The NFC Championship will be one of the better games in recent memory. This is a match up of teams that resemble each other in their physical style. The San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks are evenly matched. Many are projecting this game to be a close one. In this NFC Championship preview, I will look at three players that must play big for the the 49ers. These three players will be a big factor in determining whether or not the 49ers will advance to the Super Bowl.
1) Colin Kaepernick
It all starts with the quarterback. The 49ers will with out a doubt look to establish a running game. They do not want to become one dimensional. They will also need to pass the ball to keep the Seahawks defense on edge. This will not be an easy task. This Seattle secondary is known as the Legion of Doom and is one of the best ever. They play very tight coverage and force the quarterback to throw the ball into tight windows.
Kaepernick will need to fight his urge to throw vertical passes when the defense gives him the short to mid range passing game. He will also need to go to his check downs. In essence, he needs to take what the defense gives him. The shallow cross and curl routes will be there but Kaepernick has to throw the ball with the necessary anticipation to give his receivers the chance to catch the ball and get some yards after the catch. That is how the big plays will come instead of deep throws.
The running game will create an opportunity for a big play by way of play action. The play action out of the pistol formation, read option play can work in this game. It will allow Vernon Davis to slip behind the linebackers and cross Kaepernick’s face. The key to it all will be Kaepernick standing tall in the pocket and delivering an accurate throw despite having to be hit by a defensive lineman bearing down on him. This is something that will be a once in the game kind of situation so the throw must be on point and hit Davis in stride.
The 49ers will not be able to survive a less than stellar performance from Kaepernick.
2) Frank Gore
The game plan will be to establish Frank Gore. The 49ers are a much harder team to beat once he gets going. In order for this to happen, Gore needs to get 20-25 rushing attempts. If it doesn’t work early, Greg Roman needs to still stick to the running game. Allow that offensive line to keep weighing on the defenders and watch Gore pop a big run late in the game. The Seahawks only gave up one run of over 40 yards. That run was by Frank Gore in week 14. It set up the game winning field goal for the 49ers.
There have been times where the 49ers have inexplicably abandoned the run. That can’t be the case this week. It will be very important to get Gore going early and often to take the crowd out of the game. The running game is a part of why the 49ers are truly what I have dubbed a “Pack and Play” team. Gore will wear down the Seahawks defense. He rarely gets tackled for negative yards.
One way to beat the Seahawks defense is to run right at them. There is no better running back to do this on the roster than Gore. He is a patient runner that will allow his blocks to develop and find a slight crease to break through. Gore is like a cat in that if his head fits through the hole, the rest of his body will too. The 49ers do a very good job of getting their offensive line to the second level of the defense. Mike Iupati and Alex Boone do a great job of pulling and clearing out a path for Gore. When these opportunities come along, it is very important to capitalize on them. This is exactly what Gore did when he broke off a long run in the fourth quarter against the Panthers. Look for Gore to have a big game as he will be a featured part of the offense.
3) Navorro Bowman
Bowman was my selection for defensive player of the year. He must step up in all ways if the 49ers are to beat the Seahawks. Bowman has shown that he can get to the football as fast as anyone in the NFL. Marshawn Lynch is a load to bring down.
“Him being as physical as he is when he runs, you don’t want to shoot your gun. You want to gather yourself and make sure you have him in front of you. He does a great job of fighting through and breaking tackles. You can’t sell out and hope that the hit that you deliver knocks him down instead of being fundamentally sound, gathering and form tackling.”
Getting to Lynch and bringing him down will be a major part of shifting the tide to the 49ers favor. Getting Lynch under control will make the Seahawks one dimensional. If they can make that happen, another facet of Bowman’s game will need to step up. When the Seahawks try to pass the ball Bowman will be called upon to use his coverage skills. If they go man, Bowman will be required to cover one of the Seattle tight ends. He has shown the ability to cover in the past.
There will also be times when Bowman is called upon to blitz the inside gaps. That combined with the outside rush of Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks could stop one of the best ways for the Seahawks to generate big plays. Russell Wilson is able to get the ball down field especially after moving within the pocket. He is able to do so by stepping up in the pocket as the outside rushers go by him. If Bowman can get penetration from the inside Wilson will step right into his grasp. Bowman has already shown the speed to track down Wilson. He did so on a scramble attempt in their game in San Francisco. Bowman tracked Wilson down on the left sideline and made him fumble.
There will be opportunities to make plays against the Seahawks. It will take a monumental effort by more than just the three players that I mentioned. Phil Dawson will need to come up big in this game as well. The 49ers will get solid field positioning and have shown a pension for needing long field goals by their kicker. They won the last game of the year on a field goal by Dawson and did the same thing to get their first playoff win. This week will be no different.