MNF PREVIEW: Seahawks @ 49ers NFC West Showdown
BY CASEY MABBOTT ON
Seattle travels to Santa Clara this weekend for a date with the undefeated (and one could argue untested), San Francisco 49ers. The Seahawks’ date with their division, conference, and league-leading rivals will take place under clear skies with the weather expected to be in the high 60’s at kickoff. We were all high-definition, prime-time witnesses to the Baltimore Ravens dragging the undefeated (and historic) New England defense back to Earth last Sunday night, giving the defending champions the first blemish of their 2019 season. Seattle has a similar opportunity this week, as they face the 49ers in their first of two showdowns, this one taking place on Monday Night Football to close out this week’s slate of games.
If Seattle wins, they can give the 1994 defending champions the first blemish of their 2019 season, and then get a well deserved week off next week.
Monday night’s game will be played on Veterans Day, the annual federal holiday honoring military veterans that have protected our nation and our freedoms by serving in the United States Armed Forces. The NFL’s “Salute To Service” campaign honors military service people year-round with a spotlight during the month of November. To date, the NFL and their fans have donated $34M to non-profit partners of the United States military, if you’d like to know more about this great cause and find ways to thank our military heroes, please visit http://www.nfl.com/salute.
With the military members of their fan bases in attendance and cheering on their respective sides, both teams should be ready for a hard-fought battle to help honor their veterans. For Seattle, this is a chance to prove they belong among the NFL’s elite. And for San Francisco, this is their chance to prove in front of a national television audience that their undefeated season is no fluke.
The Seahawks and 49ers share six opponents and are both 6-0 against them: Tampa Bay, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Arizona, and LA Rams. They each have played two opponents the other team has not faced, with San Francisco beating Washington and Carolina (who are a combined 6-11), and Seattle losing to New Orleans and Baltimore (who are a combined 13-3). San Francisco had their bye week in week 4, and Seattle played Atlanta in 8, so we’ll call those games offsetting given the level of competition. Today, the 49ers are 8-0, and the Seahawks are 7-2, but Seattle is undefeated on the road, and both are undefeated in the division. Only one team can leave Levi’s Stadium 1-0.
San Francisco QB Jimmy Garoppolo heads into this week’s game as the NFL’s #9 rated passer, as he has thrown for 1,806 yards (21st) with 13 TDs (8th) along with 7 INTs (28th) and completing 70.8% of his passes (3rd). Jimmy G has had a roller-coaster season so far but seemed to right the ship with his best game of the season last week in a road win over Arizona that was much closer than most anticipated. The ground game has been better than expected, with lead back Tevin Coleman 5th in rushing TDs with 6, and 5th in plays of more than 20 yards with 2. Coleman might have had even better numbers if not for missing multiple games with an ankle injury. TE George Kittle is 4th in receptions (46) among eligible TE’s, along with 4th in yards (541) and 5th in TD’s (2) and has 7 plays of 20 or more yards. Coleman and Kittle have yet to lose a fumble. WR Emmanuel Sanders joined the team two weeks ago, and has formed an instant connection with Jimmy G, but needs a larger sample size to prove he has truly arrived as a legitimate WR1 after years as a secondary receiver running deep routes against the opponent’s second or third best cover corner.
Seattle QB Russell Wilson arrives to this divisional showdown as the NFL’s #1 rated passer, as he has thrown for 2,505 yards (3rd) with 22 TDs (1st) along with just 1 INT (1st), and has completed 68.3% of his passes. Wilson is arguably the NFL’s best passer and the leading MVP candidate and has the numbers to back it up. Seattle lead back Chris Carson started out slow but has really come on of late, with 84.9 yards per game (8th), 3 TDs (8th), and has six plays of 20 or more yards (1st), but is near the bottom of the league in protecting the football as he has lost four fumbles. Star WR Tyler Lockett is 4th in the league in receptions with 59, along with 767 yards (4th), 2nd in TDs with 6, and has 12 plays of 20 yards or more (3rd). Lockett is not just a sure-handed pass-catcher but has not fumbled the ball either, giving Wilson even more reason to trust in his favorite target.
