The 2018 NFL season is upon us. There is a lot of optimism exuding from the Bay Area in regards to how the 49ers campaign will go. Jimmy Garoppolo has a lot to do with that optimism as he looks to take the reigns of this offense and reaffirm the feeling of confidence in the fans, players, and coaching staff.
San Francisco heads North for their opening game and will have to do battle with a very tough Minnesota Vikings team. As many remember, this is the team that experienced the highest of highs followed by the lowest of lows in the same postseason run. Going from the Minnesota Miracle to getting shellacked against the Eagles in NFC championship game. The Vikings were one game away from the Super Bowl and they have a serious chip on their shoulder coming into this season.
Kirk Cousins is now leading the offense and the defense remains the same from last year. This team is an early Super Bowl pick and the 49ers will face a serious test right out of the gate.
So it looks kind of one-sided on paper but as the old adage goes, that’s why they play the games. It will be tough to leave U.S. Bank Stadium with a win, but here are three things the 49ers can do to forge down that road to victory.
Best Coast Offense:
The loss of Jerick McKinnon for the entire 2018 season is going to hurt, no question. Replacing him will be veteran Alfred Morris and the second-year runner, Matt Breida. Morris will be used between the tackles and Breida will supplement that role in the passing game, mixing in a handful of carries.
Even though the game plan is significantly altered with McKinnon being out, the 49ers should establish the run game against the Vikings. This will lead to more effective play-action passes and can lead to larger gains through the air. Also if the preseason is an indicator on how to beat the Vikings, the use of screens and short passes can be something to utilize often.
Overall, the 49ers need to be patient and stick to their game plan of establishing the run and short passing game to build off it with the play-action pass.
Cracks In The Dam:
Minnesota was a game away from the Super Bowl last season and expectations are high. One thing that can prevent them from making it there, is their weak offensive line. Dealing with some injuries, the Vikings have to use backups for three positions to open 2018.
This is something San Francisco can hopefully exploit. If they can generate pressure early on Cousins, this can possibly create some turnovers for the team which leads to more opportunities for Garoppolo and the offense. DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, Cassius Marsh, and Solomon Thomas can really turn the tide in this game if they can get into the backfield on a consistent basis.
Rudolph The Red Zone Monster:
New Vikings offensive coordinator, John DeFilippo, is a fan of tight ends. Since he’s returned to the NFL in 2012, the tight end in his offense has led the team in receptions and receiving yards four times. This means that containing Kyle Rudolph will be imperative.
The linebackers will need to cover him on shorter routes and the nickel corner or safeties will need to watch him on longer ones. This is a good opportunity for rookie linebacker, Fred Warner to make an impact.
Starting at middle linebacker may be a little nerve racking as a rookie, but the 49ers drafted him for his ability to drop in coverage. This is a big moment for him to prove to the team that he can handle the starting role and create a great linebacking pairing with the suspended Reuben Foster.
In case it wasn’t hammered home before, the 49ers face a tough Vikings team to start off the 2018 season. This first game will really test with how well this team might do this year and how good Garoppolo can be.
Head Coach Kyle Shanahan and Garoppolo carved up some teams last season, but that was with the caveat that they had nothing to play for. With defenses now aware that Garoppolo is the starter, this brings more attention to game planning against him. If the defense can give him enough opportunities, Garoppolo could lead this 49er squad to an upset.
Unfortunately, the level of ability is quite disparate at this time. The 49ers can put up a good fight but ultimately will probably lose this game. Minnesota boasts a stalwart defense and a balanced offense which may be too much for San Francisco to handle to start the year. If this matchup was in October or November, the prognosis may be different but this early September clash will be hard.
Game Facts to Keep in Mind:
- Cousins is 0-3 in Week 1 in his career. His total stat line in those games: 74/114 (completions/attempts), 765 yards, 2 touchdowns, 5 interceptions, and 5 sacks.
- Morris has rushed for 32 touchdowns in his career. Of those 32, 19 have come against teams with non-animal mascots.
- The 49ers have played 23 games in Minnesota against the Vikings. The current record in those games is 14-9, which includes a postseason record of 1-0.
Final Score prediction: Vikings 24, 49ers 17