Alex Smith was under duress for much of the game
The San Francisco 49ers opened the season with two of their toughest opponents, the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions. After dispatching with those two teams, the 49ers traveled to Minnesota to take on the Vikings.
Minnesota is in a rebuilding mode, but they do have some talent. Superstar running back Adrian Peterson leads the Vikings' offense, which also features wide receiver Percy Harvin and quarterback Christian Ponder. Going into this game, Ponder, now in his second NFL season, led the league with a 75.8 completion percentage.
On defense, the Vikings feature Jared Allen, who had 17 sacks last season. In 2011, Allen was a first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection, the fourth time he has received these honors.
However, even with these players, the Vikings do not have the overall talent of the 49ers. They were also picked to finish last in their division, the NFC North.
Many experts predicted this to be a "trap game" for the 49ers, meaning that they would have a letdown after facing the two very tough opponents. Let's take a look at five key things we learned or stamped deeper in our minds, after seeing this game.
Head Coach Jim Harbaugh had issues with the officials
The NFL is a $10 billion dollar industry. However, the officiating is not measuring up. There are far too many questionable calls and mistakes being made.
In addition, there were painfully long delays when the officials were discussing a situation or doing a review of a play. This creates more problems because they do not appear to be in command of the game, which creates more questions.
One such example occurred towards the end of the game when the 49ers called their third and final timeout and head coach Jim Harbaugh then made a challenge. He was correct on a fumble, and the 49ers were awarded the football.
The mistake was made on the specific rules of the game. The 49ers should not have even been allowed to make the challenge because they had used their last timeout.
It is time for the NFL and the officials to come to a compromise agreement, because the officiating is becoming the story in far too many contests.
Kyle Williams was solid as a return man
The San Francisco 49ers' special teams are a work in progress. When the team opted to let Greg Costanzo depart via free agency this offseason, a leader of their special teams went with him.
In addition to Costanzo, the 49ers traded Colin Jones, another excellent special teams player who was the gunner on punt coverage. The 49ers also decided to cut Rock Cartwright, a special teams demon.
Special teams coordinator Brad Seely must lock down the coverage units, as this was a strength of the team in 2011. Today, the Vikings' Percy Harvin averaged 24.7 yards-per-return on three kickoffs.
Safety Donte Whitner dropped a key interception in the 4th quarter
Many media pundits and even the Las Vegas sports books had expected this to be a "trap game." Simply put, they were right. The 49ers played flat today and lacked intensity. They deserved to lose this game, as they did, by a score of 24-13.
The 49ers did not come prepared to play, and the Vikings controlled the game. The 49ers were outplayed in every phase of the game and were never able to sustain any momentum.
Offensively, the 49ers could not establish any consistency. They controlled the ball only 26:32, while Minnesota had the ball for 33:28. Minnesota out-gained the 49ers 344 yards to 280.
The 49ers' defense also allowed four drives of nine plays or more. They had trouble getting off the field on third down and allowed 146 yards rushing. In comparison, the 49ers only rushed for 89 yards. The Vikings were 7-14 on third-down conversions, far too high a rate.
The 49ers appeared to have been reading their press clippings, heading into this game. Many articles had the 49ers walking over the Vikings, but as the game progressed, the Vikings gained confidence.
The 49ers learned their lesson the hard way. If they do not come prepared to play, they are vulnerable.
Percy Harvin had nine catches for the Vikings
The San Francisco 49ers had major trouble containing Christian Ponder and the Minnesota Vikings. Ponder threw for two touchdowns and ran for another.
A major issue was the lack of pressure the 49ers were able to get on Ponder. The 49ers did not have any sacks and rarely forced Ponder to throw before he wanted.
Ponder completed 21 of his 35 pass attempts for 198 yards. He also converted several key first-down plays, which sustained drives. Ponder engineered three drives of 80 yards or more.
As the 49ers were unable to get any significant pressure on Ponder, the defense got picked apart. Wide receiver Percy Harvin and tight end Kyle Rudolph combined for 14 receptions.
If the 49ers are unable to get pressure on the opposing quarterback with their base defense, they must utilize more blitzes. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has a variety of blitz packages he can employ, but he chose not to use them.
Without pressure on the opposing quarterback, the 49ers' pass coverage is not good enough to stop even an average passing attack. This is true of almost every defense. If you allow the quarterback too much time, no defense can cover for an extended period.
If the 49ers' base pass rush is not getting the job done, Fangio needs to re-evaluate his blitz packages and find a way to hit the quarterback and make him uncomfortable.
Alex Smith was sacked three times and pressured on several other instances
The biggest question mark I see on the 49ers is their pass protection. Alex Smith was under duress the entire game and looked jittery because of it.
Smith was sacked three times and hurried on several other pass plays. In addition, Smith looked out-of-sync as his accuracy and decision-making was not as good as it was in the first two games.
This is on the offensive line. They must do a better job of protecting Smith, as you could tell he felt rushed even on the plays when he had a little time.
Smith completed 24 of 35 passes for 204 yards. He had one touchdown and one interception. The completion percentage is misleading, however, as Smith never looked comfortable against the Vikings' pass rush.
Vernon Davis was a bright spot for the 49ers
The 49ers will spend the upcoming week in Youngstown Ohio, the home of the Yorks, who own the team. They did this in 2011, and it helped the team come together in a good bonding experience.
The 49ers were outplayed in every phase of the game, including coaching. It will be up to Jim Harbaugh and his coaching staff to right the ship and get the team back on track.
The 49ers face a tough New York Jets team this coming Sunday on the road. It will be up to the 49ers if they can come in focused and ready to play next Sunday. If they play like they did today, they will lose.