Seahawks-49ers Redux Preview

The Seattle Seahawks play the San Francisco 49ers for the second time this season on Sunday. The Seahawks desperately need a win to keep their slim playoff hopes alive in what is increasingly becoming a lost season. Negative issues abound for Seattle, and the only true way of remedying the situation is piecing together a string of victories. That string must start Sunday versus the 49ers.

The last time the Seahawks played the 49ers, San Francisco was quarterbacked by Colin Kaepernick. In that game, a 20-3 win for Seattle, the Seahawks looked like their old dominant selves. The 49ers were limited to 142 yards of total offense, and Kaepernick was under pressure the entire game. No 49ers receiver was getting open either, so the offensive struggles for San Francisco cannot entirely be blamed on quarterback play. Defensive tackle Michael Bennett of the Seahawks had three-and-a-half sacks and simply overwhelmed the 49ers offensive line. The victory appeared at the time to signal better things to come for Seattle.

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The truth is the year has not really evolved for the Seahawks. They lost on Sunday to the Arizona Cardinals much the same way they lost earlier in the season to Carolina Panthers and Cincinnati Bengals: the defense gave up points late after the offense could not generate much production. Frustration seems to be surfacing. This week safety Earl Thomas told the Seattle Times, “I just think it’s an attitude. You’ve got to give it up for the next guy. It’s not showing up all the time like that.”

It is admittedly difficult to understand Thomas at times, but if one were to try to interpret what he said one could assume he means not all players are on the same page, nor working as one unit. This has been born out on the field as the Panther, Cardinal and Bengals all scored fourth quarter touchdowns with passes to wide-open receivers. Communication between players has been lacking.

The 49ers visit Sunday with Blaine Gabbert having replaced Kaepernick at quarterback. Gabbert has a lifetime record as a starter of 6-22. He did lead San Francisco to a victory over the fading Atlanta Falcons two weeks ago, however, so if he and the 49ers have any momentum for the rest of the season it was generated in their last game. Still, the Seahawks have more talent than does San Francisco, and there would simply be no reason for Seattle to lose this game at home.

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Seattle is seeking to win their first game at home after losing two straight there, however. The Seahawks before this season were one of the most dominant teams playing in front of their home crowd, but this year seems different in many ways. The most confusing aspect to fans might be that this season’s difficulties were so unexpected. A team that lost so rarely at any venue has struggled both home and away. The majority of the players on the roster are the same players who helped build Seattle into the two-time defending NFC champion. Watching the Seahawks this year, it is hard to imagine this team made it to back-to-back Super Bowls. This is one reason any prediction of why the Seahawks should win an upcoming game usually comes down to the things that in previous years have been the strength of the team: running the ball efficiently, applying pressure on the opposing quarterback with the defensive line and shutting down the receiver of the opponent with the excellence of the secondary. The pieces of the scheme remain the same – Marshawn Lynch, Michael Bennett, Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Bobby Wagner, Kam Chancellor – but the efficiency, focus and production has been lacking. And the penalties on the offensive line have been inexcusable.

So how do the Seahawks defeat the 49ers on Sunday? The same way they theoretically should beat nearly everyone they play, and the same way they defeated the 49ers a few weeks ago. Marshawn Lynch should be given the ball a lot. The defense should play cover-three, pressure coverage straight up. The defensive line should apply pressure on the Gabbert and control the run. The Seahawks should play Seattle football, but that has been a struggle this season.

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A loss on Sunday (or two more losses the rest of the year) and the Seahawks will most likely miss the playoffs. The team currently trails the Green Bay Packers, whom they have already lost to, and the Atlanta Falcons by two games in the Wild Card chase. The Cardinals are almost out-of-reach for the NFC West title at this point. The team that the Seahawks need to have lose is Atlanta. Thankfully, the Falcons have struggled lately. The Seahawks have to hope that continues.

This year has brought more questions than answers. Why have the Seahawks struggled so much? Are Russell Wilson’s bad interceptions going to continue for the next several years? Is the Legion of Boom done as we have come to know it? If the Seahawks fail to make the playoffs, more questions will need to find answers. What changes will need to be made to get this still-relevant team back into contention for the Super Bowl?

Seahawks fans should still hope, however, that the team this year can find a way to win six of their last seven and somehow make it back to the playoffs. An offseason of questions is not a fun one to look forward to.