The 49ers will be traveling to Minnesota to take on the Vikings for the important third preseason game. The game will be on Sunday at 5 PM. (during the Game of Thrones finale, damn you schedule makers!).
The 49ers' first-team offense hasn't been great in the two preseason games so far this season, especially the running game with RB Carlos Hyde. QB Brian Hoyer showed some flashes last week in the loss to the Denver Broncos at Levi's Stadium. The running game is the real issue with the 49ers first-team offense. This will be a tough task for this struggling offense, they will be facing a Vikings defense that gave up a little less than 20 points a game last season and was one of the better units in the NFL.
Can RB Carlos Hyde and the running game get going?
The outside zone is the foundational run play in HC Kyle Shanahan’s offensive scheme. Everything he does on offense is built around the outside zone having success and gashing defenses for long runs.
For an in depth breakdown of the outside zone running play, check out Episode 1 of SchemeCast -- a 49ersHub original podcast -- featuring Rich Madrid and I.
Carlos Hyde so far this season hasn't had a lot of success running the ball. If the team is going to win some games this season, the run game is going to have to be a very big part of the offense.
The Vikings and HC Mike Zimmer will be focusing on stopping the run. Teams know that Shanahan relies on the run game to get his offense going. This is going to put a lot of pressure on this offensive line to win at the point of attack and for Hyde to make quick decisions and hit the hole with power. Hyde has shown he is a great runner getting downhill. Look for Shanahan to get him the ball early and often.
49ers CB Rashard Robinson vs. Vikings WR Stefon Diggs
This is going to be a fun matchup to watch. Diggs isn't at the level of Robinson’s last two match ups, Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill and Broncos WR Demaryius Thomas, but Diggs is a very good WR in the NFL. Robinson is going to need to be physical with Diggs at the line of scrimmage. Vikings OC Pat Shurmur and QB Sam Bradford run a timing-based offense. Bradford will expect his receivers to be where they are supposed to be when he throws off his three or five-step drops. Robinson will need to disrupt this timing and stay physical with his man off the line of scrimmage.
Robinson will also need to clean up his tackling. Last week early in the game he made a great break on a check down, thrown by now backup Broncos QB Paxton Lynch, but failed to make the tackle. If Robinson is going to have success this season, he needs to make these kind of plays.
49ers' Defense vs. Vikings' RB Dalvin Cook
The Vikings second-round pick of the 2017 NFL Draft, Dalvin Cook, is having a good preseason so far. Cook has been a threat out of the backfield catching the ball, and running the ball right up the middle. The 49ers' new look 4-3 defense is going to have their hands full. 49ers were historically bad last season at stopping the run. So far this preseason they have been better in that department and will need to step up to keep Cook in check. Guys like DT Earl Mitchell in the middle of the defensive line and S Eric Reid will need to have big games to keep Cook from having his way with the 49ers' defense.
TE George Kittle or TE Vance McDonald
Vance McDonald, a 2013 second-round pick by the 49ers, has been running with the first-team offense so far this preseason. George Kittle, a fifth-round pick in the 49ers most recent draft, has been dealing with a hamstring injury for most of training camp. Kittle finally got to see the field this past Saturday at Levis Stadium and he shined. He scored the team's only touchdown when QB C.J. Beathard hit him on a roll out. Kittle destroyed a poor defender on his way into the end zone. Kittle will be the TE one at some point for this team. Probably sooner than later.
Vance McDonald on the other hand has looked more or less like the same player he’s been for his whole career. McDonald has the physical tools to be a top TE in the NFL. What’s troubled him throughout his career are his hands. He seems to have one or two drops in every game, especially in key moments. McDonald wasn’t a draft pick of new GM John Lynch, and his roster spot isn’t guaranteed.
Will FS Jimmie Ward play?
Jimmie Ward injured his hamstring early on in training camp and hasn't had a chance to be on the field so far this season. He hasn’t practiced with the team so far this training camp. 49ers' staff says there is a good chance he will suit up for this game. Undrafted rookie, FS Lorenzo Jerome, has played very well in his absence. Ward hasn’t played a lot of safety in the NFL. Last season he was one of the 49ers’ starting corners for the majority of the season. Whether Ward can thrive in this defense has yet to be seen. The free safety is one of the most important positions on the field in Robert Saleh’s 4-3 defense. Jimmy Ward needs reps, and if he’s healthy he will be on the field for as long as possible in Minnesota.
When will QB C.J. Beathard get into the game?
C.J. Beathard has been a bit of a surprise to some this preseason. The young QB has had a lot of success in the playing time he has received. Beathard is 14 for 23 (60.9 percent) with 211 yards and 3 TDs. If last game was any indication, it looks like he has moved himself into the No. 2 spot. Hoyer is going to go deep into this game. Kyle Shanahan is going to want to get his QB into a rhythm. So I would think we won’t see Beathard until the 2nd half.
Does HC Kyle Shanahan open up the playbook?
In the previous two games it’s been obvious that Shanahan hasn’t exactly opened up his playbook. He doesn’t want to put too much on tape for teams to analyze before the season. If there was one preseason game where he may open it up a bit, it’s this one. He’s going to have the first few drives already scripted, and they will be plays that the Vikings defense will be susceptible too.
The Vikings are a good young team. This will be a good test to gauge where the 49ers are at going into the season. The first half of this game is going to be as close to a regular season game as an NFL preseason game can get.