NFC West rivals renew acquaintances in the Pacific Northwest
The NFL's modern-day version of Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier will meet on Sunday when the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers try to knock each other out at CenturyLink Field. Both teams won on each other's home field in 2019 with the Seahawks taking care of business on the road in a 27-24 victory in Week 10 and the 49ers returning the favor in Week 17 by a 26-21 score. This game once again will not have fans present in CenturyLink Field due to COVID-19 restrictions in the Seattle metropolitan area.
For the Seahawks (5-1), State Farm Stadium has turned into a house of horrors for Russell Wilson as he threw three interceptions in a 37-34 overtime loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday night. Those interceptions overshadowed the 388 passing yards and three touchdowns that he threw against Arizona. Tyler Lockett came up huge with 15 receptions for 200 yards and three touchdowns. DK Metcalf turned in one of the best plays so far in the 2020 season as he reached a top speed of 22.674 mph when he chased Cardinals safety Budda Baker from one end zone all the way down the field on what ended up being a 90-yard interception return. That hustle play that showed off Metcalf's jaw-dropping athleticism became even bigger when the Seattle defense forced Arizona into a turnover on downs. But for the most part, the Seahawks had zero answers for Kyler Murray as he went 34-of-48 passing for 360 yards, three touchdowns and an interception, to go along with 67 rushing yards and a score.
The 49ers got things rolling early and often up in Foxboro, as they crushed New England 33-6. Jimmy Garoppolo earned some sweet revenge against his former team, although his otherwise efficient (20-for-25, 277 yards) performance was marred by two interceptions. Neither mistake was that costly, however, as San Francisco's defense was locked in. Coordinator Robert Saleh had a great plan to throttle Cam Newton, who threw three picks and finished with just 98 passing yards. The Patriots were just 1-for-6 on third down and had the ball for less than 22 minutes. The 49ers dominated the game physically and ran the ball with authority, which is a recipe for success moving forward.
San Francisco at Seattle
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 1 at 4:25 p.m. ET
Spread: Seahawks -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Seahawks' pass rush issues
The inability of Seattle's defensive front to generate any sort of pressure (no sacks, no QB hits, three hurries) on Kyler Murray proved to be costly last week, as the Cardinals ended up with 519 yards of total offense. Heading into Week 8, the Seahawks rank 29th in the NFL in sack percentage and 24th in sacks per game, which will not cut it. Jamal Adams' potential return would help the situation to some degree. Nonetheless, L.J. Collier and other edge rushers have to step up their production quickly as time is of the essence especially for Collier, the team's 2019 first-round draft pick.
Recognizing the gaping hole on his defense, general manager John Schneider acquired defensive end Carlos Dunlap from the Cincinnati Bengals on Wednesday for center B.J. Finney and a seventh-round draft pick next year. While the two-time Pro Bowler had fallen out of favor with the Bengals coaching staff, the Seahawks believe he has plenty left in the tank. Last year, he recorded nine sacks (third among all defensive ends) and two forced fumbles while earning an 89.7 grade from Pro Football Focus. With his playing time limited this season, Dunlap has registered just 18 tackles and one sack. But considering Seattle's current leader in that department has a total of two (Adams, Benson Mayowa), it's certainly worth the risk to see what Dunlap can do now that he goes from a team that was 1-5-1 to one that's in first place in its division.
2. Feed George Kittle
The injuries at running back continue to pile up for San Francisco, who will be without Jeff Wilson Jr. for about a month after he suffered a high-ankle sprain on his third touchdown run (finished with 112 rushing yards) last Sunday against New England. Already without Raheem Mostert, the 49ers may get Tevin Coleman (knee) back from injured reserve as he has returned to practice on a limited basis. Otherwise, it will be undrafted free agent JaMycal Hasty and presumably Jerick McKinnon (intentionally rested last week) carrying the load.
In other injury news, the team also will be without No. 1 wide receiver Deebo Samuel this week and another game or two as he's dealing with a hamstring injury. Samuel's versatility and explosiveness will be missed, especially given the matchup against what has been a generous Seattle defense. Instead, Jimmy Garoppolo will look to feed Kittle plenty this week, although head coach Kyle Shanahan knows he can't just rely on his tight end to fuel the passing game. This gives rookie Brandon Aiyuk a chance to shine with Kendrick Bourne and possibly fullback Kyle Juszczyk seeing more targets as well.
3. Seahawks' battered and bruised backfield
Seattle has its own backfield issues, as a familiar storyline has reared its ugly head once again. Chris Carson is week-to-week with a foot sprain and Carlos Hyde is no lock to play either as he's dealing with a hamstring issue. Travis Homer is dealing with a knee contusion but head coach Pete Carroll said on the radio Friday morning that he should be able to play while Hyde will be a game-time decision. That leaves rookie DeeJay Dallas as the only completely healthy running back on the roster with no additional help coming this week. San Francisco should be amped up and ready to test Dallas by playing very physical from the opening snap. Linebacker Fred Warner figures to play a key role in the 49ers' run-stopping efforts. Fellow linebacker Kwon Alexander returned to practice on Thursday as he is working his way back from a high-ankle sprain and if he's able to return he'll be able to chip in as well. As productive as Russell Wilson has been this season, it's a lot easier to defend him when you don't have to worry that much about the run. And as last week showed, just because Wilson puts up big numbers that doesn't mean the Seahawks will win.
Both teams have a lot at stake here as tiebreakers could very well decide the NFC West champion with everyone packed together. It is not unrealistic to expect the NFC West to secure at least three if not four, of the seven playoff spots this season. Seattle needs Russell Wilson to continue to put up big numbers without turning the ball over. Jimmy Garoppolo also needs to make smart decisions when he drops back and takes what is given to him, especially if the Seahawks continue to struggle to generate pressure. Both offenses should be able to move the ball between the 20s with quite a bit of success, meaning this game could come down to execution in the red zone. Settling for Field goals is not optimal for either team as it will likely take 30 or more points to claim the win. Despite working with a depleted backfield, Wilson will bounce back by taking care of the football and put the Seahawks on his back to claim win No. 6 on the season.
Prediction: Seahawks 34, 49ers 30
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ScottWhittum.