Over the last year, the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers have formed one of the most bitter rivalries in the NFL. There is no love loss between these two teams. This past offseason the Seahawks tried to one-up the 49ers, and the 49ers tried to one-up the Seahawks.
Whether it was free-agent signings, waiver wire pickups or injuries, neither team would rest until it had the last laugh. Even though we won't see two star-studded wide receivers (Michael Crabtree and Percy Harvin) in the lineup, this Sunday Night Football matchup will undoubtedly live up to the hype.
With injuries and suspensions considered, let's analyze which team has the edge at each position heading into Week 2 of the 2013 season.
In Kaepernick’s first season as the 49ers’ signal-caller, he took the league by storm. Through the air, he tallied 1,814 yards passing and tossed 10 touchdowns. Additionally, he did an incredible job of protecting the football over the course of his first 10 starts (playoffs included).
His strong play from a season ago has carried over into 2013. Despite missing injured wide receiver Michael Crabtree, Kap looked flawless against the Green Bay Packers. It’s evident that he has established a good rapport with 11-year wide receiver Anquan Boldin and Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis.
Wilson, on the other hand, has had similar success. As a rookie, he posted a quarterback rating of 100 (franchise record), threw for 3,118 yards and scored 30 touchdowns total. Moreover, he garnered five game-winning drives and four fourth-quarter comebacks.
Sure, he struggled at times Week 1 versus the Carolina Panthers, but all the blame doesn’t fall on his shoulders. The offensive line was less than impressive and the running game never got going until late in the game.
Even though both teams have top-tier quarterbacks, the Seahawks and the 49ers are run-first teams. All-Pro Marshawn Lynch finished the 2012 season with 1,590 yards rushing, and Frank Gore ended the season with 1,214 yards.
Respectively, the analysts at Pro Football Focus (subscription required) believed Lynch was the fifth-best tailback in football, and Gore was the ninth-best. It’s hard to disagree with PFF’s sentiment. The 27-year-old back out of California scored more touchdowns, he averaged more yards per carry and forced more missed tackles.
Furthermore, Lynch did more with a less talented offensive line. Based on PFF’s (subscription required) run blocking efficiency ratings, San Francisco was touted as the best run blocking team in the league. Seattle finished 15th out of 32 teams.
Outside of the two starting running backs, both organizations have gobs of depth. Robert Turbin and Christine Michael are young, but they are the perfect complementary backs to Lynch. Turbin amassed 354 yards as a rookie, and Michael is the Seahawks second-round pick from this year’s draft class.
However, Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James have a wealth of talent as well. Despite suffering a torn Achilles last year, Hunter looks to back at full speed and running well. James hasn’t seen many touches out of the backfield, but he has made an immediate impact as a kick returner on 14 career attempts.
This past offseason the Seahawks and the 49ers were rocked by injuries at the wide receiver position. The Niners lost budding superstar Michael Crabtree, and the ‘Hawks lost their quote, unquote first-round pick (Percy Harvin).
Back in May, Crabtree tore his Achilles tendon during an organized team activity. General manager Trent Baalke and head coach Jim Harbaugh decided to put the fifth-year receiver on the PUP list. By doing so, they are hoping he can return and contribute towards the latter part of the season.
Initially, Harvin’s hip injury was viewed as one that may force him to miss the entire 2013 season. But things have definitely changed since he started rehabbing. According to his official Twitter page, he’s making “serious progress.” Harvin also told fans to keep an eye out for a Week 7 return.
That’s pretty optimistic considering the original diagnosis, yet only he knows his body and how it’s feeling.
With two top-notch wideouts on the shelf, both teams have had to rely on other players to fill the void. Obviously Anquan Boldin was a huge addition for San Francisco, but behind him there isn’t a whole lot of proven talent.
At least Seattle has Golden Tate, Sidney Rice and Doug Baldwin. All three of those players have had productive seasons in the past.
As good as the Seahawks’ receiving corps is, the same can’t be said about their tight ends. Yes, Zach Miller played a crucial role in the playoffs last season, but overall he has been a disappointment. Since signing his five-year, $34 million contract in 2011, Miller has only caught 63 passes for 629 yards.
Based on the fact he carries a cap number of $11 million in 2013, Seattle hasn’t exactly gotten its money’s worth. Not to mention, No. 2 tight end Luke Willson is a fifth round rookie. Which means it’s safe to say the team won’t experience much success at the position unless Miller takes a huge leap forward.
Don’t count on that happening.
Without question, the 49ers have more ability and depth at the position than their archrival. Vernon Davis is primed for a breakout season, thanks in large part to injuries at the receiver position. And first-year player Vance McDonald looks to have what it takes to replace Delanie Walker as Davis’ sidekick.
Ever since offensive line coach Tom Cable came aboard in Seattle, the Seahawks have consistently gotten better upfront. Left tackle Russell Okung was selected to his first Pro Bowl in 2012, and center Max Unger was a first-team All-Pro.
Their respective selections were warranted because they opened up holes for a 1,500-yard rusher. Nevertheless, it’s pretty obvious as to who fields a more complete unit. Aside from having the best bookend tackles in the game, the Niners also have two of the best offensive guards.
Joe Staley (LT), Anthony Davis (RT), Mike Iupati (LG) and Alex Boone (RG) are all All-Pro caliber players. And oh yeah, center Jonathan Goodwin is no slouch. The ‘Hawks are improving; yet San Francisco takes the cake as the most well rounded offensive line in the NFL.
