Much of the discussion surrounding Sunday's game with the San Francisco 49ers has centered around the suddenly multi-faceted offense the team has assembled. But what propelled the 49ers to a 13-3 record and hosting the NFC Championship Game in January was a defense that limited 10 of 16 opponents last year to 17 or fewer points.
The San Francisco offense remains a work in progress, as new faces mix in with the carryover players, but the defense is a polished unit that has the ability to dominate opposing offenses.
"When you watch them on tape, they look really good," offensive tackle Phil Loadholt said. "They have a lot of guys who can make plays and they can bring it to you."
There may not be a more dominant front seven in the league. The 49ers run a 3-4 defense, which requires two things to be successful – a strong front three linemen and active, aggressive linebackers. They will be putting pressure on the Vikings offensive line as it attempts to open running lanes for Adrian Peterson and protect Christian Ponder.
"They do a lot things well," guard Charlie Johnson said. "They can spread you out and you have to be aware at all times because they bring pressure from different angles on every play."
The defensive line of the 49ers is both stout and laden with veterans. Pro Bowler Justin Smith and Ray McDonald man the end positions with massive 330-pound nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga in the middle, but what is of more concern to the Vikings O-line are the linebackers that can create havoc on the other side of the ball. The foursome of Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks all have the ability to blow up plays and they're the straw that the stirs the drink in the Niners 3-4 defense.
"I think everyone knows what Patrick Willis can do, but those other three guys are really good," Johnson said. "Bowman is a big-time playmaker and (Aldon) Smith is athletic and getting better all the time. The key for us will be keeping our eyes open, executing our assignments and maintaining gap integrity. You don't get away with too many mistakes against guys like these because they have a bunch of different guys who can make plays."
The Vikings offense and 49ers defense appears, on paper anyway, to be a classic old-school matchup of a run-first offense vs. a run-stopping defense and both of them will have to be at the top of their game to neutralize the strength of the other.
"This will have a feel like a college game," Loadholt said. "We want to be an offense that dictates to the defense and they have a reputation for being able to stop the run and make you one-dimensional on offense. It's going to be our job to make sure that they don't dictate what we're going to do. It'll be a challenge, but one we're looking forward to."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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