Anavarathan: Why the under-dog 49ers can prevail against Russell Wilson's Seahawks?
The NFL season is synonymous to a roller coaster at the local amusement park, filled with twists and turns, while teams hope to hang on for their dear lives.
Just a mere three weeks ago, the 49ers looked like their season was destined for failure, as the visiting Dolphins trampled the defending NFC Champions on their home turf, leaving a salty taste in players' mouths.
Amidst an extremely difficult six-week stretch, Kyle Shanahan's team has responded to the adversity, dusting off the Rams and disposing the Patriots in back-to-back weeks. But the season's toughest test awaits in Seattle, with MVP front-runner Russell Wilson and the 5-1 Seahawks looking to bounce back after an ugly loss.
While the 49ers and Rams tried to outperform their stylistic counterpart, the 49ers and Seahawks will attempt to impose their different offensive styles and walk away with a win.
For San Francisco, a win could mean climbing right back in the NFC West race, with divisional wins over the Rams and Seahawks. For Seattle, a win would continue to distance themselves in the divisional race, as they have their eyes sight on the NFC's 1-seed and home-field advantage.
1. How will the 49ers lack of pass rush impact their game plan against the Seahawks' historically potent offense?
The most optimal recipe against a Russell Wilson-led offense is interior pressure with contain of the edges to not allow the Seahawks' quarterback to escape the pocket. When the 49ers had a healthy Nick Bosa and Dee Ford, their defensive line talent allowed them to compete up front.
With those stalwarts out with various injuries, the 49ers' defense will have to rely on timely blitzes and better pass coverage in the back end. San Francisco's adjusted sack rate is currently 5.4 percent, which ranks 24th in the NFL. While they aren't sacking the quarterback as much as they did in 2019, the 49ers' defense still pressures the opposing signal caller on 24.8 percent of snaps.
Robert Saleh's unit has also transformed from a pass-rush first unit to a pass-coverage first unit, with the rise of corner Jason Verrett and the development of partner Emmanuel Moseley.
Per PFF, Verrett's the 12th-highest graded corner, while Moseley grades out at 44. Having two Top-50 cornerbacks, to go along with K'Waun Williams in the slot is a formidable trio. These three will have their hands full with Tyler Lockett, D.K. Metcalf and David Moore, who have been fantastic so far.
This will be the best defense that the Seahawks have faced this season, per DVOA. The 49ers' eighth-ranked unit is one Brian Allen performance from being a Top-4 unit in the NFL.
The team will also debut Jordan Willis at EDGE after their trade with the Jets and I fully expect Saleh to use linebacker Fred Warner on a good amount of blitzes to throw off Wilson's timing.
The Seahawks have also been 25th in third-down conversion percentage, while the 49ers are 7th. Wilson hasn't been particularly effective on third downs this season, so San Francisco's defense just needs to try and stay ahead of the down and distance -- though that's much easier said than done.
2. Where do the 49ers attack Seattle's defense?
Kyle Shanahan has firmly been in his bag these last two weeks on the offensive side of the ball, dialing up short, quick passes to get the ball out to his play-makers. It's allowed quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to develop his confidence and play within his comfort zone, while de-emphasizing the pass-blocking weaknesses that the 49ers have up front.
Seattle's pass defense hasn't been able to stop a nose bleed so far. They've given up the most passing and total yards through six weeks in NFL history. They're 28th in total defense, per DVOA and 30th in pass defense DVOA.
They've also given up the 5th-most explosive passing plays this season and there are only 2-3 coaches that I trust to take advantage of a leaky pass defense -- including Shanahan.
If Jimmy Garoppolo can take advantage and hit the home-run plays, the 49ers' offense can definitely play in a track meet with the Seahawks. They'll be without Deebo Samuel, Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson Jr., but they get Tevin Coleman back and will look to feature JaMycal Hasty as well.
The Seahawks' run defense has been sneaky efficient, as they're a Top-10 unit, per DVOA. But the 49ers have been running the ball down opponents' throats the past few weeks, but Seattle's unit has been the best they've faced so far.
An efficient running attack, has also allowed the 49ers' pass-blocking efficiency to go from 27th to 7th in the NFL over the past three weeks. They've quietly become stout up front and with Seattle's inability to rush the passer (adjusted sack rate of 4.2 percent), I think the Jimmy Garoppolo will look confident and slice up Pete Carroll's Swiss-Cheese defense.
I think the 49ers are more confident right now, they have a clear identity on both sides of the ball, they're playing their best football of the season and will look to continue that on Sunday.
The Seahawks will not have fans at Century Link Field, the weather's supposed to be Sunny and mid-50s, which is ideal for an early-November day in Seattle.
The worst unit on the field will be the Seahawks' defense and I can see this game playing out similar to the Week 17 game from last season, where the 49ers' efficient offense will out-last Seattle in a tight battle.
I think San Francisco will prevail, 30-27 -- especially because they're wearing their All-White '94 throw-back uniforms, which have to be worth some points, right?
(Cover Image: Getty Images)