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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Position-by-position: How do the Vikings match up with the 49ers?

By Matthew Coller

The Minnesota Vikings open up the 2018 season at US Bank Stadium against the San Francisco 49ers. Here is a look at how the two teams match up at each position….

Quarterback

Vikings

Starter: Kirk Cousins

The Vikings’ $84 million quarterback will have his first opportunity to get under center in purple. While the pressure will be on each snap he takes in Minnesota because of his contract and price tag, Cousins couldn’t have asked for a better situation to start his first game as a Viking. Not only is he at home at US Bank Stadium, but is facing off with a team that ranked 25th in points allowed last season.

The biggest question facing Cousins is how he performs if the 49ers create pressure. Pro Football Focus graded him the 17th best QB under pressure last season and he leads the league in fumbles over the last three years. When Cousins was kept clean last year, his rating was 106.5, but when he was under pressure that dropped to just 66.3. And when he was given between 2.0 and 3.0 seconds to throw, Cousins averaged 8.0 yards per attempt.

With Pat Elflein on the shelf, it will be on the O-line to give him a hand and new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo to dial up protection help to give Cousins a chance to shine in Week 1.

49ers

Starter: Jimmy Garoppolo

San Francisco went all kinds of all-in by signing Garoppolo to a $137 million contract this offseason after just five starts as a 49er. Of course, he won all five starts and averaged an outstanding 8.8 yards per attempt. PFF graded Garoppolo as the best passer under pressure and the best third down passer in the NFL — though the grades came in a small sample.

Vikings head coach pointed to Garoppolo’s accuracy, which PFF ranked the third best in the league. The only area where the former Patriots QB was below average was heaving the ball 20 or more yards in the air. Where Garoppolo will give the Vikings’ defense problems is on quick passes. On throws between zero and 10 yards, he produced a 115.0 rating.

If Garoppolo wants to keep his winning streak alive, he will have to do it in the most difficult environment in the NFL. Last year at home, the Vikings’ defense allowed just a 73.2 passer rating (per Pro-Football Reference) and sacked the opposing QB 24 times.

Advantage: Vikings

Whether Jimmy G ends up being a better quarterback than Cousins in the long run is hard to say, but the Vikings’ QB has a much better set of circumstances in the season opener.

Running back

Oct 1, 2017; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (33) scores against the Detroit Lions in the first half at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Vikings

Starter: Dalvin Cook

The hopes couldn’t be any higher for Cook, who is coming off an ACL tear that cost him 12 games last season. As a rookie, he won the starting job and jumped out to a remarkable start, gaining 354 yards on 74 carries in his first three-and-a-half games. Cook caught 11 passes and could see an even bigger role in this year’s passing game. Cousins will also be needed in pass protection, where he thrived early in 2017.

With Cook playing his first real game in a very long time, Latavius Murray and Mike Boone could see acton. Murray is a 1B type of running back, splitting the role last year with Jerick McKinnon. He is exceptional in pass pro and scored eight touchdowns in 2017. Boone won a job out of camp and flashed exceptional ability to break tackles.

49ers

Starter: Matt Breida

San Francisco signed McKinnon to a $30 million contract to be their do-it-all running back, but the former Viking suffered an ACL tear prior to the season, so the 49ers will to turn to Breida, who was subtly very good in a limited role in his rookie year. The former Georgia Southern back gained 465 yards on 105 carries and grabbed 21 passes.

Alfred Morris will likely split time in the backfield. He burst on the scene with Washington back in 2012 and has since drifted into a backup role. However, Morris did average 4.8 yards per carry with the Cowboys last season.

Advantage: Vikings

Cook has the potential to be one of the best players in the NFL. Even if the team doesn’t start him off with 20-plus carries, he is one of the more dangerous playmakers on the field.

Wide receiver/tight end

Dec 17, 2017; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs (14) celebrates his touchdown in the second quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Vikings

Starters: Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Laquon Treadwell, Kyle Rudolph

The Vikings’ receivers had to have played a role in bringing Cousins to sign in Minnesota. PFF ranked both Thielen and Diggs in the top 15 last season and when Case Keenum threw the ball their way, it resulted in quarterback ratings of 104.4 and 120.4, respectively. Both receivers have the capability to line up in any position and run either short, intermediate and deep routes. And they both have outstanding hands and ability to adjust to the ball in the air. You won’t find a better tandem in the NFL.

