The 49ers began the 2018 season with a tough loss on the road to the Vikings. There were many mistakes made by San Francisco, but there is still plenty for fans to look forward to. The relatively young team battled all game against one of the best teams in the NFC. The defense came up with stops when they were needed, and despite their struggles in the red zone, the offense moved the ball against last year’s No. 1 defense.
The 49ers running backs performed surprisingly well considering the injuries at the guard position. Matt Breida used his stellar vision to find a way through the Vikings defense for a few nice runs throughout the game, finishing the day with 11 carries for 46 yards. Alfred Morris got off to a hot start before fumbling on two consecutive plays inside the Vikings’ 1-yard line, losing the second. He finished with 12 carries for 38 yards, but 36 of those yards came on the drive where he fumbled. Even Kyle Juszczyk got in on the action, coming down with a 56-yard reception.
Murray was the leading rusher for the Vikings and was effective when he came in for Dalvin Cook. However, Cook is the inaugural Fourth and Nine star running back of the game.
Cook finished with 16 carries for 40 rushing yards and a fumble lost, which is not an impressive stat line at all, but he made up for his forgettable game on the ground by making big plays through the air. Cook finished as the second leading receiver for the Vikings with six catches for 55 yards.
The surprisingly stingy 49ers defense was not allowing Cook to get big chunks of yardage on the ground, but the passing game gave him the open space that he thrives in. Early in the second quarter, Cook received a great block from Tom Compton (#79) and took the play up field, where he made two defenders miss for a 15-yard gain.
His skill as a receiver came into play in the clutch.
This next play occurred on 3rd-and-3 in the second quarter. Cook faked a block on Brock Coyle (#50), which created enough time for Kirk Cousins to get the ball to him in the flat. He did not have defenders around him to contest the catch, but he made sure to bring the ball into his body and pick up as much yardage as he could, extending the drive.
On the play above, Cook sold the play-action fake and ran to the flat. Cousins got the ball to him with safety Jaquiski Tartt (#29) covering the zone. Cook used his speed to get the edge and ran past Tartt for a first down.
Overall, it was an underwhelming rushing performance for the backs on both teams, but Cook flashed his skill in the passing game to contribute to a victory.
The 49ers host the Detroit Lions next week. The Lions' defense is talented but it does not provide the same level of skill that the Vikings’ defense does, teeing up a potential opportunity for one of the 49ers’ backs to be featured here next week.
Sources: Minnesota Vikings, NFL Gamebook, NFL.com, Fox Sports