Seahawks Prepared for Tough Home Game Stand Against 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers are coming to town today, and the Seahawks are hoping for an early Christmas present in the form of a win. Flying high with a 7-7 record (at .500 for the first time in a long time), the Seahawks need quite a few events to happen in order to grab one of the few remaining playoff berths, many of which are out of their control. One thing they can control is winning the last two games of the season, which means handing the 11-3 49ers a loss.
San Francisco is having a stellar season. Jim Harbaugh has brought an energy and focus to the squad, and, in the process, has pulled off a few unexpected feats. These include elevating the NFC West from the laughing stock it has been in recent years (including last year's losing-record Seahawks and their playoff run), putting together one of the best records in the league, and turning Alex Smith into a quarterback almost no one believed he was capable of being (namely, a starting one). Needless to say, falling to 11-4 after today's game is not that likely an outcome.
But, the Seahawks have performed well in big games this year, have looked strong against their toughest opponents (Ravens, Eagles, Bears, Giants), which means a win today is more likely than their chances of a playoff berth. Here are some things to expect from today's game and a couple of keys to a Seahawks win.
1. On the Ground: If the Chicago Bears showed anything in last week's loss to Seattle it is that Marshawn Lynch can be stopped. With Lynch held to just 42 yards last weekend, the Seahawks offense managed to compensate for the lack of a run game thanks to Tavaris Jackson finding his rhythm and the defense coming up big. However, the 49ers have a phenomenal run defense. Like "haven't given up a rushing touchdown all year" good. Like "they've held opposing running backs to under 100 yards for well over a year" awesome. The Seattle run game has a difficult day ahead of them, and Marshawn Lynch will need to get creative to pick up crucial yards.
Speaking of the run game, the 49ers are as capable of picking up rushing yards as they are at stopping their opponents from picking them up. This is due in large part to Frank Gore, the star running back who has a history of running all over the Seahawks. While Seattle's run defense is not as highly touted as the 49ers, it is no slouch either, ranking at 11th in the league at stopping the run. The key will be to stop Gore from developing a rhythm early on.
Verdict: Each team brings a dangerous running back to the equation, but the real stars of this show will be the defenses. Edge goes to San Francisco, but this could be a war of attrition.
2. In the Air: At the risk of jinxing everything, Tavaris Jackson has come into his own as of late. He's kept interceptions to a minimum. In fact, in his last three outings he has zero. And that isn't a result of relying solely on the run game, with nearly 200 yards or more in his last three games, he's shown he's not afraid of putting the ball in the air. Due to a lack of a dominant receiver (Doug Baldwin has been reliable, but not dominant), Jackson has distributed the ball to a growing lineup of downfield options.
For San Francisco, Alex Smith has finally found a coach and an offensive system that plays to his strengths. Smith also benefits from having standout receiver Michael Crabtree and tight end Vernon Davis to work with. In spite of these threats though, Seattle's pass defense has been causing quite a few headaches for their opponents: forcing fumbles, coming up with crucial interceptions, and turning those interceptions into touchdowns. Which means the 49ers should be careful.
Verdict: This one could go either way, but we'll give the edge to Seattle because they will be more likely to have to rely on their passing game to produce crucial yards and points.
Key to a Seahawks Win: Tavaris Jackson needs to stay consistent, and Lynch needs to find a way around the 49ers run defense. Manage that and this just might be a fourth win in a row for Seattle.