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Kyle Shanahan praises 49ers D-line’s unselfish play vs. Eagles

Dec 8, 2023 at 7:10 AM--

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San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan expressed pride in his defense's performance against the Philadelphia Eagles this past Sunday, particularly commending the unselfish play of his defensive line. The group was asked to do something outside their comfort zone—avoid being overly aggressive.

During a recent interview with Bay Area radio station KNBR, Shanahan hailed the Week 13 outing as one of the season's best defensive performances, praising his players' willingness to adapt to a unique challenge.

"I thought it was their best game, and they've had so many good games," Shanahan said on the "Tolbert and Copes" show. "But this one was different because ... it just completely goes against their DNA. That's not the way we like to play. We want to attack that quarterback every play. I know pass rushers do. I know our D-line coach does. That's the style, and that's how we do it."

All too often, the 49ers defense has been hurt by mobile quarterbacks. It faced a challenging task going against MVP candidate Jalen Hurts, one of the most versatile signal-callers in the game. The 49ers devised a game plan centered around containment, allowing Hurts more time in the pocket but limiting his opportunities to break free. For the defensive line, that meant giving up on potential sacks—not an easy ask for a pass rusher.

"It was definitely an assignment-focused game," defensive end Nick Bosa said after the 42-19 victory. "We had to make Jalen focus on the rush more than looking downfield, and we knew that was the key to the game. So our whole mentality was we're not trying to set the record on sacks, we're trying to close the pocket, we're trying to get his eyes on us."

Defensive coordinator Steve Wilks' unit succeeded, limiting Hurts to just 20 rushing yards, his second-lowest single-game total of the season.

"But when you do go against certain quarterbacks and [look at what] kind of what makes them successful, sometimes you've got to adjust what you're doing," Shanahan acknowledged. "And we had to do that, which those guys don't enjoy that at all. But they understood why, and it was really cool to watch all game, just how committed to it they were.

"I mean, the whole group was [committed], but you look at a guy like Nick, he's a defensive MVP. He's expected to take over games and stuff, and sometimes it's hard because they want to take it over. But when I watched Nick that whole game, and I get on the plane, it was the most unselfish pass rushing I'd ever seen because he didn't. He just bull-rushed the guy, always took the B gap, and would never let him escape that way. So he'd have to go backwards and buy more time, and then we were able to chase him out there."

Bosa noted that he could feel Hurts trying to escape the pocket and use his mobility against the 49ers defense. The unit remained committed and didn't waver from their plan.

When asked about the impressive strategy and how his defense implemented it, Wilks said, "It wasn't about trying to get stats this particular game. It was about making sure that we maintain our rush lanes and didn't rush past the quarterback, not giving them an opportunity to be able to step up inside the A and B gaps."

While the 49ers may have provided a blueprint for beating the defending NFC champions, not everyone has a defensive front as formidable as the one made up of Bosa, Chase Young, Javon Hargrave, and Arik Armstead.

The defense still managed to sack Hurts three times. However, it wasn't the team's marquee names that got to the Eagles quarterback. It was Javon Kinlaw twice and Kalia Davis.

"But it was just such a commitment for the guys that sometimes can be frustrating because, as we say, it feels like he's sitting back there baking a cake," Shanahan added. "But as long as he's not running forward, that's a good thing. And he can sit back there forever, and if no one's open, they either throw it away, or sometimes you can get the sack. We got a couple of sacks there where I felt he held onto it for an extremely long time."

The 49ers defense's unselfishness showcased their versatility and commitment to winning at any cost. The unit is proving capable of punishing offenses in so many ways, which bodes well for their Super Bowl hopes.

You can listen to the entire conversation with Shanahan below.

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