49ers vs. Seahawks: 5 Seattle players to watch
The Seahawks have benefited from smart drafting and free agent signings the last two years. The problem is, so have the 49ers. Seattle will needs its talent to be on full display to take down its division rival.
On Thursday, Sidney Rice called the Seattle Seahawks "where you want to be" if you are a free agent. What was once an out-of-the-way locale has become one of the premier destinations for big-name players looking to win a championship. There may not be a team as unique as the Seahawks, from their massive cornerbacks to their tiny quarterback. Somehow, the formula results in a Super Bowl favorite.
The San Francisco 49ers are more than capable of messing with the Seahawks' good vibes, however. They can throw even bigger wideouts at Seattle's sizable secondary, and they are plenty of capable of slowing down Marshawn Lynch while countering with a strong rushing attack of their own. Seattle has the good fortune of playing at home for Sunday's NFC Championship Game, but may need some extra help from some unlikely heroes to win.
Well okay, no one will necessarily be surprised if Wilson has a big game against the 49ers, but he may need to be at his best if the Seahawks are going to advance. At least, he will need to be better than he was during the Seahawks' first two meetings against the Niners. Combined, Wilson went 23-for-44 passing for 341 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. The numbers are non-awful, but they aren't up to the standard of his season numbers.
If the 49ers do shut down the Seahawks' running attack -- something they were able to do in San Francisco during the second leg of the series -- it may be up to Wilson to carry the offense. The 49ers' secondary is banged up, with Carlos Rogers rejoining the team off a hamstring injury. There should be opportunities downfield if Wilson can weather the pressure and execute.
Luke Willson/Zach Miller
Tight ends have been having success against the 49ers lately, despite the apparent strength of the linebacker corps. Within the last five games, Greg Olsen had four receptions for 55 yards, Rob Housler had five receptions for 78 yards, Tony Gonzalez had eight receptions for 63 yards and touchdown and Tim Wright had seven receptions for 82 yards and a touchdown. Only the Green Bay Packers didn't work their tight ends.
Willson and Miller could be game changers Sunday. Willson nearly was during the Seahawks' loss in San Francisco in December, catching three passes for 70 yards, including a 39-yard touchdown. With both tight ends healthy, Seattle may be able to exploit the apparently soft belly of the 49ers' defense.
Chancellor was all over the field for the Seahawks last week, playing run support, blowing up screens ... basically making life hell for Drew Brees and Co. He led Seattle with 14 tackles last week, and when he wasn't making plays at the line of scrimmage, he was taking care of business in coverage, defending two passes.
Chancellor is the antidote to a varied 49ers offensive attack predicated on physicality. He is pure size, speed and instinct in a tightly knit package. He will need to be on top of his game Sunday because, as Joshua Kasparek at Field Gulls points out, the vaunted Seattle defense showed cracks last week.
If not for Bobby Wagner and Kam Chancellor, this could have been a disaster for the Seahawks defense. Malcolm Smith's lack of impact against the run was especially irritating for me, because I'm one of his biggest fans. I know that some of it had to do with the Saints using such a drastically different game plan, but this isn't the time to find a position wanting when you're 60 minutes from the Superbowl, but that's what we have this week.
Cliff Avril/Michael Bennett
Avril and Bennett were both free agent signings by the Seahawks after the 2012 season. Together, they form one of the most fearsome duos of defensive ends in the league. Avril and Bennett combined for 16.5 sacks and eight forced fumbles during the regular season. Bennett, in particular, has been hot, with 2.5 sacks in his last four games.
Both players had a sack against Colin Kaepernick during the Seahawks' blowout win in September. They were unable to take down the quarterback during the loss in December, however. If the Seahawks are able to establish a healthy lead, Avril and Bennett will be relied upon to disrupt the 49ers' passing game. If they get to Kaepernick, the game could begin to resemble the first meeting between the two teams.
K.J. Wright hasn't played for the Seahawks since suffering a broken foot against the 49ers in Week 14. Seattle's defense hasn't suffered too badly, giving up just 41 total points over the course of four games since, but other players have had to cover some of the slack at outside linebacker, namely Chancellor and inside linebacker Bobby Wagner. Last week, the Saints were able to have some success running the ball (26 carries, 108 yards, 4.2 YPC), in part because of the size given up by Malcolm Smith on the edge.
Wright outweighs Smith by a good 20 pounds, and has been the starter all season for good reason. Going up against Frank Gore and Co., the Seahawks may need every ounce of beef they can muster against a hard-nosed team on a mission to spoil its rival's season on the road.
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