There could not have been a better match up for the NFC Championship. The San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks were the two best teams in the NFC. They have a heated rivalry that has become the fiercest in the NFL. They will go head to head to determine who gets to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. This is the first time that these two teams face off in a championship caliber match up.
The Seahawks have a very aggressive defense that is stellar on all levels. The secondary is one of the best units. Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman are looked upon by many as the best at their positions. Thomas is a rangy player that will allow the Seahawks to be creative with their schemes. He has the coverage ability to take on wide receivers and tight ends. Thomas is also a force against the run. He is very good at coming up and making plays in the box.
Sherman is a physical corner that talks a lot during the game. He and Anquan Boldin are sure to get into a few confrontations. His height and long arms makes it very hard to throw deep against him. He knows how to press the receiver towards the sideline and has the leaping ability to go up and get the ball as well.
Colin Kaepernick will need to take what the Seahawks give him in the passing game. He will have to fit the ball into tight windows because of their blanket coverage. There will be spots for him to throw to his receivers underneath but their goal is to take away the vertical passing game, which is something that Kaepernick was at one point reading first.
The key to getting big gains in the passing game will be getting yards after the catch. Both Boldin and Michael Crabtree need to break tackles after catching the ball. Vernon Davis will have to withstand the physical way that the Seahawks will use agianst him.
Davis will get at least one shot to make a big play via play action from the read option. I’ve said numerous times this week that the 49ers need to run right at the Seahawks but also mix in some misdirection. One way that they can do this is to run the read option a few times before faking it and looking for Davis on a delayed crossing route. The linebackers will be forced to take some false steps as they are trained to read run first. This will allow Davis to slip right behind them on his crossing route.
Frank Gore remains a key factor for the 49ers offense. It is imperative that he gets 20 rushing attempts. He needs to keep getting the ball. This will allow the big offensive line to wear down the Seahawks and eventually Gore will squirt through a hole and get a big chunk of yardage. That is exactly what happened in the 49ers win over the Seahawks at Candlestick Park earlier this year.
This game will fall directly on the shoulders of Kaepernick and Gore. These two players need to come up big for the offense. The offense has to come out fast and take the crowd away by driving the ball down the field and punching it in on the first drive. Running the ball with authority is one way to take the Seahawks fans out of the game. They can not afford to have one of those stagnant drives that this offense seems to have when they start off some games. Again, a fast start is mandatory.
The Seahawks have a ferocious pass rush that is headed by Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett. They like to get that outside rush. The offensive line will be tested by them along with big Red Bryant and Brandon Membrane. They have to keep the pocket clean for Kaepernick.
It will be very difficult to communicate because of the crowd noise so watching the play clock will be very important. They can not afford to have any delay of game penalties or waste timeouts like they have in the past. When that defense gets teams in likely passing situations, they pin back their ears and really come after the quarterback.
The 49ers defense has played well against the Seahawks. They will have to find a way to keep Marshawn Lynch from running wild. This defense has not allowed a 100 yard rusher all year so it is safe to say that they will be up for the challenge. Lynch is a load to bring down. He also has some wiggle with him. Navorro Bowman said it best when he talked about really breaking down and form tackling Lynch. He breaks tackles very well and is one of those backs that you can not simply arm tackle.
The home crowd feeds off of Lynch’s tough running style. As we know, the run that he had against the New Orleans Saints in the 2010 playoffs caused a reaction that registered on the Richter scale.
Russell Wilson is in somewhat of a funk but that in no way means he won’t be a factor in this game. He has the ability to extend plays with his elusiveness and get the ball down field to his receivers as they work the scramble drill. Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks will get the outside rush but they must contain Wilson and force him to step up into the pocket. Don’t be surprised if you see some inside gap blitzing by Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman. This will help get to Wilson as he steps up in the pocket to avoid the outside rush.
The passing game for the Seahawks is simplistic. They will look for Golden Tate on some slants but they like to take deep shots to Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse. Their tight ends do have the ability to make plays as well. Zach Miller is a solid possession type that can get open on various short routes but has also made some big plays this year by leaking out to the flat uncovered. Luke Wilson is another guy that can make plays for the offense. The Seahawks will use 12 personnel from time to time which allows them to get both of these players in the game.
They will give the 49ers a steady dose of Marshawn Lynch. The goal for the 49ers is to limit his effectiveness and make them a one dimensional team. It will force Russell Wilson to beat them.
