As the San Francisco 49ers prepare for their home opener against the Minnesota Vikings, it will be a game in which a new era begins. A franchise that has taken pride in donning their red and gold uniforms over the past four decades, the 49ers will now go against history, as they embark on a new journey, by wearing their new sleek black alternate uniforms.
A fresh look the players were favoring, the 49ers will now come out in style, as black is the new red in 2015. But a fashion statement doesn’t mean much without a win, which begs the question, will the 49ers hold off the Vikings in Week 1?
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I’m a firm believer in defense wins championships, so if the 49ers hope to grind out a victory at home, it will need to start on that side of the ball, in what I predict to be a defensive struggle.
Despite the team losing four starters from last year’s front seven, they are still a dominant unit. Led by defensive team captains NT Ian Williams and ILB NaVorro Bowman, it will be up to them to set the tone early on, as they both come back from injury plagued seasons.
So how do the 49ers stop the Vikings offense? By containing Vikings RB Adrian Peterson all while making them one-dimensional in the process.
Under new 49ers DC Eric Mangini’s hybrid 3-4 scheme, it requires not only a high-football IQ but the discipline to maintain gap integrity. A scheme that prides themselves on being both aggressive and complex, Mangini will surely mix up his base packages in order to confuse the Vikings offensive line.
Under their 3-4 base, don’t be surprised if you then see a ‘4-3 over’ defensive front in which the weak-side linebacker switches sides based on the three-technique defensive tackle. Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph will likely see a lot of targets coming his way, so look for Mangini to counter by giving ball-side help.
In fact, I fully expect Rudolph to be a focal point of the team’s offense on Monday Night, as he should have no problems working the middle of the field on those seams, digs, and out-routes– while the Vikings burners on the outside stretch the field vertically.
If the 49ers front seven can suffocate Peterson by denying his cut-back lanes all while setting the edge in the power-run game, that should help their secondary out immensely, as they can then turn their focus on attacking the seams that Rudolph loves to run.
A secondary that will disguise plenty of blitzes in their nickel defense, look for a 3-3-5 or “33 stack,” approach. A base defense that favors an extra strong safety or defensive back instead of a defensive lineman — look for more ball-hawking playmakers on the field, as they try and make life difficult for second-year QB Teddy Bridgewater.
Not to mention, the safeties will be roaming up at or near the line of scrimmage to help in run support — life should be difficult for both Peterson and Bridgewater as pressure will come from all sides.
While the defense does their part, look for the offense to do theirs, as 49ers franchise QB Colin Kaepernick gets back on track by going back to the coveted read-option. A scheme the 49ers shied away from last season, do not expect that to happen in 2015, as I fully expect Kaepernick to use his legs more as a dual-threat quarterback this season.
The Vikings who have plenty of defensive weapons to counter as they will likely use the ‘scrape-exchange,’ I don’t think that will be enough in the end, as Kaepernick has more weapons to work with on the offensive side of the ball, despite a shaky right offensive line.
One player who was basically a non-factor last season, should make a splash on opening night. Yes, I’m talking about 31-year old, TE Vernon Davis. If the 49ers can return to their smash-mouth ways that should open up the play-action pass and Davis should be the benefactor.
In nine season-openers, Davis has amassed 41 catches for 437 receiving yards and five touchdowns. And while those aren’t eye-popping stats, the fact that Davis has scored all five of his touchdowns in the last three openers, should have Forever Faithful and fantasy football owners excited.
In his last three-openers, Davis has recorded TDs in every game (5 total).
— Ryan Sakamoto (@SakamotoRyan) September 11, 2015
Expect Davis to garner a stat line similar to five catches for 65 yards and one touchdown while Kaepernick finds him on those mid-to-deep seams, and post-routes.
With the 49ers jump starting the 2015 season under the lights, look for them to pull out a victory on Monday Night, as I predict them to win 20-16 despite being the underdogs.
With the total points set at 41.5, I would slightly take the under. This game will be a defensive struggle all around where time of possession will play a key role in the outcome.
With the 49ers being -2.5 point under-dogs, I would slightly take the 49ers. A new season, new coach, and new uniforms, it’s hard to imagine the 49ers losing back-to-back home openers at Levi’s Stadium.
As you know we select three players each game who we think will score touchdowns (quarterbacks omitted). Here are this week’s picks.
RB Adrian Peterson
TE Vernon Davis
TE Kyle Rudolph
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