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Week 1 Game Recap: San Francisco 49ers 16, Minnesota Vikings 24


What you need to know

San Francisco 49ers

Kyle Shanahan's game plan and play-calling produced at least five plays wherein a receiver was completely uncovered. He manipulated Minnesota's defense by moving Kyle Juszczyk, George Kittle, Matt Breida, and even Alfred Morris all over the formation. Those plays may have succeeded, but execution elsewhere was lacking. If there's anything to take away from this game, it's that, continuing their preseason trend, the 49ers will be spending most of their time in two wide receiver, one tight end personnel, and that tight end is Kittle. Similarly, they'll have Juszczyk on the field more than Trent Taylor, and Marquise Goodwin (or Dante Pettis) on the field more than Pierre Garcon.

Minnesota Vikings

There were storylines galore as the Vikings took on the San Francisco 49ers in week one. Dalvin Cook made his return after a lost year to injury and looked to pick up right where he left off while Jimmy Garoppolo looked to improve on his 7-0 mark as a starter. This was a game where the Vikings dominated early, and it almost felt as if they had a big lead the entire game. It was the defense who came up big this week with 3 interceptions, a forced fumble and recovery on the two-yard line, and a touchdown of their own. The 49ers managed to pull the game within a score but could not find the end zone late to try and tie things up. Kirk Cousins looked good in his debut as he tried to justify his new fully guaranteed contract. The Vikings travel to Green Bay next week to take on a healthy Aaron Rodgers and a Packers squad who looks to get revenge for last season.

San Francisco 49ers

QB Jimmy Garoppolo, 66 offensive snaps, Pass: 15 - 33 - 261 - 1 TD / 3 INT, Rush: 2 - 6 - 0
Garoppolo had a mixed performance. Not the kind of mixed performance that various 49ers quarterbacks have been described as in this space in previous years. It was higher variance, if you will. Garoppolo took shots when the situation warranted it and generally found his receivers to fail him. George Kittle dropped a wide-open, over-the-shoulder pass that would have at least gained 30 yards. Pierre Garcon dropped a touchdown pass. That said, he did benefit from a spectacular touchdown catch by Dante Pettis. And he also continued the trend from preseason wherein he threw high and inside to in-breaking receivers. Two of his three interceptions were of this variety, including Minnesota's pick-six to extend their lead to 17-3.

RB Alfred Morris, 34 offensive snaps, Rush: 12 - 38 - 0
Unsurprisingly, Morris gained all of his rushing yardage on inside zone runs. Otherwise, the story of Morris' usage and performance found its genesis deep in Vikings territory. Twice, he lined up out wide as a pawn in Kyle Shanahan's neverending chess match. This bit of trickery resulted in 31 yards and a touchdown for other receivers. Also twice, he fumbled near the goal line, the second of which resulted in a turnover when San Francisco was about to tie the game.

RB Matt Breida, 30 offensive snaps, Rush: 11 - 46 - 0, Rec: 1 - 5 - 0 (2 targets)
As was the case in San Francisco's third preseason game, Breida did not start, instead substituting in for Alfred Morris when the down-and-distance situation warranted. Especially odd was that, for a running back who figures to be the pass catcher of the two, Breida wasn't utilized much there either; ditto the red zone.

WR Trent Taylor, 37 offensive snaps, Rec: 4 - 28 - 0 (6 targets)
As is to be expected when an offense is trailing the entire game, Taylor played more snaps than usual. Performance-wise, he didn't do much outside of a couple of well-designed pass plays that found him open in space thanks to defensive indifference. Usage-wise, however, Kyle Shanahan seemed to send him out wide in the formation (i.e., rather than in the slot) more than he did last season.

WR Pierre Garcon, 53 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 21 - 0 (6 targets)
As was the case in San Francisco's third preseason game, Garcon was removed for a substitute far more than you would expect for a true No. 1 wide receiver. He caught a ball and fell on the ground hard? Wave on Kendrick Bourne. He caught a pass after playing a number of consecutive snaps? Wave on Kendrick Bourne. This isn't Garcon's fault. He's old. But with a trend so notable, it's worth taking account. Oh by the way, he also dropped a touchdown pass.

