In a back room somewhere, the NFL executives are congratulating themselves. The final four teams could not have provided a better story without some sort of divine intervention. In the AFC, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick’s winning ways despite injuries and lack of targets go head to head against Peyton Manning, who spent the season breaking records in yards and touchdowns previously held respectively by Drew Brees and (gasp) Tom Brady. And in the NFC, the two top teams with bruising defenses and old school running games facing off to see who’s tougher and want it more, and doing it in the loudest most hostile stadium in the league.
As a San Francisco 49ers fan, I know I couldn’t have asked for a more nail-biting finish to see if my favorite team is going to make it to the Super Bowl. Facing off against their divisional rivals for the right to play on the NFL’s biggest stage almost felt like an inevitability once these two teams started rolling. Neither team disappointed their fans and now they’re going to go at each other with every possible weapon they can muster. What’s it going to take to go up against the Seattle Seahawks at home and pull out a win? Let’s find out.
Keep Playing Strong Defense
Russell Wilson has proven that he’s a starting quarterback. After two seasons of play, he’s thrown 52 touchdowns and just 19 interceptions. His record is 24-8 and has been to the postseason in each of his years in the NFL. Removing him from the game by pressure, sacks, and hits is going to disrupt the Seahawks offense enough that the stellar run game by Marshawn Lynch isn’t going to be enough to save them. The 49ers have the tools to rush the passer between Justin Smith, Aldon Smith, Ahmad Brooks and NaVorro Bowman, there’s no excuse for not rushing the passer this weekend. It’s going to be a game-changer if they can consistently take Wilson out of his comfort zone. The pass rush is important, but solid defense top to bottom(or more appropriately front to back) is going to make the Seahawks a very beatable opponent. Just look at what the Arizona Cardinals did to them in week 16. Their offense is defendable, and they haven’t been playing as good lately as they had been earlier in the season.
Not unlike Wilson, Colin Kaepernick has been impressive as a starter in the NFL, posting a record of 17-6, throwing 31 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He’s also been in the postseason in each of his seasons and both times made it to at least the Conference Championship game. His abilities have been a huge part of the equation as to why the 49ers have reached this far into the postseason the last two years. Early last week against the Carolina Panthers, Kaepernick was all over the place when trying to hit his receivers and once the accuracy came to him in the second half, the game clicked for the offense, allowing them to make good drives and score points. This is going to be hard at Century Link. The crowd is absurdly loud, and getting the right adjustments to the entire team on each play is going to be a challenge. Another thing that happened in Carolina was that Kaepernick kept missing open receivers when he would pull the ball down and run. He absolutely must get better at progressing through his reads, rather than making one and being off to the races on foot. Legend Joe Montana brought this up earlier this week in an interview, stating that Kap needed to make sure he balanced his ability as a pocket passer with his ability to be an option runner. I tend to agree. Like offenses as a whole, when the running game is working, it opens up the passing game, and when the QB is making it work through the air, his chances of making it work with his feet only goes up.
Against the Panthers, the 49ers play calling was much improved compared to past weeks. I’m sure the 49ers are going to enter this game more tired than they’re used to, but they’re going to have to be prepared to go on the attack on offense and defense. The defensive secondary in Seattle is the meanest most blanketing defense around, and getting things to work on offense could be really difficult. Taking the wind out of their sails, and out of the much-vaunted 12th man will go a long way to helping the 49ers win the game. Luckily the defense has been playing fantastic the past few weeks. Even with players who might be starters, the level of play has improved. Carlos Rogers, who had been much-maligned as possibly being one of the weakest links in the secondary has stepped up in the final weeks and been a rock against opposing wide receivers.
What Happens Now?
Now? Now we watch the game, and see how it plays out. If the 49ers can keep these three things in mind, and execute at the level we know they’re capable, I see no reason why they can’t walk into CenturyLink and silence the haters, and make another appearance in the Super Bowl. They’re strong enough, and unlikely to be pushovers against a rival like the Seahawks. Now if only Sunday would get here faster …