On Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers will look to get their first win of the season when they host their NFC West division rival Seattle Seahawks at Levi’s Stadium.
The Seahawks were the only team in the NFC West to win on opening weekend, defeating the Denver Broncos on Monday night.
This contest is as big as a game in week two can get. A loss for San Francisco would drop them two and a half games behind their division rivals.
With that as a backdrop, let’s look at the five burning questions that will likely determine the outcome on Sunday:
1.) Can Trey Lance bounce back?
Trey Lance was up and down in his first training camp and preseason as the 49ers starting quarterback. That is also the best way to describe his 13-28 performance in Chicago last week.
Lance had some good and bad throws in his third career start. One of those bad throws kept San Francisco off the scoreboard when he missed Tyler Kroft down the left sideline.
Having to bounce back from a loss isn’t something Lance has needed to do in a long time. He was undefeated in one season at North Dakota State and didn’t play the week following the 49ers loss to Arizona in his first start. It will be interesting to see how he responds on Sunday.
2.) Will the 49ers defense be able to finish?
The 49ers defense dominated Chicago’s offense for the first half. The second half was a different story as they allowed touchdowns on three consecutive possessions.
For San Francisco to have a shot at the win on Sunday, the defense will need to play strong for four quarters. They also must reduce the mental errors which plagued them throughout the second half against the Bears.
On Sunday, they will face a Seahawks offense led by someone other than Russell Wilson for the first time under Kyle Shanahan.
Geno Smith has replaced Wilson as the Seattle quarterback. In a season-opening win over Denver, Smith completed 23 of 28 passes for 195 yards and two touchdowns.
The Seattle offense features first-round pick Charles Cross at left tackle and third-round selection Abraham Lucas on the right side. This matchup should favor 49ers pass rushers Nick Bosa and Samson Ebukam.
3.) Can Kyle Shanahan get the better of Pete Carroll?
Kyle Shanahan has only defeated Pete Carroll twice in ten matchups since taking over the 49ers.
It’s not like Shanahan’s offense has been unable to put points on the board. San Francisco has scored at least 21 points in the last seven meetings between the squads.
As in most NFL games, the difference has come down to mistakes. The 49ers have lost the turnover battle to Seattle in seven of the ten contests.
4.) How will the running back room shake out?
With Elijah Mitchell going to injured reserve with a knee injury, the 49ers running back room will see a new rotation against Seattle.
It appears Jeff Wilson Jr. will take over as the starter. Beyond that is a question mark.
Kyle Shanahan was asked about his confidence level with rookies Ty Davis-Price and Jordan Mason earlier this week.
“They’re two talented players who we think can help us a lot running the ball, but they have to grow up fast. They’re trying to compete and learn how to play better without the ball in their hand,” responded Shanahan. “With injuries, they’re going to have more opportunities to get some carries, but they have to grow up and get this experience while on the run. So a lot of more pressure will be on those guys and we’re going to have to pick it up as a group to help them out.”
The 49ers chose not to stay with the status quo, adding veteran Marlon Mack to the practice squad on Wednesday.
My early prediction is Mack gets called up from the practice squad to backup Wilson Jr., with Mason working as the third running back.
5.) Can the offensive line protect Trey Lance?
The Seahawks defense showed off their pass rush on Monday night against Denver.
Led by outside linebackers Uchenna Nwosu and Darrell Taylor, Seattle’s defense recorded 16 total pressures. The Seahawks defense hit Russell Wilson eight times, sacking him twice.
San Francisco’s offensive line allowed nine total pressures in week one against Chicago. They will need to up their game this week to provide Lance enough time to find an open receiver.
Don’t expect Seattle to send extra rushers. Sending extra defenders can simplify reads for the quarterback. Look for the Seahawks to use a strategy like what Chicago employed last week: trying to get to Lance with just four rushers. This will force the young quarterback to read the defense to find the open man.
Prediction: 49ers 23 Seahawks 17