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How the 49ers Match Up with the Seahawks After Free Agency Rush

Dylan DeSimoneCorrespondent IApril 6, 2013

How the 49ers Match Up with the Seahawks After Free Agency Rush

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    When these two teams get together, they clash like two proud rams.

    In the past two seasons, the rivalry between the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks has been set ablaze. Both are young, physical, talented and happen to be directly in each other’s way.

    Fans can rest assured, from here on out, these divisional battles will be nothing short of heavyweight grudge matches.

    Led by Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll, these franchises have been ascending, sharing the common goal of Vince Lombardi Trophy or bust. And periodically, it appears as if they are building to combat one another, and no one else.

    While there is an intense repugnance between the 49ers and Seahawks, the respect could not be more profound. Anytime another team makes you change the way you strategize and build your organization, it is because they are doing something right.

    In no other division in the league is the level of competition this high and this apparent between the top two teams.

    Right now, the 49ers and Seahawks are neck-and-neck in an arms race for league supremacy. As they continue to enhance their already loaded arsenals, we take a look at how the 2013 personnel changes affect the state of the rivalry.   

Quarterback

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    The 2012 season gave life to the Colin Kaepernick vs. Russell Wilson rivalry, very well dawning a new era in the NFC West for the next decade. After a period of colorless quarterback play, these two organizations have caught lightning in a bottle.

    As early to mid-round picks in their respective draft classes, both Kaepernick and Wilson were thrust into competition and took to the pro game like fish to water. In competitive situations, they thrived, and each quickly earned the respect of his teammates.

    Especially for Kaepernick, these were not easy odds to overcome. In the midst of a controversy on a Super Bowl favorite, Kaepernick had to take the reigns late in the season and prove to himself, Jim Harbaugh and the world that he belonged.

    This was trying for Kaepernick, whereas Wilson’s ascension into the lineup was a seamless transition in comparison. After an open competition, Wilson had a nine-game head start on Kaepernick, having won the starting job in training camp.

    Regardless of the situation, the Seahawks' rookie QB had quite an impressive 2012 campaign. Almost irrefutably, Wilson asserted himself as the team’s franchise quarterback.

    Wilson showed he had the winning gene, engineering four fourth-quarter comebacks and five game-winning drives, per Scott Kacsmar of Pro Football Focus.

    Kaepernick only led to winning fourth-quarter drives in the regular season. But in hindsight, he did not make his first start until Week 10. Also, with that stellar defense, Kaepernick rarely had to play from behind.

    In his seven career starts during the regular season, Kaepernick averaged a 100.4 QB rating. And while it’s early in their careers, at this juncture, I won’t waver from proclaiming Kaepernick as the better player.

    While they both have strong arms, Kaepernick is a better thrower. With his pinpoint accuracy and high velocity, Kaepernick is a franchise quarterback based solely on his passing ability.

    Two-time Super Bowl champion QB and NFL analyst Phil Simms had this to say about Kaepernick (h/t Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle):

    He may be the most dynamic quarterback in the NFL. His arm is not good, it’s special. If you watch the San Francisco 49ers ever since he became quarterback, you see these throws every single week. It’s not only the power. It’s the accuracy. That’s what has really startled me. He can throw it hard on a line, but his touch passes down the field have been spectacular… Forget the running, that arm alone is enough to make you a franchise quarterback.

    Add in the running ability, which is unparalleled—maybe even the all-time best at the QB position—and Kaepernick has the edge over Wilson.

    Moreover, the 49ers' quarterback started fewer games and still led his team to the Super Bowl. And despite his jaw-dropping performances, Kaepernick is just scratching the surface in San Francisco.

    C. Kaepernick: 5-2 record as starter, 1.4 percent interception rate, 10 TDs,3 INTs

    R. Wilson: 11-5 record as a starter, 2.5 percent interception rate, 26 TDs, 10 INTs

    This offseason, the 49ers made two trades to bolster the quarterback position. The Niners first sent Alex Smith to Kansas City, then proceeded to acquire Colt McCoy from Cleveland.

