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Top 10 Spotlight: 49ers vs. Seahawks

Posted Dec 6, 2013

Breaking down the top 10 storylines to track for the 49ers vs. Seahawks Week 14 matchup.

The San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks renew one of the NFL’s most intense rivalries this Sunday at Candlestick Park. Both teams have been atop the division in each of the last three seasons with San Francisco taking home the crown in each of the past two years. With a win on Sunday, Seattle can clinch its first division crown since 2010.

Here are the top 10 storylines to track for Sunday.

10. King James
LaMichael James felt uncomfortable as a punt returner last week. The second-year running back was battling a case of food poisoning. James has not been on the injury report this week and appears to be all good from the gameday scare. The reserve running back bobbled a few of his punt returns last week and didn’t seem to be comfortable in his newfound role. James’ production will be important this week against the NFL leaders in punt coverage. Seattle has allowed 15 punt return yards all season. That is not a typo. Jon Ryan’s punts have tons of hang-time, only 12 of his 47 punts have been returned this season. If James gets a chance to return one, he’ll need to make Seattle pay.

9. Browner and Harvin
Two of Seattle’s difference-makers, cornerback Brandon Browner and wide receiver Percy Harvin, will not play. Both were ruled out by Pete Carroll on Friday. Browner has been battling a groin injury and sat out of Thursday’s practice after being limited on Wednesday. The physical cornerback has been out of action since Seattle’s Nov. 10 game against Atlanta. As for Harvin, the hip injury that kept him off the field for the first 10 weeks of the season is still acting up. Harvin will miss a second consecutive game.

8. Air Davis
Will Vernon Davis continue hurdling opponents in the open field? Seattle’s defensive backs have likely planned for it. The 49ers tight end has jumped over opponents in consecutive games and appears to have a fondness for showcasing his aerial talents. Perhaps the bigger question is this: Will we see Davis’ end zone celebration, the jump shot? Davis has caught touchdowns in three consecutive weeks and leads the 49ers with 10 on the season.

RELATED:  Vernon Davis Still Really Athletic | Photos: Vernon Hurdles Rams

7. Boone a Savage
It wasn’t easy, but Alex Boone made it look that way. The former college tackle moved over to left tackle last week when Joe Staley went down with an MCL sprain. Staley appears to be on track to return to the lineup this week. Boone showed he can be a tackle if needed, but he will likely resume his duties at right guard. The 49ers are likely to be without Mike Iupati for a third straight game. He’s the only player who didn’t practice on Thursday. Adam Snyder will start once again against a large Seattle defensive front with underrated nose tackle Brandon Mebane anchoring the unit.

6. Seattle in the Second Half
It’s never over until it’s over with the Seahawks. Russell Wilson has led four, fourth-quarter comeback wins in 2013. After halftime Seattle has outscored opponents 207-75 in the second half of games. When the teams met in Week 2, the Seahawks outscored the 49ers, 24-3. Patrick Willis and other team leaders have talked about a 60-minute effort need against Seattle. In light of their recent success in the third and fourth quarters, a halftime lead will be nothing to cheer about for San Francisco. The final score is all that matters.

5. Avoiding Cut Blocks
Ian Williams was lost for the season because of Seattle cut-block in Week 2. The third-year nose tackle suffered a broken angle when Seahawks guard J.R. Sweezy legally blocked Williams below the waist in the tackle box. Since the injury, Glenn Dorsey has stepped in admirably as the anchor in San Francisco’s 3-4 defensive scheme. Dorsey is also well aware of Seattle’s cut-block scheme and will be prepared to face such blocks in what expects to be a physical game.

4. Crabtree Paired with Boldin
Michael Crabtree is learning a lot from 11-year veteran Anquan Boldin. He also likes how their physical brand of play practically mirrors each other. Crabtree isn’t concerned with Seattle’s defensive backs. He didn’t want to discuss popular cornerback Richard Sherman. Instead, Crabtree was more apt to talk about the physicality of the 49ers wide receivers. If the Seahawks elect to continue using press-man schemes, Crabtree likes his chances of beating the man-to-man looks.

3. Get Gore Going
Frank Gore has 121 rushing yards in the last three games. This is not a concern to the 49ers all-time leading rusher. Gore just wants to win. Seattle bottled the future Hall of Famer in Week 2, but it’s not like Gore hasn’t enjoyed success against the NFC West rival. Gore has 1,254 rushing yards, the most yards he has against any opponent. Gore remained upbeat in the locker room this week and expects defenses to not crowd the box with the return of Crabtree in the passing game.

2. Kaepernick and Wilson
The eyebrow bet between Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson got a lot of play when the teams met in Week 2. It hasn’t been brought up 12 weeks later. That’s because there’s no promotional element to this game. It’s just good ol’ fashion football talk. Kaepernick has put together two solid passing outings in recent weeks and has led his team to victories. Wilson, on the other hand, has been a steady leader and has a “legitimate” chance of being named MVP, according to 49ers defensive coordinator. Both quarterbacks will have a major say in Sunday’s victor. Kaepernick has yet to beat Wilson head to head, but a reloaded roster and homefield advantage could be the difference in Kaepernick beating Seattle’s signal-caller for the first time.

1. Takeaways, Takeaways, Takeaways
You hardly ever see Wilson make a mistake. That’s a great reason why the Seahawks are 11-1 and on pace to be the NFC’s No. 1 seed. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to make this conclusion, but it’s the truth: The 49ers need to force Wilson to make mistakes. Sacks would be great. Same goes for turnovers. San Francisco’s defense is playing much better since Week 2, and it also helps that Aldon Smith has returned to the starting lineup. Wilson is a “nuisance,” according to Willis. But he’s also been sacked 3 times by Smith in three games. If the 49ers can keep their rushing lanes and make plays on the football if Wilson’s forced to throw earlier than he wants, San Francisco will be in line to snap a two-game losing streak to Seattle.


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