The Seahawks face off against the NFC West division rival San Francisco 49ers Sunday night, and David Fucillo of Niners Nation and I decided to put together a couple of preview posts on the game. First up - a quick glance at a few under-the-radar players on each team that could have an impact on the game.
The 49ers passing game was strong against the Green Bay Packers in Week 1, but it focused almost exclusively on Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis. They both performed incredibly well, but the 49ers are likely going to need to diversify their offensive attack against a much stronger Seahawks secondary. Last week I thought Marlon Moore would be the under-the-radar offensive player, but he was fairly limited in his involvement. This week, I think Kyle Williams could be that guy. Last week he caught three passes for 36 yards, and was targeted six times.
If the Seahawks attempt to blanket Boldin and/or Davis in more coverage, another receiver is likely going to need to step up. Williams will get the opportunities to be that guy. Last week was his first game since tearing his ACL last November. He participated in training camp, but did not play in any preseason games. I have to imagine there was some rust to be shaken off. In this second game, 49ers fans will be looking for a bit more from him.
Eric Reid jumped out to a strong start in Week 1, and as the 49ers' number one pick he does not really qualify as under the radar. This week I'll go with the 49ers nose tackle rotation of Ian Williams and Glenn Dorsey. They will man the nose, but also get some work when the 49ers go with more four man fronts, particularly Dorsey. Williams and Dorsey are replacing Isaac Sopoaga and Ricky Jean Francois, and in the preseason they both looked like significant improvements. Ice and RJF were solid enough, but Williams and Dorsey seem to bring more physical talent to their roles. They will not end up with many highlight reel plays, but they are key parts to the defense.
As for the Seahawks, here's my take:
I'm not sure if Jermaine Kearse is still under the radar but in terms of being fourth in line behind Golden Tate, Sidney Rice, and Doug Baldwin, he has still the chance to make an impact even though he's buried on the depth chart. Kearse has shown an ability to get open in soft spots in zone coverages, and Russell Wilson seems to have developed some trust there. Kearse is also still slated to be the starting kick returner, so if there are any kickoffs that don't fly out of the back of the endzone, his performance there will be a factor. When you have two teams with strong defenses, field position figures to be a big factor, and if Seattle is consistently backed up into their own end, the offense could really struggle to get going.
The other X-factor on offense, for me, is LG James Carpenter. The Hawks' former first-round pick officially backed up veteran Paul McQuistan in Week 1, but ended up playing nearly double the amount of snaps (43 vs 22) in relief. Carpenter was a factor in last year's matchup in San Francisco as he played across from All-World DT/DE Justin Smith, and helped the Seahawks protect their rookie quarterback and manage to rush for 139 yards on 4.7 YPC. If Carpenter can provide a power element on the interior of the Seahawks' line, helping to diffuse Smith's push and do a good job of picking up stunts with Aldon Smith, then the Seahawks will be much better off, obviously. I wasn't particularly impressed with neither McQuistan nor Carpenter in Week 1, but it's my opinion that a healthy, in-shape Carpenter can be a high-level left guard to throw between Max Unger and Russell Okung. When he gets his hands on a defender, he's pretty tough to move.
On defense, I think the obvious under-the-radar player to watch for is nickelback Walter Thurmond. Considering a majority of Anquan Boldin's 78 catches for 1,320 yards in Week 1 came from the slot, we'll likely see a lot of Thurmond running with the wily veteran in Boldin. This Seahawks' secondary is obviously different than that of Green Bay, but Boldin still presents a touch matchup for Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, and Thurmond. If Seattle can take him out of the game somewhat, that will, hopefully, negatively affect Colin Kaepernick and the Niners' passing game.
Past that, O'Brien Schofield is a guy to watch. Cliff Avril may be making his return this week, but it will likely be on a limited basis and Avril hasn't practiced enough to be in top shape. That means that Obi will be relied upon to create some pass rush and to contain Kaepernick once plays break down and he scrambles. It takes top-tier athletes to defend Kaep in the open field, so Schofield will need to play fast and with anticipation.