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The 49ers face their toughest test of the season when the Seattle Seahawks come to Levi’s Stadium for a Monday night showdown between the top two teams in the NFC West. Here are some matchups to keep a close eye on and that could determine the outcome of the game.
Dre Greenlaw vs. Chris Carson:
For all practical purposes this is a matchup between Dre Greenlaw, a rookie fifth-round selection, and Seattle offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Greenlaw saw his most extensive action of the season against Tampa Bay in Week 1 when Kwon Alexander was ejected. Pro Football Focus has Greenlaw graded much higher than Alexander both against the run (61.6 to 37.5) and as a tackler (76.0 to 29.9), albeit in much smaller samples. Aside from the intangible things like energy and attitude, the area where Greenlaw has the biggest shoes to fill is in pass coverage. According to PFF, Alexander’s strongest metric has been in pass coverage where he has graded out at an 81.3 (compared to Greenlaw’s 74.3). How will the Seahawks use their backs and tight ends in the passing game to test a rookie linebacker making his first start or will they test his mettle in the run game or both?
Robert Saleh vs. Russell Wilson:
49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh will have his work cut out for him on Monday night trying to devise rush schemes to contain Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. The 49ers know first-hand what kind of challenge it can be to bring Wilson down when it looks like the defense has him pinned in for a sack, and he is able to wriggle free and find a receiver downfield or throw the ball away. Wilson’s ability to dodge tacklers in the pocket is Barry Sanders-esque and it will take all eleven defenders to contain him. For once this season, the schedule gods may have smiled favorably upon the 49ers, as last week’s opponent, the Arizona Cardinals, featured a reasonable analog for Wilson in quarterback Kyler Murray. Coupled with the extra time afforded by playing last Thursday, it should give Saleh the opportunity to add some new wrinkles.
The 49ers’ Defensive Line vs. Seattle’s Offensive Line:
Seattle’s offensive line is among the worst in the league in pass protection according to Pro Football Focus, ranking twenty-seventh in pass blocking efficiency (pass blocking efficiency measures pressure allowed on a per snap basis). The Seahawks have surrendered 14 sacks, 14 hits, 81 hurries and 109 pressures on 338 pass attempts this year, per PFF. The 49ers have the ability to rush off of both edges and up the middle theoretically limiting Russell Wilson’s escape options. If the 49ers can keep Wilson from breaking the containment of the pocket and get him down on the ground, they stand a good chance of getting the win. If the 49ers’ pass rush can’t keep contain and the consistently allow Wilson to break the pocket and make plays downfield, it could be a long night for them.
The 49ers’ Defensive Backs vs. the Seahawks’ Wide Receivers:
In the second half of last week’s game against Arizona, the 49ers’ secondary allowed more passing yards than they had in any of the previous four games. The Seahawks added Josh Gordon to a receiving corps that already featured Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf. Individually, Lockett and Metcalf present quite a challenge for the 49ers’ secondary and adding Gordon to the mix makes things all the more difficult. Lockett ranks in the top four in the NFL in receptions (59), receiving yards (767) and touchdowns (6). Metcalf has been inconsistent in his rookie season but has 5 touchdowns and is coming off of a 123-yard performance against the Buccaneers. Each receiver presents his own unique challenge, Lockett with his quickness and route running ability and Metcalf with his size (6-4, 229 lbs.) and straight-line speed (4.33 40-yard dash) will be tough matchups regardless of which corner draws the assignment for the 49ers, adding Josh Gordon who’s physical stature is similar to Metcalf’s only further complicates the assignments (although the Seahawks are unsure how much Gordon will contribute on Monday night). In any event, safeties Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tart will need to be on their game against Seattle.
The 49ers will definitely have their work cut out for them against a division rival in what promises to be an epic primetime showdown. The 49ers are coming off of a Thursday night road win and are expected to get some of their starters back in time for this week’s game following the mini-bye. Getting a win against the Seahawks on Monday could go a long towards who wins the NFC West.
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