San Francisco 49ers

49ers’ ‘Mangenius’ has plenty more tricks, but a savvier opponent awaits

New 49ers defensive coordinator Eric Mangini, left, devised a game plan that certainly did a number on the Minnesota Vikings – and their quarterback Teddy Bridgewater – during their season-opening win Monday night.
New 49ers defensive coordinator Eric Mangini, left, devised a game plan that certainly did a number on the Minnesota Vikings – and their quarterback Teddy Bridgewater – during their season-opening win Monday night. The Associated Press

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was sacked five times, absorbed hits on three other plays, converted just 1 of 9 third-down attempts and threw a defeat-clinching interception midway through the fourth quarter.

Dazed? Confused? Befuddled? Maybe all of the above.

“Teddy did not play well,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said after his team’s 20-3 loss to the 49ers on Monday night.

Bridgewater, 22, had plenty to think about at Levi’s Stadium. Monday’s game was his – and everyone else’s – first look at 49ers defensive coordinator Eric Mangini’s multifaceted game plan, one even his own players worried was overly dense and complicated when they first inspected it this offseason.

After Week 1, opponents may figure they have a read on what Mangini will do. Wrong, said inside linebacker Michael Wilhoite. They merely have a couple of pages.

“I think we just showed a small (portion) of what we can do,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff ‘Mangenius’ has, a lot of tricks up his sleeve.”

So Wilhoite thinks his defensive coordinator’s moniker – coined during the final season of “The Sopranos” in 2007 – is well-deserved?

“That’s my name for him,” he said. “Obviously, it shows. He has a good mind for the game.”

Mangini’s defenses always have been marked by their aggression, and Monday’s game was no exception. The 49ers blitzed on 35.9 percent of their defensive snaps, according to the scouting service Pro Football Focus. That’s well above their 22.6 percent blitz rate last season and above the 2014 league average of 29.8 percent.

The blitzes came from unlikely sources. For example, all of the 49ers’ safeties – typically the last line of a defense – rushed the quarterback at least once and two of them, Antoine Bethea and Jaquiski Tartt, recorded sacks.

The 49ers also used an abundance of personnel groups. Of the 22 defensive players who suited up, only kick coverage specialists L.J. McCray and Nick Bellore did not play any snaps on defense. Mangini was especially creative with his deep group of safeties, incorporating both Tartt and Jimmie Ward at different points.

Coach Jim Tomsula noted that various defensive packages will be added and subtracted each week based on the opponent.

“We’re going to play situational football,” he said. “And defensively, too, we want to take an offensive approach on defense. We want to be offensive.”

Bridgewater wasn’t entirely flummoxed.

Cornerback Kenneth Acker, making his first start, noted the Vikings quarterback successfully identified an upcoming blitz before the snap on several plays. Bridgewater, however, was unable to make San Francisco pay in those instances. His only deep connection – for 27 yards – came on the final play of the first half when the 49ers’ defense was lined up at the goal line to prevent a Hail Mary pass.

Bridgewater made his 13th NFL start Monday. The 49ers’ next opponent, Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger, will be making his 160th regular-season start Sunday. What’s more, the Steelers’ season began Thursday, giving them nine days to prepare for the 49ers and their defense.

Can the 49ers expect to bedevil Roethlisberger, 33, as they did Bridgewater?

“He’s a veteran guy,” Acker said. “Everybody knows Ben’s been around for a long time. He’s going to make it pretty hard. But we have another week of practice. The disguise will be even better.”

Matt Barrows: @mattbarrows, read more about the team at sacbee.com/sf49ers.

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