49ers Steve Wilks takes blame for zero-blitz call ‘I wish I could take it back’

Oct 27, 2023, 6:00 AM

Defensive Coordinator Steve Wilks of the San Francisco 49ers with the defense in the locker room du...

Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

The San Francisco 49ers’ defense has a lot of explaining to do this week, especially the man in charge, Steve Wilks.

The new defensive coordinator for the 49ers has had quite the learning curve since coming over from North Carolina in offseason. Wilks has had to adapt to his new employer, instead of implementing his own system from years’ past. That has caused some disagreements between the two sides, with an example coming to light ninth team’s most recent loss.

Week 7’s loss to the Minnesota Vikings was a back and forth game, but one where the defense got torched by quarterback Kirk Cousins for 378 passing yards and two touchdowns. One of those scores came at there end of the first half, when Wilks dialed up a cover-zero blitz with 16 seconds left on the game clock.

The result: A 60-yard TD that put the home team up two scores at half.

49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan expressed his displeasure with the call after the game, stating that the coordinator knew he messed up in the moment. A day later, Wilks admitted to his mistake as well, starting his Thursday presser with honesty and humility.

“I take full responsibility for that call. I have to do a better job in putting the guys in a better position. We have good players. I know that and can’t really press the issue, and with that moving forward, it’s my responsibility to do that. So, wish I could take it back, but again, I got to do better.”


What’s more surprising about the Red & Gold’s defense (or lack there of the past few weeks) is the run game.

San Francisco has ranked first and second the last two seasons against the run. This season: 25th in the NFL. And while Wilks and the coaching staff have to do a better job of calling the right plays, the collective talent on this 49ers defense needs to pick up the check a few times as well.

But the front seven has been left mainly to defensive line coach Kris Kocurek this season, with Wilks in charge of secondary. And while the unit’s turnovers are up, the results in the backfield haven’t been the same as years’ past.

The coaches aren’t worried however, encouraged that those pressures and QB hits will turn into sacks and fumbles if they play as a collective moving forward.

“I think we can do a better job on the back end in coverage, whether it’s man or zone, and allowing the quarterback to hold the ball a little longer. Watching tape, I think we’re close, I think we’re close a lot. We’re going to eventually get there. I’m not really pressing right now about the lack of production because I feel like it’s going to come,” Steve Wilks explained.

The 49ers have a history of success defensively, dating back to now New York Jets coach Robert Saleh in 2019. What some people don’t remember is that Saleh struggled initially in thee two years prior. His successor, DeMeco Ryans was a bit different, already ingratiated in the 49ers’ ways when he took over in 2020.

Now it’s Wilks turn to learn the ropes. And thankfully, he’s not above going back to what’s worked in the past, looking through the game film to find what works best for his unit in the present.

“I think you have to because it is based off the defense. This defense is a unique defense, and there’s certain things that go with that particular defense. I’m learning that. There’s certain things that you can’t sway away from,” the coordinator stated. “So again, that’s why I’m not panicking. I know we have the personnel. I know we have the talent. I just got to do a better job putting them in a position.”

But he’d be lying to say that the adjustment hasn’t led to sleepless nights this year.

Now in Year 18 as an NFL coach, Steve Wilks isn’t panicking because he’s been through the fire numerous times over the years. He knows what this defense is capable of, seeing it on full display against the Dallas Cowboys two weeks prior.

But the key question remains: Can an old dog learn new tricks, and fast.

“It’s always challenging. When you’ve done your own thing for 17 years, it’s a little different, but I’m encouraged,” Steve Wilks said. “I got a great supporting cast. These coaches around me are phenomenal. They know this defense. They know their craft. These players are great. So we’re all in this together, man. I’m not hitting the panic button at all.”

Upcoming San Francisco 49ers Schedule

  • Sunday, October 29th vs. Cincinnati Bengals – 1:25 PM PST
  • 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

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