Another week, another handful of NFL coaching connections.
When the Vikings and 49ers meet in San Francisco for the Divisional round playoff game on Saturday, there will be some familiar faces – and understanding of tendencies – between the NFC squads.
Niners Head Coach Kyle Shanahan has a longtime connection with Vikings Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Advisor Gary Kubiak, who originally worked with Kyle's father, Mike Shanahan.
Kyle spoke with Bay-area media members this week and was asked about the influence Kubiak has made on his career; he recalled a time years before he joined the Texans coaching staff in 2006.
"I knew Gary when I was younger, being a ball boy, which probably wasn't a very good first impression of myself to him," Shanahan dead-panned.
He went on to credit Kubiak, however, for giving him his first position job as Houston's receivers coach and two years later elevating him to offensive coordinator.
"Gary was awesome because, you know, you're always a product of your environment, and I always loved Gary as a person," Shanahan said. "That's why players love him, coaches love him. It was great for my football acumen to go there, especially following Tampa. I mean, it was two extremes – being with someone like Jon Gruden, who [uses] every play known to man and you have so much scheme, which was awesome, and you learn it all, and then you went to Gary, who believed 'less is more.'
"You come from one extreme and it's all you know, and then you go somewhere and it's totally different, and you're like, 'Well, that can't work because this is what I know,' " Shanahan continued. "And then you start to notice the pluses and minuses of both, and that helps you develop your own opinion."
View practice images from the Vikings practice on Jan. 8 at TCO Performance Center.
This weekend, Shanahan will use his know-how, impacted by Kubiak's mentorship, in trying to defeat the visiting Vikings.
Many expected the 49ers to be hosting the Saints, but Minnesota's stunning overtime victory on the road didn't completely catch Shanahan off-guard.
"Everyone knows the challenge it is to do that to New Orleans," he said. "But Minnesota, with the players they have, with the scheme that [Defensive Coordinator George Edwards] and Zim' (Head Coach Mike Zimmer) do, how long they've been playing together, it's not a big surprise.
"They've got such good players, they've got the scheme to do it, they're very smart, they're very physical," Shanahan added. "They switch stuff up repeatedly but never get away from what they believe in."
In looking at Minnesota's offense, Shanahan is familiar not only with the scheme but with the quarterback.
The 49ers coach served as Washington's offensive coordinator from 2010-13; in 2012, the Redskins drafted Kirk Cousins 102nd overall. Cousins played in just eight games during Shanahan's time in D.C., but the 40-year-old coach was impressed early on by the passer and has followed his career closely.
Questioned about the "evolution" of Cousins' career, particularly in the past two seasons with Minnesota, Shanahan said he's "kind of looked like he's always looked."
"I think he's continuing to do a good job this year," Shanahan said of Cousins, who is 31. "They use him a little differently – they don't throw the ball as much, which has probably made them tougher to beat and a better team – but when they do give him the opportunities to throw, he has been extremely good at it and tough to beat."
Shanahan acknowledged that the Vikings run game success has helped Cousins be even more successful.
"Any time you're running the ball as good as they are, that brings the best out in everyone," he explained. "When a quarterback's only got to do a few things a game, it makes it a lot easier. It allows you to not be as risky, to pick and choose your spots a little bit more; it allows you to block people better and doesn't put all the pressure on one guy."
As for the narrative surrounding Cousins – up until Sunday's big win in the Big Easy – about trouble in big games?
"I just laugh at it," Shanahan said. "I think Kirk's won plenty of big games. I just look at how people look on tape, and I go with how good they look – not what their record is on Monday night."
"Vikings Postgame" Live After Saturday's Game
Visit vikings.com, the Vikings App, Vikings Now (Connected TV app), or the team's Facebook, Twitter or YouTube pages to watch "Vikings Postgame" after Saturday's game against the 49ers.
Here are other highlights of Shanahan and the 49ers talking about the Vikings this week:
Shanahan on the 49ers and Vikings both having balanced offenses:
"I know that's my goal, and I'm sure that's Kubiak's and [Kevin Stefanski's] and Zimmer's goal, also. You always can find the outliers, but I think it's very hard to win in this league if you're only good at passing, and I think it's very hard to win in this league if you're only good at running. So you've gotta be able to do both, and I think that's something that we've both done pretty well this year. That, combined with good defense, is I think why we're both where we're at."
Shanahan on Vikings safeties Harrison Smith & Anthony Harris:
"Well, the scheme they play in is very good. It puts a lot of pressure on them but allows them to make a lot of plays, too. Harrison has been there for a while, and then 41, I did not see him the last time, but he's come in and been very impressive. I mean, he's got the ball skills. They both run and hit. They've got very sound coverages with linebackers underneath and stuff, so there's not always a ton of pressure on them. That allows them to run, make plays in the run game by being physical, and it allows them to be ball hawks, too."
QB Jimmy Garoppolo on 'scouting report' of Minnesota:
"They're a talented group defensively. Very sound. They have their rules, and they stick to their rules. Coach Zimmer does a great job getting them in great plays, and they make it tough on offenses. That D-line, they're impressive. They'll get after you. So, it will be a good test for us."
Garoppolo on memories of 2018 season opener against Vikings:
"They do a good job with their disguise, obviously holding it with the safeties and things like that, but don't make anything easy. They make you work for everything down the field. There's really no easy completions, no easy 8-yard run that you're going to get. We're going to have to earn everything. We know that going into this."
DE Nick Bosa on Cousins:
"You're not going to be able to rush him unless you stop the run, and that's what we're focused on."
Bosa on Vikings RB Dalvin Cook:
"I've been watching him since [he was at] Florida State. He's really good. Not many people could maintain the speed that he maintains through contact. He just makes cuts and never slows down, and he's physical. They've got two of them, so it's going to be a challenge. We've played some good backs but haven't played him, so we've just gotta bring it."
LT Joe Staley on Vikings defense:
"The Vikings are very, very sound up front. They have a very sound defense. They have a lot of guys that have played in the system and played together for a long time, so they know exactly where each other is going to be. It's really hard to get them out of position. It really just comes down to doing your techniques and your blocks. They have really talented players up front. Everybody knows Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen have been a great edge-pairing in the NFL for a long time, and they both present unique challenges as far as tackles go. But yeah, all across the board, you look at everybody, and they're a very sound defense and play well together."