When the 49ers acquired edge defender Dee Ford this offseason, they hoped to get an energizer who could lead a revamped pass rush in 2019.
And, NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger believed they had done just that, writing at the time of their trade for Ford that the Niners had "added a key building block to becoming a contender in the NFC West. Been looking for a guy that can scream off the edge since the meltdown of Aldon Smith."
For the Chiefs in 2018, Ford had been a one-man wrecking crew, forcing seven fumbles, getting 13 sacks and 29 quarterback hits.
Ford proved to be just what the 49ers needed.
Combining with rookie defensive end Nick Bosa, Ford proved to be a defensive catalyst as San Francisco went 13-3, won the NFC West title and earned the No. 1 seed in its conference playoffs. On Saturday, the 49ers will host the 10-6 Minnesota Vikings, and they’ll have Ford back in the lineup for the first time since Nov. 17. After missing time with a hamstring injury, Ford will be back on the field where he wants to be.
In 11 games this season, he has 6½ sacks, two forced fumbles and six tackles for loss.
Plus, with Ford lining up on the opposite side from Bosa, opposing blockers are under much more stress.
As Josh Dubow of the Associated Press noted this week, the 49ers pass rush is much better when Ford is playing. This year, he’s been on the field for 172 pass plays, and on those plays the team has a 32 percent pressure rate on opposing quarterbacks. Without Ford, that pressure rate is just 24.8 percent. The sack rate falls from 16.2 percent to just 5.4 percent without Ford.
Ford may not be completely healthy and able to play on every down in his first game back, but even if he’s on the field for only passing situations, his impact could be huge. As Kyle Madson of Ninerswire wrote, the 49ers averaged four sacks per game in their first 11 games (with Ford) but averaged only 0.8 sacks per game over the final five games without him – an enormous difference.
With Ford back Saturday – along with safety Jaquiski Tartt and linebacker Kwon Alexander (both also returning from injuries) – the 49ers’ defense should be back to the level it was early in the season, when it was often dominating.
Ford could have the biggest impact. Wrote Madson: "That massive difference in pressure and sack rate (with Ford) sends ripple effects through the entire defense."
Saturday’s game is set to kick off at 1:35 p.m. San Francisco is a 7-point favorite.