Craig: Vikings compare favorably to NFC champ 49ers

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 29, 2013 - 11:35 AM

The biggest difference is at linebacker, where San Francisco has lined up four stellar players.

Give or take a few leap-year mathematical errors, it has been 12,795 days since the Vikings played in the Super Bowl.

"Vikings fans," groaned a recent e-mailer, "just can't bear to watch the Super Bowl."

They should watch this one, though, because the current template for NFC supremacy looks exactly like the one being used at Winter Park.

The San Francisco 49ers are a balled-up fist in a spread-'em-out era. They are a riches-to-rags- to-riches-again story that's grounded in astute drafting, not the misguided belief that the Lombardi Trophy can be bought by the most fidgety billionaire during the first week of March. And their idea of a free-agency splash is creating one-line footnotes as they hang on to core youth such as NaVorro Bowman (signed through 2018), Ahmad Brooks (2017), Patrick Willis (2016) and Aldon Smith (2015).

For the Vikings, it's tough to beat a Week 17, playoff-clinching victory over the Packers as the highlight of a surprising 2012 season. But no game was more encouraging for the franchise than the 24-13 victory over the 49ers in Week 3.

After the Vikings punched out the meanest bully in the league, Frazier admitted to using a reporter's question as part of his motivational approach during the week. The question was whether the 49ers had the template to which the neophyte Vikings aspired.

"That burned me up," Frazier said. "I really felt like we already have set the template on how to run the ball, how to defend the run. I wanted our team to know there are doubts about the physicality of our football team. And our guys responded."

The Vikings ran for 146 yards while holding the 49ers to 89. The Vikings also won the turnover battle 3-2 and took advantage of quarterback Christian Ponder playing the best game of his NFL career to that point.

Colin Kaepernick still was San Francisco's backup in Week 3. But that doesn't mean there wasn't some impressive legwork from the quarterback position that day.

Besides throwing for two touchdowns and no interceptions, Ponder also ran 23 yards for a TD near the end of the first half. He sensed pressure, made a terrific cut to the middle of the field, ran past the linebackers, bowled through a safety and, well, did everything else but kiss his biceps.

There's no doubt Kaepernick is more physically gifted than Ponder or, for that matter, the five other quarterbacks selected ahead of Kaepernick in the 2011 draft. But Ponder's performance against the 49ers and his 4-0 stretch to end the regular season were among the signs that he, too, can become a long-term answer at quarterback, even if it comes with much less fanfare.

The Vikings, meanwhile, are better than the 49ers at running back and kicker. They are comparable at most of the other positions and are successful using two extremely different coaching styles and defensive philosophies.

Where the Vikings have the most ground to make up is at linebacker. Bowman, Brooks, Willis and Smith -- by far the NFL's best set of 3-4 linebackers -- are between the ages of 23-28 and will play a minimum of three more years together.

Willis (11th overall in 2007) and Smith (seventh overall in 2011) were first-round draft picks. Brooks was claimed off waivers from Cincinnati in 2008. And Bowman was quite the steal in the third round in 2010.

The 49ers originally had the 79th pick overall that year. But they traded down 12 spots, knowing the Chargers would use that pick to take Washington linebacker Donald Butler.

Not only did the 49ers get the better linebacker -- Bowman -- at the lower pick, they also got a sixth-round pick that they used on power back Anthony Dixon and a 2011 fourth-rounder they used on running back Kendall Hunter, who was playing well this season until tearing his Achilles' tendon.

The Vikings are set at strong-side linebacker with Chad Greenway getting better each season. But they have hard choices to make at the other two starting spots, where middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley and weak-side linebacker Erin Henderson are entering free agency.

By not offering long-term deals to Brinkley and Henderson before last season, the Vikings have the flexibility to significantly upgrade their linebacking corps without any salary cap ramifications.

It's not that Brinkley and Henderson played poorly. But the template the 49ers have adhered to includes great linebacker play across the line.

