By Gabe Schapiro
This Sunday at 1:25pm the San Francisco 49ers (8-4) face off against their division rival Seattle Seahawks (11-1), at Candlestick Park. The 49ers are in second place in the NFC West and currently sit in the sixth and final playoff spot out of the NFC. The Seahawks are in first place in the NFC West, three games up on San Francisco.
Last weekend the 49ers won their second consecutive game, a 23-13 victory over the St. Louis Rams. The 10 point win makes the game look closer than it was, as the game was largely dominated by San Francisco. The Rams didn’t score a touchdown until garbage time, with 18 seconds left in the game. In an outing that was a little out of character, it was the 49ers passing attack that did most of the damage. Colin Kaepernick completed 19 of 28 passes for 275 yards and a touchdown. Michael Crabtree made his 2013-14 debut, catching two passes for 68 yards. Anquan Boldin led the team with nine receptions for 98 yards, and Vernon Davis hauled in his 10th touchdown catch of the season. Frank Gore had a relatively quiet afternoon, rushing for 42 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries.
Kaepernick’s play has seen an uptick in recent weeks. The 275 yards through the air are the most he has compiled since Week 1. With Crabtree still working his way back into the fold, their pass offense should only get better from here.
Gore, on the other hand, has struggled a bit to get things going. He hasn’t rushed for more than 48 yards over the past three weeks, with just one touchdown over that stretch.
Both will need to be on their A games this week, as the extremely tough Seahawks come into town. On Monday Night Seattle made one of the better teams in the league, the New Orleans Saints, look like a JV squad. Thankfully for the 49ers, the Seahawks don’t play quite as well on the road, but they are none-the-less one of the best teams in football. Back in Week 2 when these teams played in Seattle, San Francisco was overwhelmed, losing 29-3.
The Seahawks offense is led by impressive sophomore QB Russell Wilson. Like Kaepernick, he is just as likely to hurt you with his arm as he is with his legs. He has been on a hot streak, throwing for two or more touchdowns in six consecutive games. He spreads the ball around, but his favorite targets this season have been Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin. They are a run-first team, however, with most of the work going to powerhouse Marshawn Lynch. As a unit they have scored the second most points per game in the league this season.
It is their defense that really makes them such a daunting task, however. Seven different players have recorded two or more sacks this season, and eight have at least one interception. Richard Shermon is the stalwart in the secondary, and Cliff Avril and Michael Bennet are the big pass rushers. They have allowed the fewest total yards in the NFL, and allow the second least points per game.
Their defense does have an Achilles heel, and that is their run defense. They are a very pedestrian 16th in the league, which is going to be an area the 49ers need to key in on in order to revenge their Week 2 loss. In Week 2 they ran the ball just 20 times, compared to 28 pass attempts. Nine of those 20 came from Kaepernick scrambles. For a team who thrives the most when playing a ground and pound game, and features Gore, that can’t be the same ratio this time around.
Look for Crabtree to try and open up some things through the air, but the Seahawks are so elite at defending the pass, that San Francisco’s success hinges on their ability to run the ball.
The injury report hasn’t change much since last week, but one of the few changes is a big one. Tackle Joe Staley left last weekends game in the first quarter, and has since been diagnosed with a sprained MCL in his right knee. He will miss the showdown with the Seahawks, and his timetable for recovery beyond that is uncertain. Kaepernick, Gore, and company will certainly miss him up against the leagues best defense.