WR Dante Pettis, 48 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 61 - 1 (5 targets)
As was telegraphed during San Francisco's third preseason game, Pettis assumed Marquise Goodwin's role when he left the game, up to and including being the lone wide receiver in 22 personnel formations (i.e., two running backs and two tight ends). The highlight reels will show his improvisational, acrobatic touchdown catch with the 49ers down 20-6 early in the third quarter, but the (other) hidden variable going forward is that Kyle Shanahan used Pettis for jet-sweep play action four times in the first half after not using Goodwin at all in that capacity.

WR Marquise Goodwin, 17 offensive snaps (1 targets)
Goodwin left the game via injury early during the second quarter. He hadn't done anything prior to that except act as a decoy prior to that. And yet, there are positives to take away from his time on the field: 1) He continues to be the receiver slated for duty in one-receiver formations; and 2) He was getting shadowed by All-Pro cornerback Xavier Rhodes before getting hurt.

TE George Kittle, 51 offensive snaps, Rec: 5 - 90 - 0 (9 targets)
As was predicted in this space during the Preseason Week 3 recap, Kittle was on the field for over 75 percent of San Francisco's offensive plays. He was targeted early and often, but especially when the 49ers found themselves trailing by one score or more. Down 10-0 in the second quarter, Shanahan called Kittle's number on consecutive plays for a total of 31 yards. On the next drive, down 10-3, Kittle had gains of 23 and 9 yards, the latter of which came on a nifty play design in the red zone that sent Alfred Morris (of all players) outside to wide receiver.


Minnesota Vikings

QB Kirk Cousins, 71 offensive snaps, Pass: 20 - 36 - 244 - 2 TD / 0 INT, Rush: 4 - 26 - 0
It was not an eye-popping day stat wise for Cousins, but he did manage to do enough to pull out the win for the Vikings. He was not overly accurate, completing only 55% of his passes, but he did show more chemistry with his receiving group and did have to endure three drops from his normally sure handed receivers. His best play of the day came on a 22-yard bullet down the sideline to Stefon Diggs. The ball was laid out perfectly to Diggs, who had a step on the corner in coverage, and led him right into the end zone. The second touchdown came on an 11-yard pass to tight end Kyle Rudolph right up the seam. Cousins took the snap in the gun and knew right away where he was going for the ball, finding Rudolph in the back of the end zone for the touchdown. While he may not have been as accurate as he wanted, he did show off his legs on a few occasions and even picked up a big 13-yard carry for a first down. There was one scary moment where he tried to dive forward on a run for a first down but was rudely met by a defender and stopped in his tracks. Cousins had lowered his head but managed to avoid any helmet to helmet contact but did take a big blow to his throwing shoulder. He could be seen wincing after the play but managed to stay in the game and pull off the victory.

RB Dalvin Cook, 57 offensive snaps, Rush: 16 - 40 - 0, Rec: 6 - 55 - 0 (7 targets)
The big question coming into the week was whether Cook was going to be on a snap restriction. If he was, this plan went out the window on the first drive as he touched the ball on 6 of the first 9 plays of the game. The drive resulted in a punt, but it showed that the Vikings were committed to their second year back. Cook did not find much success on the ground behind a patched together offensive line but did show his threat of catching the ball out of the backfield hauling in 6 of his 7 targets. In a single game, Cook is already more than half way to his receiving totals from a year ago. On the ground, Cook could not find any room to run up the middle but did manage a 15-yard scamper off the right side for a first down. Cook also fumbled on this run and gave way to Latavius Murray for a few snaps before coming back into the game. His biggest contribution was a 17-yard catch and run swing pass out of the back field for another first down. The Vikings did spell him late in the game after an earlier fumble cost the team points, but it was only temporary as Cook still saw meaningful carries at the end of the game.

