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NFL Preview - San Francisco (2-0) at Minnesota (2-0)
By Tony Moss, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - For those caught up in headlines of a historical bent, as well as NFL milestones, Sunday's matchup between the Minnesota Vikings and San Francisco 49ers at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome will be of definite interest.
For those not caught up in the hoopla of Brett Favre's first meaningful home appearance as a member of the Minnesota Vikings, what figures to be an entertaining football game between two quality teams will have to be the attraction.
Favre doesn't exactly ride into the Twin Cities as a conquering hero after two efficient-but-unspectcular wins at the Browns (34-20) and Lions (27-10), but neither has the soon-to-be-40-year-old's performance done anything to diminish the hopes of a fan base harboring hopes of the organization's first Super Bowl title.
Favre helms an offense that has the odd distinction of simultaneously ranking last in NFL passing offense (119 yards per game) and first in completion percentage (76.0), as the grizzled veteran has made the most of screens and dumps to his pass-catching teammates.
Meanwhile, Favre has also handed the ball off a great deal to running back Adrian Peterson, who leads the NFL in rushing yards (272) and rushing touchdowns (4), and is tied for the league lead in total touchdowns (4) along with the 49ers' Frank Gore and Ravens' Willis McGahee.
But all of the above numbers were compiled against the Browns and Lions, two struggling franchises almost certain to finish on the wrong side of .500 this season.
The 49ers, a team that has been among the most pleasant surprises in the league over the first two weeks, should offer a markedly greater challenge.
San Francisco arrives at the Metrodome standing alone in first-place in the NFC West, having knocked out division rivals Arizona (20-16) and Seattle (23-10) over the season's first two weeks.
Much of the team's offensive success has come thanks to the efforts of Gore, who piled up 207 rushing yards including touchdowns of 79 and 80 yards in last week's win over the Seahawks.
But quarterback Shaun Hill has been a credit to the cause as well, engineering two more victories to up his record as an NFL starter to 9-3.
The 29-year-old Hill is somewhat well-known to Vikings fans, as he spent the first four years of his career (2002-05) with Minnesota, though he never threw a pass in four seasons spent mainly as the team's inactive third-string quarterback.
The Vikings lead the all-time regular season series with 49ers, 19-18-1, snapping a series tie with a 27-7 road win in the last meeting, during the 2007 season. The 49ers won the previous meeting, a 9-3 affair at Candlestick Park in 2006, but were 35-7 losers when they last visited the Twin Cities, in 2003. San Francisco is 0-3 in Minnesota since last winning there in 1992, and has lost its three trips there by an average of 19.7 points.
In addition to the regular season series, the teams have an extensive postseason history together, having met in the playoffs a total of five times. San Francisco has a 4-1 edge in the postseason series, winning NFC Divisional Playoff games at home in 1988, 1989, and 1997, and on the road in 1970. The Vikings' lone postseason win over the 49ers came in 1987 at Candlestick Park.
Vikings head coach Brad Childress is 1-1 in his career against the 49ers, while San Francisco's Mike Singletary will be meeting both Childress and Minnesota for the first time as a head coach.
WHEN THE 49ERS HAVE THE BALL
Though the 49ers have other weapons, it is clear that the directive for offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye II is to get the ball in the hands of Gore (237 rushing yards, 8 receptions, 4 TD). After his big day last week, the Miami-Florida product is averaging a robust 6.2 yards per carry, and is tied for the team lead in catches along with No. 1 wideout Isaac Bruce (109 yards). Hill (353 passing yards, 1 TD) has been efficient in the team's first two games, though the eight sacks he has suffered this far are somewhat concerning. In addition to Gore and Bruce, former first-round tight end Vernon Davis (7 receptions) has been a favorite target. No. 2 wideout Josh Morgan (3 receptions) did not have a catch last week, and Singletary and Raye are clearly seeking more production out of him.
