In his Sunday morning predictions, NFL Network analyst and former 49ers head coach Steve Mariucci was asked who had the advantage in the matchup between San Francisco and the Vikings, and he chose Minnesota’s defense. While this is a reasonable choice, will it hold true? Defensive end Everson Griffen is a force to be reckoned with but defensive back Xavier Rhodes is nursing a hamstring injury. Rhodes was a full participant in practice on Friday and will likely play but was listed on the injury report as questionable.
Kyle Shanahan has had to adjust the 49ers offensive game plan with the loss of Jerick McKinnon and both Matt Breida and Alfred Morris will have to step up to be more pass catchers than they have in the past. Good thing for Breida is that he’s had a full year and two offseasons in Shanahan’s system, Morris has history in the system and is a worker. Neither back will have the pressure of carrying the load which could make it easier on both of them to succeed.
What will be interesting is how Shanahan will use tight ends George Kittle and Garrett Celek as well as fullback Kyle Juszczyk to disguise what the offense is planning to do. While he likely spent the entire offseason game planning how to use McKinnon to get an advantage over defenses, he still has tricks up his sleeve. We’ve also seen the development of chemistry in long passes between Jimmy Garoppolo and Marquise Goodwin developing throughout the preseason.
The key for the 49ers to take control over the game will of course be maintaining the pocket for Garoppolo, giving him time to go through his reads and let the plays develop, not to mention the defense getting the Vikings offense off the field as soon as possible. Where do you see the 49es having the advantage? Where do you see a challenge?