And in this corner…..
Sunday’s game offers some interesting match-ups
Akhello Witherspoon vs. Stefon Diggs/Adam Thielen
Witherspoon, the 49ers’ 2017 third-round pick, has high expectations this year and will open his sophomore season against a dangerous receiving duo. Diggs and Thielen combined for 155 catches, 2,125 yards, and 12 touchdowns last year. With the addition of free agent cornerback Richard Sherman the pass defense has the potential to take a big step forward, but that step will depend on Witherspoon. Sherman was thrown at only once during the preseason with the expected outcome, an incompletion. Even if Sherman has lost a step following Achilles surgery this offseason, he’s still one of the smartest corners in the league and opposing quarterbacks will play it safe with him, which means Witherspoon is going to see a lot of throws come his way. Witherspoon was a healthy scratch for the first four games of 2017, but once he was inserted into the starting line-up he shined, posting a 73.7 coverage grade by Pro Football Focus. This will be Akhello’s first time to shine and show that his hard work this past offseason paid off.
49ers offensive line vs. Vikings defensive line
The 49ers are rolling out an offensive line with three new starters, and on top of that the team lost its starting halfback, Jerick McKinnon, for the season with a torn ACL. The new-look line had some struggles during the preseason but was able to put it all together against Indianapolis in the third preseason game. The outside zone running game that head coach Kyle Shanahan likes to run takes some time to master, the offensive line has to gel and develop trust in each other that the blocks will be made. This scheme requires agile blockers that are able to make hinge blocks and work their way to the second level of the defense. Minnesota showcased the second-best run defense in 2017, allowing 83.6 yards per game along with only 3.7 yards per attempt. This will be the first game where we get to see the new starting offensive line for four quarters against a capable opponent. If they can open up some running lanes and keep Garoppolo upright, they could sway the game in the Niners’ favor.
You can follow Will on Twitter here!
Stay tuned to 49ersHub for more gameday news!