5 Biggest Reasons San Francisco 49ers Dominated in Week 1 Win

Grant Cohn@@grantcohnFeatured ColumnistSeptember 15, 2015

5 Biggest Reasons San Francisco 49ers Dominated in Week 1 Win

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    One reason the San Francisco 49ers dominated the Minnesota Vikings 20-3 Week 1: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick managed the game to perfection.

    Kaepernick didn’t have to make plays or carry the offense—his running back took care of all that. Kaepernick just had to be efficient and not turn the ball over or commit penalties. Basically, he had to play like former 49ers’ quarterback Alex Smith.

    And that’s exactly how Kaepernick played. His longest pass traveled just 20 yards. He mostly dinked and dunked and kept the chains moving.

    If Kaepernick continues to play like a savvy veteran and doesn’t lose games single-handedly trying to do too much like he did last season (see Week 2 vs. the Chicago Bears), the Niners could win a lot of games this season.

    Here are five more reasons the 49ers dominated Week 1.

RB Carlos Hyde

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Carlos Hyde was the best player on the field, much better than Vikings’ running back Adrian Peterson, whom some consider the NFL's best running back. Peterson finished the game with 10 carries for 31 yards and no touchdowns. Hyde finished with 26 carries for 168 yards and two touchdowns.

    Hyde was almost unstoppable running left behind left tackle Joe Staley and Alex Boone. The stretch-zone run to the left will be a great play all season for the Niners.

    But Hyde’s two best runs of the night started out to the right. Both plays were stretch-zone runs. On the first, the Vikings broke through the right side of the 49ers’ offensive line and almost tackled Hyde in the backfield. Hyde spun, cut back to the left and ran untouched into the end zone. Peterson could not have made that play Monday night.

    On Hyde’s second touchdown run, he ran right, quickly cut upfield and sprinted 17 yards untouched into the end zone.

    Hyde is not a product of good blocking. He can make plays even when it looks like he’s about to get stopped in the backfield. He’s fantastic, and he looks even faster and more powerful than he did in the preseason. He makes cutting back across the field seem easy.

    As long as Hyde stays healthy, he has a good chance to lead the entire NFL in rushing this season. He is the 49ers’ go-to guy. If they go anywhere this season, Hyde will take them there.

Play-Action Roll-Out Passes

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    The 49ers’ pass protection will be an issue all season, but it wasn’t an issue against the Vikings. Why? Because the Niners’ running game and play-action roll-out passing game kept Minnesota on its heels.

    First, the Niners wore out the Vikings’ front seven by running stretch-zone runs outside the tackles to the left and right. Those runs forced Vikings defenders to chase Carlos Hyde from sideline to sideline, which tired them out.

    Then, when Colin Kaepernick didn’t hand the ball to Hyde on those outside stretch runs, Kaepernick faked the handoff and rolled back the other way, which forced the Vikings to do even more chasing.

    The result: Kaepernick was sacked just one time.

    This is how the 49ers should have used Kaepernick since he became the starter in 2012. He is elite when it comes to throwing on the run and almost possible to chase down while rolling out. As opposed to when he’s standing still in the pocket, that’s when he struggles.

    Expect Kaepernick to keep rolling out this season.

CB Kenneth Acker

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    The 49ers’ No. 1 cornerback, Tramaine Brock, intercepted Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in garbage time, but the 49ers’ best cornerback Monday night was No. 2 cornerback Kenneth Acker.

    Acker completely shut down Vikings receiver Charles Johnson in man-to-man coverage. Johnson was supposed to be the Vikings’ receiver possessing the best chemistry with Bridgewater. Johnson finished the game with just two catches, and both came when Acker was playing zone coverage.

    As well as Acker covered, his best play was a tackle. It came on the first drive of the second half, and it was on 3rd-and-4. Bridgewater completed a pass in the flat to Adrian Peterson, and Acker stopped him after a gain of just two yards.

    Acker is fast and physical—everything you want from a cornerback. Expect teams to stay away from him, even though he has played just one game in the NFL. Acker will burn any team that tests him.

    All of a sudden, cornerback seems like a strength for the 49ers.

Multiple Tight-End Formations

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    The left side of the 49ers’ offensive line is better than the right side—that’s obvious.

    One way the 49ers made up for the talent imbalance on their offensive line Monday night was to line up two tight ends on the right side of the formation. Those tight ends gave the right side of the line extra muscle.

    The past few years, the 49ers’ running game revolved around fullback Bruce Miller. But it doesn’t seem to revolve around him anymore. It seems to revolve around multiple tight-end sets, perhaps by necessity. The right side of the offensive line doesn’t seem like such an issue when flanked by all those tight ends.

    Expect second-string tight end Vance McDonald and third-string tight end Garrett Celek to get a lot of playing time this season, perhaps more than Miller.

ILB NaVorro Bowman

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    NaVorro Bowman was absolutely superb against the run. Adrian Peterson couldn’t shake him.

    So the Vikings never established their play-action passing game, which could have given Bowman and the Niners’ defense problems. Bowman is coming off a torn ACL and MCL and still seems a bit tentative changing directions on play-action passes.

    But as long as he keeps shutting down the opponent’s running game, he won’t have to cover many play-action passes. And it seems he will continue to shut down opponent’s running games. Bowman’s instincts are better than ever.

    Week 1 was no aberration. The Niners should have a good defense as long as Bowman stays healthy.

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