I think it goes without saying that this is a ridiculously important game. I also think that it’s ridiculous that every time the phrase “it goes without saying” is used the person then goes on to say what supposedly goes without saying. That, however, is a separate issue. Tonight the Seahawks travel to San Francisco for a Thursday night game that could define this season. A win tonight would put the Seahawks at 5-2 with all remaining divisional games at the Clink where they are undefeated and undoubtedly a better team. That’s what they call the driver’s seat. A loss would put them back in the pack at 4-3 with quite a bit of clawing to do if they hope to win the division. This will be the Seahawks’ most challenging test so far:an elite team to compete with in a hostile environment. They will need their A game and a couple of breaks here and there to escape Candlestick with a win. Today we look at some of the matchups the Seahawks need to win to make that happen.
Matchup #1: Marshawn Lynch vs. Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman
Despite not putting up gaudy touchdown totals Marshawn Lynch is having himself a career year. He is averaging 91.5 yards a game, as opposed to 80.3 last year. More impressively he is averaging 4.3 yards a carry, another career high, despite the fact every defense he faces is loaded up to stop him. Running between the tackles is where Lynch excels but he faces a stiff challenge in the Pro Bowl duo of Willis and Bowman. These ILB’s have absolutely terrorized opposing running games making offenses one dimension and creating opportunities for the 49ers pass rush and secondary. Last week Ahmad Bradshaw put up 116 yards against the 49ers, a virtually unheard of number against this defensive front led by Willis and Bowman. Lynch will be hoping this is the start of a trend rather than a one-time fluke but I doubt he will be so lucky.
Matchup #2: Sidney Rice vs. Carlos Rogers
Last week Rice showed us what we’ve been paying for. During his time with the Seahawks it has been hard to isolate Rice’s struggles from the struggles of the quarterbacks throwing to him and as such hard to evaluate his performance. Now it appears he might just be starting to click with Russell Wilson and the numbers we’ve been expecting might begin to follow. It also helps that he seems healthy for once. Today he faces Carlos Rogers, a cornerback on the wrong side of 30 having a career renaissance. Rogers was a first round pick but largely nothing special during his tenure with Washington but something about the move to the 49ers energized Rogers as he set a career high in interceptions last year at 6 (his previous season high was 2 and he had 8 total in 6 years with the Redskins). Rogers is a bigger corner at 6-0 199 (not like Seahawks corner big, but bigger) and could make things difficult for Rice today. I do think Rice is beginning to hit his stride though so look for a couple big catches and maybe a pass interference drawn (Fun Fact: Sidney Rice has drawn the most pass interference yardage in the league this year with 74 yards).
Matchup #3: Jon Ryan vs. Ted Ginn Jr.
Like a fine wine from Saskatchewan, Jon Ryan gets better with age. The Regina native is booting it 50.7 yards a kick so far this year coming off a year where he put up a career high 46.6 yards an attempt. Having a star punter may not win you many headlines but it sure is useful. Ryan is a field position weapon and in a battle between two elite defenses field position can be everything. You may recall, even though you would really rather not, that the Seahawks have had some problems with Ted Ginn Jr. in the past. Despite being comically over-drafted, Ginn is exactly the electrifying return talent that he was expected to be, although not a complete game changer of Hester’s caliber. Pinning Ginn to the side lines will be important in containing him and I wouldn’t complain if Ryan wanted to simply punt it out of bounds and let Alex Smith try and beat the Seahawks defense. It will be interesting to see what strategy the Seahawks use and what kind of job Ryan and his coverage team does at containing one of the most explosive men in the league.
If you are a connoisseur of punting this might be the game for you. Two defenses like this are bound to keep it close and interesting to the end. This is the sort of game that is extremely difficult to win, especially on the road, but at this point I’m just about done thinking there is anyone the Seahawks don’t have a chance against. With any luck the 49ers loss to the Giants is a sign of a complete and utter collapse to follow. Don’t count on it. Count on a good game.