Matchup: Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers
Site: Levi’s Stadium (Santa Clara, California)
For the fourth time in team history and the first time since 2008, the 12th Man is rewarded with the ultimate Thanksgiving trifecta; family, food, and Seahawks football. This week the Seahawks travel to the Silicon Valley to play the San Francisco 49ers in the third game of the NFL Thanksgiving tripleheader. This will be the first time the Seahawks play at the 49ers new home, Levi’s Stadium and they hope that a change of scenery in the Bay Area will bring us good luck. The Seahawks have lost 5 straight road games against the 49ers. The Seahawks lead the all-time series with the 49ers 16-15 and their last meeting has gone down as one of the greatest games in Seahawks history. To refresh your memory Seattle beat San Francisco 23-17 in the 2013 NFC Championship Game, culminating in “The Tip;” Richard Sherman’s tipped pass intended for Michael Crabtree which was intercepted by Malcolm Smith which sealed the win for Seattle and sent the Seahawks to Super Bowl XLVIII and an eventual world championship. Many people thought that the Seahawks and 49ers would be fighting for the NFC West title once again this season but right now this matchup will likely determine who has a leg up on securing just a wild-card playoff berth. The winner will also keep their chances of winning the division alive while the loser will be at a huge disadvantage for the rest of the season. Here is what I will be looking for on Thursday.
Just like last week I believe that the Seahawks may struggle to move the ball and score points. With Max Unger out another week and James Carpenter’s status at left guard up in the air the Seahawks offensive line may struggle once again to protect quarterback Russell Wilson, especially since we are playing on the road against a quality San Francisco pass defense. This week the Seahawks may need to get creative to move the ball. A heavy dose of Marshawn Lynch will be necessary and I would like to see offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell let Wilson run in a similar manner which parallels how they used him in the running game against Arizona last week. In the passing game I will have my eyes on Jermaine Kearse. I believe that Wilson may try to open things up on the outside and Kearse may be his primary read due to Kearse’s height advantage on San Francisco cornerbacks Perrish Cox and Chris Culliver.
I have full confidence that the Seahawks defense can stop 49ers running backs Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde. There are two main things our defense needs to do this week. The first is to spread out, putting pressure on 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the pocket but not allowing him to scramble to pick up big chunks of yards. The best way to do this may be to dial up more nickel and dime plays and send slot corner Jeremy Lane among over members of the secondary on blitzes. We haven’t see a lot of this so far in the season if at all, so to throw something at the San Francisco offense they have not seen on film may confuse them, giving us an advantage. The second thing the Seahawks defense needs to do is protect the middle of the field on possible intermediate and long third down conversion attempts. We were unable to get a sample of this last week with Drew Stanton at quarterback and after watching film we may see Kaepernick try to throw short passes near the first down marker unless we can put ample pressure on him to force bad throws. The Seahawks have struggled on stopping third down conversions on the road throughout the season.
One other thing I want to see this week is on special teams. I want to see solid coverage on kickoffs to not allow the 49ers to start their offensive drives with great field position. Last week the Seahawks started a lot of their drives with great field position and it may have made the difference between us kicking 4 field goals and having to punt. We cannot let the 49ers have a short field to work with because they will take advantage by moving the ball just enough to score some kind of points much like we were able to do on Sunday. Fundamental tackling will be more important and more of a focus this week than any other week.
Three seasons ago the San Francisco 49ers had the best defense in the league; a defense that did not allow a rushing touchdown through their first 15 games of the 2011 season. It was a defense that no team wanted to face. In the three years since, a lot of talent has come and gone but the 49ers still sport enough talent on defense to be one of the better units in the NFL. Aldon Smith continues to be one of the scariest pass rushers in football and defensive lineman Ray McDonald and linebacker Ahmad Brooks add veteran stability to the front seven. This week however I put a focus on the young, emerging talent of the 49ers defense. My X-Factor player to watch this week for San Francisco is rookie inside linebacker Chris Borland. Borland, from the University of Wisconsin, was a player that I wanted to see the Seahawks select in the middle rounds of the 2014 draft. With a season-ending injury to perennial all-pro Patrick Willis, Borland has gotten his opportunity to start and has made the most of it, compiling 71 tackles, a pair of interceptions, and an NFC defensive player of the week honor two weeks ago. In the 5 games since Willis’s injury, Borland has averaged almost 13 tackles per game. Borland is a ball hawk who will be in on almost every play especially in the running game. His awareness and ability to understand how a play is going to develop makes him a very scary weapon for the 49ers. Do not be surprised to hear Borland’s name on the television broadcast several times on Thursday night.
