The 49ers and the Seahawks played 3 decisive games last season and made their case for the top rivalry in the NFL. This year, instead of battling for the division crown, the traditional powerhouses are squaring off for the right to chase the league’s best team, the Arizona Cardinals. Here’s what to watch for after your feast:
1. 49ers Linebackers vs Marshawn Lynch
Both of the 49ers premier inside linebackers are out for this game. The last Seattle-San Francisco match up resulted in Navarro Bowman’s grisly ACL injury and team legend Patrick Willis is out with a toe injury. Must be a pretty severe toe injury to put a guy out for a season, but hey, whatever. I can only say that because the rest of the San Francisco linebacker corps has really stepped up. Rookies Chris Borland and Aaron Lynch have played themselves into Rookie of the Year conversation. Borland, a third round pick out of Wisconsin, has been a tackling machine ever since coming into the starting lineup. Lynch, meanwhile, seems to have sorted out the off-field issues that plagued him in college and led to him slipping to the later rounds of the draft and has emerged as a quality pass rusher opposite of Aldon Smith. Smith has been consistently plagued by suspensions during his time in the NFL, but when he is on the field, there are very few better at the outside linebacker position. Michael Wilhoite rounds out a group that many would never have imagined in August. On the other side, is Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch. “Beast Mode” is nearly impossible to take down and burned the 49ers in last year’s NFC Championship Game. In the 49ers win over Seattle last year, they contained Lynch, a key factor in any victory over the Seahawks. Despite speculation about locker room fragmentation and Lynch’s issues with the media, the man still runs like a wrecking ball on the field. Lynch’s strength and power is apparent in every run and it will be a difficult task to slow him down. The 49ers must be sound in their tackling fundamentals, take out the legs (cleanly), and wrap up to ensure they get Lynch on the ground.
2. Colin Kaepernick vs The Legion of Boom
Kaepernick is perhaps the league’s most frustrating QB. All the physical talent in the world, but it seems like half the time he doesn’t have the brains to take advantage of it. I can’t count the number of times I have wanted to pull my hair out watching Kaepernick take forever to figure out the play and snap the ball, and have to burn a timeout to avoid a delay of game penalty, Half the time they call sixteen different audibles, sent three guys in motion (which is illegal if they are doing it at the same time), snap it with :01 on the clock, and get a paltry two yard gain on third down. It’s excruciating to watch. In addition, Kaepernick seems to take forever to make his reads and ends up taking a sack or chucking it to Crabtree and hoping for the best. (How well did that work out last year?) Then, out of nowhere, Kaepernick is firing bullets through the eye of a needle, picking up yardage in huge chunks, and dropping dimes in full sprint. I don’t understand how someone who is so bad for so much of the game goes into God mode in the clutch. It’s nice to have it, but if we could do it all game long, we wouldn’t need to have thrilling come from behind victories and many Niners fans would have a lot fewer gray hairs. Hopefully he will have solved the problem by the time that becomes a factor for me. This week, Kaepernick cannot amble aimlessly for a 35% completion percentage and 100 yards through three quarters and then kick it into overdrive in the fourth. That type of play will cut it against an awful Washington team, but if Kaepernick plays like that against the likes of Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, and Kam Chancellor, it will be a long day for the 49ers. Thomas, Chancellor, and Sherman are among the leagues best and Sherman seems to have a personal hatred for Michael Crabtree, Kaepernick’ s favorite receiver. Crabtree could shut Sherman up real quick by doing well against him, but Sherman has had the better end of this match up for a few years now. It’s an interesting phenomenon, because as poorly as Crabtree plays against Sherman, he owns Patrick Peterson, who many consider to be the superior corner. Thomas is the best safety in the game and Kaepernick will need to bring his A game if the 49ers want to come out on top.
3. 49ers D-Line vs Russel Wilson
Russel Wilson is one of the league’s premier scrambling quarterbacks. Blessed with an innate ability to run and throw on the run, Wilson has evolved from a game manager to a bona fide star. Wilson burns teams on the ground and through the air, and has carried the Seahawks to several victories this year that they would not have won without him. Keeping Wilson contained will be up to Justin Smith, Ray McDonald, and Quinton Dial. It will be a tough task for 30 year old, 6-5, 300 pound linemen to chase after a fleet footed athlete in his prime. Nobody said it would be easy, but it’s time to step up for this experienced line. Dial is just a rookie but has been used extensively due to many D-Line injuries. Smith and McDonald are seasoned veterans used to playing in big-time games such as this one. Football games are won and lost in the trenches, and it will be no different when this one kicks off at 5:00.
San Francisco is playing at home, taking away the Seahawks’ ace in the hole, their dominant home field advantage. Still, I just don’t trust Colin Kaepernick enough to call the 49ers winning this one. I hope Kaepernick proves me wrong. One way or another, it’ll be a thriller. Happy Thanksgiving!