass rush led by Nick Bosa that is able to get pressure without blitzing, the Niners made life difficult for Los Angeles last season.

“They’re really complete,” Stafford said. “They do a great job of affecting the quarterback in the pocket, do a great job of stopping the run, keeping a roof on the defense. Nobody’s really gotten behind the safeties so they do a really nice job of that. Really well-rounded defense, super physical, really well big challenge for us.”

Ryans had his first opportunity to interview for a head coaching job last offseason, but pulled out of consideration in Minnesota to remain in San Francisco.

Morris was also a candidate for that job as he hopes to one day get a second chance after a failed three-year run in Tampa Bay from 2009-11.

Morris got a shot as interim coach in Atlanta in 2020, but his work with the Rams as coordinator the past two years has raised his stock as he has helped get the most out of stars such as Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey to help Los Angeles win the Super Bowl last season.

Shanahan, who worked with Morris in Tampa Bay and Washington, said the way Morris moves his star players such as Donald, Ramsay and linebacker Bobby Wagner around makes life difficult on offenses.

“It’s just switching people up, testing your rules, all that stuff, which is tough when they have those guys out there, how they mix it up,” he said.


More AP NFL coverage: and

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Brazil's Neymar, from right, celebrates with team mates Lucas Paqueta, Raphinha and Vinicius Junior...
Associated Press

Brazil dancing again after big win at World Cup

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — The joy — and the dancing — are back for five-time champion Brazil at the World Cup. The big win over South Korea on Monday secured Brazil a berth in the quarterfinals in Qatar. It also restored the team’s confidence after a tumultuous start to the tournament in which the Seleçao […]
1 day ago
Paulo Dybala runs during a training session of Argentina's national soccer team in Doha, Saturday, ...
Associated Press

Paulo Dybala, the Serie A standout not needed by Argentina

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Paulo Dybala posted a photo of himself on Instagram laughing along with his Argentina teammate Lionel Messi, with the accompanying words: “We carry on with a smile! Let’s go.” Argentina might be getting ever closer to a place in the World Cup final but, on a purely personal level, the tournament […]
1 day ago
Maryland head coach Kevin Willard signals a play in to his team during the second half of an NCAA c...
Associated Press

No. 13 Maryland off to fast start with marquee games ahead

Kevin Willard believed his new Maryland team would get off to a good start. But this has been a bit more than even Willard expected early in his tenure after a successful run at Seton Hall. “I didn’t envision this,” Willard said. “I’m not going to lie.” The Terrapins (8-0, 1-0 Big Ten) made the […]
1 day ago
FILE - Wilt Chamberlain of the Philadelphia Warriors holds a sign in the dressing room in Hershey, ...
Associated Press

Analysis: In the NBA, 100 points no longer assures anything

If the NBA has a magic number, it’s 100. Wilt Chamberlain’s single-game scoring record. A perfect shooting percentage. And the rule pretty much seemed to be that if a team scored 100 points in a game, it probably was going to walk off the floor as a winner. Not anymore. Put simply, 100 doesn’t guarantee […]
1 day ago
Deion Sanders speaks after being introduced as the new head football coach at the University of Col...
Associated Press

Deion Sanders’ arrival swipes buzz from bungling Broncos

DENVER (AP) — Deion Sanders sauntered into the Arrow Touchdown Club for what felt more like an old-fashioned tent revival than a news conference to introduce the University of Colorado’s splashy new hire of “Coach Prime” as its new head football coach. At that very moment Sunday afternoon, the Denver Broncos were predictably blowing another […]
1 day ago
A fan of Japan picks up garbages at the end of the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Japan...
Associated Press

What’s next for Japan after exit on penalties at World Cup?

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Japan reached the round of 16 for the fourth time at a World Cup. It got knocked out in the round of 16 for the fourth time in a 3-1 loss to Croatia on penalty kicks after a 1-1 draw in regulation and extra time. EXPECTATION VS. PERFORMANCE Coach Hajime Moriyasu […]
1 day ago
Defensive coordinators play big role in Rams-49ers rivalry