The Seahawks (7-2) face a big test in Week 10, traveling to the Bay Area to face the NFC West-leading San Francisco 49ers (8-0) on Monday Night Football. To learn more about this week's opponent, we reached out to 49ers.com senior reporter Keiana Martin, who answered five questions about the NFL's last remaining unbeaten team.
Q: Like the Seahawks, the 49ers' schedule gets tougher late in the year. How much are they viewing this coming game and/or stretch of games that includes Seattle, Green Bay and trips to Baltimore and New Orleans as a test/chance to prove just how good they are?
Martin: Despite being 8-0, San Francisco's biggest tests are yet to come with a stacked second half of the season. As you mentioned, six of the 49ers next eight games are against teams above .500 that are very much alive in the playoff picture. But it's difficult to begin looking ahead when you have a Seattle team that excels in prime time. San Francisco is in control of its own destiny. However, with Russell Wilson and Co. coming to town, it will be a pretty decent barometer of how this team could fare down a very difficult stretch that features five Super Bowl quarterbacks.
Q: What kind of boost could the return of Joe Staley and Kyle Juszczyk provide for the*offense*if they do indeed make it back for Monday's game?
Martin: As San Francisco's schedule becomes more challenging (including Monday night's matchup against Seattle), they're surely going to need the extra lift from their veterans. Granted, San Francisco's offensive line has held up well despite Staley and second-year tackle Mike McGlinchey's absence. But the beauty of this 49ers team compared to seasons prior is the amount of depth on the roster, which we've seen with rookie Justin Skule and third-year undrafted tackle Daniel Brunskill.
Kyle Juszczyk's return will be crucial for San Francisco's second-ranked rushing offense. During Weeks 1-5, the 49ers were averaging a league-best 5.2 yards on the ground with their "offensive weapon" on hand. With the Juszczyk sidelined, the 49ers run success declined to 3.8 yards per rush. Getting two (potentially three) of the 49ers' weapons back in Week 10 not only puts more aces into Kyle Shanahan's deck, but the experience and leadership of the veterans will be huge for this team heading into Monday night.
Q: It was obvious the 49ers had talent on defense coming into the season, but did anyone see this level of play out of that unit? And overall, what has allowed the defense to take this leap?
Martin: It all starts upfront. It's crazy to believe that prior to Week 1 of the regular season, San Francisco's defensive line hadn't played a single live snap together, with trade acquisition Dee Ford and rookie standout Nick Bosa both missing the entire preseason. On paper, this defense looked stout and they've been as advertised through eight games.
But again, it goes back to the depth of this 49ers team. Long gone are the days where DeForest Buckner is playing more than 1,000-plus snaps a season. The 49ers are able to rotate guys in and out, keeping legs fresh and energy high. Before this team played a single snap, Richard Sherman was quick to point out that San Francisco's backups are worthy of being starters on 31 other NFL rosters.
I'll add, you can't give the D-line credit without acknowledging defensive line coach Kris Kocurek, who also is partially responsible for the 49ers defensive success, along with Robert Saleh.
Q: If there is anything close to a weakness for that defense, it appears it could be the run defense based off recent results? How big of a concern is that, particularly with Kwon Alexander going on IR this week?
Martin: Kwon Alexander was a big piece of San Francisco's defense. His production is hard to overlook, and his intangibles, beginning with his leadership and energy, are unmatched. The 49ers, however, feel confident in rookie Dre Greenlaw to slide over in Alexander's place. Greenlaw beat out several veterans and earned a starting spot at SAM linebacker right out of training camp. This won't be the first time the rookie has filled in for Alexander. Greenlaw took over for the veteran linebacker in Week 1 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and also stepped in last week against the Arizona Cardinals. Greenlaw amassed seven tackles and his first career sack through both games. It's also worth noting, the rookie hasn't missed a tackle yet.
Coming off of their narrow win Thursday night over the Cardinals, the defense is well aware of the adjustments needed in the run defense, collectively calling the win "humbling." I'd assume San Francisco and its 14th-ranked run defense is motivated to turn its performance around in Week 10.
Q: Thanks to the aforementioned defense and the NFL's No. 2 rushing attack, Jimmy Garoppolo hasn't had to put up big numbers every week, but was last week's game (four touchdowns, 317 yards)**indicative** of what he and the passing game are capable of when necessary?
Martin: Absolutely. When you look back on the 49ers' past eight contests, each week they're finding a different way to win—whether it is through the run, the strength of its defense or in a not-so-glamorous fashion (i.e. Steelers and Cardinals). Despite last week's struggles in Arizona, Garoppolo proved he can win without the help of a successful running game. The quarterback demonstrated he is capable of winning with his arm, even in non-favorable situations, something he hasn't necessarily had to do much this season. As San Francisco's schedule gets tougher, Garoppolo could increasingly be called upon to lead the charge on offense.