Grading The Game: 49ers

When the Vikings blow out a team that was thought to be a divisional contender, there are a lot of "A's" and "B's" on the report card, but one area pulled only a "C."

PASSING OFFENSE: A-plus -- Backup quarterback Gus Frerotte filled in for injured starter Daunte Culpepper (back) and had five incompletions, four touchdown passes, no turnovers and a team-record 157.2 passer rating. The best possible passer rating is 158.3. Randy Moss caught three touchdown passes, two when he outjumped a defensive back and another when he ran past one. Rookie receiver Nate Burleson also caught his first NFL touchdown pass two plays after Moss had a fourth TD reception called back because he pushed off. The offensive line continues to allow the less-mobile Frerotte to step up and throw down the field. In two games, Frerotte has TD passes of 72 and 59 yards.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B-minus -- The Vikings averaged only 3.4 yards per carry, but their relentless pounding of the middle of the line on the first two series opened up the passing game. The Vikings ran on 12 of the first 17 plays and only one carry went outside the tackles. Charles Stackhouse, a seldom-used 250-pound fullback, was inserted into the game plan. He led the way on seven of the first 12 rushes, including a powerful 5-yard touchdown run by Onterrio Smith that gave the Vikings a 14-0 lead. The Vikings had 52 of their 102 yards rushing on their first two series. When San Francisco started to cheat up against the run, the Vikings started throwing the ball more.

PASS DEFENSE: A -- The pass defense raised its interception total by three to 11, five behind the team's total for all of last season. Safeties Corey Chavous and Brian Russell each had an interception, giving them four apiece this season. Russell is the first Viking to have an interception in four consecutive games to start a season. San Francisco quarterback Jeff Garcia completed only 11 of 23 passes for 108 yards, three interceptions and two sacks. His passer rating was 21.9 when he was pulled in favor of Tim Rattay. The Vikings led 35-0 when Rattay erased the shutout with a 37-yard touchdown pass to Tai Streets. But the game had been decided for a long time by then.

RUSH DEFENSE: C -- If there was one negative in the 28-point victory, it was the tackling on some of the 49ers' running plays. San Francisco averaged 5.8 yards per carry and became the first Vikings' opponent to top 100 yards rushing (145) this season. San Francisco running back Kevan Barlow had 72 yards on only 11 carries (6.5-yard average). Garrison Hearst averaged 4.3 yards. Vikings middle linebacker Greg Biekert is playing with a strained rib. That could be part of the problem. He was pulled in the fourth quarter once the game got out of hand. Rookie E.J. Henderson, the heir apparent at middle linebacker, filled in for Biekert.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- The Vikings had their best special teams game of the season by far. Even the kickoff coverage was strong. San Francisco averaged only 19.5 yards per kickoff return and 7 yards per punt return. It helped that special teams captain Jack Brewer returned after missing the first three games because of a sprained chest. Brewer was credited with two assists on special teams. Punter Eddie Johnson was solid with a 41.5-yard average and a long of 52.

COACHING: A -- The Vikings have outcoached four consecutive opponents. Sensing the 49ers would be too fast to run outside on and knowing backup quarterback Gus Frerotte wasn't mobile enough to roll out, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan inserted 250-pound fullback Charles Stackhouse into the game plan and ran the ball straight at San Francisco. The Vikings had 12 runs in their first 17 plays and only one went outside the tackle. The Vikings were able to pound out a 14-0 lead and open up the passing game with that approach. Defensively, the Vikings played tight coverage and had no interference penalties. First-year defensive coordinator George O'Leary has the defense better prepared than it has been since at least 1998.





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