Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
Following a bye week during the Wild Card round, the San Francisco 49ers made the first playoff game at Levi’s Stadium one to remember with a 27-10 trouncing of the Minnesota Vikings. It was one of the most dominant team performances of the entire season and it came at exactly the right time. Before they square off with the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game, whose stock is on the rise and whose is trending in the wrong direction?
Stock Up: Dee Ford Elevates the Pass Rush
Since defensive end Dee Ford had been sidelined with a hamstring injury, the 49ers pass rush had been significantly less potent. His triumphant return on Saturday resulted in six total sacks of Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. Ford’s speed off the edge forced Cousins to step up into the pocket and often into the waiting arms of the likes of defensive linemen Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner. Even Solomon Thomas got in on the action, meaning that all five of the 49ers’ first-round defensive lineman registered a sack. It is clear and obvious the impact Dee Ford can have on defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s defense and his presence is extremely important in the NFCCG.
Stock Up: Pick Your Poison on Offense
It seems like every week a different player steps up for the 49ers’ offense,which doesn’t allow opposing defenses to game plan for one specific player. This week’s hero was running back Tevin Coleman, who amassed 105 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 22 carries. After being much maligned with multiple poor performances down the stretch, Coleman had the hot hand on Saturday and head coach Kyle Shanahan continued to feed him the ball all game. RB Raheem Mostert also put together a solid afternoon, as did the wide receiving corps which further shows how dangerous the offense can be in any game.
Stock Down: Ahkello Witherspoon Has a Short and Rough Day
Cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon was possibly the only down moment for the 49ers against the Vikings. His rough couple of weeks continued when he tripped on a 41-yard touchdown pass to WR Stefon Diggs. Those 41 yards represented 28 percent of the total yardage for Minnesota for the whole game. He was quickly benched in the first quarter for Emmanuel Moseley who turned in a fantastic performance in Witherspoon’s stead. Saleh has seen Witherspoon play at a high level, but it appears as though his confidence in coverage is shot. That said…
Stock Up: Ahkello Witherspoon is a Fantastic Teammate
It later surfaced that Witherspoon, after being benched, went to the coaches and asked to take over for Emmanuel Moseley’s special-teams responsibilities so that Moseley could focus all his efforts on playing defense. It is that sort of selfless action that makes this 49ers team special. Instead of wallowing in his demotion, Witherspoon actively sought a way to contribute in any capacity. These are the type of actions that could lift this franchise to their sixth Lombardi Trophy.
Stock Down: Expert Predictions
Recency bias is a deadly thing in the playoffs. After the Minnesota Vikings shocked the world by beating the New Orleans Saints during the Wild Card round, plenty of talking heads were quick to ride that wave of momentum. Despite the 49ers having a better roster and coming back to full strength on defense, many experts thought that Kirk Cousins could replicate the magic from the Superdome on the West Coast. From the opening kickoff, it was abundantly clear that the Vikings were completely outclassed by the 49ers. With the Green Bay Packers playing in the final game of the Divisional Round, will we see the recency bias rear its head again?
Stock Up: Injury Report is Completely Empty
Quite possibly the most important development heading into the NFCCG is that on Monday, the 49ers’ injury report didn’t have a soul on it. For a team that has fought through so many injuries at nearly every position, a clean bill of health moving forward is critical. Often it isn’t the best teams that win in the playoffs, but the healthiest. The 49ers are in the unfamiliar territory of being both. Their time is now.
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