As I look back at my posts this week, you'd think this was a lock-win for the 49ers and anything less than a two touchdown victory might be a disappointment. The gambling folks appear to agree with my initial thoughts (maybe they read NN, right?). The Seahawks opened as 9.5 point favorites, but as of this evening they sit as only 6.5 point favorites, meaning heavy money is going on the 49ers.
So I thought I'd take a step back and see what the folks at Scouts Inc. and the rest of the World Wide Leader have to say about our favorite team. In their predictions, there's a 4-4 split among ESPN analysts. However, the scouts are predicting a 24-14 as they think the defense will be its stellar self and the offense wil somehow find a way to make plays.
While I realize Matt Hasselbeck is a very solid quarterback, it's hard for me to fathom what he will create Sunday. But as they say, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. According to the scouts, when the Seahawks are on offense:
The pass protection . . . must improve after Hasselbeck was repeatedly dropped by an aggressive Bills pressure package. More three-step drops and quick throws can limit the hits on Hasselbeck, but will the timing be there with a group of inexperienced wideouts? The Seahawks could get the backs and tight ends more involved on short zone reads and checkdowns. Yet another injury -- RB Maurice Morris' knee -- will mean more carries for RB Julius Jones, which could be beneficial. A rotation keeps backs fresh but can make it difficult for runners to find a rhythm.
If the Seahawks go to a lot of short reads and checkdowns, how will that affect the 49ers defensive scheme? I'd imagine Manny Lawson will get a lot of time covering the likes of John Carlson and Will Heller. With Parys Haralson and the defensive line able to bring the heat, it opens up a guy like Lawson for coverage.
The Scouts also pointed out three keys to success. For Seattle these were:
1. Give Hasselbeck more time: "Expect more conservative two-man routes and max-protect schemes this week if the 49ers try to emulate the Bills by pulling out the stops."
2. Develop a run game: "The front side of the line needs to be more physical on wide run plays, and all Seahawks blockers need to do a better job of sustaining contact."
3. Make dramatic improvements in the third phase (special teams): "Preseason concerns about coverage units were well-founded, but the Seahawks need to get much better in all areas of the kicking game."
As far as the third one is concerned, it will be tough without your regular return man, so hopefully the 49ers can take advantage. The other two will be interesting. Julius Jones was mostly a platoon running back with Marion Barber down in Dallas. So, if he's going to be carrying the load tomorrow, I'm curious how he can handle it. TJ Duckett is there to spell him, but it sounds like they want Jones to be the guy, at least for now.
It's obvious to state, but the running game will play a major role in the success of the Seahawks. It's tough enough when your top receivers are all injured, but the running game is huge for winning, but also for that first key to success. The offensive line will need to create time, but an established running game slows down the pass rush considerably. I think Matt Hasselbeck could make some nice, short plays with me as a wide receiver if given enough time. If Jones can be contained, the 49ers will be able to send additional blitzers without fear of getting burned. Furthermore, the lack of a running game would kill any play-action plays, freeing up the linebackers and safeties for blitzing or pass coverage.
I do think this will be a relatively low-scoring, defensive battle. Neither offense did much of anything last week and both defenses are going to be solid this season. It's a huge game, particularly for the 49ers. A loss drops them to 0-2 in the division. Considering the crappiness of the division and the tough non-division schedule, every divisional win is huge.