KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:05 Pacific
SITE: Monster Park in San Francisco
RECORDS: Vikings 4-3, second place in NFC North; 49ers 2-5, third place in NFC West
TV: FOX, Sam Rosen, Tim Ryan, Chris Myers
2006 NFL RANKINGS: Vikings: offense 17th (18th rush, 14th pass); defense 12th (2nd rush, 26th pass). 49ers: offense 20th (10th rush, 22nd pass); defense 31st (22nd rush, 31st pass)
SERIES HISTORY: 42nd meeting. The 49ers lead the series 21-19-1, including 12-7-1 in San Francisco. This will be the Vikings' first trip to San Francisco since the 1997 season, when they played the 49ers in the regular season and again in the playoffs. San Francisco won both games. The Vikings won the past two meetings in 1999 and 2003 by scores of 40-16 and 35-7.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The NFL is a copycat league, but the 49ers don't have the offensive personnel to spread the field and take advantage of the Vikings' secondary the way New England did on Monday night. With a porous defense and an offensive line that doesn't pass block particularly well, San Francisco must run the ball well behind RB Frank Gore, but it's a tough proposition against the league's No. 2 run defense. Offensively, the Vikings just have to avoid the turnovers that doomed them against the Patriots. QB Brad Johnson was benched in the second half Monday, but gets the start this Sunday and simply can't do the 49ers any favors. Expect a heavy dose of RB Chester Taylor to set up a controlled passing game off play-action.
FAST FACTS: Vikings -- Have outscored opponents 59-16 in the fourth quarter and overtime. ... Taylor is on pace for 336 carries, which would break Robert Smith franchise record (295 in 2000). 49ers -- Gore's 631 rushing yards has already surpassed his team-high 608 as a rookie last season. ... Have scored more than 20 points in every game in winning six of past seven meetings at home
BY THE NUMBERS: 33.6 -- The 49ers' NFL-worst average points allowed per game. 3 -- Games in which the Vikings' offense has failed to score a touchdown this season.
QUOTES TO NOTE
"You can find out a lot about yourself and the team when you're down 41-0 at the half and you still have to come out and play for each other." -- 49ers quarterback Alex Smith on the lessons learned from the blowout loss to the Bears.
"I would say that after coaching quarterbacks over the course of time, I'm not a short hook guy. But by the same token, it's kind of like Popeye; that's all I can stands, I can't stands no more, and that was it." -- Vikings coach Brad Childress when asked about his philosophy on when to pull a quarterback and why he yanked Brad Johnson in the fourth quarter Monday night against New England.
49ERS GAME PLAN: Don't expect the 49ers to rip a page from the playbook of the Patriots when they face the Vikings. The Vikings used a lot of empty backfields and had five receivers split out wide for a good portion of Monday night's game to take advantage of a defensive weakness. Although the 49ers would be smart to follow some of the principles the Patriots used in their decisive victory over the Vikings, their offense is set up completely different. What the 49ers try to do offensively is use their running game. They don't use three-wideout sets unless they're forced in a two-minute drill or on third-and-longs. And the 49ers do not really have a threat as a fourth receiver. The fourth active receiver has gotten onto the field for just four snaps in the first seven games and does not been the target of a pass attempt. Rookie Brandon Williams has filled the role as the No. 4 wideout the past five weeks, and has taken just one snap from scrimmage. The 49ers try to use the threat of the run to set up QB Alex Smith and the passing attack. That will be difficult this week against the league's second-ranked run defense. Running back Frank Gore has is a force on the ground, as he ranks fifth in the NFL with 631 yards rushing. The left side of the offensive line returned last week against the Bears, as guard Larry Allen and tackle Jonas Jennings both missed significant time in the early season with injuries. Quarterback Alex Smith is playing much better than he did as a rookie, but he has to avoid the turnovers that plagued him in the 41-10 loss to the Bears. Smith threw one interception and lost two fumbles. Both is his first-half turnovers were turned into quick touchdowns.
