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Enemy Confidential: Seahawks Look to Cool Down Surging 49ers

Much has changed since the last time Seattle and San Francisco met in Week 4, with the latter overcoming a 2-4 start to vault into the second wild card in the NFC thanks to Elijah Mitchell and a physical ground game.

When Russell Wilson and the Seahawks beat Jimmy Garoppolo and the San Francisco 49ers at Levis Stadium 28-21 back in Week 4, the two rivals seemed to be heading in opposite directions with the road team finding its stride offensively to explode for 21 points after halftime.

But since then, the script has been flipped on its head. After a tough loss to an undermanned Arizona squad in Week 9, San Francisco has since ascended to the sixth seed in the NFC thanks to a three-game winning streak, while Seattle has tumbled to the bottom of the division losing six of its past seven contests and nearly eliminated itself from playoff contention in the process.

What has changed for the 49ers since the first matchup? Over the past three weeks, coach Kyle Shanahan's team has gotten back to its bread and butter offensively, leaning on rookie running back Elijah Mitchell and Swiss army knife Deebo Samuel to rush for nearly 175 yards per game. With the ground game complementing him, Garoppolo has been extremely efficient under center, posting a 117.0 passer rating while completing 71 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and one interception.

"They’re running the ball much more than they have and as much as anybody in football in these last three weeks in particular," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said on Wednesday. "They have found tremendous success in this. They are a good perimeter team, they are basically a zone running team, but with the commitment they have, they have man block schemes, gap block schemes, and they do a variety of things with their perimeter guys too, so they are really committed to it."

Meanwhile, San Francisco has given up 15 points per game defensively while defeating the Los Angeles Rams, Jacksonville, and Minnesota in consecutive weeks. Winning the turnover battle has been crucial to this success with the team intercepting three passes and recovering a trio of fumbles, holding a plus-five advantage in the turnover margin.

As the two bitter rivals prepare to meet again at Lumen Field, here’s a closer look at the Seahawks upcoming Week 13 opponent, including series history, additions/departures, key numbers, and Carroll’s evaluation of the 49ers.

Series History

46th regular season meeting. The Seahawks have dominated the series, winning 28 of the previous 45 regular season matchups while also beating the 49ers in the 2013 NFC Championship Game.

Since that playoff game seven years ago, Seattle has won 13 of the previous 15 games between the two rivals, including sweeping last year's season series with home and away victories over San Francisco. The 49ers last victory in the series came in December 2019 when they edged the Seahawks 26-21 at Lumen Field and kept tight end Jacob Hollister out of the end zone in the closing seconds to clinch an NFC West title. San Francisco's longest win streak in the series was four games from 2010 to 2012, while Seattle won 10 straight from 2014 to 2018.

What's New

Departures: San Francisco's biggest loss came on the coaching staff, as heralded defensive coordinator Robert Saleh was hired as the New York Jets new head coach and took several assistants with him. Defensively, the team underwent significant changes in the secondary, allowing veteran cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Akhello Witherspoon to walk in free agency. Along the defensive line, former first-round pick Solomon Thomas departed to join the Raiders, while Kerry Hyder changed teams within the division to sign with the Seahawks. On offense, receiver Michael Bourne bolted for New England and running back Tevin Coleman followed Saleh to New York.

Additions: The 49ers' most significant splash came weeks before draft weekend when general manager John Lynch packaged multiple first rounders to trade up to No. 3 overall with the Dolphins. While speculation ran rampant about the team's interest in Alabama quarterback Mac Jones, they instead took South Dakota state star quarterback Trey Lance as the eventual heir apparent for Garoppolo. Upgrading the interior of its offensive line to protect whoever was under center, San Francisco signed Pro Bowl center Alex Mack. Meanwhile, to help replace Sherman and Witherspoon, former All-Pro Josh Norman was signed before the start of the regular season, while ex-Rams linebacker Samson Ebukam was signed to a two-year deal. Before the trade deadline, the team acquired defensive end Charles Omenihu from the Texans for a 2023 sixth-round draft choice.

