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Steve Wilks Proving to Be Right Choice for 49ers

Sep 26, 2023 at 4:18 AM--

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The 49ers offseason was dominated by the questions at QB. And rightfully so, Brock Purdy's cinderella ride was cut short by a UCL injury sustained in the first quarter of the NFC Championship Game. When you add in the fact that former first round pick Trey Lance was also coming off of an injury heading into training camp, figuring out who was going to be under center come Week 1 was amongst the top concerns for 49er fans. Last years success has the fan base excited about the teams chances to hoist Lombardi #6 with this ultra talented roster.

In contrast, one of the lesser talked about storylines of this offseason was the hire of defensive coordinator Steve Wilks. With DeMecco Ryans vacating the position to become the head coach of the Houston Texans, for the second time in his tenure as 49ers head coach, Kyle Shanahan had to replace the DC position. This time the regime looked outside the building to take over consistently dominate unit. Through 3 weeks, Wilks is checking every box and silencing any critics of his hire to the highly coveted coordinator position.

Granted, three weeks isn't a large enough sample size to make any rash judgements, however, being that this isn't Wilks first rodeo as a DC, it is pretty safe to say that Wilks is likely to keep this years 49ers defense amongst the elite. Let's take a quick look at what Wilks and his unit has shown so far this season.

Week 1 vs the Steelers, the 49ers defense dominated the Steelers in a fashion that very few have ever seen a Mike Tomlin team be handled. The Steelers offense had earned rave reviews for their preseason performance. Some were so high on the Steelers going into the Week 1 tilt that they were a trendy upset pick by many TV Analyst.

The 49er defense set the tone with a big hit from All Pro LB Fred Warner on the games first play and the rest you can say is history. With just under two minutes remaining in the first half, the 49er defense had only yielded 1 yard to the Steelers offense, who appeared out classed. The Steelers only scoring drive of the game came on the last drive of the first half and was largely helped out by penalties that gave the Steeler offense 30 yards, which put them in position to get their lone touchdown of the game.

In the 2nd half Wilks showcased his ability to adjust as the Steelers were held scoreless. A theme that began recurring in Week 2 against the Rams. In the first half the tilt with the Rams looked to be another barn burner between the two NFC West foes. The first half was largely reminiscent of the 2017 shootout between the two clubs in which the Rams prevailed 41 - 39. The week 2 matchup was tied at 17 with both offenses going for 4th downs early in the half because the game had all the makings of a "whoever has the ball last" type of feel to it. In the first half the Rams kept QB Matthew Stafford clean and the 49ers had little success disrupting his rhythm as he hit WRs Puka Nacua and TuTu Atwell, seemingly in stride all half long.

After halftime, Wilks showed his value. Understanding that the front 4 was having trouble getting to Stafford, Wilks used perfectly timed and schemed pressures from the linebackers and secondary to disrupt the Rams offense and cause Stafford to throw two INTs in the second half. Fred Warner got the teams lone sack on a perfectly designed blitz that left him free up the middle to essentially end of the Rams 2nd half drives.

Wilks adjustments led to the 49ers blanking the Rams in the 3rd quarter and their first score of the second half came about midway through the 4th quarter. If not for a meaningless FG as time expired the Rams would have been held to only 3 points in the second half. Through three games the 49ers defense is holding opponents to 4 ppg in the second half.

Last Thursday's matchup was another dominate performance as the 49ers held the New York Giants to only 150 yards for the entire game. While his predecessors Robert Saleh and DeMecco Ryans both went on to be head coaches, the one achilles heel that both coaches were hampered by was their defending of mobile quarterbacks. Against the Giants Wilks used a variety of different looks and blitzes to keep the mobile Daniel Jones under wraps. Wilks even employed some five man defensive fronts to keep the Giants QB from hurting the team with his legs.

Looking ahead to Week 4 against the Cardinals, who are riding the high of the upset victory over the Dallas Cowboys, it will be interesting to see what Wilks comes up with to halt the Cardinals ground attack that rushed for 186 first half yards vs the Cowboys. Thanks largely in part to the legs of QB Joshua Dobbs.

Wilks has elite defenders at all three levels of this defense so I'm sure whatever he devises to shut down the Cardinals, will only continue to solidify what he has already proven, that he was the right choice for the job.


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