When something goes wrong, we are quick to point the finger. It’s usually in the direction of the most prominent figures. That could be San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, or quarterback Brock Purdy.
Wilks took the brunt of the blame for the Niners’ first-half defensive performance against the Detroit Lions in the NFC Championship game. Many wanted him fired at halftime. But after re-watching the game, it was evident that he was the least of the 49ers issues.
We called for him to be more aggressive and blitz. When that happened, Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson seemed to have the perfect call to beat the blitz. I won’t defend Wilks for the soft zones on third downs, but if the players make a tackle, the defense gets off the field, and nobody is complaining.
From tackling to angles and effort, the Niners’ defense left a lot to be desired in the first half. This is a unit capable of flipping the switch. That was something they did routinely on early downs. But we’ve found out what happens when every play isn’t played with the same level of intensity against Detroit, and the results spoke for themselves.
Charvarius Ward was on the Jim Rome Show on Wednesday. Ward, headed to his third Super Bowl in his sixth season, said, “We were getting our behinds kicked” and “they basically were bullying us the way they were running the ball.”
Mooney wasn’t wrong.
The second half adjustments including Wilks playing more man coverage. That allowed the linebackers to get downhill and attack the run. The Lions only rushed for 34 yards after halftime.
Mooney believes the adversity the 49ers went through in both playoff games only strengthened the team’s belief that this is their year.
Ward doesn’t like the sentiment around Wilks:
“I love coach Wilks. Everybody else hates him. The media and a lot of people hate on coach Wilks for some reason. All the players, we love him. He’s a great guy. A player’s coach. Easy to get along with. Obviously, he helped me get to the Pro Bowl, be an All-Pro this year, so I love him a little extra. Coach Wilks is my guy. I love him 100 percent.”
Ward was only targeted once against Detroit. The Lions made sure to avoid the 49ers best cornerback. Quietly, Mooney had a special season. It’s not often that you see the most targeted cornerback in the top 15 of completion percentage allowed and passer rating against, but Ward did just that in 2023.
I went into re-watching the game thinking Wilks was the reason for the Niners’ struggles, but that wasn’t true. You can argue that Wilks outcoached Ben Johnson in the most critical junctures of the game.
Charvarius on the Chiefs
The 49ers will need their top corner to play like one against his former team. Nobody knows Patrick Mahomes better than Charvarius, who spent the first four years of his career in Kansas City. Here’s what he’s telling his teammates about Mahomes:
“With Pat, you just never know. The game is never over. Even if you’re up 21, 28, 30 points, the game is never over. It’s never over when you’re playing Patrick Mahomes. Obviously, he’s one of the goats. Probably the best player in the NFL. Best player in the world.
Even if we’re up 10 or 14 in the fourth quarter, we have to continue to press on and continue to grind. Because, with Pat, it can switch at any moment once he gets the momentum, he’s damn near impossible to stop.”
Historically, we wait further into a player’s career to crown them. But Mahomes is a different animal. I’m not sure what else we need to see. So I agree with Ward and believe Mahomes is and has been the best quarterback ever to do it for some time now. Super Bowl rings is a lazy way to argue a player’s worth.