Things sure do feel different heading into the next chapter of the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers rivalry on Sunday.
Of course, the rivalry has been getting less fierce from a competitive standpoint for years now. Following the 49ers’ collapse in the 2013 title game, it’s been a lopsided affair in favor of Seattle. San Francisco has dropped five straight games to Seattle, and hasn’t won on the road against the Seahawks since 2011.
But things are different this year. More so than any time in recent memory.
Gone are the two potential Hall of Fame running backs in Marshawn Lynch and Frank Gore. Instead, we’ll see a pair of young players still trying to find their place in the NFL’s upper echelon of talent with either Thomas Rawls or Christine Michael going for Seattle, and Carlos Hyde running for the 49ers.
Sure, the teams still dislike each other. But instead of Richard Sherman ranting about Michael Crabtree ahead of a game, we actually had symbiosis between Seattle receiver Doug Baldwin and Kaepernick this week, who share the common goal of raising social awareness over police violence towards minorities.
Some things still remain, however.
The Seattle defense is still as dominant as it has always been. Through two weeks, the team has allowed the least amount of yards per game in the NFL, giving up a stingy 248.5 per contest.
With the shaky Blaine Gabbert at the helm of the 49ers passing game, and the Legion of Boom still playing at a high level, the 49ers are gonna have to try to beat the Seahawks as they always have had to-by pounding the rock.
The key to the 49ers win on Sunday rests on the back of the offensive line and Carlos Hyde.
After a dismal showing against Carolina last Sunday, Hyde will be chomping at the bits to get back to his Monday Night Football form in which he rushed for 88 yards and two scores against the Los Angeles Rams.
Things won’t get any easier for him against Seattle, however, as they’ve allowed just 64-yards per game on the ground thus far. But you can bet that Chip Kelly won’t try to overplay his hand by testing Richard Sherman and the Seattle secondary much with the passing game.
But while Kelly and the offensive unit hope to reestablish the ground game, Seattle is still finding a way to implement any sort of offense in general.
Heading into their Week 3 matchup, Seattle has managed to score just one offensive touchdown, with Baldwin holding that honor. Throw in three field goals by K Steven Hauschka, and they’ve posted just 15 points total.
To make matters worse, the Seahawks have a slew of key players on offense who will be banged up for Sunday’s game.
The ever-dangerous Russell Wilson’s ability to scramble out of the pocket has been hampered by a high-ankle sprain that figures to limit his mobility for this week’s game as well.
Compounding Wilson’s troubles, the Seahawks’ offensive line has been porous at best, allowing five sacks through two games despite the quarterback’s uncanny ability to scramble away from pressure.
Add in an ankle injury to starting guard Germain Ifedi, and the 49ers’ pass rush may have a resurgent effort after a lackluster showing against Carolina last week.
But the 49ers will have their hands full along the offensive line as well.
But San Francisco’s offensive line has responded well to their two previous challenges, holding up against the pass rush from two respectable defenses in Los Angeles and Carolina.
The question for Sunday is not how will they be able to protect Gabbert, but how many holes they’ll be able to open for Hyde.
For the second time in as many weeks, the game will come down to defense, which Seattle holds the advantage in.
That’s not to take anything away from the young and talented 49ers’ defense, who will be looking for a rebound effort after surrendering 46 points to Carolina last week. But Seattle’s defense is as good as advertised, which will spell trouble for a 49ers offense still trying to find their footing.
I think Seattle continues their unbeaten streak at home, taking the contest 17-13.