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Top 10 Spotlight: 49ers vs. Seahawks

Posted Sep 12, 2013

49ers.com ranks the top 10 storylines to track for this 49ers-Seahawks matchup.

The 49ers open NFC West play with an anticipated road matchup with the Seattle Seahawks on “Sunday Night Football.” The teams split the 2012 season series and have made several corresponding roster moves this offseason to remain as NFC title favorites. The rivalry between the clubs remains intense and will be followed closely by football fans all over the country.

We rank the top 10 storylines to track for this 49ers-Seahawks matchup.
 
10. Coverage Units
Kassim Osgood was signed this week to fill in on special teams. The three-time Pro Bowl coverage player will bring his respected play to the 49ers coverage units. With rookie linebacker Nick Moody being placed on Injured Reserve with the return to action designation, Osgood’s presence is important for the 49ers. The veteran wideout knows San Francisco’s special teams system after spending training camp in Santa Clara. The 49ers had a strong debut on special teams in Week 1. Kick-off coverage was especially good. San Francisco allowed 13.3 yards per kick return on three attempts. The longest return from the Green Bay Packers was a 17-yard return.
 
9. The Cowboy's Impact
All-Pro defensive tackle Justin Smith was not healthy for last season’s regular season road loss in Seattle. He’s back now, healthy and dominating the line of scrimmage. Smith is one of many 49ers defenders who has respect for Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch. Smith’s presence in San Francisco’s 3-4 defensive alignment will be a key factor as the 49ers look to limit Lynch’s hard-running ability. Smith’s tandem pass-rushing stunts with third-year linebacker Aldon Smith are another key dimension of the 49ers defensive plans. Those rushes weren’t available last season on the road. They will be readily available this time around.

8. Davis Downfield
Vernon Davis’ regular season debut was overshadowed by Anquan Boldin’s NFC Offensive Player of the Week effort, but the 49ers tight end was a key contributor in San Francisco’s comeback win. His efforts were not forgotten by his teammates. Davis caught a pair of touchdowns and provided the best reception of the game, a 37-yard seam route from Colin Kaepernick. Davis ran free down the middle of Green Bay’s defense and reached out for a rainbow pass from the 49ers quarterback. Davis, the eight-year veteran, will be tested over the middle this week. Seattle’s secondary features ferocious hitters, including strong safety Kam Chancellor, the player responsible for an illegal hit against Davis that knocked him out of last season’s road loss. Davis’ downfield progress will be important to monitor this week. Davis is fearless when it comes to going over the middle. He won’t back down from the challenge of competing for deep passes against Seattle.

7. Reid's Encore
One game, one interception and one Pepsi Rookie of the Week nomination. Not bad for San Francisco’s first-round draft pick, Eric Reid. Playing against one of the best quarterbacks in the NF, Reid showed he belonged, according to head coach Jim Harbaugh. Reid was a ferocious hitter but, more importantly, he had veteran-like ball skills. Lost in the conversation, Reid saved a 49ers touchdown in the second half. When Rodgers lofted a 40-yard deep ball in the end zone, Reid timed a perfect jump to catch the pass at its highest point. Although the takeaway was negated by a 49ers offsides penalty, Reid made sure Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb was unable to catch a touchdown pass on a free play. Reid’s awareness and all-around skills will come into play this week against Seattle’s play-making offense.

6. Loud Noises
Hand signals will be a key this week. Seattle’s home crowd can be so loud at times, it makes no sense to even try and scream out plays on the field. The 49ers will use intelligent communication strategies this week. But even more crucial to solving the noise problem, the first 30 minutes of action will dictate how enthusiastic the home crowd will be on Sunday night. If the 49ers can make a statement early, as suggested by star running back Frank Gore, the crowd could become restless by half time. It’s a tall order considering how competitive the Seahawks have been at home, but it certainly underlines the key of firing on all cylinders to start Sunday’s matchup.

5. Boldin vs. Sherman
One player likes to talk. The other likes to quiet the talking. Boldin is the one who will be quiet on Sunday. The 208-yard receiving wideout enters Sunday’s matchup focused on the work ahead and has less concerned about the individual matchup against Seattle’s best cornerback, Richard Sherman. If the Seahawks’ other starting cornerback, Brandon Browner, is unavailable to play for a second straight week, expect Sherman to consistently match up with Boldin. As far as games within a game are concerned, this will be a battle of two aggressive, physical players on the perimeter. Boldin noted how Sherman plays with patience at the line. Boldin also noted that he’s never been the type to spar verbally with an opponent.

4. Edge Rush
The 49ers sacked Aaron Rodgers twice last week and will have an even greater challenge against mobile quarterback Russell Wilson. The second-year passer was sacked twice himself last week, but he still poses a threat with his scrambling ability. San Francisco feels fortunate to have a pair of mobile quarterbacks, Kaepernick and rookie B.J. Daniels, to have them prepared for Wilson’s running talents. Still, the best way to get to the quarterback is with creative blitzes and dominant edge rushers. Aldon Smith posted 1.5 sacks to start his 2013 season and is hungry to challenge the NFL’s single-season sack record. Smith will have his work cut out for him this week. After facing a rookie in Week 1, he’ll battle Russell Okung, a highly respect left tackle in the NFL.

3. Aggressive Coaching Decisions
It wouldn’t be a Jim Harbaugh vs. Pete Carroll football game without an aggressive play-call or two from either side. The two have formed one of the more noticeable coaching battles in both the collegiate and professional ranks. Both men are innovators and motivating coaches who are unafraid to make tough decisions on gameday. Harabugh, for example, had the confidence late in a Week 1 victory to successfully convert a 4th-and-2. The decision led the 49ers to burn crucial time off the clock, and it set up a 33-yard Phil Dawson field goal for the game’s final points.
 
2. Beast Mode
Seattle’s running attack has San Francisco’s complete attention. The player known for aggressive running, Lynch, enters Sunday’s primetime with four, 100-yard performances against the 49ers. Lynch even was compared to Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith by defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. San Francisco will look to employ a swarming tackling approach to the hard-running play-maker. It will also help that the 49ers will utilize a rotation on the defensive line. Ian Williams is expected to get the start at nose tackle, but he is able to move all over the defensive line, just like his backup, Glenn Dorsey.

1. The Eyebrow Bet
All eyes will be on the quarterbacks this week. It doesn’t get any easier to avoid attention when you shoot a commercial that promises the losing quarterback has to shave off an eyebrow. That’s the world we live in. Kaepernick and Wilson made sport of each other in the offseason commercial for EA Sports. There’s no reason to believe the bet will actually happen. Both have downplayed it and said it was for fun. So while the bet had everyone’s attention early in the week, the real emphasis will be on the in-game performance of each signal-caller. How the respective quarterbacks operate in key situations, red zone and third-down plays will play a huge part in determining Sunday’s winner.

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