A San Francisco 49ers pass rush unit that already has 23 sacks this season, including five in the last two weeks, is now expected to receive an added boost for the upcoming Minnesota Vikings game that features huge wildcard implications.
Defensive end Dee Ford, who has been nursing a back injury since November 6, is expected to be active for the huge home showdown at Levi’s Stadium with the Vikings, head coach Kyle Shanahan told the Bay Area media on Wednesday, November 24. Shanahan, though, said he and the 49er plans to be cautious with Ford.
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“Dee Ford, we should activate tomorrow,” Shanahan said to the media. “We’re not going to practice him today. We don’t like him to go three days, so he’ll get out there tomorrow, and hopefully, be good to go for Sunday.”
The move to bring back Ford is significant for the 49ers. Not only are they going up against a Vikes team that shares the same record as the 49ers at 5-5, but a Minnesota team that according to nfl.com is currently in the driver’s seat for the sixth wildcard spot in the NFC — placing them two steps ahead of the 49ers.
Ford Brings Unique Defensive Package for 49ers Front
Ford currently is tied for second on the ‘Niners with three sacks alongside fellow defensive end Arden Key. Both Ford and Key are among eight 49er defenders to produce a sack in 2021.
The 30-year-old Ford, however, adds this element to the 49ers’ front line that was introduced the last time the franchise played the Vikes during the 2020 NFC Divisional Round: A package called “NASCAR” as described by 49ers beat reporter David Lombardi of The Athletic.
Here’s an example of the “NASCAR” look that swallowed Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins in the red zone. Even at 252-pounds and lined up inside in a two-point stance, Ford still blows through the left guard Pat Eflein.
Ford added two quarterback hits that playoff game won by the 49ers 27-10.
Having Ford in the lineup provides this potential idea for the 49ers’ “NASCAR” look:
One More Defender Anticipated to Play Sunday
Ford isn’t just the only 49er defender who is expected to make his gridiron return.
Shanahan says linebacker Dre Greenlaw is planning to be activated alongside the defensive end.
“He’ll go today, and hopefully, he’ll be ready to go this week,” Shanahan said of the 24-year-old Greenlaw before the 49ers’ practice.
The 6-foot, 230-pound Greenlaw has been out of action since September 18 due to a core injury. His only action in 2021 was the season opener at Detroit, where he finished with six tackles and four solo stops. Greenlaw did indeed give it a try during the ‘Niners Wednesday practice, as the head coach told KNBR 680 AM.
“Greenlaw did a good job out there today,” Shanahan said during KNBR’s Tolbert, Krueger & Brooks show. “He’ll go meet with the trainers now and tell them how it felt and stuff. Dee, we don’t want to put him [out there] three days in a row, just because of how he’s been since he’s been here. So, we’re waiting until tomorrow to start to practice him.
The updated depth chart shows both Ford and Greelaw penciled in as starters for Sunday’s encounter with Minnesota.
The Vikings have been among the best at protecting Cousins — allowing just 14 sacks of their veteran QB who also has this touchdown-to-interception ratio: 21-to-2. The 21 TD passes ties Cousins for fifth in the league — alongside 2020 league Most Valuable Player Aaron Rodgers and 2021 MVP candidate Josh Allen. Also, Cousins has the third highest QB rating at 106.3.
But now, the anticipated return of Ford gives the 49ers some much needed trench help opposite of leading rusher Nick Bosa.