RB Latavius Murray, 14 offensive snaps, Rush: 11 - 42 - 0
It is easy to forget the Murray was a Pro Bowler and had a season with over 1,000 yards when he was in Oakland as he fights to remain relevant in Minnesota. He was the only back to find any sort of rhythm or success against the 49ers this week, though very limited. He led the team in rush yards despite 5 less carries than Cook. His biggest contribution came in the form of insurance. After Cook had fumbled away the ball on the 49ers side of the field in the first half, Murray was used down the stretch to help run out the clock and save wear and tear on Cook. Murray managed a lone 9-yard run for his best play of the game and was not targeted in the passing game at all. The Vikings did not spend a lot of time in the red zone today or near the goal line. It will be interesting to see which back is given the ball in a 1st and goal to go situation as the season progresses.

WR Adam Thielen, 68 offensive snaps, Rec: 6 - 102 - 0 (12 targets)
Thielen looked to continue his breakout season from a year ago, just like Diggs, and benefitted from the 49ers paying more attention to Diggs. Cousins targeted Thielen a team high 12 times, but he only managed to bring in half of those targets. Thielen, normally a sure handed receiver, did drop two of the balls and could have had an even bigger day. He was targeted out of the slot again and ran his normal short crossing routes to try and get open. His big gainer came on a 34-yard busted coverage play. Kirk Cousins stared him down the entire play, yet Thielen managed to be standing all alone down the left side line. There was no defender within 10-yards of him and he sprinted down the sideline before being pushed out of bounds by the safety. The only real knock against Thielen is the lack of touchdowns, but if he continues to get 12 targets a game there is a much higher chance of him finding the end zone more this season.

WR Stefon Diggs, 61 offensive snaps, Rush: 1 - 8 - 0, Rec: 3 - 43 - 1 (6 targets)
There is a lot of competition in the Vikings' receiving core for targets, but the bulk are going to go through Diggs and Thielen. This may be one of the only times you see Diggs not in the top 2 players for targets in a given week. He finished a close third behind running back Dalvin Cook, but did one thing no other receiver did, found the end zone. Diggs had to contend with Richard Sherman and a stingy 49er secondary and only hauled in half of his 6 targets this week. He did bet his man down the left sideline for a 22-yard touchdown but could not find very much room to run outside of that. All the extra attention paid to Diggs did help open things up for Thielen and Treadwell, but Cousins struggled with accuracy this week and both receivers had at least one drop. Diggs looks to continue his breakout season from a year ago but is going to have a difficult time as opposing teams key in on trying to stop him.

WR Laquon Treadwell, 38 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 18 - 0 (4 targets)
This is going to be a make or break season for Treadwell. The big bodies receiver was a first round pick but has not lived up to that billing at all. Plagued by drops and poor route running in his first two seasons, Treadwell is on his last leg for the Vikings. He shows glimpses of being a big-time receiver, but still struggled this week. There was a ball thrown to him in the first half that nearly hit him square in the chest that he dropped, but then another play where he snared the same pass, broke two tackles, and dove for a first down. 16 of his 18 yards came on that single play this week but Cousins kept trying to get him involved in the offense. It is going to be an uphill battle for Treadwell this season, but he could emerge as a great sleeper play if he starts to use all the extra room created by Diggs and Thielen when defenses key in on them.

TE Kyle Rudolph, 59 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 11 - 1 (2 targets)
It was a very quiet day for Rudolph this week with the big tight end only receiving two targets the entire game. All three of the Viking tight ends caught a pass this week, Rudolph's just happened to be in the end zone. His greatest asset is his size and jumping ability in the red zone. Rudolph hauled in an 11-yard pass right down the seam for a Viking touchdown. Cousins knew exactly where he was going with the ball before it was even snapped. Outside of this play, Rudolph was locked down by an athletic core of linebackers for the 49ers. Always a boom or bust candidate, Rudolph continues to rely heavily on red zone touchdown opportunities.