April 13, 2021

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Jets, Giants must follow 49ers’ blueprint to…

4 min read
Jets, Giants must follow 49ers' blueprint to...

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — For the sake of New York football and its sorry current state, hopefully Dave Gettleman and Joe Douglas had a close eye on the 49ers’ 27-10 demolition of the Vikings in Saturday’s NFC Divisional Playoff game at Levi’s Stadium.

Because the foundation of what makes the 49ers the unquestioned favorite to win the Super Bowl in three weeks is exactly what both Gettleman, the Giants’ general manager, and Douglas, the Jets’ GM, must focus on this offseason: the line of scrimmage.

That’s where the 49ers dominated the Vikings en route to advancing to next Sunday’s NFC Championship game at home. On both sides of the ball. The San Francisco offensive line owned the Vikings defensive front, and its defensive front suffocated the Minnesota offense.

The common denominator to the Giants’ and Jets’ problems begin and end with poor offensive line play and not enough pass rush.

Those happen to be two things the 49ers do as well as any team in the league, which also happens to be why they’re the best team in the league at 14-3 and a game away from a Super Bowl berth.

The 49ers mentally and physically broke a tough-minded Vikings team on Saturday.

And when it was over, they acted like they’d been there before — despite the fact that Saturday was the franchise’s first playoff game since 2013 and the fact that they had a 10-22 record the previous two seasons.

“I was excited coming into the locker room after the game because the guys were excited that we won, but no one was really celebrating,’’ 49ers 13th-year left tackle Joe Staley said. “We realize how special this team is and what we can do this year. Guys are really excited and focused and we’re moving on.’’

The beauty of this 49ers team is the variety of ways it can beat teams.

If they need quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to sling the ball around the yard 35 times and throw three or four TDs, the Niners can win that way. If they need to run the ball all game — as they did with 47 rushes against the Vikings — they can win that way, too.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offensive system looks like a nightmare to defend with all of its misdirection elements.

“I can’t imagine what it’s like to play linebacker against us, because there are so many moving parts and so many people going in different directions on every play,’’ 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk said.

Shanahan completely outfoxed Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer in the first half. Zimmer committed to stop the run with eight in the box early in the game and Shanahan had Garoppolo play-action the defense to death, completing 5 of 6 for 56 yards on the opening drive to take a 7-0 lead.

Kirk Cousins
Kirk Cousins is sacked by Arik Armstead.Getty Images

Then Shanahan reverted to the running game, leaving Garoppolo as a virtual spectator, and the Vikings couldn’t stop the run. Eventually, the running game broke the Vikings’ will — particularly after an eight-play touchdown drive in the third quarter on which the 49ers ran on every play and took a 24-10 lead.

During that stretch, they ran the ball on 12 consecutive plays, emasculating the Minnesota defense, which became so unglued that players were bickering with each other on the field.

“We have shown that we can win a variety of different ways,’’ Staley said.

“I just feel like we’ve got answers for everything,’’ said 49ers receiver Kendrick Bourne, who scored the first touchdown.

“If you look at our offense and you’re going to double [cover] somebody, you’re going to be in trouble,’’ 49ers receiver Deebo Samuel said.

Exhibit A: Tight end George Kittle has been arguably the 49ers’ most prolific offensive weapon. He caught three passes for 16 yards against the Vikings, and it didn’t matter.

Exhibit B: Garoppolo threw the ball just 19 times, completing 11 for 131 yards, and it didn’t matter.

“Kyle makes it tough,’’ Juszczyk said of Shanahan. “Once you have success with something early, Kyle does a great job of riding that wave and rolling with whatever’s working.’’

The common denominator to all of the success, the reason Shanahan’s complex offense works, is the offensive line. Same on defense, where five defensive linemen produced six sacks and held the Minnesota offense to only seven first downs in the game.

“We were just being legendary, being ourselves,’’ 49ers linebacker Kwon Alexander said.

“We knew what we were facing,’’ Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins said.

They were facing the best team in the NFL with the best offensive line and defensive fronts.

Hopefully, Gettleman and Douglas took good notes as they prepare for free agency and the draft. Because it’s the only way to make the Giants and Jets better moving forward.


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