The 49ers need supplementary pass-rushing help, so getting Dee Ford back from injury is a major boost ahead of the Week 12 game against the Vikings.
Update: Dee Ford wasn’t activated ahead of Week 12 but is reportedly on track to return ahead of Week 13.
It almost feels like a foreign concept the San Francisco 49ers are getting healthy right at the time when a playoff push is necessary.
But that’s precisely what’s going on ahead of their Week 12 home matchup against the 5-5 Minnesota Vikings, a game that could ultimately carry a lot of playoff implications with the Vikings currently holding the No. 6 seed in the NFC playoff picture and the Niners, with the same record but a worse conference record, at No. 8 in the standings.
For starters, San Francisco is anticipating the return of third-year linebacker Dre Greenlaw, who was shelved on injured reserve with a groin injury suffered way back in Week 1. But Greenlaw’s absence has largely been accounted for with the surprisingly good play of depth linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair, and there’s a fair argument the latter will retain a starting spot over Greenlaw despite his return to the field.
Instead, the bigger anticipated return is that of EDGE Dee Ford.
Ford has been out of commission since Week 7, dealing with a lingering back issue that also plagued him for almost all of 2020. On Wednesday, though, head coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters he was anticipating Ford being activated off injured reserve and available for the 49ers’ Week 12 matchup against Minnesota:
"Dee Ford, we should activate [Thursday]. We’re not going to practice him today. We don’t like him to go three days, so he’ll get out there tomorrow, and hopefully, be good to go for Sunday."
A massive boost to a Niners pass rush that has struggled to get much production behind No. 1 edge rusher Nick Bosa this season.
49ers need Dee Ford to bolster the pass rush with Nick Bosa
Bosa has already surpassed his 2019 rookie-year tally of nine sacks, producing 10 so far in 2021 and looking every part the dominant pass-rusher San Francisco intended him to be when it grabbed him at No. 2 overall in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Ford, meanwhile, was supposed to be that complementary piece to Bosa, and fans caught a glimpse of this for much of 2019 and in short stints this season before Ford suffered his injury and landed on IR.
Whereas Bosa has 10 sacks, no one else on the 49ers roster has more than three, and even that number is accounted to only two of the Niners’ defenders, Ford and depth EDGE Arden Key.
But Ford’s three sacks this season have come by only having played a shade more than 16 percent of San Francisco’s defensive snaps, meaning that when he’s been on the field in pass-rush situations, he’s been productive.
Dee Ford’s return should boost 49ers pass rush vs. Vikings
Despite historically having issues protecting quarterback Kirk Cousins, the Vikings have actually done a good job in 2021 in pass protection, allowing only 14 sacks of him entering Week 12, towards the bottom of NFL starting quarterbacks this year.
With Ford out of the lineup, opposing teams playing the 49ers have frequently used chip-blocking and double-team strategies to try negating Bosa’s presence, yet Bosa has still made that presence felt.
With Ford in the lineup, that approach won’t be so easy.
As was the case earlier in the season when Ford wasn’t on IR, it’s not expected the Niners will play him as an every-down defender, rather in obvious passing situations where he can use his speed and burst to put pressure on the quarterback. In that regard, the Vikings should have a considerably tougher time trying to protect Cousins than if only Bosa was to be available.
It’s anyone’s guess whether or not this will make a massive difference, but San Francisco has to feel much better about its prospects of pulling off a win over Minnesota in Week 12 with Ford than if he wasn’t available.
The 49ers and Vikings kick off on Sunday, Nov. 28 at 4:25 p.m. ET from Levi’s Stadium.