Vikings vs 49ers: 3 X-Factors

After the Vikings stunned the Saints in the Superdome, they travel to Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, to take on the 14-2 49ers.

Kirk Cousins finally won his first playoff game, silencing all the critics and doubters. The Vikings finished 10-6, and were a game away from winning the division, but people still had their doubts on Cousins winning big games. Nobody gave the Vikings a chance when they traveled to the Superdome to take on the Saints, who many had winning the Super Bowl. Cousins didn’t light up the stat sheet, but made numerous big throws and in the end threw the game winning touchdown.

San Francisco had a big turnaround this season. After finishing 4-12 last season, Shanahan and his coordinators have completely changed this team around and have them sitting at 14-2 which earned them the number 1 seed in the NFC, and co-host of the best record in the NFL. The 49ers host the best defense in the NFL and an offense that’s found their groove in the 2nd half of the season.

Today I will be giving my keys to victory for the game.

Stopping the running game: The 49ers run defense ranks 17th in stopping the run, while the Vikings rank 6th in rushing offense. Minnesota not only has one of the best running backs in football with Dalvin Cook, but also two other very capable backups in Alexander Mattison and Mike Boone. Minnesota’s offense has been very successful when they get Dalvin Cook rolling, which then opens up the play action passing game.

Cousins ranks 1st in play action passer rating with 140.2, also throwing 8 touchdowns and 1 interception this season. With the 49ers getting Kwon Alexander and Dee Ford back, their front 7 should get even better, which helps against the zone run that Minnesota emphasizes.

On the Vikings defensive side of the ball, they played fantastic last week against the Saints, holding Alvin Kamara to 21 yards, but the 49ers have the number 1 rushing offense in the NFL led by Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida. The problem that the Vikings face is they don’t know who will be the lead back.

For example, against the Ravens, Coleman started the game, but Mostert was playing well, so he ended up finishing the game. All three backs are capable threats, so it is hard to gameplan for just one. Minnesota’s defensive front, led by Danielle Hunter, will have to step up big once again.

Adam Thielen- Thielen had a big game against the Saints, hauling in 7 receptions and 129 yards. After a season plagued with injuries, the All-Pro receiver looked fantastic in Wild Card Weekend. He was also matched up against Marshon Lattimore, the Saints’ best corner, for most of the game, while teammate Stefon Diggs saw Janoris Jenkins. He likely garners a matchup with Richard Sherman, but if he can replicate last week’s performance, it should give the Vikings a massive boost against the NFL’s number 1 passing defense.

Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks- George Kittle and Kyle Juszczyk are two of the 49ers’ most important offensive weapons. With San Francisco having a lot of deep threats, I anticipate Anthony Harris playing in the deep third, which makes Minnesota’s linebackers take on the responsibility of stopping both Kittle and Juszczyk.

I don’t think any linebacker can cover Kittle man to man, so I believe running a zone defense will be most effective in stopping this 49ers’ play action. When Kittle missed a game for this team, San Francisco lost to the Seahawks because of the inconsistency of their pass catchers. If Minnesota gameplans to neutralize Kittle, they can limit Kyle Shanahan’s playcalling.

After a nailbiter last week in New Orleans, I don’t anticipate the Vikings pulling off another major upset.

Final Score: San Francisco 31, Minnesota 20.

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