That's a priority that ranks right up there with No. 1 receiver as the Vikings try to catch up to the 49ers with hopes of ending that Super Bowl drought at 13,164 days at MetLife Stadium on Feb. 2, 2014.

Mark Craig • mcraig@startribune.com

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Tampa Bay - WP: J. McGee 6 FINAL
Toronto - LP: B. Morrow 5
Cleveland - LP: B. Shaw 4 FINAL
Detroit - WP: P. Coke 6
Washington - WP: J. Zimmermann 3 FINAL
NY Mets - LP: J. Niese 0
Chicago Cubs - LP: J. Turner 3 FINAL
Pittsburgh - WP: E. Volquez 7
Miami - WP: A. DeSclafani 5 FINAL
Philadelphia - LP: J. Papelbon 4
Cincinnati - LP: M. Leake 2 FINAL
Milwaukee - WP: M. Garza 9
Boston - WP: J. Kelly 8 FINAL
Kansas City - LP: J. Vargas 4
Minnesota - WP: T. May 6 FINAL
Chicago WSox - LP: H. Noesi 4
Colorado - LP: J. Lyles 1 FINAL
St. Louis - WP: M. Gonzales 4
Atlanta - LP: M. Minor 3 FINAL
Texas - WP: C. Lewis 10
Houston - WP: D. Keuchel 6 FINAL
LA Angels - LP: H. Santiago 1
Los Angeles - WP: C. Kershaw 4 FINAL
San Francisco - LP: Y. Petit 2
San Diego - LP: O. Despaigne 6 FINAL
Arizona - WP: Z. Spruill 8
Oakland - WP: J. Lester 4 FINAL
Seattle - LP: C. Young 0
NY Yankees - LP: D. Robertson 2 FINAL
Baltimore - WP: D. O`Day 3
Miami 10 FINAL
Buffalo 29
Jacksonville 10 FINAL
Washington 41
Dallas 26 FINAL
Tennessee 10
Arizona 25 FINAL
NY Giants 14
New England 30 FINAL
Minnesota 7
New Orleans 24 FINAL
Cleveland 26
Atlanta 10 FINAL
Cincinnati 24
Detroit 7 FINAL
Carolina 24
St. Louis 19 FINAL
Tampa Bay 17
Seattle 21 FINAL
San Diego 30
NY Jets 24 FINAL
Green Bay 31
Kansas City 17 FINAL
Denver 24
Houston 30 FINAL
Oakland 14
Chicago 28 FINAL
San Francisco 20
Philadelphia 7:30 PM
Indianapolis
Tampa Bay 9/18/14 7:25 PM
Atlanta
Boise State 38 FINAL
Connecticut 21
Indiana 42 FINAL
Bowling Green 45
Ga Southern 38 FINAL
Georgia Tech 42
Syracuse 40 FINAL
Central Mich 3
UCF 10 FINAL
(18) Missouri 38
Massachusetts 31 FINAL
Vanderbilt 34
Ohio U 14 FINAL
Marshall 44
West Virginia 40 FINAL
Maryland 37
Kent State 0 FINAL
(23) Ohio State 66
Pittsburgh 42 FINAL
FIU 25
East Carolina 28 FINAL
Virginia Tech 21
Louisville 21 FINAL
Virginia 23
Wyoming 14 FINAL
(2) Oregon 48
Air Force 48 FINAL
Georgia State 38
(13) Georgia 35 FINAL
(14) So Carolina 38
Arkansas 49 FINAL
Texas Tech 28
Iowa State 20 FINAL
Iowa 17
Miami-Ohio 10 FINAL
Michigan 34
Kansas 3 FINAL
Duke 41
NC State 49 FINAL
So Florida 17
Arkansas State 20 FINAL
Miami-Florida 41
Miss State 35 FINAL
South Alabama 3
Louisiana 15 FINAL
(10) Ole Miss 56
Minnesota 7 FINAL
TCU 30
Illinois 19 FINAL
Washington 44
Army 0 FINAL
(16) Stanford 35
Western Mich 45 FINAL
Idaho 33
Eastern Mich 3 FINAL
Old Dominion 17
Southern Miss 12 FINAL
(3) Alabama 52
Northern Ill 48 FINAL
UNLV 34
Tulsa 21 FINAL
Fla Atlantic 50
ULM 0 FINAL
(8) LSU 31
Wake Forest 24 FINAL
Utah State 36
Western Ky 47 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 50
TX-San Antonio 13 FINAL
(25) Oklahoma State 43
Purdue 14 FINAL
(9) Notre Dame 30
Kentucky 30 FINAL
Florida 36
New Mexico St 24 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 42
Tennessee 10 FINAL
(4) Oklahoma 34
(17) USC 31 FINAL
Boston College 37
Navy 35 FINAL
Texas State 21
(12) UCLA 20 FINAL
Texas 17
Penn State 13 FINAL
Rutgers 10
Rice 10 FINAL
(6) Texas A&M 38
(15) Arizona State 38 FINAL
Colorado 24
(24) Nebraska 55 FINAL
Fresno State 19
Nevada 28 FINAL
