The San Francisco 49ers will host the Seattle Seahawks in what may end up being the most physical game of the year. These are two teams that really don’t like each other. The players show us this with all of the extracurricular activity after the whistle. Vernon Davis said it himself. This will be a game that every one will want to see. That being said, let’s take a look at five things to watch for in this game.
1) The 49ers Ability To Contain Russell Wilson
Make no mistake about it, Russell Wilson is playing on an MVP caliber level. He is an ultra efficient player that has been a key factor in the Seahawks growth on offense. One thing that he does better than any other quarterback is avoid the pass rush and make plays down field. He is one of the most elusive players in the NFL. There have been many times when a defensive player will have him in their cross hairs yet he will avoid the sack and extend the play. This is something that he was able to do on a few occasions against the New Orleans Saints on Monday Night Football. Wilson made some very accurate throws down field to his receivers.
The 49ers will need to be very disciplined when they are playing against Wilson. This is especially so for their outside linebackers. The most important thing is to keep Wilson inside of the protection. They can’t let him get outside because he is fast enough to run away from defenders and more importantly, he can push the ball down the field to his receivers as they convert their routes. If the defenders are able to get their hands on Wilson, they will need to bring him down. He is at his best when he is able to make plays on the fly. Wilson to me is a mirror image of Fran Tarkenton.
2) How Will The 49ers Beat The Seattle Pass Rush?
The Seahawks have a ferocious pass rush. Their front seven is very solid. Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Bruce Irvin are all lightning quick off the ball. They will look to get the 49ers in third and long situations that will allow their pass rushers to pin their ears back and go after Colin Kaepernick. They will also send their linebackers on blitzes from time to time. The 49ers will need to recognize this and make the necessary adjustments.
There are many really good ways to beat an aggressive pass rush. One way that the 49ers can do this is to work the screen passing game. This is something that the 49ers have not done much this year. However, teams need to get creative when they are going against a defense that’s as good as the Seahawks. Kendall Hunter, Frank Gore and Lamichael James are all capable of making things happen on screens. The Seahawks have some linebackers that are pretty good at pursuit though.
Another screen pass that the 49ers can use would be the tunnel screen. If a guy like Mario Manningham or Quinton Patton can break a tackle, he can get a big gain. These plays often occur in some form of a twins formation with one of the wide receivers blocking. Earl Thomas and Cam Chancelor are hyper aggressive run. The 49ers should use that against them by faking the throw to the screen and allowing the block receiver to leak out on a wheel route. This could lead to a big play.
The last thing to look at against the pass rush is to spread them out. Doing so will open up running lanes for the 49ers on quick hitter runs like draws. The running game is an important part of the offense that the 49ers need to get going. If they can do so, that will allow Vernon Davis to have an impact on the passing game.
3) What’s Left Of The Seattle Secondary?
Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond III will not be able to play against the 49ers. Browner was out in their first encounter this year but Thurmond stepped up in his absence. Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane will be called upon to step up this week. Richard Sherman remains one of the best corners in the game. Kam Chancellor will never shy away from coming up in run defense but is a liability in coverage. Last but not least is Earl Thomas. There is not a safety in the NFL that is playing better. He is a force against the run and has the range to patrol centerfield when the Seahawks use their cover three defense.
4) Can Colin Kaepernick And The Offense Get Into A Rhythm?
Not having Browner and Thurmond should help the 49ers. Michael Crabtree is back and that allows the other key players to fall back into their role. Boldin becomes the number two receiver and Manningham now gets to go against nickel corners instead of the number two corners that he was facing. While better players are being pushed down the depth chart, the opposite is happening for the Seahawks. Maxwell was previously the fourth corner and Lane didn’t see the field as much. Now they are thrust into significant roles. The passing game should be able to get going against the depleted secondary.
Running the ball will be a tall task for the 49ers against the Seahawks defense without Mike Iupati. His absence will hurt the 49ers on their patented trap plays. The Seahawk defense is so fast to the ball. They are an aggressive unit. Misdirection may be a good option this week. If the 49ers can get the running game going and put together long drives, that will allow the offense to get into a rhythm. The more comfortable Kaepernick is, the better decisions he will make. It is all about making the game fun for him. He is at his best when he can play his own style of football.
5) Will Lamichael James Make A Play In The Return Game?
Getting some kind of impact in the return game is something that is key in these kind of games. When you have teams that are so evenly matched, a play on special teams can make the difference. Lamichael James is due for a long punt return soon. He is averaging 11.3 yards per punt return. James has come close to breaking one in the last two games. Let’s see if he can do so this week.