This is my first post for SB Nation Bay Area. Some of you may know me from Niners Nation, where I do the Golden Nuggets and This Week in Niners Nation features. James had asked me to write for SBNBA and I was excited for the opportunity. My biggest concern going into the game against the Vikings was what would I write about after the victory, not whether or not the 49ers would win the game. It was a trap game for the fans (and wannabe sportswriters), as well as the team. We all looked past the Vikings after finding ourselves atop most of the power rankings last week. I try to piece together what happened.
Ah, the 49ers' easiest game of the month, maybe the easiest of the year. A game against a team that went 3-13 last season, lost their best player in December to an ACL/MCL injury and would be running out a second-year quarterback who was underwhelming in every way should be a walk in the park. What could go wrong?
Let's get the formalities out of the way and give credit to the Vikings. AdrianPeterson has done a remarkable job getting healthy. Leslie Frazier looks likehe's the coach everyone thought he would be and he and his staff outcoachedCoach Harbaugh and Co. And, most importantly, Christian Ponder has turned acorner early on in his second season. He is second in the league in completionpercentage, behind Matt Ryan, with four touchdowns and no interceptions, andshowed great decision-making throughout the contest. But there were definitelapses on the 49ers' part.
In trying to assign blame for the lackluster performance, one need look nofurther than the three touchdown drives that the Vikings had. Obviously,opponent's scoring drives are, inherently, a big problem. But these three driveswere exceptional, given the timing, length and time taken, as well as some crucialmistakes by some of our defensive standouts.
Some of the stats from the drives:
- Vikings had 248 of their 344 total yards on these drives.
- 21:24 of time taken off the clock out of their total of 33:28 time ofpossession.
- The three drives were timely.
- First drive starts off the game and sets the tone.
- Second drive follows our first FG of the game.
- Third drive follows our only TD, which had closed the gap to 17-13 and had given us all the momentum.
1st TD Drive
Christian Ponder and the Vikings receive the opening kickoff and march 82 yardsin 16 plays, eating 7:40 off of the clock. The key play on the drive was an 11-yardreception to Kyle Rudolph on 3rd and 10 from the San Francisco 18-yard line.The pass was completed 2 yards shy of the first down marker and Donte Whitner hit Rudolph straight away, but the bigger Rudolph carried through him and flopped past the first down marker. The touchdown, just a few plays later, was aplay-action pass that Aldon Smith, among others, bit hard on and began movingto the right of the offense, following Peterson. Rudolph slipped out to the left,and by the time the speedier Smith realized what was going on, he couldn't catch up and Ponder lofted a ball to him in the corner of the end zone.
2nd TD Drive
The 49ers had just kicked a field goal and the Vikings got the ball back early in the second quarter. They proceeded to go 80 yards in 11 plays, taking 6:44 off the clock, to stake out a hearty 14-3 lead. On the fourth play of the drive, a play-action pass on 2nd and 9, Patrick Willis dropped 5 yards behind the first down marker. Peterson caught the ball well short of the first down, but with nobody there to stop him, had no problem converting. There wasn't a man within 8 yards of where he was when he caught it. On the touchdown, a 23-yard scramble by Christian Ponder, there was more uninspired play from the defense. After Ponder made the decision to run, NaVorro Bowman did nothing to fight through a "block" by Adrian Peterson and Donte Whitner, who was leaning forward in anticipation of Ponder taking off, took a horrible angle and whiffed at the QB's ankles as he sprinted by for the score.
3rd TD Drive
The third touchdown was the backbreaker, and followed a huge shift in momentum to the 49ers. The Niners scored the first ten points of the second half with the help of a 95-yard Kyle Williams kick return and a nice drive of our own. The Vikings needed to answer. They ripped off a 12-play, 86-yard drive that killed an even 7:00 of game time. If the Vikings show any continued success, they'll look back at this one as a catalyst. The mix on the drive was familiar to both teams at this point. A steady diet of runs, play-action and a few big penalties carried them the length of the field for the decisive touchdown, and epitomized what kind of a day it was for the 49ers.
Three of the Vikings' first downs came as a result of penalties. The personal foul on Dashon Goldson, while it appeared his hit was within the rules, was unnecessary because the ball was so clearly over Kyle Rudolph's head and Goldson seemed to lazily stick a shoulder into him, a situation with no possible positive outcome. On a 9-yard Peterson run, both Bowman and Whitner hit him well short of the first down. Carlos Rogers slowed down to take the rest of the play off while Peterson kept going through his teammates on his way to a first down. Rogers also missed a tackle on a Percy Harvin swing pass and was called for a defensive holding penalty. Three plays, three first downs. The Niners also failed to recover an Adrian Peterson fumble and, following the ensuing scrum, were called for a personal foul, giving up another first down.
The touchdown was a two-yard Christian Ponder pass to TE Kyle Rudolph, their second such connection of the game. It was a standard pass play, no play-action,and Adrian Peterson came out of the backfield on the left side. There wasn't a man near him. Ponder, in one of his few poor decisions of the game, chose to throw a jump ball to Rudolph, who was well-covered by Donte Whitner. It's hard to know who was to blame for Peterson being so wide open without knowing what the coverage was, but Aldon Smith appears to have had a hand in it. He started for the quarterback, appears to notice Peterson running freely along the back of the end zone and turns to get into coverage. Luckily for him the pass went the other way.
What we're left with are three long drives that could have been cut short, but were allowed to run their course to the end zone. The culprits, if we choose to assign blame, were not the dime backs, or a substitute filling in for a resting starter, but some of our team leaders on defense. We can only hope that the travel and early start was the cause of our general malaise and that the Vikings didn't ‘expose' something. The one worrisome fact that I've come across during the writing of this post is that Aldon Smith was a liability in coverage. He was responsible for one TD and it could have been two, had Christian Ponder made the easier throw. On the bright side of things, if you'd have told me that the 49ers would start the season off 2-1 I would be content. I just wouldn't have pegged the Vikings game as our one loss.