The San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks are going to use menacing defenses to try to wrestle control of the NFC Championship Game on Sunday, Jan. 19 at 6:30 p.m. ET in Seattle.
Which is more vital?
After watching these two teams beat on each other twice this season, and every other opponent they've faced, we have every reason to think that the defenses will show up ready to perform for this contest.
The offense is the far bigger wild card. For instance, the 49ers offense didn't look like it belonged in the NFL when it played in Seattle the last two seasons, and the Niners fell by the combined score of 71-16.
The ineptitude on offense allowed the Seahawks to take control of both games and have an easy time on offense.
To avoid failure and create a little success on offense, here are the keys to both offenses for this game.
Get Russell Wilson on track early
After starting his career off with brilliantly heady and effective play, Russell Wilson has spent the last five games looking like a third-round quarterback in just his second year.
Five of his eight worst starts of the season, in terms of QBR, have come in his last five games.
It is hard to pinpoint what exactly the change has been. Defenses have been sending more diverse blitzes at Wilson, and often he's seen increased devotion to defenses spying him in order to contain his ability to break down defenses with his scrambling. Of course, those things may just appear to be more effective because Wilson is secretly playing injured. I have no idea.
Whatever the case, his reduced performances are noticeable, and it's something Seattle should help game-plan to get out of.
Given its fierce defense, Seattle is content to play fairly conservative on offense. In this game, Seattle should dial up plays early that allow Wilson to create some big plays with his arm and feet.
Wilson would benefit from getting a few easy passes under his belt and then taking a couple shots down the field. This will help stretch out the 49ers defense, and it will help Wilson show this attitude with his play on the field:
Get Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin involved early
The 49ers have been awful in Seattle in quarterback Colin Kaepernick's two starts. Kaepernick, in particular, has been abysmal.
In his two Seattle starts, Kaepernick has combined to go for 32-of-64 passing with 371 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions.
When Kaepernick steps under center on Sunday, however, for the first time in Seattle, he will see both Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin on the field with him, and he should throw a few passes their way early.
Having two competent receivers to help beat Seattle's tough press coverage is going to benefit Kaepernick all game, and if San Francisco does it early, it will benefit the whole team. If the 49ers can find success in the passing game early, it will leave Seattle moving defenders back and paying less attention to the run.
It helped in Week 14. That is when Crabtree and Boldin went for a combined 133 yards on 10 catches in San Francisco's 19-17 win over Seattle.
It also helped last week.
In the 49ers' game-changing 12-play, 80-yard drive touchdown drive just before halftime in their divisional-round win over the Carolina Panthers, Boldin and Crabtree helped open up the field for the 49ers.
Boldin or Crabtree were thrown to on five of the first eight plays of that drive. The other three went to running back Frank Gore.
Those two have the ability to spark the offense to life again this week.
Pound the rock
If one teams comes out and dominates on the ground, none of these other keys are going to matter. With the ability to control the game and the clock with the run game, either team would be able to sit back and let its defense do the rest.
It should come as no surprise the team that won the rushing battle the first time these two teams met also won the game.
Defensively, it should also come as no surprise, that both looked strong against the rush last week.
The 49ers faced a stiff opponent in the ground game and out-rushed the Panthers 126-93. It was a physical showdown in the trenches, and the 49ers prevailed. They even did so in goal-line defense, and that has actually been an area of concern:
With a new defensive alignment in the mix, it may not be a concern any longer:
Meanwhile, in the wild rain and wind, the Seahawks dominated the Saints on the ground last week, as Marshawn Lynch proved that New Orleans can never tackle him:
Both he and Frank Gore are going to have to be at their best if the running games are going to find any success in this one.