Week 7: Top 10 Seahawks, 49ers to watch
It’s probably too early to label this as an NFC West elimination game, but the losing team will have an awfully difficult road to get back into contention for the division title. The 49ers and Seahawks are both 2-4. A year ago, the teams had the same record (7-4) heading into their first meeting at Levi’s Stadium. The Seahawks’ 19-3 victory keyed a six-game win streak to propel them to their second NFC West title in a row. Meanwhile, 49ers CEO Jed York apologized to the fan base via Twitter, and the team went into a tailspin. The 49ers parted ways with coach Jim Harbaugh and most of his staff to kick off a tumultuous offseason. Here are 10 players to watch in Thursday night’s game...
10. CB Richard Sherman, Seahawks
Under new Seahawks defensive coordinator Kris Richard, Sherman is moving around more in the team’s defensive alignment. Sherman typically lined up at left cornerback and remained there. Cary Williams is struggling on the other side, so Sherman will shadow the opposition’s top receiver more than he has in the past. Does that mean he will see more of Anquan Boldin or Torrey Smith? Whatever the Seahawks decide might determine which receiver the 49ers will try to feature.
9. OLB Ahmad Brooks, 49ers
If the 49ers are going to send Seattle to its fifth loss in seven games, their pass rush must show up in a big way. The Seahawks’ offensive line has surrendered an NFL-worst 26 sacks. Brooks has just one sack on the season, and he needs to begin getting more pressure on the quarterback in order for the 49ers to show marked improvement with their pass defense, which ranks 32nd in the NFL. Brooks will see action rushing from both sides, but he will mostly be up against left tackle Russell Okung, who has struggled in pass protection and run blocking.
8. TE Jimmy Graham, Seahawks
Graham has always been a matchup nightmare, and that’s why the Seahawks acquired him from New Orleans in an offseason trade for Pro Bowl center Max Unger. The transition to Seattle has not been easy for Graham, but he might have found some answers on Sunday with an eight-catch, 140-yard performance against Carolina. He is certain to see a lot of different looks from the 49ers’ defense, including safeties Eric Reid, Antoine Bethea, Jaquiski Tartt and Jimmie Ward, as well as linebackers NaVorro Bowman and Michael Wilhoite.
7. LT Joe Staley, 49ers
Staley, a four-time Pro Bowl selection, will have the most difficult assignment in pass protection, as he figures to match up regularly against Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett. “Joe is a consummate professional,” Bennett said. “He does everything perfect. He’s one of the best tackles in the NFL. You know you have your work cut out for you when you go against him. He’s obviously one of the best tackles in the NFL and he’s doing great this season.” Staley needs to handle Bennett, so the 49ers can provide help, where needed, elsewhere on their offensive line.
6. SS Kam Chancellor, Seahawks
Chancellor and Earl Thomas team up to give the Seahawks the best pair of starting safeties in the NFL. But something has been missing from the “Legion of Boom” this season. The Seahawks experienced problems in the fourth quarter of back-to-back games in allowing double-digit leads to slip away in losses to Cincinnati and Carolina. Left guard Alex Boone, who held out through training camp last year, theorized this week that the Seahawks are still feeling the impact of Chancellor’s two-game holdout to open this season.
5. TE Vernon Davis, 49ers
Davis has been a non-factor against the Seahawks the past three seasons. In those seven games against Seattle, Davis has just 10 receptions for 97 yards and one touchdown. Davis has not been much of a factor at all in the 49ers’ offense for more than a year. With the trade deadline looming, it’s not out of the question the team could look to deal him. Meanwhile, Seattle has experienced difficulty covering tight ends this season. Carolina’s Greg Olson and Cincinnati’s Tyler Eifert combined for 15 catches for 221 yards and three touchdowns the past two weeks.
4. RB Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks
The final, critical play of the Super Bowl XLIV notwithstanding, Lynch is the central figure of the Seahawks’ offense. Their zone running scheme sets the tone for everything they do on offense. In his past eight games against the 49ers, Lynch has averaged 99.4 yards rushing and scored seven touchdowns. Lynch, a hard-charging runner who always goes full throttle, missed two games due to a hamstring strain. But he returned to action on Sunday and rushed for 54 yards and a touchdown on 17 rushing attempts against the Panthers.
3. LB NaVorro Bowman, 49ers
Bowman plays his first game against the Seahawks after sustaining the severe knee injury in the NFC Championship game in January 2014 that wiped out a full season. Bowman considers this game special, but not for that reason. “The rivalry started when we both got good and were similar in a lot of ways,” Bowman said. “I think it always going to be a special game between the two of us.” Coach Jim Tomsula has talked about monitoring Bowman’s snaps, but they’ll need the NFL’s second-leading tackler putting in a full night’s work against Seattle.
2. QB Russell Wilson, Seahawks
Wilson might not be a prolific passer, and the Seahawks’ passing attack ranks 27th in the NFL, but he can be a nightmare for defensive coordinators. Wilson is at his best when he is buying time outside the pocket. The Seahawks have turned many of Wilson’s prolonged scrambles into big plays down the field. The key for Eric Mangini’s defense will be to keep Wilson contained within the pocket. The 49ers must take advantage of their opportunities to sack him, too. Through six games, Wilson has been sacked more than any quarterback in the league.
1. QB Colin Kaepernick, 49ers
The Seahawks have been Kaepernick’s nemesis since he became the 49ers’ starter in 2012. While he has experienced success against every other opponent from the beginning, the Seahawks have his number. The 49ers are 1-5 in Kaepernick’s six starts against Seattle. He has thrown just three touchdowns and nine interceptions, while posting 60 touchdowns and 22 interceptions against all other teams. After his worst back-to-back performances of his career against Arizona and Green Bay, Kaepernick regained his footing with solid showings against the N.Y. Giants and Baltimore. He will need another strong effort to enable the 49ers to break their three-game losing streak against their NFC West rival.