Image Credit: Associated Press
If you thought the 49ers were going to face Seattle once again in the postseason, you'll have to keep waiting. Instead they get a longtime postseason foe in the Vikings, who upset the Saints last week in overtime at the Superdome.
The 49ers are 4-1 against the Vikings in the postseason (with the sole loss being the infamous upset in the 1987 Divisional Round), and are 23-23-1 all time against the Purple People Eaters. Of course, something’s gotta give, especially since the winner is one step closer to reaching the Super Bowl.
Guys like Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook, Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen are well established as threats, but it’s the opposing side of the ball we’re looking at today. The Vikings feature a quality defense that did enough at New Orleans to give the offense a fighting chance in the 26-20 victory.
There’s two major threats on this defense and they’re both edge rushers; Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter. Against the Saints offensive line both pass rushers sacked Brees 1.5 times and combined for 3.0 sacks, a strip sack, and 6 QB hits on the day. It was a performance from a two headed dragon that made the Saints offense vulnerable enough that quarterback Brees struggled for most of the game.
Griffen and Hunter have both made at least two Pro Bowls and one All-Pro team (both Second Team) in the last four seasons, and at 32 years old Griffen is still playing strong football. Hunter recently turned 25 and has already amassed 54.5 sacks in his career. Needless to say the 49ers offense is in for a test.
For more let’s check out the tape to determine what kind of impact the 49ers should expect from a lethal edge rushing duo.
Right out the gate, both Griffen and Hunter split the sack on this play.
What stands out about this play is that both of the edge rushers make impressive moves to get to Brees. Griffen uses his signature spin move against left tackle Terron Armstead while Hunter uses a counter move against right tackle Ryan Ramczyk. It all ends badly for Brees as he gets taken to the turf.
On this snap Griffen is used as an interior rusher. This time he can’t get the sack on Brees, but he forces enough pressure on him that he has to release this ball in a flash. A simple rush against the left guard Andrus Peat frees himself, and he hits Brees just as the quarterback gets rid of the ball.
These plays are significant even if they’re not counted as sacks. In addition to the play result being in jeopardy with a pass rusher breathing down your neck, a quarterback’s health is also affected the more he gets hit. The 49ers are one of the quicker passing teams in the league, but on the chance Minnesota forces San Francisco to throw deep we could see Griffen/Hunter winning those matchups.
Griffen collects another sack on this snap. Right guard Larry Warford is pulled to block Griffen, which as it turns out is a mistake. The edge rusher still moves very quickly for his age, and Warford isn’t even a challenge for him.
Lastly, Hunter comes back into play on the most impactful defensive play of the game. At first the right tackle appears to false start, but in actuality he times the snap perfectly. In this instance the tackle should normally have the leverage against the edge rusher.
That’s not the case here. Using a patient first two steps, Hunter accelerates inside and immediately takes down Brees. In addition he forces a fumble, recovered by the Vikings. Though the Saints eventually settled on a field goal to send the game to Overtime, Hunter’s spectacular strip sack continued to take time off the clock and eliminated the possibility of a touchdown drive.
Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter are two big reasons why the Vikings should not be looked over, even as the six seed. Both pass rushers have combined to become a dangerous duo for years, and now the 49ers get to witness firsthand just what they can do. It’s these two that need to be shutdown, especially with a Vikings secondary that is shorthanded entering Saturday.
Shutting these two bulls down ensures an easier road to the NFC Championship, so tackles Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey need to step up and help prove the 49ers are here to stay in the postseason.
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