A couple of the final Vikings questions still hanging out there before Week 1 revolved around coach Mike Zimmer’s nickel defense. Which linebacker would play in the nickel alongside Anthony Barr? And would it be Captain Munnerlyn or top pick Trae Waynes who came in as a third corner?
We finally got the answers we were looking for last night, but they proved to be mostly irrelevant against the run-oriented 49ers offense.
The 49ers used two or three tight ends at a time for much of their 20-3 win against the Vikings. And why not? They averaged 5.9 yards per carry while piling up 230 rushing yards. Carlos Hyde had 168 of them as he seemed to gash the Vikings for eight or nine yards every time he touched the ball.
Because the 49ers often used two running backs or two tight ends (or in some cases both), Zimmer was forced to keep his base defense in there.
Barr, who will be an every-down player again this season, played all 73 defensive snaps. Fellow outside linebacker Chad Greenway and middle linebacker Gerald Hodges, who started in the base defense but left the field when the 49ers used more than two wide receivers, both played 63 snaps.
As a result, rookie Eric Kendricks, the other nickel linebacker beside his former UCLA teammate Barr, played just 10 snaps in his NFL debut.
As for the third cornerback question, it was Munnerlyn who got the nod over Waynes. He played just 15 snaps, and five of those came when starter Terence Newman got banged up in the second quarter. Waynes, meanwhile, didn’t play on defense, but he got nine snaps on special teams.
With the 49ers controlling the clock and wearing down the Vikings with the running game, all eight active defensive linemen played at least 17 snaps.
Starting defensive ends Everson Griffen and Brian Robison got 60 and 56 snaps, respectively. Their backups, Danielle Hunter and Scott Crichton, played 20 and 17 snaps, respectively. Amongst the defensive tackles, Linval Joseph played 49 snaps. Tom Johnson got 37. Sharrif Floyd, who got nicked up in the first quarter but returned, played 36. Shamar Stephen, who had missed the final four preseason games due to a knee injury, played 17.
Here are some other observations after seeing the official snap counts:
— Andrew Sendejo got the start at strong safety next to Harrison Smith, but he got yanked in favor of Robert Blanton in the second half. Sendejo played 53 defensive snaps while Blanton got 20. Smith, meanwhile, joined Barr and cornerback Xavier Rhodes as the only defenders who played every snap.
— Running back Adrian Peterson played 36 of the 56 offensive snaps in the season opener, rushing for 31 yards on his 10 carries and catching three passes. He lost passing-down work to Matt Asiata, who played 12 snaps, and Jerick McKinnon, who got eight. Fullback Zach Line, meanwhile, played just six snaps as the Vikings mostly used their 11 and 12 personnel.
— Wide receiver Charles Johnson played all but one offensive snap. Mike Wallace, who played 48, led all players with six catches for 63 yards. Jarius Wright, the No. 3 receiver, played 34 snaps. Cordarrelle Patterson got two snaps. One came in the first half when the Vikings faked a jet sweep to him and handed it off to Peterson, who ran for a first down. The other was late in the fourth quarter when the Vikings brought both Patterson and Adam Thielen in for a passing play. That would be Thielen’s only offensive snap.
— Tight end Kyle Rudolph played 52 snaps and recorded five catches for 53 yards. Rhett Ellison played 22 snaps, including a few in place of Rudolph in three-receiver sets. Rookie tight end MyCole Pruitt played four snaps.
— Despite the struggles of the offensive line, which allowed five sacks and a few other quarterback hits and didn’t give Peterson much running room, all five starters played every snap. So did QB Teddy Bridgewater, of course, though an argument could be made for removing him for that final drive.