How Can the 49ers Exploit the Vikings Defense?
The Minnesota Vikings had one of the best defenses in the league last season. They were first in points allowed (15.8/game) and total yards allowed (275.9/game), but did not force many turnovers, finishing 23rd with 19 total takeaways. As the San Francisco 49ers travel up to Minneapolis for their Week 1 matchup, here’s a look at the ways Kyle Shanahan and Jimmy Garoppolo can poke some holes in and exploit the stout Vikings defense.
Quick Passing Game Can Open Up Deep Routes
During the 2017 NFC Championship Game, the Philadelphia Eagles torched the Vikings for 38 points and 456 total yards. Much of their success was predicated on the quick passing game. Slants and crossing patterns carved up the secondary before letting the talented defensive line get to the quarterback. Once the Vikings began to get aggressive trying to take away the quick pass, Philadelphia began to add in double-move wrinkles that burned the corners after they over-pursued. Garoppolo used similar techniques against the Jacksonville Jaguars last season. Wide receivers Trent Taylor and Pierre Garcon are particularly adept at short routes and Marquise Goodwin obviously represents the deep threat. Using each wide receivers individual skillset to their fullest potential will be critical to their success through the air.
Figure Out Their Scheme Early
This may sound obvious; however, when the Los Angeles Rams played in Minnesota last season, the Vikings schemed to take away their outside zone runs and play-action rollout passes. Rams HC Sean McVay seemed to notice this but stubbornly stuck with their original game plan. Despite running back Todd Gurley finding success with trap run plays, McVay continued to force his hand with outside zone runs. If Shanahan can figure out what the Vikings schemed to take away early, he can adjust the game plan on the fly and exploit the Vikings’ rehearsed plays. Staying one step ahead of Vikings HC Mike Zimmer is necessary to keep moving the ball down the field.
Take Advantage of Mismatches
There are not many weak spots among the starting 11 for Minnesota. They trot out possibly the best defensive front seven in the league, so the secondary is where mismatches can be created. Top cornerback Xavier Rhodes was listed on Wednesday’s injury report with a hamstring injury that limited him in practice. His running mate Trae Waynes has shown flashes of excellence, however, he has also been burned on multiple occasions. The last time these teams met was the “dress rehearsal” preseason game last season. During that, Marquise Goodwin took advantage of some confusion in the secondary to haul in a wide-open deep ball between the safeties from then-quarterback Brian Hoyer. Their safeties are Harrison Smith, who is a top-five safety in the league, and Andrew Sendejo, who is not a top-five safety in the league. Tight end George Kittle was a full go at practice Wednesday and could prove to be a handful if matched up against Sendejo.
Use Their Aggressiveness Against Them
The 49ers do not have the best offensive line in football and this is no secret. Mike Zimmer loves to use a double A-gap blitz on third down on obvious passing downs to cause confusion and bring down the quarterback. Garoppolo and center Weston Richburg will both be crucial in identifying the linebackers or defensive backs coming on a blitz. Screen and swing passes to running backs Matt Breida and Alfred Morris could very well use Minnesota’s blitzing tendency against them. Neither Breida nor Morris are known for their pass-catching prowess, which could play right into Shanahan’s strength of game planning surprises for opposing defenses.
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