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By: Aj Mansour | KFAN.com
Minneapolis, MN - Heading into the 2012 preseason, the San Francisco 49ers were one of the odds on favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl this year. Two games into the season, not much has changed.
The 49ers bring a 2-0 record into the Metrodome this weekend having been tested early facing two playoff bound teams hailing from the NFC North division. Week one saw San Francisco dismantle Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers on their way to a 30-22 victory in Green Bay. Week two brought San Francisco home to play in front of their Bay Area fans for the first time and they did not disappoint. Facing the Detroit Lions, Alex Smith led the Niners to a 27-19 victory.
Now, on to week three, the 49ers prepare to face their third straight NFC North opponent in the Minnesota Vikings. On paper, it appears as if the Vikings will offer the weakest challenge of their opening three matches. That said, the Vikings lead the all-time series against the 49ers when games are played in Minnesota 13-9 and have are on a two game winning streak in the series (Oh. My. Heavens.)
Here are some things that you should know about the San Francisco 49ers before this weekend's game...
San Francisco brings the league's third best running attack to Mall of America Field this weekend:
Through two games this season, the San Francisco 49ers are boasting one of the leagues elite running games. With feature back Frank Gore averaging more than 100 yards per game and backup Kendall Hunter contributing about 30 a pop, the Niners are averaging 167.0 yards per game on the ground. Not surprisingly, they run the ball more than half (55.9%) of the time and when they do it, they are effective. The 49ers lead the NFL with 60.7% of first down rushing plays gaining more than 4-yards, a statistic that sets game-managing quarterback Alex Smith up with manageable situations on second and third downs. Their offensive line is big and fluid, showcasing their talents more in the running attack than in pass protection.
Currently at a +1 turnover differential on the season, the 49ers simply DO NOT turn the ball over:
In 2011 the 49ers set an NFL record by only committing 10 turnovers (5 interceptions and 5 fumbles) throughout the entire season. That pinned them at the top with a +28 turnover ratio. What makes this statistic even more remarkable is the fact that Frank Gore formerly has serious issues with fumbling and Alex Smith was known to let the INTs fly quite freely early in his career. Currently, Smith is on an amazing streak having attempted 216 consecutive passes without an INT, besting San Francisco legend Steve Young (184). Since 2009, the 49ers have a record of 25-3 in games that they have won the turnover battle. Wednesday, Leslie Frazier put out the call to all the "ball hawks" in the Vikings secondary to go get some turnovers this weekend and force the Niners into a tough spot. "I'm hopeful, this is a week where we are ball hawks against a team that doesn't turn it over very much," Frazier said. "It'll be a challenge in that area but if there was ever a week you'd want to get some turnovers, this would be it."
Get your 84 jerseys out, Randy Moss returns to Minnesota for the first time as a visitor:
When he is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and he will be, Randy Moss will likely enter the doors of Canton as a member of the Minnesota Vikings. Moss spent the first seven years of his career in Purple and posted HUGE numbers for which he will always be worshipped here in Minnesota. Moss's 9,316 receiving yards and 92 touchdowns as a Viking have him ranked second all-time in the franchise's history only behind Cris Carter in both categories. Randy has been all over the place since leaving the Vikings in 2005, but as he said yesterday, his time in Minnesota will always be special. "I'm just very fortunate to go back to where it all started," Moss told Bay Area reporters Wednesday. "We had some great times in Minnesota, so I look forward to hearing the Metrodome rock. Now I'm with the away team, and I look forward to a good game." Now 35 years old, Moss is a shell of the dynamic threat he was when he barnstormed the league in 1998 but he is still a dangerous weapon for the 49ers. This season, Moss has played 37 snaps for San Francisco and reeled in 5 passes for 61 yards and one touchdown. Look for Randy to come ready to play and ready to make a statement on Sunday.
From Bust to Brilliant, Alex Smith has developed into a legitimate NFL quarterback:
It took him five years to figure it out, but the combination of a new coach and a new offensive scheme has benefited Alex Smith in a big way. Through his first five years with the 49ers, Smith struggled to a 19-31 record, only completing 57.1% of his passes equating to a passer rating of 72.1. Last season, with Harbaugh in the picture, Smith resuscitated his career boosting his completion percentage to 61.3% and his passer rating to 90.7. Over that span, the Niners went 13-3 and made it to the 2011 NFC Championship game. This season has been much of the same for Smith. His 115.9 passer rating this season is second only to Matt Ryan and as I mentioned above he has not thrown an interception in his last 216 passing attempts. Smith's game still centers around intermediate passing but the unforeseen emergence of Michael Crabtree and the off-season additions of Mario Manningham and Randy Moss have given him down-field weapons that he has previously never had. Smith is still more of a game-manager than a game-breaker, but his high quality quarterback play gives the 49ers a chance to win each and every week.
49ers bring another 3-4 defense to the table but this time it's legit:
The Vikings recent troubles with 3-4 defense have been well documented. In fact, as of week two's loss, the Vikings have dropped eight of their last ten games against team's implementing a 3-4 defensive scheme. The 49ers run a 3-4 defense and their defense is legit. Allowing only 63.5 yards per game, the Niners rush defense is currently 6th in the league and have not allowed a rushing touchdown in their last four regular season and playoff games. Justin Smith is arguably one of the most consistent tackles in the league and will move in and out from tackle to end playing to mismatches against Matt Kalil and Charlie Johnson. LB Aldon Smith leads the team right now with 2 sacks and Patrick Willis is, well, he's Patrick Willis, one of the best ILBs in the league. If there is a weakness on the 49ers defense it comes through the air. San Francisco's pass defense ranks 19th in the league allowing 246.5 yards through the air. Opposing QBs have tossed ten touchdowns against the Niners over the last five games.
IN SUMMARY - The 49ers boast the perfect execution of what the Vikings are trying to build in Minnesota:
The 49ers are built using the same blueprints that Leslie Frazier and Rick Spielman are attempting to utilize here in Minnesota. On offense, they are a hard nosed team that is run first with a quarterback that protects the ball while managing the game. On defense, they are a solid group that stuffs the run game and takes the ball away from opposing offenses. "That's something that we can relate to here," Frazier said Wednesday. "How physical they are on both sides of the ball and how well they run the ball and defend the run...We talk about our being able to run the football, run it effectively and defend the run; those are things we want to be able to do."
PREDICTION: San Francisco 49ers: 27 - Minnesota Vikings: 20
The 49ers may take the Vikings a little too lightly which will allow Minnesota to stick around late. Through two games the 49ers have already proven their inability to put teams away. In the end, Jim Harbaugh will be crabby (he always is), and the 49ers will come out with a victory.
Aj Mansour covers Minnesota Sports for KFAN.com. Feel free to leave comments and questions regarding this post in the space provided below. For Vikings' updates and breaking Vikings' news, follow Aj on Twitter. @AjMansourKFAN