Let’s start with the fact Ryans did some good work with the 49ers defense this year. The unit finished the season tied for ninth in scoring, allowing 21.5 points per game, which was the same as the Arizona Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts and Seattle Seahawks.
So Top 10 in scoring defense. That’s good.
Then consider the 49ers went into Sunday afternoon’s meeting with the Dallas Cowboys hoping to contain an offense that averaged 407 yards and 31.2 points per game in the regular season — both tops in the NFL — and held the Cowboys to only 17 points.
And one of the two touchdowns the 49ers yielded came after Dallas started their drive on the San Francisco 28 yard line following an interception.
So that, ladies and germs, is excellent work.
“Yeah, DeMeco’s been unbelievable all year,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said after the victory. “If you do anything consistently versus Dak [Prescott] and their skillset and they’re
schemes, they’ll get after you.
“I thought DeMeco did a perfect job today of mixing it up and calling that zero [blitz] there at the end.”
The zero blitz came with 1:49 to play on a fourth-and-11 situation with the ball on the San Francisco 47 yard line. The 49ers defense forced an incomplete pass on the play, giving their offense a chance to close out the game.
And when that didn’t happen, the defense went back on the field and eventually helped deliver the 23-17 victory.
But it wasn’t just that. The 49ers, obviously with Ryans directing, got outstanding contributions from a handful of players. In other words, they played outstanding team defense.
Defensive lineman D.J Jones had a sack. Defensive lineman Kevin Givens had four tackles and half a sack. Defensive lineman Arik Armsted collected four tackles and one sack. Defensive lineman Charles Omenihu had three tackles, a forced fumble and 1.5 sacks. Defensive lineman Nick Bosa registered three tackles and half a sack. And cornerback K’Waun Williams finished the game with two tackles and an interception.
The Williams interception led to a Deebo Samuel touchdown run.
Perhaps the most amazing thing is that the 49ers played the final eight minutes, which obviously decided the game, without either Bosa or linebacker Fred Warner. Bosa left earlier with a concussion and Warner injured his ankle.
“I think it says so much about our guys all year,” Shanahan said. “To lose two of our best players, our captains, and be able to protect a lead like that, too, when you’re missing your middle linebacker, you’re missing our best pass rusher.
“The guys stepping it up in their place. We’ve seen guys do that these last couple of months, too. Just how much all of the guys who haven’t been playing have been fighting to get back and to get healthy enough to play against the Rams and then this week to play in the playoffs. We couldn’t have done it without those guys.”
The 49ers obviously held off the late Dallas rally but also shut down the Cowboys early to set the tone of the game. And that tone was that it was going to be a rough day for the Cowboys on offense.
“Offensively, we had a hard time getting into rhythm,” Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said. “I think the timing of the penalties, they obviously stopped some drives and you don’t want to be in long distance and distances with this defensive front. They definitely didn’t help us any.”
So Ryans authored a gem. And that’s interesting because in November, reporters were asking Shanahan if the first-year defensive coordinator was on the hot seat.
The situation has obviously changed because last week the former NFL linebacker’s name emerged as a head coach candidate when the Minnesota Vikings sought permission to interview him for their vacant job.
No wonder the questions to Shanahan Sunday were more about the excellent performance of the defense and whether that was as good as any they’ve played all year.
“I think we’ve had a number of good ones,” Shanahan said. “Those guys getting that turnover by K’Waun was so big. Going three-and-out to start the game, then the roughing the punter and going three-and-out right away again, and doing against that type of offense …
“It’s got to be up there. But I’ll let you decide that.”