Three games in, the Seattle Seahawks are in last place in the NFC West.
But over the next week — as the Seahawks play the 49ers and Rams — they have a chance to prove what’s happened so far is just a slow start, or more ominously, confirm some of the worst fears about what we’ve seen so far.
Up first is a trip to Santa Clara Sunday to play a 49ers team that is 2-1 but could have been 3-0 if not for one of Aaron Rodgers’ more-patented comebacks — but also has gotten two wins against rebuilding Detroit and Philadelphia squads.
Here’s our weekly look at some keys to the game:
MATCHUP TO WATCH
San Francisco QB Jimmy Garoppolo vs. Seattle defense
Garoppolo threw his first TD pass as a 49er against Seattle in mop-up duty in 2017. But he has just one TD pass against Seattle since while being sacked 10 times and losing four turnovers, including two fumbles, with two losses in three games. The book on Garoppolo has always been the same — try to pressure him early and often and force him into mistakes. The 49ers are taking great pains to minimize that this year by getting the ball out of his hands as quickly as possible — he’s held the ball for just 2.2 seconds per throw and has an intended air yards per attempt of 5.7 ahead of only Andy Dalton and Matt Ryan of regular starting QBs (Russell Wilson, in contrast, is at 9.6). So this would be a really good time for Seattle’s edge rushers to return to life. The return of Benson Mayowa, listed as questionable with a neck injury, would help as would the presence of Alton Robinson (knee), also listed as questionable.
PLAYER TO WATCH
RB Chris Carson
The best way to help an ailing defense is to keep the opposing offense off the field. Certainly, it was a key for Minnesota last week against Seattle after the way the Seahawks opened the game. That’s where Carson comes in. He’s been effective when used this year, averaging a career-high 4.9 yards per carry. But he has just 41 carries, 13.7 per game. And it’s not because carries are being spread out — the rest of the tailbacks have just six carries. Sure, handing it more to Carson gets back into the whole “Let Russ Cook” debate. But the guess here is Pete Carroll will think getting Carson more than the 12 carries he did last week will be a good way to try to keep the 49ers defense off the field. While Seattle’s offense has not been the big issue in the team’s 1-2 start, the Seahawks have run just 157 plays, eight fewer than any team in the NFL. That’s not the typical Carroll formula for winning.
COACHING DECISION TO WATCH
Blitzing Jamal Adams
Given what would seem to be Seattle’s desire to want to get as much pressure on Garoppolo, maybe this would be a good game to unleash Adams. He has blitzed 10 times this year, according to Pro Football Reference, but does not yet have a sack or even a pressure. That compares to 98 blitzes in 12 games last year when he blitzed at least six times in all but one game (in which he was injured) and had at least one pressure in all but one game. Adams had a team-high 12 tackles against the Vikings and has allowed just 65 yards in coverage this year, according to PFR. But Adams’ ability to rush the passer is a big reason the Seahawks decided to pay $17.5 million a year. It feels like time to get him more involved in the pass rush.
Seattle’s right tackle position
The 49ers have two standout ends in Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead. Armstead is listed as the left defensive end, which would pit him against Seattle’s right tackle, a position of uncertainty with starter Brandon Shell again out with an ankle injury. Jamarco Jones and Jake Curhan split time there last week but Cedric Ogbuehi could be called off IR to play there, as well. However Seattle decides to fill the RT spot it will have a challenge in Armstead, who according to Pro Football Focus has a team-high 14 hurries this year and is the 49ers’ highest-graded defensive player through three games.
TE Will Dissly
Dissly played just 20 snaps last week and was used as a receiver just nine times. But he had a 39-yarder on his only catch of the game and has four receptions for the season for 76 yards. And he could be called on to play more depending on the availability of Gerald Everett, who was placed on the COVID-19 list on Wednesday. Everett did not practice all week but could still be eligible to play Sunday.
It’s no secret that the Seahawks have not been a second-half team so far this season. While Seattle has scored 62 points in the first half this year the Seahawks have just 13 in the second half, and none in the third quarter — making Seattle the only team in the NFL not to score in the third quarter this year. The 49ers have been more balanced, with 45 in the first half and 41 in the second. Might be a good time for Seattle to remember that games can still be won in the fourth quarter.
49ers 27, Seahawks 21
Seattle has rarely had its back to the collective wall like this during the Russell Wilson era. And the way that Seattle has usually responded under Wilson — never losing three in a row — leads one to think that the Seahawks have it in them to pull off the upset — the 49ers are a 3-point favorite as this is written. But there’s first times for everything, good or bad, and this just feels like an ominous matchup for Seattle.