The San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks have a lot in common. Heading into Sunday’s prime time game, both teams are 1-0 and potential Super Bowl contenders. Both teams feature star quarterbacks, star running backs, star defenses, and headline-grabbing head coaches. So which team has the edge heading into Sunday? The Seahawks are 2.5-point favorites, mainly thanks to their home field advantage which is second to none in the NFL. The Seahawks may come out ahead in the end unless the 49ers can conquer the crowd noise, stiff Seattle defense, and “beast mode” running game.
Can the 49ers weather the storm provided by the 12th Man at CenturyLink Field? The Seahawk fans promise to be in full roaring effect as they attempt to set a world record for the loudest crowd. The current Guinness World Record for the loudest crowd measured 131.77 decibels in March 2011 at a Turkish soccer game. To beat that noise level, the Seahawks fans will need to make enough noise to match that of a jet engine. The new rule by the NFL should help. In 2013, the league now allows teams to use both video scoreboards and audio to encourage crowd noise. Teams can use audio until 20 seconds remain on the play clock whereas previously they could only use audio to hype up the crowd until 30 seconds remained. No doubt the Seahawks will take advantage of this to distract the 49ers’ offense.
If the crowd noise does not stop the 49ers, the Seahawks’ “Legion of Boom” will do their best to try. Safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, along with cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner, make up one of the fiercest secondary units in the NFL. In 2012, the Seahawks allowed the fewest points per game (15.3) and limited opposing quarterbacks to a 71.8 passer rating, thanks in large part to that secondary. In the 49ers’ last loss to the Seahawks in December 2012, Harbaugh’s only loss to Pete Carroll since joining the NFL, quarterback Colin Kaepernick had a 52.8 completion percentage and a 72.0 passer rating. The 42-13 defeat of the 49ers by the Seahawks was Kaepernick’s worst loss in the NFL so far.
However, this time the Legion of Boom may be without the services of Browner who did not practice this week. Seattle’s defense will also be without Bruce Irvin, serving a four-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance enhancing substances. The Seahawks will also likely be without defensive ends Cliff Avril and Chris Clemons. Lacking some of its key players, the Seattle defense will be greatly challenged to take on the 49ers’ dominant wide receiver Anquan Boldin who demolished the Packers’ secondary last week.
While Seattle offers a potent defense, the 49ers’ defense is no slouch either. In 2012, the 49ers overall defense ranked 3rd in the NFL, just ahead of the Seahawks at #4. In the offseason, the Niners bolstered their already tough defensive unit with the addition of rookie safety Eric Reid who performed very well against the Packers in week one. In that victory, the 49ers’ defense forced two Green Bay turnovers. If the 49ers’ defense can force turnovers in Seattle, the crowd noise may not be an issue.
Another key to this Sunday’s showdown in Seattle, aside from the crowd noise and the defense, is the running game. The 49ers have allowed just nine 100-yard rushers in their last 84 games. Four of those rushing feats were accomplished by the Seahawks’ Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch who is one of the better backs in the league at breaking tackles. Tackling, or lack thereof, was one of the few weak spots in the 49ers’ week 1 win against Green Bay. Lynch also averaged 4.8 yards per carry against the 49ers in 2012, compared to the 3.6 yards per carry averaged by the rest of the 49ers’ opponents. Last season, Lynch ranked 3rd in the NFL in rushing yards compared to Frank Gore’s #10 ranking. Last week, Gore rushed for 44 yards, slightly ahead of Lynch’s 43 yards. Can the 49ers get their running game going with Gore and Kendall Hunter in the hostile environment of the Seahawks? Can the 49ers’ defense stop Lynch? If San Francisco can do that, overcome the crowd noise, and force some Seattle turnovers, they may overcome the 2.5-point advantage of the Seahawks and pull off an upset of a team that finished last season undefeated at home.
Sara DeBord is an NFL writer for www.footballandfutbol.com and www.baysportsreport.com.
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