Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What's Changed Since Week 1 For The Seahawks & 49ers?

Fifteen weeks ago, on September 11, 2011, the Seahawks opened the season playing in San Francisco versus the 49ers. Alex Smith was still getting booed by his home crowd. Charlie Whitehurst was a few Tarvaris Jackson incomplete passes away from having Seahawks fans screaming at their television to put him in. Richard Sherman was a largely unknown third string cornerback. Nearly three months later, the 49ers are largely considered the best bet to give the mighty Green Bay Packers a run for their money to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Jim Harbaugh is being mentioned as a Coach of The Year candidate, and the Seahawks have surged back into the playoff picture following a dismal 2-6 start.

When these two teams face off in CenturyLink Field on Saturday, both will be far more confident in who they are and how to beat an opponent. One team, the Seahawks, will feature a significantly altered lineup due in part to injury and in part to young players emerging.

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS


SEAHAWKS
QB: Tarvaris Jackson
RB: Marshawn Lynch
FB: Michael Robinson
TE: Zach Miller
TE: Anthony McCoy
WR: Golden Tate (was Mike Williams)
WR: Ben Obomanu
WR: Doug Baldwin
RT: Breno Giacomini
RG: Lemuel Juanpierre (was John Moffitt)
C: Max Unger
LG: Robert Gallery (was James Carpenter)
LT: Paul McQuistan (was Russell Okung)

DE: Chris Clemons
DT: Alan Branch
DT: Brandon Mebane
DE: Red Bryant
SAM: K.J. Wright (was Aaron Curry)
MIKE: David Hawthorne (was K.J. Wright)
WILL: Leroy Hill
CB: Richard Sherman (was Marcus Trufant)
SS: Kam Chancellor
FS: Earl Thomas
CB: Brandon Browner
NICKEL CB: Roy Lewis (was Walter Thurmond)

That's eight different positions that will be manned by a different person than in the first game. Matt McCoy was also the nickel LB in that game and did his famous Superman tackle before having his season end due to injury.

Compare that to a 49ers team that has placed two meaningful players on injured reserve, starting wideout Josh Morgan and DT Will Tukuafu. Patrick Willis may not play as he recovers from a hamstring injury. Largely, though, the 49ers will look a lot like the team that played in that first week from a personnel perspective.

The real difference for the 49ers is they know they are winners now. Ray McDonald is not a secret anymore at DT. Neither is LB NaVarro Bowman who leads the team in tackles. Dashon Goldson and Carlos Rogers sport six picks apiece instead of questions lingering about their ability to play their positions. Alex Smith sports a 91.1 passer rating.

The Seahawks have similar differences beyond just personal. Red Bryant blocked four kicks, after tipping one versus the 49ers. Doug Baldwin is no longer an unknown, undrafted rookie. Golden Tate is not a bust. The offensive line surrendered five sacks in that first game, and has not given up that many since playing the Giants in Week 5. The defense forced zero turnovers, which they haven't done since Week 4 versus Atlanta. The offense had three turnovers, which they haven't done since Week 9 versus the Cowboys.

These are two teams that have found their identities, which happen to look strikingly similar. The Seahawks have changed significantly more than the 49ers in terms of talent, players, execution. Both teams will enter this rematch far more confident than when they played back in September.  

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