Football and Sunday afternoons. They just go together. And for far too long, those two things have been separated. Well, at long last, the 2018 season finally reunites them this weekend as the Vikings open their Super Bowl-hopeful run at home against the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers are an optimistic team, with sights set on kick-starting their rise to playoff status perhaps a year earlier than anticipated. And the Vikings, well, they are in title-or-bust mode.
Let us take a look at some of the matchups to focus on as the Vikings open their 2018 campaign.
Jimmy Garoppolo vs. Vikings’ Secondary
Things do not get much tougher than this for Garoppolo as he enters his first full season as a starting quarterback. The Vikings’ defensive backfield is assumed to be one of the league’s best, with two All-Pros and FIVE other capable starters. Outside of Pierre Garcon, Garoppolo is working with a fairly inexperienced receiving corps. As such, chances are much of the burden of getting receivers open could fall on his shoulders. Garoppolo has proven he is capable of it; look at last year’s game against Jacksonville. Still, you can bet that the Vikings will do everything they can to make Garoppolo uncomfortable and bait him into some bad throws. Given San Francisco’s running back situation, Minnesota can set an early tone by getting the young quarterback off his rhythm.
As a Seahawk, Sherman was not exclusively a shadow guy. He would often stay to his side of the field and roll from there. Since he has not played a real down with the 49ers yet, we do not know whether he plans to stick on Thielen, Diggs or a little bit of both. So we will identify each in this key matchup. One would assume Sherman sees Diggs a little more often, as Thielen will take more snaps in the slot, where Sherman rarely ventures. But expect a bit of variety in the mano-a-mano battles.
The Vikings’ greatest offensive asset is this one-two punch at receiver. Neither is the definitive number one. Sherman, at least historically, has been one of the best cover men in the league. His ability to shutdown a side of the field could be the edge the 49ers need against the Vikings’ offense. This is the perfect week one matchup: the best in the business on display right away.
If this is indeed the breakout season for Hunter many are expecting, then week one could be the perfect time to showcase it. McGlinchey, the ninth overall pick this year, is expected to start at right tackle for San Francisco. His being a top-10 pick was a bit polarizing. The athleticism for his size is through the roof, but play was inconsistent at Notre Dame. Most of all, experts were concerned about McGlinchey’s ability to handle power rushers. Well, McGlinchey is going to see one of the better examples of that right away. Hunter is one of the few guys who can match McGlinchey for length and enters the season looking stronger and more polished than ever. It could be a long day for the rookie.
DeForest Buckner vs. Vikings’ Interior Line
Mike Zimmer has not yet indicated who will start at center and left guard. Indications are it will be Brett Jones and Tom Compton, respectively. Whoever it is, they will have their hands full with Buckner inside. Buckner is big and long for an interior lineman, built more like an end than a tackle. Pro Football Focus gave him 52 pressures last year and the third highest pass rush grade of any interior lineman. He is the embodiment of the modern pass rushing tackle: big and quick with freakish length. Expect a lot of double teams and running back help as the Vikings look to keep Kirk Cousins upright.
49ers’ Linebackers vs. Vikings’ Running Backs
The Vikings will run the ball and they will do it a lot with all of their running backs. Latavius Murray looked great in preseason, hitting holes hard and using his size to get extra yards running downhill. Obviously, we know what Dalvin Cook is capable of, despite his coming off ACL surgery. The 49er linebackers will have a tall task ahead of them at the second level.
Things may be even tougher for them in the passing game. Under normal circumstances, the 49ers would have the perfect foil for Cook in Reuben Foster. Alas, he is suspended for the first two games of the season. Rookie Fred Warner looks to get the start in Foster’s place. So now, the Vikings seem to have a bit of a mismatch with Cook in the passing game. Foster is a guy who can cover anyone. Warner has not proven to be that yet. Malcolm Smith is a little more capable, so perhaps that is the direction the 49ers go when Cook runs routes. Either way, expect Cousins to look Cook’s way early and often in the passing game.
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