Sitting at 1-0, having knocked off a league MVP and recent Super Bowl champion to start the 2013 campaign, the San Francisco 49ers have a lot to be enthused about and a lot to look forward to. This team, riddled with superstars and a wily head coach, is primed for a title in the not-too-distant future.
However, a Lombardi Trophy wouldn’t be so highly coveted if it weren’t hard to come by. The obstacles on the road to any title run are endless, and the 49ers happen to be side-saddled with their biggest one. It comes in the form of a bruising division rival that is essentially a carbon copy of the 49ers.
If there is one thing standing in San Francisco’s way, it’s Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks.
These two teams are so evenly matched and so close to their ultimate goal, that it fuels the fire between them every time they share the field. This rivalry has intensified with every day. And when the opportunity arises for them to actually line up and hit each other, forget about it.
NFL fans can expect the battle for NFC West supremacy—and maybe the National Football League—to take place this Sunday night.
Seeing as how there is a lot riding on this one, as it is a game that comes with several unpredictable variables proceeded by numerous implications, the 49ers are on their toes and maybe not as loose as usual.
There are prevailing elements that can affect this game negatively for San Francisco and questions that may arise if they do. For a preview of the team’s biggest concerns heading into Week 2, proceed through the following.
Two notables the Seahawks will not have in this matchup are wide receiver Percy Harvin, who is out with a hip injury, and linebacker Bruce Irvin, who is serving out a four-game suspension. Prior to the news, these two were candidates to be Seattle’s offensive and defensive MVPs this season.
Needless to say, these are huge losses.
Cornerback Brandon Browner is also a potential scratch, having missed practice all week, including a key Thursday session, via John Boyle of the Everett Herald. Together, all three absences from these players will greatly impact this game. It also gives San Francisco a legitimate window to steal a win on the road.
Smelling blood in the water, the 49ers have to realize that this is their opportunity to strike.
Playing the Seahawks again in December, this is a team that will be healthy and perhaps sniffing a top seed in the postseason. Harvin, Irvin and Browner will all be back, along with a healthier Chris Clemons and Brandon Mebane. So, even though the Niners are hosting the second matchup, it should be the tougher one to win.
If they fall to a Seahawks team that is far less than 100 percent, it will raise serious concern about who is in control of the NFC West.
What's goin 12th man just checkn in ...I'm making serious progress ...keep an eye on week 7...don't hang them 11's up.....we workn— Percy Harvin (@Percy_Harvin) September 4, 2013
Beyond the level of talent on the roster, the Seahawks are a very proficient football team because they know how to prepare week to week.
After losing to Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers three straight times, coach Pete Carroll and his staff adjusted and finally devised a concrete plan to romp their heated division rivals, which came hobbling into CenturyLink Field last December.
This was Colin Kaepernick’s first start versus Seattle, and it happened to be in the rowdiest stadium in the league. Hot off a win over the New England Patriots in Foxborough, Mass., the 49ers were looking like they could beat anyone, but they were in for a rude awakening.
Coach Carroll’s squad walloped S.F. for the first time, really kicking this rivalry up a notch.
If the Kaepernick-led Niners fall to the Seahawks for a second time in a row, teams around the league will really begin to take notice. Other clubs may not have the personnel that Carroll’s ‘Hawks do, but they will be trying to implicate a similar philosophical approach to playing the 49ers.
There is no doubt.
Any time a team plays a football game, weaknesses are exposed—even more so when it is a loss. Seattle’s effectiveness versus San Francisco this week will create a schematic blueprint for other team’s around the league; those that have been gearing up for games against the 49ers and those that could see them in the postseason.
For the Niners, the first five weeks of the schedule—versus Green Bay, at Seattle, versus Indianapolis, at St. Louis and versus Houston—was always perceived as the minefield of their 2013 slate of games.
In Week 1, the 49ers started off hot, roaring past Aaron Rodgers and the Packers at Candlestick Park to begin 1-0. However, they won’t even have a week to catch their breath before being thrust into another fistfight.
Not to take away from Green Bay, but the Seahawks are even more a challenge, considering their level of talent, familiarity with the team and the fact that they match up better. Still, this is just one of many battles the Niners need to win early.
This is the hardest part of their schedule, so if they get out clean, they’re in prime position to do enough afterward to win the division and secure a top spot in the postseason.
It’s no mystery, the 49ers and Seahawks may very well clash in the postseason in 2013, so naturally, this game comes with playoff implications.
That being said, San Francisco has to be able to win on the road against the ‘Hawks. It is perhaps their toughest fathomable matchup. To win it would be a tremendous confidence booster—to lose it would give them butterflies and doubt the next time they have to travel to Seattle.
With so much of the NFL having to do with a mental approach, it will be important to know that this 2013 team is capable of such a feat.
