Eric Thompson from Daily Norseman joins us once again as we are a day away from the San Francisco 49ers hosting the Minnesota Vikings in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. This time around, Eric gives us the one thing Minnesota must stop to avoid losing. Also, with so much familiarity on both sides of the ball, who has a bigger advantage. Kyle Shanahan told the media on Tuesday that Vikings assistant head coach and offensive adviser Gary Kubiak has assisted him a ton throughout the years, and you can see his fingerprints all over Minnesota’s offense. Kubiak was also Mike Shanahan’s offensive coordinator in Denver. Minnesota’s tight ends coach Brian Pariani and offensive line coach Rick Dennison were also in Denver with Mike, and Houston with Kyle and Kubiak.
Shanahan worked with the. Texans as the wide receivers coach, quarterbacks coach, and eventually offensive coordinator from 2006-2009. Kubiak was Houston’s head coach during that time. Shanahan was with Washington as a coordinator when they drafted Kirk Cousins, so if there is one person that knows Cousins, it’s Kyle. You have to imagine the coaches on both sides have spent a little more time in the defensive meeting rooms leading up to this game to help with possible checks, audibles, and everything in between.
Here is Eric.
If the Vikings don’t ____, then they’ll lose? And why?
Win the middle of the field. While Samuel and Sanders could certainly have a big catch or two on Saturday, their biggest matchup problem will be all-world tight end, Kittle. If the Vikings can limit Kittle to mortal numbers--something like the seven catches for 70 yards that Michael Thomas had on Sunday--then they have a chance. But if he’s running wild and Minnesota can’t slow down San Francisco’s three-pronged running attack, it’s a recipe for disaster. They’ll have to tackle well against the run-heavy 49ers as well. In their loss to Seattle, their gap assignment and tackling were brutal, and they allowed over 200 yards on the ground.
Winning the middle of the field might be even more important on offense. They must make sure their aforementioned interior pass blocking is good enough to allow the play action and bootlegs that have been so successful for the offense this season. If they’re constantly getting blown up in the middle, it throws off Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, and the rest of the zone-blocking run scheme. With Richard Sherman making things tough on the outside and K’Waun Williams in the slot, it also might take some big catches from tight ends Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith Jr. to move the chains consistently.
There is familiarity on both sides of the ball. Kubiak and Shanahan. Cousins and Shanahan. Do you think we’ll see a lower scoring game than most expect because of the familiarity?
I’m thrilled to see how this chess match unfolds. Shanahan certainly knows all about Cousins and Kubiak and vice versa. A lot of the offensive schemes and tendencies the teams run on Saturday will look familiar to opposing fans. Due to this mutual familiarity, I think it will be important for both offenses to add new wrinkles they haven’t put on tape yet. Running different plays and targeting different receivers out of similar formations will be key. I think we might see a couple of big plays where the defense is caught off guard, but overall, I do expect a lower scoring game. The 49ers and Vikings have made it this far with balance, but I wouldn’t be surprised if both teams leaned on their defense to come up with a crucial stop in crunch time. It should be a great matchup, and I’m excited to find out whether the Vikings can topple another 13-win team on the road.