    Through that sequence, the 49ers gained second- and sixth-round draft picks in 2013, while losing a fifth and a seventh. 

    The addition of McCoy will give the Niners an experienced player better suited to be a backup in this league. And since he is only three years into his NFL career, McCoy is still raw in the developmental sense.

    Furthermore, let's not neglect Jim Harbaugh is a known QB guru, while Pete Carroll is not. As long as Harbaugh is in the Bay Area, he will forever give the Niners an edge at the quarterback position.

    Given the all-encompassing talent between coach and quarterback, the Harbaugh-Kaepernick combo is tough to beat.

    Colin Kaepernick's 183 rush yards are the most for a QB in NFL history including BOTH playoff and regular season games (via Elias).

    — SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 13, 2013

     

    Edge: 49ers

Running Back

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    Even minus Steven Jackson (h/t ESPN), the NFC West is still rich in running backs, featuring two of the league's best.

    Since being drafted in 2005, Frank Gore has been a rock for the 49ers, providing stability and production through years of turmoil. With his ability as an all-purpose bell cow, he has won a lot of games for the Niners.

    In every season in which he has started 14 or more games, Gore has gained more than 1,200 rushing yards.

    With almost 12,000 yards from scrimmage and more than 60 touchdowns, Gore is the franchise’s all-time rusher. And after posting more than 1,000 yards on the ground again in 2012, he showed he still has fuel left in the tank.

    Though well known, Gore is one of the most underrated at the position, simply because his running style is not glamorous. He does not have quick-cut ability or top-end speed; Gore is all about vision and heart.

    One of the best trades this decade was when Seattle fleeced Buffalo—trading fourth- and fifth-round picks—for Marshawn Lynch in 2010.

    This netted the Seahawks a bull shark to lead their backfield, and Lynch has been running like a man possessed ever since.

    This past season, he was named a first-team All-Pro, accumulating 1,590 yards on the ground (third in the NFL). He is defined by his powerful yet erratic running style, deflecting would-be tacklers with sheer will.

    Admittedly, the only downside to the Seahawks’ running back corps is that it lacks depth. Outside of Lynch, the unit is flat and lacks the dynamism to truly compete with San Francisco’s high-volume attack.

    According to recent reports, third-year RB Kendall Hunter is expected to return to the Niners from his season-ending Achilles injury and be ready for the 2013 camp in Santa Clara (h/t Pro Football Talk).

    So, while neither team made any offseason signings at the position, the 49ers are gaining a player in a way.

    This will complete a vibrant trifecta, featuring Gore, Hunter and new coming sensation, LaMichael James. This explosive, complementary trio is likely to make headlines in their first year together. 

    For a lot of football fans, the choice between the two ground attacks is just a matter of taste. The Seahawks boasted the third-ranked rushing unit in 2012, with the 49ers coming in just a notch below at No. 4.

    Frank Gore is the 2nd player to rush for 100 yards and a touchdown in a Super Bowl loss (Thurman Thomas)

    — ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 4, 2013

     

    Edge: Push  

Tight End

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    In the wake of Delanie Walker’s departure, there has been a litany of questions raised about San Francisco’s tight-end situation, mainly because the 49ers rely on a two-tight end system.

    Vernon Davis remains a top-5 tight end—that goes without saying—but he has never been without his partner in crime, Walker. With No. 46 no longer around, this should be a transitional year for Davis, but he could flourish.

    A little known fact: Davis is one of the most athletic players in the league—truly superior to most others—and the reason this is often forgotten is because he puts his head down and blocks quite a bit.

    This past season, Davis only had 548 yards on 41 receptions, which was his least productive 16-game campaign since 2008.

