Vikings-49ers Divisional Preview
With the Wildcard round all but wrapped up, to sum up the weekend by calling it “chaotic” would be a drastic understatement. We had the mess that was the Bills-Texans, the falling of the league’s giant, Seattle beating Josh McCown lead Eagles, and the Minnesota Vikings upsetting the New Orleans Saints. With that being said, the Vikings are on a mission to upset the number 1 seed, San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers have been a well-rounded team all year round and with their 13-3 record, have some very impressive wins including their win against the Saints. The Vikings are making it work and are coming into this game on a hot streak and are ready to go.
Kirk Cousins of course was able to thrive against the Saints because it wasn’t a prime-time game and he led them to victory. But in all seriousness, Kirk looked good overall and really kept the offense on schedule. He kept his cool, in classic Kirk Cousins fashion, and delivered some big time throws at the end of the game. Led by Dalvin Cook, their zone run game was effective all game which allowed them to be in reasonable converting situations. Down the stretch of the game we saw more work from Alexander Mattison and Alex Boone to take some of the workload off of Cook. The offense was consistent all game besides some unfortunate circumstances that set them back including the Thielen fumble on the first drive and the failed trick play. Besides that, they really had their way on offense all game. Adam Thielen fared well after coming off of an injury even though he struggled early. With Thielen receiving a solid target share, that led to Stefon Diggs getting less targets than he wanted and in response, blew up on the sidelines. If the Vikings want to make a serious run at this thing that will have to stop from him as it is a major distraction to the team. The offense line was a bit shaky and they will have no room for inconsistency this week with this loaded 49ers front, but I thought James Bradbury did well. Bradbury was one of “my guys” coming out last year and it is good to see him doing well. The combination of Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith Jr. also continue to be important as they have been able to seal the edge really well and Rudolph caught the game winning touchdown pass in overtime.
Going up against the Saints offense was always going to be a daunting task for this Mike Zimmer defense, but they were able to get the job done in the end. Despite extremely poor, Corner play all year they were able to keep Michael Thomas out of the endzone and even though he did have 7 catches for 70 yards they took away other options even without McKenzie Alexander in this one. They held Alvin Kamara to 21 yards on 7 carries and limited Latavius Murray’s production as well. It will be huge for them to continue to be strong against the run this week because the Shanahan offense relies heavily on the run game. However, they did struggle with the gadget player of all gadget players, Taysom Hill who did everything against them. Minnesota continues to get good safety play out of Anthony Harris who did have a big time interception on Drew Brees late in the game, but he can credit a lot of his success to their d-line as Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen combined for 3 sacks and are one of the leagues most underrated duos. They will have to come up big again if Minnesota wants a chance at moving on to the NFC Championship.
After 2 weeks to prepare for their opponent the 49ers are back after a wildly successful 13-3 season. San Francisco went from having the second overall pick to becoming the 1 seed in the NFC. A lot of this success can be credited to two things on offense: stable Quarterback play and the ability to gash teams with the run. In previous years, they’ve always had the talent but QB, Jimmy Garoppolo just couldn’t stay healthy, forcing them to roll out C.J Beathard and Nick Mullens. Their backfield has been a nightmare for fantasy owners because it seems like every week it’s a different back leading the charge. Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman lead the way by both having 137 carries, Mostert has outgained Coleman with 772 yards to Coleman’s 544. Matt Breida, who I think is the best of the bunch, is just behind them in both categories. All 3 are home run hitters and need just the slightest crease to break away. The run game is predicated on an athletic offensive line that can zone block. Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey at tackle will need to play well going up against the Viking’s pass rush duo. Kyle Juszczyk and George Kittle are also important to this run game and both bring that nasty, competitive edge to blocking. Kittle is also Garoppolo’s primary target as he is the best tight end in the league. Himself, Deebo Samuel, and Emmanuel Sanders have a good chance to have big days against a weak secondary.
You can’t talk about the 49ers defense without talking about their defensive line that features 5 former first round picks in Deforest Buckner, Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, Arik Armstead, and Solomon Thomas. This group alone has put defensive coordinator, Robert Saleh, on the map for a head coaching gig. Number 2 overall pick, Nick Bosa has been huge for this unit as a rookie and Deforest Buckner has stepped up to really become one of the best interior players in the league. At the end of the season the 49ers faced a lot of injuries including Dee Ford who is now back after a few weeks’ worth of rest. He will be huge in getting some pressure on Cousins. Kwon Alexander is also back from injury and he will round out the San Fran Linebacker with Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw. Warner has shown that he is one of the best young linebackers in the league and Dre Greenlaw has been huge filling in for Alexander as a rookie. I suspect that they might have to go base a lot of the time with three linebackers on the field to help stop the run game led by Dalvin Cook. If not, nickel cornerback, K’Waun Williams will have to contribute against both the run and the pass. Richard Sherman will be huge in hopefully taking away one of the two superstar receivers for Minnesota. Ahkello Witherspoon must also step up on the other side of it in order to slow down Thielen and Diggs similarly to how New Orleans took away Diggs. Jaquiski Tartt is the third player back from injury in this one and he pairs with Jimmie Ward at safety who will be crucial against the talented Minnesota offense.
Keys to the Game
1. Control the game. Keep the offense on schedule by running the ball well.
2. No big plays. They slowed down the New Orleans offense but allowed some big plays that kept them in the game.
3. Get the ball out quick. There’s no way to sugar coat it, Riley Reiff and Brian O’Neill are not as good as Nick Bosa and the rest of their edge rushers. Cousins can’t hold the ball forever back there.
1. Spread the ball around. Utilize all of the running backs, wide receivers, and of course George Kittle and Kyle Juszczyk.
2. Stopping the run. If they really commit to stopping the run that’ll throw off the timing and efficiency of the entire offense.
3. Come ready to play. This one sounds obvious on paper, but this Minnesota team is hot right now and after a big win in New Orleans, anything is possible for them.
Prediction: 49ers win 24-21