Once a pillar of strength for the Vikings, Minnesota's run defense was dominated in San Francisco. We review the carnage, along with two dozen notes that help tell the tale of the game.
Every NFL game – whether in the preseason, regular season or postseason – you hear the same basic mantra. To be successful, so the defensive story goes, you have to stop the run. If you don't, you lose.
Friday night at a chilly Candlestick Park, the Vikings couldn't stop the run at all in their 17-6 loss against the San Francisco 49ers
. From the starting unit to the second team to the guys mopping up at the end, the 49ers had their way with Minnesota on the ground and the Vikings never seemed to have an answer.
For the game, the 49ers ran 42 times for 260 yards – numbers typically reserved for college teams in non-conference play. They averaged a lofty 6.2 yards a carry, but that stat is made even worse when you factor in that the 49ers took a knee on the final three plays of the game, which added three carries to their total and took away five rushing yards.
While veterans like Jared Allen
, Kevin Williams
and Antoine Winfield
– all key run stoppers – were held out by coach's decision, the Vikings had no answer for the 49ers running game. Even without star RB Frank Gore
, the Niners gashed the Vikings on the ground.
"We've got some work to do with our run defense for sure. We struggled in that area," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "We'll go back and look at the tape and do the things that are necessary to try to get better each week in this preseason so when we do open up the season we're heading in the right direction. But there will be some things that we can definitely learn from and grow from."
On their opening drive, the 49ers ran the ball nine times for 73 yards to set up a go-ahead touchdown that capped a 12-play, 84-yard drive. On their first drive of the second quarter, backup QB Colin Kaepernick
ran for a 78-yard touchdown. On their first 11 rushing plays of the game, the 49ers gained 153 yards. By comparison, the rest of the game wasn't as bad, but, even after the hot start, San Francisco would add more than 100 rushing yards to that total.
"There were a couple times we didn't take good angles to the football and that ended up hurting, including that long run by the quarterback," Frazier said. "We just were a little bit off with our backups on that long run and it hurt us being able to take the proper angles."
Whenever it seemed the Vikings had a chance to get back in the game, the 49ers run game thwarted those hopes. On a drive midway through the second quarter, the 49ers converted a pair of third-down plays with runs – a 3-yard gain on a third-and-1 conversion by Brandon Jacobs
and a 7-yard scramble on a third-and-6 by Kaepernick – that would lead to a field goal and the final points of the game.
On The Opening drive of the third quarter, the Vikings had two chances early to stop the San Francisco offense but allowed back-to-back third-down conversions. In the fourth quarter with the 49ers pinned on their own 4-yard line, the team converted a third-and-8 play with a 9-yard run to keep the clock rolling and keep the Vikings from getting a chance for a late comeback.
In the end, preseason games aren't that vital in the big picture of things. However, they do point out areas in which a team is successful and where they need to work harder or smarter to stop the bleeding. If Friday night's game showed anything, it's that the Vikings run defense – for many years a hallmark of the team – has a lot of work to do in order to right the ship.
If not for three kneel-downs at the end of the game, the 49ers would have more than doubled up the Vikings' total yardage. They finished with a 412-208 dominance in yardage, which was at 417-208 before third-string QB Josh Johnson took three kneel-downs to end the game.
In the first quarter, the Vikings outgained the 49ers 118-89. In the final three quarters, San Francisco held a yardage edge of a whopping 294-119, including a 224-59 yardage advantage in the second and third quarters.
The 49ers had 23 first downs to just 12 by the Vikings. In the second half, San Francisco had 11 first downs, while the Vikings managed just five.
San Francisco converted 7 of 15 third downs and, on one of the third downs in which they failed, they picked up a first down on a fourth-down run. The Vikings converted 5 of 13 third-down plays.
The 49ers ran the ball 42 times for 260 yards, while the Vikings ran just 19 times for 82 yards.
Thanks to the huge rushing disparity, the 49ers ran 74 offensive plays, while the Vikings ran just 50 plays.
