Danielle Hunter is the leader of the pack, with 14½ sacks. The fifth-year defensive end from LSU tied his career-high sack total this season and ranked third in the NFL in sacks. He also had 22 quarterback hits.
But Hunter isn’t the only dangerous pass rusher on the Minnesota Vikings’ front seven.
The Vikings this season ranked tied for fifth in the NFL – with the 49ers – with 48 sacks. Defensive ends Everson Griffen (8.0) – who also had a team-leading 24 quarterback hits -- and Ifeadi Odenigbo (7.0) provided consistent pressure. And tackles Linval Joseph (3.0) and Jaleel Johnson (3.5), defensive end Stephen Weatherly (3.0) plus linebacker Eric Wilson (3.0) could also get to San Francisco’s Jimmy Garoppolo Saturday if the 49ers offensive line doesn’t do its job in the divisional-round playoff game at Levi’s Stadium.
It could be one of the most important matchups in Saturday’s game and determine if the No. 1-seeded 13-3 Niners can get past the No. 6-seeded 10-6 Vikings to the NFC Championship Game next week.
The Vikings front seven also will need to shut down the 49ers’ running attack – another tall order.
But as Chris Biderman of the Sacramento Bee noted this week, the Minnesota front seven is formidable. The Vikings, Biderman wrote, dominated the Saints in their overtime wild-card round victory, getting to Drew Brees three times and controlling the line of scrimmage. In the 49ers’ victory over the Saints recently, the 49ers didn’t get a single sack on Brees.
To win, the 49ers’ tackles, Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey, will need outstanding games against Hunter and Griffen, and center Ben Garland – playing in place of the injured Weston Richburg – will have to contend with an array of different looks.
Wrote Biderman: “There’s no scenario the Vikings win Saturday with their defensive front playing poorly. The 49ers could run all over them and set up big gains with play action if that were the case. Minnesota’s best chance is stopping the run, nullifying play action and pressuring quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, especially on third down.”
As Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said this week, the matchup Saturday is “big boy football.” The war in the trenches will be where the game is won.
Saturday’s kickoff is set for 1:35 p.m. The 49ers are favored by 7 points.