49ers vs. Seahawks 2014: Keys to Victory in NFC Championship

Chris RolingFeatured ColumnistJanuary 19, 2014

Jan 11, 2014; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch (24) carries the ball against the New Orleans Saints during the second half of the 2013 NFC divisional playoff football game at CenturyLink Field. Seattle defeated New Orleans 23-15. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports
Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks know each other well as NFC West rivals that have already met twice this season, which adds even more intrigue to the 2014 NFC Championship Game.

The two sides split the season series, but on Jan. 19, the 49ers must make a return visit to CenturyLink Field, where the Seahawks won in a major way back in Week 2, 29-3.

Both teams have undergone changes since then, but their abilities to adapt are what have allowed them to reach this point, so fans should not expect another lopsided affair. Like any dance between these adversaries, a few keys will dictate which team comes out on top.


Seahawks: Avoid the Pass

Jan 11, 2014; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) passes the football against the New Orleans Saints during the second half of the 2013 NFC divisional playoff football game at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholso
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

As much as it would be a storybook ending for the Seahawks if quarterback Russell Wilson suddenly snapped out of his slump in the conference title game, the coaching staff will simply be throwing him to the wolves if it asks him to consistently throw the ball.

Wilson has been miserable in his last five outings, as the numbers and ESPN's Mike Sando illustrate:

Russell Wilson Last 5 Games
Divisional vs. NO91810350.05.7200
Week 17 vs. STL152317265.27.4810
Week 16 vs. ARI112710840.74.0011
Week 15 @NYG182720666.77.6311
Week 14 @SF152519960.07.9611

Now, remember that he also threw for just 142 yards with a touchdown and an interception in the Week 2 victory.

Believe it or not, that would probably be a favorable line for Wilson in the title game. More pass attempts would mean the coaching staff has asked him to do too much against an elite defense that allows an average of just 17 points per game.


49ers: Take to the Air

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 12: Anquan Boldin #81 of the San Francisco 49ers waves to the crowd late in the game against the Carolina Panthers during the NFC Divisional Playoff Game at Bank of America Stadium on January 12, 2014 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Colin Kaepernick has in no way been any more reliable than Wilson through the air in recent weeks or against the Seahawks in their two showdowns this year. But he has the weapons around him to succeed in the face of a Seattle defense that ranks No. 1 in points allowed (14.4), yards allowed (273.6), takeaways (39), red-zone percentage (36) and total QBR (29).

This much is obvious thanks to some nice digging by the folks at Fox Sports:

Anquan Boldin tops that list and has been on an absolute tear this postseason. Against the Carolina Panthers in the divisional round, he caught eight passes for 136 yards, prompting head coach Jim Harbaugh to sing his praises, via ESPN's Adam Schefter:

Kaepernick can also take comfort in Michael Crabtree, who returned in Week 13 from an Achilles injury. The 49ers have not lost since.

And do not forget tight end Vernon Davis, who has caught a touchdown in three straight games and is primed for a big day with the Seahawks focused on the outside receivers.

Kaepernick will be able to find success through the air on quick-hitting plays, which will also open things up for himself and running back Frank Gore on the ground.


Seahawks: Ride the Beast

Per NFL on ESPN on Twitter, Seattle's Marshawn Lynch is the only running back in the NFL who consistently terrorizes the San Francisco defense:

Lynch's violent running style simply works against the 49ers, which explains why he was able to run for 170 yards and three touchdowns against them in two games this season. Of that total, 98 yards and two scores came at home in the Week 2 blowout.

At home once again Sunday, Seattle simply has to feed Lynch. Not only does that protect Wilson, but Lynch seems to get better with the more handoffs he receives, and that helps to keep the San Francisco offense off the field.

The 49ers simply do not have an answer for Lynch this year. It will show in a big way if the Seahawks play it smart and stay on the ground Sunday.


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