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Vikings SMR: 49ers Edition

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at San Francisco 49ers Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings fell on the road to the 49ers, 34-26, in another heart-stopper where a couple uncharacteristic turnovers and failure to punch it in from the two yard line cost the Vikings the game. The turnovers allowed the 49ers to roll in the second half, giving them 10 additional points from a very short field, while the Vikings could not convert a first and goal series late in the game that might have tied the game with a 2-point conversion. And that proved to be the difference in the game.

That wasn’t the only loss for the Vikings, however, as Dalvin Cook, Christian Darrisaw, and Anthony Barr all left the game with injuries- Cook leaving on the cart with a shoulder injury that appeared more severe. Darrisaw’s injury may have been a more minor knee injury, as he was able to walk off on his own power, while it was unclear the severity of Bsrr’s injury.

The Vikings had a number of good drives during the game, led by Kirk Cousins, which both gave them the lead early and kept them in the game later, but the two turnovers, both deep in their own territory, proved to be decisive.

The offense was helped by both a defensive takeaway- an early interception by Harrison Smith- and a special teams touchdown- 99 yards by Kene Nwangwu to make it a 5 point game, but couldn’t convert a first and goal series in the 4th quarter that, along with allowing a long drive by the 49ers from their 3 yard line to result in another field goal, really hurt their chances. The Vikings had one more chance to tie it will jut over a minute to play after a missed 49ers field goal, but couldn’t convert a 4th down in 9ers territory, which ended the game. The third down incompletion appeared to be a pretty obvious DPI penalty on KJ Wright that wasn’t called.

The 49ers largely executed their game plan, particularly in the second half, emphasizing their run game, complemented with the short/intermediate passing game, and possessing the ball to wear down the defense. The 9ers had the ball a little over 37 minutes, and had over 200 yards rushing against a depleted Vikings defense. But it was really the Vikings turnovers, and failing to convert their last 1st and goal series, that made the difference.

With that, let’s look at individual performances.

Blue Chip Stocks

Kene Nwangwu. He’s proving to be a big play threat as a kick returner, making his second house call in just 6 games. With the injury to Dalvin Cook, Nwangwu could see more action as a running back the rest of the season as well.

Harrison Smith. Smith had a key interception and another break up in one of his better games this season.

Sheldon Richardson. Not sure how many pressures he had, but he gave Trent Williams more than he wanted on several occasions.

Adam Thielen. He had a couple nice TD grabs, and another nice reception on a flea flicker, and yet another one ruled incomplete.

Justin Jefferson. It was a quieter day for JJ compared to the last two, but he still led all receivers with 83 yards, and forced a big DPI penalty on Josh Norman to convert a third down deep in 9ers territory.

Solid Investments

Vikings Backup Defensive Line. They were the starters today, and yes the Vikings gave up over 200 yards rushing, but I thought they did a decent job regardless. A lot of the 9ers rushing yards came on end-around plays, and still more came on cutback runs where you’d expect LBs and safeties to flow and fill in the cutback lane. Beyond that, they seemed to be the victim of a 9ers offensive line that got away with a lot of minor holding all afternoon- little tugs and grabs that were just enough to keep them from making the tackle. If it was only a few times over the course of the game, not a big deal. But it seemed like they were doing it often- and getting away with it- which made a difference. That’s the occasion for those penalties to be called more often to keep them honest and prevent on-going infractions. James Lynch and Armon Watts look like they can provide solid rotational reps going forward, and largely held their own today, particularly considering the holding they were subject to.

Vikings Offensive Line. Christian Darrisaw allowed one sack, but according to PFF the rest of the offensive line did not allow one pressure the whole game. Run blocking wasn’t as good, and the 49ers defensive front after Nick Bosa isn’t as strong, but still a solid outing for the offensive line overall.

Buy-Sell

Buy: Patrick Peterson and Bashaud Breeland in Coverage. Both appeared to do a good job in pass coverage, and didn’t give up much.

Sell: Patrick Peterson and Bashaud Breeland in Run Defense. Both appeared to give up a lot off the edge on the ground, and Peterson in particular looked less interested in getting too mixed up in defending the run.

