After last week’s win over Minnesota, the San Francisco 49ers (6-5) are in the top-6 of the NFC and in control of a Wild Card spot.
The short-handed 49ers look to make it four in a row with their second divisional win of the season on Sunday at their reeling-rival, the Seattle Seahawks (3-8).
Here are Five Players to Watch in the 1:25 p.m. (PT) game:
Gerald Everett, Tight End, #81 — Seattle Seahawks
San Francisco is likely down three of its top four linebackers. Dre Greenlaw (groin) is out, Fred Warner (hamstring) is doubtful and Marcell Harris (concussion) is questionable.
Azeez Al-Shaair, who has received plenty of playing time this season due to Greenlaw’s injury, but has never started without Warner, will be tasked with organizing the defense along with former safety Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles by his side.
Despite having a top-5 wide receiver duo and one of the best deep-ball throwers in the NFL, the Seahawks have made a point to target tight end Gerald Everett.
Since Russell Wilson returned from injury Week 10 against Green Bay, Everett is averaging seven targets, 5.3 catches and 45.7 yards over three games.
While feeding the tight end has not bared much success the previous three games, it should be an advantage on Sunday.
Expect the veteran Wilson to use his experience to test Al-Shaair and Flannigan-Fowles at the line with quick-decision throws to Everett, slot receiver Dee Eskridge and running back DeeJay Dallas.
Poona Ford, Nose Tackle, #97 — Seattle Seahawks
Coincidentally, the team built to run has performed much better when they commit to the run.
After fewer than 30 rush attempts in six straight games (five losses), the 49ers have rededicated themselves to the run during this three-game resurgence, averaging 41.7 rush attempts per game.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan should be salivating at his next matchup. The Seahawks are coming off a short week in which they were outmuscled by Washington.
Washington running back Antonio Gibson had 29 carries for 111 yards and J.D. McKissic added another seven for 30 yards and a touchdown.
Shanahan should repeat his game plan from the Jacksonville game and deflate the Seattle crowd’s energy with a commanding opening drive.
Knowing this, Seattle needs its run defense, starting with nose tackle Poona Ford, to stop running backs Elijah Mitchell and Jeff Wilson Jr.
If Ford and the defensive line can win the battle in the trenches, it would force uncomfortable third-and-long situations for Jimmy Garoppolo.
Josh Norman, Cornerback, #26 — San Francisco 49ers
D.K. Metcalf is one of the best players in the NFL. There is no reason why he should have four targets and just one catch for 13 yards in a game, like he did last week.
The best way to fix that would probably be to get Metcalf and Tyler Lockett involved early with some easy throws (slants, screens, quick curls).
In the event that offensive coordinator Shane Waldron does choose to involve his two mismatches, the 49ers need corners Emmanuel Moseley and Josh Norman ready for the inevitable shots downfield.
The Seahawks don’t even need to complete the passes. They just need to take some shots, and let the defense that leads the NFL in pass interference penalties do its thing.
Norman will have to bump the much faster Metcalf and Lockett off their routes to disrupt the already-off timing even further.
If he and Moseley can shut down the Seahawks’ best weapons, Seattle will need its running game, led by veteran Adrian Peterson, to shoulder the load.
D.J. Jones, Defensive Tackle, #93 — San Francisco 49ers
Peterson, who was recently released by the Titans, is slated to be the Seahawks’ bruiser on Sunday. Alex Collins (abdomen), Rashad Penny (hamstring) and Travis Homer (calf) are all questionable. Seattle might also be without left guard Damien Lewis (elbow), who is doubtful.
This bumps reserve Kyle Fuller, who has a 46.3 PFF grade in 436 offensive snaps, into a starting role.
Yes, Seattle is tied for the fewest rushing attempts in the NFL (243), but that doesn’t mean Waldron and head coach Pete Carroll won’t try to establish the run.
San Francisco needs D.J. Jones, Arik Armstead, Kevin Givens and the rest of the interior defensive line to own the inside and take advantage of Seattle’s weakness at left guard.
Jauan Jennings, Wide Receiver, #15 — San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers are without star offensive weapon Deebo Samuel for the first time in 2021. He’s been their best receiver (and running back?) all season.
There is no way to replace Samuel. Yet his touches can be split across multiple playmakers including Mitchell, tight end George Kittle, fullback Kyle Juszczyk and receivers Brandon Aiyuk and Jauan Jennings.
Jennings, who could slide into a starting role, is not like Samuel. He won’t line up in the backfield and does not have the speed or YAC ability.
Yet, he does hold a three-inch height advantage over Seattle corner Sidney Jones IV and a six-inch height advantage over Seattle’s top corner D.J. Reed.
The 6’3" Jennings had two catches and a career-high 24 yards last week and caught his second touchdown.
He’ll likely set career-highs again on Sunday.
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