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Seahawks vs 49ers game preview: Highlighting 4 key matchups for ‘Thursday Night Football’

Seattle Seahawks v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks are coming off of their worst loss of the season, falling 30-24 to the Carolina Panthers, with the last of Seattle’s points coming on a last-second garbage time touchdown. The Panthers dominated the line of scrimmage all game, allowing them to control the the ball for a hair over 39 minutes.

As things currently stand Seattle is out of the postseason and have nearly been eliminated from winning the division because of Sunday’s game. Thursday night’s game against a Brock Purdy led San Francisco 49ers team in Seattle is far and away the Seahawks’ most important game of the season and a true must win game. San Francisco has a deep roster that is led by some of the best players in the game. If Pete Carroll’s team is unable to limit the impact of those players, it is very difficult to see Seattle winning this one.

Christian McCaffrey vs. Seattle’s front 7

Christian McCaffrey being paired with Kyle Shanahan and his ability to scheme up running plays is a match made in heaven. Since joining the 49ers the Stanford alum has had three different games where he averaged 5.2 yards or more a carry. He did average 3.9 yards per carry or fewer in the other three but that is partially due to an injured knee that he has been playing through. McCaffrey has fit seamlessly into this offense fully utilizing his vision, acceleration and ability to switch gears effortlessly. The first run out of the pistol is an option play where CMC takes the handoff, which is intended for the left A or B gap. He slows it down a hair, waits for his blocks to develop then shoots the gap and takes off for a chunk play. The second play is a simple outside zone toss play where CMC is able to avoid the early outside penetration, cut it back inside, switch through his gears for an easy 13 or so yard pickup.

The former Panthers first round pick is also a massive threat in the passing game as he can be lined up all over the formation and run the majority of the route tree with relative ease. The one passing play from Kyle Posey’s tweet shows McCaffrey at the top of the screen where he runs a sluggo, getting the corner to bite on the route quickly. He then finishes off the play by making an extremely acrobatic catch along the sidelines.

The edge - McCaffrey

This is a very scary matchup for the Seahawks because of how bad their run defense has been over the past four or so games. Despite knowing that it was a run just about every play Seattle still could not stop the Carolina backfield as their running backs averaged 4.6 yards a carry on 39 combined runs. I think Shanahan is going to look to attack the C and D gaps in the running game, which is where a lot of Carolina’s big runs seemed to go. I think CMC will average around six yards a carry in this one and make a few catches on third down, giving him the clear edge in this one.

Brandon Aiyuk vs Tariq Woolen

I think Aiyuk is one of the most underrated receivers in the NFL ,which makes this an extremely interesting matchup for me. Aiyuk only has four games this season where he’s had more than 66 receiving yards and has 3 games of 40 or less receiving yards. However, that is not indicative of what Aiyuk brings to the table as a receiver, rather it more so points to how he is used in a run-first offense. On any passing play Aiyuk is a threat to pick up big yardage because of his high-end speed but also his advanced route running which is a combination Woolen has truly yet to face yet. The video above shows us just how sudden Aiyuk is a route runner which allows him to create easy separation at the stem of the route, which paired with his athleticism makes him extremely difficult to cover on an island.

The edge - Woolen

With how dominant he has been this year; Woolen has to be given the edge. This is not a clear edge though as Aiyuk will be Woolen’s most difficult athletic test. Despite running a slower than expected 40-yard dash at 4.5 seconds and not being a physically imposing player, Aiyuk still graded out as an elite athlete with a RAS of 8.44. And as the tweet below shows Aiyuk is one of the faster players in the league meaning Woolen will be unable to let his athleticism overwhelm opposing receivers like it has in the past.

Despite that though, I do not think Aiyuk will get the ball enough to make a massive impact. Additionally, Woolen is a good enough tackler to where he should be able to prevent Aiyuk from getting many yards after the catch giving him the slight edge.

Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw vs Seahawks’ quick passing game

The 49ers have the best linebacker duo in the league in Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw, and frankly I do not think anyone is a close second. Whilst they both excel at defending the run, they are also two of the better linebackers at defending the pass in both zone and man coverage. The first tweet shows us how fluid of an athlete Warner is. He pedals back with ease, stays in a good crouch and gets to the exact spot on the field he needs to in order to make a play on the ball.

The second tweet shows off part of what makes Greenlaw so dominant against the pass. He has the speed and FBI (football intelligence) to stay even with any offensive player in the league. He takes the perfect angle to cut Tyreek Hill off from getting up field whilst maintaining inside leverage and using the boundary as another defender. Also, notably Greenlaw has great eye discipline on the play taking one small shuffle step in the direction of the play action and then exploding off of that foot so he can keep up with Hill.

The edge - San Fran linebackers

I am honestly not sure if there is a quick passing game in the league that would hold an edge over this unit. It is difficult to imagine Seattle getting much, if any yards after the catch in between the numbers, due to the overall speed of the group giving them the clear edge.

San Francisco secondary vs Geno Smith

The secondary of the 49ers is the “weakness” of the league’s best defense. They are a unit that is beatable, especially when put in conflict with concepts such as high lows, daggers etc. The first play looks like a mix-up of assignments in zone coverage. The 49ers are in zone coverage on the play with Charvaius Ward at the bottom playing a deep third in cover 3. Talanoa Hufanga shuffles to the sideline and gains depth as if he was covering the defense’s left deep third. Mix-ups like these happen, but it does seem to happen to this group with a little too much frequency.

The second play is a lack of eye discipline by Hufanga as the middle deep third defender in the cover 3 defense. He steps up to take the deep over allowing Hill to get in behind him for a walk-in touchdown. I am curious to see if Seattle is going to use similar concepts to this one on Thursday to further test Hufanga’s eye discipline.

The edge - San Fran secondary

This a hot take, but I think Geno Smith’s play has slipped somewhat significantly over the past few weeks. I know he threw for 328 yards against the Raiders and 367 against the Rams, but he has also thrown 4 interceptions over his last three games and has gotten away with some very questionable throws, mainly in the red zone. It is hard to say Geno is going to have a bad game, but I honestly think this secondary is going to be able to bait him into a bad throw or two resulting in some interceptions which gives them the edge.

Score prediction - 49ers 27 - Seahawks 17

Last week recap

Jaycee Horn/C.J. Henderson vs Metcalf/Lockett

Predicted edge - Metcalf and Lockett - Actual edge - Horn and Henderson

Whilst Metcalf and Lockett did combine for 131 yards on 10 catches, 48 of those yards game in garbage time on the final drive. Additionally, Horn made an interception on the first offensive play of the game for the Seahawks which set Carolina up for a touchdown and Henderson picked Smith off in the second quarter. Horn nearly had two other picks but was out of bounds both times. The two interceptions and a little over a third of Metcalf and Lockett's production coming on the final drive gives the corners the edge.

Derrick Brown vs the Seattle IOL

Predicted edge - Brown - Actual edge Seahawks IOL

Brown did not make much of an impact on Sunday’s game. He had instances where he was able to get into the backfield, but it was not at nearly a high enough rate to affect the game. Seattle’s interior offensive line did a really good job of holding him in check giving them the edge.

Brian Burns vs Charles Cross and Abe Lucas

Predicted edge - Brian Burns - Actual edge - Cross and Lucas

Burns did not have nearly the game I thought he was going to as he registered 2 assisted tackles, 1 QB hit ,and half a sack. He did not move Geno off of his spot with much consistency nor did he beat Lucas and Cross at a high rate. As a result, the rookie tackles once again get the edge.

Panthers running game vs the Seahawks front 7

Predicted edge - Panthers running game - Actual edge - Panthers running game

The Panthers running attack dominated this game. As highlighted above their running backs averaged 4.6 yards an attempt on 39 rushes. Seattle missed tackles, allowed Carolina to pick up consistent yards after contact and they struggled to contain the edge. As a result, the running game gets the easy edge.

Score prediction

Seahawks 20 - Panthers 17

I think I got an F on this one.

(All advanced stats cited provided by Pro Football Reference)