Matchup: San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks
Site: CenturyLink Field (Seattle, Washington)
When the 2012 schedule was released back in April a lot of people circled September 24th’s game against Green Bay and October 14th’s game against New England on their calendars as “must-see” games. I definitely saw those games as big games but this week’s game against the San Francisco 49ers was the game I looked at and got the most excited about. I had thoughts of two incredibly talented teams playing in week 16 with playoff implications and possibly the NFC West division title on the line. Although the division lead is not on the line at this time, the Seahawks have a chance to clinch a playoff berth with a win. The matchup is so intriguing, the National Football League flexed this game into Sunday Night Football two weeks ago making it the game of the week. The 49ers are 10-3-1 and beat the AFC East champion New England Patriots on Sunday Night Football last week by a score of 41-34. The Seahawks are 9-5 and are coming off an impressive 50-17 win over the Buffalo Bills in Toronto last week. San Francisco leads the all-time series with the Seahawks 14-13. In their last meeting back in week 7, the 49ers beat the Seahawks 13-6 in a defensive duel on Thursday Night Football. 9 weeks have passed since that October night at Candlestick Park and the Seahawks are a completely different team, especially on offense. Here is what I will be looking for on Sunday night.
Since installing a heavy zone-read look, this will be the toughest defense Russell Wilson and the zone-read will have faced all season. The biggest reason why is because San Francisco runs a similar offense. San Francisco’s defense will be practicing against as close to an accurate simulation of the Seahawks as humanly possible. Russell Wilson needs to make sure that the momentum carries over from the past two weeks. If he gets rattled in the pocket, he needs to take a deep breath and improvise. My concern is that if Wilson is flushed out of the pocket, the speed of the 49ers defense will catch Wilson behind the line of scrimmage, resulting in decent sized chunks of yardage lost. Russell Wilson will be the single reason that determines how effective our offense is this week. Marshawn Lynch could have a big impact but the run defense is the bread and butter of the San Francisco defense. I think using a plethora of receivers this week will benefit the offense. If Sidney Rice, Golden Tate, Jermaine Kearse, Doug Baldwin, Anthony McCoy, and Zach Miller can each catch a couple of passes, the offense will be highly effective. Spread the wealth this week Russell, and don’t be afraid to take shots down the field.
On defense this week, the Seahawks will be playing the cornerback shuffle once again. Walter Thurmond and Marcus Trufant have been held out of practice all week with injuries but Richard Sherman will be available after having his Adderall suspension ruling delayed until at least next week after his appeal on Friday. If Thurmond and Trufant are both inactive, our starting cornerbacks Sunday night will be Sherman and Jeremy Lane. Lane started last week and was tested early. He passed the tests Buffalo threw at him and he solidified the confidence Coach Carroll and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley has in him. The defensive line is also banged up this week. Defensive tackle Jason Jones was placed on injured reserve this week, taking away a significant interior pass-rush threat. Greg Scruggs will see an expanded role at defensive tackle this week. The 49ers have a good offensive line but at home, the pressure put on a quarterback is significantly amplified. Add-in the primetime factor and I wouldn’t be surprised to see at least 5 or 6 sacks of Colin Kaepernick this week. Look for Chris Clemons to have an impact as usual but also have an eye on K.J. Wright this week. Wright is most effective in coverage but I predict he will have a sack early in Sunday night’s game.
The San Francisco 49ers have also seen significant changes in their offense since our matchup in October. For starters, Colin Kaepernick is the new starting quarterback after replacing a concussed Alex Smith in week 10. Kaepernick is 4-1-1 since week 10 and the 49ers have used a similar offensive scheme as the Seahawks. What is most impressive about Kaepernick in my mind is his arm strength. He is not afraid to sling the ball down the field. This was evident last week as he threw three touchdown passes of 24 yards or more; a 24-yard pass to Randy Moss, a 27-yard pass to Delanie Walker, and a 34-yard pass to Michael Crabtree. Add in the fact that he can take off and run provides an extra threat to the Seattle defense. The Seahawks must focus on play-action looks this week. The 49ers do a good job at disguising runs and throws and anything is fair game at any time. Like the Seahawks, San Francisco also has a wide variety of weapons at the running back and receiver positions. Expect Frank Gore, LaMichael James, Randy Moss, Michael Crabtree, and Vernon Davis to all get involved in this game evenly. We held San Francisco to 13 points on the road in week 7. Although the 49ers average close to 27 points per game on the road, coming into CenturyLink Field, it is very possible to think they may struggle.
