What We've Learned from 49ers vs Seahawks Regular Season Battles
On Sunday afternoon, the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks will meet in the latest chapter of what is quickly becoming one of the most heated rivalries in the NFL.
With two teams who genuinely dislike one another getting together with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, you can bet that this will be a hotly contested, back-and-forth affair.
Throw in two of the NFL's top young quarterbacks and a pair of the NFL's most dominant defenses, and the 2013 NFC Championship Game has the makings of an old-school slugfest.
These teams are very familiar with another, and given that they meet twice a season there are some things we can point to from past matchups as keys to this week's showdown.
Keys such as these.
Home Cooking Tastes Great
For the sake of this article, we're going to deal with the last four meetings between the 49ers and Seahawks, games started by current quarterbacks Russell Wilson and (in three of four cases) Colin Kaepernick.
In those four matchups, it's been all about home cooking. The home team has won each of those contests, and only once since the 2009 season has the visitor prevailed in this rivalry.
That doesn't bode well for the 49ers, but at least they can take solace in being the team that got the road win, downing the Seahawks 19-17 on Christmas Eve 2011.
Since then, however, it's been downhill in a hurry. The 49ers have been blown out both times they've faced the Wilson-led Seahawks at CenturyLink Field, losing two games by a staggering combined score of 71-16.
Kaepernick told Taylor Price of the 49ers website that they've put those shellackings squarely in the rearview mirror.
“That’s in the past,” Kaepernick said. “We’ve got to get this win.”
Colin Kaepernick Has Been Sleepless in Seattle
San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick is one of the NFL's top young quarterbacks. Since taking over as the starter for the 49ers, all Kaepernick has done is lead the 49ers to a Super Bowl and back-to-back NFC title games.
However, as great as Kaepernick has been in just about every stadium he's played in, CenturyLink Field has been an absolute nightmare for the third-year pro.
In two starts in the Pacific Northwest, Kaepernick has completed exactly half his passes. He's averaged fewer than 200 passing yards per game, throwing only a single touchdown pass against four interceptions.
Kaepernick's passer rating in those losses? An awful 45.1.
At least part of the reason for these struggles is the rather unique way (relatively speaking) that the Seahawks defend the mobile Niners signal-caller, according to Bill Williamson of ESPN.
The Seahawks have relied on a four-man pass rush against Kaepernick and it has worked. Against the Seahawks, Kaepernick has completed 49.3 percent of his passes against a standard pass rush. It jumps to 64.4 percent against the rest of the league. Against the Seahawks' four-man rush, Kaepernick has thrown two touchdowns five interceptions and his Total QBR is 16.1. Against the rest of the league? Sixteen touchdowns, seven interceptions and a Total QBR of 80.2
If the 49ers are to reach their second straight Super Bowl, Kaepernick has to reverse this trend in a big way.
Beast Mode, Indeed
Over the past two seasons, the San Francisco 49ers have been as tough as any team in the NFL against the run, surrendering only 101.4 yards per game.
Someone apparently forgot to tell Seattle's Marshawn Lynch.
Over the past four matchups with the 49ers, Lynch has carried the ball 93 times for 384 yards and four touchdowns. Factor in his receiving yards (and one score through the air), and the seventh-year veteran is averaging over 100 total yards and a touchdown per game against San Francisco over that stretch.
Lynch also loves the playoffs. In three of five postseason games with the Seahawks, Lynch has eclipsed 100 yards on the ground, scoring five times.
The sledding will be tough against a San Francisco defense that didn't allow a 100-yard rusher this year, but Lynch's 98 yards on the ground back in Week 2 was the high water mark for opposing tailbacks this year.
According to Clare Farnsworth of the Seahawks website, teammate Doug Baldwin said of Lynch, "It never ceases to amaze me the way that he plays the game of football."
Aldon Smith Likes to Give Russell Wilson Hugs
It hasn't all been doom and gloom for the 49ers in Seattle. Sure, they've been blown out twice in a row, but there have been bright spots among the wreckage.
One of those bright spots has been outside linebacker Aldon Smith, who managed 8.5 sacks in 2013 despite missing several games while undergoing inpatient treatment for substance abuse.
However, Smith is back at it harassing quarterbacks, and teammate Justin Smith recently told the Associated Press via ABC News that his brother from another mother (get it? They have the same last name but they aren't related.) has put a rocky few months behind him.
"He's doing everything he needs to do," Smith said. "He wasn't given anything. He's earned his way back to where he's at. He's done everything that's been asked of him and then some."
Two of those sacks came back in Week 2 at CenturyLink Field, during a seven-tackle effort that was Smith's best single-game showing this season.
Over the span of our four-game sample against the Seahawks, the 24-year-old Smith has been very active, posting 17 stops and three sacks.
It's going to take a similarly solid effort if the 49ers are to advance.
Doug Baldwin Could Be the Key
It happens all the time in the NFL.
In the lead up to a huge game, it's the superstars who get all the ink. However, once that game rolls around, it's a secondary performer, a "bit player" if you will, who steals the show.
If that's the case Sunday, then Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin is a prime candidate to be the unsung hero.
Granted, the 25-year-old Baldwin, who had 50 catches for 778 yards and five scores in 2013, hasn't set the stat sheet on fire against the 49ers. Over the past four meetings with San Francisco, Baldwin has only 10 catches for 155 yards.
However, Baldwin has two touchdowns at home against the 49ers over that stretch, and in each game at CenturyLink Field Baldwin had a catch of 40 yards or more.
The third-year pro is raring to go Sunday, tweeting in regards to the upcoming matchup with the 49ers that he "Wouldn't want it any other way."
In a game where one big play could mean the difference between a win and a loss, Baldwin could easily be in for a significant offensive role, especially if Percy Harvin (concussion) isn't available.