The Washington Commanders have faced several "measuring stick" games over the course of Ron Rivera’s tenure, and for the most part, the team has risen to meet them.
From knocking off the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers in 2020 to upsetting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2021 and taking down the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football -- also undefeated – Washington has relished the opportunity to play tougher opponents.
They will need to face another -- the 10-4 San Francisco 49ers -- in order to remain in control of their playoff hopes. The 49ers have playmakers on both sides of the ball, but it is their defense that will present one of Washington toughest tests.
"I do think it is one of the better ones we will see across the board," Rivera said. "I mean, athletically they're solid. They've got guys that can run and that do things really well. They have a real tight package that they're very good at."
While the 49ers' offense has performed better than most, their defense has been the class of the NFL, allowing a league-low 286 yards per game. It is difficult to find holes in the unit on the ground, too; they average giving up just 74 rushing yards, which has helped them allow just 15 points per game.
Much of that is a credit to the 49ers' defensive front. Nick Bosa with his 15.5 sacks, which leads the NFL, is certainly the star of the group, but other players like Samson Ebukam, Kevin Givens and Drake Jackson have been solid complements to the Pro Bowl defensive end.
There is nothing elaborate about why they're so successful, Rivera said. They stick to their roles and execute well.
"I think the biggest thing obviously is they've got speed, they can run and that's one thing that they do very well," Rivera said. "It's not like they have a huge menu of things they do, but the things they do, they do very, very well."
Obviously, said offensive coordinator Scott Turner, the 49ers front is excellent. The group is part of why the 49ers' defense has the best DVOA in the league. But as Turner pointed out, their front is not the only concern.
The 49ers' back seven is just as talented, and the group is led by linebacker Fred Warner, who is on his way to recording his fifth straight 100-tackle season. According to Pro Football Focus, the veteran is having his second-best season with an overall grade of 83.5, which is fourth among all linebackers.
"They're going to be coming after us," Turner said. "We got to be physical, we got to run the ball. We'll be able to take our shots when we get them. When they come up, ball has got to come out of our hand, we got to do a great job getting vertical when we get the ball, and every single yard is going to be at a premium because they don't give up a lot of them."
Turner added Warner and his running mate, Dre Greenlaw, may not do anything that is overly complicated, but "they do enough to make you work."
"They're fast. They're instinctual, and they communicate well together. They're just really good players and they do their job well. They're not tricking you. They're just playing hard and playing well."
It will be imperative for Washington to take advantage of all its possessions this weekend. The Commanders are coming off two lackluster offensive performances in both of their matchups against the New York Giants. They failed to capitalize on their scoring opportunities and struggled to convert third down opportunities against a defense that is not as talented but does know how to put pressure on quarterbacks.
That will not be enough against San Francisco, but Washington has shown through games like the victory against the Eagles that it can hang with the league's top defenses.
It has been several weeks since the Commanders have shown that kind of offensive proficiency. The hope is they can rediscover that effectiveness in the coming days.
"It's a challenge and our guys will be up for it, and I know they'll bounce back from this last game and be ready to go," Turner said.