The Vikings will be looking to attack Hill and force some turnovers, with that approach yielding results last week against young Matthew Stafford and the Lions. Linebacker Chad Greenway (8 tackles, 2 INT) is the reigning NFC Defensive Player of the Week thanks to the three takeaways he recorded against the Lions, and the possible absence of fellow LB and leading tackler E.J. Henderson (15 tackles, 1 sack) could up the pressure on Greenway this week. Henderson did not practice on Wednesday due to a shoulder problem, and his brother Erin (calf) could be a spectator on Sunday as well. The "Williams Wall" of defensive tackles Pat Williams (4 tackles) and Kevin Williams (2 tackles, 1 sack) remains intact, though the run-stopping effort has not been as dominant through two games as it has been in recent years. The Vikings have given up 218 yards on the ground thus far, including 83 for the Lions' Kevin Smith last Sunday. When Hill drops back to throw it, ends Jared Allen (5 tackles, 1 sack) and Ray Edwards (14 tackles, 1.5 sacks) will be looking to tee off, while cornerbacks Antoine Winfield (14 tackles) and Cedric Griffin (10 tackles, 1 INT) try to benefit on the back end.
WHEN THE VIKINGS HAVE THE BALL
At some point, Favre will have to throw the ball down the field, but for his first two weeks as a Viking, the legend has been content to mostly set up Peterson and rookie all-purpose man Percy Harvin (8 receptions, 36 rushing yards, 2 TD) with handoffs and short passes. Peterson is averaging 6.8 yards per carry and has added value with five catches out of the backfield, while Harvin has made the most of his 18 touches in the running, passing, and kickoff return games. Peterson has been bothered by a sore back this week but is expected to play. Given that the 49ers are stronger against the run than Minnesota's first two opponents, throwing deeper routes to the likes of Bernard Berrian (5 receptions) and Sidney Rice (6 receptions), along with tight end Visanthe Shiancoe (4 receptions, 1 TD), could be necessary this week. The Vikings have had just one reception longer than 20 yards thus far. Favre has been sacked seven times through two games.
Containing Peterson and Harvin will fall mainly to the 49ers front seven, which did a nice job against Julius Jones and the Seahawks ground attack last week. Jones was held to 11 yards on eight carries out of the backfield, and Seattle finished with just 66 ground yards on 23 totes (2.9 per carry) for the afternoon. Patrick Willis (18 tackles, 1 INT) and fellow inside linebacker Takeo Spikes (5 tackles) will head the effort to slow Peterson, while working behind emerging defensive tackles Aubrayo Franklin (5 tackles) and Kentwan Balmer (5 tackles). Looking to keep the heat on Favre will be outside linebackers Parys Haralson (5 tackles, 1 sack) and Manny Lawson (6 tackles), along with team sack leader and end Ray McDonald (4 tackles, 2 sacks). The 49ers secondary has been productive thus far, with cornerback Nate Clements (11 tackles) and safety Dashon Goldson (6 tackles) both coming up with interceptions, and Michael Lewis ranking second on the team in tackles (13) from his strong safety position.
Peterson and Gore have been two of the top point-producers in fantasy leagues, though given the strength of each team's run defense, this might be a week when neither runs wild. You have no real choice but to start both if you own them. The principles of both passing games might be a better start than usual for the reasons delineated above. Both Favre and Hill figure to put the ball in the air more than they have in the first two weeks. Bruce and Harvin, and the tight ends Shiancoe and Davis, should see some balls thrown in their direction. Both kickers and defenses are decent plays.
The first two weeks of the 2009 season didn't tell us much about the Vikings, who were largely unchallenged by two poor opponents. The 49ers will test them, and given San Francisco's performance through the first two games, look for them to get Minnesota's attention. The outcome of this one figures to be in doubt until the fourth quarter, but the Vikings - who have more talent all- around - will make one more big play than the Niners and move to 3-0.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Vikings 20, 49ers 17
09/24 11:34:07 ET