49ers focus on 'embarrassing' defense vs. Lions ahead of Super Bowl matchup with Chiefs

Tackling was an issue for San Francisco in the NFC title game

If the San Francisco 49ers want to win their Super Bowl rematch with the Kansas City Chiefs, they'll need to play better defense than they did against the Detroit Lions in the NFC championship game.

Even though the 49ers stormed back from a 17-point halftime deficit for the 34-31 win, plenty of viewers noticed what appeared to be a lack of defensive effort on multiple plays.

On Friday, head coach Kyle Shanahan and other key team leaders spoke to reporters about the disappointing aspect of the victory and how the team plans to rebound.

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Defensive coordinator Steve Wilks seemed to put most of the onus on the players:

"Collectively as a team, I can tell you as a defense it's unacceptable," Wilks said. "We talked about that. I wish I could tell these guys on Play 4, on Play 27, this is what's going to happen. You don't know. So we've got to make sure that we play every down as if it's going to be the difference in the ballgame. And you could see on those particular plays, it wasn't to our standard. Those guys understand and know that, and quite honestly it was embarrassing."

SANTA CLARA, CA - JANUARY 20: Defensive Coordinator Steve Wilks of the San Francisco 49ers wit the defense in the locker room during halftime of the NFC Divisional Playoff game against the Green Bay Packers at Levi's Stadium on January 20, 2024 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)
San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks wants to see improvement. (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)

Shanahan said he saw multiple instances of poor defense on run plays, specifically.

"They were expecting someone else to make the tackle," Shanahan explained. "Whenever you're expecting someone else to make the tackle, bad things happen."

Lions running back Jahmyr Gibbs offered one of the most glaring examples, as he juked his way through multiple defenders for a 15-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Similarly, Detroit wideout Jameson Williams exposed the secondary in the first quarter when he peeled off for a 42-yard touchdown run.

Niners general manager John Lynch took Friday as an opportunity to exalt his playing career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 1990s and early 2000s, saying San Francisco should aim for the same level of defensive dominance.

"Effort is a non-negotiable," Lynch said. "Those things have been addressed. You've got one game. I really would be shocked if we saw that again."

There's extra motivation to make big plays for returners like defensive end Nick Bosa, who fell to the Chiefs four years ago in Super Bowl LIV. The loss was a heartbreaker that saw the 49ers lose a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter. Linebacker Fred Warner said Thursday that the defeat left him "scarred for life."

Before the team's coaches spoke out, Bosa shared his advice to the team.

"I'm going to just relay to the guys that there has to be a different level of effort and intensity and unselfishness that you have to get to for every single snap that you're in there," Bosa said Thursday, via ESPN.

Bosa made sure to send some preemptive shots to Kansas City's offensive lineman as well, telling reporters that "they hold a lot."