49ers vs. Seahawks: 5 Matchups That Will Decide Sunday Night Clash

Zach Kruse@@zachkruse2Senior Analyst IDecember 23, 2012

49ers vs. Seahawks: 5 Matchups That Will Decide Sunday Night Clash

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    Clinching scenarios will be on the line for both the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks Sunday night when the two meet for a Week 16 clash. 

    With a 49ers win, San Francisco would clinch the NFC West and get one step closer to a first-round bye. With a Seahawks win, Seattle would clinch a playoff spot and keep hopes alive for winning the division in Week 17. 

    In the following slides, we'll break down the five matchups that will decide who wins this important NFC West battle Sunday night.

49ers OLB Aldon Smith vs. Seahawks LT Russell Okung

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    Aldon Smith, the NFL's sack leader with J.J. Watt, had one of his 19.5 sacks in the first meeting between these two. However, the lone sack didn't come against Okung, who didn't allow a pressure in Seattle's 13-6 loss to San Francisco.

    With Justin Smith (elbow) unlikely to play Sunday night, the 49ers are going to need a big individual performance from Aldon Smith on the defense's right side. Without Justin Smith, the effectiveness of the 49ers' inside pressure—which has freed up Aldon Smith on a number of occasions this season for sacks—will be limited.

    Speaking of the 49ers pass rush: Don't sleep on Ahmad Brooks against right tackle Breno Giacomini. While Smith gets all the headlines, Brooks has a very respectable 44 overall pressures this season (via Pro Football Focus).

49ers RB Frank Gore vs. Seahawks Front Seven

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    The Seahawks are currently the No. 10 run defense in football, but that ranking is due more to Seattle's early-season success than the defense's recent ability to hold up on the ground. Since Week 7, the Seahawks have allowed almost 134 rushing yards a game. 

    The start of that run came against the 49ers, who rushed for 175 yards in the first meeting. Frank Gore gained 131 of those yards on just 16 carries.

    San Francisco, the No. 2 rushing offense in football this season, has rushed for at least 140 yards in four straight games. The 49ers know that staying with a dominant run game will be key to winning on the road in Seattle.

49ers WR Michael Crabtree vs. Seahawks CB Richard Sherman

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    The introduction of Colin Kaepernick to the starting lineup has re-energized receiver Michael Crabtree. In three December games and three Kaepernick starts, Crabtree has 23 catches for 301 yards and two touchdowns.

    The Seahawks will have No. 1 cornerback Richard Sherman (suspension appeal) available, and he's expected to shadow Crabtree for most of Sunday night. In the first meeting, Sherman allowed just one catch to Crabtree for 16 yards.

    Sherman needs to be especially cognizant of Crabtree on third down, which has become his go-to time. Forty-six of Crabtree's 73 catches have given the 49ers first downs this season.

49ers Front Seven vs. Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch

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    Marshawn Lynch is having a ridiculous month of December.

    In three games this month, Lynch has 328 rushing yards and an average of 8.2 yards per carry. In wins over the Cardinals and Bills, Lynch rushed for over 100 yards and had an average of over 11 yards a carry in each game. 

    Lynch will get a heat check Sunday night. The 49ers are the No. 3 defense in rushing yards (1,276), rushing average (3.6 yards) and touchdowns (six).

    However, in five career games against the 49ers, Lynch is averaging over 80 yards and five yards per carry. The Seahawks need him to carry a big load Sunday night, even with rookie quarterback Russell Wilson playing so well. Becoming one-dimensional is a death sentence against the 49ers defense.

49ers vs. Seattle's Home-Field Advantage

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    The Seahawks' home-field advantage at CenturyLink Field is real, and you don't have to look anywhere but Seattle's 6-0 record at home to prove it.

    However, something tells me that Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers couldn't really care less where they are playing Sunday night.

    San Francisco has already gone into New Orleans and won, and it later beat the Patriots in New England, the Pats' first home December loss in ages. The 49ers are constructed to play against any team in any kind of conditions.

    There's no doubting that Seattle plays better at home, but there's also no doubting that the 49ers can beat a good football team in hostile conditions.