DeMeco Ryans atones to defensive woes in Week 17 ‘It’s not your play to make every play’

Jan 6, 2023, 12:30 PM | Updated: 12:49 pm
Defensive Coordinator DeMeco Ryans of the San Francisco 49ers in the locker room during halftime of...
LAS VEGAS, NV - JANUARY 1: Defensive Coordinator DeMeco Ryans of the San Francisco 49ers in the locker room during halftime of the game against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on January 1, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The 49ers defeated the Raiders 37-34. (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)

Week 17 in Las Vegas was an eye-opening experience for defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans and San Francisco 49ers’ defense.

Giving up 500 yards of offense for the first time this season, the Red & Gold got taken to overtime by first-time starting quarterback Jarrett Stidham and head coach Josh McDaniels. And even though the visiting 49ers ended up winning the game thanks to the offense and kicker Robbie Gould, Ryans sees a lot of holes that the Red & Gold need to fix if they want to make a deep run in the playoffs.

That starts with second-year safety Talanoa Hufanga stepping up his game.

The first touchdown by the Raiders on New Year’s day stands out. Coming up in anticipation of a Josh Jacobs’ run, “Huf” got flat-footed as the play developed allowing tight end Darren Waller to run past him for a wide-open TD early in the first quarter. The safety has discussed this phenomenon before, looking to not “take the cheese in the mouse trap” if you will. His head coach feels the same way.

“He has to clean up his eyes,” Ryans said Thursday. “It’s too many big plays we’re giving up and [Talanoa Hufanga] knows that. You have to clean up your eyes, especially when you’re protecting us in the back end. You’re the eraser for us. Your eyes can’t be dirty, you can’t be in the back field and he knows that and he has to get better at it.”

Eye discipline is something Ryans hopes the whole team can work on in Week 18, knowing how to manipulate their opponents to play into their hands. San Francisco has been successful in doing so for the majority of their nine-game win streak. But games like Week 17, remind them that there’s still work to do in that department.

“Eye discipline, it simply comes down to when you’re in whatever, zone coverage, man coverage, you have a certain progression of keys and where your eyes should be,” Ryans continued. “And where guys get caught a lot of times is, guys are looking in the back field at the action of the back or the quarterback when they don’t need to. And if you’re doing that and you’re not progressing and looking at the proper things, whether it’s a route concept, whether you’re passing a route concept off, whether it’s a particular man who’s coming within your zone, or if your eyes should be in that area and they’re not, it’s going to be really hard to make plays. Guys in his league are too fast, they’re too good for you to not look at the proper thing and then try to look late. And if you look late, it’s too late and guys will make you pay. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing against, the guys in this league are too good. They’ll make you pay.”

Another area of weakness for the 49ers’ defense is giving up the home run ball, ranking towards the bottom of the league in DVOA on third-down passing plays. With a unit full of playmakers at every level, patience is a virtue to a certain extent. Not trying to make the heroic play at all times is what Ryans wants to see his guys adjust to heading into the postseason. And that starts with being disciplined on your assignment.

“That’s the thing that I was talking to our guys about this week, like it’s not your play to make every play. Everybody will make plays in our defense when everybody is playing with discipline, playing with the proper technique, playing with the proper eyes, eye discipline. If everybody is doing that, there’s enough plays for everybody to go around, so when guys do get antsy and they try to do too much, they try to play hero ball. You try to make plays that you’re not supposed to make, that’s when you get gutted as a defense, so defensive football, you want to be sound, you want to play great defense, you have to be disciplined at all three levels,” DeMeco Ryans stated.

The 49ers have one more crack at a tune-up game this weekend, taking on a lackluster Arizona Cardinals team. As for Ryans’s expectations in Week 18: Play like the best defense in the NFL, play 49ers’ defense. Simple as that.

“I’m expecting our defense to go out and play the way we play defense,” Ryans said. “Again to me, it’s not about the Cardinals at all…It doesn’t matter, honestly. Like defensively, the Niners have to play Niner Defense if we want to play good football moving forward.”

Click here to watch DeMeco Ryans full Thursday presser


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DeMeco Ryans atones to defensive woes in Week 17 ‘It’s not your play to make every play’