Before Week 12, the 49ers' defense held their opponents to four scoring drives on 17 possessions in two games. So while the scoreboard for the Vikings said 26, it never felt like the defense was continually getting gashed.
Kirk Cousins only had a 42% success rate, the Vikings couldn’t run the ball, and the only big plays came when the Niners' defense had a mental lapse. On offensive 12 drives, Minnesota scored three times. Minnesota’s first touchdown came when they started at midfield, and their second came after the Niners' offense had a three-and-out.
Offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel said on Thursday, “you’re either avoiding third down, or you’re not.” Since Week 5, opposing offenses have had a 32% success rate running the ball against the 49ers. During that same timeframe, DeMeco Ryans’ bunch leads the league in success rate on first down on all plays at 39%. They get you behind the chains, force you into obvious passing downs, and rely on the pass rush to get them off the field.
The 49ers didn’t budge on defense last Sunday when they were rested. That’s been the case during the past few weeks. One of the unsung heroes for a stout defense is defensive tackle D.J. Jones. San Francisco has made teams one-dimensional on offense for two months now.
Although he had five tackles last week, Jones’s box scores are never going to wow you. He has six tackles for loss on the season to go with one sack. And while his average depth of tackle is stellar at 1.4 yards, being “flashy” while being productive is how you get highlights.
Jones pushed the pocket, got in the line of Cousins' vision, and forced an errant throw for a game-changing interception Sunday. Ryans complimented D.J. for getting his hands up and affecting Cousins, citing how the interception doesn’t happen without Jones.
Where has D.J. improved the most this season? By being available and consistent:
“Yeah I think D.J., from the beginning, he’s always kind of been up and down, splash player, but I’ve seen him grow from the standpoint of him just being a more consistent player. He’s been very consistent and he’s been dominant. He’s been on the other side of the line of scrimmage, which he can do consistently. And that’s what he’s proven. And that’s how he’s grown since he’s been here. He’s just becoming a more consistent, more dominant force inside. And that’s the reason why we continue to play good defense is because of D.J. and what he does upfront for us.”
Ryans gave the cliche answer saying Jones came into camp in the best shape of his life. It makes a difference for big guys who are going to play as much as Jones. When you’re in shape, you’re likely to be in better condition and avoid injury. You can’t make plays from the sideline.
D.J. has been tremendous this year at playing on the other side of the line of scrimmage and making life easier for the linebackers behind him. So let’s hope Jones can make a play on Sunday similar to the sack he had a couple of years ago against the Seahawks: