The Seahawks will face the 49ers for the second time in three weeks, looking to beat their NFC West rival for the 11th straight time, postseason included. Another win over the 49ers would clinch a playoff berth for the Seahawks, who have won four straight to improve to 8-5. To learn more about Seattle's Week 15 opponent, we reached out to 49ers senior reporter Joe Fann with five questions about the team standing between the Seahawks and a seventh postseason berth in the past nine seasons.
Q: What did last week's win over a pretty good Broncos team do for the 49ers' confidence, and are they embracing the role of spoiler this week or taking the "it's just another game" approach?
Fann: I think most teams that aren't going to the playoffs embrace the mentality of "If we're not going, you aren't either." Granted, the Seahawks playoff hopes aren't necessarily hinging on Sunday's game. This matchup offers a shot at redemption for the 49ers. Nobody is proud of what transpired between these two teams in Seattle in Week 13. But just as the team had to flush that game, it needs to build on what happened against Denver. The biggest difference between the two contests was that the 49ers made the Broncos earn everything by containing Phillip Lindsay, limiting Denver's explosive plays and taking care of the football. They'll look to replicate that formula on Sunday against the Seahawks.
Q: This is probably obvious, but just how big of a blow was losing Jimmy Garoppolo given how well the 49ers finished last season?
Fann: There's no overstating the losses of Jimmy Garoppolo and Jerick McKinnon. Kyle Shanahan spent the entire offseason molding his plan for the season around having both of those players. So it's not just a drop-off in terms of talent on the roster, but an overall adjustment from a game-planning standpoint as well. The 49ers have found ways to remain in contention in nearly all of their games despite the mounting number of injuries at critical spots. Still, those key losses will largely define what has been an overall frustrating season in 2018.
Q: The 49ers rank in the top half of the league in total offense and total defense, but aren't getting the results in the win column. Is it safe to assume that minus-21 turnover differential has been one of the team's biggest issues this year?
Fann: Certainly. The turnover battle is regularly the deciding factor in close games, and it's the reason why the 49ers have been on the losing end of so many. It goes without saying that San Francisco can't muff a punt at midfield or throw a pick-six in the red zone if they hope to pull off the upset against the Seahawks.
Q: It appears that a young 49ers defense has done some good things this year, is that a reason for optimism going forward?
Fann: The lack of takeaways has been glaring, but the 49ers defense has been pretty solid overall. The 49ers have the 10th-ranked defense in terms of total yards, the 13th-ranked pass defense and the 12th-ranked rushing defense. Overall strong play has been overshadowed by the lack of clutch plays in crunch time. That's the next step for this young defensive group led by Richard Sherman.
Q: Matt Breida and George Kittle have both put up some really impressive numbers this year, how big have those two second-year players become to San Francisco's offense?
Fann: They've been the two biggest bright spots for this team in 2018. Matt Breida's 744 yards on 5.6 yards per carry is incredibly impressive, especially given that his ankle hasn't been one hundred percent for a majority of the season. He's stepped up big in the absence of Jerick McKinnon.
As for Kittle, the second-year tight end out of Iowa is rapidly becoming a superstar in this league. He's got rare athleticism at the position (as evidenced by his 85-yard touchdown catch last week) which creates mismatches for Kyle Shanahan to exploit. He's got 1,103 receiving yards with three games to play. That number is already a single-season franchise record for a tight end. It's also likely to climb quite a bit down the stretch given that Kittle is the 49ers go-to option in the passing game.