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The 49ers face a must win game against Seattle on Sunday. Not because it will help them to win the division, that ship has sailed. This is a statement game for the 49ers. A win and they become a real contender in the eyes of many. A loss and the Seahawks own them and the rest of the season is just a march to the offseason, no way they get to the Super Bowl.
With that as the backdrop let's take a look at 5 burning questions to which the answers will be key to the outcome of the game.
1) Can the defense slow down Marshawn Lynch?
Over the 49ers last 96 games they have allowed a 100 yard rusher only 9 times. Unfortunately for the 49ers, one player has recorded 4 of those and he will be on the opposite side of the field on Sunday night. Marshawn Lynch has been tough on the 49ers. Lynch is a tough runner, with great vision who can pound through you, or cut back on a dime when you over pursue. The key this week for the 49ers is for the backside of their defense to take the proper pursuit angles and not allow there to be cut back lanes.
Perhaps more important than the number of yards Lynch gains, is the number of carries that he gets. In the last 5 meetings Lynch has carried the ball more than twenty five times only twice and those happen to be the two Seahawks victories. Keeping the ball out of Lynch's hands should mean the 49ers are controlling the tempo and time of possession, both of which have gotten away from them during their recent trips to Seattle.
2) Will the defense be able to contain Russell Wilson?
I'm not talking about keeping his stats down here, rather containing him in the pocket. With his small stature Wilson often is at his best when he can move around. The key for the 49ers pass rush this weekend will be to maintain their rush lanes and force Wilson to beat them from the pocket. It all starts with getting a good push up the middle to put guys in his face, and then for the defensive ends to not get deeper than he is. Force him to step up, but don't get too deep to where he can escape up the middle, and then get your hands up.
3) Will Roman get Gore involved?
Greg Roman opened his tenure as the 49ers offensive coodinator with 3 straight wins over the Seahawks. In those wins he called Frank Gore's number an average of just slightly over 20 times per game, with the lowest being 16 in their victory in the first matchup last season. In the two games since, both 49ers losses, Roman has called Gore's number a total of 15 times combined.
With the exception of his 16 carry 131 yard performance in that Thursday night contest last season Gore has averaged only 3.1 yards per carry against Seattle since 2011. Despite that low average, the 49ers need to keep some semblance of balance if they are going to win on Sunday. Look for that to come from a combination of Gore and Kaepernick off read option runs.
4) Can Colin Kaepernick play like Alex Smith?
Smith's numbers against Seattle were never anything to write home about, in his three wins he never got to 180 yards passing. The key numbers for Smith were 2, as in number of turnovers in those three games, and 62.3, and is 62.3% completion rate.
These are both areas in which Kaepernick has struggled during his two games against the Seahawks. In those starts Kaepernick has accounted for 5 turnovers, while completing only 50% of his passes. Perhaps a change in scenery will be just what the doctor ordered.
5) Can the 49ers play a clean game on offense?
This question is very similar to the one above. The 49ers offense has shot itself in the foot during it's last two meetings with Seattle whether it was the result of a turnover or penalty that pushed them back and took them off schedule.
The margin between victory or defeat in the NFL is very small each week, and it gets even smaller when playing a team as good as Seattle. To have any shot at winning on Sunday the 49ers need their offense to play as mistake free as possible, I don't believe in saying they have to be perfect.
49ers 17 Seahawks 13
Jack Hammer is the writer for ninerchatter.blogspot.com