Treadwell and the rest of the Vikings’ receiving corps still remains questionable. The 2016 first-round pick had an outstanding camp, showing significant progress from last year, but his production in 2017 (20 catches for 200 yards) still makes him a questionable option until proven otherwise. Behind Treadwell is Brandon Zylstra and Stacy Coley, neither of whom has an NFL reception.

Kyle Rudolph will likely be a huge part of the Vikings’ attack as John DeFilippo moves him around in different formations. He is especially effective in the red zone, where Rudolph caught 14 passes on 16 targets and six touchdowns last year.

49ers

Starters: Marquise Goodwin, Pierre Garcon, Trent Taylor, George Kittle

Goodwin is the best receiver who most people outside of the Bay Area don’t know. Finally healthy, Goodwin proved last year he could be an all-round receiver rather than just a deep threat, catching 56 passes for 962 yards. When Goodwin came out in the draft in 2013, he ran a 4.24 40-yard dash. The Vikings will have to pay close attention to him on vertical routes.

Garcon once led the NFL in catches with Washington, but hasn’t produced on that level since 2013. Still he caught 79 passes and grabbed 69.3 percent of throws his way in 2016.

Taylor, a fifth-round pick in 2017, became a short passing weapon for the 49ers with 43 receptions on 60 targets. Kittle emerged in the second half of last year as a significant receiving threat out of the tight end position, making 43 catches as 12.0 yards per reception.

Advantage: Vikings

The gap isn’t as big you might think because Goodwin and Garcon are underrated, but neither is a top 15 receiver and the Vikings have two of them.

Offensive line

Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Riley Reiff gets set for a play during the first half of an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints, Monday, Sept. 11, 2017, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Vikings

Starters: Riley Reiff-Tom Compton-Brett Jones-Mike Remmers-Rashod Hill

The much-maligned offensive line will be without starting center Pat Elflein, who is the head of the snake for the Vikings’ group up front. Former Giant Brett Jones will start in his place. While Jones was a top five pass blocker in PFF’s Pass Blocking Efficiency statistic last year, he is facing an uphill battle having to quickly grasp the offense after joining the Vikings on August 26. Plus he will match up with one of the league’s best defensive tackles in DeForest Buckner.

Elflein’s injury forces Tom Compton into action. However, he was signed just for situations such as this: When the Vikings need someone to fill in for a game, he has been around the block long enough to do a respectable job.

Riley Reiff had a very good start to last season, but injuries took their toll. All three sacks he allowed in 2017 were in the final four weeks of the season. Following average-to-above average PFF grades in five of the first eight weeks, he only produced three scores higher than average over the final eight weeks.

The right side of the line brings the biggest intrigue. The Vikings moved Remmers to guard because they believe he can handle tough interior D-linemen and because they believe in Hill, who performed admirably last year when Remmers was injured. In the regular season, Hill only gave up one sack and three QB hits in 323 pass blocking snaps.

49ers

Starters: Joe Staley-Laken Tomlinson-Weston Richburg-Mike Person-Mike McGlinchey

He may be 34 years old, but Staley is still one of the elite players at his position. Last year he allowed just 24 QB pressures in 606 snaps and ranked among the best pass and run blockers by PFF.

The 49ers added the veteran Richburg in free agency to shore up the center position and drafted McGlinchey in the first round. Tomlinson, a former Detroit first rounder, has been disappointing but found his way in the second half of the year last season with five above average performances in the final six weeks.

The former Notre Dame tackle will get an incredibly tough first test as he goes up against Danielle Hunter.

Advantage: 49ers

San Francisco’s line isn’t perfect, but their tackles are equipped to take on the Vikings’ incredible defensive line.

Defensive line

Jan 14, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen (97) celebrates a sack against the New Orleans Saints in the second quarter of the NFC Divisional Playoff football game at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Vikings

Starters: Everson Griffen, Sheldon Richardson, Linval Joseph, Danielle Hunter

You can’t do much better than this front four in the NFL. Last year Griffen and Hunter combined for 20.0 sacks — and that number might have been much higher had Griffen not suffered a foot injury midway through the year. Hunter had an incredible preseason and looks like he’s ready to take the next step toward being an elite pass rusher.

