Posted January 17, 2014

The Playbook: Previewing Broncos-Patriots, Seahawks-49ers

AFC East, AFC West, New England Patriots, NFC West, NFL Playoffs, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks

This will be the third meeting of the Seahawks and 49ers this season.

This will be the third meeting of the Seahawks and 49ers this season. (Rod Mar/SI)

No. 5 San Francisco at No. 1 Seattle — 6:30 p.m. ET (FOX): While the AFC Championship Game could shape up to be a tribute to the beauty of the modern passing game, the third go-round of the 2013 season between these two NFC West rivals will most likely be anything but. The Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers drive the NFL’s best current rivalry because not only are they built very similarly but also because there are legitimate bad feelings between the two organizations. That sentiment stretches back to when Seattle head coach Pete Carroll ran the USC program and San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh showed up at Stanford in 2007 to make Carroll’s life in the then-PAC-10 far more difficult. One year after Carroll took the Seahawks job in 2010, Harbaugh hit the Bay Area, and their aggravation transferred to the NFL.

MORE COVERAGE: What it’s like to play at CenturyLink | What makes CenturyLink so loud 

Both teams are built on the foundations of a strong run game and amazing defense, with young quarterbacks in Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick to round things out with the occasional aerial shot play or designed quarterback scramble. These teams are too good, too close and too much alike to feel indifference toward each other. Neither team will use “hate” as a descriptive term, but the energy comes pretty close.

“There is no love lost; there is no love found,” Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman said Wednesday. “That’s how I’d characterize it. It’s going to be intense. It’s going to be physical. I don’t know if there are going to be handshakes after this one.”

The Seahawks and 49ers have split their season series in each of the last two years, with the home team winning every time. In San Francisco, the games have been 13-6 and 19-17 squeakers. In Seattle, they’ve been 42-13 and 29-3 blowouts.

But before anyone in the Emerald City gets overconfident about a repeat performance, two things should be kept in mind. First, the 49ers haven’t lost a game since receiver Michael Crabtree returned from a torn Achilles tendon to play against the St. Louis Rams on Dec. 1. Second, Seattle’s passing offense has been an issue over the last month, and Wilson has thrown just four touchdown passes to three picks in his last five games. In last Saturday’s divisional win over the New Orleans Saints, Seattle left things to running back Marshawn Lynch, and Wilson completed just nine passes for 103 yards. Wilson is more than aware that San Francisco’s defense — specifically its linebackers — presents very specific challenges that affect his run/pass duality.

“They usually have a spy on me,” he said Wednesday. “They always have somebody kind of watching me. And they’re very athletic. So they can make a lot of plays.  So just being aware of where they are and what they’re doing. I have a lot of respect for how they play the game and how physical and how fast they are. They’re very intelligent in how they play the game too. We’re going to have to find ways to attack them and take advantage of their weaknesses. They don’t have too many, so you have to play a great football game.”

Kaepernick is equally aware of what Seattle’s league-best defense can do to him — in those two games this season, he completed just over 50 percent of his passes and threw two touchdown passes to five picks. Kaepernick has a miserable history at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field, which must change if San Francisco is to buck the odds and win its second straight NFC title.

“He’s not different,” Seahawks safety Earl Thomas said of Kaepernick this week. “I think he’s playing with more confidence now. But their offense is never going to get away from who they really are. We know they want to run the ball and play action off of that, so we’re very prepared on all cylinders.”

As with all other aspects of this ever-interesting rivalry, that applies to both teams. Force, meet force.  – Doug Farrar

The Pick:

Chris Burke: Seattle 20, San Francisco 14
Doug Farrar: Seattle 22, San Francisco 21

Two-Minute Drill

• Matchup to watch: San Francisco’s receivers vs. Seattle’s cornerbacks.

Michael Crabtree caught four passes (on eight targets) for 40 yards the last time these two teams faced off. It was his second game back from a torn Achilles tendon, so he could provide a more formidable threat against a Seahawks secondary that has no equal in the NFL from right to left.

In addition, Anquan Boldin has been a thorn in Seattle’s side for years, going back to his days with the Arizona Cardinals. Boldin caught six passes for 93 yards against Seattle on Dec. 8, which was payback for the one-catch, seven-yard performance he had on Sept. 15. As Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman recently said, Boldin is contentious enough to take even the best defenders a bit off their game. That happened to the Carolina Panthers in the divisional round, but Sherman is ready if Boldin decides to pop off again.

“We have a disciplined football team that understands the intensity of the moments, and it’s playoff football, so we’ll deal with it well,” Sherman said. “You go out there and compete, and if that’s how he competes, then, yeah, we’ll deal with it. You don’t have to head butt him and do all this crazy stuff to react to him. You know what I’m saying? You slow him down and you stop him. If you don’t want him in your face every day, don’t let him touch the ball.”

It’s possible with a secondary this good, but in Boldin’s case, that’s always easier said than done.

• Pressure’s on: Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks.