    Now with Walker out of the picture—leaving for an opportunity to start in Tennessee—there is a feeling of emptiness at TE for the 49ers right now.  

    But lo and behold, the rich can truly get richer in 2013. This year’s draft class is awfully deep at tight end, and it’s a virtual certainty that San Francisco snags a guy in the early to middle rounds.

    This potential fill-in at No. 2 could not only replace Walker, but upgrade the position altogether. After the draft, the 49ers may be in much better shape than they ever were with Walker.

    Meanwhile, the Seahawks have relied on free agency to build this offense (See: Percy Harvin, Sidney Rice, Marshawn Lynch). But  the one area where it has not worked out is at tight end.

    Year after year, Seattle TEs have been run-of-the-mill, at best. But in all fairness to the team, the Seahawks do not rely on them greatly. From a philosophical standpoint, the 49ers demand a lot from that position and integrate them into the offensive game plan on a more frequent basis.

    For the Seahawks, theirs is a no-nonsense approach. They like to pound the ball and get vertical. But on the other hand, they don’t want to have any limitations, so that could change a bit this season.

    The first sign of this came when the Seahawks signed former NCAA basketball player Darren Fells of Florida International, per Doug Farrar of Yahoo! Sports.

    At 6’7”, 280 pounds, Seattle is hoping to add another dimension with this rookie, who is the younger brother of veteran TE Daniel Fells. He will look to follow in the footsteps of ex-basketball forwards turned NFL stars, like Tony Gonzalez, Jimmy Graham and Antonio Gates.

    And while gifted, Fells is anything but a sure thing. 

    Given the presence of Vernon Davis, and their systematic emphasis on the TE position, the Niners come out ahead. 

    Proud of my bro @dwalk46 getting a big deal as a starter for the Titans! You will be missed in SF

    — Vernon Davis (@VernonDavis85) March 13, 2013

     

    Edge: 49ers

Wide Receiver

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    Although the receiving corps of the 49ers and Seahawks were flat-out deplorable in previous seasons, under their new regimes, both units have been riding a clear resurgence. 

    Both teams have made conscious decisions to mend the position, outsourcing options to become more dynamic at wide receiver. With their unfavorable luck at the position in the draft, both organizations have looked to bring in proven guys from around the league.

    Recognizing they had to insert components to combat each other’s defenses, these two teams added Percy Harvin and Anquan Boldin to the NFC West via trade wire (h/t NFL.com). 

    Harvin will add to a Seattle WR group that already features Sidney Rice, Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin. And while Harvin and Rice played together once before (2009-2010 with the Minnesota Vikings), they were not the No. 1 tandem in the league then and were weren't a game-changer.

    Though, admittedly, having Russell Wilson behind center will change things up a bit.

    In his first year with the team, Harvin will do a lot for the Seahawks, including adding to their read-option package. That the Seahawks were willing to part with picks, as well as significant financial capital, proves that they think Harvin will be a cornerstone for this franchise.

    The 49ers have to be prepared for Harvin, who might emerge as Wilson’s go-to receiver as soon as 2013.

    While you can’t predict chemistry, given Wilson’s caliber, he could help Harvin reach career highs. Mind you, in four seasons in the NFL, Harvin has yet to top the 1,000-yard mark as a receiver, via ESPN Stats.

    And while the Seahawks have made appealing transactions on paper, one has to consider the depth and proven talent the 49ers are working with in 2013. Not to mention, the headlining career explosion by Michael Crabtree, the former 10th overall pick. Entering his fifth year, Crabtree is coming off a sensational year.

    The metaphysical sparks between he and Kaepernick last season were hard to ignore and could become iconic in the Bay Area. With a full offseason together, there should be a visible progression in their on-field relationship.

    San Francisco also moved forward by cutting dead weight in Randy Moss and Ted Ginn Jr., freeing up space on the roster to infuse fresh, young talent. Yet another under-the-radar move was the restructuring of Mario Manningham’s deal, via Yard Barker.

