Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers didn’t make it a cakewalk for the Vikings, but Head Coach Mike Zimmer and Minnesota can put Week 1 behind them and add a tally to the win column.
Zimmer’s mother, Ann, told Silver that her son had been “a nervous wreck” before the season opener, but Zimmer reminded that he gets anxious every week on game day.
Silver said he expected Zimmer to feel “satisfaction for a game plan well executed” but that the coach instead emphasized the ways in which San Francisco made the afternoon a challenging one.
“They had us off balance,” Zimmer told Silver. “I had to make adjustments on the fly, changes to fronts and coverages; we had some injuries, and I had to move some guys around. Honestly, I thought they did a really nice job. [Garoppolo] made some really good throws. [49ers Head Coach Kyle] Shanahan made some nice calls. There was a lot of misdirection, getting the quarterback out of the pocket quick, getting out on the run and making plays. We’d try to cover it, and the next thing you know, a guy’s running by us. It took us a little while to adjust, and then we had to readjust.”
Silver suggested that Zimmer could be being modest but he added that the head coach “most likely was keeping it real.” He wrote:
Shanahan, indeed, is one of the NFL's most creative play-callers, and that five-game winning streak that Garoppolo triggered after taking over as the 49ers starter late last season was no fluke.
Eight-plus months later, Garoppolo finally experienced the sting of his first NFL defeat as a starter, dropping his career record to 7-1. He completed just 15 of 33 passes for 261 yards and a touchdown, threw three interceptions (including a pick-six) and was sacked three times.
The Vikings clamped down on many of the intermediate passes on which Garoppolo had been so precise in previous efforts, betting that he wouldn't punish them on deep balls when the opportunities arose. They changed up their coverages and fronts and threw as many looks as they could at the fifth-year passer.
“Zim’s been in this league a long time,” safety George Iloka told Silver. “Mark my words – whatever team we're playing, he’s always gonna try to make them not do what they’re best at, if that makes sense. If they beat you in a way you’re not used to, you tip your hat to them. But he’s gonna mix it up and give you different looks, and even veteran quarterbacks sometimes struggle with that.”
DeFilippo carrying on Sparano’s influence in Vikings offense
Tony Sparano and John DeFilippo didn’t work together in Minnesota for a long time, but they were friends before DeFilippo arrived in February as the Vikings new offensive coordinator.
Courtney Cronin spoke with DeFilippo following the tragic and unexpected passing of his friend and colleague in July.
Cronin said that Sparano and DeFilippo, who worked together in Oakland from 2013-14, “bonded over their background as East Coast Italians who grew up in similar ways” and that DeFilippo’s world “came to a hard stop” when he received the phone call from his wife, Kari, telling him that Sparano had died. Cronin wrote:
No one could have prepared for a loss of this magnitude. There’s no playbook, no script for how to handle such an immense tragedy. He not only lost his closest confidant on the coaching staff, DeFilippo lost a great friend.
In a season with the magnifying glass over DeFilippo more than at any point of his career, the 12-year NFL coach will be forced to go through the year without his right-hand man.
After delving a bit into DeFilippo’s friendship with Sparano and dynamic between the two, Cronin went on to emphasize that DeFilippo has remained driven “to fulfill the dream he has had since he was 10 years old,” and his focus right now is to be “the best offensive coordinator” in the league.
Cronin quoted Sparano, whom she interviewed in June:
“[John] was critical on himself about his first time [as a coordinator] in Cleveland on the things he thought he did well and the things he thought he could improve,” Sparano told Cronin about DeFilippo. “If you can look yourself in the mirror like that as a young coach and understand some of those things, I think that you have a bright future ahead of you.”
DeFilippo knows that Sparano “would have wanted him” and the rest of the team and coaching staff to move forward in taking on the 2018 season.
What DeFilippo carries with him from Sparano are more than just memories. His influence is stamped all over this offense. During the initial install, the Vikings took one of the main protections used in Philadelphia and altered it in a way to best suit their personnel.
“It was Tony’s idea,” DeFilippo told Cronin. “A great idea.”
Craig calls ‘quiet day a good day’ for Vikings special teams
Daniel Carlson told a reporter in the Vikings locker room, “It feels good that you’re the only one looking to talk to me today.”
Mark Craig of the Star Tribune said that Carlson’s successful day – consisting of a 48-yard field goal and three PATs – added to a “clean” day by Minnesota’s special teams unit after some preseason struggles. Craig wrote:
So clean was it that Mike Zimmer didn’t’ field one question about Carlson’s NFL debut, [punter Matt] Wile’s fifth NFL game in his seventh day with the team [or] the punt team.
The punt coverage unit allowed only two returns for 14 yards while forcing two fair catches and four punts downed inside the 20. Wile, who replaced Ryan Quigley after being released by Pittsburgh, botched only one of his six punts when he pulled a 29-yarder left and out of bounds in the fourth quarter.
“I have to trust my [directional] line and my drop,” Wile told reporters after the game. “In that case, I just dropped the ball inside and tried to steer the ball left instead of just swinging up through.”
Craig later added that “special teams played so well that defensive end Stephen Weatherly, a member of the punt team, almost apologized for San Francisco’s longest return of 14 yards.”
“They almost got one on us,” Weatherly told Craig. “But I was able to get him to bounce out to the sideline. If you can’t make the tackle, make him go sideways, Coach Priefer always says.”