Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.


Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.


Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.


Behind Enemy Lines: Vaunted defense, Harbaugh's energy has 49ers rolling

Posted by: under Off the field, Vikings, NFC, Packers, Vikings offense Updated: September 20, 2012 - 1:55 PM
As the Vikings prepare for Sunday’s game with San Francisco at Mall of America Field, we asked Eric Branch, the 49ers beat writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, to give us his up-close-and-personal scouting report. Here are four things you need to know …
 
1) The 49ers’ defense has been in a groove. Which could be scary for a Vikings offense that has scored only 13 points before halftime the first two weeks.
 
Here were Matthew Stafford’s first half numbers last weekend against San Francisco: 7-for-16, 67 yards, no touchdowns, one interception.
 
Calvin Johnson, meanwhile, had just three catches for 36 yards before the break.
 
In Week 1, San Francisco forced Green Bay to punt six times in its first seven possessions, continuing to play with a relentless edge. The 49ers’ front seven in their 3-4 defense, led by defensive tackle Justin Smith and linebacker Patrick Willis, has been both stingy and opportunistic.
 
The Packers only managed 45 yards rushing in the opener, their longest rush a 9-yard scramble by Aaron Rodgers. Detroit averaged just 3.2 yards on its 26 rushes with Stafford delivering the long rush for 11 yards.
 
“The defense has been incredibly successful at making teams one-dimensional,” Branch said. “Eventually, they wear opponents down to where they sort of surrender and say, ‘What’s the point in even trying to run against this team?’ And suddenly that allows the pass rush of Aldon Smith and Justin Smith and the rest to pin their ears back and get the pressure going. That creates the turnovers and the sacks that they feed off.”
Since the start of the 2011 season, the 49ers have forced 40 turnovers (25 interceptions, 15 fumbles). They have five sacks so far this season after registering 42 in 2011.
 
2) The 49ers’ convincing 30-22 Week 1 win at Green Bay did wonders for the team psychologically.
 
A year ago, San Francisco fully expected to make a playoff trip to Lambeau. But then the Packers stumbled in their postseason opener against the Giants and the 49ers hosted New York in the NFC title game. So, in some ways, the Week 1 trip to Green Bay provided a measuring stick against the only NFC team that had a better record last year. And the 49ers’ decisive win was, according to Branch, “a huge confidence boost.”
“The feeling throughout that game was that the Niners were always entirely in control,” he said. “That it happened at Lambeau Field against a team that was 15-1 last year added to the energy. I don’t think the Niners necessarily lacked for confidence going into that game. But that reaffirmed for them that ‘Yeah, we were pretty good last year. And we’re better this year.’ They didn’t just win. They won convincingly, more than the final score even reflected.”
The defense held Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ passing attack in check for most of the afternoon.
“You don’t normally see Rodgers with bad body language,” Branch said. “But he had body language that day, walking off the field seemingly confused by what all he was seeing.
3) Randy Moss hasn’t been incredibly productive through two weeks (five catches, 61 yards, one TD). But he has fit in well.
“He’s been a model teammate to this point,” said Branch, noting Moss’ impressive football intelligence and his unwavering willingness to mentor the 49ers younger receivers, including Mario Manningham, Michael Crabtree and rookie A.J. Jenkins.
Moss’ playing time has been down in the first two games – which leads to the inevitable worry that he might soon get frustrated with how much he’s being used.
“It’ll be interesting to see if he can accept being a role player,” Branch said. “I do think his role will expand as the season goes on. I get the sense that the 49ers are aware that he’s 35 years old and are wondering just how much juice his legs will have in January if they play him too extensively early on. So it’s been calculated with the way they’re managing his time.”
4) Jim Harbaugh has been a significant upgrade in the head coaching position over predecessor Mike Singletary.
Including the playoffs, Harbaugh has led San Francisco to 16 wins in 20 games since the start of 2011. Singletary? With many of the same players, he registered 18 wins over 40 games between 2008 and 2010. So just what exactly was Singletary’s biggest shortcoming?
“It was perplexing,” Branch said. “As a player he was legendary and he was known for being one of the film junkies and a guy who could pick up on all these tendencies of an offense. That was a big part of what made him so great. But as a coach, he even said himself he was more of a big picture guy. And he wasn’t as consumed with the details, which may have hurt. He was never really that strong with Xs and Os.”
So what has been Harbaugh’s brilliance? Well, he’s had similar priorities as Singletary, wanting the Niners to be a physical, smash-mouth running team that can wear teams out. But Harbaugh has a better feel for how to get the best out of his players
“He has his players back at all times, almost to a ridiculous extent,” Branch said. “He calls them his ‘mighty men.’ And he says they have great healing powers. He makes them into these superheroes. And he will never criticize a player even subtly through the media. It’s about team and it’s all handled in house. Guys want to play for him. They believe in him and they appreciate the value of his loyalty. …With Singletary, I got the impression that behind the scenes his intensity and his personality began to wear thin. And they maybe began to tune out some of the rah-rah, motivational talks they got.”