Random Thoughts: Earlier this week I tweeted to the Seahawks if this would be a #WolfGreyThanksgiving. I did not hear back and as of now it is unclear whether the Seahawks will wear white or wolf grey jerseys this week. With 3 more road games and one more opportunity to wear wolf grey, that gives us a 33 percent chance of wearing our alternates this week. The 49ers will wear their traditional look of red jerseys and gold pants… Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth have the call for NBC with Michele Tafoya reporting from the sidelines… I have no confirmation but I am hearing there is a strong possibility the referee for this week’s game is Tony Corrente… It’s disappointing that the Seahawks don’t get the chance to host this game. It would have been an incredible experience to move our family’s Thanksgiving dinner up to the early afternoon (or me skip it altogether), head down to the stadium and go to a game on a day where the entire country practically shuts down. That is the nice thing about the third Thanksgiving game the NFL added back in 2006. It gives other teams and cities other than Detroit and Dallas the opportunity to host a game on Thanksgiving. Hopefully one year in the not-so-distant future CenturyLink Field and the Seahawks get to host a game on Thanksgiving… Here are a couple of random Thanksgiving thoughts for the week. When it comes to turkey, dark meat is superior to white meat. Dark meat is moist and more flavorful. It is a shame that the majority of any given turkey is white meat and dark meat comes at a premium. Anybody who disagrees and has a valid argument as to why can comment or find me on Twitter @EricHansman… Stove Top is also my stuffing of choice. I know that is a topic of argument that I know I will not win… The good news and the bad news: The good news is that after this game we will have 10 days off to get ready for Philadelphia. The bad news is that we play this game, our biggest rival with a lot at stake on 4 days rest. If we can somehow come away with this win I believe our chances of making the playoffs exponentially skyrocket.
Seahawks Playoff Outlook: We are now at the point in the season where fans need to be aware of the Seahawks playoff chances and the playoff chances of the teams around us. It is finally time for me to fire up my weekly playoff outlook!
The Seahawks currently sit 2 games behind the Arizona Cardinals for first place in the NFC West. The winner of this game will gain a half game on Arizona while the loser will fall to 2 ½ games behind the Cardinals and will likely be competing for a wild-card playoff spot for the duration of the regular season. In my eyes, 2 of the other 4 NFC divisions will come down to two teams each. One of those teams will win the division while the other will be in the fight for a wild-card berth. Including Seattle and San Francisco, that means I believe 4 teams will be fighting for 2 wild-card spots. Here are this week’s games that have NFC playoff implications. Teams to note are bolded.
Chicago (5-6) at Detroit (7-4)
Philadelphia (8-3) at Dallas (8-3)
Arizona (9-2) at Atlanta (4-7)
New England (9-2) at Green Bay (8-3)
Prediction: Prepare to have your hearts broken 12th Man. The Seahawks will field a punt deep in their own territory with 3:30 left in the game holding a 13-6 lead. On first down Russell Wilson will roll to the right and throw a pass that is tipped up into the air. The pass will fall incomplete. Marshawn Lynch will take the second down handoff for a gain of 4 yards and San Francisco will call their final timeout. Wilson’s third down pass attempt will be batted down at the line of scrimmage. Instead of possibly getting the clock down to the two-minute warning, the Seahawks will punt and the 49ers will have roughly 3:00 to go 75 yards. A long Colin Kaepernick scramble deep into Seahawks territory will get the ball into the redzone and Kaepernick will scramble one more time for a touchdown with 25 seconds left to play. The Seahawks will lose yet another game thanks to the terrible play calling of offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and the team will head back to Seattle 7-5. I hope I am wrong.
49ers 14, Seahawks 13
Check back late Thursday night or early Friday morning for my game review. Happy Thanksgiving and enjoy the game everyone. Go Seahawks!