No. 1: 49ers Run Defense vs. Dalvin Cook
Kirk Cousins might have shaken off the notion of not being a prime-time quarterback by winning in New Orleans. And there’s little doubting he has some proven receiving weapons in wide receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs.
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But Minnesota’s offense still goes by the way of its running back, Dalvin Cook, who managed 94 rush yards and two touchdowns in the win over the Saints. And on the season, Cook enjoyed a bounce-back season with 1,135 rush yards with 13 touchdowns, going along with 500 receiving yards through the air.
Like the 49ers’ own run game, the Vikings prefer to get Cook out to the edges on the outside where there’s more space. This puts increased pressure on San Francisco’s edge defenders to make plays here, along with the team’s linebackers to be rangy enough.
There’s a bonus here with Kwon Alexander possibly coming back, as his playmaking skills will surely be put to good use with Cook on the field. Likewise, fellow linebacker Fred Warner is a player to watch, especially as he finished with a team-high 118 tackles during the regular season.
Still, the fact the 49ers allowed an average of 4.3 yards per carry on the year — good for 23rd — doesn’t exactly bode well, considering the Saints were burned by Cook enough after finishing the regular season ranked 17th in the same category.
The Niners and Vikings will kick off on Saturday, Jan. 11 at 4:35 p.m. ET from Levi’s Stadium.