By Jerrell Richardson
Seattle Seahawks (7-4)
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
Players To Watch: Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, Richard Sherman, K.J. Wright, Earl Thomas
Before the season started, this Thursday Night matchup between the NFC West powerhouses figured to be about bragging rights. Things have not gone quite as planned though for either team this season, but at 7-4, both still hold their playoff destiny in their hands. As the loser of this game will find themselves dangerously close to being eliminated from playoff contention, this is now about survival and a must win for both sides. It will take their best effort this year as a team, but the 49ers,at home, should be able to keep their winning streak alive, even at the expense of the defending Super Bowl Champs.
When San Francisco Has the Ball: Advantage Seahawks
The 49er offense scored 17 points against Washington this past week and 16 points the week before against New York, so it’s hard to imagine them running up the score against Seattle. Despite the Seahawks’ record, their defense is as dominant as ever, and will pose all kinds of problems for Colin Kaepernick and crew.
The problem with the 49er offense is that their running game, which has been their strong suit, has been inconsistent at best. They enter this game ranked 11th in the league running the ball, but have looked far from dominant doing it. Seattle has in linebacker K.J. Wright a player who is among the best at his position and will be the one in charge of corralling Gore, whose 682 yards on the season is 10th amongst backs, but is 4.0 yards per rush is average at best. Wright leads the sixth best rush defense, and he and his teammates figure to make running difficult for Gore and Carlos Hyde.
The San Francisco passing game has had its moments in 2014, but this Thursday does not figure to be a high point. Seattle has the third best pass defense to go along with their top 10 run defense, and will look to out muscle the 49er wide outs. Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas are Pro Bowl players who will be responsible for blanketing Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree. It’s actually the 49ers’ two receivers (Stevie John and Brandon Lloyd), not named Boldin and Crabtree, who present the biggest matchup problems for the physical, and very talented Seattle secondary, that’s only weakness is speed.
When Seattle Has the Ball: Advantage 49ers
The 49ers defense has one mission, and that’s to stop Beast mode. Seattle’s physical back has played very well against the 49ers in the past, and is bringing the best rushing attack in the league to Santa Clara. The 49ers are allowing a shade under 100 yards per game on the ground, but playing a team that averages closer to 175, so something has to give.
Chris Borland and Michael Wilhoite have played outstanding this year, but will face their greatest test to date and the team will truly see how equipped they are to stop the run without Patrick Willis or NaVorro Bowman on the field. Seattle is not nearly as dangerous throwing the ball, so if they are able to shut down Lynch, San Francisco has to like their chances of limiting the Seahawks ability to move the ball.
Quietly, Seattle has gotten away with having one of the worst passing attacks in the league. While there is no questioning the player under center, the bottom line is that their 30th ranked passing attack is far from formidable, and the 49ers, with their 2nd ranked pass defense figure to have a huge advantage in this area. Eric Reid and Perrish Cox will have to take away Doug Baldwin and if succesuful will leave Russell Wilson with no other real options other than Lynch.
A Must Win For Both
The last time these two teams met it was with a Super Bowl berth on the line. While this game is not nearly as important, it’s a close second, as the winner has to like their chances of getting back into the playoffs, while the loser will have an almost impossible path to make it to the post season. Both teams are coming off a physical contest, and pretty even in terms of talent so this one is even across the board. What will make the difference in this game is which team can make the big play late, and with the home crowd behind them, and knowing the importance of not losing this game, expect San Francisco to find a way to find their fourth straight win.
For more 49ers news and updates, visit 49ers Central.
Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. Jerrell is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.