Battle in Seattle: Breaking Down This Week's 49ers vs. Seahawks Game
This week the San Francisco 49ers (10-4-1) will travel to Seattle to take on the Seahawks (9-5) and the "12th Man" at CenturyLink Field, with both division and playoff implications on the line. Two teams that are coming in very hot off their last wins, let's take a look at the matchups heading into what is sure to be a hard-hitting affair come Sunday night.
Week 15 Recap: 49ers @ New England Patriots
The San Francisco 49ers traveled to Foxborough for what many considered a Super Bowl preview with the New England Patriots.
Colin Kaepernick shined early, giving the 49ers an early 17-3 lead on the Patriots at the end of the second half, with the 49ers defense appearing ready to handle whatever Bill Belichick and the Patriots offense threw their way.
But things were just getting started.
The fourth quarter belonged to future Hall of Famer, and three-time Super Bowl champion, Tom Brady. Brady rallied his team from a 28-point deficit, and the Patriots tied the game 31-31 with just over six minutes to go in the fourth quarter.
The 49ers answered with a quick drive of their own. Following a LaMichael James 62-yard kick return, Kaepernick threw a quick strike to wide receiver Michael Crabtree, which resulted in a 38-yard touchdown, putting the 49ers back up, 38-31.
Week 15 Recap: Seahawks @ Bills
Not much to be said about this game.
Russell Wilson led his Seattle Seahawks to a 50-17 win over the Buffalo Bills, making it the second straight game in which the Seahawks scored over 50 points. (They defeated Arizona Cardinals 58-0 week 14.)
The Seahawks headed into halftime with a 31-17 lead, then went on to score 19 unanswered points in the second half, even executing a controversial fake punt run while up 47-17 in the fourth quarter.
Wilson finished the game going 14-for-23 passing for 205 yards and a touchdown, while also accumulating 93 yards rushing and three more touchdowns on the ground.
Also worth noting, running back Marshawn Lynch had himself a nice homecoming, returning to Buffalo for the first time since being traded in 2010. Lynch finished the day with 10 carries for 113 yards and a rushing touchdown.
Let's take a look at the position breakdowns of each team and find out who has the advantage heading into this NFC West clash.
It's tough to make an argument as to which quarterback is actually the better one here.
Both quarterbacks are mobile, both make great plays passing downfield and both have done a nice job at limiting turnovers when the ball is in their hands.
So why give the advantage to Wilson?
Wilson gets the nod mostly due to the playing experience he has gotten this season. Both quarterbacks are first-year starters, but Russell Wilson has been at the helm of the Seahawks since Week 1, as opposed to Kaepernick, who took over as the team's starter for veteran Alex Smith in Week 11, after replacing the injured Smith the previous week against the St. Louis Rams.
Don't confuse this as me hating Kaepernick; I love the kid, and he has been terrific at times since being named the starter. Last week's victory against the Patriots I think speaks volumes about where he could be headed next season as the full-time starter. But there are other factors that play into this decision.
In addition to Wilson having more game experience under his belt, the game is also being played in Seattle. Yes, home-field advantage makes a world of difference in NFL games but it makes an even greater difference when your home field is CenturyLink Field.
The Seahawks are currently 6-0 at home, and it is not uncommon for players and coaches to attribute their success to the fans—otherwise known as "The 12th Man"—and their loud cheering that disrupts the offense of opposing teams. The Seahawks have only given up a total of 78 points at home this season but have surrendered 146 points on the road, a testament to the fans' contribution to their team's success.
This will be Kaepernick's first time facing the Seahawks and the 12th Man. Couple that with a stout Seahawks defense, Kaepernick could struggle a bit in Sunday night's matchup.
Declaring an advantage for either team has proven to be challenging as we move through the positions, and it doesn't get any easier picking Frank Gore over Marshawn Lynch.
Frank Gore gets the nod as the better back in this matchup thanks to his stellar performance in Week 7 against the Seahawks.
Although he didn't run for a touchdown, Gore still managed to carry 16 times for 131 yards, averaging 8.2 yards per carry along the way.
Marshawn Lynch is second in the league in rushing, behind only Adrian Peterson. However, in order to neutralize the Seahawks' home-field advantage and eventually set up the passing game, the 49ers could focus on establishing the run early.
It could prove difficult for Kaepernick to communicate with his receivers once he reaches the line of scrimmage, so giving more running plays to Gore could be the key to the 49ers moving the ball early. He has already had success once this year against the Seahawks, look for him to do it again this week.
Expect to see a physical matchup in the secondary when the 49ers' wide receivers square off against the Seahawks secondary.
Crabtree posted a great game against the Patriots, making seven receptions for 107 yards and two touchdowns, the biggest of those coming on the 38-yard catch-and-run touchdown from Kaepernick that put the 49ers on top for good.
The Seahawks have a physical secondary, led by second-year cornerback Richard Sherman. Standing at 6'4" and weighing 195 pounds, Sherman has anchored the secondary in Seattle, along with fellow corner, the currently suspended Brandon Browner.
Vernon Davis—although he has not been much of a contributor in the passing game this year—could see more targets due to the matchups on the outside. There's no denying that, despite the less than stellar numbers that we are accustomed to seeing from him, Davis is still one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the NFL and a matchup nightmare for any defensive coordinator.
One last note on this matchup: Even though he hasn't done much this season, Randy Moss could still be a major factor in this game.
Defensive Front Seven
It appears more and more that I'm a one-sided fan of the San Francisco 49ers as this list continues on.
