Remember what I said last week about 49ers fans being on the edge of their seats during the game against the New England Patriots?
If 49ers fans did that, just imagine how much they will be leaning into their television screens Sunday afternoon when they go up against their arch nemesis: the Seattle Seahawks.
The 49ers (4-3) will head to CenturyLink Field in Seattle to play the Seattle Seahawks (5-1) Sunday afternoon in what, for both teams, could be the most important game of the season. The 49ers are coming off a 33-6 dismantling of the Pats in Week 7, whereas the Hawks are coming off their first loss of the season in overtime against the Arizona Cardinals 37-34.
With both teams facing multiple injuries to key players, individual matchups will be the main reason why one of these teams wins Sunday. The 49ers will be without wideout Deebo Samuel after he sustained a hamstring strain last Sunday in the second half, as well as other notable players like Dee Ford, Raheem Mostert, Richard Sherman, Solomon Thomas and Nick Bosa. Tevin Coleman, Jordan Reed and K'waun Williams had their practice windows open this week, and all three players are questionable for this week’s game, as is safety Jimmie Ward.
Seattle, on the other hand, is facing a plethora of injuries in their own right. All Pro safety Jamal Adams was held out of practice Wednesday and Thursday with a groin injury and illness, and cornerback Shaquill Griffin, running back Chris Carson and Duane Brown were all held out of practice as well with injuries on Thursday.
Now going back to the main point, this is the most important game of the season for both of these teams.
Let’s start with the Seahawks. If they lose this game, they will be only one game ahead in the NFC West standings and, with a tough divisional schedule ahead and a meeting with the Buffalo Bills, Seattle cannot afford to lose any sort of momentum. Furthermore, as quarterback Russell Wilson continues to carry this team, the wear and tear of the NFL season could get to him earlier than normal because he is asked to do so much. Every win Seattle can get is one game closer to the No. 1 seed in the NFC, giving Wilson a week off to replenish and make a run at the Super Bowl.
This could also be a game for Seattle which helps establish the teams’ identity. So far, it has been “Let Russ Cook.” But like Colin Cowherd said earlier in the week about the saying, you can let Russ, cook, but he needs help running the restaurant, referring to Wilson needing help from his weapons. It could be argued that there is more pressure on the Seahawks to win, as they are three-point favorites at home, so every play will count in this game for Seattle.
Now that we established what is on the line for the Seahawks, let’s do the same for the 49ers
This is the toughest portion of their schedule, with matchups against the Packers and the Saints following an away matchup against a division rival. A win Sunday would gain more momentum that the team struggled to find in the beginning of the season, making the statement that they, indeed, are here to stay and compete for a Super Bowl.
Looking at the matchup, this is a game that the 49ers can, and arguably should, win. Seattle has struggled all year defensively, even with Adams in the lineup. And yes, they filled a gaping hole in their defensive line after acquiring edge rusher Carlos Dunlap, but he will not be playing this week due to the COVID-19 protocol. With essentially no pass rush up front, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo should have plenty of time to do what he does best: make throws head coach Kyle Shanahan wants him to make to put the team in the best position to score points.
Furthermore, All Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner, although one of the best linebackers in the NFL, has regressed heavily as a pass coverage linebacker. With his likely matchup to be George Kittle, this could turn into a game where 49ers fans are saying, “Let Kittle Cook” whenever they see that matchup on their television screen.
Other keys to a 49ers win Sunday afternoon include going back to zone coverage and using Dre Greenlaw as a spy for Wilson. The 49ers have gone to more man coverage these past few weeks, but with the threats of Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf down the field, the 49ers should make it a priority to keep plays in front of them and make the tackle. Furthermore, putting a spy on Wilson is important for knowing where he is at all times on the field, as his elite scrambling and play-making ability must be monitored at all times, and Greenlaw can certainly handle the task of doing that.
Furthermore, another key to a 49ers win was one I said last week against the Pats: stick to their identity. With no run stopper on the Seahawks defensive line, running backs Jerick McKinnon and JaMycal Hasty will be the featured backs, along with the potential of getting Coleman back this week. 49er fans will be most interested to see what Hasty will do Sunday and how much Shanahan will use him. Hasty has shown tendencies of former Seahawks tailback Marshawn Lynch, resembling Lynch’s ability to find the hole, break a tackle and bring juice and energy in the open field.
There are so many different headlines in this game with so much on the line. With the opportunity to gain energy and respect in the toughest division in the NFL, this will be yet another classic 49ers-Seahawks matchup. Whoever wins more individual matchups will win this game, as those will dictate the momentum of the game with plays that will swing the energy from one team to the other.
So yes, in 24 hours, 49ers fans will be once again on the edge of their seats, screaming at their TVs every play, yelling at Pete Carroll for chewing his gum too aggressively and waiting in anticipation of what drama is going to happen next.
In simpler terms, like Terrell Owens once said: “Get your popcorn ready.” This is going to be one to remember.