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Week 4: 49ers vs. Seattle Seahawks

First off, my apologies for the lack of quality posting this week. Apparently everyone in school is getting sick recently and it was my turn. Such is life, but it's time to get ready for a big money matchup tomorrow. Week 4 is obviously too soon for somebody to completely take control of the division race, but the 49ers can at least get a leg up. A win tomorrow would give them wins against all 3 division opponents and the early shot at a likely relevant tiebreaker.

For now, let's take a look at some key matchups for this coming week. Our friends over at Field Gulls have some quality analysis, so I thought I'd throw in my own take.

Darrell Jackson vs. Marcus Trufant
DJack has said from Day 1 that he was looking forward to facing the Seahawks more than any other opponent, for especially obvious reasons. If Alex Smith is ever going to get on track, this is the receiver matchup to take advantage of. Trufant is certainly a solid corner, but Jackson is a cagey enough veteran to make plays. With Vernon Davis on the shelf, I could see Jackson becoming a security blanket for Smith. I'm not expecting home run-type plays, but more just a guy he can fire a strike to, to get more 2nd and short situations. Which leads me to the next matchup:

Delanie Walker vs. Julian Peterson
I know I'm not the only one who remembers Peterson's star-making, breakout performance against Tony Gonzalez in 2002. Peterson held the perennial Pro Bowler to 1 catch for 6 yards. Peterson can play any position on defense effectively and Walker is gonna have to make things happen against him. After a very solid preseason, many of us have been waiting to see Delanie Walker get a shot at making some plays. Tomorrow he gets that shot and we might finally see what he's really made of. If he can make some plays it will help to open up the run game and the rest of the passing attack.

49ers DBs vs. Seahawks WRs
I certainly don't want to denigrate another team's players, but this should be a mismatch the 49ers take advantage of all day. Nate Clements and Walt Harris have taken care of business this season and should continue to do so against Deion Branch and Nate Burleson. Clements has done all we can possibly ask for this season and aside from some early struggles against the Rams, Walt Harris has turned in a respectable follow up to his Pro Bowl season last year. I see no reason for the Seahawks to make big plays with their receivers.

49ers linebackers vs. Shaun Alexander
Has anybody else read the Sports Guy's NFL picks column this week? In his section on the 49ers-Seahawks he quoted an interesting email:

"Listening to your latest podcast right now, where you say something seems wrong about Seattle. As a longtime, die-hard 'Hawks fan, I'm telling you, the problem is Shaun Alexander. Think about how important RBs have been to 'pure' West Coast offenses -- ideally, they block, catch passes and get gritty yards. Shaun does none of those things, and you can't use the broken hand as an excuse because he's been this way since Day 1. He can't catch, won't block and (watch this one closely next time you watch them play) if he doesn't smell a huge gain, he turns south and sits down. Literally, he tries backing into the defenders and then just takes a squat. It's pitiful. Any real Hawks fan will tell you that Shaun's big year in 2005 was nothing more than the product of Jones, Hutchinson and Strong blocking, as well as Hasselbeck making smart audibles."

(Does Shaun Alexander secretly suck? I haven't watched him closely enough to have an opinion on this, but I'll be watching this weekend. Stay tuned.)

Thoughts? I'm not saying I think Shaun Alexander actually sucks. However, I do think the 49ers held him in check relatively well last season. The first game was his return from injury and he was held to 37 yards. However, the second game was a month later and they held him to 73 yards. Of course this was with a healthy Manny Lawson. Willie Parker was able to gash through the 49ers for 133 yards, while Najeh Davenport scampered for 47 yards on 5 carries. The linebacking corp will need to step up and make plays, particularly Patrick Willis. As far as I'm concerned, he's officially our most talented linebacker and best playmaker among the linebackers. He needs to be all over the field making things happen, plain and simple.

49ers offensive line vs. Seahawks defensive line
While the sack numbers aren't as high as might be expected from the Seahawks line, they will challenge the 49ers offensive line with a lot of talent. Patrick Kerney has seen his sack totals decrease the last couple of years, but he still brings a great pass rush. The 49ers offensive line has been weak to say the least. They haven't gotten the running game going and the passing game has struggled, aside from three quality drives all season. If the 49ers want to even challenge for the division title, the offense has to get going. Frank Gore needs to return to his wrecking ball ways and Alex Smith needs to hit the open receivers. In order to do this, the o-line needs to make things happen. The talent is there, but at some point we have to wonder if that's enough. Over at Field Gulls, John Morgan had the following to say:

After placing 7th in adjusted line yards in 2006, San Francisco has fallen all the way to 30th in 2007. A couple easy explanations exist for this decline, Larry Allen has finally hit the wall, Joe Staley is not as good as run blocker as Kwame Harris and Jonas Jennings could be experiencing an early decline after a career wracked with injuries.
I'm not sure if I'm quite ready to agree with his conclusions, but time is running out for excuses. By the end of Sunday, the 49ers will have a much better idea of where they're going as a team and we can only hope it's up.