Former 49ers linebacker and now 49ers Radio Network Analyst Gary Plummer is back with his latest Points of the Game column. This week, Plummer hits on some of the key aspects to this weekend's Monster Park match up against the Minnesota Vikings.
I think when you look at stopping the Vikings, obviously you've got to keep Adrian Peterson, the NFL's leading rusher, in check. His yards on the year would be even more had he been the starter from day one, but early on he split carries with Chester Taylor and Mewelde Moore.
Interestingly the scouting report on Peterson coming out of college had him as a great in line power running back, but he has shown great ability to make people miss and has also shown more speed than people expected. Peterson has the knee injury that kept him out the few weeks but he was back in action last week and finished with a 100-plus yard game.
Even though he also has had a couple of 200-plus yard games, it is really a product of that offensive line. Their center, Matt Birk, is a good one and everybody knows how good Steve Hutchinson, the left guard, and Bryant McKinnie, their left tackle, is. All of that is obvious when Chester Taylor goes in against the Raiders and had 202 yards of total offense and three touchdowns.
Early on, teams would load up eight men in the box hoping to have a shot at Peterson, but in the past three weeks, Tarvaris Jackson has really improved at quarterback. He had his best game last week against the Lions with 204 yards and two touchdowns. They have won four of their last five games, and a big part of that is because of how Jackson is playing. He has become more poised. He has a strong arm and a fast release, and is a very mobile quarterback. Those are things that have benefited him. He has been very accurate and seems like he has better command of the offense whereas early in the year, he was struggling. Because of his improved play, the 49ers will have to also respect the pass.
The Vikings are hard to defend because of their two-back system, and oh yeah, Jackson is also a scrambling quarterback.
Their fullback, Tony Richardson, is a former Pro Bowler with the Chiefs. He sprained his MCL a few weeks ago but is still playing on it, which shows just how tough he is. The Vikings tend to run lead and power plays. They do a lot of zone blocking and let Peterson run stretch plays or cutbacks. They tend to run over the left side where Steve Hutchinson and Bryant McKinnie lineup at the guard and tackle spot.
It reminds me a little bit of Seattle when Hutchinson was there, where they will start a play to the right and have that back side caved down with Hutchinson and McKinnie, which will allow Peterson to cut it back and gain a ton of yards that way as well.
The 49ers are going to have to load up in the box and have trust in their defensive backs on both sides to be able to match up with the receivers, and in this case they should be able to real well. The Vikings have given up a lot of sacks this year, which shows teams are getting pressure on them because the receivers are not getting open.
Minnesota just does not have a big time threat at the wide receiver position. Their number one receiver, Bobby Wade, is a number three receiver in a lot of other NFL offenses. Their speed receivers, Troy Williamson and Sidney Rice, have both been hurt, so they haven't been able to stretch the field. They have the fewest number of passing touchdowns in the league, and with all the changes at quarterback and receiver, they are struggling with timing on routes and accuracy with quarterbacks.
They were one of the best teams in the NFL last year in run defense and are continuing that this year. They've only given up one 100-yard game on the ground this year and that was to Green Bay. On the flip side, they are ranked last in the NFL in pass defense.
The loss of some key starters in free agency has been one cause of their troubles in defending the pass. Napolean Harris, a linebacker, has been replaced by second year player Chad Greenway and that has really affected their coverage. The area that also really hurt them was losing cornerbacks Fred Smoot (left in free agency and signed with the Redskins) and Antoine Winfield who were both great cover corners and just shut people down. Winfield was hurt in their game against the Raiders and has since been out of the lineup. Instead they've had to go with young players in the secondary with second-year Cedric Griffin and rookie Marcus McCauley.
What most teams have done against them, since they have such a tough front seven, is to spread them out and throw the football. Teams are running a lot of three and four wide receiver sets against them, and they don't have the personnel to match up right now.
Jim Hostler needs to spread out the offense and use the speed of Vernon Davis to the 49ers advantage. Whether it's a regular pro set with two receivers and a tight end, spreading him out opens things up, and then having him with three receivers is almost like having a four receiver set. I also think that will give Frank Gore more room to operate in the open field.
I think with an experienced quarterback in Trent Dilfer, working against some young corners is a plus for the 49ers. One of the things the 49ers can look at is what the Packers did against them. They used three or more wideouts on 61 of 82 offensive plays, knowing the Vikings secondary couldn't handle it.
One of the other things the 49ers have to be aware of this week is the trick and gadget plays they saw against Carolina. What has happened with Brad Childress is that when they lost to Philadelphia, people were talking about him losing his job. They aren't saying that anymore. One of the reasons is because they are pulling out all the stops. What Childress has said is if he is going out, he will go out swinging. He's done exactly that by opening up the playbook running gadget plays, reverse passes, and so forth. On their first play of the game a couple weeks ago, their wide receiver hit the tight end on a reverse pass for 79 yards. They have run this play a couple of times this year.
Last year, we ran a couple trick plays on them including an onsides kick. Teams have a tendency, that when you throw trick plays at them, to throw them right back at you. I totally see the Vikings pulling out all the stops, since it has been working for them so far. Chester Taylor threw a pass to the tight end in the end zone that ended up being dropped, but it was a good throw. They also faked a field goal in the same game, having their punter, Chris Kluwe, hit a 27 yard pass for a first down inside the opponent's red zone.
It's going to be a tough challenge because you are playing a team that, after losing to Green Bay pretty handily, people wrote them off at 2-5. Now they are 6-6 and are right there in the NFC Wild Card race. The fun part is you get to play the spoiler. The bad part is you are going against a team on a roll right now.