EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings are set to face the San Francisco 49ers on Monday Night Football in Week 7 at U.S. Bank Stadium.
San Francisco last visited Minnesota in Week 1 of the 2018 season, when Kirk Cousins made his Vikings debut and defeated the 49ers 24-16. Much has changed since then. Cousins continues to climb the NFL's all-time passer list while throwing to a new collection of pass catchers. The 49ers have reached a Super Bowl and played in back-to-back conference championship games.
49ers Head Coach Kyle Shanahan found the team's long-term quarterback in Brock Purdy. Purdy was the last selection in the 2022 NFL Draft.
The 49ers (5-1) are dealing with several injuries to key players. While the Vikings (2-4) will again be without Justin Jefferson and outside linebacker Marcus Davenport, who was placed on Injured Reserve on Wednesday.
Kickoff is set for 7:15 p.m. (CT).
The Vikings will wear purple jerseys and purple pants (not Primetime Purple).
1. Both teams dealing with key injuries: The 49ers were one of two previously unbeaten teams that fell in Week 6, along with the Eagles. San Francisco was a double-digit road favorite at Cleveland last week but lost by two points. Rookie kicker Jake Moody missed a 41-yard field goal as time expired versus a Browns team playing without starting quarterback Deshaun Watson.
Though limiting P.J. Walker to 18-of-34 passing for 192 yards with two interceptions, the 49ers couldn't overcome losing two All-Pros, running back Christian McCaffrey (oblique injury) and receiver Deebo Samuel (shoulder), to first-half injuries. Neither returned to the game. Head Coach Kyle Shanahan said both could play Monday, but that will depend on how the week goes.
All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams is also dealing with an ankle injury. He only missed a series during the game, but he reportedly left Cleveland in a walking boot.
For the Vikings, the team will again be without Jefferson, who was placed on Injured Reserve last week and will miss at least the next three games. Davenport suffered an ankle injury on just his 17th snap versus the Bears. Cornerback Akayleb Evans is dealing with oblique soreness. He played 50 of 66 snaps against the Bears. Left guard Ezra Cleveland suffered a foot injury late in the game and was replaced by Dalton Risner.
2. Potential defensive battle: After holding teams to an average of 64.2 rushing yards a game through the first five weeks of the season, the 49ers defensive unit uncharacteristically gave up 160 yards to the Browns in Week 6. Cleveland successfully challenged the 49ers with stretch and outside runs.
But the 49ers defense is one of the best in football. All-Pro defensive end Nick Bosa consistently pressures opposing quarterbacks. Pro Bowl linebacker Fred Warner controls the second level behind Bosa. San Francisco held the Browns to 19 points.
Minnesota doubled its takeaways total from Weeks 1-5 after forcing two interceptions and one fumble at Chicago. The Vikings limited a quarterback combination of Justin Fields and Tyson Bagent to 16-of-24 passing for 141 yards and a 47.4 passer rating. According to Pro Football Focus, Fields was pressured on a season-high 64.7 percent of his dropbacks. He was 3-for-6 for 10 yards and an interception when throwing under pressure.
The Vikings pass rush also sacked the Bears quarterbacks four times. Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores kept the pressure coming for Bagent, who made his NFL debut. He completed 10 of 11 passes for 83 yards against the blitz before throwing a game-sealing interception to Vikings cornerback Byron Murphy, Jr.
The Vikings pass rush also sacked the Bears quarterbacks five times.
Pressure from the Browns also bothered Purdy. Cleveland's No. 1 ranked defense held a 49ers offense averaging 33.4 points per game to just 17.
The 49ers receivers faced man coverage on 71 percent of snaps versus Cleveland. Without McCaffrey or Samuel, Purdy struggled to find open targets. He finished Sunday with career lows as a starter in passing yards (125), completion percentage (44.4 percent) and yards per attempt (4.6).
It'll be challenging for Minnesota to replicate the Browns defensive performance, but Cleveland perhaps created a blueprint for slowing down the 49ers.
To put in perspective how well the Browns defense is playing, the 49ers 215 yards of total offense was their lowest output of the Shanahan era.
3. Which offensive line will best protect its QB?
The Browns trusted their secondary could hold in coverage long enough for their four-man pressures to upfront. Usually, Purdy shreds man coverage. According to ESPN, his QBR is 19 points higher against man coverage than zone. But without his full cast of targets, the 49ers couldn't break away from coverage or create yards after the catch.
*Can the Vikings generate a similar rush? *Danielle Hunter leads the league with eight sacks, and D.J. Wonnum is second on the team in pressures with 14. Both could see extended action without Davenport.
The 49ers front seven players are proven disruptors, but the Vikings offense line played well according to multiple metrics. Before facing the Bears, Pro Football Focus ranked Minnesota as the No. 1 run-blocking team and No. 3 in pass protection. ESPN's pass-blocking and run-blocking win-rate metrics agree, rating the Vikings at No. 6 and No. 5, respectively.
4. Bouncing back offensively: It's been said before, but unpretty wins are much more valuable in the NFL than the glam losses. The Vikings offense knows it must play better than last week. O'Connell has been consistent in that messaging since Sunday.
The Vikings struggled on offense, going 2-for-13 (15.4%) against the league's worst third-down defense. Chicago held Minnesota to season-lows in total yards (220), touchdowns (1) and first downs (12). Minnesota did not have a carry longer than eight yards and finished with just a 2.1 yards per carry average.
