Earlier in the week, we took a look at what the San Francisco 49ers can expect from Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook; now we will cover what the 49ers need to do against the Vikings' top-ranked defense in order to come out with a win to kick off 2018.
Last year, the Vikings defense allowed the least number of yards and points, and they look to continue the trend this year. From their run-stopping defensive tackle Linval Joseph, to their lockdown corner Xavier Rhodes, the defense has multiple weapons that can shut down potent offenses at will. The 49ers need to play a perfect offensive game to prevent negative plays and turnovers because the Vikings are known to capitalize on mistakes.
However, no team is perfect. The Vikings, just like any team, will have a few plays a game where they do not execute their assignments correctly. Whether it is from a miscommunication or a bad play call, the 49ers offense must capitalize on any mistakes by the Vikings defense to quiet the crowd and set the tone early.
The Seahawks are not known for having a great offensive line, so they called a trap run on first and goal to use the defense’s aggressiveness against them. At the beginning of the play, the offensive line allows Sheldon Richardson (#93) in the backfield, but is “trapped” by pulling guard Ethan Pocic (#77). By that time, the offensive linemen who let Richardson through is blocking a linebacker at the second level, which leaves Chris Carson (#32) enough space to score a six-yard touchdown.
The 49ers run game preaches the importance of having vision, and it will be very important against the Vikings’ run defense. On the next two plays, the Vikings once again get caught being too aggressive, and Lions’ running back Ameer Abdullah (#21) uses his vision to take the cutback lanes and gain good yardage.
If the 49ers can take advantage of mistakes — like the two above — and create a legitimate threat in the run game, it can create opportunities for big plays in the passing game.
Here's an idea . . .
In this play, Drew Brees faked the pitch to the left, which caused the defense to hesitate long enough for wide receiver Tommylee Lewis (#11) to beat Trae Waynes (#26) and come down with the 52-yard pass. Up to that point, the Saints had 52 yards rushing so there was no threat of a run game, but they were still able to make the aggressive Vikings defense bite on the play action. This bodes well for the 49ers.
Kyle Shanahan employs a run-heavy attack with short passes, that opens the ability to use play-action to attack deep. After a season-ending injury to Jerick McKinnon, Shanahan still has Alfred Morris and Matt Breida to carry the load for the rushing attack. Morris had his two best years under Shanahan, while Breida is in his second season under the same system and is bound to improve. If they start the game by running the ball efficiently, the play-action game will open up, putting Pierre Garçon and especially Marquise Goodwin in favorable situations.
However, the 49ers tailbacks need to focus on fulfilling their pass-protection assignments to prevent the athletic Vikings defensive line from getting to the quarterback.
Although the Saints motioned Adrian Peterson (#28) out wide, All-Pro defensive end Everson Griffen (#97) showed off his athleticism with a nice spin move off Ryan Ramczyk (#71). This is where the 49ers running backs will need to step up and pass block to give Jimmy Garoppolo enough time to throw downfield. If they go out on a route, a quick chip block can give the quarterback enough time to get the throw off.
The 49ers’ offense has a tough task to open the regular season, but they have a chance to come away with the upset. The backs must set the tone by using their vision to take what they can get and sell the play action to get receivers open downfield. When they are in passing situations, they will also have to step up and neutralize the Vikings pass rush. It is going to take a perfect game for the 49ers running backs to come away with the win.