3 Keys to the Game: Vikings Vs. 49ers

The next test on the Preseason slate for the Minnesota Vikings comes on Saturday at 6:00 PM CST at US Bank Stadium against the San Francisco 49ers. Last week against the Raiders, many things were learned but there are still many questions to be answered in the final two games. Here is what is going to have to happen for the Vikings to have a successful outing against the 49ers.

1. Linebackers Show Marked Development
The linebacker play as a whole was underwhelming against the Raiders. Brian Asamoah showed flashes that provided reason for excitement, but Troy Dye and Chazz Surratt were not good at all. There were issues with overcommitting, bad tackles, and poor tackling. I saw one person on Twitter explain Chazz Surratt’s day best: he looked like a quarterback playing linebacker which is exactly what he is. Surratt looks like an extreme long shot to make the roster at this point and Dye does not look like a linebacker worthy of a 53-man roster spot. If I were the one making the decisions, Blake Lynch would be my pick as the fourth linebacker after Erik Kendricks, Jordan Hicks, and Brian Asamoah, but the coaching staff seems to prefer Dye. No matter who the coaching staff ends up picking there needs to be more emphasis on the fundamentals from all of the linebackers outside of Kendricks and Hicks which can start Saturday evening against the 49ers.

2. Running Back Success Carries Over From Last Week
On paper, the Minnesota Vikings have one of, if not the best running back rooms in the NFL and that seemed to hold up against the Raiders last Sunday. Dalvin Cook was not seen and Alexander Mattison was only featured for a short time but they are known commodities at this point in their careers. The more intriguing pieces to watch were Kene Nwangwu and Ty Chandler and boy did they not disappoint. Last year Nwangwu was electric returning kicks but in the running game, he often lacked great vision relying exclusively on his speed. This was not the case against Las Vegas, however. Nwangwu averaged just shy of six yards per carry and looks like a much-improved version of the running back he was next year. He appeared much closer to being a more polished back that could see a significant number of carries throughout the year. Chandler also shined, averaging ten yards on his five carries. While he definitely benefited from some large holes, he also showed good burst that had fans excited including a great 56-yard kick return. This week against the 49ers, it will be interesting to see if Nwangwu and Chandler can continue to build on their success. Many fans were calling for a trade of Alexander Mattison after their respective performances, but that is definitely an overreaction after one preseason game against second and third-string defenders. I would like to see more from both backs before we talk about trading away Mattison.

3. Improvement on Special Teams
While we are only one preseason game in and there were no massive mistakes, there is still room for improvement on special teams. Greg Joseph has been great in camp so far and that continued against the Raiders. There is a competition at punter right now in which I would say the advantage is with Jordan Berry at this point. The kickoff returns are likely going to be fine with Ty Chandler and Ihmir Smith-Marsette having long returns (even though Smith-Marsette’s was called back) and the aforementioned Nwangwu likely coming back as the main returner when the regular season comes. The biggest cause for concern was the punt returning and coverage. The punt return game was absolutely uninspiring and is going to have to show improvement as the preseason continues. One positive was the bare minimum of no muffs, which Vikings fans know is not a given. While the punt return game was lackluster, the punt coverage was worrying. It may be an overreaction after one game, but there were lots of missed tackles, bad angles, and overrunning the returner. If the coverage does not find ways to improve, those extra ten or fifteen yards each punt will add up and could end up costing the Vikings.
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