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Opponent Preview 2009 – Week Three: San Francisco 49ers

Leading up to the beginning of the NFL Season, I’ll start looking at the Vikings upcoming opponents for the year, offering both a Good, Bad, and the Ugly scenario for each opponent.

Consider it a level headed opponent preview done in an effort to not pump any sunshine to the Viking reader base and to hopefully prepare your expectations for reality. Today, we continue with their week three opponent, the San Francisco 49ers …

The Good: The good thing for the San Francisco 49ers is that they have changed their organizational core after a handful of years experimenting with mixed results.

The 49ers were the most recent team to participate in the Mike Martz circus, and due to their sub par talent level that experiment turned into a Frankenstein monster. Enter Mike Singletary, former defensive coordinator turned head coach, who made it a priority for his team to focus on smash mouth defensive at the end of 2008. They did just that and finished the season on a hot streak, ending 7-9 after starting 2-7.

The 49ers have some great talent at key spots. A defense that was 13th in the league in yards allowed in 2008 returns Walt Harris and Nate Clements as Pro Bowl caliber corners that can lock down opponents’ receivers and linebackers Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes who stand out as run stoppers and fierce middle field roamers.

On offense, a team that was surprisingly productive through the air despite their quarterback quandary returns Frank Gore, a proven all around running back, and savvy veteran Isaac Bruce who will be the perfect mentor for rookie stud Michael Crabtree in the NFL. Underrated receivers Arnaz Battle, Jason Hill and Josh Morgan round out an impressive skill position grouping.

The Bad: Like many of the Vikings’ early season opponents, the 49ers are in a period of transition and can expect some bumps in the road. For years they have been trying to find their Joe Montana at quarterback (again) and the most recent candidate, Alex Smith, hasn’t been able to live up to his vaunted expectations.

The 49ers have lacked so much confidence in him, that they have signed Vikings retreads Shaun Hill and JT O’Sullivan (Yes, they were once both on the roster) to handle the quarterbacking duties. Not exactly Tom Brady or even Chad Pennington, but both were surprisingly impressive through the air in 2008, notching over 3500 yards passing and 21 combined TDs.

Unfortunately, both quarterbacks are bad decision makers playing behind a porous offensive line, which led to 19 interceptions and 55 (!) total sacks. As you can imagine, this doesn’t help your team win very often and it looks like this type of play will remain much the same in 2009, especially while on the road as they will be week three in Minnesota.

While the 49ers won’t be as young of a team in transition like the Browns or Lions before them on the Vikings schedule, they do appear to be currently just as lost of a franchise as the afore mentioned adversaries. Coach Singletary may have a grand idea for the team in mind, but it’s currently looking pretty muddy on offense.

This lack of focus will only hold the 49ers back and leave a promising defense that already has gaps to fill along the defensive line and at the safety spots gasping for air as the offense fails to move the ball.

The Ugly: It’s not completely out of the question to see the Vikings start the season 3-0, regardless of the starting quarterback and regardless if both Williams are suspended for the first four games, after San Francisco rolls into town.

The 49ers have some bright spots on their team, sure, but they are blotted out by the equally dismal holes along the offensive line, defensive line, safety and quarterback spots, leaving this team mimicking train wreck. There is well founded concern that since the 49ers defense absolutely made a mockery of Adrian Peterson in 2007 that it may happen again, but both teams have changed drastically since then.

I don’t anticipate Peterson having the same problems that he did during the teams’ last meeting, and with the Vikings making their first home appearance in 2009, possibly at 2-0, and possibly the first appearance of Favre and Percy Harvin, the crowd may be too much for any opponent to overcome.

The 49ers should put up a good fight. They have the pieces in place to build upon and are finally turning the corner after the organization has been mired in mistakes for years, but they are not ready to knock the Vikings off at home early in the season. Expect a convincing 27-10 Vikings win, putting their 2009 record at 3-0.

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