Many expect 2015 to be an exciting season for the Vikings, but the campaign got off on the wrong foot Monday night. The Vikings dropped their season opener to the San Francisco 49ers by a score of 20-3 and must now quickly rebound to get ready for Sunday's NFC North contest against the Detroit Lions.
Here are five takeaways from Monday night's loss to the 49ers...
1. A step back for the run defenseAfter finishing 25th against the run in 2014, improving the run defense was a priority for the Vikings over the offseason. They appeared to be making significant strides to that end, particularly with the return of the top four DTs. Sharrif Floyd is poised to take a big step forward in his third season and Linval Joseph continues to look more comfortable in his role in Mike Zimmer's defense. But the run defense went off the rails against the 49ers, surrendering 230 yards on 39 carries. That total included 168 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries for second-year RB Carlos Hyde..
2. 49ers had upper hand in pressure situationsWith San Francisco able to run at will, the Vikings defense was off-balance all night and wasn't able to consistently pressure QB Colin Kaepernick on passing downs. Kaepernick wasn't lethal throwing the ball, but he was sacked just one time, he wasn't forced to make big plays through the air, and he was also an effective rusher with 41 yards on seven carries. Conversely, the Vikings were unable to run the ball, mustering just 71 yards on 17 carries, including only 10 carries for Adrian Peterson. Being unable to run the ball eventually put the Vikings offense in situations where the 49ers defense was able to send pressure and force mistakes from the Vikings passing game. Bridgewater was sacked five times and threw one interception and zero touchdowns.
3. Vikings couldn't capitalize on special teams opportunitiesWhile a lackluster offense was slow to go for the Vikings, the special teams group played well for the entire game and made a couple splashy plays early. Andrew Sendejo broke through the line of scrimmage and blocked a FG attempt early in the game. Marcus Sherels scooped the ball and returned it 48 yards into 49ers territory. Moments later, the 49ers muffed a punt and the Vikings recovered near midfield. But the Vikings were unable to muster any points out of those opportunities, going three-and-out and missing a FG after the blocked FG return and then turning the ball over on downs after recovering the muffed punt.
4. Confidence issues with another Walsh missThe reason the Vikings turned the ball over on downs following the recovery of a muffed punt is because Zimmer decided to go for it on 4th and 3 from the SF 31. It's fair to speculate that Zimmer decided to go for it rather than attempt a FG in that situation because K Blair Walsh had missed a 44-yard FG try earlier in the game. Asked if that miss is what led to the team going for it instead of leaning on Walsh to salvage the drive, Zimmer said it probably did. So Walsh will go back to Winter Park this week to try to correct whatever it is that's causing the misses in an attempt to rebuild confidence – the confidence Walsh has in himself and the confidence Zimmer has in Walsh.
5. One game does not make a seasonAs disappointing as the 20-3 loss is for the team and its fans, it's important to remember that Monday night's game represents just 1/16th of the schedule; there are 15 more games to go. The loss and the reasons that led to the loss will have many questioning a lot about the team, but it's not time to hit the panic button just as it wouldn't be time to start securing travel plans to Super Bowl 50 had the Vikings found a way to go into San Francisco and win the season opener. There are a lot of issues to correct, Zimmer will insist those issues get corrected, and the Vikings will have a chance to earn their first win on Sunday when division rival Detroit comes to town.