The resulting time of possession edge accompanied the number of plays. San Francisco held the ball for 36:58, while Minnesota had the ball for just 23:02. San Francisco held the ball for 29:37 of the game's final three quarters and 20:08 of the game's final 30 minutes
Christian Ponder had a decent game, completing 4 of 9 passes for 80 yards, but those numbers didn't tell the entire story. They included two throwaways when his protection broke down and two drops.
The play of the game for the Vikings offense was a well-thrown 52-yard bomb to Stephen Burton on the game's first drive. The Vikings had 80 passing yards in the first quarter and 69 passing yards in the final three quarters combined.
Joe Webb struggled badly, completing just 4 of 11 passes for 20 yards and being off-target on most of his incompletions.
Toby Gerhart had a strong outing in place of Adrian Peterson, rushing five times for 31 yards. The other two RBs used in the game – Derrick Coleman and Lex Hilliard – combined for 10 carries for 35 yards.
The 49ers had four players rush for 31 yards or more.
Eight different Vikings caught passes. Burton led the team with 52 yards on his only catch and Kyle Rudolph, Kerry Taylor and Rhett Ellison each caught two passes to tie for the team lead. A total of 12 49ers caught passes in the game.
Blair Walsh showed why the Vikings had such confidence in him. Not only did he make both of his field goal attempts, his three kickoffs all went deep into the end zone. One went out of the end zone and the other two were returned from five and eight yards deep in the end zone – both being stopped before San Francisco got to the 25-yard line.
Mark Twain made the famous quote that the coldest winter he ever saw was a summer in San Francisco. The Vikings found out what he meant. Friday night, despite a 6 p.m. Pacific start time with the sun still out, the game time temperature was 59 degrees with windy conditions. Most of the players wore long sleeves and the Vikings equipment staff had heavy jackets usually reserved for November and December games on hand for players on the sidelines.
Letroy Guion suffered a posterior cruciate ligament injury in the first quarter and didn't return to the game. He is expected to miss "a week or two," according to head coach Leslie Frazier.
On the first touchdown of the game, 49ers wide receiver Brett Swain burned Chris Carr with a double move that left Carr grasping air and Swain wide open for the score.
Randy Moss saw brief action but wasn't one of the dozen 49ers who caught a pass. Moss wasn't targeted.
The replacement referees botched a call that wasn't noticed by the Vikings and allowed to stand. Late in the third quarter, Vikings defensive end Anthony Jacobs was called for an illegal hands to the face penalty on a play in which the 49ers completed a 9-yard pass. That call is supposed to leave the coach with the decision to accept the penalty (and an automatic first down) or the play, which would have left the team with a second-and-1 situation. Instead, the officials added the five-yard penalty to the end of the play – something that isn't part of such a call. It should have been either accepting the penalty or the result of the play, not both – especially since the pass and the penalty were separate.
Rookie linebacker Audie Cole had a nice series late in the game, earning a sack and making a nice open-field tackle on a dump-off pass.
The Vikings coaching staff botched an opportunity to be heads-up on a questionable play late in the game. On a third-down play, backup QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson threw a pass to Jarius Wright that looked as though it had been caught but was ruled incomplete. With time running out on the play clock heading into fourth down, had the play been complete, it would have put the Vikings in field goal range. Whether considering a challenge or not, the Vikings called a timeout when they would have been better served to throw the challenge flag and if the ruling on the field was upheld they wouldn't burn the time out they were going to use anyway.
Solomon Elimimian got the Vikings' only takeway on a fourth-quarter interception, but Nick Reed deserved much of the credit. It was Reed who hit the quarterback that caused a wounded duck that was corralled for the interception.
How did you know this was a preseason game? With 2:36 to play, all the Niners had to do was run out the clock. However, the team ran three plays between then and the two-minute warning and, in each case, the player ran out of bounds and stopped the clock. However, those three plays picked up a first down and the 49ers were able to take a knee and finish off the game.
The Vikings have an day off Saturday and return to practice Sunday morning at Minnesota State, Mankato. Training camp, at least the Mankato portion, will break on Wednesday.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.