The NFC West portion of the schedule will get underway this week as the Seattle Seahawks (1-2) will travel down to take on the San Francisco 49ers (2-1) These two teams can’t stand each other along with their respective fan bases. Thus, it should be a wild scene at Levi’s Stadium on Sunday as this game will have fans in the stands, unlike the 2020 season.
Seattle comes into this rivalry game having lost two in a row, last week a 30-17 decision on the road against Minnesota. The Seahawks started well, as they did against Tennessee, jumping out to a 17-7 lead in the first half. However, they were not able to sustain any momentum and the defense had less than zero answers for Kirk Cousins, who played like John Elway in his heyday. Cousins torched Seattle for 323 passing yards and three touchdowns. The Vikings also did just fine running the ball even without injured Pro Bowler Dalvin Cook, as Alexander Mattison rumbled for 112 yards on 26 carries. Russell Wilson and the offense couldn't sustain their hot start as it was clear that the U.S. Bank Stadium crowd had an effect on the unit's communication.
San Francisco should be very angry this week after losing a 30-28 heartbreaker to the Green Bay last Sunday night. The 49ers didn’t get off to a great start, trailing 17-0 in the first half, but stepped up their play and rallied to take a 28-27 lead in the fourth quarter. That lead came with just 37 seconds remaining but it was still plenty of time for Aaron Rodgers to move the ball into field goal territory to set up Mason Crosby, hit the game-winning 51-yard field goal on the final play to cap off a great game.
Seattle (1-2) at San Francisco (2-1)
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 3 at 4:25 p.m. ET
Spread: 49ers -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Seahawks' defense
The last six quarters have been utterly horrendous for Seattle's defense. Last week, the Seahawks couldn't get enough pressure on Cousins, who was sacked just once and hit a total of four times. That gave him plenty of time to sit back carve up the coverage, which he did to the tune of 323 yards and three touchdowns on 30-of-38 passing. Seattle also didn't force any turnovers as Minnesota finished the game with 453 yards on 72 plays and held the ball for nearly 36 minutes of game time. Over the last two weeks, the Seahawks have been on the field for 155 defensive snaps while the offense has run 102 plays. This is a big reason why they are giving up a league-worst 440.3 yards per game, which can’t continue if Seattle wants to return to the playoffs.
Now, with all of these issues, how can you get the defense fixed in short order? It starts with Carlos Dunlap II, who has not gotten off to a great start with just three tackles no sacks. If this defense is going to get on track, it begins with Dunlap stepping up his play, along wtih fellow pass rushers Darrell Taylor, Rasheem Green, and Alton Robinson. Linebacker Bobby Wagner can also play a key role in getting this defense on track through leadership and getting everyone moving in the same direction on that side of the ball.
2. 49ers' offense
Head coach Kyle Shanahan should be licking his chops this week with his game plan on offense. San Francisco has an opportunity to get everything clicking on offense after inconsistent showings through the first three games. The 49ers are averaging 28.7 points and 348.7 yards per game, but the offense has had to deal with several injuries, particularly in the backfield. Still, it hasn't stopped this team from getting off to a nice start in the rugged NFC West.
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has been solid so far, completing 67.4 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and an interception. Last week, first-round pick Trey Lance entered the game just before halftime, scoring on a one-yard touchdown run to finally get San Francisco on the board. Lance has only seen limited snaps thus far, but he's flashed his potential and his skill set provides Shanahan with another weapon to utilize in his play-calling.
On Sunday, expect Shanahan to look for ways to get Deebo Samuel and George Kittle involved early, as the duo could cause all sorts of headaches for Seattle's defense. Second-year wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk also seems to be settling in after not starting or seeing a single target in the season opener. Don't be surprised if Shanahan dials up a lot of crossing-type routes over the middle to try and soften up the defense and set up the running game. After missing last week because of a shoulder injury, leading rusher Elijah Mitchell could return, but the 49ers also have rookie Trey Sermon and versatile fullback Kyle Juszczyk as backfield options. However Shanahan draws it up, the Seahawks know that they will have their hands full.
3. Can the Seahawks' offense play a complete game?
The first 30 minutes of football has been fine for Russell Wilson and company so far in 2021, as they have scored 55 points in the first two quarters. It’s the second half where things have come to a screeching halt, a byproduct of the quarterback and his playmakers pressing. This offense must display consistent execution versus relying on the all-or-nothing, low-percentage deep ball. By putting together longer drives vs. focusing on the quick strike, the offense can help out the defense by limiting its time on the field. More time with the ball also potentially speeds up the learning curve for the offense in the new system under new coordinator Shane Waldron. Against San Francisco, look for shorter to mid-range passes to Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf, Will Dissly, and others in an effort to slow down the 49ers' aggressive pass rush led by Nick Bosa. It also would behoove Seattle to try and stress San Francisco's banged-up secondary as much as possible, similar to what Rodgers and the Packers did last week.
The Seahawks have recovered from rough starts to a season in the past and made the playoffs. Seattle got off to 0-2 starts in 2015 and 2018 under Pete Carroll to get to the postseason. However, those teams at least had defenses that could step up and make plays at critical moments while this year that remains to be seen. Fast-forward to this week's game, it will be up to the defense to step up and do its part as the Seahawks are at their best when they are clicking in all three phases of the game. They will make some incremental progress this week on defense by forcing a turnover or two. But, it will not be enough to win the game as the 49ers will pull away in the second half for the victory.