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3 Key Matchups: Seahawks vs 49ers

To open their 2017 home stretch, the Seattle Seahawks, who posted a 7-1 record at home in 2016, will host divisional opponent San Francisco for what could be another enticing battle between two clubs with rich history. Both teams fell in their Week 1 matchups, but only one will come out of Sunday’s game even at .500. The Seahawks dropped their opening game in Green Bay, 17-9, while the 49ers fell to Carolina, 23-3.

The 49ers enter this season with a new look across their roster and front office. Former NFL safety and FOX Sports broadcaster John Lynch started a new venture and took over for Trent Baalke as general manager of the team last offseason. 

“He’s awesome and there’s no question that he’ll do a fantastic job,” Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said of Lynch. “Whatever John wanted to do he would do well just because of his makeup and his competitiveness and his intellect and all that.” 

Shortly after, Lynch hired former Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan as head coach, replacing Chip Kelly. The 49ers soon began to clear their roster and start fresh, utilizing the draft and adding veteran players at certain spots across the board. 

Although the Seahawks are heavily favored to win Sunday’s matchup, a win isn’t guaranteed. Here are three matchups that could make a difference this weekend:   

1. Seahawks Offensive Line vs 49ers Defensive Line 

For the second game in a row, the Seahawks offensive line faces a good test against an opposing defensive line unit.

In Week 1, the Packers line, led by Mike Daniels, caused a bit of havoc in the trenches and sacked Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson three times while also recording seven hits. On one drive in the third quarter, Wilson was sacked twice in three plays, with the second being a fumble recovery for Daniels. The Packers scored a rushing touchdown on the very next play.

Offensive line and assistant head coach Tom Cable felt the unit got better as the game wore on but was ultimately disappointed with the overall performance against Green Bay. 

“Not good enough, too inconsistent and not good enough,” Cable said. “At the end of the day, we have to play better in a couple of situations particularly.” 

Cable believes he’ll likely go with the same starting unit of Rees Odhiambo, Luke Joeckel, Justin Britt, Mark Glowinski and Germain Ifedi against the 49ers. The Seahawks allowed just two sacks in the two games combined against the 49ers last season. 

In terms of pure talent, San Francisco’s defensive line definitely adds more of a challenge than Green Bay’s. With Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner and 2017 No. 2 overall pick Solomon Thomas, the 49ers have a really young, athletic and tall core of linemen. Armstead and Buckner are each listed at 6’7” and Thomas is currently at 6’3”.   

“They’re as big and tall as they can get,” Carroll said of the three. “Armstead and those guys are enormous guys and they’re young guys just coming along and they’re going to be big factors. They look like they’re going to be really good.”

While the 49ers have some of the best defensive linemen talent in the league, that doesn’t automatically equal success against the Seahawks. In Week 1 against the Panthers, the 49ers couldn’t bring Cam Newton down to the ground and only hit him twice. Part of that is because of Newton’s big frame that is quite unusual for quarterbacks, but at the same time, Carolina’s offensive line managed to hold up fine and gave him time to make plays. If the Seahawks can do the same, Wilson should have success against the 49ers’ defense, too. 

2. Brian Hoyer vs CenturyLink Field

Brian Hoyer has seen a lot in his nine seasons as an NFL quarterback. On Sunday, however, he will be seeing CenturyLink Field for the first time. 

Amazingly, Hoyer, who has played for New England, Arizona, Cleveland, Chicago and now San Francisco, has not only never visited Seattle as an opposing quarterback, he's never played the Seahawks period. The Week 2 matchup will be his first against the franchise. 

Opposing quarterbacks have been known to have difficulty at the line in CenturyLink Field because of the impact the crowd has when trying to communicate calls, checks and audibles at the line of scrimmage. Recently, ESPN’s Bill Barnwell had a comprehensive look at how much teams actually enjoy home-field advantage and the Seahawks (clearly) were one of the main teams featured in the piece. 

"I just expect what everybody says here who's played there," Hoyer told reporters this week. "It's loud. Obviously, it's what it's known for. The bigger task is their defense. Obviously, the crowd has a lot to do with it, but when you just line up and look at their defense and their scheme, it's a tough thing to go against.”

Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner said earlier this week he believes Shanahan and the 49ers will look to make things simple for Hoyer in what will be a hostile setting.

“I think they are going to try and get the ball out of his hands pretty fast,” Wagner said. “They are going to do a lot of intermediate shots. They are going to have some shots down the field, but I think it is just going to test us being able to recognize the routes and rallying to everything that is in front of us and try to minimize all the yards after catches and things of that nature. We just got to be real disciplined this game.”

The home crowd is a factor for practically every Seahawks home game, and it certainly will be something to watch in a game with the magnitude of an opener.

3. Kyle Shanahan vs The Seahawks Defense

Personally, this will be my favorite matchup to watch on Sunday.

Kyle Shanahan is one of the most creative and established offensive guru’s in the NFL, and the opportunity he was given to be a head coach last offseason was overdue.

Last season in Atlanta, Shanahan operated one of the most explosive offenses in the league under head coach Dan Quinn. Shanahan’s influence on Atlanta’s offense through play designs and utilizing personnel helped pushed the Falcons to the Super Bowl and also contributed to helping quarterback Matt Ryan win league MVP.

Seahawks defensive coordinator Kris Richard was asked what play elements make Shanahan’s style of offense so unique.

“Stretch outside zone,” Richard explained. “Outside, zone, trying to attack the C-gaps, trying to expose the C-gaps in some way shape or form, whether it’s going to be punch-side or getting the halfback cutting back and trying to attack it that side.”

Wagner said Shanahan likes to “flood the zone a lot,” which he described as a situation where there are a number of zone defenders in one area and teams try to outnumber them. 

“It makes you challenge your discipline … you have to bring an extra zone defender to know where you’re lacking,” Wagner described.

Last season, the Falcons ranked first in points during the regular season, second in yards, third in passing yards and fifth in rushing yards. Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric, which measures efficiency on a snap-by-snap basis, ranked the Falcons offense as the best in the league by a comfortable margin. 

Shanahan faced the Seahawks twice last season (once in the regular season and once in the postseason) and the Falcons had success offensively each time. The 49ers don’t have the same talent and personnel as the Falcons, but great coaches and offensive minds know how to scheme players open and get the most out of their players. 

“Just preparing for them is pretty close to the same,” Shanahan said when asked about the similarities of preparing for the Seahawks now compared to when he was in Atlanta. “There’s only so many things you can do versus that defense, they don’t give a ton of looks, you know the fronts, you know the coverages, so there’s only so many ways you can attack them. In Atlanta, we had some players to where if you got down in stuff, we had guys who could make some plays to get back and I still believe we have that here. We just have to go get it done, and there’s not much of a difference from a preparation standpoint. I still attack it the same way and still try to put in the same stuff and I just hope that the more we do it, the better we get.” 

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