A month after beating San Francisco at Levi's Stadium, the Seahawks will host the 49ers Sunday, and as was the case last time these teams met, both teams are still trying to find their way, with Seattle sitting at 4-5 and the 49ers at 3-6 coming off their bye. The 49ers will look a bit different this time around, most notably because of a change at quarterback, with Blaine Gabbert taking the job from Colin Kaepernick. To find out more about the 49ers, we sent five questions to San Francisco 49ers team reporter Joe Fann (again, that's his real name. Seriously). Here are his answers:
We'll start with the most obvious one: what led to the 49ers making a quarterback change, and how is the offense better/different with Blaine Gabbert under center?
Fann: Any team that starts 2-6 with a struggling offense would look at personnel changes. The quarterback is usually the first position that people point to. The 49ers opted to go with Blaine Gabbert in Week 9 against the Atlanta Falcons, but Jim Tomsula made it clear that it would be a week-to-week decision.
Gabbert threw for 185 yards, two touchdowns and two picks in a win against Atlanta, earning himself the start this week. The quarterback's numbers are modest, but he was very efficient in the game and could have had better stats if not for a few key drops. He'll look to continue his success on third down in Seattle. Against the Falcons, Gabbert completed 8-of-11 passes on third down for 115 yards and connected on both of his touchdowns.
The Seahawks had 6 sacks, including 3.5 from Michael Bennett in the previous meeting. How can the 49ers protect the quarterback better this time around?
Fann: There are different things the team can do scheme-wise: quick passes and keeping a tight end on the line to help block to name a few. But no matter how you draw up the gameplan, it still comes down to players winning at the point of the attack. The 49ers didn't do a good job of keeping Bennett and Cliff Avril in front of them in the October meeting and must do a better job in this game.
The play-calling will be geared to keep Gabbert upright, but ultimately it comes down to the players executing on the field.
The last time these teams played, there were questions about who will play running back, and it appears that is still the case. What is the status of the rushing game and that position heading into the game?
Fann: Carlos Hyde (foot) won't play Sunday, which means Shaun Draughn is likely to see a heavy workload for the 49ers. In his San Francisco debut in Week 9, Draughn set career highs in nearly every category against the Falcons.
The veteran ball-carrier posted 58 rushing yards on 16 carries and four receptions for 38 yards. It was a workmanlike performance which gave the team confidence in Draughn's ability to make plays and take care of the football. Kendall Gaskins and Travaris Cadet will also be in the mix along with fullback Bruce Miller.
How might the 49ers look any different off the bye? Any players returning from injuries, or will self-scouting during the bye lead to any changes?
Fann: I'm not sure the 49ers will look any different schematically, but the bye week certainly allowed players to get healthy. Apart from Hyde, everyone has practiced to some degree this week.
That includes Anquan Boldin, who has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury. San Francisco's top two cornerbacks, Tramaine Brock (shin) and Kenneth Acker (concussion), are also expected to be ready for action on Sunday after missing the Falcons game. Both players intercepted Russell Wilson in Week 7, too.
All things considered, going into Week 11 of a grueling NFL season, I'm not sure you could ask to be much healthier than the 49ers are right now.
The defense looks to have made some improvements in a win over Atlanta, what was the difference and are there things the 49ers can build on?
Fann: There were certainly plenty of positives to take away from the Falcons game. The defense held Devonta Freeman, then the NFL's leading rusher, to 12 yards on 12 carries. Julio Jones did catch 10 passes for 137 yards, but 54 of them came on one reception. San Francisco kept Jones from taking over the game, despite having 17 targets. The 49ers allowed just three points in the second half.
The biggest positive in the game was the successful play of many of the team's youngest players. The 49ers entered the game without their top three cornerbacks, but guys like Dontae Johnson and Marcus Cromartie stepped up and made plays. Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt (the team's 2014 first-round pick and 2015 second-round pick, respectively) continue to develop into dependable pieces in San Francisco's secondary. Ward serves as the team's starting nickel corner while Tartt is starting at strong safety following the season-ending injury to Antoine Bethea.