The Seahawks are looking to bounce back from their first loss of the season when the host the 49ers on Sunday, and they've had a strong history of doing just that, posting a 31-8 record after a loss dating back to 2012. Standing in Seattle's way are the defending NFC champions, a 49ers squad that has responded impressively to back-to-back losses earlier this season, winning two in a row to improve to 4-3.
If the Seahawks are going to earn a victory on Sunday, these are three key matchups that could make the difference when the 49ers come to CenturyLink Field:
1. Russell Wilson and his dynamic receiving duo vs. the 49ers pass defense.
Russell Wilson is off to an MVP-caliber start this season, throwing a league-high 22 touchdown passes through six games, and a big part of his success has been the play of Seattle's top two receivers, Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf.
Lockett and Metcalf have combined for 12 touchdown receptions, the most by a receiving duo in the NFL, and have 1,061 yards between them. And as last weekend showed when Metcalf had a quiet day but Lockett exploded for 200 yards and three touchdowns on 15 catches, having two elite receivers makes the passing game particularly hard to deal with.
"It's a huge, huge blessing for us to have those type of guys that people have to be aware of," offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. "Most teams, they'll have a corner that they feel good about matching, but do you have multiple guys that can go match up with our guys? That makes it hard. Each week, we don't care who gets it. Both those guys that compete, they both can turn it on at any moment.
That duo, along with Wilson, would be crucial for the Seahawks in any game, but with so many injury question marks at running back, Seattle could need to lean on its passing game even more this week. Doing so, however, will not be easy against a 49ers defense that has been stingy against the pass once again this season.
The 49ers, who were one of the top defensive teams in the league last year on the way to a Super Bowl appearance, have, like the Seahawks dealt with a lot of injuries on defense, but they're still third in passing yards allowed (203.3) and fourth in opponent passer rating (78.5), and they've held five of seven opponents under 200 passing yards. Most notably when going against a quarterback and passing game as prolific as Wilson and the Seahawks, the 49ers have allowed only eight passing touchdowns this year.
2. 49ers TE George Kittle vs. Seattle's linebackers and defensive backs.
Kittle, a first-team All-Pro in 2019, has dealt with some injuries this season, but when healthy he's still as good as it gets at tight end, as is evident in his 435 receiving yards, which leads all NFL tight end despite Kittle missing two games. Kittle, who is also a great run blocker, could be called upon even more in this game because the 49ers will be without several key players on offense, including Deebo Samuel, one of their top receivers.
And while the Seahawks' pass defense numbers aren't where they'd like them to be, they have done well against opposing tight ends, allowing only 19 receptions for 281 yards and no touchdowns through six games. Then again, the Seahawks haven't faced a tight end quite like Kittle yet this season.
"He can do everything, really," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "He's got great feet, blocking, he's got a great base under him. He can he can block big guys, he can block backers. He's really willing—he's got a great attitude about it and he's tough and physical and all that. We know that he can catch the football and he runs very well after the catch. So he is really a consummate player, he can do the whole thing."
3. A short-handed San Francisco running attack vs Seattle's run defense.
The Seahawks aren't the only team dealing with injuries at running back coming into this game. San Francisco's top rusher, Raheem Mostert, is on injured reserve, as is Tevin Coleman, and Jeffery Wilson, who took over lead duties last week, rushing for 112 yards and three scores, is out due to an ankle injury.
But as Wilson's big performance showed last week as the 49ers rushed for 197 yards as a team, Kyle Shanahan's offense, which ranks eighth in the league in rushing, seems to be able to run the ball well regardless of who is on the field.
"They just do a really good job of figuring out holes in your defense, or creating holes in your defense," linebacker Bobby Wagner said. "They understand your defense really well, so they'll motion or move a receiver to put a team in a different front that they want you to be in to run the ball, which is why I think, no matter who you put back there, as long as they can read those gaps, they have success. So we just have to be conscious of what they're trying to do to us, we have to be locked in and focused and see the motions, and it should be a good challenge for us."
The Seahawks gave up 200 rushing yards against Minnesota, and Arizona ran the ball well late in last week's game, but aside from that, Seattle has played good run defense this season, allowing 4.1 rushing yards per carry, the seventh best total in the NFL.