The Vikings are off on the right foot in 2018, topping the San Francisco 49ers 24-16 in the season-opener at U.S. Bank Stadium. Here are five observations from Sunday's Week 1 win.
1. Defense puts its stamp on the win
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer has a high standard for his defense and there are things he'll want corrected for Week 2. But there's no denying that his defense played an integral part in the winning effort in Week 1. Rookie cornerback Mike Hughes returned an interception for a score, Linval Joseph and Harrison Smith teamed up to prevent a touchdown by forcing and recovering a fumble on the goal line, and then Smith and Xavier Rhodes grabbed interceptions in the second half to take away San Francisco's last-second efforts to tie the game. Garoppolo was sacked three times and was held to a 45.4% completion rate and the 49ers offense was just one of four (25%) in the red zone and zero of two (0%) in goal-to-go situations.
2. Kirk Cousins accurate, sharp in (regular season) debut
Accuracy, good decision making and toughness were on display for quarterback Kirk Cousins on Sunday. He completed 20 of 36 passes for 244 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions, good for a passer rating of 95.1. Both touchdown passes – a 22-yarder to Stefon Diggs in the 1st quarter and an 11-yarder to Kyle Rudolph in the 3rd quarter – were supremely accurate and defeated near-perfect coverage by 49ers defenders. Cousins was sacked three times and took a big blow when diving for a 1st down late in the game, but overall his decision making was sound and he was a key part of a gritty offensive effort that produced enough to help the team win.
3. Harrison Smith fills up the box score and secures game-clinching interception
The Vikings defense generated four turnovers and Smith had a hand in two of them. He recovered an Alfred Morris fumble on the goal line in the 2nd quarter and then he snared an interception late in the 4th quarter to stymie the 49ers last-second attempt to tie the game. Smith added a team-high eight tackles, including 2.0 for a loss, as well as a key sack on a 3rd down in the 4th quarter.
4. Week 1 win was not without adversity
Sunday's season-opening win had the look and feel of a factory-made Zimmer/Vikings win, with the offense flashing several times and the defense proving to be just too much for the opposing offense; the Vikings are now 32-4 when scoring 21+ points under Zimmer. But calling the win factory-made is not to say it was easy or without tumult. Injuries on defense forced the Vikings to adjust on the fly and play Hughes on the outside. Hughes responded well with three tackles, three passes defensed and, of course, a pick six early in the 3rd quarter to expand the Vikings lead to 17-3. San Francisco also did a nice job of moving the ball on offense (three drives with at least four 1st downs) and they held the Vikings to three consecutive three-and-outs in the second half, but in the end it was the Vikings who made the most plays and did enough to win the game.
5. A few things to clean up for Week 2
An appealing scenario for Zimmer and the coaching staff will unfold this week as the team returns to TCO Performance Center to digest the win and prepare for next week's game at Green Bay. The Vikings emerged from Week 1 victorious and have established sound building blocks for 2018, but at the same time there will be plenty of coaching points and areas to improve going forward. Zimmer said after the game the offensive line did some good things and that he was impressed with Brett Jones' ability to start at center after joining the team 10 days ago, but he also said there are areas where the front five can get better; Vikings running backs averaged 3.0 yards per attempt. Defensively, the Vikings did a nice job of pressuring Garoppolo and making him uncomfortable, but there were also too many explosive gains allowed for this defense's liking given how well they played the pass last season; the 49ers generated five receptions of 18+ yards, including a 22-yard touchdown in the 3rd quarter.