The Vikings enter as a 7-point home ‘dog courtesy of a vastly underwhelming 2-4 start to the season, and that feels like a fair line given the 9’ers 5-1 record and domination in nearly all aspects of the game.
Despite their start, the Vikings have not made many major changes along the way to spur more momentum, preferring to ride out the storm instead of veer around it.
The additions of RB Cam Akers (21 receiving yards on 5 catches, 63 rushing yards on 11 attempts) and OL Dalton Risner (has only played 10 snaps since joining 4 games ago) are starting to feel underwhelming despite positive play.
Getting used to a new team is one thing, but it’s starting to feel like the Vikings just picked up a nice car and are just parking it in the garage for an extended period of time.
Risner will be used more frequently tonight as he slots in and starts for the injured Ezra Cleveland, but the Vikings need to mix up the running game a bit more with Akers. Speaking of mixing up the running game...
- Vikings Rushing vs Vikings Passing
Just this last week I wrote about how the Vikings are, by a mile, the most imbalanced offense in the NFL. They were first in the league in passing attempts prior to Week 7 and have run the 4th-fewest amount of rushing plays across the NFL. The Vikings have favored the run by a 69%/31% margin.
Most of that has come with the best wide receiver in the NFL on the field, sure, but in Justin Jefferson’s absence the Vikings need to get the rush game going just a little bit more to add some much needed dimension to their offense.
Alexander Mattison has been getting an absurd 72% of the attempts and not looking good while Ty Chandler/Cam Akers have shown some serious flash in very limited attempts.
San Fransisco’s defense will shut down at least one of the Vikings’ phases of offense, and if I was a betting man I’d wager that will be the Vikings passing game with how good SF’s pass rush is. We’ll need something special from everyone on offense to beat this good of a defensive unit.
2. Nick Bosa vs the Vikings OL
While the 9’ers offense has found itself in a bit of an injury hole (WR Deebo Samuel is out and OL Trent Williams is doubtful), their best-in-the-league defense has been left with barely a scratch: Only LB Dre Greenlaw is listed as questionable across the defensive starters AND backups - this defense will be at nearly full strength, even if Greenlaw can’t go.
Of course, Greenlaw is not the beating heart of the SF Defense. That would be Nick Bosa, reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Tackles Brian O’Niell and especially Christian Darrisaw will need to take a step up tonight to contain the best edge rusher in the game. A big first start from Dalton Risner would go a long way as well.
San Fran’s defense is also tailored more towards defending the pass (they are great at both), something the Vikings will inevitably favor more than the rush.
With his tendency to live and die in the pocket, QB Kirk Cousins will need to see a *statistically* good offensive line show that the numbers actually mean something.
3. Brock Purdy vs Vikings secondary
San Fransisco QB Brock Purdy is coming off of a his worst performance of the year last week against a tough Cleveland defense, who was also buoyed by a raucous home crowd.
With a passer rating of just 55.3, Cleveland exemplified what it takes to sputter the 9ers offense. Stifle the passing game and force them to lean more on RB Christian McCaffrey, and even that was almost enough to steal the game from the Browns.
The Vikings defense is decidedly not what Cleveland’s is, but it does have a few things working in it’s favor Monday night: McCaffrey will be playing through at least lingering pain in his oblique and WR Deebo Samuel is already listed as out.
If the Vikings secondary can limit Deebo’s replacements, likely to be a mix of Ronnie Bell and Ray-Ray McCloud, the secondary can focus its attention more on SF’s other great receiver, Brandon Aiyuk.
Limiting the receivers downfield will also put more stress on the San Fran offensive line, which may not be able to give 10-time pro bowler OL Trent Williams a go (let alone a start) as he is listed as doubtful.
If Harrison Smith and the boys can get at least something resembling sticky coverage on any downfield threats, that will allow players like Danielle Hunter and Ivan Pace Jr. just a few more moments to get to Purdy, who did not do well when under more-than-normal pressure last week.