The 49ers should have dominantly beat the Minnesota Vikings Sunday. The trend of shooting themselves in the foot made a return, and it left a window for the Vikings to tie the game with two minutes left. Ultimately, the 49ers squeezed a win out to continue their winning streak.
We take a look at 14 plays Niners fans will love or shove below.
Brandon Aiyuk has finally gotten past the constant comments from his head coach and general manager. Jimmy Garoppolo is the main culprit for Aiyuk having a regression season. There is no reason a man with 33 and 1⁄2 inch arms should be getting overthrown. Garoppolo would get Aiyuk involved later in the game, but he missed him a few times early, costing Aiyuk to miss his first 100-yard receiving game of the season.
The second clip is a typical Garoppolo turnover. Minnesota is in Cover 1, and Harrison Smith drops down in Deebo Samuel’s path, and Garoppolo throws it anyway. Again, Shanahan’s passing attack has been held back from Garoppolo’s abilities.
The eight-year veteran would improve, but he did not put the game away. Garoppolo’s 0.09 EPA per play has to be better as he’s lined up to face several established quarterbacks in the coming weeks. Russell Wilson, Joe Burrow, Matt Ryan, and Ryan Tannehill are proven to put stress on the defense. Garoppolo’s ball placement and decision-making are still poor 58 games into his NFL career.
Vikings offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak’s flea-flicker play call early in the first quarter caught San Francisco's defense napping. The run-action sunk in the linebackers and Jaquiski Tartt while Adam Theilen crept near the sideline.
Josh Norman ran with Justin Jefferson and left Thielen open. Again, showing the difficulties of keeping up with the Vikings' dynamic duo.
Kirk Cousins would find Thielen in the endzone on the same drive. The 49er's defense stood strong for three downs but would break on fourth down. Anytime you allow a touchdown on fourth down, it will always be deflating. San Francisco’s defense has gotten plenty of goal-line stands, but they could not overcome this Jimmy Garoppolo turnover.
In the first clip, the Vikings temporarily took the air out of Levi’s Stadium. San Francisco had just gone up 11 points after a near four-minute drive resulted in a field goal. Minnesota returned the kickoff 99 yards to shun the crowd and keep the Vikings in the game. Winning in all three phases is what special teams coach Richard Hightower preached earlier in the season.
The sixth deflating play (second clip) is a summary of Garoppolo’s pocket presence. On 3rd and 9 late in the third quarter, Garoppolo would take his second bad sack. Shanahan had to be frustrated to watch his offense give up a sack in max protection (7 blockers).
Honestly, I wince the most when Garoppolo takes a sack—knowing Trey Lance can make plays with his legs. Shanahan should at least let Lance impact the running game to broaden the 49ers' offensive attack.
Robbie Gould’s missed 42-yard field goal attempt gave Minnesota a chance to tie the game. Putting the game in the kicker's leg(hands) is never a fun idea. The “good as Gould” saying has diminished, and Gould is on the books for a $5.5 million dollar cap hit next year.
The Vikings have the most touchdowns on opening drives in the NFL. Quite the opposite of San Francisco; hence they have the most turnovers (3) on opening drives this season. Samson Ebukam getting his hand on the ball to stop an easy completion was a great start for San Francisco's defense. The Niners would go on to force a three-and-out.
Jauan Jennings has a long history of physical blocking. He missed 2020 with an injury, but his stock started to rise during the open practices with the Los Angeles Chargers. Jennings did not flench in making this big-time catch on third down.
San Francisco’s struggles on third down have been a bad trend all season. Making this catch on third down is an automatic uplifting play. Too bad the Niners' offensive opening drive ended in a Garoppolo interception.
Garoppolo had plenty of throws that would make you scratch your head Sunday. I mentioned Garoppolo had not gotten Aiyuk the ball enough, but he found Aiyuk on 3rd and 13 in the first quarter for a 37-yard gain. Garopopolo usually does not have velocity in his throws, but you can see he throws the pass with enough power to get through a defensive lineman’s hands.
Shanahan’s rushing EPA ranks seventh in the league. Samuel’s positionless ability has had a tremendous impact on the running game. Elijah Mitchell has turned into an overnight star, but Samuel’s All-Pro campaign has been heightened by reverting back to a running back.
Azeez Al-Shaair has been a bright spot on the 49er defense all season. Al-Shaair would break Cousins’ streak of eight consecutive road games without an interception. This turnover helped the Niners score two touchdowns in 22 seconds.
The interior defensive line caught a ton of flack early in the season as it felt like offenses were able to gash them with long runs. Losing Javon Kinlaw to season-ending knee surgery was a brutal blow to the defensive line. D.J. Jones and Arik Armstead have held the interior down, but reserve Kevin Givens would be the defensive tackle to force a turnover Sunday.
There were a ton of options of uplifting plays, but I think the Viking's final play on offense speaks volumes of how close the game was Sunday. This play came after K’Waun Williams was a tad bit early on the throw on third down. The refs held their flags, and Cousins proceeded to miss Jefferson on the following play.
San Francisco is in Cover 5, and Jefferson beats Norman inside. Cousins overthrow him to allow the Niner's offense to end the game in victory formation. The Niners are fortunate for Cousins’ inaccuracy. The following weeks are filled with quarterbacks that can pick apart a defense.