Matching up vs. Minnesota

The Niners are trying to avoid calling Sunday's game against the Vikings in Minnesota as a "must win," but history says it is for a San Francisco team that has playoff aspirations. No team in franchise history ever has started 1-3 and made the playoffs. Here's a look at Sunday's game:

GAME PLAN: The 49ers were a team under Steve Mariucci that established the running game and, only then, looked to get things going in the air. New coach Dennis Erickson said that is what he is hoping to do on Sunday against the Vikings. The 49ers got nothing going on the ground last week against the Browns, as their top two backs (Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow) combined for just 32 yards on 16 carries. The 49ers have to do a better job of protecting QB Jeff Garcia, too. Garcia will be looking to get the ball into the hands of receiver Terrell Owens, who publicly demanded his number be called last week. The key for the 49ers is taking advantage of their opportunities in the red zone and cashing in touchdowns instead of field goals. The 49ers seem to have turned into a team that is led by its defense. The 49ers boast one of the fastest teams in the league, and defensive coordinator Jim Mora has the team playing with a lot of aggressiveness. Linebackers Julian Peterson and Jamie Winborn are active and line up in different spots all over the field. Peterson is also effective as a left defensive end, while Winborn will see some time at safety, too. The 49ers have to be able to generate some pass rush with their front four. Whether they face Daunte Culpepper or Gus Frerotte, they must get some hits on the quarterback.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: 49ers CBs Mike Rumph and Ahmed Plummer vs. Vikings WR Randy Moss - The 49ers figure to play a lot of two-deep zone with safeties Zack Bronson and Tony Parrish each playing a deep half. The 49ers' corners have a difficult time covering the deep ball, and going deep is what Moss does best. Moss averages 16.4 yards on his 16 receptions.

--DE Andre Carter vs. LT Bryant McKinnie, who at 6-8, 346 pounds, will see a lot of Carter's speed-rush moves.

--LB Julian Peterson, who has established himself as one of the top players at his position because of his all-around skills, vs. TE Jim Kleinsasser, who is particularly effective in the red zone with two TD receptions

--WR Terrell Owens, who will move around to both sides as well as in the slot, vs. CBs Denard Walker and Brian Williams, who will both see plenty of Owens on Sunday

--QB Jeff Garcia, who has been unable to get the ball down the field effectively this season, vs. FS Brian Russell, who is tied for the team-lead with three interceptions.

--RT Scott Gragg, who returned last week from a high-ankle sprain that kept him out of the lineup for the first two weeks, vs. OLB Chris Claiborne, who has been a presence for the Vikings defense as a pass rusher.

INJURY IMPACT: The 49ers will likely have two starts out on the offensive line again this week, as it appears almost certain LT Derrick Deese will not be able to start. Rookie Kwame Harris will likely make his third consecutive start. Also, LG Eric Heitmann will be out at least another week with a high right ankle sprain. Kyle Kosier will get his second start at LG after starting the first two games of the season at RT.

--QB Jeff Garcia is nursing a sore groin but he had a full week of practice and will start Sunday.

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