After scoring just 15 points in their first two games offensively, the Seattle Seahawks head into their Week 3 showdown with the San Francisco 49ers with their backs against the wall. The 9-3 loss to the Los Angeles Rams took a big-time toll physically on this team and exacerbated the problems with the offensive line and the offense as a whole right now. Throw in a mix of untimely penalties and turnovers along with the fact that Russell Wilson is not fully healthy, and not much is going right for Seattle at this point. This is going to be a very critical week for head coach Pete Carroll and the offensive staff to find some answers against a 49ers defense that can be taken advantage of.
San Francisco was in a tough spot last week coming off of the Monday night win over the Rams and then having to fly cross country to face Carolina, the defending NFC champions. The 49ers lost in a shootout to the Panthers by a score of 46-27. Despite the loss, San Francisco fans should be somewhat encouraged as the offense has 55 points in the first two games. For that to continue on Sunday, the 49ers need some early momentum in the passing game with Blaine Gabbert and to avoid the early turnover. If San Francisco can take care of the football and get the game into the latter stages of the second half with a chance to win it will put the pressure squarely on the Seahawks to have to produce in front of an angry Century Link Field crowd.
San Francisco at Seattle
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 25 at 4:05 p.m. ET
Channel TV: FOX
Spread: Seahawks -10
Three Things to Watch:
1. Can the 49ers control tempo offensively against the Seahawks’ defense?
One way to neutralize the 12s if you are the 49ers is score early and often and force the Seahawks to play from behind. This is easier said than done, as Seattle is allowing just 9.5 points per game. The Seahawks also did a very nice job last week of making tackles in space, missing just two against the Rams. They also had five defenders with a grade of 80 or better, according to Pro Football Focus, led by Bobby Wagner’s 89.7. Look for San Francisco head coach Chip Kelly to call for some quick, easy throws to help Blaine Gabbert and the offense find its rhythm. Also, despite the ineffectiveness of the running game last week against the Panthers, the 49ers can’t abandon it completely against Seattle. If Carlos Hyde can get 20-plus carries on Sunday, that should only increase San Francisco’s chances of staying in the game and potentially pulling off the road upset.
2. Seahawks’ Offensive Line
As expected, Seattle’s offensive front had a rough afternoon last week against Aaron Donald the rest of Rams’ defensive line. For years, Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson were able to cover for the glaring lack of skill up front, but with Lynch now retired and Wilson dealing with an ankle injury, opposing defenses have been on the attack. Justin Britt was the only member of the offensive line who finished with a grade of 70 or better last week, according to Pro Football Focus. Right tackle Gary Gilliam was at the opposite send of the spectrum (35.5) and had a game he would quickly like to forget. This has to change in order for this offense to move forward. This game could be just what this unit needs, as San Francisco got gashed last week in Carolina, giving up 353 passing yards alone to Cam Newton and the Panthers.
3. Seahawks’ Defensive Line vs. 49ers’ Offensive Line
The emergence of second-year defensive end Frank Clark (three sacks in two games), along with Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett gives Seattle a great opportunity to control the line of scrimmage on Sunday. Last year, the Seahawks were able to sack 49ers quarterbacks eight times. However, San Francisco’s offensive line has given up just two sacks thus far, which is pretty impressive considering the competition (Los Angeles, Carolina). This is where the 12s can come in and play a huge factor and make communication difficult for the 49ers’ offense. A few false start penalties could slow down the line’s reaction time and cohesiveness, setting up Clark, Bennett, Avril and Tony McDaniel to make plays behind the line of scrimmage. Three-and-outs or, better yet, turnovers could help set up the Seattle offense in good field position and increase its scoring opportunities.
Until the Seahawks can get rolling offensively it is difficult to see them blowing out any team. Thus, the nearly double-digit spread that most Vegas sportsbooks are reflecting seems too much for this Seattle team to cover. The Seahawks’ defense is playing at a high enough level to where it should be able to keep the 49ers’ offense in check, which should be enough cushion for the offense to get the job done and secure the win. However, if Seattle rolls out another offensive performance like last Sunday’s against the Rams then all bets are off and San Francisco will have a great opportunity to pick up its second upset victory against an NFC West foe.
Prediction: Seahawks 17, 49ers 10
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and also writes for College Sports Madness, covering college football, basketball, softball and baseball. Follow Scott on Twitter @ScottWhittum.