An opening day win is never a bad thing. For much of the Vikings’ 24-16 victory over San Francisco, they matched the lofty expectations laid before them. However, there were also a few points worth being mildly concerned about.
Let’s take a look at a high and low points from the Vikings week one win.
For all the debate about whether or not the Vikings should ease Dalvin Cook back into game action, there clearly was no hesitation on the Vikings’ side. Cook saw the ball early and often. He opened with four-straight touches, two catches and two carries, and did not slow from there. All told, the Vikings fed him 22 times for 95 yards, 55 of those coming on his six receptions. The lone downside, Cook’s best run of the day, a 15-yarder in which he broke a handful of tackles, resulted in a lost fumble. Still, the important thing was seeing him back to his old form. And while he did not have quite as much production as a runner, his receiving and pass blocking shined.
Defensive Line Dominance
The 49ers’ offense looked uncomfortable most of the day, and a lot of that has to do with the Vikings’ front four. Sheldon Richardson was nigh-unblockable from the start. He finished with half a sack and six tackles, but it was his three hits on Jimmy Garoppolo that mattered most. One of those hits resulted in a rushed throw that Harrison Smith intercepted to seal the game.
Danielle Hunter also showed why the Vikings gave him the big extension. Hunter controlled rookie Mike McGlinchey for much of the first half, recording a sack and two tackles for loss. More notably, Hunter was exceptional in run defense. He came to camp bigger, stronger and more polished and it showed in a big way in the season opener.
“Draft an offensive lineman,” they said. “We don’t need another corner,” they said. Well, Mike Hughes showed why he deserved to be the Vikings’ first round selection with talented offensive linemen still on the board. Hughes’ highlight play was a tailor-made interception that he returned unabated for a touchdown. But the more impressive play was a touchdown-saving deflection in the end zone right when the 49ers were poised to make a comeback. All in all, Hughes proved he belonged. More than that, he proved he could be a starter right now. He played nickel early, but spent most of the game on the outside after Trae Waynes went down with an injury. It is only one game in his career, but the future looks bright for the rookie.
Defending the Tight End
49ers tight end George Kittle finished with five receptions for 90 yards. He should have had six for 170 and a touchdown. He dropped a bomb in which there were no Vikings within 20 yards of him. Overall, the Vikings had trouble defending the tight end, particularly on bootlegs. A good chunk of the tight end production came from play action, where Garoppolo caught linebackers and safeties peeking in the backfield. It was a surprising lack of discipline from a group that has thrived on it for the better part of Mike Zimmer’s tenure as coach.
To single one guy out, Harrison Smith had a tough-ish day in coverage. He was a monster in the run game and brought in the game-sealing pick, but he let a couple guys slip behind him. Once, he was bailed out by a bad throw; Kittle found the seam behind Smith in the end zone, but Garoppolo’s throw sailed on him. The other time, Dante Pettis caught Smith watching Garoppolo as he scrambled. Garoppolo found Pettis over top of Smith for a 22-yard touchdown.
If this weakness persists, you can bet the Packers hammer Jimmy Graham next week.
Injuries to an offensive line can derail a promising season. For a good chunk of this game, that looked like it might be the case for the Vikings. Kirk Cousins was on the run a lot in this game, taking six hits and three sacks overall. Tom Compton in particular took a butt-kicking from DeForest Buckner, especially early on, and it was not much better at other line spots. Riley Reiff and Brett Jones were serviceable, but the amount of pressure from Cousins’ face side has to be a concern moving forward.
That said, Cousins answered a lot of challenges on Sunday. The knock on him has always been A) his struggles under pressure and B) his red zone passing. Well, in this game, Cousins faced a lot of pressure, yet demonstrated the shiftiness to move the pocket, make throws on the run and even scramble for first downs. He was accurate with defenders bearing down on him. He did not hold the ball too long. And he was able to limit the amount of hits he took, a number that could conceivably have been much higher.
As for the red zone, the Vikings only made one trip on the day (not counting the clock-burning trip in the last minute when the game was already decided). In that one trip, Cousins was 2/2 for 20 yards and a touchdown. He also threw a 22-yard strike to Stefon Diggs for a touchdown, just outside the red zone. All in all, Cousins passing in limited space was perfect for the majority of the game.
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