The 49ers have won four of their last five games. San Francisco survived a high-scoring thriller against the Minnesota Vikings Sunday. This is a strong win for the 49ers. However, the Niners faced a team similar to them as the Vikings are better than their record indicates.
We look at my five takeaways below.
The offense continues to thrive
Kyle Shanahan’s offense has scored 30 points three games in a row. So Jimmy Garoppolo’s interception on the 49ers’ first offensive drive was deflating. Although, on the next drive, he hit Brandon Aiyuk on 3rd and 13 for a 37-yard gain. That explosive play and a pair of Elijah Mitchell runs set up the Niners’ first touchdown drive.
After back-to-back three and outs, the offense chewed the clock during the second quarter with a 15-play, 8-minute drive for their second touchdown. San Francisco has shown they can drain the life out of their opponent during the last three games.
Shanahan’s offense started with a 20-play drive that took up 13 minutes of the clock against the Jaguars last week. A week before that, Garoppolo and the offense marched down the field for an 18-play, 93-yard touchdown drive that ate up 11 minutes of the clock against the Rams. Keeping opposing offenses off the field has helped keep the stress of the 49er defense.
Deebo Samuel continued to get action out of the backfield Sunday. His 49-yard run was led by a convoy of blocks, including right guard Daniel Brunskill blocking 40 yards downfield. Samuel ended up punching it in for a three-yard touchdown run for his second rushing touchdown of the game.
My main takeaway for the offense through 12 games is their ability to create explosive plays. The offense looked stagnant at the beginning of the season. It turns out when you get your playmakers the ball, good things happen. Aiyuk also had three catches, and all of them went for 20+ yards.
49ers held a team to under 100 rush yards for the third game in a row
I said that the defense would face a fierce rushing attack the next three games, including Sunday’s win. DeMeco Ryans’ defense passed the first test as they held the Vikings to 67 rushing yards on 18 attempts. And half of that came off an explosive run from Dalvin Cook that went 30 yards. Cook did have 100 yards from scrimmage. But over half of those yards came from his impact in the passing game (64 receiving yards.) The Niners defense did a solid job of keeping the $63 million man in check.
The defense will continue to be tested with the Seattle Seahawks and the Cincinnati Bengals in the following weeks. We will have to see how Seattle’s rushing attack holds up against the Washington Football Team’s strong front on Monday Night Football. Cincinnati has had strong performances on the ground in their last two games.
Injury bugs will not go away
Fred Warner and Deebo Samuel both left the game with injuries Sunday. Injuries are a part of the game, but it feels like San Francisco cannot catch a break. Samuel (groin) and Warner (hamstring) are both monumental to the 49er's success. They’ll miss next week’s game, at least, with separate strains. Dre Greenlaw also exited the game as he reaggravated his hamstring and is day-to-day.
Injuries derailed the team last season, and the 49ers have continued to fight with a wounded roster. San Francisco is still waiting for the returns of Maurice Hurst, JaMycal Hasty, and Dee Ford. I’m sure you could list a few other players that could make an impact with their return from injury. However, those three seem to elevate the team the most to me.
49er defense ends the game with back to back turnovers on downs
At times, it felt like San Francisco’s defense could not slow down the Viking’s high-powered offense. On the contrary, Ryans’ defense held Kirk Cousins to a -2.2 Completion over expected and 0.01 EPA per play. The proven Vikings duo of Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson did most of their damage in the first half.
San Francisco's defense played exceptionally well on the last three Minnesota offensive possessions. On the first stop, Kevin Givens blew up an inside run and forced Cook to fumble. Unfortunately, Cook would leave the game with a shoulder injury.
The second stop came at the goal line as the Vikings drove 73 yards to try to punch it in. However, Minnesota had no success on back-to-back runs followed by a crucial third-down pass break up by rookie Talanoa Hufanga.
On fourth down, Samson Ebukam pressured Cousins to force him to overthrow Jefferson, resulting in a turnover on downs. This goal-line stand directly reflects why the 49ers’ defensive line received an A- in Marc Delucchi’s position grades.
The Vikings still had a chance to tie after Robbie Gould missed a 42-yard field goal with two minutes remaining in the game. Cousins would find Jefferson for a 23-yard gain on second down, but that would be the last of Minnesota's success. K’Waun Williams was a little early on the pass breakup on third down, but the refs let them play. Ryans got aggressive on fourth down with bump, and run coverage, and Cousins overthrew Jefferson to end the game.
San Francisco is still undisciplined
San Francisco has won four out of their last five games, but they still have things to clean up to be considered a strong playoff contender. The 49ers have the most turnovers (3) on opening drives this season. The most consistent thing this team has done is shoot themselves in the foot.
In Week 8, the 49er defense gave up several explosive plays to Chicago’s quarterback Justin Fields. Unfortunately, the head-scratching plays would continue on defense the following week as they were embarrassed by a Colt McCoy-led offense.
Ryans’ defense only surrendered seven points in the second half. In detail, that touchdown came after the Niners scored twice in 22 seconds. The Vikings responded without blinking as the drive got started by Cook’s 30-yard run. That run was an outlier as the 49er defense held the Vikings' rushing attack to minimal gains through four quarters.
Vikings offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak called a double pass that would go for 24 yards. I could be nit-picking, but it feels like this team is still vulnerable to explosive plays, and I didn't mention how Cousins could dice up the Niners secondary with several 15+ yard throws.
The 99-yard kick return for a touchdown felt like all of the Niners' hard work had gone to waste. They were up by 11 points prior to the touchdown. This team has to hone in on the bend but don't break saying.
Ultimately, the Niners played a good game on offense and defense. The offense has taken a significant turnaround from their four-game losing streak. San Francisco should feel good (outside of the injuries to Warner and Samuel) going into Week 13. The Seahawks have been horrendous the last three weeks, but that can change in a blink. Seattle’s head coach Pete Carrol has had Shanahan’s number the last five seasons. Beating the Seahawks will be a statement win regardless of their record.