NFC Championship Game Preview: San Francisco (5) at Seattle (1)

Intern Files, Kevin Joyce
Jermaine Kearse, Tarell Brown

Can Seattle revive its recently stagnant passing attack in the NFC title game?

Game Info:

Location: Century Link Field

Date: Sunday, January 19th, 2014

Time: 6:30 PM ET

Weather Forecast: Partly cloudy, 50 degrees

TV: FOX

San Francisco 49ers (12-4):

Offense:

  • Total YPG: 323.8 (24th)
  • Pass YPG: 186.2 (30th)
  • Run YPG: 137.6 (3rd)
  • PPG: 25.4 (11th)

Defense

  • Total YPG: 316.9 (5th)
  • Pass YPG: 221.0 (7th)
  • Run YPG: 95.9 (4th)
  • PPG: 17.0 (3rd)

Seattle Seahawks (13-3):

Offense:

  • Total YPG: 339.0 (17th)
  • Pass YPG: 202.2 (26th)
  • Rush YPG: 136.8 (4th)
  • PPG: 26.1 (9th)

Defense:

  • Total YPG: 273.1 (1st)
  • Pass YPG: 172.0 (1st)
  • Rush YPG: 101.1 (7th)
  • PPG: 14.4 (1st)

Most recent matchup: December 8th, 2013 – San Francisco 19, Seattle 17

Analysis:

Let’s just get it out at the beginning: this is the best rivalry in the NFL today. Fortunately for us, we get to see it three times this year, the third being for all the marbles – at least as far as the NFC is concerned. These were the two best teams in their division, conference, and potentially the league, all year. We came very close to this being the NFC Championship Game last year, as the Seahawks would have advanced to the title bout if not for a last-minute Matt Ryan drive at the end of the game, knocking the ‘Hawks from the dance. This year the dream is finally a reality, and fans (at least somewhat neutral ones) wouldn’t have it any other way.

There are two glaring narratives that need to be addressed and can be dissected from different angles depending on which match-ups one believes are favorable for which team. The first is the budding rivalry between these two quarterbacks, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick, who are meeting for the fourth time in their young careers. Could this be the first of many times these two meet in the playoffs? Could this Championship Weekend be the passing of the torch from the greatest quarterback rivalry of all time to the new guard at the signal caller position? Could, 10 or 11 years down the road, “Wilson-Kaepernick” have the same ring and heft to it that “Brady-Manning” does now? Whatever does happen, the styles of these two quarterbacks as compared to their AFC counterparts present wholly different monsters for opposing defenses to wrestle with. In the AFC we have the classic, statuesque pocket passer, shredding the defense with precision and accuracy. In the NFC, we have the new-age, lithe, mobile passer, a dual threat every time he touches the ball. Both Kaepernick and Wilson boast breakaway speed, a trait with which comes the ability to turn a seemingly doomed play into a productive one. Both are also adept and efficient throwers (Kaepernick and Wilson each threw for over 20 touchdowns and less than 10 interceptions).

49ers fans hope Kaepernick will fare better than he did the last time he went into Seattle

49ers fans hope Kaepernick will fare better than he did the last time he went into Seattle

If there were any two defenses that could contain such prodigious talent at the quarterback position, however, they would be those of the Seahawks and 49ers – and that is the second of the two main narratives of this game. These two units are very arguably the best in the game today. The Seahawks have unquestionably the top secondary in the league, while the 49ers possess the best linebacking corps in the league by far. Both have the ability to contain rushing quarterbacks, as demonstrated by both defenses’ performances in their respective home wins over the opposing teams (the Seahawks beat the 49ers in Week 2, 29-3, and the 49ers beat the Seahawks, 19-17, in Week 14). The key will be, as it always has been for defenses going up against mobile quarterbacks, to find away to utilize linebackers and edge rushers to stifle the outside-the-hashes playmaking ability of Wilson and Kaepernick without compromising other phases of their defense, specifically the pass rush and against the run. Whichever defense can perform this feat to a higher degree should be the one leaving Seattle with a George Halas trophy firmly in hand on their way to the Big Apple.

Anquan Boldin has been a stud for the 49ers this year, and came up huge against the Panthers, corralling nine balls for 149 yards and a score. However, the last time Anquan Boldin had a big game and then went to Seattle to play the Seahawks, that being in Week 2 (following his 200+ yard game against the Packers to open the season), the Legion of Boom held him to no catches in a 29-3 rout. While I don’t expect Boldin to be completely shut out in this game, I certainly expect the Seahawks to hold him under the century mark and likely well under 50 yards since Richard Sherman, the best cover corner in the game today, will be blanketing him throughout the match.

Considering both defenses’ stout nature against the pass and the relatively below average (in terms of overall production, if not efficiency) pedigree of the aerial attacks on display here, the only chance I see of either offense getting into some kind of rhythm is on the backs of their elite rushing attacks. The 49ers and Seahawks, who rank 3rd and 4th in the league respectively on the ground in yards per game, possess two of the more dependable and explosive playmakers at the running back position the league has seen the past few years. While Marshawn Lynch was somewhat bottled up by the 49ers’ exemplary front seven in their two regular season match-ups, he’s been known to turn the dial up a few notches come playoff time, and his 140-yard, 2-TD performance that propelled the Seahawks into this game seems indicative to me of his readiness to shine on the biggest stage of his career thus far. The two Smiths, Justin and Aldon, and the aforementioned linebacking corps comprised of three Pro Bowlers in Patrick Willis, Navorro Bowman and Ahmad Brooks, provide a daunting task for Seattle’s big guys up front, to be sure. But Lynch’s determined running against New Orleans has me convinced San Francisco won’t be able to defend him quite as well as they have in the past. Frank Gore also presents a challenge for defenses, presenting both off-edge playmaking ability as well as the toughness and physicality to grind yards out between the tackles. The 5-time Pro Bowler has been the model of consistency, having rushed for over 1,000 yards in seven of his last eight seasons. If he can complement Kaepernick and perhaps, with his play, open up some small play-action lanes for Kaepernick to throw into, the 49ers have a shot.

Prediction:

The last time Kaepernick and the ‘Niners swaggered onto Century Link Field, the loudest outdoor crowd noise ever recorded, combined with the Legion of Boom’s stellar play, caused them to falter offensively and lose traction in every aspect of the game, one they would eventually lose by 26 points. Were this to be played on a neutral field, I’d probably pick the 49ers to win in a close one, by virtue of their having won eight in a row going into this game. The 12th man does make a difference, though, and a big enough one to swing the game in Seattle’s favor in my eyes. The 49ers had trouble just communicating to their teammates mere feet away from them, and that was during the second game of the year. If the crowd was pumped up enough to generate a staggering 138-decibel reading (and cause a small earthquake, some seismologists allege) for that game, imagine what they’ll be like when the NFC Championship is on the line? Bottom line – Pete Carroll will be heading to his first Super Bowl Sunday night after a dramatic and thrilling game that lives up to its billing.

Final: Seahawks 21, 49ers 17

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