It's all gas, no brakes for the 49ers in these final three games of season, even for San Francisco's top ranked defense. What exactly does DeMeco Ryans want from a unit that's averaging 15.0 points per game allowed (1st in NFL) and is also No. 1 in scoring, rushing and big plays defense? The second-year defensive coordinator wants them "to play better" in the home stretch of the regular season and beyond.
"It's a great accomplishment to win the West. It's a great accomplishment, but everyone knows that's not our goal and also to that, we didn't play our best in Seattle," Ryans said. "If we want to go where we want to go, we have to play better on defense and guys understand that wasn't our best game... They understand what we need to do, so there's no take a breath, take a breather. There's none of that. There's no time to relax. It's actually a time to pick it up for everybody, for us."
It's a sentiment that's been reiterated by players up and down the roster as they gear up for their Week 16 opponent. On Saturday, the 49ers defense will face a Washington Commanders offense led by quarterback Taylor Heinicke that is 20th overall but runs the ball well (126.9 yards per game, 11th in the NFL) and is No. 1 in time of possession. However, the Commanders scoring average (18.9 points per game, 25th in NFL) is only slightly above San Francisco's defensive mark of 15.0 points per game allowed.
"Fifteen (points per game allowed) seems a little high. We could probably get that down a little bit," linebacker Fred Warner said. "It's honestly being hard on ourselves. It starts with DeMeco and trickles all the way down to the players, remaining humble, keeping our head down, continuing to work and finding ways to get better."
This 2022 defensive unit is writing itself into the franchise's history books. In their current seven-game win streak, the 49ers have held opponents to 17-or-fewer points, the longest streak by the team in a single regular season since 1984. With three games left on the regular season schedule, the unit has a chance to become one of eight teams in 49ers history (since joining the NFL) to fall below the 15.0 points per game allowed threshold.
"We have the same mindset every week, just keep them out of the end zone," defensive lineman Nick Bosa said. "I think when you're doing this well and everybody is talking you up, it's the team's job, the leaders and the coaches to keep everybody level headed... nitpick and look at the things we did wrong because every week there are things that we mess up... We're hard on ourselves which is why we continue to ascend."
Javon Kinlaw Returns to Practice
The defensive line welcomed rookie Kalia Davis to the ranks on Tuesday, and on Wednesday, the group had another familiar face back in the fold. Third-year defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw was back with his position mates for the first time since being placed on the Injured Reserve list following the team's Week 3 matchup in Denver.
Kinlaw had offseason knee surgery and experienced a setback in late September that to date has cost him 12 games in 2022. Both he and Davis had their 21-day practice windows opened on Tuesday.
"I'm really excited to have JK back out there, just refreshing to see his presence," Ryans said. "It's cool to just see him get back into the groove of playing football again."
No. 99 ran individual drills with the rest of the defensive line during the portion of practice open to the media. It's unclear when Kinlaw will be ready to return to game action, however, when asked if he expects to play Saturday, he responded, "Personally, I do."