Moreover, the first step to going to the postseason is winning one’s division and this is San Francisco’s first matchup in the NFC West. Their ticket to a top seed in January goes through Seattle (and vice versa). On a national stage in Week 2, this will wind up being a tremendous statement by whichever team emerges victorious.
No game if rather attend this year than Seahawks/49ers in Seattle. That rivalry will be the NFL's best for the next five years.— Ryan Lownes (@ryanlownes) April 27, 2013
In three Week 1 showings by Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers, the offense in particular has been fairly simplified.
They tend to progressively show more over the course of a season.
When the coaches draw up the game plan week to week, they do so with the intention of revealing as little as possible. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman would prefer to take out an opponent without showing his entire hand because he knows it is an advantage for upcoming weeks. Always thinking ahead.
Per Marc Sessler of NFL.com, Roman limited quarterback Colin Kaepernick during the season, wanting to “make everybody forget” about the pistol and read-option looks, as to unleash them in the playoffs. By doing this, they melted the Packers defense in the opening round with a cutting-edge attack no one had really seen.
Defensively, the 49ers might be doing the same this year.
As we saw in Week 1, rookie rush linebacker Corey Lemonier—the man who made Cam Johnson and Parys Haralson expendable—was not a significant factor. The initial thought was that the Niners liked his ability enough that they’d sub him into the nickel package, allowing him to function as a situational edge-rusher.
Vic Fangio and the 49ers held back, relying on Justin Smith and Aldon Smith to get pressure while leaving Ahmad Brooks in on third down. It’s nice that Fangio methodically plays the entire season like a hand of cards, but there are almost certainly going to be times where he wishes they went all in.
So, on offense and defense, the concern here is, what if they underestimate their opponent and don’t bring enough to get the job done?
Per Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle, the 49ers have allowed only nine 100-yard rushers in the past 84 games. Four of those 100-yard games belonged to Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, who is averaging 4.8 yards per carry in the last three contests.
He’s tremendously hard to get on the ground.
Lynch can break any arm tackle, and can even plow through body tackles when a defender fails to wrap up. This makes its so the 49ers have to swarm him, which means everyone has to be on their A-game. If guys are late to the football and failing to help one another out, “Beast Mode” will shed them one at a time.
If Lynch gets rolling, it could be a huge momentum gainer for the Seahawks while allowing them to do more things offensively.
The 49ers have allowed just five 100-yard rushing games since Jim Harbaugh took over... Marshawn Lynch has 3 of them.— Liz Mathews 710 ESPN (@Liz_Mathews) September 12, 2013
On this star-studded defensive unit, the 49ers have new role players in starters Eric Reid (FS) and Ian Williams (NT).
The first-round rookie and second-year undrafted free agent plugged right into the lineup in Week 1, and against a fierce opponent in Green Bay, they held their ground. Finishing third in tackles and registering an interception, Reid even looked like one of the stars of the game.
And for most of the matchup, Williams was a load, proving to be fairly difficult to knock off the ball.
On offense, San Francisco has two new featured players in wide receiver Quinton Patton and tight end Vance McDonald. While they were essentially non-factors in the first game of the season, the coaching staff will be looking to get them involved sooner rather than later.
Given the matchup this week, the Niners are going to need all hands on deck.
Now, this rivalry is brand new to them, and as rookies, they will have to brace for the overwhelming physicality that comes with this annual grudge match. In a dog-eat-dog competition, it will be interesting to see which—if any—of San Francisco’s young players are the aggressor.
Eric Reid on playing Seattle: "The guys tell me it's like a playoff game." #49ers— Scott Kegley (@ScottKegley) September 11, 2013
A bleed-from-the-ears and lose-your-voice level of noise.
There is no sports stadium in the continental U.S. more intimidating for a visiting team than CenturyLink Field. The fanbase in Seattle is passionate and relentless. When any team ventures to the Pacific Northwest, not only does it have to play the Seahawks, but it also has to play the crowd.
That has rightfully earned them the “12th man” label (even if Texas A&M had it first).
This is one of the biggest elements impacting this weekend’s contest. And the fact that this is a prime-time game that will be seen by 20 or so million will only up the ante—the crowd is bound to be roaring. Consequently, it’ll muddle things for quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers offense.
The 49ers allow Kaepernick to do a lot of communicating and improvising at the line of scrimmage. That may change on Sunday night. And if it doesn’t, the offense may begin to pile up a lot of false starts. Then by trying to be safe, players may have a delay off the snap.
So, for offensive linemen and wide receivers, where timing is everything, it could put them at a disadvantage.
Pre-snap motions and shifts may also go to the wayside.
One way or another, the noise factor is going to come into play from the first blow of the whistle, and it should last for 60 minutes. While it has nothing to do with Seattle’s personnel or scheme, this is an element than may have a profound effect on the outcome of this ballgame.
Seahawks fans will try to set the Guinness Record for the loudest crowd cheer when Seattle hosts the 49ers Sun night http://t.co/GLqQFd3YGB— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLONFOX) September 12, 2013