Preview: How the Niners match up against the Seahawks

Yesterday we broke down how the Niners match up with the Green Bay Packers.

Today, let’s check out how they match up with their main NFC West rivals – the Seattle Seahawks.

49ERS DEFENSE VS. SEAHAWKS OFFENSE: Seattle signed Aaron Rodgers’ backup and Mike McCarthy’s newest quarterback protégé, Matt Flynn. Although he’s only started two games in his NFL career, he’s performed marvelously in both of those games and many experts expect him to be the best QB in the NFC West this season. We’ll see about that.

He’s going to benefit from his running game. At times Marshawn Lynch looked like the best running back in football last season. Let’s see if he can keep it up when he’s not playing for a contract.

The offense will operate from a base two-tight end formation, and the two TEs are very good – Zach Miller and Kellen Winslow Jr. Winslow’s recorded more than 700 receiving yards five times in his career, including his last three seasons. Miller had a down season last year, but he was coming off three straight years of recording more than 680 receiving yards. A two-tight formation is a good way to try to attack the Niners defense because it brings more blockers in to slow down the Niners elite pass rush. Also, Winslow and Miller can attack the middle of the field in the passing game – the spot where the Niners coverage is the least excellent.

Still, the Niners should be able to shut down Winslow and Miller because the Seahawks don’t have enough talent at wide receiver. The Niners can focus their coverage on the tight ends. The only Seattle receiver who’s a playmaker is slot receiver Doug Baldwin. Until the Seahawaks get playmakers outside the hash marks, the Niners will be able to stack the box with their safeties, clog the middle of the field and shut down the Seahawks offense.

Advantage: 49ers.

49ERS OFFENSE VS. SEAHAWKS DEFENSE: Ted Ginn Jr. scored two touchdowns on special teams against the Seahawks last season – the exact number of touchdowns the entire Niners offense scored against Seattle’s defense in 2011: A 1-yard run by Alex Smith in the first game and a 4-yard run by Frank Gore in the second.

Here are more numbers: The Niners offense converted 4 of 26 third downs against Seattle. That’s 15%.

Of those four first downs, one was a pass by Alex Smith. It was third and three and Smith completed a seven yard pass to Braylon Edwards.

To recap: Smith converted one third down passing and had zero touchdowns against the Seahawks last season. He also took 7 sacks.

Now, the Seahawks have upgraded their pass rush. They drafted Bruce Irvin in the first round, to be a rare strong-side situational pass rusher. They already have Chris Clemons, an excellent pass rusher, on the weak side – Aldon Smith’s side. Now they have Irvin a 245 lb. speed rusher to attack Anthony Davis on third downs.  Davis doesn’t usually face speed rushers at right tackle. Against the Seahawks he will, and he’ll have his hands full.

Can Alex Smith improve his production against the Seahawks this season? You’d think so, because he has new receivers and a better grasp of Greg Roman’s offense. But if his offensive line can’t keep him on his feet, he won’t be able to take advantage of his new weapons.

Advantage: Seahawks.

I think these teams will split their two contests next season – both will win at home. These rosters are too evenly matched for Harbaugh to continue his complete dominance of Pete Carroll. Carroll has built his roster to try and take down his main rival and the division’s top dog – Harbaugh’s Niners. His team will be able to keep the games close and scratch out a win in Seattle.

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