I could write all day about the things the Seahawks will have to rein in for them to get a win this weekend at San Francisco, but for brevity's sake, I'll just identify a few things I think will be key.
The first main key to the game will be quarterback play. Tarvaris Jackson has been running for his life a lot in the preseason and as a consequence, the Seahawks first-team offense has really struggled. Part of this goes on the offensive line of course, and it doesn't figure to get any better this week with Robert Gallery out and the combination of James Carpenter and Breno Giacomini filling in -- it might get a little sketchy.
Part of the blame does go on Tarvaris Jackson as well though. People (announcers, mostly) will say "Jackson had no one to throw to" but I doubt that's entirely true. At some point, he's going to have to start threading some needles. He is rightfully afraid to start throwing interceptions, and I'm not advocating he just starts hucking it downfield, but I do think he's going to have to turn it loose a little bit more and start making throws into tight windows. With Mike Williams and Ben Obomanu starting at wide receiver, he'll have two quality wideouts to work with -- they're not elite of course but they shouldn't hinder his ability to make plays.
If these guys don't get open, he'll have to learn to throw the ball away. Taking sacks is better than making a turnover, but what happened to the good old fashioned throw to the guys warming the bench on the sideline? In the preseason, Jackson took a lot of sacks and not all of them have been on the offensive line. He simply has held on to the ball too long. I'm hoping to see him a) get more decisive and aggressive, and b) stop trying to escape pressure by running backwards ten or fifteen yards and then getting tackled.
The second key to the game with be on the defensive side of the ball. Can the Seahawks get pressure on Alex Smith? It's simple really, but even Smith can pick apart a defense if given time. The Hawks run defense figures to be pretty good with Red Bryant, Brandon Mebane, and Alan Branch plugging up the running lanes. That means, theoretically, that the 49ers will look to beat the Seahawks with the arm of Alex Smith, and that's a battle the Seahawks could and SHOULD win.
The defensive secondary can only do so much so it will be interesting to see what Gus Bradley dials up to get some pressure on Smith to force him into some bad decisions. Will he go with the base package of Mebane/Branch/Bryant most of the time? Will they rotate situational edge-rushers in? How much will they use the bandit this year? It's not rocket surgery obviously, but getting pressure on Smith could be the difference between a win and a loss this weekend.
Finally, a multi third key. Time of possession and ball control. This encapsulates the turnover battle as well. Because neither offense is exactly a Juggernaut, time of possession and limiting turnovers will be very important. The Seahawks did well for themselves in the preseason when they controlled the clock. Wear down the defense, run the ball, keep your defense off the field, convert third downs.
Watch the third and short plays. Last year, the Seahawks were atrocious on third and short situations. In the preseason, there was a little reason to be optimistic about this part of the game because they actually had some success in the short yardage run game. If they can convert a few of these it will be huge for the offense. Momentum. Confidence. Take the crowd out of the game.
With the offensive line issues the Seahawks have, this might be a challenge, but it's the regular season now, and anything can happen. Maybe something will click. Maybe the use of gameplanning -- rollouts, bootlegs, and the like can take some pressure off the front five. Get Tarvaris to use his legs to get a few first downs. Grind it out. It's not going to be pretty. The offense isn't going to look efficient. But that doesn't mean the Hawks can't win.
It's on like donkey kong y'all.