Can the 49ers’ defense contain Russell Wilson? And four other burning questions for Sunday’s game

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) calls a play during the second half an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021 in Minneapolis. Minnesota won 30-17. (AP Photo/Stacy Bengs)

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.


Prediction:


Seahawks 27 49ers 24

This article has 30 Comments

  1. The lack of defense and our RB injuries (Sermon feels like Joe Williams pt 2) makes this game feel like a potential blowout unfortunately… Wilson vs Jimmy in a shootout, yikes. Carson could have his way too. 3rd and longs seem to have left with Saleh.

    I would love to be wrong but the Hawks often appear to cure their ills when facing the Niners :/ Hopefully Sunday will be different.

    1. Trey Sermon is definitely not Joe Williams 2.0.

      I understand your concerns, but Sermon doesn’t deserve to be compared to Williams, so I just wanted to clear that up.

      Joe Williams was a quitter. He quite on his team (Utah) shortly into his 2nd season, before being talked into returning sometime later, after they basically ran out of RB’s due to injury. There were serious questions about how much Williams even wanted to play football. John Lynch was extremely skeptical, but Kyle basically pounded the table for him during the draft, because talent-wise, Joe Williams was a perfect, dynamic fit for Kyle’s outside zone blocking scheme.

      Trey Sermon is kind of the opposite, as a person and as a player. He played 4 full years, playing his final year at Ohio St, after transferring as a graduate student, which is kind of the opposite. And Joe Williams was a head case, while sermon is trying his best to become a pro. Trey Sermon is a hard worker, he’s just not currently a very good fit in the 49ers system. In college, Sermon ran mostly INSIDE ZONE out of shotgun formation, and he was obviously drafted with the idea of being a really good fit along side Trey Lance, for that very reason. He’s still trying to learn how to run in this stretch OUTSIDE ZONE scheme, and to be fair to him, I’m not sure he has enough explosive speed to ever run it effectively. I kind of feel bad for the guy, because he’s actually very good running inside zone RB, currently playing in the wrong kind of scheme,.

      It’s important to understand that the inside zone is a much better blocking scheme out of shotgun formation, running RPO’s and Zone/Read concepts.

      1. And FYI, I’m pretty sure big Aaron Banks was drafted to road grade inside zone power concepts. It’s the only thing that makes sense in regards to his system fit.

        1. Banks was over drafted and a poor scheme fit, there is no way around it.

          SF could have drafted Josh Meyers or Creed Humphreys and been better off at guard and center in the future. They could have drafted a cb and had more talent in the backfield… or they could have drafted Azeez who already has 3 sacks but they reached for a guy that is a poor fit for what they do.
          He’s a power guard, who doesn’t get a ton of movement and is a bit clumsy in space… he’s just a poor fit for this scheme. It reminds me of when SF drafted Josh Garnet for Chip Kelly’s inside zone.

          The strange part is even with Trey, they are not likely going to go away from running the outside zone. They will just add some wrinkles to it and throw in some power elements. I say this because if they wanted to go away from the outside zone and more towards a power scheme they would likely need a different kind of center in addition to a different type of OT in MM.

          1. Shoup, they won’t completely abandon the outside zone, but they would switch to inside zone as their primary run scheme.

            Unless, of course, they don’t plan on using the Zone-Read much. The problem with that idea is that they were using a heavy dose of zone-read concepts out of shotgun formation with the Trey Lance package, during training camp. It seems pretty clear that Kyle was planning to change and tweak some of their fundamental run – pass concepts in order to take advantage of Lance’s unique skill set.

            1. I think that’s my biggest disappointment so far this season. You can’t run the same scheme year in and year out without making some significant changes along the way.

              For example – look at Sean McVay. He makes significant changes to his scheme every season, in order to take mold his system around the strength of his personnel.

              If you guys haven’t noticed, defenses are catching up to Kyle. That’s the way the NFL works. As the saying goes : Defensive Coordinators get paid as well”

              The league is constantly evolving, and the best teams evolve along with it.

              And many Niner fans were led to believe that we were going to see just that this season. That Kyle could take his offense to a new level, with a mobile QB who has a cannon for an arm.

              Trey Lance runs like a “jacked gazelle” … he wont run away from every defender, but he might just run through them!

              The thing is, you don’t need to run him often. You just need to establish the fact that he CAN be a threat as a runner. So now it opens everything up. It unlocks the next phse of offense. But it goes even further. Trey Lance also has a very strong arm, so he can consistently stretch the filed both vertically, and horizontally.

              Now what? How do you defend a offensive mastermind like Kyle, when he now has a mobile, big-armed QB? Don’t you guys get this?

              If you guys are fine watching defenses clamp down the 49ers offense this season, with Jimmy G. at the helm, good for you. I’m not. I’ve seen enough of his limitations to know that it gets harder and harder to produce offensively, when you have a QB with such a limited skill-set! That’s the thing you guys seem to be missing. And now that their defense looks to have taken a step back, especially compared to 2019, the days of the defense carrying Jimmy’s water is probably over, at least for this season.

  2. If you’re the 49ers you have to start considering whether the investment in Kittle is worth it. He seems to be on the injury report constantly. And it’s often lower leg injuries. His value as a blocker has been tremendous, but unless he learns to save his body while picking up sometimes what amounts to a few extra useless yards, carrying 3-4 defenders and putting stress on your lower extremities may not be worth it. I thought the message to him was clear at the outset of the season that he needs to save himself, but apparently not. And frankly this team that was built with a tough physical mentality keeps breaking down, quite possibly because of it. He’s the best tight end in the league IF he’s healthy. IF being the keyword.

