Here we go. The 7-2 Seattle Seahawks, dragging the weight of countless doubts and questions, travel to San Francisco to take on the undefeated and undeniably powerful 49ers on Monday Night Football. Despite one of the best records to start a season in Seahawks history, Seattle is the clear underdog in this game.
San Francisco is strong in all phases, and downright dominant in some. They resemble the 2013 Seahawks in a number of ways, with an overwhelming defense and a physical running game leading the way. They even have the irascible Richard Sherman in tow.
The 49ers are 6-point favorites. Pete Carroll’s team has been a 6-point or larger underdog just five times since 2012. They have covered the spread in every contest and won two out of those five games. They are 2-1 in such game on the road, with the only loss coming last year in Los Angeles when they lost by 5 after leading in the 3rd quarter in a game they entered as 10-point underdogs.
Conversely, the 49ers have been 6+ point favorites just five times since Kyle Shanahan took over in 2017 and they only covered the spread once. That was in 2017. They have not covered the last four times, including three times this season against Arizona (28-25), Washington (9-0, favored by 10 points), and Pittsburgh (24-20).
There are reasons to think this should be a close game. There are also reasons to believe this could be a dismantling by the 49ers knowing how amped that defense will be and how cringy the Seahawks defense and special teams have been.
Let’s take a look at where each team has advantages.
The way this works: Each offense will be pitted against the opposing defense and compared on an array of key statistical attributes based on their respective rank in the NFL. The tables that follow show the rank of each unit for each of these categories.
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Seahawks Offense vs 49ers Defense
Starting corner Ahkello Witherspoon may be back for this game. Emmanuel Moseley has been occupying that spot for the last five games. Starting linebacker and big free agent signing Kwon Alexander was lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle against the Cardinals last week.
49ers key advantages on defense
It all starts with the 49ers defensive line. It is arguably the most dominant single unit of any in the NFL. Not just the best defensive line, but the best part of any team in the NFL. They go seven deep with high quality players and enjoy a bevy of first-round talent (that is playing like first-round talent). Nick Bosa has been dominant on the edge as a rookie with seven sacks in nine games. He can take over games, like he did against Cleveland a few weeks back when he had 3.0 sacks in the first half. He will go up against Duane Brown much of the game.
Arik Armstead plays the other end on base downs and is a monster. Dee Ford comes in for pass rush situations on the left side and has 5.5 sacks of his own. DeForest Buckner is a beast on the inside. Solomon Thomas is another top draft pick who comes off the edge. Ronald Blair III has given opponents fits off the edge.
Together, this crew has terrorized opponents. Seattle had one of its better pass protection games last week. It would be foolhardy to believe they can hold up against this front. Quick passing will be crucial. The challenge there is the secondary is pretty fast and darn good as well, especially if Witherspoon returns.
Sherman, Moseley, and K’Waun Williams are very good corners. Williams handles slot duties. Safety Jimmie Ward is also a dynamic playmaker.
Seahawks key advantages on offense
It would be a bleak forecast if not for the fact that the Seahawks offense is in the conversation for best in the NFL, led by the MVP in Russell Wilson. As good as the 49ers defense has been, they have not been tested by a great offense yet. Take a look at their schedule so far as measured by offensive efficiency of their opponent. Green means easy. Red means hard.
They have not played an offense in the top ten yet, let alone one ranked in the top three. Brian Schottenheimer and Wilson have combined to make Seattle a major headache for opponents.
With D.K. Metcalf emerging opposite a irrepressible Tyler Lockett, the Seahawks give teams fits passing. Josh Gordon may get added to the mix this week, but don’t count on it. Ed Dickson should be added, and could help at least in pass protection.
One area where the 49ers have not been dominant is run defense. They have faced the 9th-easiest schedule in terms of run offenses, and yet, their defense ranks near the middle of the pack in defending the run.
Arizona piled up over 150 yards rushing last week against them, and now they have lost linebacker Alexander without a good replacement available. The Seahawks ran for 168 yards in both games against the 49ers last season.
As clear as it was that Seattle needed to pass the ball to win against a dominant Bucs run defense, it is clear that the Seahawks would benefit from a healthy run attack in this one. That is not to say the team should crawl in their turtle shell and run the ball the whole game. It is an area where they should press the 49ers to help reduce pass rush opportunities and keep the Seattle defense off the field for as long as possible.
Get this game to the fourth quarter and close, and Wilson always has the advantage.
San Francisco is weak at the linebacker level. Not only is Alexander out, but Fred Warner has been bad this year, and now rookie Dre Greenlaw likely slides in next to him. That could mean the running backs and tight ends could find some space in the passing game.
Safety Jaquiski Tartt has been vulnerable in the passing game as well, so keep an eye on passes deep down the middle.
It goes without saying that turnovers would be very hard to overcome in this one. Chris Carson and all other Seahawks must protect the ball against this crew.
49ers Offense vs Seahawks Defense
The 49ers are expecting to get back three key starters for this game. Both starting offensive tackles, Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey, as well as All-Pro fullback Kyle Juszczyk are returning from injury. Tight end George Kittle is expected to play after a knee injury last week. Should that change, it would be a significant development.
49ers key advantages on offense
Pick your poison. The Seahawks have not stopped the run or the pass this season. San Francisco boasts one of the most physical and dominant running attacks in the league. They also have a quarterback coming off a nearly perfect outing with 4 TDs and 0 INTs while incorporating a new wide receiver toy in Emmanuel Sanders to the attack.
Their offensive line should have no trouble with the Seahawks defensive line in any aspect. Getting Juszczyk back means trouble for the linebackers. San Francisco has blown teams out by mauling them early in the run game, and just knocking the fight out of them.
Nothing is more hopeless than when a team can run consistently and explosively against your defense.
Seattle cannot win this game if the 49ers run game gets untracked. There are just too many other advantages for San Francisco. As well as Jimmy Garoppolo played last week, I absolutely force the game onto his shoulders. If he gets the benefit of a strong run game, his job becomes way too simple.
Seahawks key advantages on defense
Seattle is fifth in the league in takeaways. Garoppolo has thrown interceptions in 6 of 8 games this season, and fumbled in 4 of 8. A turnover or two is likely needed for the Seahawks to take this game.
What will be interesting to see is how the team incorporates Quandre Diggs into the defense. I am hopeful he will see time at nickel corner to relieve us of Jamar Taylor. It is also important to see if Quinton Jefferson will be back after a two-week hiatus as he has been one of the few even moderately effective pass rushers.
The hope here is that Bobby Wagner gathered the defense after this last game to have a discussion about what is required to at least play assignment sound football.
This group needs to be keyed up and in the right gaps to stop this run game.
As bad as Jason Myers has been, and he has been blindingly bad, Robbie Gould has actually been worse for the 49ers. Two of the worst kickers in football face off Monday night to see who can leave their fans muttering the most. San Francisco has not played enough close games to where it has mattered. It might on Monday.
The 49ers coverage units are are far better than the Seahawks, and their punter has been great. Michael Dickson has been better the last few weeks, so hopefully he can remain a positive the rest of the way.
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