Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
It’s here, Monday Night at Levi’s Stadium the 49ers welcome the Seattle Seahawks in what should be the best game of the week. A win would give the 49ers a three game lead in the NFC West and put them in the driver’s seat for the remainder of the season, while a loss would ignite more “pretenders” talk from the national media and bring into question the where the 49ers rank among the NFC elites. The 49ers’ 26-23 overtime victory last season was the team’s first against Seattle since 2013, can the 49ers build off of that game? We’ll look at what they need to do on both sides of the ball to stay undefeated.
Kyle Shanahan expects to get left tackle Joe Staley and fullback Kyle Juszczyk back for Monday’s game. Right tackle Mike McGlinchey also returned to practice this week but while talking with reporters he stated he needed to get his “wind back” and didn’t fully commit to playing Monday. But even without McGlinchey, the 49ers’ running attack is getting back two of their most valuable players. Seattle ranks thirteenth in the NFL in rush defense allowing 102.7 yards per game, while conversely the 49ers rank second, averaging 171.1 yards per game and an astounding 225 yards per game at home. Seattle may try to sell out against the run much like Arizona on Thursday night, but having Juice and Staley back will make that a much more difficult undertaking then in previous weeks.
But that may be Seattle’s best course of action against this 49ers offense. The Seahawks ranks twenty-eighth against the pass, allowing 278.1 yards per game, and for the 49ers it seems Jimmy Garoppolo is finding his stride. In the two games since they acquired Emmanuel Sanders, Garoppolo has gone 46-of-59 (77.9 percent) for 492 yards with six touchdowns and one interception. While Seattle is known for their defense, this isn’t the “Legion of Boom” from earlier in this decade; the Seahawks’ defense hasn’t had the success getting to opposing quarterbacks that they’ve enjoyed in previous seasons. According to Football Outsiders, Seattle’s defense ranks thirty-first with only 15 sacks and a 4.9 percent sack rate, and their two sacks against Jameis Winston last week were both linebacker blitzes.
We all remember the Seahawks as the defensive monsters they were, but this 7-2 Seattle team is all Russell Wilson. Putting it simply, Wilson is the clear leader for MVP through the first half of the season and easily the best quarterback the 49ers will have faced so far. Luckily for Robert Saleh, it’s also one of the worse offensive lines the team has seen. While Seattle is having trouble affecting opposing quarterbacks with their front four and relying on blitz packages to generate pressure, the opposite is true for the 49ers. Where Seattle’s defense line ranks thirty-first by Football Outsiders, the 49ers are first with 30 sacks and a 12 percent adjusted sack rate. Football Outsiders also ranks Seattle’s offensive line twentieth, allowing 22 sacks and a 7.5 percent adjusted sack rate. Adding to their issues this week is the loss of center Justin Britt for the remainder of the season following a knee injury.
Wilson is masterful with the football in his hands, his combination of arm strength and mobility makes him one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in football. Tyler Lockett was his go-to target last season with the combination finishing with a perfect quarterback rating and they picked up right where they left off. The offense also added dynamic rookie D.K. Metcalf in the draft, and he’s shown the talent to be a reliable target for the foreseeable future. While they could try their luck through the air against the number-one ranked pass defense in the league, one that allows only 138.1 yards per game, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer would be wise to copy Arizona’s second half adjustments.
The Cardinals where able to negate the 49ers pass rush and tire out the defense during the second half of Thursday’s game by keeping an up-tempo offense and using screen plays. It would be shocking if the defense didn’t correct those mistakes. Rookie linebacker Dre Greenlaw said earlier this week that the team had been working to defend better against the screen.
The Seahawks are still the Seahawks, they’re a team that bullied the 49ers for the better part of this decade, but now the shoe may be on the other foot. The dominant defense now resides in Santa Clara along with a crushing running game and an emerging passing attack. Getting by Russell Wilson won’t be easy, but the best indicator for Monday may be in looking at the teams’ common opponents so far this season. The NFC west rivals have each played Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Arizona, the L.A. Rams, Cleveland, and Tampa Bay. Both teams are 6-0, but the margin of victory is telling: Seattle has a plus-31 margin of victory while the 49ers have plus-86.
I think Monday we’ll see the 49ers take their first steps in removing the monkey off their back that the Seattle Seahawks have been for the last few years.
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