All eyes are on the 49ers’ defensive matchup against the Vikings’ potent trio of running back Dalvin Cook and wideouts Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. But I think the 49ers’ offense can have just as much success against a depleted Vikings’ defense.
Kyle Shanahan’s offense has rediscovered its identity over the last two games, rushing 86 times for 327 yards. While that’s only 3.81 yards per carry, the 49ers are sticking to the ground game on early downs, which paves the way for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to have success on third downs.
In the past two weeks, the 49ers’ offense is 14-of-26 on the money down, which would rank 1st in the NFL over that span. Combine that with the fact that they have the best red-zone offense in the NFL, converting over 77 percent of their trips into touchdowns; they have been firing on all cylinders.
But critics have been quick to downplay the 49ers’ offensive success over the last two weeks by claiming that their opponents were the lowly Jaguars and the Rams — who San Francisco seems to own consistently.
So can the 49ers’ offense sustain the success they’ve had during their two-game winning streak? Against this Vikings’ defense, I expect Shanahan, Garoppolo, and Co. to continue to dominate in every facet of the game.
Mike Zimmer’s defense has been thoroughly dominated on the ground all season long — a trend I don’t expect to stop come Sunday magically.
The Vikings are 30th in rushing defensive expected points added (EPA) per play, 25th in rushing defense success rate, 27th in rushing defense DVOA, 22nd in explosive rushing plays allowed this season, and 31st in rushing yards allowed per attempt.
What does that tell you? They are consistently getting gashed on the ground while also giving up explosive runs.
That is a recipe for disaster against a Mike McDaniel and Kyle Shanahan-led rushing offense, seemingly finding its groove during this mini-winning streak.
To add salt to the wound, the Vikings will be without interior defensive lineman Dalvin Cook and edge rusher Everson Griffen on Sunday. Minnesota’s defensive line is already thin, which will only challenge their ability to put up exotic fronts against the 49ers to slow down the rushing attack.
This past season, teams that have had success against the 49ers’ run game have employed five-man or six-man defensive fronts that allow each lineman to “cover” up a 49ers’ offensive lineman. That allows the linebackers to run downhill freely and make a play on the running back.
I don’t think the Vikings have the healthy bodies to be able to successfully employ these fronts against the 49ers — which means it’s go-time for Elijah Mitchell (if he suits up) or Jeff Wilson Jr.
The 49ers’ offense will need to come out and execute like they have the last few weeks. They have not turned the ball over, have executed on third down, and punched it in for seven whenever they get to the red area of the field.
If Jimmy Garoppolo and this offense can do those three things, I can’t see the Vikings’ defense standing a chance of slowing down this Kyle Shanahan-led attack.