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3 keys to a 49ers victory: Battle in the trenches vs. Seattle?

The 49ers travel for a Thanksgiving matchup against the Seattle Seahawks.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

The San Francisco 49ers continued their second-half success with a comfortable 27-14 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, improving to 7-3 ahead of a crucial matchup against the Seattle Seahawks on Thanksgiving Day.

It’s the first of two matchups between the two sides, who meet again at Levi’s Stadium in Week 14, and is one that holds heavy playoff implications, as the Seahawks stand just one game behind the 49ers at 6-4.

The 49ers come into the matchup with some health concerns. Guard Spencer Burford didn’t practice all week and is listed as questionable, while fellow guard Aaron Banks practiced in limited fashion on Tuesday and Wednesday, deeming him questionable as well.

If one were not to go, guard Jon Feliciano would likely earn the start.

Heading into the game, the 49ers are seen as seven-point favorites, according to DraftKings Sportsbook, with the over/under placed at 43.5 points.

Here’s what you need to know about the 49ers’ opponent on Thursday.

Opponent Preview

The Seattle Seahawks have seen stretches of success, as well as some bumps in the road en route to a 6-4 season thus far.

Entering Week 9, the Seahawks actually held first place in the NFC West at 5-2, but have dropped two of their last three with a 37-3 loss to the Baltimore Ravens at home, as well as a 17-16 defeat at the hands of the Los Angeles Rams on the road.

The Seahawks enter Week 12 with a few injury concerns, as running back Kenneth Walker is doubtful, while quarterback Geno Smith and right tackle Abraham Lucas are questionable.

Seattle actually has a negative point differential on the season, as they’ve allowed 21.8 points per contest, while scoring 21.6 a game.

They bolster one of the worst rushing attacks in the NFL, going for just 96.6 yards per game on the ground, which ranks 25th, as well as 4.1 yards per carry.

Without Walker, that run game becomes even more limited, putting more pressure on Geno Smith, who is nursing an elbow injury sustained last week, and the passing game.

Seattle’s defense is great statistically either, as they rank 23rd in the NFL, allowing 345.6 yards per game, which leads to the 19th-ranked scoring defense, as they give up 21.8 points a contest.

The Seahawks still have a strong receiving duo in D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, while bolstering an improving, young offensive line.

Defensively, they looked to improve their fronts with the acquisitions of Dre’Mont Jones in free agency and Leonard Williams at the trade deadline.

Additionally, they have a young cornerback group, headlined by second-year player Tariq Woolen.

Keys to the Game

Red zone: Seattle doesn’t have the best defense statistically in 2023, as they’ve allowed a good amount of yards per game (345.8), which has led to opponents being able to score on them.

A part of those woes? A poor red zone defense, as Seattle ranks 28th, allowing touchdowns on 65.4 percent of opponent red zone drives.

On the other hand, the 49ers boast one of the better offenses in the NFL, getting to the red zone four times a game, which ranks fourth in the NFL, while scoring touchdowns at a 60 percent clip inside the 20-yard, good for sixth-best.

However, since Week 8, the 49ers have only converted touchdowns on 42.9 percent (5/12) of their red zone opportunities, good for 25th in the NFL.

San Francisco went 2/4 in the red zone last week, but were still able to score 27 points, which came on five consecutive drives.

Against a weaker red zone defense, perhaps they can get back on track offensively in the area.

It also helps that Seattle is the 22nd-best team in the red zone offensively, scoring touchdowns on under 50 percent of their drives.

Turnovers: Over the past two weeks, the 49ers have faced two teams that have been atop the turnover department in the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

They were able to win the battle in both games, turning it over zero times, while forcing six takeaways combined in the two weeks.

Now, they face another team that fares pretty well in the turnover department, as the Seahawks rank seventh, giving the ball away just 1.1 times per game, which is slightly below the 49ers, who rank fourth at 1.0 times a game.

On the defensive side, the Seahawks force 1.4 takeaways a game, which ranks right in the middle of the path, while the 49ers are second with 1.9 a game.

The 49ers have won the turnover battle in each of the last two weeks, which has aided their efforts in comfortable wins.

In order to receive a similar outcome, the 49ers will have to come on top in this department on Sunday in a crucial divisional matchup.

Getting to the quarterback: On Thursday, the 49ers will one of the league’s more underrated offensive lines in the Seattle Seahawks.

Seattle has protected Geno Smith fairly well this season, allowing a sack rate of 5.72 percent, good for seventh in the NFL, despite him ranking 25th amongst qualified passers in time to throw at 2.94 seconds.

Meanwhile, the 49ers defensive line has started to find its groove with Chase Young involved, recording 12 sacks over the past two weeks and a whopping 38 pressures against the Buccaneers.

The battle in the trenches will be one to watch, especially with Seattle likely missing Kenneth Walker due to injury, hampering their run game.

On the other side, San Francisco’s offensive line has allowed a 6.71 percent sack rate, which is around the middle of the pack, but face injuries ahead of Week 12.

The 49ers have struggled with good defensive tackles over the past two years, and Seattle has a strong interior option in Jarran Reed, who could pose a challenge over the middle.

Additionally, the Seahawks got Leonard Williams at the trade deadline to match with Dre’Mont Jones on the front as defensive ends.

But, the key player in the group for the Seahawks is second-year pass-rusher Boye Mafe, who has broken out with seven sacks on the season, leading the team with 34 pressures.

The Seahawks also don’t blitz at a high rate, ranking 22nd in that category with a 22.5 percent rate, but do have 31 sacks on the season, good for ninth in the NFL, meaning they’ve been able to generate pressure with their fronts.

While the 49ers look better on paper and should come out with the victory, the Seahawks defensive line poses an intriguing challenge for San Francisco’s offensive line.