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49ers-Seahawks: Lower profile key matchups and players

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Earlier this week we had a FanPost inquiring about previews for the upcoming matchup between the 49ers and Seahawks. In looking back I realized over the last few years we really hadn't had much in the way of simple matchup previews each week. Florida Danny will post his more in depth statistical previews as the season moves along, but I want to get some more basic previews out there.

Rather than do a traditional position-versus-position rundown (e.g. something as useless as Frank Gore versus some random middle linebacker in the overall rushing game), I thought it'd be fun to dig a little deeper and look at matchups and players that could play a big role on Sunday that might occasionally be overlooked. Many of us here at Niners Nation look at the nitty gritty, but I thought it'd be a good idea to pull it right to the forefront. For example, yesterday we discussed the issue of the 49ers offensive line and the noise at Qwest Field. It's something we all know about but hadn't discussed a whole lot.

Today, let's take a look at some of the key players and matchups that are flying a bit under the radar (the Vernon Davis one is meant to focus more on the Seahawks defenders). This focuses on special teams and offense. I have focused on four players/matchups for now, but feel free to throw out any other matchups you want to discuss. I haven't written about some of the obvious matchups (punt/kick returners, Gore versus interior of Seahawks DL, Crabtree vs Trufant, etc).

Tomorrow I'll take a look at key 49ers defense versus the Seahawks offense and some of the lower profile key matchups and players.

Taylor Mays
Yesterday, Matt Maiocco put together a column about the special teams role of Taylor Mays this Sunday. Given the departure of Michael Robinson, other folks on special teams will need to raise their game. MM indicated Mays is expected to focus entirely on special teams this Sunday. One of Mays biggest pros coming out of USC was his big-hitting ways. It might have sometimes led to big plays by the opposing offense, but many times he laid out some talented players.

This big-hitting ability would seem perfectly suited for special teams. As a gunner the whole goal is to blow up the return man. Aside from the intrigue of seeing Mays gunning down the field is the need for solid special teamers in light of Robinson's departure. Special teams is more than one player, but anytime you lose a Pro Bowler on any unit, you've got your work cut out for you.

At this point we don't know how Mays will turn out as a pro, but this weekend should be interesting given the dynamics between Mays and Carroll (and the fact that Mays is a Seattle native). It will be interesting to see if he's got extra motivation and adrenaline in this game beyond it being his first regular season action.

Earl Thomas/Lawyer Milloy/Will Herring (or David Hawthorne/Aaron Curry as well?)
The 49ers have plenty of offensive weapons, but Vernon Davis remains arguably the most explosive. Frank Gore is certainly big time, especially against the Seahawks. However, I'd argue that even with his big runs against the Seahawks last season, Gore is still a work-horse back for the purposes of this argument. Michael Crabtree has the talent to be the most explosive talent on the 49ers, but he still has plenty to prove.

Which leads me to Vernon Davis. A consecutive season like last year would certainly raise him into the stratosphere of premier tight ends on a more permanent basis. That seam route we saw him convert time and again remains the basis for my man-crush on the awesome abilities of Vernon Davis. No linebacker can keep up with him step for step, while no safety can match up with him physically in the Vernon Zone (what one user described as approximately 30 yards and in).

The point of all this is that it will be interesting to see who the Seahawks use to defend Davis. Davis' patented seam route generally seems to come when he is lined up as a traditional TE with the rest of the offensive line. This generally leaves an outside linebacker initially covering him, with one of the safeties then protecting at the second level (generally seems like the OLB will release on Davis and let the safety attempt to pick him up).

The Seahawks OLBs are fairly young and I'm honestly not sure which one would cover Davis. Any insight on this, particularly from Seahawks fans cruising through? More importantly, in my opinion, is the potential for long time veteran Lawyer Milloy (14 years in the NFL!) or rookie Earl Thomas to get VD duties (yes I purposefully went with that). Whomever ends up on Davis will have a huge battle ahead of them. Can the Seahawks find any success in this matchup?

Anthony Davis/Chilo Rachal vs. Chris Clemons/Brandon Mebane
I always mix up who is lined up on which side when comparing the offense and defense, so forgive me if I've lined this up incorrectly. Clemons and Mebane are slotted in at left defensive end and left defensive tackle, which if I'm correct would place them opposite the 49ers right tackle and right guard.

If that's in fact correct, that would seem to put the stronger side of the Seahawks line against the weaker side of the 49ers offensive line. Rachal and Davis have a good deal of upside but there have been and will continue to be bumps in the road. The Seahawks defensive line isn't phenomenal so it's certainly possible the right of the 49ers line could get some confidence out of this matchup. At the same time, if Mebane continues his development, this could be a matchup that causes more difficulty than expected, particularly for Rachal on the interior.

Josh Morgan vs. Kelly Jennings
The Seahawks trading of Josh Wilson decreases the short term depth of the secondary, which could bode well for Josh Morgan, as much as anybody else. It would seem like Morgan will spend a lot of time opposite Kelly Jennings, although at some point he might find Marcus Trufant across from him. Whatever the case, I think Morgan will prove to be a lot more important to the 49ers offense than some might think.

We know Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis will get their looks with Ted Ginn looking to stretch the field. At the same time, Morgan's work could prove incredibly valuable in opening up the field for the rest. A strong showing from Morgan (this week and going forward) would be huge for opening up the rest of the field for the more discussed 49ers weapons. It will be interesting to see how much focus Morgan/Jennings gets as compared to the rest of the team. Smith will need to mix in some looks Morgan's way if he wants to keep the Seahawks defense honest.