Vikings to face 49ers without 4 defensive line starters
Griffen officially ruled out for Sunday's game
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings on Sunday at San Francisco will be without all four of their preferred starters on the defensive line.
Defensive end Everson Griffen was officially ruled out for the game on Friday after being away from the team since having a mental health issue on Wednesday. Defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson has been ruled out after being placed Tuesday on the COVID-19 reserve list. He has not been vaccinated.
The Vikings entered the week already knowing they would be without star end Danielle Hunter, who was lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle suffered Oct. 31, and nose tackle Michael Pierce, who will miss his seventh straight game with an elbow injury.
Other than that, the Vikings are relatively healthy. They listed safeties Josh Metellus and Camryn Bynum (ankle) and guard Wyatt Davis (ankle) as questionable for Sunday. Metellus, a special teams ace, returned to practice Friday after being activated off the COVID list.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said Friday he did not have an update on Griffen, who had to be coaxed out of his residence Wednesday by law enforcement and mental health responders after he made an early morning 911 call. Griffen also posted a video of himself holding a gun and expressing concern for his safety. After leaving his home, Griffen was taken to a mental health facility.
Griffen remains on the 53-man roster. Zimmer said he doesn’t know if he might be moved to any sort of reserve list.
“I let the front-office guys handle that,” he said.
The Vikings lead the NFL with 31 sacks, but 11 this season have come from Hunter, with six, and Griffen, with five. The top sackers available Sunday are linebacker Eric Kendricks (4) and nose tackle Armon Watts (3).
Watts has been starting in place of Pierce, and D.J. Wonnum has been filling in for Hunter. Sheldon Richardson will replace Tomlinson at three-technique defensive tackle or Griffen at defensive end. Other possible candidates to start include James Lynch at three-technique and Kenny Willekes, expected to be elevated from the practice squad, at defensive end.
At defensive tackle, the Vikings also have T.Y. McGill, who is on the practice squad but has 44 games of NFL experience. At defensive end, they also have Tashawn Bower, Eddie Yarbrough and rookie Patrick Jones II. Bower rejoined the Vikings on Thursday after he was plucked off New England’s practice squad on Wednesday. He had been with the Vikings from 2017-19, getting into seven games.
“Tashawn’s done a good job this week and he remembered a lot of things, so we’ll see,” Zimmer said.
One key to victory on Sunday for the Vikings likely will be to keep 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa away as much as possible from quarterback Kirk Cousins.
Bosa has 10 sacks in 10 games. When the 49ers defeated the Vikings 27-10 in a playoff game after the 2019 season, he had two of the six sacks of Cousins.
“They move him around a lot,” Zimmer said. “Sometimes he’s inside, sometimes he’s outside. He’s terrific with his hands. He’s got good power on the rush. His reaction rushes are really, really good. And I think those are the hardest things with him. You’ve got to pay attention to him, obviously.”
Cousins was sacked twice in each of the past two games. That followed a stretch in which he was sacked just once in three games.
Zimmer said equipment manager Dennis Ryan has returned to the TCO Performance Center after having been out due to testing positive for COVID-19. “He’s good. … He came up to my office (Friday),’’ Zimmer said. … The Vikings have yet to win at the 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium since it opened in 2014. In addition to the playoff loss, they also lost to San Francisco 20-3 there in the 2015 opener.