In what is probably the biggest game of the year for both teams (When factoring in the holiday, the playoff implications, the aftermath of a loss) the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers meet on Thanksgiving night in Santa Clara. To help Field Gulls readers get a better sense of what to expect from the Niners after not seeing them since that epic January showdown in Seattle, David Fucillo from Niners Nation answered five questions about the 49ers.
Danny Kelly did the same over at Niners Nation. Read both!
Field Gulls: How is San Francisco’s injury situation looking right now? Obviously, the Niners have lost two of their best defenders in Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman, but are there any other players on the injury report this week to be concerned about?
Niners Nation: The 49ers have all sorts of injuries on the report this week. Here is a quick rundown:
RT Anthony Davis: Suffered a concussion in Week 11, and sat out Week 12. He is still not practicing as ofTuesday night, so odds are pretty good he won't get through the concussion protocol. Jonathan Martin would start in his place. Martin has been average at best, but fairly inconsistent.
CB Tramaine Brock: He has missed significant time this season, first with a turf toe injury, and now with a hamstring injury. In his place, Perrish Cox and Chris Culliver have started, and Dontae Johnson is now playing the slot corner role. After his turf toe injury in Week 1 there were concerns, but the young talent has really stepped up.
TE Vance McDonald/Derek Carrier: McDonald sat out Week 12 with a hip injury apparently suffered during practice. Carrier suffered a foot injury during their Week 12 game, but finished it out due to being short-handed. The 49ers of 2011-2013 used a lot of heavy sets with three tight ends. This year, the 49ers have used more three-, four- and five receiver sets, which means less need for tight ends. They should have at least one of these two tight ends available on Thursday, but we'll see.
Field Gulls: For Seahawk fans that haven’t been following closely, how has Colin Kaepernick’s season gone? What things does he specifically need to improve on and what have his strengths been?
Niners Nation: It has been a season of development for Kap, and as has been the case the last two seasons, opinions are mixed. This season, we have seen improvements in how Kap goes through his progressions, how he steps up in the pocket when the pass rush arrives, and avoiding excessive scrambling. His numbers are improved, even as he has dealt with a large number of wide receiver and tight end drops, and poor offensive line play
At the same time, Kap still makes some bone-headed decisions. He will sometimes skip the short dump-off to go for the deeper play. This seems to be happening a little less as the season moves on, but it still happens. And really consistency is the big thing fans want to see. Kap does a lot of things well, but he does not do them consistently. I see improvement in him, but I also see why people get frustrated. They see so much talent, but they want to see it happen faster.
Field Gulls: More in general, for the offense, what have been the strong suits and where does Greg Roman’s group struggle?
Niners Nation: The 49ers offensive success has been varied this season. The shorter passing game has been an area where they find some consistent success. It seems like when Kap is connecting on passes in the 5-15 yard range, the 49ers find success. It opens things up downfield for the occasional deep shot, but this team is built around getting the ball in their receivers hands and getting them turned up field for yards after the catch.
This team was built to dominate in the run game, but they are struggling to get the kind of push from the offensive line. The run game has been inconsistent at times, but one area that has been particularly problematic is in the power attack. They rank poorly in Football Outsiders power success, and that shows some of the problems of the offensive line. The 49ers line has been their calling card, which makes it odd to see them struggle. Kap has been sacked more than any other quarterback, and that's just one more problem with the line. The 49ers cannot get consistency from the group, and that may cost them a playoff spot by the end of this season.
Field Gulls: Defensively, what are the Niners’ strengths and weaknesses this season? Do they still defend the run well? How are they against the pass? Bright spots? Glaring liabilities?
Niners Nation: The 49ers defense is playing some inspired football, even as they deal with a considerable number of injuries. The pass coverage has been a strong aspect of the defense. The team has had significant turnover in the secondary, switching out the entire starting secondary since Super Bowl 47. Heading into 2014, they had new starters at both cornerback positions, and replaced Donte Whitner with Antoine Bethea. Even with all the questions, the entire secondary has been very solid. They fly under the radar with no big names, but their emergence is impressive.
The pass rush has been a liability much of this season. Rookie outside linebacker Aaron Lynch emerged as a force, but the team could not get consistent pass rush across the front seven. Of course, the team has welcomed Aldon Smith back to the fold, and the difference the last two weeks has been stark. Facing the Giants and Washington helps, but the 49ers pass rush is finally executing with more consistency.
The run defense remains solid, but it has been the bigger weakness. Alfred Morris rushed for 125 yards this past week, and Mark Ingram put up 120 three weeks ago. It has not been a huge deal because the pass defense has done its work against the quarterbacks, but it is something that is obviously a concern with Marshawn Lynch coming to town. I imagine the 49ers Seahawks will attack that front seven early and often with Lynch.
Field Gulls: How has the Niners’ 2014 Draft class fared this season? Any major contributors?
Niners Nation: The 49ers 2014 class is off to a strong start. They have two players in starting roles, and two players in quasi-starting roles. Here is a quick rundown of the draft class (in order of selection):
Jimmie Ward - He was the starting nickel back before a foot injury ended his season after Week 10. He struggled early in the season but showed some improvement, and will be back in the mix at cornerback to start next season
Carlos Hyde - He is serving as the sole backup to Frank Gore. The 49ers are effectively playing with just two running backs this year, and they seem confident in Hyde. He is averaging a little over six carries per game. He has shown some great vision and power, so I would say, so far so good right now.
Marcus Martin - He moved into the starting lineup following the 49ers Week 8 bye due to Daniel Kilgore suffering a leg fracture. He has struggled with his snaps to Kap, but this will be an evolving process. His blocking has also been inconsistent thus far.
Chris Borland - He's the guy who is on the radar for most due to several huge weeks since replacing Patrick Willis. He had a quieter Week 12, but is still a force in the middle for the 49ers.
Dontae Johnson - He has emerged as a mix of dime and nickel back due to injuries in the secondary. He's got the necessary size to make an impact, and thus far has been very solid. He has not gotten a ton of mentions the last two weeks, which is good for a cornerback.
Aaron Lynch - He was the first rookie from this group to emerge. He has similar size and tools as Aldon Smith, and he has had an impressive start to his career. During Aldon Smith's 9-game suspension, Lynch was the nickel OLB while Dan Skuta was the base OLB. However, Lynch has earned more and more time, and in Week 10, he entered the starting lineup when Dan Skuta got hurt. Borland has been a bit more high profile in recent weeks, but Lynch has had a big impact.