The San Francisco 49ers/Seattle Seahawks rivalry has taken on an epic feel recently; one where, if these two teams can remain relevant for the next 10-15 years, it could begin to resonate as strongly as the old rivalry between San Francisco and the hated Dallas Cowboys. The players talk trash via media outlets, social media, or smoke signals. The coaches cannot stand each other, with Pete Carroll getting the upper hand in the last meeting, and Jim Harbaugh having his share of wins both in the NFL and back in the Pac-10 where he and the Stanford Cardinals beat up on an unsuspecting USC. The fans cannot stand each other, as if the Seattle Supersonics/Sacramento Kings debacle over the past year wasn’t enough, now the NFL takes center stage and both teams are incredibly deep and talented and neither teams fan base knows when enough is enough.
The Seahawks absolutely trounced the 49ers in week 16, 42-13 as any Seattle fan can tell you. The 49ers were without Justin Smith, lost Mario Manningham in that game, and Vernon Davis sustained a concussion on a violent sideline hit by Kam Chancellor. The 49ers won the meeting at Candlestick last year behind Alex Smith, 13-6, but the team that beat Seattle was far different from the one that lost to that same team at ‘The Clink’ as Seahawks fans so affectionately refer to their home, CenturyLink Field. Kaepernick was still finding his identity as a starter in the NFL, not really settling into his groove until the Packers came to town and he had his coming out party. Had the 49ers faced the Seahawks at Candlestick instead of having to travel to Atlanta to play the NFC Championship Game, the kid from Wisconsin could have had a completely different game.
Seattle was the only NFL team to go 8-0 last season…..take a second, let that sink in. As great as other teams were last year, they were the only ones to be perfect at home, albeit with the help of some replacement NFL referees. This also means that the Seahawks were 3-5 on the road last year, showing signs that they were vulnerable and weak at certain positions. In order for either team to win on Sunday night, they are going to have to play nearly perfect in every aspect of the game.
The 49ers cannot have miscommunications or trouble hiking the ball in Seattle because Seattle’s 12th man (this is what the fans of the Seahawks are called) will feed off of delay of games or wasted timeouts, making it increasingly difficult for the 49ers offense to operate. The defense is going to have to be on point. The secondary is going to have to make some serious plays in order to keep Seattle’s crafty wide receivers in check long enough for the front seven to get pressure on Russell Wilson. The front seven is also going to have to keep Marshawn Lynch in check, no easy task as Lynch has cleared 100 yards rushing against the 49ers in four of his last six starts, including three consecutive such games.
The 49ers can win this game, but it will have to be done in the trenches. The defensive side of the line is going to have to have a big game, getting pressure on Wilson and stopping ‘BeastMode’ from wrecking shop against the second ranked scoring defense last year. Aldon Smith is going to have to have a big game, multiple quarterback pressures and a couple of sacks would shake Wilson up, give him some happy feet, and possibly force him to make some quick, ill-advised throws. Also, having the two best inside linebackers is a great luxury afforded to the 49ers, but Bowman and Willis need to play like men possessed.
Conversely, the offensive side of the ball needs to push down field, keep the tempo up, and make sure that they take advantage of the mismatches they have against the number one ranked scoring defense from a year ago. The offensive line needs to be dominant and give Kaepernick the opportunities it did against the Packers last week; choosing whether he is going to run or picking apart the defense with his arm. Kaepernick has shown he can beat a team by staying in the pocket and playing more of a traditional style offense. The Packers, Falcons, and Ravens all attempted to make him beat them from the pocket and only the Ravens were capable of keeping him in check. Frank Gore needs to be the bruising back the 49ers know he can be, wearing down a defense in the first half and gashing them for huge gains in the second half. Anquan doesn’t need to have a game like he did against Green Bay last week (although it wouldn’t hurt), but Vernon Davis wants and needs redemption against a secondary that gave him a concussion and held him mostly in check in the December massacre.