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- American football running back
Can Mitchell, 49ers exploit Vikings' woeful run defense? originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
Elijah Mitchell is expected to suit up Sunday for the 49ers' critical showdown with the Minnesota Vikings after dealing with nagging rib and finger injuries, ESPN's Adam Schefter and NFL Media's Ian Rapoport both reported, citing league sources.
That's good news for the 49ers and potentially bad news for the Vikings, since Minnesota's main weakness this season has been their run defense, while San Francisco's ground attack is just rounding into form after a slower start. Especially with Mitchell in the lineup, the 49ers could see another 150-plus yard rushing day in a game with major playoff ramifications.
No NFL team has allowed more rushing yards per attempt (4.8) or had a worse expected points contributed by a run defense (minus-33.36) than the Vikings in 2021.
The last two weeks, Minnesota has surrendered fewer than 100 rushing yards total, but it also went against two teams that rely much more on with elite quarterbacks in the passing game in the Los Angeles Chargers and Green Bay Packers.
Meanwhile, the 49ers have topped 150 rushing yards in each of the last two games, after eclipsing the mark only once in the prior eight games.
Jeff Wilson and Trey Sermon got most of the carries in last week's blowout win over the Jacksonville Jaguars with Mitchell inactive, but expect the rookie to see the ball early and often in a game where the 49ers certainly will rely on the ground game.
Mitchell has gone over 90 yards in four of his seven appearances this season, and with left tackle Trent Williams playing like the best offensive lineman in football, there should be plenty of holes for the sixth-round draft pick to run through at Levi's Stadium.
Complicating things further for Minnesota's defense is defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson's presence on the reserve/COVID-19 list, leaving him out for Sunday's game. Tomlinson has a solid 67.3 Pro Football Focus grade against the run.
With 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo playing highly efficient football, Minnesota will be forced to respect San Francisco's passing attack. That should open things up in the 49ers' ground game.
If the 49ers indeed can overpower the Vikings in the trenches and rack up yards on the ground, they should roll over Minnesota and leap them in the NFC playoff race.