Which team holds the advantage in talent?
While this is a relatively subjective topic, I will try to remain as objective as possible in assessing the starting lineups for this Sunday's NFCCG between the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks. From the offensive side of the ball, to the defensive side, my objective is to line up Seattle player Vs. San Francisco player per position. Without further ado, let's lay down the cards.
Colin Kaepernick Vs. Russell Wilson. Colin Kaepernick has the advantage.
Since the return of Michael Crabtree, the 49ers have gone undefeated. It hasn't all been pretty, but in the same duration of time, Russell Wilson has been in a relative slump and Seattle has been winning in spite of his neutral production.
Frank Gore Vs. Marshawn Lynch. Marshawn Lynch has the advantage.
While both of these running backs have so much talent, Lynch has got to be a top 3 back in the NFL right now and for the season. He nearly never goes down on first contact and it usually takes half the defense to fully bring him down.
Will Tukuafu Vs. Michael Robinson. Michael Robinson has the advantage.
While Tukuafu has impressed in being able to move from defense to offense to play this position and fill in for an injured Bruce Miller, Michael Robinson is a huge reason why Lynch gets to that second level on most plays.
Vernon Davis Vs. Zach Miller. Vernon Davis has the advantage.
This should need no explanation. Davis is one of the best in the NFL. Miller is not... nor any other tight end on the Seahawks roster.
Anquan Boldin Vs. Golden Tate. Anquan Boldin has the advantage.
Boldin has caught just about everything thrown his way. And maybe Tate has come close to that as well. Tate is not a shabby option but the stats are stacked in Boldin's favor. Boldin has and will continue to emerge as long as Crabtree is lined up opposite of him.
Michael Crabtree Vs. Doug Baldwin. Advantage Michael Crabtree.
Crabtree looked to be back to form against the Packers in the Wild Card matchup this year. Crabtree was the 49ers number one option last season and has bounced back in now giving Kaepernick three marquee targets.
Joe Staley Vs. Russell Okung. Advantage Joe Staley.
Again, like the quarterback matchup, this is a close one. But considering that Staley has a couple pro bowls on his resume and is playing at that level late in to the season, it's tough to argue in Okung's favor here.
Mike Iupati Vs. James Carpenter. Advantage James Carpenter.
Iupati is no question a pro bowl talent, but since his injury he's not looked one-hundred percent. Carpenter has been very solid on that left side in working in tandem side by side next to Okung giving Wilson plenty of time to get the ball out.
Jon Goodwin Vs. Max Unger. Advantage Max Unger.
This is just about as no-brainer as the Vernon Davis observation. Unger could very well be the best center in the entire National Football League. And he has youth on his side over Goodwin as well. Goodwin does have the experience playing in big games though. Should be interesting to watch both guys this Sunday.
Alex Boone Vs. J.R. Sweezy. Advantage Alex Boone.
Boone has been by and large the most underrated 49ers player this season. He has played at pro bowl level all year but because the Niners offensive line is so stacked has blended in very well.
Anthony Davis Vs. Breno Giacomini. Advantage Breno Giacomini.
The reason I chose Giacomini over Davis is simply because he has played better this season. Davis is with no question a mauler in the run game but his pass protection has not progressed this year and remained relatively stale.
Now on to the defense... Since they two teams run different schemes (3-4, 4-3) I will do the best I can with matchups here.
Ray McDonald Vs. Red Bryant. Advantage Red Bryant.
Being the Niners fan that I am, I want to give the edge to McDonald but Red Bryant's talent is undeniable. He demands double teams most of the time.
Glenn Dorsey Vs. Tony McDaniel. Advantage Glenn Dorsey.
Dorsey's career has been revived in San Francisco and has been playing at that first round talent the Chiefs hoped he would. He has been one of the best nose tackles in the NFL this year. It doesn't hurt that he has the four linebackers playing behind him that he does. It allows him to play more like he did in college. Dominating.
Justin Smith Vs. Brandon Mebane. Advantage Justin Smith.
This may be one that Seahawks fans avidly argue with but there is no denying the talent, the experience, and the strength that Smith possesses. He is a huge reason that Aldon Smith has been as effective as he has throughout his career to this point.
Aldon Smith Vs. Chris Clemons. Advantage Aldon Smith.
There's not a single argument in Clemons favor here. Not even a delusional one will work in this instance. Aldon Smith is perhaps the best pass rusher in the National Football League and can kill a team and bury them without notice. His coverage skills have blossomed like the Niners coaching staff had hoped it would and there is not a better outside linebacker in the league.
Navorro Bowman Vs. Malcom Smith. Advantage Navorro Bowman.
Bowman has been better than Patrick Willis for two seasons now. That is the ultimate compliment and one that Bowman has earned. It is quite amazing to have both players, Willis and Bowman, playing on one team. It doesn't seem fair. These two represent probably the best inside linebacker tandem to ever suit up next to one and other.
Patrick Willis Vs. Bobby Wagner. Advantage Patrick Willis.
When I look at these two linebackers, they are very similar. However, Wagner may be the poor mans version of the real Patrick Willis. I do not mean this as a slight to Wagner. He is a phenomenal linebacker and makes play after play. He is a sideline to sideline guy but I don't think he is quite on Willis' level. Willis is the team leader of the 49ers defense. Wagner has yet to claim that from Richard Sherman.
Ahmad Brooks Vs. Bruce Irvin. Advantage Ahmad Brooks.
Brooks has been the most quite, most consistent linebacker on this Niners squad this year. Again, this is not a slight to Irvin who has stepped his game up this year from last. But Brooks can do it all. He is the 49ers swiss army knife. Irvin has been a good pass rusher but leaves more to be desired.
Tarell Brown Vs. Byron Maxwell. Advantage Byron Maxwell.
Brown has been injured since mid season and while he has played well, he certainly is not playing up to what he was. Byron Maxwell is thriving in Pete Carroll's system and the mentality attached to be physical and not let receivers get off the line. His instincts to go after the ball have been demonstrated over and over since they lost Browner.
Carlos Rogers Vs. Richard Sherman. Advantage Richard Sherman.
Well, Sherman was perhaps the best cornerback in the NFL this year. As much as it pains me to admit that, he was. His talk backed his play and his play backed his talk. When you have a player like that (a la Deion Sanders) you really don't have to worry much on that side of the field. Some Niners fans will argue that he is overrated and he benefits from holding the guys he is covering, but he is a gifted athlete and has very good instinct.
Donte Whitner Vs. Cam Chancellor. Advantage Donte Whitner.
This may be the only area that the 49ers have the edge on in the secondary. Whitner has been an absolute beast this year and his coverage has improved from last season where he let guys slip by more oft than not. Chancellor is no slouch and is one of the reasons the 'Hawks defense has been so good. But this is a player Vs. player analysis.
Eric Reid Vs. Earl Thomas. Advantage Earl Thomas.
No question here. While Reid has shown big play ability and can change a game, Thomas is one of the best in the business. He comes from DB University and has solidified that school's reputation for churning out defensive back after defensive back. Thomas is a special player and will go down as one the Seahawks best of all-time.
So, it appears that (on paper) that the 49ers have a 59% to 41% edge in talent. This does not exclude depth, coaching, the home field advantage, or special teams. So this is not the be all, end all. It was just a fun exercise to get some conversation flowing on specific players at specific positions and which ones are better.