 

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New England 2/1/15 5:30 PM
Seattle
Portland 0 Postponed
Brooklyn 0
Sacramento 0 Postponed
New York 0
Philadelphia 51 3rd Qtr 7:27
New Orleans 60
Minnesota 48 3rd Qtr 9:17
Oklahoma City 55
Orlando 58 3rd Qtr 8:19
Memphis 75
Boston 13 1st Qtr 2:30
Utah 13
Denver 9:30 PM
LA Clippers
Army 68 FINAL
American Univ 66
Wright State 64 FINAL
Detroit 53
Syracuse 83 FINAL
North Carolina 93
Cleveland State 56 FINAL
Oakland 59
Delaware State 54 FINAL
NC Central 55
High Point 63 FINAL
Presbyterian 54
Howard 35 2nd Half 3:40
Bethune-Cookman 36
Coppin State 56 2nd Half 11:59
NC A&T 55
Nicholls 51 FINAL
Northwestern St 80
Hampton 56 FINAL
SC State 65
Gardner-Webb 42 2nd Half 10:15
Campbell 56
MD-Eastern Shore 39 2nd Half
Florida A&M 30
Stephen F Austin 58 2nd Half 11:26
Lamar 43
Central Arkansas 48 2nd Half 12:28
New Orleans 65
Norfolk State 50 2nd Half 8:17
Savannah State 39
TX A&M-CC 45 2nd Half 13:30
SE Louisiana 41
Sam Houston St 60 2nd Half 12:37
Abilene Christian 43
McNeese State 74 2nd Half 6:50
Incarnate Word 63
Milwaukee 35 2nd Half 7:49
Valparaiso 61
Alcorn State 21 1st Half 7:40
Alabama A&M 28
Southern U 26 1st Half 9:36
Alabama State 11
Prairie View 20 1st Half 8:20
Ark-Pine Bluff 25
Texas 14 1st Half 9:53
Iowa State 17
Texas Southern 28 2nd Half
Miss Valley St 32
Long Island 85 FINAL
Bryant 88
Central Conn St 51 FINAL
St Francis-NY 49
Fairleigh Dickinson 0 Postponed
Sacred Heart 0
St Francis-PA 87 FINAL
Wagner 74
Delaware State 59 FINAL
NC Central 66
Howard 53 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 61
Coppin State 49 FINAL
NC A&T 67
Hampton 88 FINAL
SC State 53
Norfolk State 54 FINAL
Savannah State 56
MD-Eastern Shore 54 FINAL
Florida A&M 64
Angelo State 55 FINAL
Abilene Christian 70
Samford 32 FINAL
(25) Chattanooga 49
Prairie View 83 FINAL
Ark-Pine Bluff 66
Alcorn State 58 FINAL
Alabama A&M 55
Southern U 53 FINAL
Alabama State 49
Texas Southern 63 FINAL
Miss Valley St 52
(12) Texas A&M 61 FINAL
(1) South Carolina 79
Robert Morris 68 FINAL
Mount St Marys 44
East Tenn St 72 FINAL
Mercer 70
Wofford 56 FINAL
Furman 58
Morehead St 64 FINAL
Tenn Tech 54
Illinois 57 FINAL
Michigan 70
Quinnipiac 0 Postponed
Manhattan 0
Saint Peters 0 Postponed
Rider 0
(18) Miss State 11 1st Half 8:42
Auburn 11
(15) Nebraska 22 1st Half 8:09
(20) Iowa 15
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Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pmX41-28
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pmX42-10
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit NoonX17-3
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo NoonX17-16
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay NoonX19-13 ot
Nov 2 - vs. Washington NoonX29-26
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago NoonX21-13
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay NoonX24-21
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina NoonX31-13
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets NoonX30-24 ot
Dec 14 - at Detroit 3:25 pmX16-14
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