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Will the 49ers Ground the Seahawks?

A few things have changed since Seattle's 2021 season.

The Seahawks have owned the 49ers for many years.  They were 17-4 with Russell Wilson, but this has really been going on since they joined the NFC West. They swept the 49ers in 2020 and in 2021. The 49ers last victory was in Seattle, in Week 17 of the 2019 season.

A few things have changed since Seattle's 2021 season:  Wilson, who seemed to always kill the Niners in the waning moments of games, was traded to the Broncos.  Cornerback DJ Reed, who was great in 2021, was signed by the Jets. Linebacker Bobby Wagner, who is declining but still elite, was signed by the Rams. On Monday night safety Jamal Adams, who is the only proven Seahawks defensive back other than Quandre Diggs, tore his quad tendon, ending his 2022 season prematurely. Cornerback Tariq Woolen had a very solid game against the Broncos, but I need to see more before I'm sold. 

Cornerback Mike Jackson made some big hits and looked surprisingly good as well.  The Seahawks drafted three offensive linemen who should end up being good, but they probably won't be good quite yet. Outside linebacker Uchenna Nwosu was the NFC's defensive player of the week. The Seahawks also got edge rusher Shelby Harris  from the Broncos who made some nice plays vs. his former team last week, so their pass rush appears to have improved. Linebacker Cody Barton is no Bobby Wagner, but he had some nice plays Monday Night.

A few things have changed for the 49ers as well.  

On Offense, Trey Lance is QB1, which makes defenses play 11 on 11, instead of 11 on 10 with Jimmy Garoppolo.  Lance had at least three beautiful throws last Sunday and quite a few nice runs.  He had some ugly throws too and a costly pick in the 4th quarter. Overall, he was better than Garoppolo was against the Colts in 2021 under similar conditions. Lance is very likely to continue to improve, while Garoppolo won't.

Ray-Ray McCloud was the 49ers' third-leading receiver in Chicago week 1.  He makes guys miss in space, and Kyle Shanahan is great at getting guys the ball in space.  Jordan Mason is an undrafted rookie free agent running back from Georgia Tech, who I expect to take over while Elijah Mitchell is out for 6-8 weeks.  Former Colts running back Marlon Mack, who's on the practice squad, may have something to say about that. Third-round rookie running back Ty Davis-Price seems less likely to contribute, due to his struggles catching passes out of the backfield. Danny Gray is a 4.33 speedster, but also a complete wide receiver. He was inactive Week 1, but hopefully not this Sunday. The 49ers interior offensive line is all new for 2022. Right guard Spencer Burford looked really good against Chicago. Center Jake Brendel was pretty solid. And left guard Aaron Banks made the most mistakes, but I think he will clean them up. Sunday at Levi's will be a big test for this trio.

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On Defense, cornerback Charvarius (Mooney) Ward, signed from the Chiefs, had a costly drive extending hold on Sunday, but otherwise played well. Nickel cornerback Samuel Womack also played well minus one blown coverage. Defensive end Drake Jackson has freakish bend and athleticism, but didn't get many snaps in Chicago.  Defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway looked good in limited usage. Defensive end Kemoko Turay didn't play last Sunday, but just got called up form the practice squad due to Jordan Willis' knee injury sending him to IR.  I'm very excited about Turay, who was one the 49ers best defensive ends in preseason. Free safety Tashaun Gipson wasn't bad, but definitely not great, as he blew some coverages and dropped a would-be interception.  Talanoa Hufanga isn't new to the team, but he's a new starter at strong safety. He had an amazing 1st half in Chicago, but at least one huge blown coverage for a touchdown in the 2nd half. Excited to see him be more consistent.

On special teams, McCloud did a good job with his return duties. Oren Burks, Mailk Turner and George Odum were big offseason additions too, as was coordinator Brian Schneider. This could be huge, since the Niners lost both Seahawks games in 2021 due to special teams gaffes.  In Week 4 at Levi's, Trenton Cannon's lost fumble on a kickoff return led to a quick Seahawks touchdown, and they won by 7 points.  In Week 13 at Seattle, a fake punt resulted in a Seahawks touchdown, and a lost fumble on a kickoff return by Trenton Cannon led to a safety. That's 9 points, and the 49ers lost by 7. The Seahawks are 6-4 (.600) when outgained by the Niners, and Shanahan is 2-8 (.200) against the Seahawks. The 49ers re-vamped special teams could help improve those totals this Sunday.

Jimmie Ward and Elijah Mitchell are on IR. George Kittle didn't practice this week, so I can't imagine that he will play. Especially considering there currently is a 71-percent chance of rain at Levi's on Sunday and a slippery field would make exacerbating his groin pull much more likely.

Ultimately, I'm confident that the Niners are much better than what they showed us in Chicago when they appeared to be overconfident, especially after moving the ball well early in the game. I'm also convinced that the Broncos were overconfident Monday Night in Seattle, when they self-destructed in an eerily similar fashion.  Both teams had tons of defensive penalties and costly red-zone turnovers.  I don't think the Bears or the Seahawks are as good as they looked last week.  That being said, Seattle always plays the 49ers tough and it's a divisional game, so I believe that the score will be close.  

The Seahawks will likely sell out to stop the run, so Lance will almost certainly need to hit some throws to soften their defense and make them play back from the line of scrimmage. I don't think that #BullyBall will work well without passing successfully first.  Scoring touchdowns in the red zone will be key, as the Seahawks defense is the epitome of bend-but-don't-break.

The Niners defense just needs to clean up its mistakes. If Dre Greenlaw can't do that, then he needs to be benched. Both safeties need to work on their communication in pass coverage as well. The 49ers have one the best front sevens in football and they should make it a long day for Geno Smith and Rashaad Penny.

As of now, I'm picking the Niners to win, but not to cover. The spread is currently 49ers minus-8.5 points.  As always, I will reply to this article with my official score prediction about an hour before kickoff, once we know exactly who will play and who won't.