Plenty of talk, and questions, expected for 49ers and Seahawks
Passing game could be key for both teams
Seattle Times staff reporter
Seahawks defensive tackle Brandon Mebane is certain of one thing that will happen when Seattle plays host to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night.
“Everybody talk,” he said with a little laugh, needing just two words to encapsulate the heavy emotions sure to manifest themselves when the two teams expected to battle for the NFC West crown — if not the NFC itself — face off for the first time this season. Kickoff is 5:30 p.m. at CenturyLink Field in a game nationally televised by NBC that also serves as Seattle’s home opener.
“It’ll be a lot of hype, of course,’’ Mebane said. “But you’ve still got to play football at the end of the day.’’
So in the few moments when the on-field talking subsides, here are three questions that could decide the outcome:
How will the Seahawks defend San Francisco’s two-headed receiving monster of Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis? The 49ers might have one of the biggest playbooks in the NFL, but there aren’t a lot of secrets to what they want to do offensively — run the ball to set up passes to Boldin, who was acquired in the offseason from the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, and Davis.
The two combined to catch 19 of Colin Kaepernick’s 27 completions in the 34-28 victory last week over Green Bay, when Kaepernick threw for 412 yards.
Each is a tough matchup due to their size — Boldin is 6 feet 1, 220 pounds, and Davis is 6-3, 250.
Complicating matters, Seattle likely will be without starting cornerback Brandon Browner due to a hamstring injury, replaced by Walter Thurmond, who at 5-11 is five inches shorter than Browner.
Seattle doesn’t move its corners to match up with specific receivers, so multiple defenders will get their shot at Boldin.
“He’s a physical receiver who can use his body to push away smaller cornerbacks,’’ said Seattle safety Earl Thomas.
Seattle’s linebackers, meanwhile, might at times have to take on Davis.
“Whenever he’s in our area, we are going to take it as a personal challenge, whoever is matched up on him,’’ said strongside linebacker Malcolm Smith.
Said weakside linebacker K.J. Wright, “He’s probably the fastest guy on their offense and he and Colin have a good relationship and he targets him a lot, so we have to make sure we X him out as far as having a good game.’’
Can the Seahawks take advantage of San Francisco’s secondary? The 49ers, whose secondary is the weakest part of a stout defense, allowed 333 passing yards and three touchdowns last week against Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers.
Seattle’s Russell Wilson, meanwhile, threw for a career-high 320 yards against Carolina, in a game in which he was forced to throw a lot with the running game often stagnant.
Wilson, though, did a lot of his damage on play-action passes, and Seattle will have to get the running game going more smoothly to set up those attempts — the Seahawks had just 70 yards rushing against the Panthers, which coach Pete Carroll said can’t continue.
Can the 49ers handle the noise? When Seattle beat the 49ers last year 42-13, it was just the sixth career start for Kaepernick, and he seemed flustered by the atmosphere — San Francisco had to call two timeouts on offense early in the game and also got two delay-of-game penalties.
This week, Kaepernick resisted the notion that the noise was a factor, saying “I think our efficiency in the huddle was more of a factor than the crowd.”
Whatever the case, Kaepernick has since led the 49ers to the Super Bowl, and looked downright seasoned last week, seemingly making him more prepared for the CenturyLink atmosphere.
Many of the rest of the 49ers, meanwhile, were on the field Dec. 24, 2011, when San Francisco beat Seattle 19-17.
That’s the last time the Seahawks lost at CenturyLink.
“We love our fans when they are all rowdy,’’ Wright said. “It helps us out a whole lot. We are not going to lose any home games. We plan on doing what we did last year.’’