    At this point the one guy who has been Mr. Reliable in this offense is probably Kyle Juszczyk. Perhaps feed him the ball more because he’s managed to stay in there and be effective. Might need overcompensating with protection using more jumbo type packages. Also find a way to get Dwelley involved. The half backs and Kittle have been brittle at best. Getting the ball to the WRs has been difficult for Jimmy unless they find open spots to sit in soft zones.

  3. I think the Niners will win this game. Yes Wilson is a great quarterback and has some outstanding stats but Seattle isn’t scoring a lot of points overall and I think overall the teams are fairly even offensively. Even though our defense hasn’t been as good as expected, they are far superior to Seattle’s. I also look at the results so far and the Niners barely lost to a strong team with a great quarterback and I think Green Bay is better than the 2 teams who have beat Seattle.

  4. Jack Hammer points out well to two important issues for the Niners. First, can the offensive line perform better and provide the avenues for the obviously second level nine backs? That will be a major challenge for linemen who are not at the elite level, and will call for some ingenuity by the offensive line coach.

    Second, can the rooking defensive coordinator make in-game adjustments? So far he has been stereotypical in his schemes, and flexibility to adapt to situations eludes him. The talent is there; the planning and in-gem adjustment have been lacking.

  5. Jack, how do you see the 49ers addressing point 5 this week? It will no doubt be a point of emphasis to get the offense rolling in the first half, is there anything in particular you expect to see?

    The Seahawks have really struggled so far on defense this year, especially stopping screens. I could see the 49ers using a heavy amount of misdirection runs, screens and boot action early on, getting all the playmakers involved.

    1. That’s a great plan, Scooter. I like it! And let’s get Trey Lance a little bit more involved, and not just in the redzone.

      1. And Scooter, let’s get Trenton Cannon involved in the running game as well, especially if Mitchell can’t go. Even if Mitchell can play, we need another explosive RB, and Trenton Cannon is definitely explosive. I’m not sure how good he is as a RB, but Cannon has jets, no doubt about that!

    2. You kind of hit on it, Scooter. Use some boot action to get Garoppolo outside for an easy throw to Samuel and Juice, or Kittle too if he plays.

      Not sure which back to use on screens, Hasty seemed to be that guy.

      I really like your plan though.

      1. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the 49ers use their receivers in the screen game, more so than the RBs.

        1. Neither would I. I just think teams are so focused on Samuel that having a back that can make those plays would open them up more. Maybe they can get Aiyuk involved with those. They seem to like Jennings in the screen game too.

      2. Yes, except those throws haven’t been easy for Garoppolo.

        The throws he makes on those bootlegs are always off, get tipped into the teeth of the defense. If the receiver is stationary in open space he sometimes is able to zip it in there. If the receiver is moving with him, it ends up becoming a super high risk/low reward play for the 49ers offense.

        1. Bingo!

          It becomes even tougher to gain yards when your QB can’t make certain throws. Opposing defenses can simply ignore those routes, and concentrate their defensive schemes on other portions of the field. And this factor is not only affecting the passing game, it’s also affecting our rushing attack.

          But, come on guys, we all knew this was happening. We all knew Jimmy had become a liability, or a hindrance, if you will. It’s OK if you like Jimmy personally, I know I do. But let’s not pretend that we didn’t see this coming, for crying out loud!

          The jig is up!

    1. Nothing good happens at 3 am. Niners by 10.
      If you really want to shake it up try throwing on the first play of the game like you never have done.
      Jimmy’s got to win this game

  6. Some first 3 game Niners records during the so-called glory years:

    1981 1-2
    1983 2-1
    1985 2-1
    1986 2-1
    1987 2-1
    1988 2-1
    1991 1-2
    1992 2-1
    1993 2-1
    1994 2-1

    Some pretty damn fine teams and SB champions in there. Difference between then and now? No 24-7-365 platform for whiners, doubters, hot-takers, cynics, pessimists, defeatists, armchair HCs and GMs.

    Have a little faith, “faithful”.

      1. Are you prepared to accept injuries as an excuse again this season? Injuries are tough, but all teams deal with them, so I’m personally done with that excuse!

  7. The 49ers invested early round picks in Aubrey Thomas , sermon , Banks and let AllPro Buckner go for an “iffy” kneed draft pick out of South Carolina who can’t sack QB’s—-All of it coming back to haunt the 49ers on game day….Seattle will use Green Bay’s ‘book’ on the Niners: rush 6 personnel to stop the run, clog the defensive backfield inside the hashes( as Grant said: “because Jimmy can’t throw outside them”), 2 second drops like Rogers taking advantage of our depleted DB’s and chipping , Bosa, also scrambling Wilson around until Metcalf’s open, then take advantage of Demarco Ryan’s adjust-less defenses with 39 secs. left , who, inexplicably, didn’t drop the LB’s into proper pass coverage so he could defend the run wit said 39 second left….Seattle wins this one driving the length of the field with 39 seconds left, in a squeaker, 30-28!

    1. Jed, in a fit of rage, fires Shanny/Lynch , rehires Tomsula -Nolan (DC) and Hosler (OC) renouned for becoming the first OC to almost go an entire game w/o a first down, but did manage to finish that game w/o a hundred yards in total offense….. Happy Halloween, Niner fans😩

  8. Alex Mack is looking slow and missing blocks. Since the season is over continuing with the same personnel and the definition of crazy, the 49ers should mix it up and insert Banks at center, the athletic Jaylon Moore at Right guard and Trey Lance at QB. The 49ers could simplify the playbook like Seattle, but also have the option to run more power; forcing defenses Inside would allow Trey to run more read option but with Moore at guard his athleticism would allow them to maintain the outside zone as well. Trey could buy time like Russell Wilson by scrambling , open up the running game by running himself or spreading the defense with the arm strength to throw outside the hashes—something Grant mentioned as long ago as the preseason

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