The Seattle Seahawks travel to San Francisco on Sunday to take on the 49ers in an early season battle of the unbeatens. Yes, it’s early but it is also the time for one of the two teams to set the tone for NFC West supremacy, something Seattle has had and something San Francisco wants.
Last week, San Francisco went on the road and pulled out a late victory over the defending champs Arizona in a tight game. It wasn’t over until the final play when the 49ers sacked Kurt Warner. San Francisco had taken the lead on a Frank Gore’s three-yard touchdown catch from Shaun Hill in the fourth quarter. The Cardinals had two opportunities to regain the lead but failed both times.
Hill was not impressive but he managed to pull out another win, completing 18 of 31 passes for 209 yards and one touchdown to lead the 49ers. Most importantly, Hill didn’t throw an interception although he was sacked four times.
Gore was held to 30 yards on 22 carries, a 1.4 yard per carry average, but his biggest play was catching the winning touchdown. Vernon Davis led the 49ers with five receptions for 40 yards and was targeted several more times leading me to believe either Arizona has a problem covering the tight end or Davis is a focal point of the offense since their wide receiving core is only average at best.
The 49ers defense did a good job, intercepting Kurt Warner twice and getting three sacks as well as numerous hits on the old man. They held the Arizona run game to a combined 44 yards for Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower although they did allow Hightower to catch a game high 12 receptions for 121 yards. The defense used a base 3-4 with a good mixture of looks and disguised their pressure well. The majority of the time they brought four rushers but mixed in five and six men rushes with good results.
Seattle hosted the St. Louis Rams for their first game and although the final score was 28-0, the game was very close in the first half. After going into halftime up 14-0, thanks to a St. Louis touchdown that was called back for too many men on the field, the game was much more one-sided.
Matt Hasselbeck, the Seattle offensive MVP, settled into a rhythm and proved once again that although his isn’t the best quarterback ever, he is the reason the Seahawks have been so good for so long. He finished up going 25-of-36 for 279 yards passing with three touchdowns and two interceptions. The two picks were both early in the game. After he calmed down, he didn’t look close to throwing another one. Hasselbeck also ended the game upright and practically untouched as the line did a great job protecting him.
Julius Jones ran the ball well, going for 117 yards on 19 carries for a 6.2 yard per carry average and a touchdown. The touchdown was on a 62 yard burst up the middle that put the score at 28-0. The star for Seattle’s offense was John Carlson, the tight end from Notre Dame. He caught 6 balls for 95 yards and 2 touchdowns. Sunday could be a showdown for the tight ends.
The Seattle defense held well, shutting down the Rams offense and limited Stephen Jackson to 67 on 16 carries for a 4.2 yard per carry average. Mark Bulger managed to go 17 for 36 and 191 yards but the majority of that yardage came on one 45 yard pass to Laurent Jackson late in the game. The Seahawks sacked Bulger 3 times as well as smacking him around a lot when he tried to move around. On his lone rushing attempt, Bulger started his slide late and got leveled by Darryl Tapp among others.
I was impressed with the Seattle defense. They appeared to be playing hard and fast, swarming to the ball but not overrunning their gap which is something they have been prone to do in the past. I was also encouraged by the Seattle offense which looked, once the early game jitters went away, solid and confident.
Against San Francisco, Seattle is going to need all the confidence they can get. 49ers coach Mike Singletary put his team through a brutal training camp to toughen them up physically and mentally. It appears to be working, at least early this season. How it wears on them later on will be interesting to see. It is refreshing to see though because too many times, I feel teams are a little too cautious.
From the injury report, Seattle has WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh listed as a game time decision due to back spasms. LB Lofa Tatupu should play after leaving last week with a tight hamstring. LB Leroy Hill is out with a groin pull and WR Deion Branch is a game time decision as always.
San Francisco is reporting CB Marcus Hudson, WR Brandon Jones, G Chilo Rachal, DE Justin Smith, DE Isaac Sopoaga, LB Ahmad Brooks, G David Baas, and DT Aubrayo Franklin. Of these, only Brooks has been unable to practice.
In the eternal game of matchups, I believe there will be two keys to this game. The first is how well the Seahawks defense does against Frank Gore. The 49ers are not a great passing attack team. Their wide receivers are suspect and Shaun Hill is not a highlight reel quarterback although he has an 8-3 record as a starter. The core of their offense runs with Gore. Historically the Seahawks defense has been weak against the run. With their success last week against Stephen Jackson as a primer, I see them doing a good job against Gore and the 49ers.
The second key is how well the 49er defense does against the Seattle offensive line. If Seattle can give Hasselbeck time, he will shred that defense with all the weapons at his disposal. If Tim Hightower got 12 receptions against the 49ers, Edgerrin James and Julius Jones will be even better. John Carlson, fast becoming the best tight end in the league, will be matched up against the 49er linebackers, hopefully taking away their best defensive player, Patrick Willis, from rushing Hasselbeck. That is a matchup that will always be a win for Seattle.