Countdown to kickoff: Seahawks vs 49ers

Posted Sep 15, 2013

Greetings from CenturyLink Field, where the whole football world – not just the 68,000-plus fans who are fortunate enough to be in the stadium – will be watching the Seahawks’ nationally televised home opener against the San Francisco 49ers tonight.

Can a Week 2 game get any bigger?

It’s the defending NFC Champion 49ers against a Seahawks team that slapped them around 42-13 in Week 16 here last season.

It’s two of the teams that generated the loftiest expectations during an offseason where this matchup couldn’t arrive soon enough.

It’s Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, on his 62nd birthday, coaching against the team he used to coach for and a coach he has a history with – Jim Harbaugh.

It’s a matchup of two of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL – the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson and the 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick, who also have been joined at the hype for most of the offseason.

It’s All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman and his bash brothers in the Seahawks’ Legion of Boom secondary against wide-out Anquan Boldin, who is coming off a 13-catch, 208-yard performance in the 49ers’ season opener.

It’s Max Unger, the Seahawks’ All-Pro center, against Justin Smith, the 49ers’ Pro Bowl defensive lineman; and Russell Okung, the Seahawks’ Pro Bowl left tackle, against Smith and rush-end Aldon Smith.

It’s Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawks’ Beast Mode back, against the tackling machines who line up at inside linebacker for the 49ers, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman.

It’s who covers 49ers tight end Vernon Davis vs. who can cover Seahawks slot receiver Doug Baldwin?

It’s all of that, and more.

But once we wade through the hype, expectations and prognostications, it will be a football game. Not just another football game, of course, but a football game that will be won the way all football games are decided.

Which team will win the turnover battle? The Seahawks were plus-1 in turnover differential in their season-opening victory against the Panthers in Carolina – with the last one being a huge one, as defensive tackle Tony McDonald recovered a fumble that was forced by All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas at the Seattle 8-yard line minutes after the Seahawks had scored the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. The 49ers were plus-2, as they did not turn the ball over in their season-opening victory against the Green Bay Packers.

Which team will establish, and maintain, its running game? And who will do that running? The Seahawks didn’t against the Panthers, as Lynch gained just 43 yards and the team had only 70. The 49ers weren’t that much better against the Packers, with Frank Gore going for 44 of his team’s 90 yards. And Wilson and Kaepernick, who helped make the zone-read all the rage last season, carried five times for 7 yards (Wilson) and seven times for 22 yards (Kaepernick).

Which team will be most efficient on third downs, and most productive in the red zone? The Seahawks did OK on third downs against the Panthers, converting six of 13. But they settled for two field goals on three trips inside the Panthers’ 20-yard line. The 49ers were better on third downs (9 of 18) and in the red zone (three TDs and two field goals in five possessions) against the Packers.

Which team will avoid penalties? The Seahawks had nine for 99 yards against the Panthers, after leading the NFL in both categories during the preseason. The 49ers had 11 for 85 yards against the Packers.

When all is said and done – and run and tackled; and passed and caught or defended; and kicked and returned; and played from first snap to last – those are the factors that will determine the winner in tonight’s game.

So sit back (if you can), relax (if you can) and enjoy (which you must) the matchup we’ve all been waiting for – for so long. Kickoff and televised coverage on NBC (KING/5 in Seattle) is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. PT. But not until a few more large scoops of hype are heaped upon this game.