By John Boyle Herald Writer
The all-time series is deadlocked at 15-15, but this is the first playoff meeting between the two franchises. Seattle has a 9-7 edge at home, including two consecutive wins by a 71-16 margin.
49ers RB Frank Gore vs. Seattle’s front seven
There are so many things that could determine what should be a close match-up between these NFC West rivals, but if you want to boil it down to one key for Seattle, it’s this: stop Frank Gore, and you stop the 49ers offense. The 49ers have won plenty of games in recent years without Gore having a big day, but against Seattle, the ’Niners tend to go as Gore goes.
Since Pete Carroll took over the Seahawks in 2010, Gore has faced Seattle seven times. In four 49ers victories, Gore rushed for 59, 83, 131 and 110 yards, with those two big performances coming in San Francisco in the past two seasons.
In Seattle, on the other hand, Gore has been held to 16 yards this season and 28 yards in last year’s loss, and had just 38 in a 2010 loss at CenturyLink Field. San Francisco’s lone victory in Seattle over the past four seasons, not surprisingly, came in Gore’s best game in Seattle, an 83-yard performance in 2011 that included a touchdown.
“He runs downhill and behind his big tackles and guards,” said safety Kam Chancellor, who despite not technically being a member of the front seven, will be a big part of Seattle’s effort to stop the run. “He does a good job of that, finding the holes, picking and choosing which hole to go in, in and out of holes, and then he’s straight up field. I think he does a great job at finding holes.”
Just as the Seahawks want to establish Marshawn Lynch to set the tone, the 49ers know that having a running game will be key on the road. With Gore held in check in the September meeting between Seattle and San Francisco, the Seahawks were able to feast on Colin Kaepernick, intercepting the quarterback three times while holding him to a 46 percent completion percentage.
The Seahawks did a decent job against Gore in last month’s loss at Candlestick Park, right up until he busted loose on a 51-yard run that set up the game-winning field goal. Last week in Carolina, Gore again came up with a big run late that helped clinch a victory.
“He did it again the other day, he busted one again,” Carroll said. “He’s really capable, he’s a fantastic runner, he’s got great sense, and he’s got as good a sense in the line of scrimmage as anybody that’s playing in the game. If you make a mistake he takes advantage of it, and he certainly did that against us, that’s exactly what happened.”
KEY NUMBER 19
The highest point total the 49ers have hung on Seattle in the past five meetings, doing it twice in victories. In other words, 20 points might be the magic number for the Seahawks.
Seahawks: WR Percy Harvin, who suffered a concussion in last week’s game, will not play. Pete Carroll said Harvin would make it back next week if the Seahawks advance. Linebacker K.J. Wright, who has not played since fracturing his foot six weeks ago, will play, though Carroll wouldn’t say if Wright will immediately return to his role as the starting weakside linebacker. Backup DT Jordan Hill is questionable with a groin injury.
49ers: Starting CB Carlos Rogers is questionable with a hamstring injury, though he told reporters in San Francisco that he expects to be available. Also questionable is fullback Will Tukuafu, who suffered a knee injury last week. Everyone else who showed up on this week’s injury report is listed as probable.
BREAK IT DOWN
Seahawks will win if they …
Don’t let Colin Kaepernick out of the pocket. Kaepernick has yet to show he can beat the Seahawks with his arm in Seattle, completing just 50 percent of his passes in two games here, but as the Packers can attest, the quarterback’s legs travel very well. If the Seahawks can keep Kaepernick contained, that could be good news for the ball-hawking secondary.
Jump on the 49ers early. How have the Seahawks blown the 49ers out twice in the past two years despite San Francisco being one of the league’s best teams? Simple, they jumped ahead early, got the crowd fired up, then watched the game snowball from there as the 49ers try to play catch-up against a defense that thrives on those situations. Whether it’s an early touchdown drive, a turnover or a big special teams play, a quick start by Seattle could rattle a visitor who has bad memories of CenturyLink Field.
Get the tight ends involved. Zach Miller has just seven catches in his past five games, but might he be due for another postseason breakout? If you’ll recall, Miller was Russell Wilson’s favorite target in the postseason a year ago, catching 12 passes for 190 yards in two games. No. 2 Luke Willson, meanwhile, enjoyed the best game of his rookie season when he faced the 49ers last month, catching three passes for 70 yards and a touchdown.
49ers will win if they …
Stop Marshawn Lynch. Just as San Francisco needs to run the ball to take pressure off its passing game, the 49ers have to do what they can to force Russell Wilson to make plays. Seattle’s passing game hasn’t been at its best of late, while Lynch is coming off a 140-yard, two-TD performance. Few running backs have found success against the 49ers in recent years, but Lynch is one of them, averaging 98.2 yards per game in the last five meetings with San Francisco.
Take care of the ball. The biggest reason for San Francisco’s struggles in Seattle has been the backbreaking mistakes. The 49ers turned the ball over five times in this season’s 29-3 loss, and had two turnovers and a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown in last year’s 42-13 drubbing in Seattle.
Avoid momentum-busting penalties. In a game that figures to be close, as well as heated, a costly penalty could make the difference if either team has trouble keeping its cool. That could mean trouble for the 49ers, who were called for 12 penalties for 121 yards in Seattle earlier this season.
Seahawks 20, 49ers 16
After two consecutive lopsided affairs in Seattle, this version of Seahawks vs. 49ers figures to be much closer, but Seattle still will find a way to do enough against the 49ers, whose offense has yet to prove it can function well at CenturyLink Field.