Comparing two different defensive lines is tough when each team runs a different scheme. The 49ers base defense consists of three down linemen and four linebackers, while the Seahawks front-seven consists of four down linemen and three linebackers.
Nonetheless, if we are talking about pure talent, the two defensive lines are worthy of comparison.
In addition to Chris Clemons, Brandon Mebane and Red Bryant, Seattle furthered itself by signing defensive ends Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett. Avril and Bennett were targeted during free agency after Coach Carroll’s defense went missing in action against the Atlanta Falcons in the playoffs.
Overall, defensive coordinator Dan Quinn’s defensive line shouldn’t have a problem harassing opposing quarterbacks once everyone is healthy.
Like its rivals, San Francisco restocked its arsenal as well. 2008 first-round pick Glenn Dorsey came over from the Kansas City Chiefs to play nose tackle, and Tank Carradine was drafted in the second round to give the team a rotational rusher that plays both defensive end spots.
In spite of there schematic differences, both defensive lines are extremely gifted.
Middle linebacker Bobby Wagner played out of his mind as a rookie in 2012. He registered 140 total tackles, two quarterback sacks and three interceptions. His high level of play has pundits comparing him to some of the league’s best inside linebackers.
Yet we all know which squad fields the two best inside linebackers the NFL has to offer. As soon as Coach Harbaugh brought himself and his staff to the Bay Area, NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis have played at an unprecedented level.
In back-to-back years, Bowman and Willis have been named first-team All-Pro members. Each player finished with 120 tackles or more, and each player proved that they are complete players. Aside from stopping the run, they can rush the passer and cover the pass.
The only question that looms over the 49ers’ linebacking corps is their depth. If Bowman, Willis or Aldon Smith gets hurt, how will they cope?
After losing cornerback Chris Culliver for the season to a torn ACL, San Francisco had some reshuffling to do in the defensive backfield. Because of Culliver’s injury, veteran Nnamdi Asomugha is now firmly entrenched as the team’s No. 3 cornerback, and Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown are the starters on the outside.
At the safety position, things are less murky. First-round pick Eric Reid is manning the free safety position and Donte Whitner is holding down the fort at strong safety. Based on name recognition alone, that’s a promising secondary.
Fortunately, talent and consistency trump name recognition. Which leads me to the most skilled set of safeties and cornerbacks in the NFL. Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner aren’t called the “Legion of Boom” for no reason. Week in and week out, they deliver crushing blows and lock down the opposition like nobody’s business.
Each member of the “Legion of Boom” has been an All-Pro selection or a Pro Bowler. Is there really a question as to who gets the edge here?
Andy Lee or Jon Ryan? Ultimately, you can’t go wrong with either choice. But if strictly go by the numbers, Lee would have to be your choice. At the end of last year, the 10-year veteran averaged 43.2 net yards per punt, his maximum hang time was 5.1 seconds and he downed 36 punts inside the 20-yard line.
As far as the kickers go, one would have to choose Steven Hauschka over Phil Dawson. Hauschka performed better on kickoffs, he recorded more touchbacks and he didn’t miss a single field goal less than 50 yards away. Dawson is a better long-distance kicker, but that’s it.
If Percy Harvin was healthy and in the lineup, the return game edge wouldn’t be close—yet, Harvin isn’t healthy and he’s not in the lineup, so the 49ers get the nod here based on proven experience and productivity. LaMichael James and Kyle Williams are both adept returners that understand what it takes to be good return men.
The Harbaugh-Carroll rivalry goes all the way back to their coaching days at the collegiate level. No matter what is said to the media, it’s evident that neither coach particularly cares for one another. If you go back and take a look at their all-time record against each other, Harbaugh owns Carroll.
For his career, he’s 5-2 versus his NFC West counterpart. The only time Carroll snuck by Harbaugh in the pros was Week 16 of the 2012 season. Seattle put it on San Francisco to the tune of 42-13. Outside of that, he has annihilated the 61-year-old bubble gum chewing leader of men.
In terms of position coaches, the edge goes to the 49ers. Even though Harbaugh’s top assistants came with him from Stanford, you can’t argue with results. In two years time, the Niners have been to two NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl.
Results are the only things that matter in the NFL. Success on a yearly basis is the only thing that keeps coaching staffs and front offices together. Don’t get me wrong, the ‘Hawks have been successful; they just haven’t been as successful as Harbaugh and his top guns.
By going back and looking at all the areas of emphasis, the 49ers clearly have the competitive advantage. They had the edge in five (tight end, offensive line, linebacker, special teams and coaching) different categories, the Seahawks had the edge at three (running back, wide receiver and defensive back) and two (quarterback and defensive line) of them were a push.
On paper, it looks like San Francisco should come away with a victory on Sunday. But as we know, there are other variables that will factor into the outcome. Over the last two seasons, Coach Carroll’s ball club has done a phenomenal job of defending their home field.
Since the beginning of 2011, they are 13-3 in front of their home crowd. For those of you who don’t believe in home-field advantage, shame on you. Winning on the road is hard to do in the NFL. Winning on the road in the Pacific Northwest is damn near impossible.
Despite the leg up from a positional standpoint, the Seahawks will win a shootout in front of their home crowd, 30-24.