Four Downs is back, but this time, in preparation for one of the biggest tests of the San Francisco 49ers roller coaster season as the team travels to take on the division-leading Seattle Seahawks. Seattle is coming off of their first loss of the year in an overtime thriller against the Arizona Cardinals and look to return to their season standard in Week 8. Meanwhile, San Francisco appears to have found their groove after rattling off two convincing wins against both Super Bowl LII contenders in Weeks 6 and 7.
49ers.com is joined by Anthony Garcia, associate producer and co-host of Triples Alley and Armchair Quarterback on NBC Sports Bay Area to highlight four pressing topics heading into the weekend's matchup.
You can catch Armchair QB every Monday at 12 noon PT on Facebook or 4 pm PT on NBC Sports Bay Area.
Without further ado, here are this week's Four Downs:
First Down: Biggest Storyline Heading into Week 8
@KeianaMartinTV – Can the 49ers Offense Exploit a Struggling Seattle Defense
Despite being handed their first loss of the season, Seattle's offense is rolling while averaging a league-leading 425.2 yards per game through six contests. Their season has been spearheaded by Russell Wilson, who is having an MVP-caliber season in Year 9 (more on that later). But Seattle's defense is singing a completely different tune.
The Seahawks defense is giving up nearly 500 yards per game to opposing offenses. Seattle's D is currently 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.
Additionally, their defense continues to struggle getting off the field, allowing opponents to convert on nearly 50 percent of their third down tries, the eighth-worst mark in the league.
It doesn't help that All-Pro safety Jamal Adams has missed the last four weeks with a groin injury, with signs indicating that he'll be out again on Sunday. Additionally, starting defensive end Benson Mayowa (ankle), starting cornerback Shaquill Griffin (concussion, hamstring) and starting nickelback Ugochukwu Amadi (hamstring) are likely to be sidelined in Week 8 as well.
The 49ers might be without a number of playmakers on offense, but Kyle Shanahan continues to prove that he is an offensive wizard with his ability to plug-and-play and put his players in the best position to succeed.
Four of six quarterbacks have surpassed 425 total yards against Seattle so far this season. The 49ers have yet to truly unleash Jimmy Garoppolo's arm and Sunday could be the day. Shanahan is probably somewhere licking his chops and drawing up plays as we speak.
@SportsAnthony – Seattle Litmus Test
When I saw the first half of the 49ers schedule I foolishly thought, "Oh, they'll be 7-0 heading into Seattle." The best laid plans of mice and men, I guess.
Through the first seven games the 49ers are 4-3. A disaster if you were looking at the schedule back in the spring, a miracle considering the myriad of injuries San Francisco's sustained through the first two months of the season. But given all that's happened from schedule release to Halloween, there has unfortunately been one constant, Seattle is still good. The Seahawks are 5-1 and the No. 2 seed in the NFC heading into Week 8. While the only conclusive thing anyone can say about the injury-plagued 2020 49ers is that they are certainly not the 2019 49ers.
The wire-to-wire win against the now 5-2 Rams two weeks ago on Sunday night and a blowout win against Bill Belichick and the Patriots have washed out the taste of the 26-point home thumping against the Dolphins three weeks ago. And while Seattle seems like the better team (the Seahawks are 3-point favorites and have a 50.3 percent chance of winning according to ESPN.com), I'm more interested in how San Francisco fares as opposed to the actual result.
Last week my biggest storyline was trying to figure out which team the 49ers really are. They let us know with a resounding win in New England. This week I'm interested to see how the Niners compete against one of the NFL's best. This season seems snake-bit, the 49ers have at one point or another been without their top cornerback (Richard Sherman), edge rusher (Nick Bosa), quarterback (Garoppolo), wide receiver (Deebo Samuel), tight end (George Kittle) and running back (Raheem Mostert). Yet they've persevered and are over .500 nearly halfway through the season.
They've shown they can tread water, now let's see if they can swim with the sharks.
