On Sunday Night Football, the San Francisco 49ers (10-3-1) will go on the road to face a very tough Seattle Seahawks (9-5) team at Qwest Field. Both teams are riding win streaks—the 49ers are on a two-game run and the Seahawks are flying high after back-to-back-to-back victories.
After a huge win over the New England Patriots on the road, the 49ers have officially clinched a playoff spot and have a chance to win the division in Week 16. The Seahawks will be doing everything in their power to prevent such a thing from happening.
There have been some hard-fought battles between these two teams, but neither team has been particularly stellar versus the division this year. The Niners are 2-1-1 against the West, while the ‘Hawks are 1-3.
The 49ers feature back has been extremely solid versus the Seahawks. His continued success against the team has helped the 49ers edge out wins, especially in the Harbaugh era. In their first meeting this year, Gore accounted for 182 all-purpose yards on 21 total touches (16 rushing, five receiving).
In Gore’s three games against the Seahawks in the Harbaugh era, No. 21 has accumulated 356 total yards and the 49ers have emerged 3-0. When Gore is rolling, the Niners are able to move the ball against even the toughest opponent because it allows them to have balance.
If Gore is running wild again, it will open up deep shots and play action for Colin Kaepernick, and allow others to make plays.
Colin Kaepernick uses play action on 34.8% of his dropbacks, only RGIII (38.2%) and R. Wilson (35.1%) use it more. #49ers— Jeff Deeney (@PFF_Jeff) December 15, 2012
Create and Identify Mismatches
A lot of the good offensive squads understand the benefit of mismatches, and take advantage of them when they’re presented.
On Sunday, the Seahawks may be without cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman. The star tandem had been caught using performance-enhancing drugs—Adderall in particular. The use of said product is a violation of the league’s banned substance policy.
As a result, both players were handed down four-game suspensions.
While Browner decided to begin serving his in Week 14, Sherman decided to fight his and his appeal will be heard on Friday, December 21st. If the ‘Hawks are without Browner and Sherman, it would be a potentially crippling blow before the game even kicks off.
The good news for Seattle is that it has pretty good depth. Regardless, San Francisco will want to exploit opportunities when they are offered.
If appeal upholds CB Richard Sherman's suspension Friday, he would be out vs SF, but there is no indication of timing on an appeal decision.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 17, 2012
Stop the Run
With a lot of youth on this Seahawks team, Marshawn Lynch has been the lifeblood on the offense. His strong-willed style as a runner has been infectious to the rest of his team, helping to fuel explosive overall performances from that side of the ball.
After being held to 29 and 33 yards rushing versus San Francisco in his first two outings, Lynch has since put up back-to-back 100-plus yard performances against the league’s fiercest run defense.
In his last two games against the Niners, Lynch is averaging over 5.0 yards per attempt, which is not ordinary. The 49ers need to get multiple hats on him or he will chew up this front seven. If San Francisco’s D can stop Lynch, it drastically improves its chances of winning this ball game.
Win in the Trenches
San Francisco has to be sound up front and play to the level that it is capable of. From an offensive standpoint, it must be wary of the pressure coming its way. There is no question that the Seahawks are going to want to take a piece out of Kaepernick.
The 49ers play their best football when they are controlling the game in the trenches. With three first-rounders, San Francisco has one of the better offensive lines in professional football. It will need to protect its QB and create lanes in the running game throughout the match.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Niners need to take it to the ‘Hawks. San Francisco’s defensive front is very well known as one of the team’s strengths. It can pressure and stop the run without blitzing, which will be key in this matchup.
Its presence in the backfield, or lack thereof, will help determine the outcome of this game.
Outhit the Seahawks in All Three Phases
Seattle is notorious for giving San Francisco dogfights because it hits back. With head coach Pete Carroll, the ‘Hawks have been eager for their games with the 49ers, bringing a little bit of extra fire.
The Seahawks also have a number of unique physical specimens that don’t mind contact. Since the Niners pride themselves on out-hitting their opponent, they cannot afford to get beat up by the Seahawks. The 49ers need to come out with their tone-setting hits and make sure they control the tempo of this game on offense, defense and special teams.
Jim Harbaugh Continues to Torment Pete Carroll
There is a very real rivalry brewing in the NFC West, and it goes beyond two competitive teams vying for postseason contention. A rivalry that carried over from the NCAA has now spilled onto the NFL scene.
Former Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh and former USC coach Pete Carroll have butted heads throughout their coaching careers. It has made for some highly competitive bouts, of which Harbaugh seems to have Carroll’s number.
Going back to their days in the PAC-10, Harbaugh holds a 5-1 edge over Carroll, including a perfect 3-0 at the pro level. Harbaugh’s .833 career winning percentage against Carroll gives the Niners a solid edge on Sunday Night Football.
I asked Jim Harbaugh about hallmark of Pete Carroll-coached team. Harbaugh segued to greeting cards. Said he won't send him Christmas card.— Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoCSN) December 19, 2012
Play Fundamentally Sound
This sets up as a game where both teams cannot afford to make mistakes, because they will likely prove to be very costly.
The 49ers need to play sound, precision football that’s reflective of the great coaching they receive week in and week out. The Niners need to be as sharp mentally as they are physically. This means no biting on double-moves or play-action—foolish things that could result in big plays for the other team.
San Francisco also needs to make sure it tackles well and its blocking is up to par. Its ability to shed blocks and pursue the ball-carrier will be critical in this one. The team that makes fewer errors will likely emerge victorious.
Limit the Penalties
It would be very boneheaded if the 49ers allowed penalties to affect this game. Many believe the 49ers have the better football team, and their record is reflective as such. But the team will be out of their element on Sunday night, going on the road to face the Seahawks at a noisy Qwest Field.
It will be Colin Kaepernick’s first start at Seattle, which is one of the tougher places to play in professional sports. The 12th man is often a factor, creating pre-snap problems for the visiting team.
Moreover, the 49ers need to avoid getting drawn into conflicts. As we mentioned, this is going to be a heated game between two teams that don’t like one another. With the playoffs being a factor in this one, emotions should be running high.
Take Advantage of Scoring Opportunities
On Sunday, the 49ers and Seahawks will bring the No. 2 and 3 defenses to the field. These two should be trading haymakers for 60 minutes in a game where points will be very hard to come by. Since both of these teams play so tough defensively, the 49ers will want to capitalize on their scoring opportunities.
They will want to take advantage of red-zone chances and score touchdowns instead of field goals. The Niners need to wear down this ‘Hawks defense and set up high percentage plays that could get them on the board.
Sharp Offensive Play-Calling
When the Niners are rolling on offense, they present a great, diverse catalog of offensive packages. Their multiple formations and pre-snap adjustments are a great way to keep defenses on their heels and locate mismatches.
The 49ers have one of the more creative playbooks in the NFL, and it’s paid dividends for them. As of recent, their incorporation of the read-option has been a nice new wrinkle. With Kaepernick’s athleticism and the list of playmakers on offense, it’s very difficult to defend.
The team could also benefit from creating opportunities for LaMichael James to make plays in space. At the end of the game versus the Patriots, James took a kickoff return 62 yards to set up the game-winning TD. This kind of explosiveness must be employed against the fast, physical Seahawks D.
The more creative and sensible the 49ers are with their play-calling, the better their chances of victory.