Injury Report

While San Francisco has plenty of momentum on its side heading to Seattle, the team will be without several key players in Sunday's rematch. Top receiver Deebo Samuel, who already has eclipsed 1,000 yards this year, has been ruled out with a groin injury, while All-Pro linebacker Fred Warner has been listed as doubtful to play with a hamstring strain. Another important linebacker, Dre Greenlaw, won't play on Sunday either with his own groin issue.

Inside The Scheme

With one of the few remaining true fullbacks in the NFL in Kyle Juszczyk, the 49ers used two-back personnel groupings more than any other team in the NFL and that trend has continued in 2021. So far, they have used 21 and 22 personnel on 43 percent of their offensive snaps, second behind only the Ravens. While much of the league primarily uses 11 personnel, the 49ers rank 26th using those groupings just 45 percent of their offensive plays.

Coming from his father Mike Shanahan's coaching tree, Kyle Shanahan still calls outside zone more than any other run concept. But during his four seasons at the helm, he has slowly mixed in more power and counter "gap" concepts to further diversify the rushing attack. In fact, per Pro Football Focus, they finished in the top 10 in power and counter run rate in 2020 and the Seahawks should expect a steady dose of both in this upcoming rematch.

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With Saleh at the helm, the 49ers heavily favored Cover 3 and quarters coverage looks out of their base defense on early downs and didn't blitz much in those situations. But in obvious passing situations when playing nickel or dime packages, they deployed more Cover 1 looks with man underneath and also were far more aggressive with the blitz, sending five or more defenders after the quarterback on third down at the third-highest rate. They finished in the top 10 in EPA on all downs.

Through 11 games under Demeco Ryans, who replaced Saleh, the 49ers haven't changed much in regards to coverage schemes. They are still using Cover 3 single-high looks (39.9 percent) and quarters (19.8 percent) primarily on early downs and remain one of the least aggressive teams blitzing, as they've sent extra defenders only 21.5 percent of their snaps per Pro Football Reference. Unlike the past two years, however, they haven't been able to generate as consistent of pressure with four man rushes and have the second-fewest total pressures in the league according to PFF.

By The Numbers

31.6: Points per game scored by 49ers since Week 10, third-best in the NFL

3.84: Yards after contact per rush by rookie Elijah Mitchell, second-best among qualified runners

530: Yards after contact by Deebo Samuel, third-most among NFL receivers

38.3: Third down conversion rate, 20th among NFL teams

6: Sacks allowed percentage for 49ers' offensive line, 19th in the league.

10.4: Yards allowed per reception, ninth-lowest in the league

2.96: Yards after contact by opposing runners, 27th in the NFL

1.36: Passing touchdowns allowed per game, tied for seventh-fewest in league

62: Red zone touchdown percentage for opponents, 19th in the league

100: Quarterback pressures, second-fewest among 32 NFL teams

Carroll's Thoughts

--On the emergence of rookie running back Elijah Mitchell: "“Well, they have been really effective. The commitment was really obvious against the Rams a few of weeks ago, that they were really going after the running game. They’ve been making great progress in the last three weeks, they continue to get more yards each week, and he’s been right in the middle of all of it. He’s tough and he has really good speed. Everybody that runs for them looks good and that’s because they have a real commitment to it. They’re showing up and running the ball a ton and he’s the leading ball carrier right now.”

--On Nick Bosa's return to form in his third NFL season: “He’s as active as ever. They’re moving him around more. They’re playing him on the other side some. We’ve seen him over the center some. They’re really trying to position him to be effective. He’s a really good player, plays with a great motor. His strength to power stuff that he’s got, he just adds it to his rushes, along with the speed, really makes him very difficult. We’ve got to take care of him. We’ve got to make sure we know where he is and account for him on our protection pickups.”