SANTA CLARA (CBS Local) — The San Francisco 49ers, heading into their NFC Championship matchup with the Green Bay Packers, find themselves getting healthy at the right time. The defense welcomed back Dee Ford, Kwon Alexander and Jaquiski Tartt, and went from good to great. No doubt a week of rest helped too.
The Niners’ stifling defensive attack limited the Minnesota Vikings to just 10 points. Dalvin Cook, the Vikings running back who led the league in rushing earlier in the season, carried the ball nine times for 18 yards. Kirk Cousins, with his full complement of receivers, only managed 172 yards passing. He was sacked six times. The Vikings sustained only three drives over 10 yards, with only one of them resulting in points. They couldn’t do much of anything.
Inside The NFL analyst and Hall Of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis knows a little bit about stifling defenses from his career with the Baltimore Ravens. “Man, they fast, they fast,” says Lewis. “They physical. They communicate. They are probably one of the best communicating defenses in football. And that front seven, they’re just really relentless. I think if you watch any success that anybody has had on them it has been direct downhill running. Sideline to sideline, east and west, doesn’t work against them. You have to go downhill. They’re not as big as the typical d-lineman, so I think downhill running you can kind of get to them. But, if you go east and west against them you are going to have problems. San Fran is going to be tough.”
That toughness comes at opposing teams from both sides of the ball. The 49ers offense ranked among the NFL’s best rushing units in the regular season, behind Lamar Jackson and the league-leading Baltimore Ravens but ahead of top rusher Derrick Henry and the Tennessee Titans. The 49ers put up 144.1 yards per game during the regular season without the benefit of a 1000-yard rusher. Include George Kittle, maybe the best tight end out there, who surpassed 1000 yards receiving, and the offense is just relentless. It can exploit a defense in so many ways.
“It’s the same thing [as the offense],” according to Lewis. “You’re dealing with a three-headed monster. Breida, 31 the speedster (Raheem Mostert), and then you have Tevin Coleman who I think is, wow, him coming over from Atlanta. Then you have Kittle at the tight end position. You have Deebo, you have Emmanuel Sanders. He (Garoppolo) has so many pieces, you can take the ball, he doesn’t have to win the game for you. He has the ability to do that, but I think all of those weapons will become big factors in this week’s matchup.”
The 49ers will be tested by a Packers defense that held off Russell Wilson, and, on the other side of the ball, by Aaron Rodgers, who knows how to lead a team in the playoffs. Packers WR Davante Adams erupted for eight catches and 160 yards two touchdowns against the Seattle Seahawks last week, though formidable TE Jimmy Graham can hardly be ignored. Aaron Jones is a significant dual threat out of the backfield. How Aaron Rodgers leverages these Packers weapons will be the key to any success the Packers find in San Francisco. It will be tough sledding against the rejuvenated 49ers defense that held them to just eight points back in November.
You can catch Ray Lewis along with Phil Simms, Brandon Marshall, Michael Irvin, and host James Brown on Inside The NFL every Tuesday night at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Showtime.