Biggest Matchups for 49ers vs. Vikings in Crucial NFC Playoff Race Showdown

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistNovember 24, 2021

Biggest Matchups for 49ers vs. Vikings in Crucial NFC Playoff Race Showdown

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    The San Francisco 49ers have steamrolled through their five victories with a dominant rushing attack. 

    Kyle Shanahan's team ran for over 100 yards in each of its wins this season and produced a season best of 171 rushing yards against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 11. 

    San Francisco's rushing offense will be put to the test on Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, which held three of their last four opponents under 100 yards on the ground. 

    The battle in the trenches could decide Sunday's battle at Levi's Stadium, and the result will affect the NFC wild-card race.

    San Francisco and Minnesota both come into Week 12 with 5-5 records. The Vikings sit in the No. 6 seed over the New Orleans Saints in seventh and the Niners in eighth due to a better conference record. 

    The 49ers can alter the tiebreaker dynamic if they solve a unit that has brought the Vikings success over the last month. 

49ers Offensive Line vs. Vikings Defensive Line

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    Gary McCullough/Associated Press

    San Francisco had its way with the Los Angeles Rams and Jacksonville in the last two weeks. It totaled 327 rushing yards in the pair of victories that propelled them back into the NFC playoff conversation.

    Minnesota limited the Dallas Cowboys, Los Angeles Chargers and Green Bay Packers to under 100 rushing yards to gain a stronghold in the wild-card hunt. 

    Green Bay struggled a bit to get its run game going in Week 11 against the Vikings because it was its first game without Aaron Jones. 

    Perhaps the best performance of that span was holding Ezekiel Elliott to 50 yards on 16 carries in a Sunday night game in which Dallas started Cooper Rush for the injured Dak Prescott. 

    Minnesota's defensive line answered the call recently, but facing the San Francisco scheme is a much more challenging task. 

    The 49ers made Aaron Donald and the Rams defensive line look pedestrian in Week 10 by running for 156 yards. 

    At their best, the Niners can beat any team with any running back because of how strong Shanahan's run-game scheme is. If that shows on Sunday, they should jump into a playoff spot with a victory. 

Emmanuel Moseley vs. Justin Jefferson

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    Gary McCullough/Associated Press

    Emmanuel Moseley faces one of his toughest matchups of the season against Justin Jefferson. 

    Moseley has been up to the task all season for the 49ers and has allowed a 56.3 completion percentage on targets against him.

    Prior to Week 11, the 25-year-old ranked second behind Tre'Davious White of the Buffalo Bills in most targets without allowing a touchdown, per NFL on CBS

    Moseley must contain the deep-play threat Jefferson poses to force Minnesota to find different ways to beat the San Francisco defense. 

    Jefferson is 56 yards away from breaking the 1,000-yard threshold for the second straight season, and he leads the Vikings with six receiving touchdowns. 

    Moseley needs to put clamps on him in coverage to prevent the Minnesota offense from busting loose on a few momentum-gaining big plays. 

George Kittle vs. Eric Kendricks and Xavier Woods

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    Gary McCullough/Associated Press

    The 49ers need to break the passing game open across the middle with tight end George Kittle. He has scored in three consecutive weeks, and he has 15 receptions in that span. 

    On Sunday, the 28-year-old faces two of Minnesota's toughest players in coverage, after Xavier Woods and Eric Kendricks combined for 11 passes defended. The former has a pair of forced fumbles and two interceptions, while the latter also owns a pair of picks. 

    If Jimmy Garoppolo does not place the ball in the right spots for Kittle, the ball could be going the other way. 

    Kittle has proved over the last three weeks that he is healthy and ready to help the 49ers make their push into a playoff position. He has 185 receiving yards on those 15 catches. 

    Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel have grown into the offense as well, and they should be used in a multitude of ways on Sunday and beyond, but Kittle is the top threat down the middle. 

    Kittle is the man for the job if the Niners want to move the ball through the air. He needs to get the best of Kendricks and Woods when he faces them in coverage to keep drives alive and stop Minnesota's top defenders from changing the game with a turnover.


    Statistics obtained from Pro Football Reference.