Matchup: Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers
Site: Levi’s Stadium (Santa Clara, California)
For the second time in as many years the Seahawks head to Silicon Valley for primetime football. The Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers face off under the Thursday Night spotlight at Levi’s Stadium. After another heartbreaking loss last week the Seahawks sit at a very underwhelming 2-4. After one of the worst offseasons in NFL history, the 49ers have also jumped out of the gate slowly as they too sit at 2-4. San Francisco however enters this week’s game coming off a win over the Baltimore Ravens last week. The Seahawks lead the all-time series against the 49ers 18-15 including a 17-7 victory in their last meeting last season. This is must-win for the Seahawks since they cannot afford to lose any more ground in the division race. Here is what I’ll be watching for.
While I was busy putting offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell on blast in my game review, I completely failed to mention that there has been a change along the Seahawks offensive line. Patrick Lewis got the start at center in place of Drew Nowak and although I saw improvement in interior blocking and pass protection last week, the play of the unit as a whole continues to be an issue. Lewis got hurt in last week’s game so Nowak will likely be back in the starting lineup this week with the newly re-signed Lemuel Jeanpierre as his back up. Quarterback Russell Wilson was sacked four more times against Carolina. Although the San Francisco defense has lost a lot of talent from last year’s team, they have managed to record 9 sacks so far this season, over half of them coming from their linebackers. This week it will be necessary for Jimmy Graham, Will Tukuafu, and Marshawn Lynch to block in order to help give Wilson time to make throws. The primary keys to a successful day on offense mirror what I said about Carolina’s offense a week ago. If Marshawn Lynch can run effectively he will take immense pressure off the passing game. Also, if Wilson uses misdirection regularly it will create space to make big plays. Although Seattle has not used read option much at all so far this season, do not be surprised to see it make an appearance in this game, especially if we are trailing in the second half.
With the shaky play in the third level of our defense in recent weeks, the best way to attack the 49ers offense on Thursday is to force quarterback Colin Kaepernick into short and intermediate throws only. If the Seahawks cannot put consistent pressure on Kaepernick that may actually be a good thing, as he has thrown the ball well deep down the field when forced to scramble outside the pocket, including a long touchdown pass to wide receiver Torrey Smith last week. Smith will line up across from Cary Williams, the matchup that will garner the most attention from me outside the numbers. I think the presence of middle linebacker Bobby Wagner will be the most important aspect of our defensive game plan. Although we played a solid game with Kevin Pierre-Louis in place of Wagner against Carolina, it will help greatly to have Wagner back to lock down the middle of the field.
No team may have lost more over one offseason than the San Francisco 49ers did over this past offseason, especially on the defensive side of the football. It is hard to believe that only two defensive starters from the 49ers 2012 NFC Championship team, linebackers Ahmad Brooks and NaVorro Bowman, remain on the roster. Over the course of the last 10 months the 49ers released outside linebacker Aldon Smith after a series of run-ins with the law. They also lost nose tackle Justin Smith and middle linebacker Patrick Willis to retirement. To make matters even worse the man they drafted last season to be the heir apparent to Willis, Chris Borland, also retired due to future health concerns. The loss of Borland was particularly unfortunate because he was a tackling machine in place of the injured Willis a season ago.
This season San Francisco has allowed an average of just about 27 points per game, a number that greatly correlates to the 49ers record thus far. The 49ers linebacker corps will have my full attention as they sport the two leading tacklers on the team in Bowman and Michael Wilhoite. However given the below-average pass protection Russell Wilson has received this season my 49ers X-Factor spotlight goes to the man most effective at getting to the quarterback. My X-Factor Player to Watch this week is outside linebacker Aaron Lynch. Lynch has recorded 3 sacks this season; a third of San Francisco’s total and all three coming at Levi’s Stadium. Lynch is also coming off his most productive day in coverage, recording a season high 5 tackles and one pass defensed this past Sunday. Keep an eye on how left tackle Russell Okung handles Lynch on the outside.
Random Thoughts: No word yet on the Seahawks uniform combination but do we have 5 road games remaining. We will don college navy for one of those games (Dallas). With two opportunities to wear wolf grey still available to us, that means there is a 50/50 chance we wear wolf grey in San Francisco. It’s basic math, people. The 49ers have elected not to wear their new all-black alternate uniform for this game. Instead they will wear their traditional look of red jerseys and gold pants… Jim Nantz and Phil Simms have the call on the NFL Network/CBS simulcast with Tracy Wolfson covering the sidelines… The referee this week is Walt Anderson… Thursday will be an incredibly hectic and exciting day. I’m looking at a 4am wakeup call followed by a 7am flight to San Francisco which gets me into the Bay Area around 9 or 9:30am. Then comes a 4-hour window before the parking lots open at Levi’s Stadium. Tailgate will begin shortly after 1:30 then the game at 5:30. Then back to San Francisco after the game for the rest of the weekend… Should have waited to pull the trigger on tickets on Stubhub. I can’t believe prices have dropped as much as they have since the season started… I’ll be satisfied with at least two visits to In-N-Out Burger over the next 4 days… I love flying into SFO. The airport runway setup right off of the bay is unlike any other city I have flown into… Here is my history of being heckled at 49ers home games. In 2011 one drunken 49ers fan tried to sit on my lap and as he walked away he screamed “SEATTLE SEAHAWKS GINGER FRO” in reference to my incredibly long red hair. In 2012 I posed for a picture during a timeout and someone sitting above me in my section screamed “ginger on three! One, two, three!” In 2013 after posing for a picture a 49ers fan sitting a few rows above me threw a sandwich in my direction. It hit a 49ers fan sitting about 4 rows below me and he looked back and made eye contact with me. Because I was wearing Seahawks paraphernalia, he assumed I was the one responsible for the sandwich being thrown. He probably wanted to get security involved but the people around me seemingly convinced him I was not to blame. Granted all these incidents happened at Candlestick Park, but I have heard (and seen on Deadspin) that the Candlestick crowds make the drive down to Santa Clara every week. Hopefully the people around us are nice. I hope my friends and I are not the subjects of harassment. As long as we stay in our own lane and root for the Seahawks only, we should be fine.
Prediction: Due to the incredible sense of urgency after back-to-back devastating losses, I believe the Seahawks will come out with a vengeance. Marshawn Lynch will run for a touchdown and Russell Wilson will both throw a touchdown and run one in from inside the redzone. The Seahawks defense will play an air-tight game, allowing only one 49ers touchdown. The Seahawks will come home 3-4 and will have an extra couple days off before we get started on the Dallas Cowboys.
Seahawks 27, 49ers 13
Programming Note: I will be leaving my computer in Seattle so I will not be able to post my game review until I get home. Look for my 49ers review either late Sunday night or early Monday morning.