Let me start by listing everything that’s working against the 49ers this week.
They are trying to win their third game in a row. They haven’t won three games in a row this season.
Seattle’s crowd and home field advantage – the turf – will be tough for the Niners to overcome, even more so than last Sunday night. At least the Niners won’t face a time change and will have a shorter flight.
The Seahawks are undefeated at home this season. They need this win more than the Niners, not that Jim Harbaugh is going to let anything slide in a week of preparation for a divisional game.
Seattle’s best defensive player and the NFL’s best cornerback, Richard Sherman, probably will play. He tested positive for performance enhancing drugs, but he’s appealing and the league is not expected to make a ruling until next week.
Russell Wilson has improved and his playbook has expanded since Seattle last played the Niners. Look for the Seahawks to move him as well as incorporate some of the zone read option packages that got him in the end zone so frequently last week vs. Buffalo.
The Niners defense played 96 snaps against the Patriots last Sunday night, which is more than 30 snaps over average for a game, so their recovery during this week might be a bit longer. The Patriots ran a full game of snaps in the second half alone.
Also, the elbow injury to Justin Smith, even if he is able to go, may limit his ability to play with the total intensity he normally shows.
Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks, too, did not look 100% in the late 3rd and entire 4th quarter last Sunday night. They were tired, but they were also nicked – both guys have been limited in practice this week with shoulder injuries.
So, the 49ers pass rush probably won’t be at full force Sunday night. On the other hand, the Seahawks pass rush should be super charged. When you add in the crowd noise and the quick turf field, their speed rushers become faster, and the 49ers offensive tackles, who can’t see or hear the snap, become a step slower reacting.
Also, it’s supposed to rain Sunday night, so the exchange between Jonathan Goodwin and Colin Kaepernick could be an issue again.
Vince Wilfork, who really is a load, was a significant factor in disrupting Goodwin’s snaps last week by aligning right in his face. The Seahawks may try to do the same thing with Brandon Mebane to see if the Niners have resolved their exchange issues.
If the game boils down to field goals, the Niners definitely do not have the advantage. David Akers officially has a “pelvis” ailment on the 49ers injury report. I am not a doctor, but I suspect he has a hip flexor or groin strain that is inhibiting his kicking.
Here’s how the 49ers are going to overcome all of that.
The Seahawks have to protect their back-up corner, Walter Thurmond III, who now is starting in place of the suspended Brandon Browner.
That personnel change by the Seahawks may tease the Niners into attempting more passes until they get a reading on what the Seahawks are going to do with matchups and coverages.
If Seattle features a variety of their Cover 2 schemes, with only seven defenders in the box, the Niners are more apt to focus on the run.
Also, with all of those injuries along the front-four on defense, the Niners might be more inclined to take the air out of the ball on offense and shorten the game by running it so the Seahawks have fewer offensive series. The injured Niners’ front-four cannot afford to play 90 snaps two weeks in a row.
Frank Gore will have a big game. The 49ers will run right down the Seahawks throats, just like Week 7. Greg Roman is a step ahead of Pete Carroll in that matchup.
The 49ers will stay in run personnel (just one or two wide receivers) as much as they can to keep the Seahawks’ explosive nickel rusher, Bruce Irvin, off the field.
Irvin is not a good fit at this time for the Seahawks other than in pass rush situations because he is a little light and would not hold up well with runs at him, so if the Niners stay base, even on some 3rd downs, Irvin may end up standing on the sidelines.
Also, his lack of mass and his penchant to rush the passer with reckless abandon should encourage Roman to run at him in nickel situations to negate his best attributes.
In the passing game, the 49ers are going to avoid throwing at Richard Sherman, just like they avoided throwing at the Patriots’ No.1 corner, Aqib Talib, last week. Talib gave up three catches for 31 yards and no TDs against the 49ers, and he’s not as good as Sherman.
The 49ers are going to let Colin Kaepernick take shots into the end zone when they’re 20 to 35 yards out, because they don’t want to kick field goals that are any longer than chip shots. Kaepernick is going to target his tight ends, or whichever wide receiver is not being covered by Sherman. Kaepernick is going to hit these shots, just like he did against the Patriots.
The 49ers will beat the Seahawks 24-20.