Q. Let’s start with the obvious: The 49ers got absolutely steamrolled last week. What happened?
A. The 49ers are at their best when the offense has a well balanced attack and plays mistake free. That did not happen against the Giants. The offense managed to outgain the Giants 120-25 in the first quarter, but for the rest of the game San Francisco only called eight runs and finish with just 80 total rushing yards. For much of the second half the 49ers were playing catch-up, but when the offense abandoned the run and became one-dimensional, it may it a lot easier for the Giants defense to force Alex Smith to make mistakes. Smith threw three interceptions in the game after only throwing one in the first five games. Frank Gore finished with only 36 rushing yards. The Niners defense is usually reliable and keeps the 49ers in the game while the offense tries putting points on the board. But they were overmatched and outplayed all game against the Giants giving up 149 rushing yards.
Q. The 49ers defense, while good, hasn’t statistically been anywhere near as good as it was last year. What’s been the biggest difference?
A. The Niners defense has performed well in the four wins, however, in the two loses opposing offenses have found ways to run on the 49ers and to limit the pressure of the pass rush. In the losses to the Vikings and Giants the defense gave up 146 and 149 rushing yards and they did not have a sack or interception. Unlike last season, opposing offenses have found ways to neutralize the 49ers front-seven on defense which puts more pressure on the secondary.
Q. The Seahawks defense has been the best in the NFL so far this year by most measures, despite taking on some of the league’s most high powered offenses. How do you think the 49ers will try and attack this defense, and do you think they’ll be able to efficiently move the football?
A. The only way the 49ers will be able to move the football against the Seahawks is if they keep to a balanced offensive attack even if they are down by more than one touchdown. Against the Vikings and Giants, San Francisco tried to be more of a passing offense and that led to mistakes and two losses. Frank Gore will be key to a 49ers victory and he will need at least 80 yards rushing. However, against the Seahawks’ second ranked rushing defense, who only allow an average of 70 rushing per game, that will be not be easy.
Q. The 49ers have gotten almost no contribution from their most recent draft class. Is there any concern amongst the fan base this could come back to haunt the 49ers in the future?
A. The 49ers would love to have more contribution from their draft class, but with all but one starter returning on offense and defense from last season, it has not had a big impact so far. It would be nice to have first round pick A.J. Jenkins and second round pick LaMichael James be active each week and helping the offense, but there is enough depth at wide receiver and running back that there absence has not posed a problem. From what Jim Harbaugh has said recently about Jenkins and James, they are both in an “understudy role” and will be “ready when called upon.” At the start of training camp it was clear Jenkins had some learning to do and he was not ready to be a starter. James did not participate in offseason activities until training camp because he did not graduate until June, which hindered his development. He also suffered an injury during the preseason which caused him to miss some exhibition games. For now, the starters and backups at WR and RB have held up without any significant injuries. However, if the depth at the two positions starts to dwindle, Jim Harbaugh will be forced to play Jenkins and James.
Q. How do you see the game unfolding? Include a prediction for the final score.
A. With the 49ers and Seahawks defenses ranked No. 1 and No. 4 respectively in the NFL, the game will be low scoring with each offense having multiple turnovers. Whichever offense wins the rushing game battle give them the edge late in the game. It will be close, but the Niners will erase last week’s drubbing with a 20-15 win at home.