And the pressure is on both figuratively and literally. Wilson has an unusual amount of composure for a second-year quarterback, but he’s starting to get a bit balky behind a line that has been less than spectacular in pass protection this season. The 49ers sacked Wilson just twice on Dec. 8, but they pressured him far more often, and San Francisco’s linebackers — especially Ahmad Brooks — are on a roll in that department lately.

• This week’s sleeper: Brandon Mebane, DT, Seattle Seahawks.

As much speed and talent as Seattle’s defense has, it doesn’t go if Mebane, the primary nose tackle, isn’t holding the point and drawing double-teams on just about every play. He’s less a pass-rusher than 49ers defensive tackle Justin Smith, but Mebane is no less important to what the Seahawks do. He’s one of the league’s best run-stoppers, and he gets more pressure on opposing quarterbacks than people think.

• Rookie spotlight: Luke Willson, TE, Seattle Seahawks.

Neither the Seahawks nor the 49ers have many impact rookies in their 2013 draft classes, but Willson caught 20 passes for 272 yards and a touchdown this season, and three passes for 70 yards and a score when the Seahawks and 49ers last faced off. Not only is the fifth-rounder from Rice an asset in Seattle’s heavy percentage of two-tight end sets, but also he’s an expert blocker, especially on lag plays where he heads from one side of the formation to the other. Seattle’s offensive line will need all the help it can get. – DF


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12 comments
GOOGLE ......Mae Brussel
GOOGLE ......Mae Brussel

Boomer  - - and you were such a great one too - - not !  


And you make even a worse broadcaster  ! ! !


oh, and BTW - -  We Seattleites  love love love being hated by haters   !  !  


It's    ALL   GOOD

Jamm90
Jamm90

Steeler fan here, living in the bay for a long time now so i have a lot of love for the niners also, but ill root for seattle in the super bowl if it comes to that. I would hate to see one of the nfl's golden boys win another super bowl. I don't like richard sherman, he's a great corner, but has no respect for anybody and talks way too much. However i don´t have anything against the other seattle players. earl thomas, wilson, lynch, bobby wagner all seem  likable dudes, and seattle plays a hard nosed brand of football that some of us enjoy. Carrol, is a coach I've always respected for his approach to coaching, laid back and easygoing, but at the same time he always has his guys ready to play. I still think the Niners come out on top, Harbaugh has shown he's great at making adjustments, and he's been there and done that before. I also think the niners defense is ready and motivated, they're not going to let lynch get going, and seattle's receivers don't scare anybody. I'm going SF 20-17 with a Boldin catch late to set up the game winning FG.

MickHayes
MickHayes

Always wondered about the relevance of career head to head stats when every year a third of a team's personnel changes.  It's like the U.S Open winner "defending " on a different golf course.

Starstruck
Starstruck

Peter King's review and prediction was so bad that he didn't even allow comments. 'I'm sticking with my preseason picks for the SB' does not cut it without substantial logic to back it up. Brady is a clutch QB in the postseason? Eli begs to differ. Seattle's (unfair) noise factor makes them unbeatable? Ask the AZ Cardinals about that. Pats/Hawks could be the SB teams, but hardly because of King's logic. I don't really like the Pats, but 95% of the country has grown weary of the Seahawk's braggadocio. Who would have guessed that people who hate the Pats , hate the Seahawks more. 

Rick56
Rick56

Keep Wilson in the pocket and he won't be able to pass...advantage for the Niners.

schmitty42
schmitty42

One difference for the Niners. In both games in Seattle they were short on receiving weapons. Last year Manningham & Davis went out, leaving only Crabtree. This year Crabtree was out, from the start and Davis went out during the game. Kaepernick has played really well when Boldin, Davis & Crabtree are on the field, and that includes games @Carolina, @Arizona, and against Seattle.

PDXbruce
PDXbruce

One factor in the NFC game that nobody seems to be talking about is Colin Kaepernick's miserable job of managing the play clock. I'm a long-time 49ers fan and his performance at the line of scrimmage is frequently cringe-worthy. In that stadium on Sunday with the Super Bowl on the line it's only going to be more difficult than it was during their regular season game. A couple of delay of game penalties and a few wasted timeouts could be an enormous factor in who wins a close game. 

jimbohead
jimbohead

"Neither the Seahawks nor the 49ers have many impact rookies in their 2013 draft classes [...]"

Eric Reid begs to differ. Took over from Goldson as a day 1 starter, did a better job than 2012 Goldson over the course of the year.

Mark20
Mark20

@StarstruckYeah coming from 0-24 down, Pats beat the Broncos in regular season. Brady sure is not clutch.

Matthew W
Matthew W

@Starstruck 

LOL!

Brady is Webster's definition of clutch compared to the Manning brother he's playing tomorrow. Heck, Eli rode a pass rush and a once in a million years catch to beat Brady....no one would call Eli clutch. 

Starstruck
Starstruck

@PDXbruce You do know that he has to listen to the plays called into him until 15 seconds remain on the play clock.  The responsibility is on the coaches to minimize the confusion for Kap with a lot of indecisive nonsense. Who knows how much of his problem is due to Roman reciting a bunch of confusing options and defensive reads.