With the exception of a deep pass to Stefon Diggs for a 41-yard touchdown, the Vikings offense really never found a rhythm in the Divisional round game at San Francisco.
Minnesota struggled to get its run game off the ground offensively; defensively, the Vikings allowed nearly 200 rushing yards by the 49ers.
Analytics site Pro Football Focus took a look at the Vikings offensive and defensive line play in Saturday's playoff game. PFF's Ben Linsey wrote:
[Vikings QB Kirk Cousins] was under pressure on more dropbacks than he wasn't. That's never a good sign for an offense, and it wasn't a good sign for the Vikings in this one. They averaged under one yard per play when Cousins was pressured, significantly lower than the 4.5 yards per pressured dropback that they averaged during the regular season (sixth-best). Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner and Dee Ford all got into the action with three or more pressures. That group is going to be a handful for opposing offensive lines, especially on third downs when the 49ers like to get them all on the field together.
Linsey called it a "different story" for the 49ers offensive line against Minnesota's talented pass rush six days after the defensive line pressured Saints QB Drew Brees en route to an upset of the No. 3 seed.
Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter made a very good New Orleans Saints offensive line look shaky up-front last weekend in the Wild Card game. Those two were held in check for the most part, and [49ers QB] Jimmy Garoppolo had clean pockets to work from for much of the game. He was under pressure on just four of his 21 dropbacks for the game. Add in that the 49ers' runners were able to pick up nearly two yards before contact per attempt, and it was a very impressive showing from the offensive line.
View game action images as the Vikings take on the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday.
Craig's takeaways include Cousins on 3rd down, short week woes
Multiple issues cropped up in the Vikings-49ers game on Saturday; it's difficult to point fingers at any one thing.
Mark Craig of the Star Tribune offered five takeaways from the matchup that abruptly ended Minnesota's season, starting with Cousins' third-down passing attempts. He pointed out that the Vikings entered the game as the No. 2-ranked team in converting third downs via the pass (43.7 percent). Craig wrote:
After basically throwing the ball away on third down to open with a three-and-out, Cousins came back with two third-down conversions on the Vikings second possession. With strong protection and time to throw, he hit Adam Thielen for 12 yards on third-and-2 and Stefon Diggs for a 41-yard touchdown on third-and-2. But from that point until falling behind 24-10, Cousins went 0-for-4 passing on third down. The low point was the miscommunication with Thielen that led to a Richard Sherman interception on third-and-9. The 49ers led 24-10 eight plays — all runs — later.
Craig compared the teams' run games and said that San Francisco played the "best throwback offense" and that Garoppolo played the role of game manager well en route to the win. He also highlighted a career return day by Vikings running back Ameer Abdullah and assessed Minnesota's slow start.
They opened with two [Dalvin] Cook runs that netted 2 yards. 49ers defensive tackle DeForest Buckner blew up the second run on second-and-7 when he split the gap between center and left guard. Center Garrett Bradbury couldn't reach his block in time to stop the 6-7 giant from brushing by and blasting Cook for a 1-yard loss. Cousins essentially threw the ball away out of bounds on third-and-8. Unlike last week in New Orleans, the defense didn't offset the offense's slow start. The 49ers went 61 yards in eight plays — with Garoppolo going unpressured on all six attempts — for a 7-0 lead. The start was a reminder that since 2015, the teams coming off the first-round bye were 13-3 in divisional play.
CBS Sports breaks down Vikings loss to Niners
CBS Sports' Patrik Walker covered Minnesota-San Francisco, "the matchup that no one predicted" and gave credit to the Vikings offense for answering back early and making it a 7-7 contest. Then, however,
"a close game early slowly morphed into a convincing victory" for the 49ers, who advanced to next weekend's NFC Championship Game.
Walker pointed out both Minnesota's missteps as well as San Francisco's successes, calling Richard Sherman's interception of Cousins the game's turning point.
The 49ers were coming off a first-round bye, and Walker opined that the extra rest "became evident by the time the second quarter rolled around."
_They used the Vikings fatigue against them by owning time of possession to a massive degree and rattled off first downs effortlessly while Minnesota struggled to get five in four quarters of play. From there, it was just a matter of gashing the opponent with a heavy dose of running backs Tevin Coleman – who had 105 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns – along with Raheem Mostert. _
The two combined for 163 yards on the ground and helped make Garoppolo's mostly pedestrian day inconsequential, the aerial exception being two key plays made by Deebo Samuel as he bullied his way through the Vikings on-demand. Defensively, they sacked Cousins six times and handed him an interception to boot, while shutting down the run attack at the same time. It's not that the Niners played flawless football, it's that they simply didn't stop punching – even when they got punched back.