    This gives San Francisco a trio of distinguished receivers, with two Lombardi Trophies, three Pro Bowls and nearly 17,000 receiving yards between them.   

    The 49ers’ three-wide sets featuring Crabtree, Boldin and Manningham are going to cause problems for defenses. Not only do they all have spectacular hands—each aggressive in their catch-zone radius—but they put the work in after the reception is made. 

    I think if Percy Harvin was as good as people think he is, his career high for receiving TDs would be more than 6.

    — Fantasy Douche (@FantasyDouche) April 4, 2013

     

    Edge: Push

Offensive Line

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    With the offseason underway, there have been no changes to the offensive lines in the Pacific Northwest. The foundations of both teams have been established. Now it is just a matter of time together and building a callous.

    With three first-round selections, the 49ers have one of the most reputable line groups in football. When it comes to the grind-it-out rushing attack, this unit is operating on another plane altogether.

    This past season, all five starters earned Pro Bowl recognition; Joe Staley and Mike Iupati were named starters, while Jonathan Goodwin, Alex Boone and Anthony Davis were declared alternates.

    This unit gelled exceptionally well and was characterized by their dominating performances, simply beating up opponents in the trenches.

    But the Seahawks also have a commendable offensive line. Russell Wilson was able to operate at full capacity behind it and should only get more comfortable over time.

    However, the output by the Seahawks was not at the cohesive, prevailing level of the 49ers. The investment, time and growth in the 49ers' offensive line really began to show itself in 2012. 

    San Francisco’s line not only hit back, but from a mental standpoint, it flawlessly executed a very cerebral attack.

    OT Anthony Davis' five-year extension with 49ers is worth $37.3 million, including $17 million in guaranteed money.

    — Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) April 5, 2013

     

    Edge: 49ers

Defensive Line

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    On the defensive side of the ball, San Francisco and Seattle are two of the best in the league, both ranking in the top 5 in 2012. A big part of that is because of their ability to wreak havoc.

    The Seahawks have a tenacious group up front, but, unfortunately, one of their biggest contributors is slightly dinged. In the 2012 postseason game in Washington, defensive end Chris Clemons went down with a torn ACL, via Gregg Rosenthal NFL.com.

    While losing Clemons may affect the team early on, one has to keep in mind that Pete Carroll has been preparing for the future of this line. In the past two offseasons, the team added Bruce Irvin, Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, all of whom should bring the heat for Seattle.

    The ‘Hawks line is in exceptional shape going forward.

    Meanwhile, the 49ers lost two interior linemen to free agency, with Isaac Sopoaga and Ricky Jean-Francois leaving for greener pastures. For both of them, the opportunity to assume larger roles and earn more money was too good to pass up.

    In response to the loss along the defensive line, San Francisco made an interesting addition when it signed Glenn Dorsey. The former top-5 overall pick (2008) was one of the most highly touted NFL recruits in the past decade.

    While he may have failed to grow into the dual-threat beast critics hoped he’d be—drawing comparisons to Warren Sapp—Dorsey became a very consistent presence against the rush.

    Moreover, the 49ers are more than likely to add a skilled rusher in the draft, choosing from one of the many hybrid defensive linemen available. Being that this is a deep class and the team is rich in draft picks, it makes sense to add another dimension to the defensive line.

    And following his tricep surgery, the return of All-Pro lineman Justin Smith will be huge for San Francisco (h/t Pro Football Talk).  

    He has been very effective during his time in scarlet and gold, emerging as one of the league’s more feared players. But the harsh reality is that Smith will be turning 34 years old at the start of this season. 

    At this point in time, the Seahawks are better set up for 2013 and beyond, whereas defensive line will be a priority for the Niners in late April.

    Michael Bennett, Chris Clemons, Cliff Avril and Bruce Irvin had 38 sacks last season.

