The next great rivalry in the NFL, resides in the NFC West. The San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks have been division rivals since 2002, but it has only been recently, that the rivalry has started to take shape. With both teams having Super Bowl aspirations, this is one feud that is about to explode into something fierce and passionate.
The two foes are set to square off on Sunday night at noisy CenturyLink field in the Pacific Northwest. Both teams won their opening games last week. The 49ers won a hard-fought contest against Green Bay, while Seattle narrowly beat Carolina on the road.
When San Francisco Has The Ball:
The read-option is the trendiest offense in the NFL today, and you can thank the 49ers for that. No team runs the read-option with more precision than San Francisco and perhaps no quarterback is better suited for the read-option than Colin Kaepernick. The second-year signal caller from Nevada had a superb opening game against the Packers, completing 27 out of 39 pass attempts for 412 yards and 3 touchdowns. Kaepernick didn’t run the ball as much last week compared to the 49ers playoff victory over Green Bay, gaining only 22 yards on 7 carries, but Seattle should still be aware of Kaepernick’s running ability. Green Bay’s fatal error was cheating against the run so much, they left passing lanes open for Kaepernick to exploit. However, the Seahawks did have success defending against Kaepernick and the read-option last season. In the penultimate game of the 2012 season, the Seahawks held Kaepernick to 244 passing yards and 31 rushing yards in a 42-13 rout of the 49ers. This will be a fascinating matchup.
The 49ers led the NFL in rushing last season, but were held in check last week against Green Bay. Frank Gore only had 44 yards on 21 carries and will need to improve on those numbers for San Francisco to win. A balanced attack is key for San Francisco and Gore will need to play an important role for any success the 49ers want to have.
Going into the season, the biggest concern on the 49ers roster was at wide receiver. Michael Crabtree’s achilles injury has put him on the physically unable to perform list, while Randy Moss decided that the television studio was more comfortable than the football field. Anquan Boldin was signed in the offseason in hopes to shoulder the load in the passing game. He did more than that last week. The former Baltimore Raven wideout had a massive first game for the 49ers against Green Bay, recording 13 receptions for 208 yards and a touchdown. Bodin’s size and physical prowess causes major problems for opposing secondaries. But Boldin may meet his match against the Seattle secondary, widely considered the best in the NFL. The likes of Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas are aggressive, hard-hitting defenders, who won’t back down from anybody. If Brandon Browner can play despite a hamstring injury, this would shore up the Seahawks defense further. Boldin will see double coverage, so it will be up to tight end Vernon Davis to pick up some of the slack. Davis did have a solid game last week, compiling 6 receptions for 98 yards and 2 touchdowns, and he could draw the Seahawk safeties away from Boldin, causing some matchup issues.
When Seattle Has The Ball:
The Seahawks are no slouches at running the read-option either. Russell Wilson is an athletic, versatile quarterback who can beat teams in multiple ways. The sophomore quarterback out of Wisconsin had a solid game last week against Carolina, completing 25 out of 33 pass attempts for 320 yards and a touchdown. The biggest concern for Wilson and the offense was finishing off drives. Despite dominating the Panthers, Seattle only scored 12 points, and kept Carolina in the game throughout. Seattle must do a better job at finishing off drives and putting up points, when given the opportunity.
One area Seattle needs to improve on is the running game. Marshawn Lynch only had 43 yards on 17 carries, and was a non-factor last week. The Seahawks need Lynch to get into “beast mode” if they want to beat the 49ers on Sunday.
Wilson did an excellent job in the passing game by spreading the wealth amongst his receivers. Eight different Seahawks had at least one reception, making life challenging for the Carolina secondary. Doug Baldwin led the way with 7 receptions for 91 yards, while Jermaine Kearse made the big play, hauling in the game winning 43 yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. The Seahawks don’t necessarily have the one go-to receiver, but Wilson is very adept at spreading the ball around and utilizing all of his receiver for maximum impact. It won’t be easy against a menacing 49er defense who can lower the boom on anybody. A strong argument could be made that the 49ers have the best linebacking corps in the NFL. Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith, Ahmad Brooks and Navorro Bowman are all over the field, with little regard for opposing skill players. How they line up and scheme against Seattle’s offense will be another captivating matchup.
The one advantage Seattle has is home field. There is no place in the NFL like CenturyLink Field and the 12th Man will be an insane atmosphere. How crazy will it get? The Seattle Police Department will have undercover cops dressed as 49er fans to keep the rowdies in check. This is an intimidating building to play in and the Seahawks are deadly at home. Seattle went 8-0 at home last season and there is no reason why they can’t do it again. The noise will be a major factor and if Seattle can jump out to an early lead like they did last season, it will spell doom for the 49ers.
This should be an outstanding game. Don’t expect a similar result to last season’s blowout win for Seattle. The 49ers will come into CenturyLink field, better prepared for the din. However, Seattle has a magic at home and they do provide some matchup issues for the 49ers. Plus as of this moment, the Seahawks defense looks sharper than the 49er defense with a young secondary. It will be close but I see the Seahawks winning 27-20 and getting a heads up in the division.
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