Thursday the Seattle Seahawks face the San Francisco 49ers in a Week 15 home game they must win in order to keep their division title hopes alive. In addition, a loss to the Niners would almost make the Week 16 game against the Kansas City Chiefs as must win in order to keep any playoff aspirations alive, but that’s getting ahead of things right now.
For now, the only thing that matters is the matchup against the Niners on Thursday, and joining Field Gulls from Niners Nation is Tyler Austin to answer the five questions posed of him this week. So, without wasting any further time, here are his answer’s.
1. The Week 2 game wasn’t much of a contest, as the Niners rolled over the Seahawks without much trouble. Now San Francisco is down to its third, possibly fourth, string quarterback on the season, but comes in with a defense that has been shutting teams down all season. Will that defense be enough to carry the day for the Niners and clinch the NFC West Thursday night?
In a word, yes*.
It might be shorter to list the categories the Niners D doesn’t lead the world in, but I’ll provide a brief synopsis nevertheless. This defense is ranked number one at:
Yards Per Play Allowed
1st Downs Allowed
Rushing YPG Allowed
First, allow me to heap my customary heaping of praise onto DeMeco Ryans, who’s been so good this season that Adam Schefter reported pregame Week 14 that the Niners assume he’ll be a head coach next season. Does that ever happen?
Look at his work over this six game winning streak. They didn’t allow a second half score for a month, they shut out the Saints, they broke Tua, and, most recently, they put Tom “the GOAT” Brady through the spin cycle. Average points allowed over that stretch? 10. If your D only allows 10 points a game, you should be able to win every single one (except for Russell Wilson, of course).
Second, you can build an argument that the Niners have two of the best position groups in football at the moment, and, if not the best groups, certainly two of the best players at their position in the league with the duo of Fred Warner and Nick Bosa. The front seven, as constructed, has undoubtedly bested the unit of Jim Harbaugh’s glory days. (Sorry, Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Justin/Aldon Smith, etc!)
Combine the mastery of Ryans’ game plans with the top tier talent at premium positions and that’s a recipe to dominate whoever lines up across from you.
*Unless we find out that Purdy actually will miss the game, forcing Josh Johnson to start, and, even then, I think it would be close.
2. How have opponents been able to slow down the 49ers running game this season, because the Seahawks have been unable to stop any opponent from running the ball for the past month?
Well, I have some bad news. Defenses have struggled to contain the Niners run game since they traded for Christian McCaffrey. Before that move, the team had difficulty adapting to the losses of Trey Lance, who the coaching staff envisioned as an integral part of the rushing attack, and Elijah Mitchell, the team’s leading rusher from 2021. When left with only Jeff Wilson Jr. as the leading back, opponents stacked the box against him at a staggering rate. Also, the novelty of Deebo Samuel as the “wideback” just didn’t quite hit the same as when it first took the league by storm.
The solution to all these problems came in the form of the multidimensional skill set of everyone’s favorite Stanford product. I’ll speak more on what he’s brought to this team later (question four), but let’s just say Pete Carroll will have his hands full trying to slow this attack down.
3. The 49ers shut down the Seattle offense in Week 2 in part by effectively taking the tight ends out of the game. What has made the San Francisco defense so good at taking tight ends out of games?
This Niners defense has taken away opposing team’s tight ends because they have effectively turned the middle of the field into a no fly zone. I’ve mentioned him before in these answers, but he bears repeating, so allow me to say again… Fred Warner. The man simply owns the area between the hashes, and that’s why, unless you have an absolute freak like Travis Kelcie who can be just as likely to line up out wide against a corner, tight ends simply don’t do damage against the Niners. The ability to disrupt passing lanes where the big fellas normally make their living has meant that you wouldn’t want to be playing their position against the Niners, and I would expect more of the same come Thursday night.
4. At the trade deadline Christian McCaffrey was acquired from the Carolina Panthers, and he has really started contributing the past couple of games with 146 and 153 yards from scrimmage in the past two weeks. How big a factor will he be against a Seahawks defense that struggles to stop the run and struggles to defend screen passes?
Hmmm, I’d say he’s going to be a big, big, big factor, especially given the injury to Deebo Samuel that will keep him out for the next few weeks. Consider the only other game the Niners played this season with Samuel. That happened to be against the Rams, which coincided with CMC’s first full week in San Francisco. How did Shanahan deploy his shiny new toy? Well, McCaffrey became the fourth player in the history of the NFL, and the first since LaDainian Tomlinson in 2005, to throw, catch, and run for a touchdown in a single game. Furthermore, he accounted for 183 yards of combined offense by himself. I imagine with the stated struggles of the Seahawks that the Niners will be prepared to similarly lean on their superstar Swiss Army Knife to dice up another defense.
5. As of this writing, the 49ers are 3.5 point favorites and the Over/Under is set at 43.5 at DraftKings. Both of those seem like they could be a bit low, given how poor the Seahawks have been at stopping opposing offenses willing to run the ball. What’s your prediction for the outcome of the game and for whether these two teams will score enough to hit the over?
If you can’t tell from my previous answers, I’m simply riding so high on this Niners six game winning streak, especially after the Purdy magic we witnessed on Sunday, that I can’t imagine them going into Seattle and losing right now. Obviously, this means it’s going to a nail-bitingly close game that will cause heart palpitations for all.
More seriously, I will take the Niners to cover, but I wouldn’t be shocked if this one’s a lot closer than many would expect given the uncertainty around Purdy’s oblique and the history of this team on the road in Seattle. I do loathe to take an under, but similarly I wouldn’t be shocked to see this go low. It’s a divisional grudge match after all. I already regret typing those sentences.
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