Matchup: Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers
Site: Candlestick Park (San Francisco, California)
In his weekly press conferences, Russell Wilson religiously states that each game “is a championship opportunity.” For the first time this season Wilson’s mentality can be taken literally. This week, in one of the more highly anticipated games of the week, the Seahawks have the opportunity to clinch the 2013 NFC West title and a first round bye in the NFC playoffs. In their way are their arch rivals, the San Francisco 49ers. The Seahawks are 11-1 and are coming off of a thrilling 34-7 win over the New Orleans Saints last Monday and will take on the 49ers in San Francisco on a short week for the second consecutive season. The 49ers enter this week’s game at 8-4 and they are coming off a 23-13 win over the St. Louis Rams last week. Although coming back to win the division is highly unlikely, the 49ers are battling several teams for the final NFC wild-card playoff berth and a win this week would certainly help their case to make the playoffs. The Seahawks lead the all-time series with the 49ers 15-14 and Seattle defeated San Francisco 29-3 in their last meeting back in September. Here is what I will be looking for from my upper deck first row seat at Candlestick Park on Sunday.
Russell Wilson has started 29 career games for the Seahawks and the worst performance of his young career came last season in San Francisco. At that point last season the Seahawks had yet to unleash their entire playbook and I believe playing conservatively cost the Seahawks multiple scoring chances and ultimately the game. This year things are different. I believe that Pete Carroll will try to feed Marshawn Lynch the ball early but in the later parts of the game I expect to see the “Russell Wilson show.” I think that the read option will be a pivotal part of the Seahawks offense this week. I realize that the 49ers will be preparing for everything the Seahawks pose as a challenge but the read option has not be used on a regular basis over the past few weeks, simply because we have not had the need to use it. The read option has turned into an emergency package that is only used in excess when the Seahawks are struggling or trailing late in games. I could see the Seahawks struggle in the first half of the game and if Seattle is leading by one score or if they are trailing, halftime adjustments will be made with a serious attempt to unleash Russell Wilson and the read option. I believe that Wilson is just now starting to play his best football of the season and using him in read option this week could put the 49ers at a serious disadvantage.
When it comes to the Seahawks defense this week, there are several things that concern me. Seattle has faced 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick twice but never at Candlestick Park. That plus the return of wide receiver Michael Crabtree from a torn Achilles adds a wrinkle that could put the Seahawks at a disadvantage because there is only one game’s worth of Kaepernick/Crabtree game film this season; last week against St. Louis. Forcing turnovers and getting off the field on third down will be very important for the Seahawks defense this week but the main key to controlling the ball and preserving a victory will be to put excessive amounts of pressure on Colin Kaepernick. In preparation for this week, I suspect the Seahawks paid very close attention to the game film of the 49ers game against Carolina from four weeks ago when the Panthers were able to sack Kaepernick 6 times and held him to a career-low 91 yards passing. Although the sack totals have not been present over the past couple of weeks the Seahawks have been doing a much better job of putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Look for Cliff Avril and Bruce Irvin to step up and have big games for the Seahawks on defense this week.
The San Francisco 49ers offense has proven to be a rather shaky unit this season. It seems as though they play well against average or bad defenses and they struggle immensely against good defenses. Although San Francisco has Michael Crabtree back I would not be surprised to see him make a minimal impact this week. In last season’s matchup in San Francisco, running back Frank Gore rushed for 131 yards on 16 carries. If the 49ers are to have any offensive success this week it starts with Gore. If Gore is effective against a Seahawks run defense that has vastly improved in their last three games, that opens up the offense and could help Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis get open, thus the 49ers offense will be two-dimensional. If the Seahawks shut Gore down, the passing game will become the focal point of the offense and the Legion of Boom will have an easier time creating confusion for Kaepernick in the passing game.
