The Matchup ::
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- As CIN’s DC, Zimmer allowed 28, 28, & 24 points from Shanahan offenses quarterbacked by Schaub & RG3
- As MIN’s HC, Zimmer allowed 10 & 16 points from Shanahan offenses quarterbacked by Ryan & Garoppolo
- In the 2 MIN games, Shanahan’s offense turned the ball over 3 & 4 times
- In 2019, SF ranks 19th in turnovers with 7 games of multiple turnovers, and MIN ranks 4th in takeaways with 9 games of multiple takeaways
- The lead pass-catchers in those 5 games averaged 10 & 7.2 targets
- George Kittle has received 7+ targets in 10/14 games this year
- The lead back in those 5 games averaged 16.2 attempts, and three times another back had 9+ carries
- Raheem Mostert’s attempts last 5 games: 19 // 10 // 14 // 11 // 10
- Mostert has been above 53 total yards and 1+ touchdowns in 6 straight games
- While Mostert’s total snaps have been decreasing, his snap percentage has remained the same at 54% each of the last 3 weeks
- On 9 attempts over the last 5 weeks, Deebo Samuel has rushed for 122 yards and 2 TDs
- In Deebo’s only 4 games above 16 DK points, Kittle missed two of them and saw his lowest target total of the year in another (3 vs CIN)
- When facing offenses ranked in the top half of the NFL for efficiency, SF has allowed 25, 27, 26, 8, 20, 46, 29, 31, & 21 points
- MIN ranks 10th in offensive efficiency
- Christian McCaffrey and Kenyan Drake are the only two RBs to top 20 DK points vs SF this year
- After scoring 20+ DK points in 7 of the first 10 games, Dalvin Cook topped 20 DK points last week for the first time since Week 10
- 5 of Cook’s 8 games over 20 DK points came in double-digit wins, and only one came in a loss (13.5 points came on one play)
- SF has allowed multiple touchdowns to WRs in four straight games
- The #1 WR in those four games is averaging 9.5 rec (14.5 targets) for 116.5 yards, TD
- Stefon Diggs has not reached 100 yards since Week 11, and has only cleared 6 targets in 2 of the last 8 games
- Adam Thielen had 8 targets in 3 of the first 6 games before leaving Week 7 with an injury
- After combining for just 8 targets the rest of the season, Thielen racked up 129 yards on 9 targets vs NOR
- In last year’s matchup, Diggs had 3 rec (6) for 43 yards, TD and Thielen had 6 rec (12) for 102 yards
The Game ::
San Francisco and Minnesota ran the ball at the third and second highest rates in the NFL this last year. (Side note :: six of the eight teams remaining in the playoffs ranked top nine in rush play rate. As we’ve noted multiple times this year: there are some flaws in the analytic community’s “running the ball is dumb” stance (that’s not the exact stance, of course, but it’s a fair encapsulation), with the biggest flaw “specific to individual teams” being that good football teams build not around a preconceived notion of how to win games, but instead around their individual personnel, strengths, and weaknesses. For example: the Saints and Patriots have bounced all over the pass play rate charts over the last few years — ranking at times near the top, at times near the bottom, and at times in the middle, based around a large variety of factors. Separating from individual teams: The biggest logical flaw of all in this line of thinking is that nothing happens in isolation in the NFL. Whereas MLB analytics directed toward increasing run production make all the sense in the world (as run production has no impact on a team’s defense), the NFL is a completely different animal, with everything working synergistically between the offense and the defense. Therefore, “winning in the NFL” is not about maximizing points, but is instead about properly managing the path to victory for your specific personnel, in a specific game environment. Coaches who understand these things — Bill Belichick, John Harbaugh, Sean Payton, Kyle Shanahan, etc. — are more consistently successful (and have greater staying power) than coaches who don’t understand this. These coaches have had successful run-heavy years and successful pass-heavy years, with their team’s approach adapted around personnel and “what it will take to win most games” with said personnel. (There are even flaws in the “don’t have to run the ball in order for play action to work” data/analysis. Maybe we’ll get to that at some point as well. But for now, we should probably get back to the games…)) San Francisco’s rushing attack will be focused on Raheem Mostert first and foremost, though as one of the 49ers’ most valuable special teams pieces, he has maxed out at 15 touches across his last four games and is still a rotational piece who will split work with Tevin Coleman (three to six touches per game in five straight) and Matt Breida (7 // 6 // 4 touches in his last three healthy games). Their passing attack will be focused on George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, and Emmanuel Sanders. Kittle sets up as the locked-in target leader against a Minnesota team that has been incapable all year of taking away tight ends, which means that the best way for one of the wideouts on San Francisco to emerge is through a big play (rather than through a volume bet — with volume considered a bonus if it shows up). Deebo’s awesome after-catch ability makes him a better bet for a big play. Minnesota is stronger against the run than they are against the pass, though San Francisco’s creative run scheme should find enough ways to move the ball on the ground that game flow (i.e., the Vikings jumping out to a big lead) would likely be required for the 49ers to go pass-heavy here, as matchup alone will not be enough.
