The 49ers' defense has a quiet confidence to them, and it starts at the top. Defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans doesn’t need to effuse praise on his players as they see the product that’s on the field.
Here’s Ryans on the lack of ego in the locker room:
“Yeah, it starts with the people that you bring in and it’s also about the guys geling together with the leaders that we already have here. When you have [DL Nick] Bosa, [DL] Arik [Armstead], [LB] Fred [Warner], guys who are not big ego guys, guys who are team first guys, it’s just the culture that [head coach] Kyle [Shanahan] and [general manager] John [Lynch] have created here in our locker room.
Just overall. When you come in, nobody is bigger than the next man and the only way that we thrive as a team, as a defense is everybody just doing their job and playing together. That’s what makes us a really good defense is when we play together, I always tell the guys, no one needs to play hero ball. You’re not on the field by yourself, so if you take that mindset that all I have to do is my part, do my job, then we’ll play really good football and that’s what guys have been doing and nobody is saying, oh, look at me or what I’ve done or looking at their own personal accomplishments. It’s all about us collectively as a unit.”
If you were to name a player, there’s a good chance they’ve taken their game to another level since the Niners' bye week. Jimmie Ward fits that description. Ward was vocal earlier in the season about playing in the slot, but now, he’s playing as if he has a future at the position.
Despite playing less than half of the ten players in front of him from a snaps perspective, Ward is among the league leaders in run stops since Week 10. He’s also third in passer rating against and has only allowed one big play on 21 targets.
Here’s DeMeco’s assessment of Jimmie’s play:
“Yeah, he’s gotten better each week. Jimmie, he’s a very gifted player. He can do a lot of different things that most defenders can’t, whether it’s safety, nickel, Jimmie has played corner, not that we’re asking him to do all that, but he is the guy who has the flexibility, he has that God-given ability to go in and play the slot for us and he’s done a great job and he’s getting better each week. And Jimmie is making even more plays. I feel like every week he’s making a play.
He’s around the ball more, making more plays for us, being a big-time playmaker for our defense and it’s scary to say this, but he can get even better. He can get even better in there, but it just comes with the more reps he gets, he’ll continue to get better and make even more plays for us.
Jimmie, he’s definitely climbing, he’s doing a really good job for us in there and for him to unselfishly go in there, it just speaks to the man Jimmie is. It goes back to the ego question. Like it’s no ego, it’s just what can I do to help our team win games? And that was the attitude that Jimmy had about moving in there and he’s been outstanding so far.”
Ward has played 124 of his 136 snaps since Week 10 in the slot. That’s his home.
Finally, Ryans is hardly satisfied with winning the division:
“It’s a great accomplishment to win the West. It’s a great accomplishment, but everyone knows that’s not our goal and also to that, we didn’t play our best in Seattle. There’s a lot of things that we can do much better. If we want to go where we want to go, we have to play better on defense and guys understand that wasn’t our best game, and if we want to be a great team and move on, we have to play better defense and guys got that message and they understand what we need to do, so there’s no take a breath, take a breather. There’s none of that. There’s no time to relax. It’s actually a time to pick it up for everybody, for us.”