The Seattle Seahawks are facing the San Francisco 49ers for the second time in three weeks and there is much less chatter from the national media with Richard Sherman’s homecoming having come and gone. Even though just two weeks ago, these Seahawks beat the living bujesus out of San Francisco, with a final score of 43 to 16, this game has the elements of a trap game for the Hawks. Seattle is in the driver’s seat in the NFC wild card race, fresh off of a dominating defensive performance against the Minnesota Vikings on Monday night, and they are gearing up for an epic showdown against the vaunted Kansas City Chiefs next week. With a young team and a plethora of injuries in key positions, it would not be far fetched to think that Seattle may get caught looking ahead to next week and underestimate this division opponent while they are traveling on a short week. Let’s take a look at a few of the key story lines to look out for while the Seahawks look to clinch a playoff spot in Levi Stadium.
Can the offense bounce back?
Russell Wilson and the Seattle passing game had been ridiculously efficient all season before they squared off against the Vikings and one of the best defenses in the league. The Seahawks play at a very deliberate pace with a powerful running game and deep shots down field, and while they were able to rush for over two hundred yards against Minnesota, there was virtually no success in the air. Wilson completed just ten passes for a meek seventy-two yards, averaging under four yards per attempt which is less than half of his season average. The only Seahawks receiver with over fifteen yards was Tyler Lockett, who was also the only pass catcher to record more than one reception. The absence of Doug Baldwin was dramatically apparent, with all the other receivers, with the exception of Lockett, failing to generate any separation in the secondary for Wilson and with his expected return this week, Russell will have his third down security blanket back against a much less intimidating secondary. Expect the the pass attack to get back on schedule for Seattle with more shots down field with Moore and Lockett drawing better match-ups because of Baldwin’s presence.
Key Injuries for Seattle
The injury bug snuck up on these Seahawks, with several injuries at key positions, mostly on the defensive side of the ball. KJ Wright will not make his return from a pesky knee injury that has plagued him all season and with Mychal Kendricks breaking his leg last week in his first game action since returning from suspension, weak side linebacker duties will once again fall to the second year pro Austin Calitro. With Calitro playing, Seattle is visibly worse against the run, which the 49ers actually perform well, ranking in the top ten of the league in rushing yards. Seattle’s struggle to stop the run may be compounded with defensive tackle and team captain Jarran Reed listed as questionable going into the game. Reed is one of the unsung hero’s of this team, reeking havoc on the line as a run stuffer in the middle and running nasty stunts with his teammates to get to the quarterback. Reed has recorded twenty-eight solo tackles and six and half sacks which rank eighth and second on the team, his versatility and power would be a major blow to the Seattle defense. With other major contributors in Rashaad Penny and Bradley McDougald listed as out and questionable, the depth of this team will be put to the test.
Turnovers are a killer
A game can be won or lost with just one turnover and the Seahawks are one of the best in the league at taking more than they give the ball away. Seattle has a turnover margin of eleven on the season, meaning they have forced and recovered eleven more interceptions or fumbles than they have committed. In addition to Wilson’s extreme care with the ball when it is in his hands, Seattle’s’ running backs and receivers are some of the most secure in the league. The Seahawks defense is also very opportunistic and they rank in the top ten in turnovers forced, resulting in the second best turnover differential in the league. On the other side of the spectrum, we have the 49ers, ranking dead last in turnover margin, having committed twenty-one more turnovers than they have been able to force all season. With McDougald possibly out for the game, Seattle will have to manufacture turnovers through other players like Shaquil Griffin and Bobby Wagner, but against Nick Mullins that should be no issue.
Seattle showed the last time they played San Francisco that they could take a loosing team seriously, but there are several additional factors at play this time around that may prove to bite the Seahawks this week. There is a guaranteed playoff spot on the line if Seattle wins this weekend and while the Niners may give them a slap in the face and the Hawks may find themselves down to start the game, that will be enough to keep them motivated and focused to ear a victory.
Final score: Seattle 33, San Francisco 20