San Francisco's defense was tops in the NFL in 2022, ranking first in both points and yards allowed for the first time in franchise history.
That 49ers' reign of terror on opposing offenses resulted in defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans being named The Associated Press 2022 NFL Assistant Coach of the Year at Thursday's NFL Honors in Phoenix.
Ryans received 35 first-place votes and was named on 48 of 50 ballots, earning 206 points.
Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson was second in the voting with 113 points, which included 11 first-place votes. Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen did not have any first-place votes, but received 26 points. Others garnering first-place votes were: Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier; Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo; Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon; and Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland.
The award-winning season was just Ryans' second as a coordinator, and it will also be his last in The Bay -- the Houston Texans hired him as their next head coach on Jan. 31.
After joining the Niners in 2017 as a defensive quality control coach and being elevated to inside linebackers coach for the next three seasons, the former NFL linebacker excelled immediately after inheriting Robert Saleh's coordinator job in 2021.
He built on a 2021 defense that allowed the third-least yards and ninth-least points to lead a 2022 squad of even more effective ball-hawking, run-stuffing playmakers.
Ryans' defense boasted the NFL's sack leader -- Nick Bosa had 18.5 on the season, 2.5 more than anyone else even though he missed one game with a groin injury. Tashaun Gipson had five interceptions, one shy of a tie for the league lead. And his fellow safety Talanoa Hufanga netted four picks to go along with two forced fumbles.
The tenacity of Bosa and the pass rush, combined with San Francisco's opportunistic secondary, helped the defense tie with the Steelers for the league lead in interceptions with 20.
Quarterbacked by Fred Warner in the middle, the Niners D was one of two teams to allow fewer than 300 points (277). The other team to do so, the Buffalo Bills, played one less regular-season game.
Although San Francisco struggled to limit passing yards (ranked 21st), Ryans used his previous expertise as linebackers coach and as a former Pro Bowl linebacker himself to fortify the box and smother the run game.
San Francisco trailed only Tennessee (1,307) in rushing yards allowed (1,321), and far outpaced Baltimore's third-best run-stopping defense (1,566). Even when offenses managed to move the ball through the air, the 49ers became stingy as the field shortened. Ryans' unit tied for fifth in the league by allowing just 20 passing touchdowns.
It was comprehensive dominance for the Niners defense in 2022, made more impressive by the situation at quarterback.
Injuries pressed head coach Kyle Shanahan into a revolving door at the position. First, hopeful franchise piece Trey Lance fractured his ankle in Week 2. Then, when Jimmy Garoppolo suffered a broken foot in Week 13, the final pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, Brock Purdy, assumed the starting role. The offense remained a top-10 unit throughout, propped up by a bevy of dangerous skill players but also by a hungry defense that continued to stymie opponents and set up whomever was behind center with comfortable game scripts.
All the while, the Niners kept winning. San Francisco put together a streak of 12 victories from Oct. 30 to Jan. 22 in which the defense allowed 14.9 points per game.
It came to an end in the NFC Championship Game against the Eagles when Purdy and quarterback Josh Johnson were the latest to fall victim to injury, but this stellar year for Ryans remains just a beginning.
His mastery of the defensive coordinator position made him a must-interview name for teams in need. He spoke with all five teams with offseason head coaching vacancies before electing to join the Texans.
Now, the Assistant Coach of the Year is all set to helm the team that drafted him as a player back in 2006.