I have to be a realist. As much as it hurts me to admit, the San Francisco 49ers have the best defense in the league. The San Francisco defensive line is my main focus this week. It may seem obvious, but the man the Seahawks MUST contain this week is Aldon Smith. Smith is tied for first in the league with 19.5 sacks on the season; 3 shy of Michael Strahan’s single-season sacks record. Smith will mostly line up against Seahawks left tackle Russell Okung. Okung has done a decent job shutting down edge pass-rushers this season but Smith will be Okung’s toughest challenge to date. Aldon Smith had one sack against the Seahawks in their first meeting. One thing to note is the health of nose tackle Justin Smith. With San Francisco leading New England 31-3 last week, Justin Smith left the game with an arm injury. Without Smith on defense in the second half, the Patriots scored 28 unanswered points and nearly came back to win. Early indications from Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area point to Justin Smith being unavailable this week for San Francisco. This is where the Seahawks must take advantage. If Marshawn Lynch can do some damage up the middle, the 49ers will have a difficult time on defense.
We have played the San Francisco 49ers once already this season in primetime. This week it is our turn to remind the country that we have the best home-field advantage in the National Football League. As a fan, late season games are also more fun in primetime because the sun sets well before the game even starts. Ever since this game was flexed into Sunday Night Football a couple of weeks ago, I have been picturing what the scene will look like during pre-game and I can see it now: the Sea Gals performing to their annual Christmas routine, the San Francisco 49ers being introduced to a chorus of extremely loud boos, the bone-chilling bass that gets blasted over the public address system, the long pause between team introductions while SNF is on a television commercial break, the warning that the 12th Man is now live to the nation on NBC, the blasting of “Bittersweet Symphony” over the PA as we are welcomed to CenturyLink Field by PA announcer Randy Rowland, the epic pre-game video played right before the Seahawks are about to run on to the field, and the majestic green and blue fireworks that shoot off as the starters are introduced onto the field. The 12th Man will be going absolutely nuts during this sequence and I absolutely cannot wait.
Random Thoughts: The Seahawks will wear blue jerseys this week. Pant color is TBD (most likely blue)… Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth have the call for NBC this week. I’ll be sure to set my DVR… The referee this week is Bill Vinovich. Vinovich has been absent from the sidelines since 2006 due to personal health reasons. He will be working with Bill Leavy’s crew… No pre-game giveaway this week. I’m disappointed that rally towels will not be given out. I thought this would be a big enough game to do towels… The starting defense will most likely be introduced this week since the offense was introduced against Arizona two weeks ago. I could see the offense being introduced though, since NBC would want to get a good shot of Russell Wilson running out of the tunnel… The people around me better be ready for a heavy Skittles shower, I plan to break my personal record for most Skittles brought (and thrown) when MoneyLynch scores. Please don’t let me down beast!… Sunday night’s halftime show: Mattress racing. #KillMe… There are rumors floating around Twitter about who will be raising the 12th Man flag before the game. I have heard it may be Macklemore & Ryan Lewis or Shaun Alexander. I would be content with either of those choices but I think Alexander would be more epic… Sunday will be a 5-hour energy kind of day. My wake-up call will be set for 6am, a mere 11 hours before kickoff… For the second consecutive year I will be playing for my fantasy football consolation bracket championship. AKA, the “I don’t give a crap bowl”… This will be the 3rd primetime game between the 49ers and Seahawks in Seattle since I’ve been a season ticket holder. The first was in 2006 on Thursday Night Football when San Francisco dominated the Seahawks 24-14 in the midst of a monsoon (later known as the Hanukkah Eve Storm). The second was a 24-0 shutout win by the Seahawks on Monday Night Football in 2007… When the 49ers beat the Patriots last week, I was upset because that meant this week’s game would not be for the NFC West lead. However local sports radio has lifted my spirits because of the Seahawks playoff scenario generator. If we had been in position to win the division and did in fact win it, we would most likely host a wild-card game and then play the Packers in Green Bay in the divisional playoffs. That may be the hardest scenario for the Seahawks. If the Seahawks get the 5th seed which they are positioned to do, they would play on the road against the NFC East champion in the wild-card round, and then most likely play Atlanta at the Georgia Dome in the divisional playoffs. Although the former gets us a home playoff game, the latter is the easier path to the NFC Championship game in my opinion. With the momentum the Seahawks currently have, it may be for the best that we have to travel throughout the playoffs which actually gets me pretty excited.
Prediction: This will be a drama-filled game. No team will completely dominate the other and the scoring and stats will be pretty even. It will all come down to the last play of the game. With the Seahawks holding a 21-20 lead with 5 seconds left, San Francisco’s David Akers will line up for a 45-yard field goal. The kick will have the distance but will sail wide left, sending the Seahawks to the playoffs and the CenturyLink Field crowd erupting into complete pandemonium.
Seahawks 21, 49ers 20
I apologize if I do not publish my 49ers review on Monday since it is Christmas Eve. If I do not have the time Sunday night or Monday, expect my review to be posted on Wednesday afternoon after Christmas. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everybody. Thanks so much for reading. Go Seahawks!