The San Francisco 49ers opened their 2018 season on the road against the Minnesota Vikings. Since that was the last time these two teams have played, fans and media are trying to make as many connections from that game and tie it into this one. One person asked me, “Jimmy had opportunities to target Kittle in last year’s matchup, but didn’t. Can he do it this time?” My response? “Are you asking, will Jimmy be better with a full season under his belt of throwing to his best player than he was in the first game of the season a year and a half ago?”
Seriously, what are we doing here?
Even during Garoppolo’s press conference Tuesday afternoon, questions from that game came up, as if anything would be remotely close a year and a half later. Let’s go over what has changed.
From a 49ers perspective
Maybe the easier way to answer this would be what hasn’t changed. The 49ers starting offense: QB Jimmy Garoppolo RB: Alfred Morris WR: Pierre Garcon, Marquise Goodwin, Dante Pettis, Trent Taylor. Josh Garnett and Garry Gilliam played on the offensive line in this one.
As a pass protector, it may have been Laken Tomlinson’s worst game as a 49er. He allowed four pressures and also had a penalty in that game. How many times did Tomlinson do that in 2019? Once, against some Aaron Donald guy. Garoppolo threw three interceptions that game and completed 45% of his passes. This season, Jimmy G has completed less than 60% of his passes only three times in 16 games. He’s also taking care of the ball much better, especially as of late.
The running game is where it gets fun. Morris led the team in carries with 12 on the day for 38 yards. The difference between Morris and Raheem Mostert is like seeing a corvette in the street lined up next to a small SUV. One of these is not like the other. Kyle Juszczyk caught one pass, and he was the team’s third-leading receiver on the day behind George Kittle and Pettis, though it’s noteworthy that the Vikings ignored Juice down the sideline for a long 56-yard gain.
Defensively, Adrian Colbert, Brock Coyle, Cassius Marsh, Solomon Thomas, and Mark Nzeocha all played over 30 snaps. The improvement at each of those positions cannot be understated. As the coaching staff weighs their decision on who starts at cornerback, this happened:
Croyle missed four tackles, Colbert missed three, and Nzeocha’s tackling grade was 25.3. Jimmie Ward has missed four tackles all season. There isn’t much to take away from this game other than the 49ers are drastically improved talent-wise, and Garoppolo has an abundance of weapons to throw it to. Emmanuel Sanders and Deebo Samuel form one of the top duos in the league. He doesn’t have gaudy numbers, but Kendrick Bourne has proven to be reliable and comes up big on third downs and in the red zone.
Also, the Vikings didn’t have all offseason to prepare for the 49ers offense and Garoppolo; they’re on a quick turn around while San Francisco has had plenty of time to prepare.
Minnesota’s roster remains largely unchanged. Dalvin wasn’t...Cooking on the day. He finished the game with 16 carries for 40 yards, though Cook did break five tackles. He also fumbled, which is an area the 49ers have excelled at this season. San Francisco led the NFL in forced fumbles with 23 during the regular season.
Adam Thielen went over 100 yards. That can’t happen again. The biggest change is the Vikings no longer have Sheldon Richardson, who dominated the 49ers that day. Richardson finished the game with seven total pressures and two run stops. Linval Joseph also played out of his mind, but you can say that for the majority of the Vikings front four. Danielle Hunter had eight total pressures, including a sack and three run stops. He’s also a problem, and I’d imagine the 49ers chip him every opportunity they get.
Of the three interceptions, Xavier Rhodes had one, and Mike Hughes had the other. We highlighted each team’s cornerbacks on Tuesday. Hughes is on the injured reserve, and the Rhodes has been open all season, even on holidays this year.