The addition of Richardson gives the Vikings an all-around three-technique — though Tom Johnson played quite well at the position on the No. 1 defense last year. But Richardson is tougher against the run and could find himself one-on-one regularly considering the big names around him. Last year he only had one sack, but registered an impressive 36 pressures.

Joseph is where it all begins. The Vikings’ monstrous nose tackle not only requires two men to block him, he also moves like a three-technique, rushing the passer and getting off the line and shutting down plays that are outside the norm for nose tackles.

49ers

Starters: Solomon Thomas, DeForest Buckner, Earl Mitchell, Arik Armstead

It was an underwhelming rookie year for Thomas, who was selected No. 3 overall in last year’s draft. He picked up just three sacks but did have nine QB hits per PFF. He will be looking to take the next step as a pass rusher, especially against a short-handed Vikings O-line.

Buckner is a beast. His 52 total QB pressures ranked in the top five at defensive tackle. He also added 31 run stuffs. At 6-foot-7 and with impressive quickness, Buckner will be a load for the Vikings to handle.

Armstead, who was taken in the first round of the 2015 draft, is yet to take off in his early career. He’s totaled just six sacks in three years. Situational rusher Cassius Marsh at 16 hurries in 147 snaps last year.

Advantage: Vikings

Linebackers

Dec 31, 2017; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr (55) reacts to a safety during the second quarter against the Chicago Bears at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Vikings

Starters: Eric Kendricks, Anthony Barr

The way in which the Vikings manage their linebackers this season could change. Anthony Barr has been practicing as an outside rusher more than in previous years, meaning we could see him as more of a chess piece than a traditional nickel linebacker as he’s been the last few years. That could mean using Kendricks as the lone linebacker off the line of scrimmage or that he could play alongside Harrison Smith or George Iloka in the box.

Kendricks has become one of the NFL’s best cover linebackers, allowing just an 80.0 rating on throws into his coverage last season. He played a role in the Vikings giving up the fewest yards per game in the air to opposing running backs.

Ben Gedeon will play a role in 4-3 packages, but it doesn’t appear the Vikings will use those on a high percentage of plays.

49ers

Starters: Fred Warner, Brock Coyle

With Reuben Foster out, the 49ers’ linebacking crew is far less dangerous. They will start rookie third-round pick Fred Warner at middle linebacker. He has been praised for being a smart player, but going up against a talented Vikings offense in his first game will be a major challenge. Outside linebacker Malcolm Smith is listed as doubtful, meaning that Brock Coyle is likely to see most of the action. Last year opponents registered a 117.0 rating when throwing at Coyle.

Advantage: Vikings

Secondary

Vikings

Starters: Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Mike Hughes, Harrison Smith, Andrew Sendejo

Xavier Rhodes, who is one of the NFL’s best “island” corners, is questionable with a hamstring injury, which could throw a wrench in the Vikings’ defense if he isn’t 100 percent. That might force Holton Hill to see his first NFL action because it appears Mike Hughes will fill in at nickel for injured Mackensie Alexander. Rhodes’ absence will alter the gameplan because Zimmer generally likes to have him lock down the opposing team’s best receiver. With rave reviews for Hughes, there’s a chance he doesn’t give the job back if he performs well.

Harrison Smith is the key to slowing down Kyle Shanahan’s offense. Zimmer moves Smith into many different positions each week — and he could see even more shifting around with the presence of George Iloka.

49ers

Starters: Richard Sherman, Ahkello Witherspoon, K’Waun Williams, Adrian Colbert, Jaquiski Tartt

The Seahawks parted ways with Sherman, but that doesn’t mean he was bad last year. He still allowed just a 75.5 passer rating into his coverage, per PFF. He is coming off a serious Achilles injury that required surgery, so his status will be worth watching. Witherspoon performed well as a rookie, only allowing a 59.6 percent completion percentage into his coverage and Williams allowed only one touchdown all last year form the slot.

Colbert could have a long day ahead trying to track Diggs and Thielen on deep routes, but he might be a rising player. The 2017 seventh-rounder out of Miami led the team in pass breakups in limited duty.

Advantage: Vikings

Overall:

The Vikings clearly have the better top-to-bottom roster and home field advantage. It’s fair to expect them to win in Week 1. However, this game could come down to whether Kyle Shanahan can outfox Mike Zimmer and which quarterback will rise to the occasion.

The post Position-by-position: How do the Vikings match up with the 49ers? appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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