Team Grades: 49ers Defense Better Than Anyone Expected In Monday Night Win
By Sam McPherson
Forget Jim Harbaugh and the seven lost defensive players from the dominating unit that took the San Francisco 49ers deep into the playoffs from 2011-13. Clearly, the team hasn't lost anything, as the 49ers beat the Minnesota Vikings Monday night, 20-3, behind a dominant defensive performance against the opponent's talented offense. The defense held the loaded Minnesota offense to just 248 total yards, and Vikings running back Adrian Peterson gained a mere 31 yards on just 10 carries in his return to league action. That decimated front seven the 49ers were supposed to have looked very strong while stuffing the run and sacking Minnesota quarterback Teddy Bridgewater five times on the night.
San Francisco also received a great effort from running back Carlos Hyde on its way to a solid offensive performance overall, although quarterback Colin Kaepernick could still use some work throwing downfield. Overall, however, this was an unexpected team-wide effort in front of the hometown fans that surely left everyone happy on the way home.
Running-wise, it was a very successful night for the 49ers. Carlos Hyde ran for 168 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries, while Kaepernick added 41 yards of his own on seven carries. Overall, the S.F. offense totaled a whopping 230 yards on the ground, and with numbers like that, you don't need to throw it very well to win: The 49ers had 14 first downs rushing on Monday night.
Kaepernick was good in the sense he didn't commit any bonehead turnovers, although he really didn't stretch the defense well until the fourth quarter. He finished 17-of-26 for just 165 yards while taking only one sack. Tight end Vernon Davis had three catches for 47 yards—two of them for 39 yards in the final period alone—to lead the team in receiving, but Kaepernick will really need to throw deeper to wideouts Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin once the season progresses.
There's really no way to express the shock at this defensive performance by the San Francisco 49ers. Bridgewater missed on his first four passes, finishing 23-for-32 with 231 yards. The few times he got into a rhythm, the 49ers sacked him to end productive drives. Five times overall Bridgewater went down, for an average of 11 yards each time. He just couldn't escape the rush. Bridgewater connected with nine different receivers, but S.F. made tackles when they had to and held the Vikings to just 1-of-9 on third-down conversions.
As for Peterson, it was surprising the Minnesota offense didn't utilize him more. Overall the Vikings averaged 4.2 yards per rushing attempt, but again, the sacks just killed multiple Minnesota drives. Credit the 49ers defense for coming up with a lot of stops throughout the game, something most experts didn't think they'd be able to do in this game.
Special Teams: C
If someone had told 49ers Head Coach Jim Tomsula that his team would have a field goal blocked and returned 44 yards, on top of fumbling a punt return, he would have assumed his guys lost the game. Thank the defense for covering up for the special-team blunders. Kicker Phil Dawson made his two other FG attempts and both his extra-point tries from the new distance, but former rugby player Jarryd Hayne is supposed to be immune to fumbling with his athletic background. He will have to work on that some more this week in practice.
Give a lot of credit to Tomsula and defensive coordinator Eric Mangini for getting the right personnel onto the field. Yes, the 49ers were very healthy, all things considered for this game, but the defense played way above anything anyone expected after all the turnover. Mangini's schemes did a good job of protecting the weak corners in the secondary, for the most part. Bridgewater got his yards, but the coverages and blitzes generated driving-killing sacks repeatedly. The bar is now set high again on defense for the 49ers.
Short Week Ahead
San Francisco now faces a short week of preparation and a long trip to the East Coast to play the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team with more experienced offensive talent than the Vikings—especially at quarterback. Pittsburgh will have extra days of rest and home-field advantage going for it, so the 49ers staff has its work cut out for it again in Week 2.
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering baseball, football, basketball, golf, hockey and fantasy sports for CBS, AXS and Examiner. He also is an Ironman triathlete and certified triathlon coach.
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