This will be a close game. Phil Dawson and Steven Hauschka could be factors. Neither of these defenses give up a lot of points so anytime the offense is in scoring range, they need to come away at least with three points. These are the kinds of games where field positioning is crucial. The defenses will give their teams some chances to start drives with very good field position after stopping the other team deep in their own territory.
This game will come down to who can limit turnovers and make a few plays on offense. These two teams are evenly matched and are mirror images of each other. They know each other very well. Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh have a rivalry that goes back to when they coached against each other in college.
Mike Iupati vs Red Bryant Iupati is a force when it comes to run blocking. He gets out on the move and does an excellent job of clearing a path for running backs as he works his way to the second level of the defense. Bryant is a big lineman that does an excellent job of clogging his gap. It will be strength against strength when they clash on running plays. The big problem with Iupati is his pass blocking. He is a liability because he is often times caught being flat footed. That allowed Bryant to bull rush him and knock him down en route to Kaepernick. That inside pressure is something that the 49ers can’t allow. It forces the pocket into Kaepernick’s lap and that is the worst thing for a quarterback.
Aldon Smith vs Russell Okung Aldon Smith can rush the passer in many ways. Okung has talked about his unique ability to transition speed to strength when going after the quarterback. Smith can get off the line very fast but has the strength to shock lineman and overpower them at the point of contact. Okung is one of the best pass blockers in the game. Smith will play a key role in containing Russell Wilson.
Navorro Bowman vs Marshawn Lynch As mentioned previously, Lynch runs the ball with power. Bowman will be the key to defending him. He is consistently the first to the football and will need to hold onto Lynch as the other defenders come in to assist with the tackle. Lynch is one of the most physical running backs in the NFL and rarely goes down after the first hit.
Anquan Boldin/Michael Crabtree vs Byron Maxwwell/Richard Sherman
The Seahawks like to use a lot of man coverage. They will let their corners take on the opposing receivers and encourage them to press the receivers at the line. Sherman and Maxwell will need to win the one on one match ups when they face the Boldin and Crabtree. If they can win on the outside and in the slot, they will make the throws for Kaepernick a lot easier. Boldin made a few plays against the Seahawks in their last game at Candlestick Park. This match up will have a major factor on how this game falls out.
Jim Harbaugh has a 4-2 record against Pete Carroll in the NFL. The two losses were pretty lopsided and both took place at Century Link. This is the first time that these teams have faced each other in the playoffs.
Jim Harbaugh has the second best record ever over the first three years of his coaching tenure. He is 41-13-1 from 2011-2013. No other coach has led his team to three striaght conference championships in their first three years. George Seifert is tops with a 42-11 record from 1989-1991.
There are ties to the 49ers on the Seahawks coaching staff. Pete Carroll was born in San Franicsco and was the 49ers defensive coordinator in 1995 and 1996 before becoming the head coach of the New England Patriots. Ken Norton Jr. was also a linebacker on the 49ers 1994 Super Bowl Champion team. Scot Mccloughan is a former general manager for the 49ers.
The Seattle Seahawks are trying to make sure that every fan in the stadium is rooting of the home team. Tickets sales to California residents have been banned. This forces fans from California to purchase tickets at inflated costs through sites such as Stub Hub and Ticket Exchange.
The Seahawks big investment in Percy Harvin will not pay off in the NFC Championship game. He has been ruled out due to not passing NFL mandated testing for concussion symptoms.
The 49ers are looking to become the first team to win four playoff games on the road in their quest to make it to the Super Bowl.
Here is your injury report:
WR Percy Harvin (Concussion) DNP
DT Jordan Hill (Groin) LP
RB Marshawn Lynch (Not Injury Related) FP
LB K.J. Wright (Foot) FP
CB Carlos Rogers (Hamstring) LP
FB Will Tukuafu (Knee) LP
LB Navorro Bowman (Wrist) FP
LB Ahmad Brooks (Illness) FP
WR Michael Crabtree (Wrist) FP
DE Demarcus Dobbs (Knee,Shoulder) FP
C Jonathan Goodwin (Foot) FP
RB Frank Gore (Knee) FP
LB Dan Skuta (Foot) FP
DT Justin Smith (Shoulder) FP
DNP = Did not participate in practice
LP = Limited Participation in Practice – Less than 100% of a player’s normal repetitions
FP = Full Participation – 100% of a player’s normal repetitions
Out = Player will not play
This game will be one of the most watched games of the season. The rivalry runs deep and there has been plenty of attention heaped upon these head coaches. The two quarterbacks represent a new wave of style that the NFL is facing. One of these young guns will advance to the Super Bowl. Whoever does will in my opinion go on to lead their team to a Super Bowl Championship.