The West Coast rivalry kicks off in Week 8 as the San Francisco 49ers travel to the Pacific Northwest to take on the Seattle Seahawks. Seattle looks to bounce back after falling to the Arizona Cardinals in a Week 7 overtime loss, meanwhile, San Francisco aims to improve their record to remain relevant in a stacked NFC West division. As both teams prepare for their first meeting of the season, here are five things to watch for at CenturyLink Field on Sunday.
1. Russ' MVP Campaign
Russell Wilson is playing like an MVP in 2020 and is off to a historic start seven weeks into the season. The ninth-year quarterback currently leads the NFL in passing touchdowns (22) and passer rating (119.5) this season. National pundits are calling him the "master of the deep ball" as Wilson leads the NFL with 569 yards and nine touchdowns on deep passes this season. Speaking of touchdowns, what makes him more dangerous is that 10 percent of his passes have resulted in scores, the highest rate by any qualified quarterback in a season in the Super Bowl era.
He's also seen great production out his No. 1 and 2 receivers, Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf. Lockett (542 receiving yards and seven touchdowns) and Metcalf (519 receiving yards and five touchdowns) are two of four players in the entire NFL with 500-plus receiving yards and five-plus receiving scores in 2020. The Seahawks top-rated offense is humming, but San Francisco's Top 3 defense aims to slow down their momentum on Sunday.
The NFL world recognized that Wilson is indeed human, throwing three interceptions on "Sunday Night Football" against the Cardinals. He also has struggled on third down, completing 44.7 percent of his passes for 201 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. He's also been sacked six times on third down situations. Overall, Seattle's offense sits near the bottom of the league in third down conversion rates at 34 percent (31st). Expect this to be an area of focus for San Francisco in Week 8.
2. Seattle's Defensive Woes
While the Seahawks offense has been running up the score, so have their opponents. Seattle's defense is giving up nearly 500 yards per game to opposing offenses, which puts them on pace to have the worst total defense (479.2 yards per game) and pass defense (368.7 yards per game) in the Super Bowl era. Four of six quarterbacks have surpassed 425 total yards against Seattle so far this season.
While the team's offense has struggled to convert on third down, the defense has struggled to get off the field. Seattle is allowing opponents to convert nearly 50 percent of their third down tries, the eighth-worst mark in the league.
It's also worth noting, Seattle's pass rush failed to register a single quarterback hit or sack against Kyler Murray in Week 7 and allowed eight explosive pass plays to Arizona's offense. What does this mean for Jimmy Garoppolo? Well, while Murray has a varying skillset than that of Garoppolo, San Francisco's O-line is coming off of back-to-back performances of managing to keep the quarterback relatively upright. They'll need to continue the trend to allow Garoppolo and Co. to effectively move the ball downfield.
3. (Potential) Return of Offensive Reinforcements?
San Francisco will be without several playmakers with Raheem Mostert (ankle), Deebo Samuel (hamstring) and Jeff Wilson Jr. (ankle) all unavailable for the divisional matchup. However, the 49ers could gain Tevin Coleman (knee) and Jordan Reed (knee) back on offense this week. Along with nickel corner K'Waun Williams, the 49ers opened the practice window for the trio who are currently on Injured Reserve.
Coleman missed the 49ers last five contests while working his way back from a Week 2 knee injury and was a limited participant during the week's practices. Reed was initially expected to miss 6-8 weeks with an ankle injury suffered in the Week 3 win over the New York Giants.
Prior to being placed on IR, Reed was coming off of his best performance as a member of the 49ers against the New York Jets with George Kittle sidelined earlier in the season. If available, Sunday could mark the first time the 49ers see both Kittle and Reed take the field together in 2020.
Although Week 9 against the Green Bay Packers on "Thursday Night Football" is a more realistic timetable for return, head coach Kyle Shanahan is "holding out hope" for their availability in Sunday's divisional match.
"I think all three of those guys have a chance this week," Shanahan said. "So, we will see at the end of the week with them."
4. Which banged-up group of running backs has the advantage?
The 49ers could potentially be without three of their running backs heading into Sunday. Following a career performance against the New England Patriots in Week 7, Wilson Jr. joins Coleman and Mostert on Injured Reserve. Wilson Jr. got rolled up with a defender on his third touchdown of the game and was carted off the field shortly thereafter. That leaves Jerick McKinnon and rookie JaMycal Hasty as the only other healthy backs on the active roster should the 49ers hold Coleman out another week. Despite the 49ers carousel of running backs this season, San Francisco has still seen production with their ability to plug-and-play ball carriers this season.
Hasty has looked impressive in his three games this season, carrying the ball 20 times for 103 yards while being buried on the depth chart. The undrafted rookie is in line to see a larger workload while the 49ers work their way through injuries in the backfield.
As for Seattle, their leading rusher Chris Carson left Sunday's game with a sprained foot. Familiar face Carlos Hyde and fellow backup Travis Homer did not practice this week while dealing with various ailments. Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll didn't rule out any of Seattle's three injured backs for Sunday's game, but if they can't go, it leaves rookie DeeJay Dallas as the lone healthy running back heading into Week 8. Dallas has notched 23 snaps on offense for Seattle this season, and notched two carries for eight yards and four receptions for 33 yards.
5. 12-less Atmosphere
CenturyLink Field has had the reputation of being one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL, attributed to their fans, collectively known as the "12th man," and the strident aesthetic of the stadium. The stadium was built with hard surfaces that deflect crowd noise back onto the field, making communication a challenge for the opposition. For years it has been regarded as one of the toughest places to play with the raucous crowd noise forcing false starts for opposing offenses having to adjust with a silent count.
It will be a completely different look and feel in Week 8 as the team announced that they will move forward without fans in attendance through Sunday's game.
While many 49ers embrace the hostile road atmospheres, Garoppolo and Co. should have an easier time operating than they did in their last meeting without having to grapple with crowd noise.
"I'll miss the atmosphere up there. It's one of the coolest places to play just with the fans and everything," Garoppolo said. "But definitely with the cadence, the procedure and all that stuff, it will definitely make it easier for us. So, looking forward to that."