Colin Cole is a big man. The Seahawks need big men. It's not often that a defensive tackle returning to the field is talked about as a key factor, but that is very much the case here. Not only does Cole's return reduce opponents ability to run directly at the Seahawks, but it also allows Junior Siavii to slide over to defensive end on obvious rush situations to slow the overall run game. We have not witnessed this configuration yet, but how those two perform will go a long way in determining if SF can sprinkle some running into their offense. Nobody in SF wants to put the game completely in Alex Smith's hands. He could start strong, but could also bring an opposing team right back into the game. Holding the 49ers under 100 yards rushing greatly increases the chances of a Seahawks win.
The 49ers offensive line has surrendered 30 sacks. Rookie RT Anthony Davis has been abused at times. Chris Clemons will have the chance to be a major factor in this game. Pass pressure, in general, will be the single-most important factor in who wins. If the Seahawks can generate a consistent pass rush, which looks like at least a total of 10 QB hits+sacks, they almost certainly win the game. Smith will turn the ball over and the offense will struggle to score more than 13 points if he's getting pressure. The 49ers have not played against the Seahawks bandit defense with the extra defensive backs since that got added after the bye week heading into the Bears game. That could be a great way to force the issue.
Matt Hasselbeck must be the best QB on the field to win. Some of his decisions last week were inexcusable. He must find a receiver he's comfortable throwing to, and make it work. Golden Tate has yet to take advantage of this opportunity he is getting. This would be a great week for him to pull in one of those jump balls.
The offensive line is together for the third straight week which is a Seahawks record, or so it seems. It will be instructive to see if Jeremy Bates gives them a chance to prove last week's rushing success was not a fluke. If the Seahawks run the ball more than 20 times and can sustain YPC of over 4.0, the passing game will open up and it is far more likely we'll be discussing touchdowns instead of field goals on Monday.
Winning in SF is far from mission impossible. Assuming a beaten and battered 49er team is going to just roll over is naive. The Seahawks will get their best effort...to start. However, if the Seahawks can take an early lead or cause an Alex Smith turnover, the crowd will quickly turn on the hometown team. Even if the 49ers take an early lead, they are not going to run away on offense. The Seahawks will have chances to win this game throughout. Strong run defense and pass pressure is the surest bet to get back over .500.