When the 49ers beat the Seahawks during their season-opening matchup, I thought the game was a bit of a fluke. The 49ers’ Ted Ginn returned a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns late in the fourth quarter to end a Seahawk rally. Since then, the 49ers have raced out to an 11-3 start, and are perhaps the most surprising team in the NFL. They place an emphasis on running the ball, focus on winning the turnover battle, and are very stout defensively against the run. Doesn’t that formula sound familiar?
When the Niners and Hawks play this Saturday, both teams will have a lot at stake. Seattle needs to win its remaining two games to have a chance to make the playoffs, and the 49ers are battling with the Saints to secure a first-round bye. Seattle’s resurgent defense will likely give the rarely-explosive 49er offense problems, and I also expect the 49ers’ defense to make the Seahawks struggle at times. All of this adds up to another game that will probably be decided by the turnover battle – which is something both teams excel at. The 49ers have the best turnover margin in the NFL and the Seahawks are now up to 5th best in the league.
Marshawn Lynch has been arguably the best running back in the league during the second half of the season, but he will be up against a defense which has not allowed a single rushing touchdown this year. The San Francisco defense has been one of the league’s best, lead by stars like Patrick Willis, Justin Smith, and NaVorro Bowman. I don’t expect Lynch to post huge numbers, but he will need to get something going to provide Seattle with the balance they need to be successful on offense.
Additionally, Tarvaris Jackson will need to take extra care of the ball. The 49ers’ quarterback, Alex Smith, has thrown the fewest interceptions of any quarterback who has started every game for his team this year (just 5), and as mentioned above, the ‘Niners excel at forcing turnovers. Because of San Francisco’s focus on stuffing the run, the success of the Seattle offense will probably go as Tarvaris Jackson goes. He needs to try to sustain drives, convert third-downs, and get into third down-and-short situations. Essentially, he needs to out-manage Smith throughout the game.
San Francisco is NOT explosive on offense. They run the ball well behind a big, mean offensive line, and have some decent weapons to throw to in Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis. Running back Frank Gore had a wonderful start to this season, but has been hobbled by injuries. After reeling off five consecutive 100-yard rushing performances in the middle of the season, Gore hasn’t reached the 100-yard mark in the 49ers’ last six games. Seattle should (much like the 49ers will) focus on slowing down the opposing running game to force more throws. The Seahawks’ secondary, which is the youngest in the NFL, has really emerged during the second half of the season. They have accounted for 16 of Seattle’s 21 interceptions (Seattle is tied with San Francisco for 2nd most interceptions in the league), and have matured visibly during the season. Once the weakness of the defense, Pete Carroll and the coaching staff have turned the Seattle defensive backfield into a strength.
This Christmas Eve showdown will have the feel of a classic NFL game: a December game between division rivals with playoff implications. There will be hard hits, lots of emphasis on running the ball, and ball security will be at a premium. Tune in for what should be the best game of the season in the NFC West.
About the Author
Written by Erik Olsoy
Erik was born in Columbus, Ohio during the only Ohio State football victory over Michigan in the 1980s, but moved to Washington state and grew up there. His loyalty to Ohio State remains strong, but his strongest allegiances developed toward Seattle sports. Though he recently graduated from Boston College, he has not yet been converted to the ways of New England Sportsdom, and only roots for the Red Sox against the Yankees because the Yankees are the root of all evil.