DeMeco Ryans redeemed himself as 49ers defensive coordinator

Defensive Coordinator DeMeco Ryans of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Defensive Coordinator DeMeco Ryans of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /

Like any first-year coordinator, the 49ers’ DeMeco Ryans took his share of lumps early in the season, but the team’s recent turnaround has a lot to do with him.

San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans had some awfully big shoes to fill in 2021, especially after the man he replaced, now-New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh put together a masterpiece of a defensive season in 2020 despite the Niners dealing with a plethora of injuries to key players.

Having only been a linebackers coach for the team up to that point, Ryans at least had a lot more talent on the roster compared to what Saleh inherited back in 2017.

But there were going to be massive hurdles to overcome nonetheless.

Early this season, particularly during San Francisco’s four-game losing streak that had fans calling for both Ryans and head coach Kyle Shanahan to be either fired or, at the very least, placed on the hot seat, Ryans’ criticism made a lot of sense.

Like any budding coordinator, however, Ryans learned how to adjust and improve.

And the results, particularly behind the 49ers’ streak of five wins in the last six games, is proof enough of why.

49ers defensive stats back up DeMeco Ryans’ improvement

It was expected Ryans would have his share of difficulties early on this season, and that’s precisely what happened.

Case in point, during the Niners’ first eight games of the season, the defense was allowing an average of 338.1 yards per game. In the six games since, that number has dropped to an average of 300 yards allowed per game.

To date, San Francisco’s defense has given up 4,505 total yards, sixth best in the NFL after its Week 15 win over the Atlanta Falcons, who managed 275 yards of offense.

One of the big trend changes seen is just how good Ryans’ play-calling has been against opposing teams’ rushing efforts. Over that opening eight-game span, the 49ers surrendered 100-plus rush yards in seven of those contests.

Over the last six weeks, it’s happened just once, the Week 13 road loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

DeMeco Ryans has shown he can make adjustments for 49ers

It’s one thing to point out the stats. It’s another to describe some of the tweaks he’s been responsible for putting together, both on a week-to-week basis and in the middle of the game.

Case in point, Ryans had to cover up rookie cornerback Ambry Thomas a lot during the Niners’ Week 14 overtime win versus the Cincinnati Bengals, primarily using a combination of Cover 2 and Tampa 2 coverages with safety/linebacker help down the field.

Our friends over at Niners Nation, however, detailed the adjustments in Week 14 even more eloquently, describing how Ryans’ adjustments showed this growth:

"I thought it was one of DeMeco Ryans’ best-coached games yet. They attempted to cover the Bengals wideouts in man coverage, and that didn’t work. But, once the 49ers get to third down, Ryans has been aggressive when it comes to blitzing and playing man coverage behind it.Ryans adjusted instead of being hard-headed and running something that you know wouldn’t work. San Francisco ran 19 Cover-2 snaps against Cincinnati. That’s more than they ran in their previous 12 games combined. The goal was to keep everything in front of you and make Burrow beat you underneath."

Saleh took time to adjust. Ryans is as well.

It’s paying off.

DeMeco Ryans continues to earn Kyle Shanahan’s praise

Few head coaches are going to throw their coordinators under the bus, even when things aren’t working out well. But as we’ve seen with other teams, such as the New York Giants and Carolina Panthers, coordinators aren’t immune to getting the ax as often a last-ditch measure on the part of a head coach to save his own job.

No such chatter existed from head coach Kyle Shanahan, though, even earlier this season when the defense was fairly questioned.

Related Story: Defense was No. 1 X-factor in 49ers big win over Falcons

In recent weeks, though, Shanahan’s comments have turned into outright praise, as was the case in his postgame presser following the win over Atlanta:

"I’ve been very pleased and excited about DeMeco. We knew he would be good, but there are lots of challenges that go through the year. And when it’s your first time, you have to learn on the run. It’s just about adjusting to things, and DeMeco with just the way he’s handled the team, the way he’s handled the players, the way he’s handled things when his back’s been against the wall from just pressure outside, the guy is always the same.I think he’s getting better as the year goes, and that means he’ll get better each year with us."

Saleh arguably took two full years before turning into a high-quality coordinator, then another two before becoming a head coach. While Ryans inherited a lot more talent on his side of the ball, the ascent appears to have been much more rapid.

The 49ers have to be thrilled as a result.

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