Second Down: Seahawks Player the 49ers MUST Stop
@KeianaMartinTV – Russell Wilson… obviously
I'm going with the obvious answer here. Like a fine wine, Russell Wilson apparently continues to get better with time, and that's not great news for the rest of the NFC West. Shanahan said this week that Russell Wilson has been so good that it seems like the game is moving in "slow motion for him." Two of the prime beneficiaries of his slow-motion computation of the game are Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf. The receiving duo are two of four players in the entire NFL with over 500 yards receiving and five-plus touchdowns so far in 2020.
Through six games played, Wilson owns a 119.5-average passer rating, the highest of any quarterback since Aaron Rodgers in 2011 (122.5). He's also completing an average of 71.2 passes, a career high, and is on pace to throw 58 passing touchdowns which would be a single-season NFL record. While on the topic, 10 percent of Wilson's throws have resulted in touchdowns, the highest rate by any qualified quarterback in a season in the Super Bowl era.
Couple that with his ability with his legs. Last week against the Cardinals, Wilson was the night's leading rusher with 84 yards on six attempts. The quarterback has 237 yards on the ground through six games, 86 yards shy of Seahawks lead back Chris Carson (who is questionable heading into Sunday).
The numbers and stats go on and on as Seattle's quarterback continues his MVP campaign. But finding a way to limit a threat like Wilson is a tough, yet not impossible task for San Francisco (see Fourth Down).
@SportsAnthony – DK Metcalf
I was watching the latest Harley Quinn movie last week and there's a scene where (SPOILER ALERT) a child pickpocket steals a diamond and in an effort to hide it, swallows said diamond. A couple of scenes later she tells Harley she ate the diamond and as soon as I was thinking, "They're going to get Ex-Lax," the scene cut to Harley and the kid at a supermarket buying Ex-Lax.
I point all of this out to say that I am in no way clairvoyant (I incorrectly predicted JaMycal Hasty would get the majority of carries last week WHEN the bulk of the rushes went to Jeff Wilson Jr.) but that it seemed like lazy storytelling.
The Ex-Lax for this question is fittingly Russell Wilson. You know I'm going to pick Russell Wilson. You expect me to pick Russell Wilson. But we're not going into the Ex-Lax aisle of the supermarket for this question. I'm going somewhere else.
Earlier this season, Wilson said that he and DK could be the new "Montana/Rice," which are certainly fighting words around these parts. Heresy aside, it's clear the two have a connection. If you throw away Sunday night's game in Arizona where Metcalf only caught five balls for 23 yards, DK's had over six receptions for 90+ yards in every game. He's tied for fifth in the NFL with five TD catches and he leads the entire NFL at 21.6 yards per reception.
And the 49ers don't just have to watch out for DK when he has the ball, they have to worry about him in the event they secure a takeaway. DK's chase-down tackle of Budda Baker after a Wilson INT last week got the meme treatment. It's bad enough Metcalf is one of the best young wide receivers in the game, he might make a 49ers defender internet famous as well.
Third Down: Who Will Be the 49ers X-factor?
@KeianaMartinTV – George Kittle
As if the 49ers haven't suffered enough loss to injury through seven weeks of the season, San Francisco will be without another offensive playmaker when they travel to the Pacific Northwest. Samuel is set to miss Week 8 after suffering a hamstring injury in the fourth quarter of Sunday's win over the New England Patriots.
Losing one of your top wideouts is a tough loss for San Francisco, especially considering how Shanahan employs a weapon like Samuel. We've seen him line up in the slot, outside and in the backfield, and Shanahan utilizes him in sweeps, screens and slants. Samuel is undoubtedly an all-around gadget player who is tough to replace.
The void of Samuel and potentially three of the 49ers top running backs (Mostert, Wilson Jr. and Tevin Coleman) isn't likely to be filled by just one specific person. It will take a collective effort from the offense to attempt to replace the production of some of San Francisco's top playmakers. Fortunately enough, San Francisco has one of, if not the top and most versatile tight ends in the league.
