Since 2015, when Kyle Shanahan has had a bye week to prepare for an opponent, he’s scored: 21, 38, 13 (Beathard), 9 (Mullens), and 31 points against the Browns this season. So, when Shanahan has a starting quarterback, his offense scores at least three touchdowns. In the three games with a starting quarterback, the offense averaged 5.6 yards per play, converted 43% of third downs (thanks to a 6-16 outing against the Browns this season, and scored a touchdown on eight of ten conversions in the red zone.
Shanahan is widely regarded as one of if not the best offensive mind (he’s the best) in football. The coaching staff has been preparing for the Vikings well before Minnesota beat New Orleans. They likely had a preliminary game plan put together for all three opponents. Once Minnesota won, that’s when the preparation ramped up. The Vikings secondary is banged. In the past week, they’ve lost cornerbacks Mike Hughes and Mackensie Alexander to injury. Because of that, Minnesota was forced to play safety Andrew Sendejo, who was released by the Eagles after being known for his “stupid play more than anything else, in the slot.
Before the injuries, the Vikings struggled to cover slot receivers. They’re ranked 24th in DVOA at defending third and fourth receivers. This could be a game where the 49ers take more shots down the field than ever. We’ve seen Minnesota be susceptible to big plays when they’ve been on the national stage, and the numbers back that up. Specifically, to the deep left. The average DVOA on deep passes to the left is 19.9%. The higher the number, the worse it is on defense. The Vikings have a DVOA of 56.9%, which is the seventh-worst number in the NFL. There was the long play that Xavier Rhodes gave up against the Saints. The last team, the Vikings, played that was worth anything before New Orleans was Seattle. In that primetime game, the Seahawks had five passing plays over 14 yards, including a 60-yard bomb for a touchdown.
The Vikings gave up the tenth-most explosive pass plays since Week 10. If the 49ers struggled to throw the ball down the field, I wouldn’t be writing this. The 49ers do not struggle to throw the ball down the field. It’s a strength of theirs, actually. Jimmy Garoppolo led all quarterbacks in completion percentage on throws that traveled at least 20 yards downfield. Jimmy G completed 59%. The next closest was 49%. Garoppolo also had the highest TD % on throws downfield.
An accurate quarterback, scheme, and players that can make plays down the field are why San Francisco boasts one of the best down the field passing attacks in the league. Since Week 10, the 49ers had 36 passing plays go for 20 more yards. For reference, the Vikings had just 19 during that same period.
George Kittle and Deebo Samuel finished tied for tenth in the NFC with most catches for 25 yards or more. Kittle is going to get him, but this has the feeling of another big game for Samuel. Deebo isn’t going to be your typical vertical threat, but when you get the ball in his hands, he’s a terror. Don’t be surprised to see him heavily involved in RPO’s as we saw in Week 17. I’m expecting to see a heavy dose of corner routes and double moves. Check out the play below, both the bottom and the top of the screen. Emmanuel Sanders runs a stop and go to the top, it doesn’t seem like he is open, but he is. Then, Deebo to the bottom:
This release is crazy. Deebo made the CB stumble in four steps.— KP (@KP_Show) January 2, 2020
“Win early so you dont have to win late.” pic.twitter.com/AYVn9EoI6V
This is the Niners receivers being better than their opponent. They don’t get a chance to show it often, but these two especially have done really well against 1-on-1 coverage.
Shanahan has done a fantastic job himself this season, scheming open routes toward the sideline. This play to Kittle is a fine example:
Shanahan having more time to draw plays up and figure out how he will attack Minnesota’s short-handed secondary should ease any nerves you have. The 49ers are going to score and score a lot. It was a good matchup without extra time and injuries, but now that puts even more pressure on the Vikings defense to stop them, and if they can’t, their offense to score. That’s good news for San Francisco.