Hyde steals spotlight from Peterson's return as 49ers dominate Vikings
Arguably no team in the NFL was as desperate for a Week 1 win as the San Francisco 49ers, who endured a miserable, demoralizing off-season. They found some relief Monday night, taking down Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings in convincing fashion, 20-3.
Three thoughts on the final game of the NFL's opening weekend:
1. This was U-G-L-Y, which is just how the 49ers would have wanted it
Make no mistake, there is still enough talent on the San Francisco roster to make up a competitive football team. But there certainly have been some downgrades from the team that made the Super Bowl three seasons ago or that went to the NFC championship in 2013.
To win games this season, the 49ers are going to have to be willing to muck it up a bit. They did just that on Monday, eventually taking full control after a slow first half.
San Francisco made its desired identity clear. Right out of the gate vs. Minnesota, new head coach Jim Tomsula and offensive coordinator Geep Chryst utilized a bevy of two and three tight-end sets, hoping to establish RB Carlos Hyde before complementing him with the play-action passing attack. On defense, the 49ers attacked—a blitz off the edge forced a Teddy Bridgewater incompletion on Minnesota's second play, and the Vikings never really adjusted to San Francisco's interior-gap blitzes.
This is not going to be a run-and-gun team that rolls up 40-point nights. Strip away the penalties and a couple of special teams mistakes, and Monday night was true to Tomsula's vision.
"I think you're gonna see us get back to the basics, get back to letting our players go out and make plays," Tomsula said in March, via CBSSports.com. "You look at our offense last year ... it wasn't I think where it should have been. I think we have better talent than what our results showed."
On paper, though, there were even more question marks on defense. Would linebacker NaVorro Bowman bounce back after missing a season-plus because of a devastating knee injury? Who would generate a pass rush with Aldon Smith forcing his way out of town via a series of off-field mistakes? How large would Chris Borland's stunning retirement loom for the linebacking corps?
That defensive unit may hit the wall further down the road, but it was dominant against the Vikings. Bridgewater found himself under constant pressure in the pocket (an indictment on his team's play calling and offensive line, as well), and nothing came easy for Minnesota.
The Vikings' lone legitimate shot at a big play resulted in an incompletion, when the officials opted not to flag San Francisco's Antoine Bethea for interference despite significant contact with Mike Wallace on a deep ball.
Perhaps a flag there would have changed the course of the game. However, it's hard to blame the no-call given how difficult San Francisco made Minnesota's life Monday night.
2. Carlos Hyde is legit
If there was one spot where the 49ers did not really sweat losing a big-name contributor, it was at running back. While Gore had accounted for nearly 14,000 total yards during his 10-year 49ers career, all indications were that Hyde, in his second season out of Ohio State, was ready for a bigger piece of the pie.
Hyde rewarded that confidence with a standout Week 1 showing. He carried the San Francisco offense, rushing for 168 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries. His first TD was a highlight-reel job, too—Hyde pulled off a dazzling 360, then bounced wide left to waltz into the end zone. His play out of the backfield helped keep Colin Kaepernick out of obvious passing situations, which is an absolute must in order for this offense to thrive.
The 49ers will have to wait and see how Hyde responds to an increased workload. In his rookie season he carried the ball just 83 times; at his Week 1 pace, he'll top that mark in Week 4 this year.
Assuming he can handle the extra reps, the 49ers should keep giving him the ball. He appears to be ready for stardom.
3. The Adrian Peterson comeback needs time, or so Minnesota hopes
Peterson didn't play after Week 1 last season, and the Vikings did not give him any reps during their five preseason games. So, it's no surprise that the former MVP collected a little rust prior to his 2015 debut.
The lack of cohesiveness in Minnesota's offensive attack probably falls under the same category, to some extent. The Vikings' issues along their line are very real, but the rapport between Peterson and Bridgewater should come in time.
It would help if Minnesota made more of a concerted effort to involve Peterson in the attack. He took just four carries in the first half Monday and finished with 10 rushes for a measly 31 yards overall. Seemingly making matters more difficult was the Vikings' insistence on handing off to Peterson out of shotgun sets, rather than with the QB under center as he's done throughout most of his career. The change limited Peterson's momentum coming downhill.
Without any run game to speak of, Bridgewater often found himself playing behind the chains in difficult down-and-distance spots—an issue for any offense, let alone one that has some holes along the line.
Much of the high hopes surrounding Minnesota this preseason anticipated Peterson regaining his pre-suspension form. He did not have that juice Monday, nor did the Vikings really give him a shot to find it.
GALLERY: WEEK 1 OF THE 2015 NFL SEASON