After two straight blowouts the Seahawks host the formidable 49ers at the Clink in a game that figures to be as close as it is physical. Two of the league’s top defenses will do battle on Sunday and this game has the makings of an absolute nail biter. The 49ers are coming off a wild victory over the New England Patriots that was heartbreaking for Seahawks fans everywhere. As a result, this game is no longer really a battle for the division crown (unless the 49ers lose out, which would include losing to the woeful Cardinals at home). Instead this is more of a statement game/a game to keep Seattle in the #5 seed. The #5 seed is a nice place to be because the NFC only has 3 quality division leaders, the Packers, the Falcons and the 49ers, and as a result the team holding the 5th seed can avoid these dangerous teams and play the winner of the weak NFC East. That being said if the Hawks can beat the 49ers there really isn’t any team they need to be afraid of. Let’s take a lot of the big time matchups in this prime time game.
Matchup #1: Golden Tate vs. Tarell Brown
With Sidney Rice far from 100% Tate needs to step up in this game. At the beginning of the year I wrote that this was a make or break year for Golden Tate and the man has shown himself to be the playmaker we all knew he could be but weren’t sure he would become. With 7 touchdowns receiving and 1 passing Tate has impacted games all year long and needs to do it again on Sunday night if the Seahawks are going to succeed against the intimidating San Francisco defense. Rice (if he plays) is likely to be locking horns with Carlos Rogers so Tate’s opponent is Tarell Brown. Brown is a former 5th round pick who worked his way into the starting lineup of the 49ers last year and was very effective with 4 Int’s and 16 passes deflected. The 27 year old cover corner has similar size to Tate (5-11 190 to Tate’s 5’11 195) and speed (4.45 40 yard dash to Tate’s 4.42) but will need the help of the 49ers vaunted pass rush to account for Tate’s unique quickness and explosiveness. Look for Tate to be Wilson’s number one target on Sunday night.
Matchup #2: Paul McQuistan vs. Justin Smith
McQuistan is exactly the kind of offensive lineman most fans like. A quiet offensive lineman. Paul does not draw our attention with stupid penalties and is rarely has praise heaped on him by over-zealous commentators and as such we tend to forget him. On Sunday he draws a very important duty, the containing of Justin Smith. Smith is one of the keys to the 49er’s offense and opens up pass rushing opportunities for sack artist Aldon Smith by wreaking havoc in the interior of the offensive line. Not only does Smith absorb blocks for his dangerous teammate he also collects sacks himself. Smith has 32 sacks in his five years with the 49ers as a 3-4 end, which is an impressive total for that position. He is a tireless worker and a talented defender and if he can’t be held in check then Aldon Smith can run wild. If Okung is going to have any chance with the younger Smith then McQuistan will have to keep the older Smith quiet. We’ll have to see if the unheralded former 3rd round pick is up to the task.
Matchup #3: K.J Wright vs. Vernon Davis
I have made no secret of the fact that I’m a big fan of K.J Wright and what he does for Seattle’s defense. Today Wright draws a very interesting tight end in Vernon Davis. We all know the freakish athleticism and impressive skills that Davis possesses but this year he is not translating them into results. Davis is in for his worst year since 2008 and at 28 it would be hard to blame this on a physical decline, especially given how healthy he has been over his career. One thing that could account for Davis’s off-year is the emergence of Kaepernick at QB for the 49ers. Since the Kaepernick era began Vernon Davis has 10 catches for 112 yards and a single touchdown in 5 games. My first instinct is take comfort in this obvious lack of rapport but in reality Davis is so dangerous and so gifted that it just makes me nervous that the 49ers QB has an elite weapon he hasn’t even discovered yet. Davis is due for a breakout but the rangy Wright is a tough foe. I wouldn’t be surprised if Davis caught a few balls but I wouldn’t expect him to be the same player who has haunted the nightmares of Seattle fans for years.
There is no denying this is a big game but one can’t help but wonder what it would have been like as a division deciding game if the Patriots had won last week. Alas the Seahawks can only control what happens in the games they play and in this game a win keeps them firmly entrenched in the first wildcard. This is the part of the year where looking ahead is inevitable and it’s unreasonable to caution against it. We are all dreaming of playoffs but before we get there how about a marquee matchup that will be a treat not only for Seattle fans but for football fans nationwide.