Arizona 35
(5) Auburn 9/18/14 6:30 PM
(20) Kansas State
Connecticut 9/19/14 7:00 PM
So Florida
Old Dominion 9/20/14 11:00 AM
Rice
Troy 9/20/14 11:00 AM
(13) Georgia
Georgia Tech 9/20/14 11:00 AM
Virginia Tech
Eastern Mich 9/20/14 11:00 AM
(11) Michigan State
Iowa 9/20/14 11:00 AM
Pittsburgh
Bowling Green 9/20/14 11:00 AM
(19) Wisconsin
Maryland 9/20/14 11:30 AM
Syracuse
Tulane 9/20/14 11:30 AM
Duke
Hawaii 9/20/14 1:00 PM
Colorado
Marshall 9/20/14 1:00 PM
Akron
North Carolina 9/20/14 2:30 PM
East Carolina
Army 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Virginia 9/20/14 2:30 PM
(21) BYU
(6) Texas A&M 9/20/14 2:30 PM
SMU
Rutgers 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Navy
Central Mich 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Kansas
Utah 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Michigan
Florida 9/20/14 2:30 PM
(3) Alabama
Louisville 9/20/14 2:30 PM
FIU
Fla Atlantic 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Wyoming
Indiana 9/20/14 3:00 PM
(18) Missouri
San Jose St 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Minnesota
Texas State 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Illinois
Massachusetts 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Penn State
Georgia State 9/20/14 5:00 PM
Washington
Appalachian St 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
Miss State 9/20/14 6:00 PM
(8) LSU
Northern Ill 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Arkansas
Middle Tennessee 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Memphis
Utah State 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Arkansas State
Miami-Ohio 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Idaho 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Ohio U
Ball State 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Toledo
(14) So Carolina 9/20/14 6:30 PM
Vanderbilt
(4) Oklahoma 9/20/14 6:30 PM
West Virginia
Ga Southern 9/20/14 6:30 PM
South Alabama
UNLV 9/20/14 7:00 PM
Houston
(22) Clemson 9/20/14 7:00 PM
(1) Florida State
Miami-Florida 9/20/14 7:00 PM
(24) Nebraska
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New Mexico St
California 9/20/14 9:00 PM
Arizona
Louisiana 9/20/14 9:30 PM
Boise State
(2) Oregon 9/20/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
San Diego St 9/20/14 9:30 PM
Oregon State
Los Angeles 1 FINAL
San Jose 1
Montreal 16 FINAL
Edmonton 33
Toronto 33 FINAL
Calgary 40
Winnipeg 9 FINAL
Brt Columbia 26
Saskatchewan 3 FINAL
Hamilton 28
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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 Noon
Sep 21 - at New Orleans Noon
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pm
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pm
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit Noon
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo Noon
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay Noon
Nov 2 - vs. Washington Noon
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago Noon
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay Noon
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina Noon
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets Noon
Dec 14 - at Detroit Noon
Dec 21 - at Miami Noon
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago Noon

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