How much better has Seattle Seahawks rookie quarterback Russell Wilson gotten in the past eight weeks?
That's the assessment of hard-hitting San Francisco 49ers safety Dashon Goldson, who sees an improved passer entering a Week 16 home matchup against the NFL's t-1st scoring defense (15.6 points per game) and second-best total defense (293.0 yards per game).
Sunday's primetime matchup could very well decide the NFC West.
With a win, the 49ers will clinch consecutive division titles.
In order to get back to the postseason, San Francisco will have to disrupt the production of the improving third-round draft pick, who's a perfect 6-0 at home this season.
"He looks a lot more comfortable back there," Goldson said on Thursday. "He's making a lot of plays with his feet. He was doing that a lot before he played us, but it looks like he's been getting off lately, scoring touchdowns, getting big runs for their football team."
Wilson is at his best at home.
In six outings, the 5-foot-11, 206-pound mobile passer has completed 61.3 percent of his passes for 1,083 yards and 12 touchdowns against one interception.
Vic Fangio, San Francisco's defensive coordinator, also sees improvements made by Seattle's young standout.
"The biggest difference they're doing since we last played them is they've installed the gun-read game into their offense and they're doing it a lot," Fangio said. "They had shown it very sparingly prior to the last game. Now they're doing it a lot. I think they've done it over 10 times in the last three games and that really has sparked their offense a little bit."
Already this year, Wilson has defeated the Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots, Minnesota Vikings, New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals at home. The mobile offensive schemes have only enhanced Seattle's offensive playbook. After accomplishing those six victories, Wilson became the first rookie since the NFL merger to start win his first six games at home.
Besides wisdom beyond his years, the rookie passer presents a challenge when he's on the move.
Last week in a 50-17 rout of the Buffalo Bills, Wilson became the first player in NFL history to rush for three touchdowns and throw for one touchdown in the first half of a game.
Those three scores were Wilson's only rushing scores of the year, yet the 49ers are preparing for an even more athletic passer this time around. San Francisco expects an even more confident opponent under center.
"We got our work cut out this week," Goldson stressed. "We've got to keep him contained."
Running from the quarterback position wasn't as big of a threat when the teams first met in 2012. San Francisco's Week 7 win over Seattle, one that saw a physical matchup go in the 49ers favor to the tune of 13-6, featured several dropped passes by Wilson's wideouts.
"The quarterback's just gotten better and better, as you'd expect a rookie quarterback to do," Fangio said. "He's no longer a rookie. This is his 15th pro start. So, he's really a good quarterback. He's very elusive, he's fast, got good command of their offense, throws the deep stuff well and he's been a great acquisition for them."
In Week 16, the 49ers expect Wilson's mobile development to be showcased heavily in a marquee game for a Seahawks club looking to march up the NFC's playoff seeding, while keeping NFC West title hopes alive.
"They're doing a lot of read stuff with him, a lot of read options," Goldson noted of the changes to Seattle's offense in recent weeks.
Having seen Colin Kaepernick's success in practice and faced other mobile passers throughout the regular season, the 49ers defense feels comfortable when it comes to defending option reads, and quarterback-designed runs.
"We see a lot of that in this league," Goldson detailed. "We've seen it in a couple of games already. It's nothing that scares us."
Another aspect of Seattle's offense familiar to the 49ers safety is the hard-to-tackle running back Marshawn Lynch, a college opponent of Goldson's dating back to their time in the conference formerly known as the Pac-10.
Goldson (Washington) and Lynch (Cal) are quite familiar with one another. When the teams met in mid-October, several open-field collisions between the two highlighted what many in the 49ers locker room are calling the most physical game of the regular season to date.
So while Goldson knows the physicality it'll take to bring down Lynch in the open field, it also means the sixth-year safety is eager to continue those on-field confrontations. Lynch aims for his third consecutive 100-plus yard outing against the 49ers defense, a stat that seems unfathomable based on San Francisco's recent run of stout rush defensive performances.
"You have to wrap Marshawn Lynch up, he's a big, strong, running back," said Goldson, who's fifth on the team with 105 tackles through 14 games. "He has the mentality that the first guy is never going to tackle him. He's one of the hardest, toughest backs in this league. It's going to take all 11 of us to get him down."
It'll likely take even more than San Francisco's starting defensive unit. All-Pro defensive tackle Justin Smith has yet to practice as he nurses an elbow injury suffered in the 49ers recent win over the New England Patriots.
Fangio plans on lightening his team's in-week workload and potentially using even more substitutions on the defensive line.
"There's no doubt they ended that game a little more tired than a normal game," Fangio said of his defense, a unit that played 90-plus snaps against a Tom Brady-led offense. "We had, as you said, like 95 snaps in the game and 67 of them were in the second half.
"They were more tired than usual, particularly when you have that many passes thrown against you. Pass rush is very taxing on the big guys. But I feel like we're back to normal now. I think we were a little tired yesterday, but today, I think we're fine."
Fangio also said he has complete confidence in fourth-year defensive lineman Pierre Garçon potentially stepping in for Smith if unable to play against Seattle.
Count Goldson as a Jean Francois believer, too.
"We've got guys who can step up," the 49ers safety stressed. "We know Justin's one of our captains, one of our leaders, one of our bell-cows, but we definitely have guys who can step up and carry that load for us."
An entire defensive effort will be needed against a Seahawks club coming off back-to-back 50-point performances.
But with so much on the line for both teams, expect the 49ers to pack their defense for the Pacific Northwest.
"This game is always a hard-fought game," Goldson said of the San Francisco-Seattle rivalry. "We know those guys always get up to play us and we get up to play them. It'll be a good game Sunday night."