On Sunday, the 2-1 San Francisco 49ers will look to shake off their first loss of the season when they host their NFC West division rival Seattle Seahawks. Seattle is 1-2 after dropping their Week 2 and Week 3 games against the Tennessee Titans and Minnesota Vikings. The NFC West is among the toughest divisions in the NFL and with the loser falling into the division basement, both teams will be desperate to get back in the win column.
With that as a backdrop, let’s take a look at five burning questions that will be key to the outcome of the game.
1. Can the 49ers defense contain Russell Wilson?
The Seahawk come into this game on a two-game losing streak. Wilson has never lost three in a row and he has owned San Francisco throughout his career, winning 14 of his 18 starts.
A big part of Wilson’s success has been his ability to make plays with his legs, something that has already caused problems for the 49ers this season. During San Francisco’s 17-11 victory over Philadelphia the defense allowed Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts to run for 82 yards and one touchdown on 10 carries. If Wilson is able to get loose like that on Sunday it will be a long day for the 49ers.
Last week the 49ers’ defense was able to hit Aaron Rodgers twice on 34 pass attempts. Wilson’s ability to move should provide another difficult challenge for San Francisco’s pass rush. Nick Bosa currently leads San Francisco with three sacks on the season, he will be looking to bring down Wilson for the first time in his career on Sunday.
The running ability is only one part of what makes Wilson such a challenge to defend. Wilson throws one of the best deep balls in the NFL, and this season he may be playing the best football of his career. Through the first three weeks, the Seahawks quarterback has completed 73% of his pass attempts for an average of 10.4 yards and a quarterback rating of 133.6, all career highs.
2. Can the 49ers run defense step up?
Defending the run has been a struggle for the San Francisco defense so far this season. The 49ers have allowed the sixth most yards per attempt in the NFL. On Sunday they will be facing a Seahawks offense that has averaged 5.1 yards per rush.
San Francisco has especially struggled when they have been aligned without a defensive lineman over the center and both safeties are deep, allowing opponents to gain five or more yards regularly in these situations. This could prove to be problematic for a defense that has injury concerns in the secondary and needs the safeties to be able to help in coverage against Seattle wide receivers D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett.
3. Will the San Francisco secondary be able to corral Seattle’s passing attack?
Seattle’s passing game is among the best in the NFL averaging 9.0 yards per attempt, the third highest total in the league. The prowess of Russell Wilson was mentioned earlier, and his top two targets are wide receivers D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. The duo has combined to average over 173 receiving yards per game with Metcalf averaging 13.8 yards per reception and Lockett averaging 19.3.
This duo will provide a stiff test for the 49ers’ secondary which lost cornerback Jason Verrett in the opening game of the season and his replacement, Josh Norman is likely to miss Sunday’s game following a chest injury against Green Bay that left him with bruised lungs and spitting up blood. If Norman is out, San Francisco will likely turn to rookie Deommodore Lenoir, recent free agent acquisition Dre Kirkpatrick or Dontae Johnson.
In addition, the 49ers’ defense will be without K’Waun Williams who has been ruled out with a calf injury. According to Kyle Shanahan, look for either Johnson or recent addition Buster Skrine to line up inside.
New Seattle offensive coordinator Shane Waldron spent the last five seasons working with Rams head coach Sean McVay. The influence of McVay can be seen in Waldron’s extensive use two tight ends. Will Dissly and Former Ram Gerald Everett have each started all three games this season. Dissly and Everett have combined to catch 12 of 13 targets and average 51 yards receiving per game. The pair of tight ends could cause some problems for the San Francisco linebackers and safeties.
4. Will Jimmy Garoppolo be able to carry the 49ers’ offense?
San Francisco’s running game, usually the catalyst for the offense, has struggled mightily to open the season. So far this year the 49ers have averaged only 3.6 yards per rushing attempt, the eighth lowest total in the NFL.
If the offense can’t get the running game going against Seattle, whose defense has struggled against the run in the early going of the season, the weight of moving the ball will likely fall on the shoulders of Jimmy Garoppolo.
Garoppolo has gone 1-2 in three starts against Seattle during his time in San Francisco. In those games, his numbers have not been good, 53-84, 617 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions and a passer rating of only 79.32.
To make matters even more difficult for Garoppolo, George Kittle has missed practices all week and his availability will be a game time decision. Not having Kittle would be a big blow against a Seattle defense that likes to force opposing offenses to work the ball down the field with short and intermediate throws.
5. Can the 49ers score more than seven points in the first half?
The 49ers’ offense has been almost nonexistent during the first half in the last two games, being held to only a single first down during the first quarter against Green Bay after not recording one the week prior in Philadelphia.
It would take until the closing minutes of the first half in both contests for the offense to finally put points on the board.
For San Francisco to be a legitimate playoff contender the offense, and the defense, need to play a full game which they have yet to accomplish this season.
Seahawks 27 49ers 24