SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Entering Saturday's divisional playoff matchup with the Vikings, the 49ers knew that they were once again being doubted. All they were hearing at practice every day was the threat of Dalvin Cook and the Vikings' two prolific wide receivers. That the 49ers' defense will be in for a handful.
Turns out that it was actually the defense that proved to be the handful for Minnesota's offense. The 49ers' defense dominated the Vikings to lead them to a 27-10 victory. San Francisco advances to the NFC Championship game as it awaits the results of Sunday's Packers-Seahawks game at Lambeau Field in Green Bay.
Whoever advances to play the 49ers will have to figure out how to move the ball on the 49ers' defense. The Vikings can attest to that after having a no-show on offense. That no-show wasn't because the Vikings didn't prepare the right way. It was due to the suffocating defense of the Niners.
A whopping 18 yards on the ground on nine carries was all that Cook could muster against the stout defense of the 49ers. Making Cook irrelevant was crucial.
"We knew they were going to attack us with the run game." said defensive tackle DeForest Buckner. " We knew they were going to try us early. We had to shut it down early to make it the game we wanted to make it."
By keeping Cook irrelevant, it would then force Kirk Cousins to pass more often than the Vikings wanted. Since Cook couldn't manage any success, it put the Vikings into a bunch of third-and-long situations. It's why they only converted 2-of-12 on third down.
Minnesota's offense is built to run the football with play-action and is critical for their passing offense to have success.
Last week, the New Orleans Saints struggled to contain Cook. It took them until the second half to figure it out. By that time, it was already too late for the Saints. The threat of Cook was in the back of their minds at that point. That is why it was critical for the 49ers to take him out of the game early.
"We were able to be us." said linebacker Kwon Alexander on stopping Cook. "Once we do that, we can go out there and have fun and when we play together as a team it's hard to beat us. That is all we have to do and we are going to go far."
With Cook a non-factor, that threat of play-action didn't work on the 49ers. The edge rushers were not biting on the run as they would rush to lay the hit on Cousins, who was battered for the majority of the game.
Six sacks. That was how many times the 49ers were able to take down Cousins officially. Those six sacks do not give a sufficient indicator as to how elite the 49ers' pass rush was.
Those six sacks mark the first multi-sack game that the 49ers produced since Week 12 against the Packers. They only had four sacks in December.
So what was it that made the pass-rush come alive?
It was the return of defensive end Dee Ford, who recorded a sack and two quarterback hits. There is no overstating the presence Ford has when he is on the field. With him out there, it becomes impossible for an offense to account for all four vaunted pass rushers.
If the opposition wants to double Nick Bosa, then they run the risk of having Arik Armstead, Buckner and Ford running rampant. That is exactly what happened Saturday.
The 49ers established their presence early on. They caused the Vikings to play out of their comfort zone and into their own.
The Super Bowl is right within the grasp of the No. 1 seed 49ers and they don't look like they have any plans of letting that opportunity slip away.