Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
With a planet-ending apocalypse narrowly averted for now, our thoughts can turn fully to the big game. The division title may not be directly on the line for Seattle, but a victory clinches a playoff berth. I am giddy with anticipation.
T'is the season of anticipation; that feeling of low-intensity euphoria that you get in the pit of your belly when you're waiting for something.
It's that sense of anticipation I love about watching the 2012 Seattle Seahawks. Something great can happen on any play in any game, and great things are starting to happen pretty darn regularly. By great, I don't necessarily mean plays like Stevie Johnson's one-handed masterpiece. I don't recall Seattle making a comparably acrobatic play all season. Rather, Pete Carroll's Seahawks are learning to be great within the confines of any ordinary play. I'm talking about plays like Sidney Rice's perfect route and catch vs. New England or Marshawn Lynch trucking Dashon Goldston at San Francisco. As the season has unfolded, we are seeing more Seahawks execute their assignments with that kind of mastery on an increasingly regular basis.
49ers fans must certainly feel the same sense of anticipation. San Francisco is consistently doing great things on the field. As others have noted, when the 49ers play their "A" game I think they're the best team in the NFL.
1. San Francisco's running game is like Marvin Hagler's jab--explosive. The 49ers do so much with formations, varied blocking combinations, and a stable of talented backs that they get explosive plays in the run game. Seattle is going to give up some yards on the ground Sunday night. The run defense has certainly declined since the first game and San Francisco is the best running team in the NFL. But, giving up yards is not the same as allowing San Francisco to control the game with its rushing attack. The distinction is critical.
Seattle gave up big yards to Minnesota (Adrian Peterson) and Buffalo (C.J. Spiller) but neither rushing attack controlled the game, in no small part because Seattle buckled down in the red zone. By contrast, San Francisco was getting 5+ yards on virtually every run in the first half before Gore started breaking off long runs. It's unrealistic to expect anyone to just shut down the 49ers run game, but Seattle has to beat blocks some times, fill gaps, and tackle.
2. San Francisco's passing game is the bigger concern. In the October game Gore and Hunter ran over, around, and through Seattle for 175 yards but San Francisco scored only 13 points despite excellent field position. San Francisco had only 138 yards passing. Since the bye week and the switch to Kaepernick the 49er offense has had only one poor offensive showing (@ STL) in expected points, passing for more than 150 yards in each game. Michael Crabtree is quietly having an excellent season, 17th in WR DVOA, catching 70% of his targets with 7 TDs. Ditto Vernon Davis, who is 8th in TE DVOA, catching 67% of his targets with 5 TDs. Frankly, I'd live with Gore, et al. getting another 175 yards if Seattle can turn Kaepernick into Captain Checkdown (and keep him from getting on the edge).
3. Who can bring their "A" game? Both teams have been quite volatile in terms of week-to-week performance. So, the team that plays their "A" game (or closest to it) Sunday night almost certainly wins, barring some weirdness like we saw last Sunday at Foxborough. In overall terms, Seattle is middle-of-the-pack (16th) in week-to-week volatility while San Francisco is a bottom-of-the-pack 31st. (Only the Giants are more Jeckll and Hyde.) Seattle is probably a safer bet to play well at home but it's not enough to hang one's hat on.
All this is to say that this game features two pretty evenly matched teams. Almost any factor could turn the game in either team's favor. It should be one of the best games of the year. I can't wait.