SANTA CLARA – The 49ers had six sacks in their 27-10 NFC playoff victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday, dramatic moments that will dominate highlight shows documenting what happened in this game.
Those showcase moments are fun and certainly entertaining, but few realize they’re a reward for hard work a lot less appealing to the eye.
“We had to earn the right to rush the passer,” 49ers edge rusher Dee Ford said. “Stopping the run was the only way to do that.”
That’s no easy task against Dalvin Cook, one of the NFL’s elite runners. After all, the man averages 4.5 yards per carry and exceeded 90 yards eight times in 15 games played this season.
Shutting him down is hard, hard work.
The 49ers did exactly that, a foundational effort that allowed them to dominate this game defensively.
Cook’s stat line is nothing short of shocking. The Pro Bowler had 18 yards on nine carries. Double check the numbers if you want. They’re real. Cook averaged just 2.0 yards per carry and never carried for longer than six. Over four quarters, the Vikings never had a rushing first down. Wrap your head around that.
The defensive front dominated, linebackers attacked without relentlessly, and defensive backs prevented Cook from breaking loose outside.
“We felt like he was more of a perimeter runner, so we really wanted to attack the edges and swarm him when he got the ball,” linebacker Dre Greenlaw said. “…Cook is a great running back and it was fun competing against him. When you limit a guy like that to so few rushing yards, that’s a compliment to the entire defense about how good we are and how good we can be.”
This was Cook’s worst performance since Week 12 of the 2018 season, when he had 12 yards on nine carries against Chicago, and stands as the second-worst showing of his career. While Cook might find self-inflicted issues on tape, tipping the cap was his first instinct.
“They came out ready to play,” Cook said. “They have good players too. They played a good game.
“…We were just not really able to get in a rhythm, so they were able to sit back and do what they do. They were just able to fly around and make plays.”
The 49ers were a middle-of-the-road run defense during the regular season, with some regrettable showings as the year wore on.
[RELATED: Ford's return changed 49ers' defense]
Coaches emphasized the importance of run defense against the Vikings in particular, and players set out to shut down Cook’s typically stout ground game.
That allowed them to do spectacular things rushing the passer and creating a key turnover. Just as Ford said, those big moments in the backfield are earned and not given.
“We were able to be us,” linebacker Kwon Alexander said. “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.”