49ers coaches, players defend Steve Wilks despite defensive lapses

Oct 30, 2023, 1:00 PM | Updated: 1:21 pm

Ja'Marr Chase #1 of the Cincinnati Bengals catches a pass for a touchdown against Isaiah Oliver #26...

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For a third week in a row, the 49ers’ defense played below their standards, allowing quarterback Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals to put 31 points on them. But while most are pointing the finger at Steve Wilks, the players have come to his defense once more.

The 49ers’ defensive coordinator has had a rough go of things the past three weeks, as his defense has turned into a pumpkin in the month of October.

Since the team’s beatdown of Dallas in Week 5, the 49ers have surrendered more than 300 yards in each of the last three games. Additionally, San Francisco has given up 400 or more yards in each of the last two weeks.

Because of this shocking turnaround, Wilks has some of the blame placed on him correctly. But when it comes down to it, the 49ers’ players aren’t executing at a high level, admitting it themselves.

“That’s the least of my worries. Honestly, I think players win games, not coaches,” linebacker Fred Warner said about Wilks postgame. “I think he’s done a great job. There’s going to be ebbs and flows in the season, especially with a new defensive coordinator. The offensive side has gone through that as well when we lost [Miami Dolphins Head Coach Mike] McDaniel. Even though [Head Coach] Kyle [Shanahan] is the play caller, when you lose a coach, there’s going to be adjustments being made throughout a season. We’ve got to continue to work on that, but at the end of the day, players are going to be the reason why we win games. We’ve got to execute at a higher level.”

Warner is correct in his assessment, as the 49ers have struggled to get off the field in recent weeks. After being ranked first and second in run defense the last two seasons, the 49ers are now bottom-five in the NFL, despite adding top-tier talent in the trenches. On top of that, San Francisco has struggled to tackle, missing 13 of them in Week 8. For context, they only missed nine total in the first five weeks of the season.

Yes, Steve Wilks needs to do a better of job of getting his players in the right spots. But the defense has looked a shell of themselves recently, and that’s the main cause of their woes.

“The common denominator right now is that I haven’t been able to say in the last three losses that the defense had our best outing and we just happened to lose. We’re not playing good football on our side. That’s the reason why we haven’t won the last three games. That’s got to get figured out and it will get figured out. The bye will be great for us,” Warner explained.

Now with their back against the walls entering the Bye week, the vibes in the locker room are obviously ominous. A team that had Super Bowl aspirations is now fighting to regain its throne atop the NFC West standings the rest of the way.

And yet, this should be typical for 49ers Faithful everywhere.

San Francisco has gone through adversity the last four years, especially last season. In 2022, the 49ers rattled off an 11-game win streak after going 3-4 into the Bye. Now tasked with roadblocks once more, the organization isn’t in panic mode quite yet, used to coming out the other end on top.

“My mood is that we have been through worse in this league, 3-4 last year [heading the bye], and 3-5 the year before, and we know where we got towards the end of the years in both of those years. Putting those things into perspective, we have everything we need to be successful team-wise and we have all the players. Going into the bye week I feel like would be good for us to get some rest and back on track and get back to dominating,” defensive lineman Arik Armstead said Sunday.

The coaching staff also agrees with that sentiment but expressed more urgency to improve in every facet of the game.

“My bottom line to them was we’ve got to get better in every aspect,” Kyle Shanahan shared. “The things that disappointed me today were some of the fundamentals of just throwing and catching, tackling and some of those penalties that cost us.”

Listing fundamentals and poor execution the past few weeks, Shanahan and the rest of the 49ers have to take a good, long look in the mirror moving forward, with changes likely to come in the fortnight.

But in terms of whose to blame for the slide? It’s not one coach or one player, it’s everyone.

A team known for playing as a group hasn’t done that in three weeks. And while Wilks is the easier person to point the blame at, the 49ers aren’t doing that at the moment.

“This isn’t on any one coach or any one side of the ball. We haven’t scored over 20 points here in three weeks too. So, I think our defense needs to do better. I think our offense needs to do better. I think our team needs to do better. And when I say our team, I mean every single player in there and I mean every single coach,” Shanahan stated.

Upcoming San Francisco 49ers Schedule

  • Sunday, November 12th @ Jacksonville Jaguars – 10:00 AM PST
  • Sunday, November 19th vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers- 1:05 PM PST
  • Thursday, November 23rd @ Seattle Seahawks – 5:20 PM PST
  • Sunday, December 3rd @ Philadelphia Eagles – 1:25 PM PST
  • Sunday, December 10th vs. Seattle Seahawks – 1:05 PM PST

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