No. 3: Linebacker Fred Warner
He might not have had the crazy splash plays or highlight reels, but linebacker Fred Warner was a major reason why the San Francisco 49ers pulled off their playoff victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
Warner finished the game with seven tackles, four of them solo. But a good chunk of those tackles were on Dalvin Cook, who was the focal point of San Francisco’s defensive efforts.
Minnesota’s offense, when it’s clicking, runs through Cook, thus helping Kirk Cousins set up play action in order to get his top two wide receiver threats, Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, open more often.
Granted, Warner’s job was made much easier by a fully reinforced Niners defensive line, which also created plenty of penetration and prevented Cook from having much of an impact.
Still, Warner and fellow linebacker Kwon Alexander, who made his return from what was thought to be a season-ending pectoral tear, closed off many of the gaps that Cook was looking to exploit on the ground.
As a result, the Vikings were only able to manage a mere 21 rushing yards. And Cook had only 18 of those yards on his nine carries—an average of just 2.0 yards per attempt.
A far cry from the 94 yards and two touchdowns that he recorded against the New Orleans Saints a week ago.
Because of this, the Vikings were forced into plenty of passing situations, which allowed the Niners’ defense to utilize its pass-rushers to the maximum extent.