How to beat the 49ers: Our NFL writers explain the game plans used to beat S.F. this year

It’s not impossible on either side, as a staggering 11 teams – the Bengals, Bills, Broncos, Browns, Eagles, Lions, Packers, Raiders, Rams, Ravens, and Vikings – defeated the two Super Bowl teams during the regular season. For comparison, the Chiefs and Eagles lost a combined six times in the regular season ahead of their Super Bowl matchup last year.


How did those teams come out on top against the Niners? We asked our writers who cover them to go back to those specific games and help us figure out how it happened.


The 49ers struggled to move the ball on the Browns, and though Deebo Samuel (shoulder) and Christian McCaffrey (oblique) making early exits was obviously part of that, the 49ers struggled to block the Browns’ aggressive front. The 49ers marched 85 yards to start the game but struggled to get any traction the rest of the way and finished 3-of-12 in trying to convert third downs.


The 49ers managed just 21 total yards and one first down on their first six possessions of the second half, and the Browns, with backup P.J. Walker at quarterback, used good defense and good field position to get four second-half field goals and win.


The Browns’ defense got to Purdy and consistently sped him up, and without McCaffrey in the second half, those must-pass situations on second and third down were anything but easy.


The Vikings beat the 49ers at their peak of the season. This was Week 7. Quarterback Kirk Cousins had not yet torn his Achilles. Minnesota’s defense had not yet been ravaged by injuries. This victory, which happened in prime time on Monday night, offered Vikings fans a glimpse of what they felt their team could be.


Head coach Kevin O’Connell and the Vikings’ offense staff structure their offensive game plan around pass protection. They limited the aggression of the 49ers pass rush. Right tackle Brian O’Neill held up against Nick Bosa. Center Garrett Bradbury stood firm against Arik Armstead. And the Vikings’ chip help on the edge provided Cousins a chance to dish the ball. Rookie wide receiver Jordan Addison ripped the ball from 49ers cornerback Charvarius Ward before halftime and galloped to the end zone, altering the momentum.


49ers quarterback Brock Purdy feasted against soft zone coverages for most of the first half, extending plays with his legs. He did, though, throw two interceptions in the second half (and the following day was diagnosed with a concussion). Notably, the 49ers were also without superstar wide receiver Deebo Samuel. His absence placed a lot on Christian McCaffrey’s plate, but he only finished with 45 yards on 15 carries, as the Vikings won, 22-17.



Gideon Canice

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