By Joseph Gunter
The Minnesota Vikings will face its toughest test of the season Sunday when the San Francisco 49ers visit Mall of America Field.
The 49ers (2-0) have dispatched two of the best teams in the NFC North already this season. It beat the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field in its season opener before defeating the Detroit Lions in its home opener in Week Two.
49ers on Offense
The 49ers have some of the NFL’s best offensive linemen, running backs and tight ends. They have the most diverse offense that can score a multitude of ways from anywhere on the field. Frank Gore will get the tough yards and pound it out, but also has the speed and athleticism to bust loose for a long run. The 49ers were a two-head attack in its passing game last season. The team added wide receivers Randy Moss and Mario Manningham to go along with wide receiver Michael Crabtree and tight end Vernon Davis.
Quarterback Alex Smith was under constant scrutiny before last season’s breakout performance. The former No. 1 overall draft pick has done a much better job of taking care of the ball. He has not thrown an interception in over 200 pass attempts and had the second best touchdown to interception rate among starting quarterbacks in the NFL last season.
49ers on Defense
The 49ers run a 3-4 base scheme. The two best defenders are its inside linebackers; Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. The three down linemen of Ray McDonald, Isaac Sopoaga and Justin Smith play like defensive tackles and take up blockers to allow the linebackers to make plays.
Carlos Rogers resurrected his career with the 49ers when he signed as a free agent prior to the 2011 season. He is a former first round draft pick of the Washington Redskins, but could not live up to the hype in D.C.
49ers Players to Watch
Tight end Vernon Davis: It is well known that the Vikings have struggled to cover the middle of the field. Davis is one of the best in the league at exploiting that area. Vikings linebackers Jasper Brinkley and Erin Henderson and safeties Harrison Smith and Mistral Raymond are going to have to keep an eye on Davis.
Outside linebacker Aldon Smith: He was a pass rushing specialist when the 49ers selected him in the first round of the 2011 draft. He recorded 14 sacks as a rookie while serving as a reserve. After starting the first two games of this season, he has two sacks and eight total tackles. The big names are Willis, Bowman and Justin Smith, but Aldon Smith may present the most problems for the Vikings offensive tackles Matt Kalil, Phil Loadholt and quarterback Christian Ponder.
The outlook is not good for the Vikings. The best unit on the Vikings defense is the defensive line. That unit is going against one of the best offensive lines in the league. If the Vikings’ defensive line doesn’t get pressure on Alex Smith and get the 49ers moving backward, it will give up a lot of points. The Vikings’ offense has shown some good things in the first two weeks of the season, but it has not faced a defense like the 49ers. There is not a better defense on the Vikings’ schedule than the one they will face on Sunday.
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Joseph Gunther is an avid fan of Minnesota sports, including football, hockey and baseball. He covered a wide variety of sports while attending Hastings College in Hastings, Neb. While at Hastings College, he was a part of the first collegiate media group to broadcast a national tournament via television, radio, internet and newspaper at the 2004 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball Tournament. He grew up in the Twin Cities playing three years of varsity football in high school. His work can be found on Examiner.com.