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Bleacher Report – Vikings

In win over 49ers, Vikings’ defense lays out blueprint to beat good NFC teams

By Matthew Coller

Since everyone spent the past five months talking about Kirk Cousins, the Minnesota Vikings’ defense took the opportunity in Week 1 to remind everyone that they are still the drivers of the team’s success.

In the Vikings’ 24-16 win over the San Francisco 49ers at US Bank Stadium on Sunday, Cousins and the Vikings’ offense was occasionally brilliant, hitting on a 22-yard touchdown pass from the new QB to newly-paid receiver Stefon Diggs. Cousins put the dagger in San Francisco’s back with a red zone touchdown pass to tight end Kyle Rudolph.

The offense also sputtered at times early, giving up three sacks to defensive tackle DeForest Buckner and fumbling away a drive. Midway through the third quarter, they had only managed 10 points.

But as has been the case since 2015, it was the Vikings’ defense that had to step up in order for Minnesota to walk away from opening week with a win.

The 49ers’ offense, which torched teams over the final five games of the 2017 season behind quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, was not prepared to match up with last year’s No. 1 defense — especially inside US Bank Stadium, where Mike Zimmer’s defensive crew is generally unbeatable.

Through the first half, Garoppolo had just 81 yards passing and the 49ers’ rushing game was completely stifled. Under pressure from Everson Griffen, Sheldon Richardson and Danielle Hunter, Garoppolo did not look like a QB who was rated by Pro Football Focus as top five most accurate in the league last year.

The 49ers were held to just three points in the first half, in part because the Vikings’ defense came up with a game-changing forced fumble by Alfred Morris at the goal line. The play deflated the 49ers’ first significant drive of the game.

Then in the third quarter, the Vikings’ pressure turned The Next Big Thing quarterback into The Next Brock Osweiler. On a blitz from Eric Kendricks and Jayron Kearse, Garoppolo slung the ball into the flat with no receiver there and Mike Hughes gladly accepted the pass and ran it into the end zone for a touchdown to put the Vikings up 17-3.

When Garoppolo hit on a big pass the following drive to bring the 49ers into Vikings territory, Zimmer’s defense held San Francisco to a field goal. That opened the door for Cousins to lead a touchdown drive that put the game out of reach.

And then when San Francisco show some signs of life heading in to the fourth, cornerback Xavier Rhodes picked off another Garoppolo throw.

When the 49ers brought things within eight points, Harrison Smith came up with a huge third-down sack to force a punt.

On the 49ers’ final drive, in which they were down eight points, Smith came up with the game-ending interception.

With a brutally tough schedule and a stacked NFC, Sunday’s game showed us exactly how the Vikings can defend their division crown: Score enough on offense, shut down the opposing QB on defense — and catch a few breaks along the way.

Yes, Cousins is more talented than Case Keenum and the Vikings’ offense will have more opportunities for big plays, but there are also enough flaws on the offensive side that the Vikings will require weekly gems pitched by their incredibly-talented defense.

And with so many good teams in the NFC, there will be enough close games where good bounces are required — like a dropped interception by the 49ers in the fourth quarter and a missed open TD by Garoppolo to George Kittle with eight minutes remaining. With three minutes left, the 49ers added insult to injury by jumping offside on a Cousins hard count.

Sunday’s victory was still impressive simply because of the fact that the Vikings’ defense was dinged up. Starting nickel corner Mackensie Alexander was out to begin the game and outside corner Trae Waynes suffered an injury while breaking up a potential touchdown pass by Garoppolo. In their place, Zimmer routinely used three safeties with Kearse mixing in.

The Vikings also used a rotation of defensive linemen, mixing in Stephen Weatherly, Tashawn Bower and Jaleel Johnson regularly. Eric Wilson saw the occasional snap as well.

Last season the Vikings had fewer injuries on defense than they did in Sunday’s game alone. It will need to be an all-around effort as it was against San Francisco.

Garoppolo finished with 261 yards on 15-for-33 passing with one touchdown and three INTs. San Francisco gained just 90 yards on 25 carries.

With games coming up against the Green Bay Packers, Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles in three of the next four weeks, the Vikings will have to follow the pattern they set in the opener in order to put themselves on the path to the playoffs.

The post In win over 49ers, Vikings’ defense lays out blueprint to beat good NFC teams appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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