The 49ers will also be eager to bounce back offensively. Both teams played in less-than-ideal weather conditions in outdoor stadiums. U.S. Bank Stadium will provide a controlled environment for both teams to get back on track offensively.
3 Things 'Bout the 49ers
1. McCaffrey has had a huge impact: McCaffrey's influence on the 49ers offense is invaluable. Since joining San Francisco last season, McCaffrey has been an Offensive Player of the Year front-runner. Last season, the Niners ranked 19th in the NFL in points scored per game (20.3) and 18th in yards per game before McCaffrey. After his arrival, the 49ers ranked second (29.8), fourth (379.6) and second (7.4) in those categories, respectively.
In his first start as a Niner, he became the first player since LaDainian Tomlinson in 2005 and the fourth player since the 1970 merger to throw, run, and catch a touchdown in San Francisco's 31-14 win versus the Rams. He hasn't slowed down since. Since adding McCaffrey, the 49ers have led the NFL in EPA (expected points added).
On Sunday against the Browns, McCaffrey extended his streak of games with one or more touchdowns to 15 straight games. The score ties McCaffrey with Hall of Fame running backs O.J. Simpson and John Riggins for the second-most consecutive games (including playoffs) with a touchdown in league history.
McCaffrey is a proven force multiplier. He is not only an explosive ball carrier and route runner, but he also dictates coverages and opens up his teammates like Jefferson does for the Vikings.
*Simply put, there is no replacing his output. But running backs *Elijah Mitchell and Jordan Mason should be available to take on extra workload in Week 7 should McCaffrey be too injured to play.
2. The Deebo Samuel problem: Samuel made a first-quarter exit when he was injured while running a jet sweep on the first play of the game. He did not return. Shanahan said Samuel took a direct shot to the shoulder.
Samuel is nearly as valuable to the 49ers offensive identity as McCaffrey. He is the best yards-after-catch receiver in football by a wide margin. According to ESPN, he has generated 617 yards after catch over expectation (YACOE) on 153 catches over the past three seasons. For comparison, Bengals receiver Ja'Marr Chase is second in YACOE.
3. Don't forget about George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk: The 49ers still have plenty of weapons, even if McCaffrey and Samuel are unavailable. All-Pro tight end George Kittle is powerful as a run blocker at the point of attack and can control the middle of the field as a receiver*. *
Two weeks ago, against the Cowboys, Kittle caught three passes for 67 yards and three touchdowns.
Aiyuk caught four of 10 targets for 76 yards versus the Browns. He was the only player with more than four targets and accounted for nearly 61 percent of the team's passing yards. Aiyuk has 25 catches for 454 yards through six games but has yet to find the end zone since scoring twice in Week 1.
Facing the blitz
Watch out for the blitz on Monday night. *According to *Pro Football Reference, the Vikings are blitzing on 57.9 percent of snaps, which is generally thought of as rushing five or more defenders, although Flores drew a distinction between counting blitzes on Wednesday. That's 14.5 percent more than the next closest team (New England Patriots). Flores blitzed Fields on nine of his 17 dropbacks. That number skyrocketed when Bagent took over for Fields. The rookie faced an extra rusher on 14 of his 15 passing attempts.
*The pressure has helped Minnesota rank ninth in sacks through six games. The Vikings have allowed only 18 plays of 20 yards or more, tied for 12th-best in the league. *
The 49ers have about a 20 percent blitz rate yet still generate pressure on 26.4 percent of dropbacks*. *
Keys in the kicking game
Vikings kicker Greg Joseph missed his first field goal of the season (a 57-yarder) after knocking in back-to-back 50-yard plus tries last week. The fifth-year specialist is 6-for-7 on the season and would likely have more attempts if it wasn't for the Vikings turnover woes.
The 49ers spent a third-round draft pick on Moody this past offseason. The rookie kicker has made 10 of his 12 tries, including a long of 57 yards.
Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the 49ers.
1 Talking Point
"We're going to have to play fast and to play physical. We can't sit there thinking about what to do, or try to be mesmerized by every shift, motion or jet. [Kyle Shanahan] has them all… What they are trying to do is to get your eyes in a spot where they want your eyes and then go the other way. And it's easy to just say, 'Hey, don't look at that' when it's Deebo running over there. You know Deebo can get the ball and go 90 yards. It's easy to say, 'Don't look at him.' But it's about playing team defense. It's about reading your keys. It's about everyone handling their responsibility. If you're an edge setter, then set the edge. If you are a deep player, then play deep. We have tackle well. We have to defeat blocks. We do all those things, then you still have to make the play. So definitely a challenge.
— Flores on facing the 49ers' offense
Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah started his NFL career with the 49ers, working with the club from 2013-19.
Minnesota Head Coach Kevin O'Connell worked on special projects for San Francisco in 2016, and Vikings Pass Game Specialist/Game Management Coordinator Ryan Cordell was an assistant there from 2014-18.
Vikings backup QB Nick Mullens (currently on Injured Reserve) was with the Niners from 2018-20.
San Francisco's Offensive Line Coach/Run Game Coordinator Chris Foerster and Passing Game Coordinator Klint Kubiak are former Vikings assistants.
College and Pro Connections
The Vikings are 23-25-1 all-time in the regular season or postseason against the 49ers, including a 1-5 mark in playoff games. Minnesota is 15-9 when hosting San Francisco.