Minnesota Vikings at San Francisco 49ers – Saturday, January 11, 2020, 4:35 p.m. EST
Over the past year, PFN has been introducing the football community to the Offensive Share Metric (OSM) – a unique way to assess skill positions as it relates to contributions made during each play. Last week, we used OSM to predict the AFC and NFC Wild Card games. Though the scoreboard results differed in in all but one game, OSM was very telling in what we could expect during the game. So, let’s dive back into OSM and some NFL Next Gen Stats to provide a different vantage point for how this week’s NFC Divisional round playoff game between the Minnesota Vikings and San Francisco 49ers will play out.
In last week’s Wild Card win, the Minnesota Vikings actually matched up very well with the New Orleans Saints. Don’t expect that momentum to roll into this week in the Divisional Round against the San Francisco 49ers. If OSM is any indicator, the 49ers should outplay the Vikings in every facet of the game.
Of the twelve NFL playoff teams, the 49ers rank 7th for average quarterback OSM during the regular season at 24.1, slightly above the league average of 23.2. However, the Vikings bring with them a weak pass defense, allowing the highest OSM, 27.5, of all playoff teams. That’s also the third-worst average in the entire league behind only the Miami Dolphins and New York Giants and includes performances by a number of backups such as Chase Daniel, Matt Moore, Brandon Allen, and David Blough.
Jimmy Garoppolo isn’t a very aggressive quarterback with less than 15% of passes thrown into tight coverage, nearly 2% less than the average quarterback. Minnesota’s defense is allowing a 66% completion rate, even though opponents are throwing into tight coverage 20% of the time. Garoppolo shouldn’t be afraid to test the secondary but expect to see a lot of short passes either way. His average intended air yards per attempt has never eclipsed 10 yards in a game and when it’s less than eight yards, his completion rate jumps from 62% to 73%, regardless of how tight the coverage is.
Kirk Cousins won’t fare so well despite an average OSM of 25.6. The 49ers’ secondary is allowing a (league-best) OSM of 14.6 to opposing quarterbacks. They’ve also become more aggressive the second half of the season, forcing quarterbacks to throw into tight coverage more than 22.5% of the time in three of their last four games. Cousins, though he has the 4th highest completion rate in the league this year, has played poorly when having to throw into tight coverage like that. In comparable games, he’s averaged a completion rate of just 55% and has zero wins.
Minnesota’s rushing attack will likely not be as successful either. They do have the 4th highest rushing OSM of all playoff teams at 16.3 but they’re up against the 2nd best rushing defense remaining in the playoffs. San Francisco is only allowing an average OSM of 12.4 to opposing running backs.
The 49ers have not allowed a 90+ yard rusher since Week 9 (Kenyan Drake) and only twice on the season, while the Vikings have reached that mark nine times in 2019. Keep an eye on how often Dalvin Cook is fed the ball in the backfield. Cook’s obtained at least 90 yards on the ground when he’s carried the ball 20+ times in seven of eight games. He’s only reached 90 yards once when he’s rushed less than 20 times. Only twice have we seen a running back get 20+ carries against this 49ers defense and neither eclipsed 90 yards on the ground in those games (Adrian Peterson in Week 7 and Chris Carson in Week 10).
San Francisco should be able to run the ball effectively on Saturday. They have the 2nd highest OSM in the league at 19.0, behind only the Titans, and Minnesota’s defense is allowing the 2nd highest OSM (15.3) of the remaining playoff teams.
Of all backs in the league with at least 135 carries, Raheem Mostert is 4th in efficiency (3.5 yards run per 1 yard gained) and is facing eight men in the box on 32% of his carries. When allowing an efficiency of 3.5 or less, the Vikings have increased their eight-man presence from less than 24% to almost 30%. Unfortunately, that has resulted in Minnesota allowing four top-10 OSM rushing performances and three 100-yard rushers during the season.
San Francisco should have a slight edge with their receiving corps. Though both Minnesota’s and San Francisco’s defenses rank 3rd and 4th worst, allowing an OSM of 33.9 and 33.0, respectively, the 49ers are the top team in the playoffs on the offensive side of the ball. Their pass catchers have an average OSM of 37.7 due largely in part to George Kittle, who has an overall OSM of 41.5 on the season. However, keep an eye on the wide receivers in this one, especially Deebo Samuel.
Samuel is the top-ranked wide receiver in the playoffs per OSM at 38.6. He’s gotten at least 1.9 yards of separation in every game played this year, with a catch rate of 71% and is gaining 8.1 yards after catch. When the Vikings have given up 1.9+ yards of separation to opposing receivers, which they’ve done 80% of the time, the catch rate has gone up from 54% to 73% and the yards after catch increases about 25%, from 2.7 to 3.4 yards.
For the Vikings, expect Kyle Rudolph to have a better game than last week. In the Wild Card win against the Saints, Rudolph had his worst catch % of the season at 57%, but he was only getting 2.9 yards of cushion at the line of scrimmage. The 49ers give up a minimum of 6.5 yards of cushion, which should allow Rudolph enough room to get some separation when he’s targeted. He has the highest catch rate of all tight ends and has yet to see that much cushion to date.
This game may end up closer on the scoreboard than how it actually plays out. San Francisco should have control of this game early but Minnesota is a well-coached team that competes until the final whistle. Minnesota players have an expected average OSM of 22.5 compared to San Francisco’s 25.7. Adjusting for points scored and allowed per OSM, the 49ers should come out on top.
Pick: San Francisco 49ers 29, Minnesota Vikings 25
Be sure to check out the PFN Betting Crew’s picks for the game as well.