I like the 49ers front seven in this matchup.
The 49ers defensive line is packed with playmaking studs, most notably defensive end/defensive tackle Justin Smith. Smith is currently second in the league in tackles by a defensive lineman, behind Houston's J.J. Watt. Along with Isaac Sopoaga and Ray McDonald, the 49ers have a defensive line that can shut down even the best rush offenses.
(According to ESPN, Justin Smith is listed as questionable for the Seahawks game with an elbow injury, thereby putting his streak of 185 consecutive starts in jeopardy.)
The linebacking corps for the 49ers is just as impressive. Not enough can be said about second-year linebacker Aldon Smith, who currently leads the league with 19.5 sacks, and is looking to break the NFL's single-season sack record over the remaining two games.
Alongside Smith are linebackers Ahmad Brooks and All-Pro inside backers, NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis. Willis and Bowman have both eclipsed 100 tackles on the season, with Bowman currently ranked fourth in the league in tackles.
The 49ers' front seven might be the most complete in the NFL. It is a unit that has the size and talent up front to get to the quarterback without having to consistently rush extra defenders. The physical play of the defensive line (and that of Aldon Smith) and the mismatches it creates gives the linebackers a chance to drop back in coverage and focus on playing the pass.
The 49ers may have to draw up more exotic blitzes to get to Russell Wilson this week due to his mobility, but look for a lot of pressure to be put on the rookie signal-caller thanks to the front seven of the 49ers.
The Seattle Seahawks might have the biggest secondary in the NFL—especially their top two cornerbacks, Richard Sherman and the suspended Brandon Browner. Browner, who began serving his suspension in Week 14 against the Arizona Cardinals still has two games left of his four-game suspension but should be in line to return for the playoffs.
Richard Sherman has come on in his second year and made a name for himself after a stellar rookie campaign in 2011. At 6'3", Sherman is a matchup nightmare for any wide receiver due to his athletic ability and remarkable speed for a man his size.
Sherman leads the Seahawks this season with six interceptions and has 56 tackles to his credit as well. If Sherman isn't considered a top cornerback in the league by the end of this season, he will most certainly be mentioned as a player to keep an eye for 2013.
Adding to the size of Seattle's secondary is safety Kam Chancellor. While he doesn't rack up many interceptions, the 6'3", 232-pound Chancellor has the body and speed to match up well with other teams' tight ends in the passing game. With his size and aggressiveness, Chancellor is also an enforcer when supporting the run.
As a whole, both teams have themselves very nice special teams. The separating factor in deciding which team has the better unit is in looking at the kicking numbers.
Both teams have explosive return men on their roster, with the 49ers using either Ted Ginn, Jr. or rookie LaMichael James. James came through big for the 49ers last week when he took a fourth-quarter kickoff return 62 yards into Patriots territory moments after New England had completed a 28-point comeback and tied the score. The 49ers scored on the next play following James' huge return.
For the Seahawks, Leon Washington has returned 22 of Seattle's 24 kick returns this season, and 37 of the team's 38 punt returns. Washington is averaging 30 yards on kickoff returns this season and has scored one touchdown. He is currently tied for most career kick return touchdowns in NFL history with Cleveland's Joshua Cribbs.
All of this being said, a game like this could come down to who makes the last play. And if that play happens to be a field goal, the Seahawks take the cake behind the leg of Steven Hauschka, who has converted 22-of-25 field goal attempts this season.
When these two teams met earlier this season the 49ers escaped with a 13-6 victory at home. With the 49ers on the road in what could possibly be another low-scoring affair, I'll take the more accurate kicker in Hauschka for the hometown Seahawks this week.
Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll go way back in coaching against one another when Carroll was the head coach at USC (2001-2009) and Harbaugh at Stanford (2007-2010). Some fans might even recall the awkward exchange the two coaches had in 2009 after Harbaugh's Stanford Cardinal routed Carroll's USC Trojans 55-21 in their last game against one another at the collegiate level.
With a win against the Seahawks earlier this season, Harbaugh is currently 3-0 against Carroll in their NFL matchups.
Looking at the bigger picture, when Harbaugh took over for the San Francisco 49ers last year, he inherited a team that was 6-10 the previous season and being led by struggling quarterback, Alex Smith. Harbaugh led the 49ers to a 13-3 record his first season at the helm, winning the NFC West division. Currently sitting at 10-3-1 the 49ers look to wrap up the division for the second year in a row with a win Sunday over the Seahawks.
Harbaugh just appears to have Carroll's number, and until Carroll can lead his team to a win over Harbaugh and the 49ers, the advantage in this coaching matchup should stay in favor of Harbaugh.
Who Wins Sunday?
Winner: Seahawks 17-14
For the game overall I'll take the Seahawks over the 49ers in this matchup of NFC West titans.
Putting their 6-0 home record on the line against the 49ers, and coming off of two straight wins in which they put up 50-plus points, I like the Seahawks chances in this game.
With a win, Pete Carroll can finally break his losing streak against Jim Harbaugh, and the Seahawks can clinch a playoff spot and give themselves a chance at the division title heading into the final week of the NFL season.
The 49ers defense showed weaknesses last week after allowing the Patriots to rally from a 28-point deficit. True, they were facing Tom Brady, but a top defense should not be relinquishing a lead that large no matter whom they are playing.
Look for the Seahawks to ride the play of Russell Wilson to a victory over the 49ers, with a little help from Seattle's "12th Man."
Contact Zachary Krueger on Twitter at @NFLWaterCooler