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49ers Run Over Vikings

Vikings lose in the trenches

NFL: NFC Divisional Round-Minnesota Vikings at San Francisco 49ers Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings came into Levi’s stadium on Saturday and lost 27-10. They lost the game in the trenches, plain and simple.

From the get-go, the 49ers were able to get 4, 5, or 6 yards on their rushing plays, which set up easier 3rd down conversions, and extended drives that ended in touchdowns. Those drives ate up the clock - the 49ers dominated time of possession the whole game - and wore down the Vikings defense.

Offensively, the Vikings suffered from predictable play-calling from Kevin Stefanski, which seemed to stem from a poorly designed game plan. Obvious run calls to Dalvin Cook put the Vikings in difficult down and distance situations most of the game, which led to many 3-and-out drives. The Vikings had only 7 first downs the entire game.

It was a particularly poor game plan as Stefanski failed to challenge the 49ers’ linebackers in coverage, despite that being a key weakness in their defense, by targeting tight ends or using play-action as much as he might have.

The Vikings finished the game with 21 yards rushing on 10 carries against a 49ers team that allowed over 100 yards rushing in 12 of 16 games during the regular season. It was the worst rushing performance of the season for the Vikings, and the best performance against the run for the 49ers defense.

Those stats underscore how poor the game plan by Kevin Stefanski was.

The 49ers had been giving up five yards a carry on runs outside the tackles during the season, and yet I don’t think Stefanski called a pitch the whole game. Most of Stefanski’s run calls were inside, and he didn’t vary from that script the whole game despite their lack of success early on.

Trying to run inside behind the weakest link in the offense- the Vikings interior linemen - was an unforced error and extraordinarily bad game plan by Kevin Stefanski, which proved fatal for the Vikings offense.

It was too bad the Vikings offense wasn’t more productive, as Jimmy Garoppolo was not throwing the ball well for the 49ers. Prior to the Eric Kendricks interception, he had been off the mark several times, with a few turnover worthy throws and a few more inaccurate passes. After that interception near the end of the first half, the 49ers called only six more pass plays the rest of the game,

The Vikings defense was simply unable to stop the 49ers ground game, so they continued with it the entire game, running the ball 47 of their 68 offensive plays, including 29 of 35 plays in the second half. The 49ers finished with 183 yards rushing, averaging 4.5 yards a carry.

I’m not sure Mike Zimmer did much to bolster the Vikings’ run defense, but if he did it wasn’t effective - or simply too little, too late.

And so, failing to run the ball effectively, or stop the opponent’s ground game - two of the most basic principles in football - the Vikings had no chance to win the game.

The Vikings cause wasn’t helped by a Kirk Cousins interception by Richard Sherman, intended for Adam Thielen, who had good coverage. Nor was it helped by a muffed punt catch by Marcus Sherels, recovered deep in Vikings territory by the 49ers. Sherels had two muffed punt catches, losing one.

But these turnovers seemed ancillary to the main problem of the Vikings not moving the chains on offense, and not being able to stop the 49ers ground game defensively.

There wasn’t a lot of drama, not many big plays, controversial calls, or highlight reel material. The Vikings had the biggest play offensively - the 41 yard TD pass to Diggs. Unfortunately that play accounted for about 30% of the Vikings offensive production- and 70% of the Vikings points for the game.

The Vikings also had perhaps the most impressive play defensively - Eric Kendricks’ interception. But it didn’t matter. They also held Jimmy G to a 74.7 passer rating. George Kittle had 16 yards. But they couldn’t stop the 49ers bread and butter offense.

The longest play from scrimmage for the 49ers was a 22 yard reception. And despite their success rushing the ball, the 49ers longest run was 10 yards.

But Ameer Abdullah had more yards (148) on 5 kickoff returns than the entire Vikings offense (147) the whole game.

It was the nearly the worst offensive performance of the season for the Vikings, in total yards, after the Packers game week 16. And it may have been that game which the 49ers used to build their defensive game plan.

In any case, it was another case of the Vikings being out-coached in the playoffs, although this time it was more Kevin Stefanski than Mike Zimmer.

Season Ending Defeat

And so the Vikings season comes to an end in San Francisco, in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.

Disappointing of course, but perhaps at least one round further than most expected just a couple weeks ago. I don’t think you could say the Vikings lost to an inferior team, but clearly it wasn’t their best effort either.

In any case, a host of questions remain about how the Vikings can improve, get deeper into the playoffs, and ultimately win the Super Bowl.

Answering those questions, and making changes, are what off-seasons are about.