San Francisco 49ers: Key Matchups and Prediction Against Seattle Seahawks
The San Francisco 49ers dominated the NFC West a year ago, going 5-1 against the division.
They will look to send a message to the Seattle Seahawks (4-2) and the rest of the division on Thursday night at Candlestick Park.
San Francisco (4-2) is coming off its worst performance of the year, falling 26-3 against the New York Giants.
Were the 49ers exposed, or will they bounce back against a Seattle team coming off a dramatic, come-from-behind victory?
The following slides will highlight some key matchups, concluded by a prediction of the winner of battle for first place in the NFC West.
Seattle Front Four Against San Francisco Offensive Line
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According to Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle, Joe Staley, who suffered a concussion against the Giants, is questionable to play against the Seahawks.
The 49ers will have their hands full blocking Seattle's pass rush regardless of Staley's status.
Defensive ends Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin have combined for 10 sacks this year, and after watching how the Giants defensive line dominated the 49ers last week, I wouldn't be shocked to see Clemons and Irvin add to their totals on Thursday.
The Seahawks can also get pressure from the interior of their defensive line.
Defensive tackle Brandon Mebane would give Leonard Davis major problems if the guard is inserted into the starting lineup.
Seattle's fearsome defensive line would be a matchup problem for any team, let alone one reeling from its worst performance of the season and an injury to its left tackle.
Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman vs. Marshawn Lynch
Normally I avoid wasting a slide on the San Francisco run defense.
It's been a foregone conclusion for a while that the 49ers rush defense, led by Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, will shut down the opposing team's running back.
But after allowing 149 rushing yards to the New York Giants on Sunday, maybe San Francisco's dominant front seven is vulnerable.
On top of that, Marshawn Lynch rushed for 107 yards and a touchdown in Week 16 of last season.
But when you look more closely, you should expect San Francisco to bounce back this week.
First, Lynch struggled a week ago against the Patriots, picking up just 41 yards on 15 carries.
Lastly, you have to believe the San Francisco front seven will be fired up playing at home on national television against a division rival with first place on the line.
Bowman and Willis will show why they're two of the best linebackers in the league, limiting Lynch to fewer than 70 yards on the ground.
Alex Smith vs. Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas
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It appeared that Antrel Rolle and the Giants defense knew exactly where Alex Smith was going with each pass. Smith finished the game with three interceptions, his first multi-interception game since Jim Harbaugh took over as head coach.
In comes the Seattle defense and its gifted secondary, looking to copy the Giants' defensive blueprint.
Will Smith be able to move the chains and take care of the ball?
Smith was hardly Steve Young-like in his last outing against the Seahawks, but he didn't turn the ball over and made big plays when needed in leading the 49ers to a 19-17 victory.
If Smith can locate Chancellor and Thomas and avoid throwing an interception, the 49ers will have a great shot at winning this game.
Expect Jim Harbaugh to have a conservative game plan, limiting Smith's chances to make a mistake. The Seahawks may not force multiple turnovers, but they should be able to limit San Francisco's explosive plays and frustrate the 49ers offense.
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Russell Wilson is coming off his best game of the season, but it was at home against a soft pass defense.
Without a productive run game to lean on, expect Wilson to struggle against the third-best scoring defense in the league.
Smith and the 49ers offense will have its issues as well trying to crack a Seahawks defense ranked second in scoring defense.
What gives the 49ers the slight edge is the home crowd.
Seattle is a notoriously bad road team (3-0 at home, 1-2 on the road this year), and it'll show on Thursday at Candlestick Park.
A couple of poorly timed Wilson turnovers will be Seattle's undoing in a tight, low-scoring affair.
San Francisco 16, Seattle 13