3 Things Must Happen for Vikings to Beat 49ers

Let Everyone Leave
Nov 13, 2022; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O'Connell looks to the video board in the third quarter game against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports.

The Minnesota Vikings have never lost four home games to start a season. They’ve avoided such fate for 62 years.

But that could change on Monday night when the purple team hosts the NFL’s top squad, the San Francisco 49ers. Kyle Shanahan’s group is favored to beat the Vikings by seven points.

3 Things Must Happen for Vikings to Beat 49ers

And while Minnesota may not have the juice to topple San Francisco — we shall see — Kevin O’Connell’s team does have a wee bit of momentum after a road victory over Chicago in Week 6.

3 Things Must
Dec 24, 2022; Santa Clara, California, USA; San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan walks onto the field before the start of the third quarter against the Washington Commanders at Levi’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports.

Minnesota won’t have Justin Jefferson, Marcus Davenport, or Ezra Cleveland, but the 49ers will be without Deebo Samuel, probably Trent Williams, and perhaps even Christian McCaffrey.

On the whole, if the Vikings are to defeat the 49ers, here’s how they’ll do it. Keep in mind, all three of these items must occur, not just one or two.

Zero Turnovers — or Win TO Battle

Oct 15, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) takes the field before the game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings turn the football over via fumble and interception to the tune of a 31st-ranking leaguewide through six games. The 49ers rank first in fewest giveaways.

This a horrible omen.

Eventually, Minnesota needs a turnover-free game on offense and special teams, and that might be required if an upset over San Francisco is on the way. Winning the turnover battle is a no-brainer for Football 101, but the Vikings refuse to stop handing the ball to opponents week after week. So, this must be called out.

If the Vikings insist on fumbling or throwing an interception, they must make up for it with a takeaway or two from their defense or special teams.

Like the Chiefs game two weeks ago, the margin for error to beat the 49ers is paper thin, and fumbling anytime throughout the game won’t do the trick.

Score First

Nov 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Jalen Nailor (83) celebrates after making a stop against the New England Patriots during the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota scored three points in the first quarter last weekend at Soldier Field, and a Minneapolis parade was nearly arranged. The Vikings 1st Quarter woes on offense in 2023 are damning as they were unforeseen. Last year, the Vikings scored early and often. But in 2023, Minnesota turns the ball over early and scores at an average clip.

To ignite homefield advantage and capture momentum versus the NFL’s best team, the Vikings need to score on their opening offensive drive, preferably a touchdown. A three-and-out will muzzle the crowd. A fumble will call sickness. And a field goal will generate a murmur.

The Vikings must set the tone.

Playcalling Equity

Aug 26, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell looks on before a game against the Arizona Cardinals at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports.

Embarrassingly, the Vikings rank 32nd in rushing playcall percentage and 32nd in time of possession. The concepts are yin and yang.

It’s more than fine that O’Connell enjoys throwing the football; few fans mind. O’Connell is a former quarterback, after all. But Minnesota throws the football about 70% of the time. The NFL average through six weeks is about 59% passing plays per game.

The Vikings, once and for all, must win the time of possession battle, especially against a team like San Francisco. Even if the 49ers hop out to a 10-0 or 14-0 lead, Kirk Cousins throwing the ball 50 times won’t beat San Francisco. It just won’t.

Minnesota must run the football, even if that means using Cam Akers on half of all rushing plays.

The offense needs balance to topple the 49ers.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ Basset Hounds, and The Doors (the band).

All statistics provided by Pro Football Reference / Stathead; all contractual information provided by OverTheCap.com.