Reading the keys: 49ers/Vikings

Alex Smith had Vikings on his back way too often

Here's how the 49ers fared in keys to the game identified by NinersDigest before their stunning 24-13 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, dropping San Francisco to 2-1 and preventing the Niners from winning in the Metrodome for the first time since 1992.

Stuff Adrian Peterson and Minnesota ground game
NO:
The Niners did an excellent job of stuffing Peterson in the first half, limiting him to 29 yards rushing on 14 carries with a long run of just seven yards in the first two quarters. But Peterson began popping a few runs in the second half, when Gerhart also got loose for a few nice gains and the Vikings began working time off the clock from ahead with their running game. Peterson finished with 86 yards on 25 carries and he and Gerhart combined for 94 yards on the ground. Including some key scrambles by Christian Ponder, the Vikings finished with 146 yards rushing.

Expose the weaknesses in Minnesota defense with passing matchups
NO:
The Niners did a good job with their underneath passing game, with Michael Crabtree finishing with six catches and Vernon Davis and Mario Manningham both grabbing five. But they did not take advantage of this key throughout the afternoon as they could have and should have, and the Vikings started ganging up on the short passes after grabbing the lead and control of the game. The Niners went nowhere in the decisive fourth quarter when underneath passing opportunities were still available to them.

Vernon Davis vs. Chad Greenway
YES:
The Vikings went with defensive backs on Davis most of the day, though he was matched up with Greenway on occasion. Davis was one of San Francisco's most productive players of the afternoon, finishing with five receptions for 53 yards, including a 20-yard grab that set up his own 1-yard scoring catch on the next play for San Francisco's only touchdown.

Limit Minnesota's underneath passing game
NO:
The Niners failed miserably here, allowing Percy Harvin to catch nine passes for 89 yards and tight end Kyle Rudolph to finish with five receptions for 37 yards and two short TD catches. Harvin and Rudolph combined to catch 14 of the 17 passes thrown their way, and the Vikings also were able to get the football to their running backs out of the backfield to keep drives alive. The Vikings converted on seven of 14 third-down opportunities, throwing underneath coverage to keep several of their drives alive.

Cut down sacks on Alex Smith and give him time to get in a rhythm
NO:
Smith had a few stretches where he appeared to be in a groove but he never could sustain it, and by the end of the game he was running away from Minnesota defenders, spraying passes for his first interception since last November and, ultimately, being sacked and fumbling away San Francisco's last hope in the final two minutes. Smith completed 24 of 35 passes for 204 yards, but he was sacked three more times, hit on three other occasions and was pressured into mistakes with the game on the line.

Pressure and pick Ponder
NO:
This turned out to be a major key for the 49ers, and they completely failed to fluster Ponder, who had time to pick them apart for 21 completions in 35 throws for 198 yards and two TDs passing. Ponder was never sacked or intercepted, and the Niners were only able to hit him a few times. When they did make Ponder move out of the pocket, he burned them for 33 yards rushing, including a 23-yard touchdown run that put the Vikings ahead 14-3 in the second quarter and gave an indication of what kind of afternoon this would be for the 49ers.

Win in the return game
YES:
Kyle Williams had kickoff returns of 94 and 50 yards and also a 16-yard punt return. But the Niners could turn the two long kickoff returns into only three points. San Francisco had a dominating 217-74 edge in kick/punt return yardage, but it did the 49ers little good.

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