We are hours away from the clash between the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks on Sunday Night Football. The winner will be able to secure sole possession of first-place in the NFC West and claim bragging rights.
The 49ers are looking to reverse a three game losing streak against the Sehawks on Sunday Night Football. The Niners are 0-3 and have been outscored 100-41 by the Seahawks on Sunday night’s. The Seahawks scored 42 points in the last meeting.
For the Niners to pull out the win they will need to win many factors in the game. Here are five things to watch for that could turn the tide in the Niners favor:
In the last week, 49ers players and coaches have all said this is just another game on the schedule and each game is as important as the previous, and the next. But that is all a bunch of baloney. I have no doubt the Niners still have a bitter taste in their mouths from the last time the two teams played. The Seahawks trounced their division rivals, 42-13, at home on Sunday Night Football. Tonight the Niners will want to show the Seahawks and the national audience why they are the best team not only in the NFC West, but in the NFL.
One big difference between tonight’s game and the previous matchup are injuries. In the loss, San Francisco’s defense was missing defensive end Justin Smith who was out of the game because of a partially torn triceps. Outside linebacker Aldon Smith did not record a sack and later we would learn he was playing with a shoulder injury. He had offseason surgery on the shoulder, but is now 100%.
Tonight, the injury circumstances are reversed. The 49ers only have running back LaMichael James on the injury report and he will be inactive tonight. On Seattle’s side, they will be without cornerback Brandon Browner (hamstring) and pass-rusher Bruce Irvin (suspension for use of PEDs). This presents the 49ers with an area in the game to exploit.
Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll have a long history dating back to their college coaching days. After the way the last game ended for Harbaugh and his team, he has to be thinking revenge too. We haven’t heard Harbaugh saying anything of the sort this week, but we all know he feels that way. There is no way he is going to let Carroll embarrass him again on Sunday Night Football.
In the last game, it was Harbaugh’s 49th birthday. In a twist of irony, Carroll will be celebrating his 62nd birthday tonight. Let’s hope the Niners return the favor and give Carroll a loss on his birthday, like Harbaugh received last season from Seattle.
Safety Eric Reid had a really good debut for the 49ers against Aaron Rodgers and his offense. This week the task will not be any easier as he will be trying to limit Russell Wilson from making big plays down the field.
Defending Wilson will be two-fold for Reid. He will have to make sure none of Seattle’s receivers get behind him for big passing plays and he will have to stop Wilson from extending plays with his legs. Reid recorded seven tackles last week, but he also missed two tackles. Against Wilson and running back Marshawn Lynch, missed tackles have the potential to turn into big scoring plays.
With the Niners’ defensive front-seven in front of Reid and tight coverage by the cornerbacks, Reid will be able to limit Seattle from making big plays in the air and on the ground. As the free safety, Reid will have plenty of opportunities to make key tackles and could be the last man that stands between the runner and the endzone. If Reid can play like he did last, week Niner fans will ask, Goldson who?
Big Play Boldin
One reason why Anquan Boldin was able to put up 208 receiving yards last week was because the Packers played a lot of zone defense. This freed up Boldin for a quick release off the line of scrimmage because of no contact. It will be a different story this week as he will be going up against cornerback Richard Sherman who is physical with receivers off the line of scrimmage. However, Boldin can be equally as physical.
Boldin and Sherman have met once before, back in the 2011 season. Boldin was with the Ravens and he caught just two passes for 22 yards. Even though Boldin does not need a lot space to make a catch, Sherman was in his face the whole time in the game. Sherman will likely employ the same strategy tonight.
Don’t expect as many big plays from Boldin tonight. He will have a few, but with Sherman playing him tight, the Niners offense will want to start off by feeding him the football with slants, quick outs and curl routes. As the game progresses, and Sherman still playing tight coverage and expecting the same routes, Colin Kaepernick will look to connect deep with Boldin down the field.
Gore-ing Seattle’s Defense
Frank Gore loves playing in big games, especially against the Seahawks. Gore has had some of his best career games when the 49ers are playing their division rivals. He has rushed for 1,210 yards versus Seattle, the most rushing yards against any opponent in his career.
In 2006, Gore set a 49ers single-game rushing record with 212 yards against the Seahawks. In 2009, he produced TD runs of 79 and a career-best 80 yards, finishing with 207 yards on 16 carries vs. Seattle.
Last week, Gore only averaged 2.1 yards on 21 carries, totaling 44 yards. He did score a touchdown, but no doubt the Niners offense needs him to have a big game to make Seattle’s defense have to cover both the run and the pass. The 49ers offense will have an uphill battle if Gore can’t rush for at least 100 yards in the game.
It rarely gets said, but the team that wins in the punt game will pull out the close victory tonight. With both sides having top of the league defenses and the teams evenly matched, this is a recipe for lots of punts in the game.
The 49ers have the advantage on special teams not only in coverage and with the kickers, but also in the punting game. Luckily for the Niners, we have Pro Bowler Andy Lee who has had career games against Seattle.
Lee set a career-high in both gross average (59.6) and net average (54.2) against the Seahawks in 2011. Lee’s 59.6 gross average is the highest single-game average in franchise history and ranks 3rd in NFL history. His 54.2 net average is the highest single-game net average in franchise history and the 2nd best single in history. We can expect another Pro Bowl performance from Lee tonight.