    — Mike Sando, ESPN.com (@espn_nfcwest) March 14, 2013

     

    Edge: Seahawks

Linebacker

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    Even though it is an organization historically known for its winning culture and ingenuity on offense, the 49ers are quickly becoming synonymous with great linebacking.

    As it stands, San Francisco has the best LB corps in the NFL, and it's tough to contest.

    During the regular season, San Francisco extended NaVorro Bowman, signing him to a five-year, $45.25 million contract. Combined with Patrick Willis, the 49ers will have the pair of All-Pro inside backers until 2017, per Spotrac. 

    And with his career off to a record-setting pace, it appears 2011 first-rounder Aldon Smith will add a unique dimension to an already mighty linebacking corps in the Bay Area.

    The Niners complete the picture with eight-year pro Ahmad Brooks, who has been an underrated closer on defense for this team. No. 55 turns it up late in the game when the focus is on the Smith Brothers.

    Across the league, this 49ers LB unit sets the standard.

    Just want to say thanks to all my fans and to all my teammates and with out a doubt I'm 100% sure we will be back at the top again next year

    — Navorro Bowman (@NBowman53) February 4, 2013

     

    Edge: 49ers

Secondary

9 of 10

    At this point, it is common knowledge that Seattle has the single-most dominant secondary in the league. It is well-built and features a number of big, super-athletic ball hawks.

    The Seahawks' corner tandem of Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner is perhaps the most elite pairing at the position. And they receive incredible support from their safeties, who have very complementary skills.

     When it comes to the defensive backfield, the Seahawks have been very proficient in the draft, having put together one of the most effective groups. But the 49ers can hang because of their pass rush and disciplined coverage schemes. 

    For the Niners, this offseason was highlighted by the loss of Dashon Goldson, the All-Pro safety who followed the money to Tampa Bay.

    While that void may be initially difficult to overcome, the team added another All-Pro defensive back in Nnamdi Asomugha, who has background at the corner and safety positions dating back to his days with the Cal Golden Bears.

    San Francisco once showed interest in Asomugha in 2011 when Harbaugh stepped into a position of power, but Asomugha's price tag was too high at that time. 

    Only 31 starts later, the Niners acquired Asomugha in an absolute steal (via SportsCenter). And even though it is an appealing signing, it's not known how it will work out. Meanwhile, the team still has a pressing need at free safety entering the draft.

    Richard Sherman went from my No. 27 ranked cornerback in 2011 to No. 1 in 2012. #Seahawks

    — Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) April 2, 2013

     

    Edge: Seahawks

Special Teams

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    After posting career lows across the board, the 49ers dropped David Akers before his three-year deal was officially up, per Antonio Gonzalez of the Huffington Post.

    The veteran All-Pro had a stellar record-setting campaign for the Niners in 2011, but the downward spiral in performance that followed was too devastating to overlook. After the release was made public, the 49ers quickly moved in on Phil Dawson.

    Dawson, 38, will be the team’s new kicker in 2013 after more than a decade of quality service in Cleveland.

    This past season, Dawson had the best statistical output of his league tenure, connecting on 29-of-31 field goals (93.5 percent). This signing should stabilize the kicking unit for San Francisco until a long-term replacement is identified.

    But the fact remains; San Francisco’s special teams—coverage and return—have been on an evident decline.

    While Craig Dahl could help as a gunner, the 49ers are in need of a true special teams ace, who could be found in the draft. They could also use more explosiveness from their return specialists.

    Further north, the addition of Percy Harvin is a game-changer.

    As mentioned, he is going to help Seattle in multiple aspects, including in the return game. He is dynamic, dangerous in space, has superior field vision and game-breaking ability. 

    This is a player the 49ers will have to prepare for on special teams alone.

    Just want to welcome @phil_dawson_4 to the 49ers. Great to have you.

    — Andy Lee (@andy4lee) March 19, 2013

     

    Edge: Seahawks

     


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