When the San Francisco 49ers take the field Saturday at Levi's Stadium, the players will be ready. The same thing can be said for the Minnesota Vikings. They too will be prepared for their biggest test of the season. In January, players don't need to get up for a game. If you aren't mentally prepared for a game that brings you to the doorstep of the Super Bowl, then this game might not be for you.

Knowing this, disregard the passing prowess of Kirk Cousins or the dogged intensity that Nick Bosa brings to the line of scrimmage. These two teams aren't far apart when it comes to pure talent. Each team has a formidable defense, solid running game, yet to be crowned quarterback, and very legitimate receiving threats. This Saturday's game will be determined by the men wearing the headsets.

In a somewhat rare occasion, the 49ers and Vikings bout will feature two head coaches who also act as play-callers. For the 49ers, Kyle Shanahan is the young offensive wizard from the West Coast, wielding a versatile offense that can gut the opponent with many weapons from many angles. On the opposite sideline, the Vikings are led by the grizzled defensive field general, Mike Zimmer. Artful innovation vs. decades of experience. These two head-coaches will take their fight to the battlegrounds of the mind come Saturday, and if the 49ers are to be successful, these are the five moves Kyle Shanahan must be willing to make.

Take Risks


For starters, can any 49ers fan remember the last time this team has even attempted a trick play on special teams? I, for one, have no recollection. Perhaps Dennis Erickson might. With that being said, Kyle Shanahan must be willing to take chances and trust his offense to execute while trusting his defense to have its back if it doesn't. In the past, the 49ers had games where they were too content to take a field goal. This cannot be one of those games. Playoff games aren't won 15-14, so Kyle will have to dig deep and trust his players in big spots this weekend.

Utilize Screens


Ask Drew Brees about Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffin. He is probably still seeing ghosts of them storming towards him, so I'm sure he can give you a detailed account. The Vikings' very best defensive players are lined up on the edges.

Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey should have their hands full, but vs. New Orleans, Hunter and Griffin also attacked the inside line as well. Kyle Shanahan has been inconsistent with his calling of the screen pass. There are games where he leans heavily on it (the 51-13 blowout win vs. Carolina) and ones where he completely forgets it's an offensive play (MNF vs. Seattle).

Minnesota is going to want to duplicate its performance from Sunday and will bring the pressure to Jimmy Garoppolo. It's on Shanahan to screen the Vikings defense out of its eager ways.

Moseley over Witherspoon


This one is self-explanatory for any 49ers fan who has been watching this team the last month. Emmanuel Moseley should be starting opposite of Richard Sherman. Sure, this team has high hopes for Ahkello Witherspoon, but talent-wise they are practically equal.

What Moseley does have that Witherspoon doesn't: the ability to move on from the play. One of the most important skills a defensive back can have is the ability to forget. Witherspoon too often lets one bad play turn into a bad series, which snowballs into a bad half. Kyle Shanahan sat him down on the last drive vs. Seattle and it paid off with a division title. Keep that wisdom this Saturday.

Lean on Brieda


Raheem Mostert leads all NFL running backs with 5.6 yards per carry. Minnesota will be keying on him as a large part of its defensive game-plan. This is the perfect time to re-introduce the world to "Cheetah" Matt Brieda. The once crown prince of the 49ers backfield hasn't had over six carries in a game since the November 11, 2019 loss to Seattle. During this period of down-time, Brieda has been injured, and Mostert has excelled. This lack of work has made Brieda fresher than he's been all year. Take Coleman out of the game-plan and feed Brieda and Mostert to control the clock and the game.

Keep Kittle In


George Kittle is by far the most dominant tight end the 49ers have ever had. In 2019, he produced the highest rated Pro Football Focus grade ever for a player at that position. Keep Kittle in to block. That seems like pure insanity. Not quite, Kittle is a tremendous blocker and lining him up in the backfield to provide extra help against those defensive ends will give Garoppolo ample time to find his receivers against a struggling Minnesota secondary.

Deebo Samuel is ready to explode, and with Garoppolo well protected, it will happen. Surely I'm not requesting the 49ers keep Kittle in to block the majority of the time, but more than they usually do, especially blocking out of the backfield. This will keep Minnesota guessing, allow extra pass protection, and create big opportunities to beat the Vikings pass rush with screens to their most unstoppable offensive threat.

Remember, two of the most important plays of 2019 came with Kittle lined up in the backfield. Does third-and-16 ring a bell?
  • Written by:
    36 year old husband & father of 4, life-long 49ers fan living in Hudson Valley New York.