Minnesota, of course, is going to lean on Dalvin Cook — to whom they gave 31 touches last week in one of the toughest run game matchups in the league — against a 49ers defense that is better attacked on the ground than through the air. When they throw the ball, they’ll focus on Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs (with Olabisi Johnson stepping into a shaved-down version of Thielen’s role if Thielen unexpectedly misses this week due to the cut he sustained on his ankle) — against one of the stingiest secondaries in the NFL. Volume has not been friendly to the Vikings’ pass catchers, and that should remain the case unless the Vikings fall into a big hole (and even then, volume may be tough to come by, as it’s still difficult to pass against the 49ers, and a pass-heavy approach in catch-up mode could just lead to quickly-stalled drives, and to the 49ers further controlling the clock on the ground). As such, Diggs and Thielen should only be bet on for “big plays” or for “hoping for a multi-touchdown game.” The Vikings rarely use three wide receivers (instead opting for 21 or 12 personnel), keeping Irv Smith and Kyle Rudolph in the “bet on touchdowns” conversation. Same as we said with the Patriots last week: it won’t be surprising if no player from the Vikings finds his way onto a winning tourney roster this week. If any player does find his way there, Cook as a “bet on workload and talent” bet has the best shot.
Xandamere’s Showdown Notes ::
- George Kittle is my overall favorite play in this game and he’s only the 3rd most expensive guy!
- Dalvin Cook is the most expensive player but the 49ers defense is more vulnerable to the run than the pass and we know the Vikings will keep it on the ground as much as they possibly can. I think he’s a fine play as long as you believe the game stays close.
- Jimmy G is a better play than Kirk Cousins, but Cousins is fine if betting on a more contrarian game script.
- Deebo is, at long last, more expensive than Emmanuel Sanders. They’re seeing similar target volume but Deebo gets a couple of carries per game, which bolsters his floor and ceiling. But, he’s unlikely to score a 30 yard rushing TD every game, so I actually think I like Sanders better here at a $1k discount and almost certainly less ownership.
- Similarly, I’ll take Diggs over Thielen at a lower price and probably lower ownership after Thielen smashed last week.
- The value plays are thin here. Kyle Rudolph is priced up to $5,600, Irv Smith seemed phased out of last week’s game, and Kendrick Bourne is the 4th receiver on a low passing volume offense. The only value plays I really find interesting are Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida, as either of them could either be the back to run in a touchdown or just see the San Francisco running back volume pendulum swing back their way.
- When I don’t like the value plays, that means I’m playing more of the kickers and defenses.
Some groups to consider:
- At most 1 kicker
- At most 1 defense
- Pair captain receivers with their QB
- Pair captain QBs with at least 2 receivers
- At most 2 49ers running backs
- At most 1 of Rudolph, Smith, and Johnson
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