Third game for the 49ers, third opponent from the NFC North.
The San Francisco 49ers hit the road again after their win at home to take on the Minnesota Vikings at Mall of America Field. So far this season the Niners have faced so tough passing teams and managed to overcome their aerial assaults for wins. That experience will help in this game.
While the Vikings do seem like a classic running team with Adrian Peterson in their backfield, it seems that can make some solid passing plays as well. Christian Ponder’s numbers through the first two games of the season look very impressive. Ponder has been accurate so far this season throwing 47/62 which is a 75.8% completion percentage. He has also thrown for 515 yards and 2 TDs, both of which came against the Colts this last Sunday. Ponder’s overall QB rating through 2 weeks is 110.6.
The top target to watch out for is Percey Harvin who has caught 18 balls for 188 yards this season. He actually made 12 grabs last week vs. the Colts. Also watch out for an occasional carry by this wide out.
While Ponder is being used more efficiently, the ground game still needs to be respected. Adrian Peterson might have a sore knee but he can still explode. Peterson so far has 144 yards on the season this for 2 TDs. The fact, however, that he was unable to run for anything more than 6 yards at a time last week can be seen as a good sign. He averaged under 4 yards a carry against Indianapolis in week 2.
Adrian Peterson and the rest of the rushing game can expect more resistance this week vs. the 49ers. Both the Lions and the Packers averaged 3.2 rushing yards per carry vs. the San Francisco defense as both teams tried to balance their play calling against the 49ers. The Vikings are averaging 4 yards a carry vs. average defenses to say the least. Running against guys like Patrick Willis and NaVarro Bowman will be much tougher. Look for this to be the 8th straight game Peterson doesn’t break 100 yards rushing.
An interesting match up to watch in line is how will 4th overall pick LT Matt Kalil stand up to pass rushers like Aldon Smith lining up on his side. Smith has 2.5 sacks in the season so far and might test the limit of the left side of the offensive line.
As for the 49ers offense, the running game will have quite a test for the Vikings. Though the Vikings have been impressive in stopping the run so far limiting their opponent to about 3.1 yards a carry, the 49ers backfield of runners led by Frank Gore might, in turn, be their first real test of the season. While Maurice Jones-Drew is not any back to be taken lightly, he just came out off of a holdout that ended earlier that week. Also Donald Brown of the Colts hasn’t been particularly impressive so far this season.
Frank Gore, meanwhile, has run for 201 yards in his first two games with 2 rushing TDs and averaging 6.1 yards a carry. He’s been used just as sparingly as Adrian Peterson has with his carries and has produced more. Even Kendall Hunter is matching par with partially hurt Peterson per carry average as he had 4.6 yards per carry as the back up.
The passing game for the 49ers just needs to keep doing what it is doing and that is try not to do too much. QB Alex Smith is averaging over 200 yards in the air, has thrown a pair of TDs in each of his first two games in 2012, and does look nice in a San Francisco Giants hat. He is making safe secure throws and averaging a 70.2 completion percentage. It might’ve been higher over the course of this last game if not for a few drops from the receivers.
The one negative side to the passing game so far is the number of sacks that Alex Smith has taken. 7 sacks so far this season and I would look for that stat to go into double digits in this game. D-linemen like Jared Allen will give LT Joe Staley and Smith’s blockers more trouble to work with. As long as Smith doesn’t let the pressure force errant throws like he has done through 2 weeks, he should be fine.
As for the assistance down field, Michael Crabtree has been the top target so far. Though Alex Smith has done a solid job of spreading the ball around, Crabtree leads the team with 13 grabs for 143 yards. Vernon Davis still seems to be the deep threat and the play maker with his 3 TDs but Crabtree has proven he can be reliable. Being there for the preseason does make a difference.
There is a small side story with Randy Moss making a return to Minnesota as a 49er receiver. Moss hasn’t made much noise since the first half of week 1 vs. the Packers as he has caught one ball since then. Moss’ game is the deep ball for the most part. The Vikings will want to keep their safeties like rookie Harrison Smith back so that Moss (or likely Vernon Davis) will not exploit them.
The 49ers have looked good so far in the season and are favored to win this game by 7. If they manage to come out a winner from the dome, they will be 3-0 for the first time since 1998. However, I would warn the 49ers passing defense to not relax against Christian Ponder. If given time and if the defense relaxes it’s blitz, Ponder might be able to mount another late comeback. It’s something that the defense needs to note.
About the Author
Written by Daniel Trucios