Insert George Kittle. Kittle is a machine with his skills as one of the best run blockers in the league. He's an elite pass catcher with the ability to force missed tackles and generate yards after the reception. His physicality, toughness and willingness to take hits shows up in all facets of the game. The 49ers have a number of playmakers who are likely to step up in the absence of Samuel (Hasty is my honorable mention X-factor), but Kittle's ability to make plays in the blocking, catching and run game could be the difference maker in Week 8.
@SportsAnthony – Fred Warner
I got cute in the last answer so I'm going to cheat in this answer. The 49ers X-factor is going to be their best defender. It's going to be Fred Warner.
Warner was San Francisco's leading tackler last season and he's leading the squad again this year. He's also tied for the team lead with two interceptions. There's a buzz on 49ers Twitter that Warner should be considered as an All-Pro. 49ers radio play-by-play announcer, Greg Papa, said this week on NBC Sports Bay Area that Warner is the best middle linebacker in the NFL.
Against a wiggly, squirmy, make-you-miss QB like Wilson the 49ers are going to need guys who can get to him and bring him down. Look no further than Warner.
We have a tendency to complicate things in sports, but sometimes it's as simple as having your best players play their best games against the toughest opponents. There might be no one left harder on the Niners' schedule than Seattle, and there's no one better on the defensive side to contain him than Warner.
Fourth Down: Bold prediction
@KeianaMartinTV – 49ers Defense Holds Wilson to under 250 yards and forces two turnovers
The Cardinals may have found the blueprint to, maybe not slowing down, but minimizing Wilson as best as we've seen this season. The quarterback still put up 388 passing yards and three touchdowns in the Week 7 loss, but we found out that he's human after all, throwing three rare interceptions in that game. Wilson hasn't thrown a multiple interception game since Week 1 of the 2018 season (2). Arizona's defense managed to hold the league's highest-scoring team to just one score on their final six possessions of the game.
Meanwhile, San Francisco's defense has been firing on their own, recording five takeaways over their last two games. Despite the flurry of injuries, the defense sits in the top six in points per game (19.4), yards (309.6) and against the pass (203.3). San Francisco has allowed a quarterback to throw for over 200 yards just twice this season (Kyler Murray – 224, Ryan Fitzpatrick – 342) and there's no bigger test than Wilson who is averaging 315 yards and nearly four touchdowns a game this season.
But in this game, anything is possible, especially if San Francisco continues to play their style of football and limit those explosive plays Wilson is accustomed to making.
@SportsAnthony – Jimmy Garoppolo Throws for Over 300 Yards
Seattle may be 5-1. They may still be one of the best teams in the NFL. But make no mistake, this is not the same Seattle D we've seen in this Carroll/Wilson era. The Legion of Boom isn't walking through that door.
Seattle ranks dead last in passing defense allowing 368.7 yards a game. They're also dead last in total yards. Last week in Arizona, Kyler Murray dropped back to pass 50 times and the Seahawks D didn't hit him one single, solitary time.
Enter, Jimmy Garoppolo.
The high ankle sprain Jimmy G suffered in Week 2 seems to be a thing of the past. Garoppolo's thrown for 277 and 266 yards the last two weeks and was well on his way to hitting three bills on Sunday until the 49ers took their foot off the gas and turned to the running game to drain the clock.
It's not just the lack of a pass rush and a secondary that acts as a turnstile that could spell a big night for Garoppolo, it's the personnel. San Francisco will be without Mostert and Wilson. Jr. which could mean a greater emphasis on throwing the ball. The 49ers will be without Samuel, but rookie wideout Brandon Aiyuk is coming off his first 100-yard game of his career.
Jimmy G's the $137 million man, and you pay a guy that much to throw the ball around in games like this. Time for Garoppolo to earn that money.
Check out some of the best photos from the week's practices as 49ers players begin preparations for their matchup against the Seattle Seahawks.