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5 Qs and As with Field Gulls: Has Geno Smith fallen off?

Everything you need to know about the Seattle Seahawks in 5 questions with Field Gulls’ John Gilbert.

Seattle Seahawks v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

The San Francisco 49ers will be squaring off against the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday night with the chance to wrap up the NFC West on the line. But, similar to the last time that the Niners won the west, they’ll have to go into the lion’s den, now known as Lumen Field. They’ll even wear their ‘94 white road throwbacks to mark the occasion to boot. So, what chance can they repeat some of that 2019 magic?

Leave it to John Gilbert to give us the skinny on the state of Seattle.

Geno Smith did not look like the same quarterback that we’ve become accustomed to seeing this season in last Sunday’s loss to the Panthers. He threw two interceptions and posted his lowest completion percentage of the year, as well as one of his lowest quarterback ratings since facing the Niners back in Week 2. How do you explain this dip in play, and do you think it’s the beginning of a troubling trend or simply an aberration?

As the performance of the defense has collapsed in recent weeks, it feels more and more like Geno may be pressing under the belief that in the absence of a consistent ground attack and a defense that has had trouble stopping anyone recently, he is their only hope to win.

From my perspective, he wouldn’t be wrong holding that belief, but the fear is, of course, that in light of the turnovers against the Panthers that Pete Carroll could reign in the offense, as he has done with both Matt Hasselbeck and Russell Wilson, and that would be disastrous. Outside of Geno throwing the ball, the offense hasn’t really done much of anything in recent weeks, so the more I think about it, the more concerned I am that this could be a repeat of Week 2.

Kenneth Walker III transformed into a force to be reckoned with over the course of his rookie season, especially during a five-game stretch in which he averaged over 100 yards a game and notched seven touchdowns. Unfortunately, he didn’t practice last week and sat out against Carolina. Given it’s a short week, do you think he can play Thursday, and if not, who’ll be tasked with filling his role?

Walker produced big runs in key moments but did so as the definition of a boom-or-bust runner. It seemed like Walker was either going nowhere when he got the ball or he was breaking a long run. It feels like that as the season has progressed and defenses know more about what to expect from the Seattle offense and the tendencies of offensive coordinator Shane Waldron, that the edge that allowed the offense to be nearly unstoppable at times early in the year is gone.

The Seattle Seahawks have been near the bottom of the league in run defense this season and have allowed an eye-popping average of 225 yards over their last three contests. Can you explain how this team has had so much trouble against the run this year and why they’ll somehow manage to put the clamps on Christian McCaffrey and company?

It’s really not complicated to explain in that the defense is pretty young, and while there is a ton of upside, they’re not yet in their prime. That means they might be playing assignment sound and in the right spot, but they’re not shedding blockers and getting to the ball carrier to make the tackle. And, unfortunately, when they are shedding blockers, they are often not a very sound tackling team.

Combine an inability to get off blocks with poor tackling, and it’s a recipe for disaster when it comes to stopping the run. Carroll will certainly have the Seahawks ready to play, but between the strength of the Niners' defense and the creativity of Shanahan in the ground game, I have serious concerns.

Who are two players, one on offense and one on defense, that Niners fans might not be aware of that could make a big impact in this game?

The player on offense is less of what 49ers fans are unaware of. It’s just that they might not be aware that Marquise Goodwin has been the team’s best third receiving threat behind Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf in recent weeks and will likely finish the season third on the team in receiving yards at 32 years of age.

Yes, for those wondering, this is the same Goodwin who spent three seasons with San Francisco and is on pace for 2022 to finish as the second most productive season of his career. His numbers are nowhere near where they were for San Francisco in 2017, but he’s got a very real shot at finishing with 500 receiving yards for just the second time in his career.

On defense, the name to watch could be Ryan Neal, who starts at the other safety spot opposite Quandre Diggs. He’s been solid if unspectacular, filling in for Jamal Adams when Adams has missed time with injuries both this season and last, and he could play a huge role in run support as the Hawks look to keep the Niners offense from running wild like the Panthers, Raiders, and Bucs have all done in recent weeks.

According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Niners are 3.5-point favorites, with the over/under set at 43.5 points. Do you feel like those are fair numbers, and what’s your prediction for how this game plays out?

The over seems a little high, given the ability of the 49ers' defense to keep teams off the board, and they might as well be using a running clock with how often I expect San Francisco to run the ball.

Whether or not the Seahawks can cover a three-and-a-half point spread, this feels like one of those games that will either be a game that is won on a field goal as time expires or a blowout, with no real in between, and I’m leaning towards the nail biter, field goal game so I’ll say the Hawks cover.