How the 49ers Will Silence the 12th Man in Seattle Against the Seahawks
It won't be easy, and the 49ers don't have any room for mistakes, but make no mistake about it—the 49ers will dominate the action on Sunday Night Football.
The best way to silence the crowd in Seattle is by executing on offense. We know the 49ers' defense will show up to play—they've been doing it all year long. The biggest question mark is this: How will the offense fare against one of the toughest defenses in the NFL in their own den?
With the NFC West still up for grabs and the NFC's No. 2 seed still unclaimed, this contest is the most important one to date for the 49ers this season.
Let's take a look at the biggest reasons they'll make minced meat out of the mighty Seahawks at CenturyLink Field on SNF.
Frank Gore and the 49ers Rushing Attack
The 49ers have featured one of the NFL's best rushing attacks all season long. Gore lit up the Seahawks in Week 7 for 131 yards on 16 carries (8.19 yards per carry) and caught five passes for 51 yards.
The Seahawks have one of the stoutest front sevens in all of football, so Gore's accomplishments in the first contest are all the more impressive.
Gore's not doing it all on his own, though. His offensive line has played exceptionally well this season, and the big men up front are the biggest reason for his success.
Let's take a look at a couple of his biggest runs from Week 7.
The first one was during the first quarter, when both teams were still fresh.
The 49ers line up in a "Big" set with two tight ends, two running backs and one wide receiver—everything about this set screams "run."
The Seahawks knew it was coming and didn't mess around, either. They brought nine men in the box to defend the run, but the 49ers executed a perfect trap play that gave Gore enough room to rush for 18 yards right up the gut.
Joe Staley lets his man run free, and fullback Bruce Miller traps the defensive tackle, who had made a strong push up the line and ran himself out of the play. Staley, Mike Iupati and Alex Boone all fire off the line and make a bee-line to cover up all three linebackers, while Jonathan Goodwin and Anthony Davis take care of the nose tackle and defensive end on the right side.
Vernon Davis, as usual, handled the defensive end on the other side—a task he's been capably handling all year long, and one that isn't recognized nearly enough in the media.
The result is a quick-hitting play that was the first of many big runs for the 49ers that day.
The second play we're going to take a look at occurred on the second play in the fourth quarter.
The 49ers lined up in a "21" set with two tight ends on the right side of the line and one wide receiver on either side—a play that screams "pass."
The Seahawks lined up in a nickel package, with three safeties and two cornerbacks. Jeron Johnson is there to take Delanie Walker one-on-one, and Kam Chancellor runs with V. Davis, who motioned out to the right.
That left seven defenders in the box, and when Walker ran what appeared to be an out-route to the right, the Seahawks were left with only six.
The 49ers ran another trap play on this one, with Boone pulling around to the left to trap the defensive tackle, while Staley and Iupati fire off the line to get to the second level. Goodwin handles the nose tackle once again, and Gore makes a phenomenal cut to get to the left side of the line quick enough to take advantage of his excellent blocking up front.
It's an extremely quick-hitting running play that preys on the Seahawks' tendency to get after the quarterback in obvious passing situations (or what appears to be obvious).
37 yards later, Earl Thomas trips Gore up inside the 10-yard line.
The 49ers have the best running game in the NFL besides the Washington Redskins, and they'll put it to good use in Seattle on Sunday.
Colin Kaepernick Isn't Alex Smith
Long-time readers on the 49ers page here at Bleacher Report know that I've been one of Smith's staunchest supporters over the past couple of seasons.
That said, he simply can't/won't do the same things Kaepernick is willing/able to do in the passing game.
Gore became a huge weapon in the passing game the first time these teams met mainly because Smith couldn't connect with his wide receivers and tight ends. Smith only completed seven passes to that group of talented receivers—four of which went to Michael Crabtree.
Here's a play where Smith checked down to Gore in the middle of the field, but had Kyle Williams wide open—and I mean, wide open—on the left sideline with only one defender to beat for a huge gain.
Williams had gotten past Brandon Browner, who was playing a shallow zone, and had at least 15 yards between him and the nearest defender over the top. Given his ability to make plays after the catch, a timely throw by Smith could have easily resulted in a touchdown.
But Smith is much more comfortable hitting routes underneath. He almost always errs to the side of caution, but we've seen Kaepernick take a more aggressive stance to his approach in the pocket.
I have no doubt that Kaepernick would have pulled the trigger and thrown the ball to Williams, and the 49ers would have gotten 20 yards or better on the play, rather than the six yards Gore gained on this play.
Kaepernick isn't afraid to take shots downfield, and his ability to make quick decisions and act upon them under pressure has set him apart from Smith as a passer.
His four-touchdown performance against the New England Patriots on Sunday Night Football in Week 15 is something Smith has never matched in his eight years as a pro. No disrespect to Smith, but Kaepernick has proven that he's a better quarterback, and his ceiling is yet to be known.
The 49ers bring a potent offensive attack to Seattle for Week 16.
As long as the players execute, they'll bring home another tough road victory that will go a long way towards ensuring a first-round bye in the playoffs and will earn the team the NFC West crown.
How many points will the 49ers score in Seattle?
Kaepernick has proven that he has ice water in his veins, and his ability to make big plays in the passing game and on the ground (which we didn't even get into in this column) complements the team's exceptional running game to perfection.
No doubt this game will be as physical and demanding as the one we saw when these teams met earlier in the year, but the 49ers have more talent and a better scheme than what the Seahawks bring to the table.
The "12th Man" won't have much to cheer about this coming Sunday night.
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