VIKINGS GAME PLAN: The Vikings have a golden opportunity to get well against a San Francisco team that is coming off a blowout loss to Chicago. This will be especially true for Minnesota's offense. Brad Johnson is expected to get the start after being benched in the fourth quarter of Monday night's loss to New England. But while Johnson and the Vikings struggled against the Patriots, they should have no such problems in San Francisco. The 49ers are ranked 31st, second to last in the NFL, in total defense. This includes 22nd in rushing defense and 31st in passing defense. This game would be an excellent time for the Vikings' 14th-ranked passing offense to prove it has far more spark than it showed against the Patriots. Chester Taylor also should look much more like the running back who gained 169 yards on 26 carries at Seattle rather than the guy who had only 22 yards on 10 carries versus the Patriots. The 49ers might attempt to take a page from the Patriots' use of the spread offense against the Vikings defensive, but it's highly unlikely Alex Smith and the 22nd-ranked passing offense in the NFL will have the same success that Tom Brady did Monday night in the Metrodome.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
--- Vikings MLBs Napoleon Harris or Dontarrious Thomas will have his hands full trying to slow San Francisco running back Frank Gore, who is averaging 5.1 yards per carry and also has caught 26 passes this season.
--- Vikings right tackle Marcus Johnson has had his rough moments this season and things won't get any easier against 49ers left end Bryant Young, who has three sacks playing in a 3-4 defensive scheme. The Vikings also faced a 3-4 against the Patriots and gave up four sacks. Johnson also will have to be aware of the whereabouts of outside linebacker Brandon Moore, who has 2.5 sacks this season and most be accounted for at all times.
--- Vikings cornerback Fred Smoot, who has not had a stellar season, vs. 49ers receivers Antonio Bryant and Arnaz Battle, who have combined for 50 receptions. The 49ers also likely will attempt to pick on nickel back Ronyell Whitaker, who lines up in the slot when he's in the game. Bryant, the 49ers' top offensive threat in the passing game, also will go against Vikings CB Antoine Winfield, who has one interception and eight passes defensed, in what could be one of the best individual matchups of the game.
--- 49ers RT Kwame Harris, who has been partially or entirely responsible for eight sacks in the past five games, vs. Vikings LDE Darrion Scott, who ranks second on the team with 3.5 sacks.
--- 49ers RG Justin Smiley, who is playing as well as anyone on the 49ers' offensive line, vs. Vikings UT Kevin Williams, who has a team-leading four sacks, seven tackles for losses and 21 QB hurries
--- 49ers MLB Derek Smith, who leads the 49ers in tackles despite playing with a bothersome eye-muscle strain, vs. Vikings RB Chester Taylor, who leads Minnesota with 612 yards rushing and a 4.2-yard average.
--- 49ers CBs Shawntae Spencer and Walt Harris, who generally have to stick in coverage for a while because of the 49ers' non-existent pass rush, vs. Vikings WRs Troy Williamson and Travis Taylor, who've combined almost equally for 47 catches for 616 yards.
49ERS: TE Vernon Davis (right fibula) is out for Sunday's game. He might see some limited practice time this week, but is more likely to be available Nov. 12 against the Lions. RB Maurice Hicks (concussion) is listed as questionable, but he returned to practice at the end of the week.
VIKINGS: Kevin Williams and Pat Williams could both be slowed by injury limiting the two big reasons the Vikings' run defense has been so good this season. Spencer Johnson and Ross Kolodziej are the top backups to those two and starting left end Darrion Scott also can play inside. Middle linebacker Napoleon Harris (dislocated wrist) also seems like a long shot to play. Dontarrious Thomas is the top backup at all three linebacker spots but the Vikings coaching staff has raved about its position flexibility, meaning no linebacker is tied to one spot. Thomas started in Week 4 at Buffalo when strong-side linebacker Ben Leber was hurt. Center Matt Birk has a hyper-extended knee, meaning Jason Whittle could be pressed into action. The Vikings obviously missed receiver Marcus Robinson (lower back) against the Patriots. Robinson has caught three touchdown passes this season and it's clear quarterback Brad Johnson is comfortable throwing to him. Because Troy Williamson struggles to catch the deep pass, Robinson gives the Vikings their greatest vertical threat at this point.
Game breakdown: 49ers vs. Vikings
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