The Vikings used a full team effort to get a win Sunday in New Orleans, and they will likely need the same this weekend if they want to get past the 49ers.
But there were a few individual performances that stood out to Robert Mays, who writes for The Ringer.
Mays broke down the most impactful players from the playoffs thus far and singled out Danielle Hunter, Adam Thielen and Anthony Harris for their play against the Saints.
Mays pointed out Hunter's incredible athleticism, noting that the 24-year-old "just doesn't move like other defensive ends." Hunter had 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble on Drew Brees.
Since entering the league, Hunter has really refined his pass-rush skills, but his best trait remains his ability to instantly change directions. No other pass rusher (aside from maybe Jadeveon Clowney) gets from 0 to 60 as fast as Hunter, and that acceleration was on full display against the Saints.
On his strip-sack in the fourth quarter, Hunter barely moves at the snap, which causes All-Pro right tackle Ryan Ramczyk to hesitate for just a beat. With Ramczyk standing still, Hunter explodes inside, works his way into the backfield, and drags Drew Brees to the turf. It's a move that's just not possible for many defensive ends. It was also the first sack that Ramczyk has allowed this season.
Mays also mentioned Thielen and noted that he "is back and healthy, and his presence is a boon for the Vikings offense." The Vikings wide receiver had seven receptions for 129 yards, including a 43-yard catch in overtime that helped set up Kyle Rudolph's game-winning score.
Thielen is a master at the subtleties of creating separation, but an area of his game that occasionally gets overlooked is how well he tracks the ball in the air. His 43-yard reception in overtime — the one that set up the Vikings game-winning score — may not look like an especially impressive catch, but locating the ball over his shoulder and holding on to it while getting yanked down by Patrick Robinson is immensely difficult.
The same goes for his 34-yard reception in the third quarter, which seemed to shatter cornerback Marshon Lattimore's soul. When he's right, Thielen is one of the most complete receivers in the NFL, and his return could make the difference for a Vikings playoff run.
Mays also had praise for Harris, whom he called "the best player that casual fans don't know about." Mays broke down the safety's clutch second-quarter pick against Brees.
He's brilliant in coverage and has a playmaking ability that few safeties possess. Harris finished tied with All-Pro cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Tre'Davious White for the league lead in interceptions (six), and his pick against Drew Brees on Sunday showed exactly what makes him great.
Harris started the play as a deep safety on the right hashmark to shade coverage toward Michael Thomas. The Saints star receiver ran a deep in route, and Brees clearly thought that would suck Harris toward the line of scrimmage. But instead of taking the bait, Harris maintained his position in the deep middle and picked off a deep throw for Ted Ginn Jr. Discipline, range, ball skills. That's a play that requires all three. Harris and Harrison Smith is just an unfair safety duo.
The Vikings and 49ers will meet Saturday in the Divisional round at Levi's Stadium. Kickoff is at 3:35 p.m. (CT).
Souhan: Vikings-49ers could be decided in the trenches
Scanning for an area that could help decide Saturday's matchup? Look no further than the line of scrimmage.
Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune recently wrote that Minnesota will need to be at its best against San Francisco at the point of attack on both sides of the ball.
In other words, Souhan said, the Vikings will need a repeat performance of Sunday's effort in New Orleans.
The formula is not some secret sauce. It's Football 101. Win the line of scrimmage, win the game. At least that's the case most of the time.
The Vikings will need a repeat performance but be even better Saturday vs. the San Francisco 49ers, who pose a tougher physical challenge than what the Vikings faced in the bayou.
As [Vikings Head Coach Mike] Zimmer noted Monday, the playoffs are "big boy football," and this is a big boy matchup of like-minded teams.
The 49ers and Vikings rank No. 2 and No. 4, respectively, in the NFL in rushing attempts per game. Two power rushing teams. Two brute-force defensive lines. Two blueprints that rely on brawn.
The NFL should show this game in black-and-white as an homage to yesteryear.
Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the 49ers.
The Vikings and 49ers each recorded 48 total team sacks in the regular season, which tied for fifth in the NFL.
Offensively, as Souhan noted, both teams like to line up and run the ball. Minnesota ranked sixth in the league with 133.3 rushing yards per game, while San Francisco was second at 144.1 yards per game.
If the Vikings can win early and often near where the ball is snapped, it could bode well for their chances of another upset win.
The Vikings answered that call on both lines against the Saints. That's where everything starts and typically gets settled. This game will be no different.