The 49ers defense has been consistently good all season long. A solid front seven is starting to gel with a young secondary to create a strong cohesive unit. Much like it is a key for the Seahawks defense to stop Frank Gore, it will be equally as important for the 49ers defense to be able to stop Marshawn Lynch. The 49ers allow an average of 105 rushing yards per game and I believe they will have keep Lynch to fewer than 100 yards rushing on Sunday in order to have a chance to win. For San Francisco to do this I put my spotlight on the middle of the 49ers defense. My X-Factor player to watch this week is 49ers defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey. Prior to last week against St. Louis, Dorsey’s most productive game of the season came in Seattle in week 2 when he recorded 5 tackles. In San Francisco’s base 3-4 defense, Dorsey is mostly responsible for clogging running lanes on the interior of the offensive line, with the help of linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. On interior running plays it will be Dorsey’s responsibility to make initial contact with Marshawn Lynch or Robert Turbin to slow them down or to make the solo tackle. Lynch likes to pound the ball on the inside and run defenders over so Dorsey will have the chance to make a big impact in this game. A solid performance by Glenn Dorsey could help propel the 49ers to force turnovers, manage the game clock, and control the tempo of the entire game.
Random Thoughts: I am once again going to bank on the Seahawks wearing white jerseys this week. I think they have maxed out the number of times they can wear their grey alternate jerseys so I’m going to be packing my white one. Please wear white, Seahawks. I don’t want to wear the wrong color jersey on both of my road trips this year… Joe Buck and Troy Aikman have the call for “America’s Game of the Week” on FOX… Clete Blakeman is the referee this week. Remember, Blakeman and his crew were the ones responsible for waving off pass interference at the end of the Patriots/Panthers Monday Night Football game… I have been looking forward to this weekend since I booked airfare and bought tickets to the game back in May. I am excited to experience a Seahawks road game for the first time with my friends James and Grant. Even though I have given them excessive information about what to expect on gameday in San Francisco, they really have no idea. They are just going to have to experience it for themselves. My gut feeling is that they are going to have a blast… To all Seahawks fans heading down to San Francisco with us this weekend, don’t forget about the 12th Man takeover at Pier 39 on Saturday night. The “attending” count on the Facebook event is currently at 900 so it is going to be very crowded… And very fun!… I’ll be tailgating in the southern part of the Candlestick Park parking lot most likely… The 49ers are giving away red rally towels this week so of course we are going to counter. We will be waving white Seahawks rally towels so be on the look for us. For those watching on TV, we are sitting on the Seahawks sideline on the north goal line in the first row of the upper bowl (left side of your screen)… I find it hilarious that the 49ers sent out their version of “Ram Rules” to their season ticket holders this week. If I were a 49ers fan I would be completely embarrassed and pissed off. I’ll be sure to use that in any friendly trash talk we engage in on Sunday… I’m also excited to see the Seahawks banner fly over the Stick before the game. It seems like the 12th Man is getting more and more creative when it comes to making an impression on road trips… Let’s clinch this division. I don’t want to sit at the airport gate unhappy after the game. It would be an incredible feeling to be en route home knowing we are the 2013 NFC West champions and I was there to witness it.
Seahawks Playoff Outlook: As previously stated, the Seahawks can wrap up the NFC West and lock up a first-round playoff bye with a win this week. San Francisco can boost their chances at earning a wild-card berth with a win. The winner of this week’s Sunday Night Football game between Carolina and New Orleans will have control of the NFC South. Here are this week’s games to keep an eye on with potential NFC playoff implications. Teams to note are bolded.
Seattle (11-1) at San Francisco (8-4)
Detroit (7-5) at Philadelphia (7-5)
St. Louis (5-7) at Arizona (7-5)
Carolina (9-3) at New Orleans (9-3)
Dallas (7-5) at Chicago (6-6)
Prediction: Although this game will be higher scoring than last year’s Seahawks/49ers game in San Francisco, it will still feel like more of a defensive battle. Russell Wilson will throw for one touchdown and will also run for a score. Frank Gore will score the only 49ers touchdown. I am 1-2 when seeing the Seahawks play the 49ers at Candlestick Park. The Seahawks will not only help improve my personal record to 2-2, but they will exit Candlestick Park for the final time in grand fashion; as champions of the NFC West.
Seahawks 20, 49ers 13
My flight home leaves San Francisco around 9pm and I do not believe I will be home until at least 11:30 or midnight, barring a flight delay. Look for my Seahawks/49ers game review on Monday morning. I will also chronicle my weekend in San Francisco in a post that I hope to have published by the middle of next week. Let’s clinch this everyone! Enjoy the game and for those of you attending I hope to see you there. Go Seahawks!