Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
With a win on Sunday, the 49ers will finish 13-3 for the first time since 2011, which is also the last year the 49ers won in Seattle. If the 49ers want to get that Space Needle-sized monkey off their back, they will need to do the following:
Weather the storm:
For all intents and purposes this is a playoff game for both teams, and the Seahawks are going to come out fired up, especially with the return of Marshawn Lynch. They will try and jump on the 49ers early. The Niners need to be able to withstand the initial barrage. It is key that the Niners avoid the self-inflicted wounds that have plagued them in Seattle, like a false start on third-and-short or allowing a free rusher at Jimmy Garoppolo because one of the linemen wasn’t able to hear a changed protection call; it’s these type of mistakes that have a way of snowballing and putting the Niners in an early hole.
The biggest advantage the Seahawks have in this game might just be the crowd noise. Century Link field is one of the loudest venues in the NFL; the Seahawks’ defense feeds off the havoc caused by a fully engaged twelfth man and there will be plenty for the home crowd to cheer for in the 256th and final regular-season game of 2019. The NFC West crown and home field advantage throughout the playoffs will be on the line. With the game flexed to prime time, the fans will have a few more hours to make sure they are at peak “hydration” levels to allow for maximum volume.
When these two teams met in November, the 49ers jumped out to an early 10-0 lead, but were not able to hold it once wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders exited the game with an injury, which left the Niners without their top two pass catching options (George Kittle missed the game with knee and ankle injuries). It is imperative that Niners get out to an early lead in this one just like they did in November to take the crowd out of the game.
Shanahan needs to keep his foot on the gas:
In the movie The Karate Kid (the classic version, not the remake where Jackie Chan teaches Will Smith’s kid Kung Fu), the sensei for villainous Cobra Kai dojo tells his students, “We do not train to be merciful here. Mercy is for the weak. Here, in the streets, in competition: a man confronts you, he is the enemy. An enemy deserves no mercy.” No mercy is the mindset that Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers need in this game.
The Seahawks are coming into this game banged up. Seattle will be without their top two running backs, Chris Carson and C.J. Prosise, as well as left tackle Duane Brown. Additionally, there are several other players whose status for the game remains uncertain. Regardless of who does or does not play for the Seahawks they will still have Russell Wilson under center and that fact alone should keep the 49ers from taking them too lightly.
Injuries altered the 49ers’ game plan in the first meeting, but George Kittle and Emmanuel Sanders are both healthy (relatively speaking), so Shanahan shouldn’t have any issues when it comes to dialing up plays on Sunday. If the 49ers can get out to an early lead, Shanahan needs to make sure that he doesn’t become too conservative in his play calling; he must keep his foot on the gas without becoming reckless.
Don’t turn the ball over:
Not turning the ball over is the key to every football game that has been or will ever be played, but the first matchup showed just how important it is. In the first meeting, a 27-24 overtime victory for Seattle, 21 of their 27 points came off 49er turnovers. One of the three Seattle touchdowns was a defensive score and the other two were on drives that started at the San Francisco 16- and 24-yard lines respectively. The 49ers’ defense was at the peak of its powers (although that was the first game without Kwon Alexander) and gave the team every chance to win. Attrition and injuries have worn the Niners defense down some and they will not be able to withstand three turnovers this time, especially on the road.
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