The Seahawks passed a big test last week. They beat a legitimate playoff team that was playing pretty well, and they did it while rebounding from a very disappointing loss and performance the previous week. As everyone loves to note, the Hawks lost both games to SF last year. A loss this week would fuel perception that the 49ers have their number, while also putting the Hawks at 0-2 in the division and SF at 3-0. That simply cannot happen.
1. Bryant Young, Patrick Willis and the new 3-4 49ers defense The 49ers moved to a 3-4 defense this year, sliding stalwart Bryant Young out to DE from his old DT position. Young has always cheated nature by remaining a force even at his progressing age. He’s off to a big start this season with 4 sacks through 3 games. Sean Locklear will have his hands full. Patrick Willis is a monster in his rookie season. He is Ray Lewis all over again. Perhaps I’m anointing him a little early, but he’s been that impressive so far. The Hawks offense tends to struggle against 3-4 defenses, where lineman can’t be sure where the fourth pass rusher will be coming from.
2. Team effort against the run We find out this week if the Hawks run defense is going to get a reputation of only showing up at home. They were absent in Arizona, and it will cost them this game if they are absent again. The 49ers have a huge left side of their line, and Darryl Tapp and our undersized DTs will have a hard time holding the point of attack. Brandon Mebane may need to play a little more. We need a great game from our linebackers and solid tackling. If Gore gets some success early, it could snowball.
3. WRs must make plays Branch, Burleson, and Engram must get some clean breaks at the line. The 49ers secondary has been playing very well. This may be a game where Ben Obamanu can really make a difference if he’s healthy, especially if they are down to a second-string safety.
4. No gimmes The Hawks have been a better team than the 49ers for years, but have lost games against them when they shank punts, give up big plays and turn the ball over. We need to make the 49ers march all the way down to score. I don’t believe their offense is good enough to do that very often.
5. Return game The 49ers have given up some big returns this year, including a TD to Pittsburgh last week. The Hawks have had either a big punt return or KO return in 2 of the first 3 games. That could play a factor.
Conclusion The Seahawks are quite simply a better team. If they lose, it will be because they did not play well. I don’t sense the urgency around this game in Seattle that I’d expect. The ramifications of a loss are much greater than a win. Division games almost count double, and the Hawks have a chance to establish their place in the pecking order this week. I expect them to come out of there with a win.