For the third time in as many weeks, the San Francisco 49ers will square off against an NFC North foe.
To open the season, the 49ers traveled to Lambeau and made quick work of Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. The following week they hosted the Lions on Sunday Night Football and imposed their will defensively on Matthew Stafford and the rest of the Lions offense. This week they travel to the H.H. Metrodome to take on the 1-1 Minnesota Vikings.
Offensively, the 49ers currently have the 13th-best offense yardage wise and their run game is looking as dominant as ever. Last season they averaged 127.8 yards rushing per game; this year they are averaging an even 167.0. That number will be hard to sustain as the season goes on, yet it isn't surprising that it's currently that high.
According to Pro Football Focus, San Francisco is by far the best run-blocking team in the league. The next best team is the Chicago Bears and they are a full nine points behind. With Minnesota being one of the better teams at stopping the run, it should be interesting to see how Joe Staley's unit matches up against Erin Henderson and the Vikings linebackers.
Let's take a more in depth look at what the 49ers' game plan should look like as they look forward to a 3-0 start for the first time since 1998.
When the 49ers Are on Offense
San Francisco needs to keep doing what it does best against the Vikings. And that's running the football to set up the play-action passing game. It's hard to be a run-first team in this league anymore, but the 49ers managed to do it last year. They were one of three teams who ran the ball more than they threw it.
Through the first two weeks of the season, they are averaging almost six yards per carry and they haven't had the opportunity to use their short-yardage back yet. Brandon Jacobs is close to returning, but I doubt if we see him in uniform before Week 5.
One of the most effective plays that has killed opposing teams against the 49ers is the tight end trap play. It works really well against teams that have quick, athletic linebackers.
You can see here that San Francisco is in base 12 personnel, two tight ends, two wide receivers and one running back. No. 46 Delanie Walker has been shifted off the line of scrimmage into the backfield to fill the role of lead blocker.
As soon as the ball is snapped, Staley lets his man go free as he heads to the second-level to block the right outside linebacker. Walker then assumes the role of pinching down to block defensive tackle Corey Williams. Mike Iupati waits for Kyle VandenBosch to come off the edge and center Jonathan Goodwin heads straight up field to block the middle linebacker. Only the right side of the offensive line takes the man who is directly in front of them.
The trap play is definitely one of the most underutilized running plays in all of football. I think some of the problems lie within how coaches feel about their tight ends. Not every coach trusts his tight ends to block down on a defensive lineman.
Here is another variation of the inside trap play. The 49ers are in that same 12 personnel grouping with the only difference being tight end Walker is flanked out this time instead of being in the backfield.
Watch as right guard Alex Boone is the one providing the block down on the three technique Williams is showing on this variation. Vernon Davis and Anthony Davis will provide the blocks on the defensive ends while Staley and Iupati will dart to the second-level to open up the running lane for Gore.
And again the play works to perfection for a pickup of 16 yards. Not only is this play a staple to their offensive attack, but they sometimes use it multiple times on the same drive. There are very few teams who can contend with the athletic nature of Jim Harbaugh's old school attack.
Look for San Francisco to utilize these same types of plays and concepts against the Vikings on Sunday. As usual the first order of business will be to run the football effectively to control the clock and keep the defense fresh.
When the 49ers Are on Defense
Defensively, the 49ers have managed to raise the bar even higher this year. Sure, people can't stop talking about Alex Smith and his improved level of play. But anyone who watches this team knows that Patrick Willis and the 10 other starters on defense control this team.
Yardage-wise San Francisco's defense has held two top-flight offenses in check. The Lions only mustered up 296 yards of total offense and Green Bay barely topped the 300-yard mark. Surprising considering both quarterbacks threw for 4,500-plus yards last season.
Their game plan on defense in Week 3 will focus on stopping Minnesota's biggest star Adrian Peterson. Currently, the 49ers' defense is only allowing 63.5 yards rushing per game, but they haven't faced a back that has the playmaking ability of Peterson.
He has looked good when he has had his opportunities, yet the Vikings aren't forcing the issue given he is only nine months removed from surgery. Against the Jaguars in Week 1 he definitely looked like the old AP as he was cutting with decisiveness and running people over like it was second nature.
However, Week 2 proved to be a different story when the Colts made it their No. 1 priority to shut him down.
It didn't help that they fell behind early, but nonetheless he only averaged 3.8 yards per carry on 14 touches. Also, the offensive line needs to do a better job of sustaining and holding their blocks. It was shocking to see the Colts make their offensive line look average. I would have never thought that, going into Week 2, Indianapolis would have held Minnesota to under a 100 yards rushing as a team.
I'm sure when reviewing the tape Vic Fangio and the defensive staff will see exactly what is seen above in this screenshot. The Colts' outside linebackers, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, are playing right on the line of scrimmage on run downs.
The few times the Colts defense presented the Vikings with this look, they stopped No. 28 cold in his tracks. With Aldon Smith and and Ahmad Brooks being even more athletic and better against the run, this look might turn out to be a look that is used quite often on Sunday.
If San Francisco stops the run, this game will be an absolute blowout. The 49ers love to keep their base 3-4 grouping on the field as much as they can. With the way Minnesota uses a multitude of tight ends and tight personnel groupings, it will play right into the hands of Fangio's defense.
Look for Harbaugh's group to move to 3-0 and stay atop the NFC West.