SEATTLE – The first foray into the NFC West for the Seahawks last week didn’t go so well, extending a somewhat unnoticed and unfortunate streak – Seattle has lost four in a row against division foes dating to last December.
The last time Seattle won a game against the NFC West was last Nov. 11 against the 49ers, who come to town Sunday to renew a rivalry that reignited in earnest last season when the teams fought two classic battles that each came down to essentially the final play.
There’s ultimately no less riding on this game than the ones a year ago, as Seattle is 5-1 and leading the West. But with a combination of a loss to the 49ers and wins by the Rams and Cardinals, Seattle could fall to third. The 49ers, meanwhile, have won two in a row to get to 4-3 and back in contention, and with a win would stamp themselves as legitimate contenders once again.
It should be a fun one.
Let’s take our weekly look at some keys to the game:
Matchup to watch
San Francisco tight end George Kittle against Seattle’s linebackers: The 49ers will be without receiver Deebo Samuel, which might mean forcing the ball more to Kittle, who didn’t play when the Seahawks won in San Francisco last year but did in the game in Seattle.
Kittle missed two games earlier this year but is back and averaging seven catches per game, the best in his career, with 35 receptions for 435 yards. Kittle’s yards after catch average is down slightly – 5.8 compared to 7.1 and 9.9 in 2019 and 2018. Keeping it in at least that range will be a key for the Seahawks, who won’t be able to stop Kittle from getting the ball but have to limit big gains. That’s a task that will mostly fall on the shoulders of Seattle’s linebackers and safeties.
It’s unclear if Jamal Adams will be available – that would help immensely. But the return of Jordyn Brooks and getting him comfortable as the weakside linebacker in the base defense should help solidify the linebacking corps going forward.
Player to watch
Receiver Tyler Lockett: Lockett is coming off one of the best individual performances in Seahawks history with 15 receptions for 200 yards and three touchdowns at Arizona. He and the rest of Seattle’s receivers face a secondary that, other than one surprising faceplant against Ryan Fitzpatrick and Miami, has played as well as any in the NFL, holding five of its past six opponents under 200 yards (even without former Seahawk Richard Sherman, out since Week 1 with a calf injury that will also hold him out Sunday).
Lockett has been lining up in the slot on more than half of his snaps – 209 of 378 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus – and when he’s there Sunday he could be matched up against Jamar Taylor. If that name sounds familiar it’s because Taylor was Seattle’s starting nickel much of the first half of last season before being released. Taylor has played well since taking over for the injured K’Waun Williams as the 49ers’ nickel three weeks ago, allowing a passer rating of just 62.8, according to PFF. Williams, dealing with a sprained knee, could be back Sunday. Either will have his hands full with Lockett, whose 25 receiving touchdowns since 2018 are the most in the NFL.
Coaching decision to watch
Defensive line rotation: With just three defensive tackles active last week, starters Jarran Reed (73, 87%) and Poona Ford (61, 73%) each played season highs in both total snaps and percent of snaps, and it would only make sense they might have become worn down by the end of the game. Seattle also gave rookie end Alton Robinson just seven snaps, in part due to playing Shaquem Griffin a season-high 40, most as an edge rusher.
Each of those could change Sunday as the Seahawks could elevate “Snacks” Harrison to help out the tackle rotation and will probably try to get Robinson out there more.
The return of Rasheem Green – who is back to practice this week – would also help to keep the line fresher, which may be needed against the explosive 49ers offense.
The fourth quarter: Remember when the Seahawks couldn’t win the game in the first quarter but they could in the fourth? Seattle has flipped the script on that this year a bit, outscoring opponents 50-36 in the first quarter this year but so far being outscored 63-52 in the fourth quarter.
Seattle has had a negative fourth-quarter point differential only once in the Pete Carroll era, a year ago (137-126). The Seahawks usually have a whopping positive point differential in the final 15 minutes (such as 115-60 in 2013 and 149-119 in 2018). Obviously, much of the fourth-quarter scoring this year has been when teams were trying to come from behind, and some of it wasn’t overly meaningful. But it was plenty meaningful last week, when Seattle got outscored 10-7 in the fourth quarter by Arizona, allowing the Cardinals to come back and force overtime.
Player who could surprise
Running back DeeJay Dallas: As of Friday, it’s unclear which of Seattle’s top three running backs – Chris Carson, Carlos Hyde and Travis Homer – will be available, each battling injuries. Even if they do suit up, each would obviously be at the risk of reinjury, which could put the onus back on Dallas, a rookie who was the only healthy running back left at the end of the Arizona game. Dallas struggled in pass protection and undoubtedly has received a crash course in that this week, getting the majority of the work in practice this week.
20-59: That’s Seattle’s third-down conversion rate on offense this season, 33.9%, 31st in the NFL, a stunningly low number considering how successful Seattle’s offense has been this season. That includes going just 5 of 20 the past two weeks, and having yet to convert any of 13 attempts on third downs of 10 yards or longer. Seattle has somewhat made up for it by going 5 of 6 on fourth down this year, fifth best in the NFL and the 11th-most conversions.
But Seattle’s third-down percentages remain mystifying, with Carroll saying this week he wouldn’t put his finger on it for the reason. Seattle will need to keep some drives alive Sunday, but will be challenged by a 49ers defense that has allowed just 29 of 81 third downs to be converted, 35.8%, seventh lowest in the NFL.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.