By Jerrell Richardson
Everyone saw this game coming, and it has finally arrived. When the season started, the only decision to be made when figuring out who would represent the NFC in the Super Bowl was if it would be the 49ers or Seahawks. Despite injuries hitting both rosters hard, the two NFC West foes delivered, each putting together spectacular bodies of work during the regular season and setting up this heavyweight battle.
Seattle finished the regular season with the best record in the NFC and one win behind them was San Francisco. The teams split the regular season series, with each holding serve on their home field and this game is about as even as it gets. With two of the best defenses in the league on the field this Sunday, the NFC Championship game will be a low scoring affair, but one that San Francisco can win as long as they stay composed and protect the ball.
When San Francisco Has the Ball: Advantage Seahawks
The 49ers are going to have trouble putting points on the board Sunday. San Francisco’s 24th ranked offense is going against the league’s number one defense and to say that they are going to have their hands full is an understatement. Not only are they intimidating by the numbers, but the Seahawks defense is physical, fast and will have the loudest 12th man in the NFL backing them. While teams have been able to score on Seattle this season, it has not happened lately. Since losing to the 49ers in week 14, Seattle held each of their remaining regular season opponents (Giants, Cardinals and Rams) to 10 points or less and in their first playoff game last week, limited the high-powered New Orleans offense to 15 points. What the 49ers have that these teams don’t though is a strong running attack, which is the one spot on the Seahawks defense that can be exploited.
The 49ers finished the regular season ranked third running the ball, averaging 137.6 yards per contest, and were able to gain 126 yards against the league’s second-ranked rush defense last week in Carolina. So in theory, they should be able to have similar success against the league’s seventh-ranked rush defense this week. Frank Gore rushed for over 100 yards against the Seahawks in the previous meeting and will need a similar performance to help out Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers passing attack that is going against the best secondary in football.
Cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Earl Thomas are elite defenders that will make life miserable for the 49er receivers. While they will not make a living going after the Seattle secondary, the 49ers still have in Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis, three players who are more than capable of beating single coverage. If the 49es can get a few big plays from the arm of Kaepernick it will allow the San Francisco offense to remain balanced which will allow Gore and the running game to get going – which is going to be the 49ers best shot at advancing to the Super Bowl.
When Seattle Has the Ball: Advantage 49ers
The good news for the 49ers is that the Seattle offense is going to have its problems as well. While Seattle has the best overall defense, the 49ers have the better run defense, which is the strength of the Seahawks offense. San Francisco has not allowed an individual back to rush for over 100 yards against them this year, and will have to keep this streak alive at least one more week if they hope to move on to the Super Bowl. While Russell Wilson gets the MVP considerations, it’s running back Marshawn Lynch that makes and breaks Seattle, whose passing game ranked 26th in the regular season and passed for only 103 yards against New Orleans last week. If linebackers NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis can continue their dominant play in the middle they should be able to contain Beastmode.
If the 49ers can turn the Seahawks into a passing team it will make the job of the defense a lot easier, but still not a walk in the park. Russell Wilson is a legitimate dual-threat quarterback who can make things happen with his arms and legs. So the 49ers will try to keep Wilson in the pocket, and force him to make plays with his arm. This will fall on the shoulders of Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith to keep Wilson contained and under constant pressure. While Wilson has shown that he can make any throw asked of him, if they must rely on the pass, Seattle will struggle. Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin are both possession type receivers and the 49er secondary will have to stay close to them and attack the ball in the air but should have no problem staying with them.
Seattle’s Not Invincible
The only reason Seattle is as feared as they are at home is the dominant fashion in which they beat the 49ers at the end of last season and early this season. In both games everything went wrong for San Francisco who after a few bad breaks folded under the pressure. What is different this time is the 49ers are a much more composed and complete team. Michael Crabtree was not around in the last meeting in Seattle and proved to Carolina just how big of a deal his presence on the field is. Add this to the types of games the 49ers have played, and won, since then and it is hard to imagine them reacting the same. San Francisco knows exactly what awaits them and while finding a way to deal with the 12th man is a concern, it is no longer uncharted territory.
The 49ers will be the underdogs and rightfully so, but an upset is not out of the question. While it’s far easier said than done, the key to the game will be the turnover battle and stopping Lynch, two things San Francisco is more than capable of doing. If able to do either, San Francisco will be in a prime position to escape Seattle with a win, or if able to do both, then they will beat Seattle convincingly.
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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. Jerrell is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.