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Final Thoughts: Vikings Expect Challenge from 49ers Front 7, 'Most Talented' of Season 

EAGAN, Minn. – The Vikings offensive line knows there's a couple of tall tasks ahead of them – literally.

49ers defensive end Arik Armstead and defensive tackle DeForest Buckner are both listed at 6-foot-7.

The former Oregon Ducks teammates are part of an aggressive unit that moves around before the snap and surges forward after it. San Francisco has benefited from a rotation on its front four, getting a surge from rookie Nick Bosa and a big boost when veteran Dee Ford is in the game.

Vikings right tackle Brian O'Neill spoke highly of the opposing line during a session with Twin Cities media members earlier this week.

"They're probably the most talented group I've seen top to bottom in terms of the front seven this year, for sure. They've got horses at every position and they're good. It's a big opportunity for us, a big challenge to go meet them.

"We'll battle them," O'Neill added. "But we're pretty good players, too."

The 49ers are, quite honestly, stacked.

So much so that Bosa, who started 14 games for San Francisco and racked up 9.0 sacks in his first NFL season, isn't even listed as a starter on the 49ers depth chart.

Five of the 49ers defensive linemen are first-round picks: Bosa (No. 2), Solomon Thomas (No. 3), Buckner (No. 7), Armstead (No. 17) and Ford (23), who was acquired in a trade with Kansas City last March.

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Vikings Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski talked about San Francisco's front during his media availability on Wednesday and called Armstead, Buckner and Bosa "exceptional" players.

"It's just great players, and you've heard it said, it's nothing new, they're playing the quarterback on the way to playing the run," Stefanski said. "It's just an impressive group; they get off the ball, and they're making a ton of plays.

"They're an attacking scheme," he later added. "They've had some success with it, so our job is to find a way to go get some runs, get some passes going, but it certainly won't be easy."

If Minnesota's offensive line and running back Dalvin Cook can establish a run game early, that could be key in combatting the San Francisco front.

The 49ers were excellent against the pass in 2019, limiting teams to just 169.2 passing yards per game, which topped the NFL. They ranked No. 2 in total defense, allowing opponents to average 281.8 yards per game.

They tied with the Vikings on sacks, ranking fifth in the league with 48.

Against the run, however, San Francisco's stats were a bit more pedestrian. They allowed opponents to average 112.6 rushing yards per game (17th) and 4.49 rushing yards per attempt (23rd).

And if the Vikings manage to work their way deep into 49ers territory, the numbers speak for themselves.

San Francisco's defense ranked third in the NFL on third-down conversions (33.3 percent) but was less effective in the red zone (60 percent) and in goal-to-go situations (73.1 percent), both of which put them at 22nd in the NFL.

"We know the challenge that they present up front," Cook said on Tuesday. "They've got a good front seven – probably the best we're going to face all year.

"It's a playoff game, so we know what we're getting ourselves into," he added. "We just have to go in and try to stay on schedule, running the football, doing what we do. I think that'll take care of itself."

Injury Report

The Vikings on Thursday ruled out CB Mackensie Alexander (knee) and placed him on Injured Reserve on Friday. Safety Jayron Kearse (toe/knee) is doubtful.

WR Adam Thielen (ankle) is questionable. Thielen suffered an injury during Wednesday's practice.

DT Linval Joseph (knee), WR Stefon Diggs (illness), CB Xavier Rhodes (ankle), DE Stephen Weatherly (foot), G Josh Kline (elbow), DT Shamar Stephen (knee), TE Tyler Conklin (knee), DE Ifeadi Odenigbo (hamstring) and RB Dalvin Cook (shoulder) were full participants in practice, did not receive designations and should be good to go.

The 49ers, who have not played a game since Week 17, did not rule out any players.

Ford (quad/hamstring) and DE Kentavius Street (knee) were listed as questionable for Saturday. G Mike Person (neck) and LB Elijah Lee (illness) did not receive designations on Thursday's report.

Fan Mail

So Mike [Boone] ran for 148 yards against Chicago, I assumed he earned a shot at a few snaps in New Orleans, but that didn't happen. Any chance he will play against San Francisco as part of the game plan?

– Larry from New Hampshire

Mike Boone has certainly been fun to watch, and he showed late in the season exactly why he earned a spot on the Vikings roster. Boone adds significant depth to Minnesota's RB room, and the Vikings know they can call on him when needed or when a situation dictates it.

I understand your enthusiasm in seeing Boone on offense, but it's hard to argue against the Dalvin Cook/Alexander Mattison duo that combined for 114 rushing yards and two touchdowns. As far as whether or not he'll be a part of Saturday's game plan in San Francisco, I'll leave that up to the coaching staff. But I would say you never know how coaches will decide to use the variety of offensive weapons against certain defensive looks.

As a reminder, Boone also has been a big-time contributor on special teams, which may be a less-flashy role but is significant nonetheless.

Quotable

"I think as you guys have seen all season, Dalvin Cook is a special player. When he touches the ball, good things happen. Does it open up other elements of our game? Certainly it does, and we're never going to shy away from saying that we're going to be multifaceted in how we attack a defense, so having No. 33 is certainly a nice bonus for us."

– Vikings Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski on how establishing the run can open up the passing game

Stat of the Week

Niners QB Jimmy Garoppolo's lowest passer rating logged as a starter was 45.1. Against whom, you might ask?

The Vikings in the 2018 season opener.

During that game, Garoppolo was 15-of-33 passing for 261 yards and one touchdown. He was intercepted three times (including a pick six by Mike Hughes in his NFL debut) and sacked three times.

Garoppolo went on to start three more games for the 49ers last season before being sidelined for the remainder of the season with an injury. He started all 16 games in 2019, however, and San Francisco's receiving corps has improved since the Vikings last meeting with Garoppolo.

So take it with a grain of salt, but it's a rather interesting stat no matter how you look at it.

Broadcast Info

TV BROADCAST

Nationwide: NBC (KARE 11 in the Twin Cities)

Play-by-Play: Al Michaels

Analyst: Cris Collinsworth  

Sideline Reporter: Michele Tafoya 

LOCAL RADIO

KFAN (100.3-FM/KTLK 1130-AM in Minneapolis/St. Paul)

Play-by-Play: Paul Allen

Analyst: Pete Bercich

Sideline Reporters: Greg Coleman & Ben Leber

Radio Pre-game Show: Mike Mussman | 1:30 p.m. (CT)

KFAN and KTLK serve as the flagship stations for the five-state Vikings Radio Network.

NATIONAL RADIO

Westwood One

Play-by-Play: Ryan Radtke

Analyst: Tony Boselli

Sideline Reporter: Scott Kaplan

SATELLITE RADIO

Sirius: MIN 82; SF 83

XM: MIN 226; SF 225 

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