Vikings-49ers Game Plan

The Vikings might still be licking their wounds from a blowout loss, but the offense has an opportunity to get healthy in San Francisco. Meanwhile, the Vikings defense needs to show that New England's offensive success was the exception, not the norm. Get the news, matchups and injuries that could affect Sunday's game in San Francisco.

VIKINGS

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.

49ers

Don't expect the 49ers to rip a page from the playbook of the Patriots when they face the Vikings on Sunday. New England 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 of his first-half turnovers were turned into quick touchdowns.


MATCHUPS TO WATCH

  • The Vikings middle linebacker will either be an injured Napoleon Harris (dislocated wrist) or Dontarrious Thomas. Either one 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.

  • It has not been a stellar season for Vikings cornerback Fred Smoot and for that reason the 49ers likely will take their shots at him. This could mean a steady dose of Antonio Bryant, who has 26 receptions and two touchdowns this season. Arnaz Battle has caught 24 passes, including two for touchdowns. 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.

  • 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.

  • RG Justin Smiley, who is playing as well as anyone on the 49ers' offensive line, vs. UT Kevin Williams, who has a team-leading four sacks, seven tackles for losses and 21 QB hurries.

  • MLB Derek Smith, who leads the 49ers in tackles despite playing with a bothersome eye-muscle strain, vs. RB Chester Taylor, who leads the Vikings with 612 yards rushing and a 4.2-yard average.

  • 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. WRs Troy Williamson and Travis Taylor, who've combined almost equally for 47 catches for 616 yards.

    INJURY IMPACT

    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.

    TE Vernon Davis (right fibula) is listed as doubtful for Sunday's game against the Vikings. 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 for Sunday's game.


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