One of the best rivalries in the NFL will see some new faces on the field Sunday on both sides of the ball. Who knows who will line up at running back for the Seattle Seahawks. As far as the San Francisco 49ers go, the hope is that Tevin Coleman could return by Sunday, but Jerick McKinnon and undrafted free agent JaMycal Hasty have yet to play in this rivalry game, either.
Both teams have talented players on defense in Jason Verrett and Jordyn Brooks, but we know that this will come down to the familiar faces. Can the Niners slow down Russell Wilson and his moon balls down the field? Are the Seahawks capable of slowing down Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers balanced attack? Let’s get into the top matchups ahead of Sunday’s game.
Brandon Shell vs. Arik Armstead
Seattle’s right tackle Brandon Shell ranks 10th among defensive tackles in ESPN’s “pass-block win-rate” stat. Shell is a cast-off from the Jets. PFF has credited Shell for allowing two sacks, four QB hits, and four penalties. Shell ranks 58th in PFF’s pass-blocking efficiency metric.
This is a game where Nick Bosa would terrorize Shell.
Armstead hasn’t exactly lit it up himself this season. Armstead is 22nd among edge rushers in QB hits with five and has two sacks. Has Armstead been bad this season? Not at all. The 49ers are paying Arik to be a dominant player, and that hasn’t happened.
Armstead should and must win against Shell, who plays heavy and slow. Shell is 6’5”, 324 pounds. He seems susceptible to inside counters and a strong speed rush to the outside. The latter isn’t Armstead’s game, but Arik is effective with his hands. Teams have not made Shell pay. The 49ers must do that.
Jason Verrett vs. DK Metcalf
This might be the most fun matchup of the weekend. Many fans are worried about the size difference in this matchup. Metcalf is 6’4” and 230 pounds. He’s going to have the size advantage against anyone. DK lines up toward the field, or the wide side of the formation, as does Verrett. I asked the 49ers cornerback what advantages do he and Emmanuel Moseley have going up against a bigger wideout like Metcalf:
I asked Jason Verrett if he could explain how height isn’t a skill. He talked about the advantages both he and Emmanuel Moseley have vs. DK Metcalf this Sunday.— KP (@KP_Show) October 29, 2020
Plus, his favorite tracks from Nip. pic.twitter.com/8m23Z1P8oX
If you beat the receiver to the spot, you have a chance to make a play. Verrett has always been fantastic at high pointing the ball and has done so against wideouts the size of Metcalf in the past. Being in position and not panicking when the ball is in the air is half the battle. Too often, we see a cornerback in phase with the wideout, then become flustered, trying to either find the ball in the air or multi-task as the cornerback adjusts to the throw.
What Verrett must do is trust his quickness and technique. Metcalf has the speed to run by anybody, but that speed causes cornerbacks to give DK space, which is why most of his targets come over the intermediate part of the field. Tyler Lockett is Seattle’s go-to, every-down receiver, but Verrett will be tasked with limiting the big play, which means he’ll need to stop Metcalf.
Kyle Shanahan vs. Ken Norton Jr.
The most significant advantage for the 49ers in every game is their play-caller. It’s no secret that the Seahawks defense has struggled in every facet. The passing game is where the offensive must thrive this Sunday. Seattle is 30th in passing DVOA, 23rd in dropback EPA, and 26th in dropback success rate.
Kliff Kingsbury did a great job of manipulating the Seahawks coverage rules. That happened on the first play of the game, but the Cardinals tight end dropped a pass where he was wide open 15 yards down the field. Arizona punted on the drive. Kingsbury had a nice mix of deep shots to keep Seattle’s defense honest and throws over the middle of the field. I’d expect we see a lot of George Kittle to the weak side of the formation.
That would isolate him against Quinton Dunbar in trips, who Arizona picked on last week. Dunbar gave up eight receptions on 12 targets for 79 yards. Attacking the linebackers and the safeties should be the theme Sunday. Last game, Jamal Adams replacement Ryan Neal gave up six receptions on six targets for 71 yards. Receivers were running open all game long.
San Francisco can’t afford to bail out this Seattle defense in critical situations. The Seahawks are middle of the pack in red zone scoring and 25th in third-down defense. Avoid the penalties that put you behind the sticks, don’t get too cute in the red area, and win the game.
Russell Wilson in the red zone vs. the Niners defense
You’d think Seattle’s offense resembled the Chiefs of a couple of years ago or the ‘Greatest Show on Turf’ Rams from the early 2000s. That’s not the case. The 49ers have two fewer explosive passing plays than the Seahawks. What makes this offense so deadly is Russell Wilson’s efficiency in the red zone and near the goal line. He’s not perfect, but he’s not far off, which is why the red zone interception from a week ago took everyone by surprise. The Seahawks lead the league in red-zone scoring, and it’s not close. They’re scoring 85% of the time and have scored on 100% of their red-zone trips at home.
This area of the field is where San Francisco excels, too. The 49ers are third in the NFL in red-zone efficiency, allowing only 46% of drives to end in a touchdown. The defense kept the Patriots out of the red zone. As good as Sean McVay is, the Niners haven’t seen an offense like Seattle’s. Wilson is dangerous on bootlegs and always seems to know where the correct place to go with the football is. He buys time with his legs while the defense has to cover for an extra second or two, and that makes all of the difference.
If you stop them on third down. Great. Good job, you did it. Then you realize Pete Carroll has turned over a new leaf, and all of a sudden, Wilson stays on the field on fourth down. That happened last week, where Wilson connected with Lockett on 4th & 2 for a touchdown. The Niners are the most disciplined defense Seattle has faced this season. They’re also the fastest.
This game’s difference will come down to which teams hold the opposing offenses to more field goals. Both teams will move the ball. It’s going to happen. Will Seattle’s luck run out against their division rival? If they’re settling for field goals, it will.