One of the NFL’s best rivalries makes its return Monday night. Both teams will be without key players. The San Francisco 49ers will be without their best player, George Kittle, and possibly three other critical starters.
With the Rams losing on Sunday, the Niners can put themselves in a great position in regards to winning the NFC West with a win over Seattle. We could name a dozen compelling storylines for this matchup, here are three.
Who replaces George Kittle’s production?
With the news that Kittle will not suit up, Kyle Shanahan doesn’t have to only replace the best tight end in football; he’s replacing the best player on his team. Kyle Juszczyk is no Kittle, and it’s not fair to expect Juice to put up 8/80/2 against Seattle. Juszczyk did say there is a lot of overlap in what tight ends and fullbacks do in Shanahan’s offense. From a blocking standpoint, there shouldn’t be too much of a drop-off. It’ll be interesting to see if Juszczyk replaces Kittle while Ross Dwelley continues to play fullback. That’s what I would do, but if Shanahan has it the other way around, I’m sure he has a great reason.
The 49ers will never replace what Kittle brings to the passing game, and I don’t expect Shanahan to do so. He’s smarter than that. Opposing offenses have attacked Seattle short and over the middle of the field. Expect a heavy dose of Emmanuel Sanders finding the vacated spots of Seattle’s zone coverage, and plenty of quick throws that come off as “dink and dunk,” to keep the offense ahead of the chains.
Best on best
There are plenty of times we see “good on good” in the NFL. We rarely see the best on the best, so Monday night’s game will be a treat when the favorite for the MVP is on the field against the NFL’s best defense. We’ve discussed how the 49ers’ defense will slow down Russell Wilson.
San Francisco hasn’t played a quarterback close to Wilson’s caliber. They have faced much better offensive lines(see the Steelers and the Rams) and skill players(see the Browns, Panthers, and Buccaneers), where the Niners decidedly won each of those matchups.
It’s a team sport. It’s not Dre Greenlaw versus Wilson or Richard Sherman versus Wilson. You have to beat the 49ers’ defensive line, their speed at linebacker, and their smarts in the secondary. That’s a lot to overcome, and I don’t believe Seattle is capable of doing so.
Will the ball stop bouncing Seattle’s way?
If you have watched Seattle play this season, it’s Wilson elevating talent and bailing out the defense that may have gotten a timely turnover or stop to keep them in the game. The Seahawk’s haven’t played a game this season where the defense has had a positive EPA. Their offense looks as efficient as their DVOA suggests, but when you break down the Seahawks on defense and Special Teams, from pass defense to punt coverage, they don’t have a ranking higher than 21st.
Seattle has five one-possession victories by a combined 15 points. At some point, the way the ball bounces and poor coaching decisions are going to catch up with them. Pro Football Reference’s “Simple Rating System,” which uses a team’s point differential and strength of schedule, has the 49ers first and the Seahawks 13th. Seattle’s lucky streak ends Monday night.