ReFo: MIN @ SF, Preseason Wk 3
Dress rehearsal week in the NFL drew to a close with two of last year’s playoff teams showing their preseason progress as they try to go further this season. For the 49ers, not only did the scoreline look good but so did a number of performances throughout their roster. The biggest question mark for the 49ers is at spots like wide receiver where no one really stood up to be counted suggesting that they could fill the void when the real action starts. We can expect more from Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin in season but who else is going to make their presence felt? Thus far no player has really made that spot their own.
For the Vikings this performance seemed to serve as a prime example of their limitations as a team without Adrian Peterson. The first team offense ground its way to two touchdowns but there was no spark in an entirely conservative and predictable performance from Christian Ponder. The defense got its own scare as well with Kevin Williams taken out by an unnecessary cut block in the second half. The Vikings aren’t reliant on Williams like they are Peterson but, without him their defense loses something up front. They will hope that all scans come up clear and that he is ready for the start of the regular season in just under two weeks time.
Minnesota – Three Performances of Note
Robison revving up for a fast start
Ever since he took on a starting role in the Minnesota Vikings’ defense Brian Robison has made a fast start to the season. In both 2011 and 2012 Robison registered massive games, particularly as a pass rusher. In 2011 Robison got his first season as a starter underway with six pressures (1 Sk, 5 Hu) against the Chargers, while a year later he earned a +9.8 grade against the Jaguar, recording nine pressures (3 Ht, 6 Hu), a batted pass and four tackles. In his most meaningful action of the preseason to date (36 snaps),Robison racked up six hurries (+2.9 pass rush) to intimate that just as fast a start might be in the cards in 2013. Robison is a fearsome speed rusher and whoever wins the Lions’ starting RT job (looking like Jason Fox at this point) will be in for a stern test as they get the season underway.
Ponderous but still the best option
Last season the Vikings rode Adrian Peterson’s miraculous season to the playoffs, but if they are to repeat that playoff performance then logic dictates that Christian Ponder is going to have to play a bigger role. If Adrian Peterson can get even to a 1,600 yard season (which would be the best follow up to a 2,000 yard season in NFL history) that would be astonishing, but unlikely to be enough to take the Vikings to the playoffs again. His completion percentage might be good in this game but his route tree is still built around hitches, backfield routes and other short throws. A high completion percentage is the least you expect. Is this just a conservative preseason approach or the continuation of the only offense that Ponder can run? Unless Adrian Peterson can produce another season for the ages, Vikings fans will hope it’s the former. Ponder did show glimpses of an ability to hit those intermediate throws against the 49ers yesterday, going 4-for-4 for 59 yards on throws aimed between 10 and 19 yards downfield. This is the area of the passing game that Ponder and the Vikings need to expand in 2013.
Robinson raises questions
With the offseason departure of Antoine Winfield there are holes to fill on the cornerback depth chart. While Chris Cook has the right corner spot secured there are questions to answer in both base and nickel defensive looks. Josh Robinson is aiming to start the season atop the depth chart at LCB, sliding in to the slot in nickel sets with first rounder Xavier Rhodes getting his feet wet at outside in sub packages. However, after struggling last season (-11.4 coverage) as a rookie, things aren’t looking much better in preseason this year. In his most extended action of preseason Robinson surrendered completions on all nine of the passes targeted to his coverage for 70 yards and a touchdown. You can’t make knee-jerk reactions based upon one performance, Robinson played only 29 snaps in the first two preseason games, but the Vikings haven’t offered him the opportunity to really establish himself. He will be under pressure from the start of the regular season now to maintain his place in the starting lineup. His competition to start at LCB, Rhodes, has played 55 snaps in the last two preseason games and has allowed only seven yards on five targets with a pass defense.
San Francisco – Three Performances of Note
Brooks shines on the edge
Both teams got strong showings from their left side pass rushers in this outing. For the 49ers’ Ahmad Brooks (+4.0) matched the six pressures that Brian Robison produced for the Vikings but converted one of those hurries into a sack. All told Brooks got pressure on better than one in two pass rushes in his third preseason outing (six pressures on 11 pass rushes) and got to sit out the rest of the game with the starters after a preseason high 22 snaps. Having played only seven snaps in each of the 49ers preseason games prior to this one, you can be pretty sure that Brooks and the rest of the San Francisco defense are going to enter the season fresh. Brooks and Aldon Smith (who got work done in run defense and with a short stop in coverage) have played so few snaps in preseason that they barely make the 25% playing time cut off in our preseason rankings. However, with a +4.9 and +2.9 grade for their “workload”, they don’t appear to be out of form headed to the new season.
Baldwin makes a good first impression
As a first round bust on his last stop the pressure was likely to be on for Jonathan Baldwin to make a fast start for the 49ers. Though 2 catches for 23 yards may not be particularly eye catching, Baldwin should be pleased with the first impression he made. Coming into the game with Colt McCoy at quarterback Baldwin made his mark in spite of some fairly inaccurate and low velocity passing from McCoy. His first catch was a conversion on 2nd-and-4 as he brought in a weakly thrown slant on his back hip for a first down. Meanwhile, his second catch, a 19 yard gain up the seam, saw him get the better of Bobby Felder off the jam and get a step or two on him, but a soft floated pass by McCoy meant Baldwin had to elevate and box Felder out of the catch rather than being able to run up the seam and challenge FS Andrew Sendejo. This was only first impressions but without a great deal ahead of Baldwin at receiver for the 49ers, we should get to see more from him as the season moves forward.
Kicking game rebound
In what was a brief and business like display from the 49ers’ starters in their third preseason game, one of the bigger positives to take away is the upgrade at kicker from David Akers to Phil Dawson. The only blot on Dawson’s preseason record was sending a 44 yard field goal wide left against the Broncos in the opening game. Since then Dawson has been perfect, including three-for-three beyond 50 yards. Yesterday Dawson wasn’t even put off by a holding penalty from second year tight end Garrett Celek. Having nailed the 40 yarder that Celek’s penalty wiped out Dawson coolly put the ensuing 50 yarder down the middle. More of the same in the regular season and San Francisco fans will be very happy with another veteran addition to the kicking game.
-This was a poor game in terms of discipline. Matt Kalil was pulled for a snap after picking up his second unnecessary roughness penalty of the game, while Lavelle Hawkins offset two big plays (kick return touchdown and a third-and-long conversion) with three, yes three, unsportsmanlike conduct penalties during and after those plays. Best to get those penalties out of your system in preseason but they’re unlikely to endear you to your coaching staff.
-In the continued absence of Patrick Willis third-year linebacker Michael Wilhoite got his third start of preseason and paced the 49ers’ defense with 45 snaps to take his preseason total to a league leading (among inside linebackers) 132 snaps.
–Desmond Bishop didn’t get to start for the Vikings but did have a busy night’s work, registering 33 snaps and eight tackles as he ramped up towards a potential regular season return with the Vikings. Bishop got 5 snaps at middle linebacker but played mostly on the outside showing well in run defense (+2.7).
PFF Game Ball
One team took their starters out early, the other looked short of a spark but the clear stars of the show were without doubt Ahmad Brooks and Brian Robison, leading the pass rush from the left side of their respective defenses.
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