Junk Bonds

Xavier Woods. He struggled most of the game, and appeared instrumental in at least a few of the 9ers big plays, including at least one 3rd and long conversion.

The NFL Officiating Crew. This was not a well officiated game. K’waun Williams got away with a pretty obvious DPI on a crucial 3rd down play on the Vikings final drive in 9ers territory. Josh Norman also got away with unnecessary roughness to Adam Thielen during the scrum following Tyler Conklin’s fumble. An official was right there to see it, but didn’t call it. Not sure the Adam Thielen non-reception was the right call either, which cost the Vikings a timeout. He clearly had his hands under the ball and made the reception. Beyond that, the steady diet of minor holding the 9ers offensive line was allowed to get away with all afternoon didn’t reflect well on this officiating crew.

Here is the official response to the Adam Thielen non-catch. Compare that with the official response for a similar play by Devante Adams, that was ruled a catch, and another similar play that was ruled a catch, and not overturned because, “there was no clear and obvious evidence to overturn the call on the field.”

How the video on Thielen’s play was not conclusive is beyond me, let alone how the video presented by NFL Officiating wasn’t clear and obvious evidence the ball in the Cleveland game hit the ground. This is a comedy of errors by NFL Officiating, and it’s been going on all season at arguably a higher rate than normal.

Haven’t seen any official response to this play, which was clearly a blown call. Pretty much never get twitter responses saying they blew the call.

Notice the official coming into view right after Norman bashes Thielen’s back? He was right there to see it, but didn’t call it.

Kirk Cousins

This wasn’t one of Cousins’ best games of the season, but certainly not terrible by any means either. Yes, he had a pick- his still league low 3rd of the season- and was off on a few throws he normally makes- particularly in the end zone- but he still managed to drive the Vikings down the field multiple times for 3 TDs and nearly a 4th, stalling at the 9ers 3 yard line, and had moved them into 9ers territory on the final drive before the non-DPI call with a chance to still force overtime.

And yet the Cousins-haters are all on-board in force with horrendous takes like this:

Cousins literally spends the whole pre-snap trying to get his guys lined up right, and watching that they do, rather than looking for the center, takes a timeout to avoid a delay, but he’s the stupid one? Panics? I think not. And yet this is the take on Cousins that all the national media pick up on.

On to Detroit

As I wrote in my matchup preview, this was a tough matchup for the Vikings, particularly given their depleted defensive line. To be honest, they fared better than I thought they might, and it was their surprising turnovers (the Vikings led the league with fewest turnovers) that really made the difference, giving the 9ers 10 points on very short fields.

But at this point the Vikings schedule gets easier, and they maintain the 7th seed in the NFC post-season tournament. They also should be getting hopefully a stream of players back over the next few weeks. Dalvin Tomlinson. Michael Pierce. Hopefully Everson Griffen. Meanwhile guys like Sheldon Richardson may have more of an impact down the stretch than they have in the season so far. The coaching staff has also latched on to an approach that serves them well, although it wasn’t enough in this game. But they put their players in a position to win, they just didn’t execute as well as they did last week against the Packers, and were disadvantaged this week with a few non-calls.

The loss of Dalvin Cook, if he does miss time with a separated shoulder, while significant as he is a much loved and respected team captain, may not be as much a one as it seems on the field. He hasn’t played at the same level he has in previous years this season, and between Alexander Mattison and Kene Nwangwu, who Mike Zimmer said is likely to get more playing time (due to Cook’s injury), they may well replace Cook’s production.

Of bigger significance is the potential loss of Christian Darrisaw, who left the game early with an apparent knee injury. It’s unclear the extent of the injury, but he did walk off on his own power. Hopefully we’ll have a better idea in the next few days or tomorrow just what his injury is. Hopefully it’s not one that will force him to miss much time, and maybe none at all.

But the remainder of the Vikings schedule- Lions, Bears twice, Pittsburgh- even the Rams look very beatable. The only real tougher challenge with be on the road against the Packers. Going 4-2 or 5-1 will likely gain them a playoff spot, and this year the post-season tournament is wide open in both conferences. The ‘Any Given Sunday’ mantra has never been more true, looking at how the post-season may shake out this season.