Following back-to-back losses, the Seahawks head to San Francisco in an unfamiliar place, trying to find their way after a 2-4 start. The 49ers have also had their early-season struggles and are also 2-4 following Sunday's win over Baltimore. A lot has changed for Seattle's NFC West rival, from the departure of Jim Harbaugh to several significant changes on the roster. To learn more about this week's opponent, we reached out to San Francisco 49ers team reporter Joe Fann (no really, that's his real name), who answered five questions on the 49ers:
Q: What does the post-Frank Gore era running game look like in San Francisco? And will Carlos Hyde be healthy enough to play? If not, who carries the load?
Fann: Hyde has assumed the bell cow role that Gore held for a decade in the Bay Area. The second-year back prides himself in his physicality and uses the word "violent" to best describe his running style. I'm guessing Seahawks fans also know a guy who fits that bill.
Bad jokes aside, it's fairly easy to see why the Marshawn Lynch comparisons arise when watching the tape. Hyde seeks out defenders to hit and never shies away from a collision. Best put, Hyde works to be the hammer and not the nail.
The running back is dealing with a foot injury that he'll likely have to play through all season. Hyde did say that the foot didn't get any worse in Week 6 which is good news given the short week.
The other name to watch is Reggie Bush. Jim Tomsula said that he's optimistic Bush will play on Thursday after missing Sunday's game with a calf injury.
If both Hyde and Bush are unable to go, rookies Jarryd Hayne and Mike Davis will share the carries. Hayne – yes, that's the guy who used to play in the Australian Rugby League – has been used primarily as a punt returner so far this season.
Q: It looks like Colin Kaepernick and the passing game took a step forward in Sunday's victory. What has been the key to the improvement there, and is it something that can continue to build upon?
Fann: There are a variety of contributing factors to the recent success of the passing game. Offensive coordinator Geep Chryst has dialed up a few quick passes to get Kaepernick in a rhythm early in games. Two weeks ago, it was back-to-back screen passes to Bruce Ellington to open the game. On Sunday, it was three early throws to fullback Bruce Miller.
In addition, the 49ers quarterback has spent more time under center, which has opened up the play action game.
To steal some coach speak, all of the tweaks still boil down to execution. Regardless of the exact reason for the success, receivers have been getting open and Kaepernick has made far better throws the last two weeks than he had the previous two games.
Q: How much are the offseason departures hurting the defense? And on the other side of that, what has the return of linebacker NaVorro Bowman meant to that group?
Fann: Any time there's turnover on a roster, there are going to be growing pains. That said, the 49ers experienced more turnover than most teams are accustomed to in a single offseason. No one within the organization has hid behind the departures or made excuses for any miscues so far this season.
The "next man up" mentality is alive and well with the 49ers and guys are working hard to make the most of their opportunities.
Bowman's return also cannot be understated. Even while the linebacker will admit he's not at the same level he was pre-injury, Bowman is the heart and soul of the 49ers defense. Bowman is still a three-down linebacker and has shown his ability to stifle a running game.
Watching Bowman collide with Lynch will be one of the marquee individual matchups in the game.
Q: San Francisco has allowed a league-worst 306.2 passing yards per game. Is that mostly on the secondary, or are other factors involved as well?
Fann: It's a combination of miscues in the secondary, an inconsistent pass rush and a ridiculous volume of passes that have been sent the 49ers way.
Between Eli Manning and Joe Flacco, the 49ers have faced a combined 107 pass attempts the last two weeks (54 from Manning and 53 from Flacco). In both of those games that yielded a combined 784 passing yards against San Francisco, the pass rush has failed to record a sack.
Conversely, the 49ers held Aaron Rodgers to 224 passing yards in Week 4 when they sacked the Green Bay Packers quarterback three times.
A productive pass rush will always work hand-in-hand with the secondary's success in coverage. That has been no different with this 49ers defense.
Q: With Jim Harbaugh gone and with both teams off to 2-4 starts, does the rivalry feel any different down there this week?
Fann: It's probably fair to say it's a bit different, more so because of the records. Both teams are desperate for a win and would be regardless of who their opponent was in Week 7. The Pittsburgh Steelers did the NFC West a favor in Week 6 by beating the Arizona Cardinals, but the Seahawks and 49ers are still two games out of the division lead.
If anything, the motivation of playing against a rival might help players deal with a short week. Neither team will be 100% healthy nor fully prepared from a game-planning standpoint, but there's no doubt the adrenaline will be flowing when the team's take the field on Thursday night.