The San Francisco 49ers are coming off their biggest win in a decade and have almost no time to enjoy it. For the second time this season the Niners have an impossibly short week on their hands. After a cross country trip to Baltimore on Thanksgiving, the Niners have to travel to Seattle on Christmas eve, 5 days after pummeling the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football. The beat down of the Steelers was thoroughly 49er football, almost completely played on their own terms. The defense suffocated Pittsburgh all night, the offense struck when the opportunity presented itself and the special teams played an incredible game of field position. On the six punts attempted by P Andy Lee, the Steelers average starting field position was the 10.8 yard line. The defense forced 4 turnovers, shut down the run (as per usual) and showed much better pass coverage. One the other side of the ball the offensive line kept QB Alex Smith’s uniform crispy and clean all night. Greg Roman reintroduced TE Vernon Davis to the football and eventually the O did enough to open up a 3 score lead halfway through the 4th quarter. By that time Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger was forced to pass on virtually every down and DE Aldon Smith closed things out like Brian Wilson. He sacked the Pittsburgh QB twice in the 4th and seemed to knock Big Ben down on virtually every play. This was the definition of a team wide victory for the Niners.
The Niners enjoyed their victory for an evening and now then it was time to look ahead. 4 days later they would travel 700 miles north to play the Seattle Seahawks. As we all found out against Arizona, divisional road games can be very problematic. Especially when Seattle has won 5 of their last 6 games and are coming of a 38-14 drubbing of the Bears. The Seahawks also will benefit from an extra days rest. This didn’t seem to help the Steelers on Monday night however. In all the excuses the national media and Pittsburgh fans were pulling out of their respective asses (Roethlisberger was hurt! They didn’t have James Harrison!) no one seemed to mention that Pittsburgh had 11 days to prepare for the Niners. That bodes very well for the Niners defense when a team has 11 days to game plan for you and only manages 3 points, gimpy QB or not. The Seahawks biggest offensive weapon during the team’s resurgence has been Marshawn Lynch, who has been arguably the best running back in the NFL for the last month or so. This, of course, plays to the 49ers strength of being a historically good run defense. Lynch has scored 11 touchdowns in Seattle’s previous 10 games, while the last time the Niners allowed a rushing touchdown those statistics weren’t kept yet. Something has to give of course. As far as the passing game goes, QB Tavaris Jackson has played well in the month of December posting a QB rating of 104.5. The 49ers can count on a 100% Jackson probably being, at the very least, equal to a 70% Roethlisberger.
On the offensive side a supposedly banged up RB Frank Gore got almost all of carries versus the Steelers. He carried the ball 18 times while RB Kendall Hunter and RB Anthony Dixon combined for only 7 carries. That could change this week as OC Greg Roman has been drastically switching up the offensive focal points. TE Delanie Walker caught 6 passes on November 13th in the win over the Giants and hasn’t caught a pass since. After catching only 1 pass the previous week in Arizona, Vernon Davis once again became the main target for Alex Smith catching 6 passes for 72 yards including 2 long receptions on the evenings most impressive drive. Roman has at times this season also utilized WR Michael Crabtree as the focus of the passing game. So what I’m saying is who knows what to expect. This bodes especially true for the Jekyll and Hyde offensive line, who one week won’t even allow a defensive player to breathe on Alex Smith while the following week Alex can’t even get off a pass in a 3 step drop. Seattle has only posted 29 sacks this season, so hopefully the o-line can hold it down for Alex and the passing game.
These contests in late December are basically extended playoff games. First it was the Monday night battle against Pittsburgh before a charged up crowd at Candlestick. Now this upcoming road test before what no doubt will be an insane 12th man (including many Niners fans) in Seattle. The Seahawks hold on to hopes of a playoff shot and this is a huge game for them as well. Seattle’s home field advantage is considered by many to be the biggest in the NFL. The 49ers are coming off a short week and a huge victory on the national stage. This is most definitely not the time for a let down. If the Niners want that 2nd seed in the NFC playoffs they are going to have to force their will on a red hot Seahawks team. Stop Marshawn Lynch, protect Alex Smith and turn red zone chances to touchdowns. San Francisco is battling for playoff position and it’s time to play playoff caliber football.