The 49ers, with a quarterback position in flux and losers of nine of the last 10 games, might be facing their best opportunity this season, going against the Vikings' last-ranked pass defense with teams abandoning the run and throwing early and often. Conversely, the Vikings' success with the ground game has allowed them to be happily conservative with the number of passes they call for, but receiver Bobby Wade still believes the Vikings are close have a receiver break out for a 100-yard performance at some point this season.
"(We're) close. The hardest thing about that is you've got guys that are fighting for plays and fighting for position and everybody has the ability to do that – especially me and Sidney (Rice) because we play the same position," Wade said. "You love to sit back and watch that guy make plays, but at the same time it's like you know there are plays that you can make and plays that he can make. It's just a matter of trying to get fresh bodies out there and keeping guys fresh and keeping defenses on their toes.
"Eventually, when we start getting more opportunities, you'll start to see a few of us start to separate a little bit. Right now, we're good with each of us getting four or five (catches per game)."
Wade has three games this season with five receptions, tight end Visanthe Shiancoe has had one, and Rice has one game in which he caught six passes. Wade's three five-catch performances have produced 34, 83 and 45 yards. Shiancoe's five-catch game went for only 50 yards, but he did have a 94-yard game against Oakland three weeks ago. Rice's six-catch effort against Green Bay on Sept. 30 produced 75 yards, and he also put up 82 yards against the New York Giants two weeks ago.
While Robert Ferguson was imploring the wide receiver group to have a breakout game about a month ago in the meeting rooms, Rice seems unaffected by the team's lack of a 100-yard receiver.
"We ain't too much focused on that," he said. "We're not focused on that at all. As long as we're winning and doing the things we're supposed to do as a group, we really don't care."
That's probably true, but there are signs that the passing offense is coming around, and a 100-yard receiver could be the byproduct of that at some point this month – maybe soon. Their best opportunity might have been last week against Detroit's pass defense, which is now ranked 31st in the league (ahead of only the Vikings' bottom-ranked pass defense). In addition to San Francisco (21st against the pass), the Vikings still play Chicago (25th), Washington (17th) and Denver (ninth).
However, with the top-ranked rushing offense in the league, there hasn't been a huge onus put on the Vikings to step up their passing offense. Even without that sense of urgency, the passing numbers have been improving.
After getting only one 200-yard passing performance in their first nine games, the Vikings and quarterback Tarvaris Jackson have produced net passing yards of 250 yards against Oakland and 227 yards against Detroit in two of their last three games.
"I feel everybody is coming out confident. We know our stuff and we're just going out there on the field and trying to execute our plays," Rice said. "Whatever coach gives us, we're taking it in our head, we're locking it in and just trying to execute it on Sundays.
"Everything is clicking as an offense. Tarvaris is gaining confidence every week."
Rice said he has been gaining more confidence and understanding of the game with veterans like Wade giving him immediate feedback in practices and games instead of waiting until after practice. Then, in film sessions, they'll point out what they were talking about in practice to engrain the technique or read in the young guys.
As the receivers have gained more understanding in head coach Brad Childress' offense – only Troy Williamson was with the group last year – they have learned the flexibility the offense allows as well. If a corner has pressed them hard at the line of scrimmage, they now understand they may have to cut the route short in order to avoid messing with the timing of the pass play, Childress explained earlier this week.
Slowly, things seem to be moving forward for the Vikings. Meanwhile, when the 49ers have the ball it will be the bottom-ranked passing offense going against the bottom-ranked pass defense.
While the Vikings push for middle linebacker E.J. Henderson to be considered a Pro Bowl player with 120 tackles, the 49ers have rookie Patrick Willis sitting with 173 tackles after 12 games.
Adrian Peterson, Childress and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell have all mentioned a play from San Francisco's game against the Arizona Cardinals in which Willis – probably the leading candidate for defensive rookie of the year – caught a receiver from behind. According to Childress, the film doesn't show Willis in the frame to start, but he catches up to the receiver and makes a touchdown-saving tackle. According to Peterson, Willis was about 15 yards behind the receiver.
Asked how he might approach meeting up with Willis one-on-one on the field, Peterson said, "It could be a collision or I might have to put a move on him to get to the end zone. So I don't know. I guess you have just got to wait and see."
Peterson worked out with Willis before the draft at Athletes Performance in Arizona, so he knows has fast and athletic the 6-foot-1, 242-pounder can be. However, Peterson said he doesn't ever recall being caught from behind.