Here are some takeaways after re-watching the video from the 49ers’ 24-16 Week 1 loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday in Minneapolis.
Missed opportunities on both sides of the ball
The Vikings went 13-3 last season with one of the league’s deepest and most talented rosters. They entered 2018 with valuable reinforcements at key positions like quarterback (Kirk Cousins), defensive tackle (Sheldon Richardson) and cornerback (Mike Hughes). Those additions have Minnesota once again looking primed for another deep playoff run after playing in last year’s NFC championship game. That meant the 49ers would have to play perfectly to come away with an upset win. Their margin of error was incredibly thin.
Clearly coach Kyle Shanahan’s team did not — on either side of the ball. Offensively, the struggles in the red zone, drops and turnovers were the key culprits. Defensively, shoddy tackling and failing to make interceptions proved costly.
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Fred Warner, who had a game-high 12 tackles, had an pass come his way in the third quarter that could have been picked off. Brock Coyle nearly had an interception deep in Minnesota territory that could have have gone for a touchdown just after Alfred Morris’ crucial fumble. Same for Jaquiski Tartt, who could have made a game-changing play in the fourth quarter on a pass to the left flat that he got his hands on.
The Vikings capitalized on similar opportunities, as seasoned teams typically do. Safety Harrison Smith was stellar throughout, proving difficult to block both in the running game and as a ball-hawking playmaker on the back end.
The 49ers might have a similar player at a different position, linebacker Reuben Foster, who can’t play until Week 3. Foster’s return will give the team a big upgrade over Coyle, who was exposed by Dalvin Cook in Minnesota’s quick passing game. The running back finished with six catches for 55 yards and was the home team’s second leading receiver.
Rookies make meaningful contributions early
The early returns from 2018 draft class are promising. First-round pick Mike McGlichey held his own against a formidable front seven, although he struggled, as to be expected, when he shifted to guard, a position he hasn’t played before.
Second-round pick Dante Pettis dropped a possible touchdown pass in the second quarter, but he scored the team’s only touchdown in the third, making a great grab at the end line off a dime from Jimmy Garoppolo.
Warner, the third-round pick, had an auspicious debut. He was charged with relaying the plays in the huddle and playing one of the most difficult positions on the field. The result: 12 tackles, one tackle for loss (though it felt like there was at least one more), a quarterback hit, pass breakup and forced fumble coming in scoring territory.
One member of San Francisco’s coaching staff said to The Bee afterward Warner was the team’s smartest defender, which is awfully high praise for a first-year player. His smarts are apparent in diagnosing running plays and knifing through the line of scrimmage. His athleticism jumps off the screen in pass coverage. The 49ers should be excited about the future at inside linebacker with Warner pairing with Foster.
Weapons roaming free was a good look for play caller
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer is regarded as one of the best defensive coaches in the NFL. But the fact the 49ers had so many players running free deep down field indicates Shanahan had a good grasp of where to attack Zimmer’s scheme.
George Kittle, Kyle Juszczyk and Pettis had catch and runs that went 36, 39 and 56 yards respectively. It was clear Shanahan believed the team’s best chance at winning would be with big plays downfield rather than trying to dink and dunk methodically down the field.
The unfortunate development for San Francisco, aside from Kittle’s crucial drop the play before Garoppolo’s pick-six to Hughes, was the absence of Marquise Goodwin, the team’s top vertical threat. Pettis (five targets, two catches, 61 yards) filled in admirably. He played 48 snaps, the second-most of any San Francisco receiver behind only Pierre Garçon.
The other notable development that was a thorn in San Francisco’s side was losing the top two guards. Once Mike Person and Joshua Garnett left with their foot injuries, Zimmer began attacking the right side of the offensive line relentlessly. Garoppolo felt pressure on that side on the interception to Hughes and the game-sealing pick thrown to Smith on the final possession.