49ers vs. Vikings: Most Critical Matchups for Minnesota
The last time the San Francisco 49ers and Minnesota Vikings met was Week 3 of the 2009 season. If not for 11 penalties against the Colts last week, it might have been another matchup of two undefeated teams.
In that 2009 meeting, Brett Favre was the Vikings quarterback, and Mike Singletary was the 49ers head coach. In typical Favre fashion, he led the Vikings to a 27-24 win with a 32-yard touchdown pass with 0:02 left in the game.
It was a win that helped the Vikings finish 12-4, the second-best record in the NFC.
For San Francisco, it marked the start of a stretch during which it lost five of six games on the way to an 8-8 finish.
Since then, these two teams have been moving in different directions. Last year, under first-year head coach Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers finished 13-3, a seven-game improvement over 2010.
Since 2009, the Vikings have finished in last place in the NFC North. Last year, as they fell to 3-13, the Vikes were challenging for the worst record in the league and the top draft pick.
And, against their third-straight NFC North opponent, the visiting 49ers are 6.5-point favorites.
The Vikings will need another miraculous effort to defeat San Francisco. Here are some key matchups that could affect the outcome of the game.
Adrian Peterson vs. the Best Rushing Defense from 2011
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Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson defied the odds when he opened the season as the starting running back.
Not only did he start the game but he rushed for 84 yards and two touchdowns. Already the franchise leader in rushing touchdowns entering the game with 64, Peterson finished the game as the Vikings' all-time leader in rushing yards with 6,896.
His average in Week 1 was a healthy 4.9 yards per carry, but against the Colts it dropped to 3.8 yards. The task will be a whole lot tougher this week against the 49ers.
Last season, the 49ers led the league in rushing defense, allowing only 77.2 yards per game. Only once did a running back exceed 100 yards against them, and that was Marshawn Lynch in Week 16 when he finished with 107 yards on 21 carries.
In an eerie sense of coincidence, that was the same week that Peterson suffered his knee injury against the Redskins.
Christian Ponder vs. Alex Smith
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Even though they will not be on the field at the same time, there will be plenty of battles between these two former first-round draft picks.
As the first overall pick in the 2005 draft from the University of Utah, there were plenty of expectations for Alex Smith. Over his first four seasons he had had a 16-24 record, and last year was only the second time in his six-year career that he started all 16 games in the season.
With two wins this season, Smith has evened his record at 34-34. His only winning season was last year when he finished 13-3. It also was his best season; he had a 90.7 passer rating.
So far he has looked a lot better this season with a 1-1 record. After finishing 2011 with a 70.1 passer rating, Ponder has opened the 2012 season with an impressive 110.6 rating.
Smith will be out to prove that last season was no fluke, while Ponder wants to show that he can be an NFL quarterback. Of course, with a better receiving corps to throw to and a better defense to support him, Smith has the edge in this matchup.
Jared Allen vs. Joe Staley
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Last season, Jared Allen was held without a sack in only three games; with 22 total, he was 2011's sack leader.
So far, Allen has been shut out in the first two games.
In the Vikings' last meeting against the 49ers in 2009, Allen had a sack and forced fumble on the game's first offensive play. It will be the same matchup when he lines up across from left tackle Joe Staley on Sunday.
Last season, San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith was sacked 44 times. Behind nearly the same offensive line—the exception being at right guard, where Alex Boone replaced Adam Snyder—Smith has been sacked seven times so far in two games this year.
In the Sept. 15 Pioneer Press Charley Walters indicated that Allen doesn't consider himself as a pass-rusher, but a defensive player. The problem is, after having two seasons where he led the league in sacks, that's how people see Allen.
Randy Moss vs. Antoine Winfield
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This should be an interesting matchup between former teammates.
While at 35 years old, Randy Moss is the third-oldest player on the 49ers roster, at four months younger, Antoine Winfield is the oldest player on the Vikings roster.
After the worst season of his career and playing for three different teams in 2010, Moss retired. He sat out the 2011 season, but is once again in the starting lineup. In two games this season he has five catches for 61 yards and a touchdown.
Matt Kalil vs. Aldon Smith
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Aldon Smith, the 49ers' first-round draft pick in 2011, led the team with 14 sacks despite not making a single start last season.
As the starting outside linebacker, Smith has two sacks so far this season.
Matt Kalil, the fourth pick in this year's draft, anchors the Vikings' rebuilt offensive line, along with new starting guards Brandon Fusco and Charlie Johnson.
Last season, Minnesota quarterbacks were sacked a total of 49 times. With six sacks in the first two games, it doesn't appear that anything has improved.
Percy Harvin vs. TBD
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Percy Harvin has picked up right where he left off in 2011 as the Vikings' most explosive weapon on offense.
In a report from CBSSports.com, head coach Leslie Frazier has indicated that he wants to limit Harvin's touches because he is such a physical player, and to do so would be in Harvin's best interest.
Unfortunately for Frazer, in order to be competitive he needs to play Harvin as much as possible in a number of positions.
Harvin repeatedly has demonstrated his effectiveness on kickoffs, in the backfield and lining up as slot receiver as well as out wide.
So far in two games, Harvin—to no surprise—is the Vikings' leading receiver with 18 receptions for 188 yards (more than double the next-closest player). He also has as many rushing yards as Toby Gerhart, along with five kickoff returns for 166 yards.
This will really be a matchup between Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. It's going to be like a chess match watching how Harvin is moved around the field and how the defense is going to attempt to limit his effectiveness.
Leslie Frazier vs. Jim Harbaugh
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This is an interesting matchup between two former Chicago Bears players.
Jim Harbaugh was the Bears' first-round draft pick in 1987. The 26th player selected, he eventually replaced Jim McMahon at quarterback. He finished his 13-year career with a 66-74 record playing for the Bears, Colts and Chargers.
Harbaugh's return to the NFL as a head coach has been extremely successful, having won 15 of 18 regular-season games and leading the 49ers to the NFC Championship Game in his first year as head coach.
Leslie Frazier was a cornerback on the Super Bowl-winning Bears team of 1985. Not only did he play on the opposite side of the football but he also entered the league as an undrafted rookie. Frazier's career was cut short when he suffered a knee injury in Super Bowl XX.
After being promoted from defensive coordinator to head coach, Frazier has only won seven of 24 games.
I guess it just proves that quarterbacks, having to be more cerebral, make better coaches.
Who Wins These Matchups?
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When you think about these two franchises, and the fact that their fortunes in the Super Bowl have been complete opposites, with the 49ers 5-0 and the Vikings 0-4, you might be surprised to learn that the head-to-head record is pretty even.
The Vikings hold a regular season edge of 20-18-1, while the 49ers have won three of four playoffs meetings.
I really would like to believe that the Vikings will play up to the competition, but I just don't see it happening.
Jim Harbaugh has the 49ers believing in themselves, and having already defeating the Packers and the Lions, they are coming to town on a roll.
With the line favoring San Francisco between six and seven points, on the road no less, confirms that this will be a tough game for Minnesota.
The problem has not been Christian Ponder, who is playing well so far this season, its the lack of talent outside of Percy Harvin at receiver and a defense that still needs to prove it can come up big with a game-changing play.
Prediction: 49ers 34, Vikings 13.
Alex Smith, who is also having the best year in his career so far, will look like a franchise quarterback.