San Francisco Changes
Colin Kaepernick starts at QB
Not breaking any news here. Smith struggled in the first game, especially on the deeper throws that Kaepernick has shown a knack for. Smith ran the ball 5 times for 11 yards. Kaepernick has run for 27 yards or more in four of his five starts. His legs are not the biggest concern for Seattle. It his ability to threaten down-field more than Smith could that poses a bigger challenge.
Kendall Hunter is on IR, LaMichael James takes over as 2nd RB
This is an underrated loss for the 49ers. Hunter was a perfect compliment to Gore. He had speed to get to the edge, but was tough enough to run between the tackles. He was a great receiver out of the back-field and was a terrific pass protector. Hunter was averaging 5.2 YPC and 6.7 yards per reception. So far, James is averaging 3.8 YPC, and has only one reception. James is a talented back in his own right, but the 49ers lose something without Hunter.
Kyle Williams is on IR, Mario Manningham likely available
Williams was actually the third leading receiver in the first match, even though he had only one catch. His speed put pressure on the defense. Manningham was hurt when the teams played in October, and has been out recently with a bruised shoulder. He is due back this week, and has been a productive part of the offense with 5 catches in each of his last two games and yardage ranging from 37-69 in his last three.
Justin Smith injured
Harbaugh is being coy about Smith’s status, but it is clear Smith will be less than 100% for the game. He was the 49ers leading tackler in the first match-up, and is a huge part of how Aldon Smith gets pressure on the quarterback. It will be a massive difference if he does not play, and still could be significant difference if he is playing at far less than full strength.
Russell Wilson is a different player
Much will be made of the differences Kaepernick brings to the QB position for the 49ers compared to Smith, but it is easy to argue that the Wilson of today, versus October, is at least as different of a QB. Wilson had just had his first truly productive game against the Patriots four days prior to the 49ers game. He was at the very early stages of learning to throw down-field and extend plays. There was also very little read option in the game plan. Wilson had a 0.0 rating in the second half of that game, and 38.7 for the whole game. He has been over 100.0 in five of his last seven games and 88+ in all seven. He had 8 touchdowns and 7 interceptions after that game ended. He has 13 touchdowns and 2 interceptions since.
Ben Obomanu on IR, Braylon Edward waived, Golden Tate and Sidney Rice getting the ball
Obomanu was the Seahawks leading receiver in the first game with 3 catches for 50 yards. Tate infamously had some drops, and ended with zero catches. Edwards was given a chance to compete for Tate’s position before the Detroit game as a result of Tate’s poor performance in SF. Tate responded with a season-high seven receptions against the Lions. He had been averaging 2 catches and 32 yards up until that point of the season, but has nearly doubled that since at 3.9 catches and 52 yards. Rice is getting roughly the same number of catches and yards, but has more than doubled his touchdown output (0.3/gm to 0.7/gm). It should also be noted that Doug Baldwin got injured early in that game after making two early catches.
Brandon Browner out, Marcus Trufant likely out, Walter Thurmond, Byron Maxwell, and Jeremy Lane in
Browner intercepted Smith in the end zone, and had a great game overall. His physical style is a great match against this team. He will be missed in the run game as well as the passing game. There is still some question about whether Trufant and Thurmond will be available for this game. Thurmond would be a big boon because he would improve the slot coverage and be great on the outside as well. If Thurmond plays, one could argue the secondary will be better than the first time these teams met. More likely, there will be some big plays made against inexperience corners like Maxwell and Lane as they face the first good quarterback since Browner started his suspension.
Leroy Hill and Malcolm Smith sharing snaps
Hill was the second-leading tackler in the first game, but is now being pushed by the young and speedy Smith. Hill could be a good fit in this game as he brings a physical nature against the running game that Smith could struggle against. Hill is also more likely to be prepared for the 49ers complicated run formations and adjustments. Smith offers better pass coverage and the potential for impact plays.
James Carpenter out, John Moffitt and J.R. Sweezy in
Carpenter played a nice game in the first go-around. His physical nature will be missed. Sweezy could help with some of that, but this is the deep end of the pool. I tend to think the kid is up for the challenge, but he will need to prove it in the game. Moffitt could be vulnerable against the physical 49ers line and linebackers. Both Sweezy and Moffitt need to step up their game this week.