It’s Seahawks week.
Those three words should get every fan excited to watch the 49ers take on this week’s opponent. Rivalry games bring out the best in all involved. In the 1980’s, it was the New York Giants and Washington. In the 1990’s, it was Dallas. Since 2011, it has been Seattle. That’s what happens when two of the best teams in the league are fighting for division titles, a berth in the Super Bowl or just trying to keep their playoff chances alive repeatedly. Add in the fact that Seattle has a quarterback that every 49ers fan loves to hate because of his ability to make insane plays seem routine and you have what should be the most entertaining game of the season so far coming up on Sunday when the 49ers travel to Seattle.
For the third week in a row the 49ers will take the field looking for an upset. With a victory on Sunday, San Francisco will put themselves right in the middle of the fight for the NFC West division title, something that almost no one would have thought possible following back to back losses to Philadelphia and Miami.
With that as a backdrop, let’s take a look at 5 burning questions to which the answers will be key to the outcome on Sunday.
1. Will the 49ers be able to overcome the travel? - When the NFL released the schedule, this game looked like a scheduled loss for the 49ers simply due to the toll that the travel would take on the players. The 7-hour flight back to San Francisco, followed by turning around and flying up to Seattle is rough. You may recall that the 49ers have tried to pull this off before, back in 2012. That go around saw the 49ers pull off the victory in New England only to be dismantled the following week in Seattle 42-13.
The NFL and Covid-19 my have helped the 49ers out with this task a little bit. Seattle was originally scheduled to play Arizona last week in the late afternoon slot but, when the entire Las Vegas Raiders offensive line was put into quarantine due to a positive Covid test, the NFL moved the game to Sunday night. The game ended up being very physical and went into overtime, all of which made for Seattle getting home right around the same time as the 49ers arrived back from New England.
2. Can Robert Saleh’s defense keep Russell Wilson in check? - For the 49ers defense. this game is all about their ability to contain Russell Wilson. The Seahawks quarterback is a leading candidate to win the NFL MVP award this season, and is the reason that Seattle is in the playoff race every year. Wilson’s ability to drop the deep throw into the arms of a well-covered wide receiver or take off on a run is unlike any other quarterback the 49ers defense will face this year.
For the 49ers defense to pull this off, they will should take a careful look at how the Arizona Cardinals defense played last week. In that game,, Arizona played it pretty straight with their defensive line, there was none of the stunts and twists from the defensive line like we see with the 49ers on a regular basis. It was straight ahead pass rush to maintain their rush lanes, and they mixed in some well-timed pressures off the edge. If Seattle is forced to start rookie DeeJay Dallas at running back, Robert Saleh would be well served to test his pass blocking ability early on.
3. Will Kyle Shanahan stick with the winning formula? - The offensive plans that Kyle Shanahan has put together the last two weeks have been nothing short of masterful. Recognizing the limits of his quarterback and offensive line, Shanahan has gone to a run-heavy plan that has utilized all of his playmakers while making life a bit easier for Garoppolo and company. Even with the injury to Deebo Samuel, Shanahan can continue to employ his jet sweep, screen pass, run-heavy game plan this week. All he needs to do is keep Kyle Juszczyk on the field, make Brandon Aiyuk a big part of the plan by giving him the touches that otherwise would go to Samuel and make sure that JaMycal Hasty gets the bulk of the workload.
4. Can Jimmy Garoppolo play better? - Garoppolo has played much better the last two weeks than he had earlier in the season, and a lot of that is due to what is being asked of him by Kyle Shanahan. The past two weeks, Shanahan hasn’t asked Garoppolo to do very much outside of throwing screens and shuffling the ball to a wide receiver on a jet sweep. Last week, Shanahan began to give Garoppolo more rope early on but, after he threw a bad interception, drew in the reigns a bit. The 49ers will need for him to be better with his reads and downfield throws to fully take advantage of the Seahawks defensive weaknesses this week.
5. Will the offensive line continue to dominate? - The 49ers offensive line has also been able to take advantage of the changes that Shanahan has made with his play calling. After being among the worst in the league in pass protection during the first five weeks of the season, this group has stepped up and allowed only a single sack the past two weeks. In addition to the improvements in pass protection, you can see this group coming together in the run game as well, as evidenced by the more than 400 rushing yards that the 49ers have gained the past two weeks. If they can keep Garoppolo clean and open holes again this week, the offense should be able to put up enough points for a 49ers victory.
Prediction Time: 49ers 29 Seahawks 30
This is me trying to keep my streak of being wrong on the 49ers games intact. This should be a highly entertaining game and I cannot wait to watch it unfold.