By Sam McPherson
It’s rivalry time again this week as the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks play again in a battle of NFC West doormats. While the Arizona Cardinals are way out in front of the pack with a 7-2 record, the Seahawks are just 4-5 while the 49ers are 3-6 and in last place. That takes a bit of luster off the contest, but there’s still no love lost between San Francisco and Seattle.
The Seahawks came to Levi’s Stadium on October 22 and beat up the 49ers pretty badly on Thursday Night Football, posting a 20-3 victory. Knowing how much better the San Francisco defense plays at home, the 49ers better be ready to play on the road against a desperate Seattle squad coming off a home loss to the Cardinals on Sunday Night Football.
Seattle is just 4-5 and already has lost two games at home this season, quite the shocker after the Seahawks’ home-field dominance over the last three seasons. Here’s the rub for Seattle: In all five of its losses this season, the Seahawks have had the lead in the fourth quarter and watched their once-dominant defense give up the lead to lose the game. These are not the same Seahawks that posted a 42-14 record from 2012-14.
That doesn’t mean the 49ers should be brazen in the face of a struggling Seattle team. San Francisco was held to 142 yards of total offense and just three points on its home field in Week 7 at Levi’s Stadium. With the bye week to rest and recover, and not to mention a new QB to break in against a still-dangerous defense, the 49ers have to be at their best to beat the Seahawks on the road.
Seahawks on Offense
One of the reasons the Seattle club is struggling this year is because the offense isn’t working very well. The offensive line is struggling and running back Marshawn Lynch has been hurt frequently enough this year to hinder the offense’s ability to move the ball consistently. As a result, quarterback Russell Wilson has been less effective as well, and new receiving addition Jimmy Graham, once a dominant tight end in New Orleans with QB Drew Brees, really hasn’t shown much in 2015.
Wide receiver Doug Baldwin and Graham are still the go-to guys in the passing game for Wilson, but without a game-breaking option on a consistent basis, the Seahawks are moving the ball in fits and starts without really opening up the playbook much. Wilson has been sacked 33 times already in nine games; he was sacked a career-high 44 times in 2013. That shows just how vulnerable the Seattle offensive line has become for the Seahawks.
Seahawks on Defense
The Cardinals and QB Carson Palmer shredded the Seattle defense for 334 yards through the air. The Legion of Boom is struggling. However, the 49ers don’t possess the offensive prowess of the Arizona Cardinals. Yet it’s good to know nonetheless that the Seahawks defense is permeable. Even though the 49ers only gained 142 yards in their earlier loss to Seattle, perhaps they can study game film from Week 10 to find their own pathways through the Seahawks defense.
The San Francisco offense has their own offensive line troubles, which will make it tough to keep Seattle’s pass rush at bay. Toss in Gabbert’s relative inexperience in facing the Seattle defense, and it will be tough for the 49ers to do better against the Seahawks than they did in Week 7 (especially if Anquan Boldin and Carlos Hyde aren’t 100 percent healthy).
Seahawks Players to Watch
If the Seattle offense can get Lynch running well, the 49ers are in trouble. Lynch has been mediocre this year, however, averaged just 3.8 yards per carry. San Francisco’s run defense needs to focus on shutting Lynch down and forcing Wilson to make plays. He can make plays, but it’s harder for him when it’s third-and-nine instead of third-and-two. On the other side of the ball, the Seahawks still have a lot of defensive talent that needs to be accounted for on every play. Cornerback Richard Sherman, safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas, and linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright are still the best in the business.
Until they actually do it, who wants to predict a 49ers win over Seattle, especially on the road? San Francisco has lost four straight to Seattle and six of the last seven. The last time the 49ers posted a dominant win over the Seahawks was on September 11, 2011. Gabbert probably isn’t going to intimidate the Seattle defense, and considering the 17-point win the Seahawks posted at Levi’s Stadium earlier this season, the result will probably be the same. Seattle might have to run the table now to make the playoffs, and the two-time defending NFC champions are going to be ready for anything S.F. throws at them on Sunday.
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering baseball, football, basketball, golf, hockey and fantasy sports for CBS, AXS and Examiner. He also is an Ironman triathlete and certified triathlon coach.