For the San Francisco 49ers, the gauntlet seems never-ending. The easy part of the schedule led to a 2-3 record. Now the 49ers sit at 4-3 after consecutive dominant performances. San Francisco is now in the midst of a tough stretch that only gets more difficult this week. The next step of the scheduling gauntlet is a familiar foe, the Seattle Seahawks. A victory puts the 49ers in a prime position to steal the division while hurting the rival Seahawks. Today we preview the three keys to a 49ers victory in the Pacific Northwest.
Keep the Lid On
Seattle’s offense begins and ends with quarterback Russell Wilson. The Seahawks have an explosive offense that has benefited from big plays through the passing game. Wide receiver D.K. Metcalf is Seattle’s biggest threat. His play this season has been like Thanos with the Infinity Gauntlet. Metcalf presents matchup problems for NFL secondaries with his size (6-4, 240lbs.) and speed (4.33 40-yd dash). Through six games, Metcalf has averaged four receptions and 86 receiving yards per game. He has also contributed five touchdowns. Last week was Metcalf’s worst game of the season by far as he finished with two receptions for 23 yards. However, the second-year wide receiver was stalked by veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson, for most of the game. San Francisco does not have a Patrick Peterson in their secondary. While the 49ers have been solid against the pass, Metcalf and the Seattle aerial assault is a different monster.
The best of the best of @dkm14 through Week 5️⃣.
— Seattle Seahawks (@Seahawks) October 15, 2020
Joining Metcalf is wide receiver, Tyler Lockett. Contrasting Metcalf’s physical game, Lockett is a shifter speedster who is a reliable target for Wilson. The smaller Lockett has outperformed Metcalf with 45 catches, 542 receiving yards, and seven touchdowns. He is a security blanket who can score from anywhere on the field. The 49ers will need a big game from their secondary. Jason Verrett has been a revelation this season but faces his toughest task with Metcalf. If Verrett can hold his own and slow down Metcalf, it will allow the 49ers to play an extra defender underneath to flood the passing lanes. It also allows for pressure packages to be used to speed up the process for Wilson. It’s not about a complete shutdown of the Seattle offense but rather finding ways to prevent touchdowns.
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If the 49ers are to navigate their scheduling gauntlet, they will need to keep the ground game going against the Seahawks. Seattle’s run defense sits just outside of the top-10 for yards per game (110.5 yards/game). The numbers are a bit deceiving as the Seahawks have typically played from ahead which often prevents their opponents from focusing on the ground game. However, the 49ers use their run game as the primary weapon. Against a stingy Patriots defense, the 49ers had their most successful day on the ground. San Francisco finished with 197 rushing yards and four touchdowns. Kyle Shanahan has kept defenses guessing over the last two weeks, even as he’s relied on his depth at the running back position. Expect more of the same on Sunday.
— Coach Yac 🗣 (@Coach_Yac) October 28, 2020
The likely starter at running back on Sunday is Jamycal Hasty. The rookie out of Baylor has had impressive showings in consecutive games. As injuries have continued to mount at the running back position, Hasty has seen more playing time. He is a hard runner who shows potential in the passing game. With reports surfacing that Jerick McKinnon is battling “tired legs” and Jeff Wilson out for a few weeks, Hasty will be the main guy on Sunday. San Francisco is also without wide receiver Deebo Samuel which puts a further damper on the ground game. Expect a continuation of extended handoffs to Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle through quick screens and jet sweeps. San Francisco will test the edges of a Seattle defense still suffering from injuries to the front seven.
If the 49ers hope to pull off the upset against the Seahawks, the offense will need to avoid turning the ball over. The Seahawks will attempt to force San Francisco into relying on the passing game. Seattle will load the box to slow down the ground game and create obvious passing situations. This is where Jimmy Garoppolo and the offensive line will need to be at their best. The Seahawks have struggled in pass defense. In one game less than most of the teams around them (Atlanta played on Thursday night and are two games up), Seattle has allowed the second-most yards through the air. To put it into perspective, the Seahawks are surrendering 368 passing yards per game, over 50 yards more than their closest competitor. This is where the 49ers have the chance to come out with the upset.
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Seattle could be without safety Jamal Adams. Although without Deebo Samuel, the 49ers have a healthy George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk. In a handful of reps against cornerback Stephon Gilmore, Kittle showed how dangerous he can be in the passing game as he finished with five receptions and 55 yards receiving. New England double-teamed Kittle, a similar tactic will be used by Seattle. This is where Aiyuk must come to life and continue his progress. If the rookie wide receiver can get established early, Seattle will be forced to move a defender out of the box and help the secondary. Garoppolo must play his part and play a clean game. There will be open wide receivers for Garoppolo to target. Avoiding turnovers and hitting on his throws early will set the tone. A solid game by Garoppolo greatly increases the chance of a San Francisco victory.
Capture the Day
San Francisco faces a tough test as they travel to Seattle for Sunday’s contest and face a Seahawks team coming off their first loss of the season. Add to that the looming matchup next Thursday against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, the 49ers have quite the gauntlet ahead. San Francisco can place themselves in the opportune spot to contend for the division crown. A victory moves the 49ers within striking distance of the rest of the division, one loss behind the other three members of the NFC West. With a group of players set to return over the next few weeks, primarily on the defense, the 49ers could survive their tough gauntlet. However, none of this is possible if the 49ers slip and fall against the Seahawks.
Prediction: Seattle is just too strong on offense, defeat 49ers, 34-21.
– Ryan Adverderada is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage 49ers. He also covers the Arizona Cardinals for Full Press Coverage. Like and follow on Follow @ryanadverderada