The Seahawks also have an emerging superstar in rookie receiver DK Metcalf, who already has eclipsed 500 yards and 5 TDs while averaging a ridiculous 18 yards a catch. If Metcalf and Lockett weren’t enough to keep defensive backs on their heels, they just signed former Patriots and Browns receiver Josh Gordon, who has flourished in the past and still appears to have plenty in the tank but comes with a well-documented history of off the field issues.
San Francisco’s defense deserves the bulk of the credit for their winning streak, as they have held opponents to 12.8 points per game, which is currently 2nd in the NFL. In today’s high-scoring league, holding teams below two touchdowns for half a season is downright scary. They rank 1st against the pass and 14th against the run and are 1st in total yards allowed. Seattle will definitely have their work cut out for them against this pass rush and front seven, and the secondary is no slouch either, featuring former Seahawk and all-pro cornerback Richard Sherman, who appears to be fully recovered from the Achilles injury that ended his tenure in the emerald city.
The 49ers offense is really just hitting their stride, with the 22nd ranked passing offense and the 2nd best rushing attack, good enough for 7th in yards per game and 3rd in points scored at 29.4 per contest. Any team that can score more than 28 points and hold their opposition to less than 14 would normally have our complete respect, but the jury is still out on if this 49ers team is as good as advertised, or if they have taken full advantage of one of the league’s softest schedules, something the Patriots were accused of before their first loss.
Seattle enters this game all over the map. Their offense is 4th in yards, and 7th in points scored per game at 27.6, with the #9 passing attack and the #8 rushing offense. All of that is great, but their defense is allowing far too many points and yards. The once-celebrated Seattle defense is ranked 25th in yards and allows 25.6 points per game, nearly double what their opponent is allowing. They are 28th against the pass and 13th against the run, which won’t get it done in this league. While Seattle is an even 6-0 against shared opponents with San Francisco, they have a much different (worse) margin of victory over those same opponents, which is concerning.
San Francisco is expected to get left tackle Joe Staley and fullback Kyle Juszczyk back on the field this week, which would only improve an already great rushing attack and bring some extra time in the pocket for Jimmy G, who hasn’t had his starting blindside blocker since week 2.
The 49ers are tied for third in the league with 30 sacks already, which is seven fewer than they had all of last season. Rookie defensive end Nick Bosa is a big reason the 49ers are making defensive headlines, as he already has 7 sacks in his young NFL career, good enough for 10th in the league. San Francisco’s front seven can put pressure on the QB and contain the run and are stocked with talented first-round draft picks.
Seattle on the other hand, only has 15 sacks so far this year, despite heavily investing in their pass rush by trading for Jadaveon Clowney and signing free agent Ezekiel Ansah, as well as drafting LJ Collier. Seattle had 43 sacks all of last year, so they are down significantly this year through 9 games.
In order to win, the Seahawks will need to find ways to put pressure on Garoppolo early and make him force throws into coverage and create turnovers, in turn creating extra possessions for the offense. On offense, they will need to use a balanced attack to control the tempo, sustain drives, and keep the pressure on the 49ers to score quickly, which is not their strong suit. This should also make the 49ers defense take unnecessary chances, which could create some big plays for Seattle.
For the 49ers to win, they will need to pressure Wilson into quick throws and keep Lockett and Metcalf from getting open deep. They will need to keep Carson from getting to the second level on first and second down, and force Wilson into long third-down situations. On offense, they need to use a ball-control offense to keep killing the clock and putting pressure on Seattle. They will need to prove they have the receivers to move the chains consistently on third and long, and force the Seattle secondary to take risks and over defend, which leads to easy points.
I don’t expect either side to roll over, and I also don’t expect either side to dominate the other. This should be a great Monday night game, and we haven’t been treated to many of those this season, so make sure you don’t miss this one. Seattle has all the tools to survive this game and come away with the victory, we’ll have to wait and see if they can pull it off. San Francisco may not have been truly tested yet, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t a legitimate contender either.
You can catch the game this Monday night, with coverage starting at 4:30 pm on 750 The GAME, televised on ESPN.