The Seahawks and 49ers will face off on Sunday at Lumen Field, their second meeting this season, with Seattle winning the first game 28-21 at Levi's Stadium. To learn more about this week's opponent and what has changed since that Week 4 meeting, we reached out to 49ers senior team reporter Keiana Martin with five questions ahead of Sunday's game:
Things weren't looking too positive at 2-4, what changed for the 49ers to rattle off four wins in the last five weeks?
Martin: Ultimately, the team got back to the basics and back to what makes it successful, and that's running the ball. San Francisco struggled to find consistency, a rhythm and particularly an identity in the earlier parts of the season, but as of late, the unit has found its footing.
The 49ers have been able to dictate games which has taken a lot of pressure off of the defense. In three-straight weeks they've been able to run the ball 36-plus times (and as many as 44 in the Week 10 win over the Los Angeles Rams). The unit went from averaging 118 rushing yards per game over the team's first eight games to 178 since Week 10. San Francisco has dominated the time of possession during that span, averaging over 38 minutes of possession, while correcting their woes on third down.
Sixth-round rookie Elijah Mitchell has been key in that turnaround. The 49ers suffered a huge loss in Week 1 with Raheem Mostert being out for the year, and Mitchell has stepped up admirably. As the weeks have progressed, it's clear to see the rookie's improvement in his vision, yards after contact, and in particular, his comfort in Kyle Shanahan's offense, which has been a spark for the entire team, defense included.
Probably related to the last question, but it looks like Jimmy Garoppolo has been playing well since returning from injury, what's that dynamic like with the 49ers having the No. 3 pick, and presumably the future at that spot, on hand while the current starter is playing some of the best football of his career?
Martin: For fans (and opponents) eager to watch the No. 3 overall pick take the field, they might be sitting on ice for a little while longer given the recent performance of Garoppolo. San Francisco's veteran QB has been playing well as of late, throwing seven touchdowns to two interceptions and garnering a 108.7 passer rating over the 49ers last five games – currently ranked first among all NFL quarterbacks during that span.
With his uptick in play, the 49ers are 4-1 and appear to have found their mojo. But what has taken Shanahan out of his groove has been calling those packages we saw earlier in the season for Lance.
"What's been hard on me, that I didn't realize, is when you do bring in a different quarterback who gets a different set of plays, it's almost the first play I've been seeing of a new defense," Shanahan said this week. "You see what fronts and coverages they are doing, but they are doing it completely to a plan as a threat of the runner at that position.
"I don't know what to anticipate with it, and then I've got to stay in it for a while to get a feel for that. And then you go back and that feels kind of off for the last guy, so it kind of hurts my rhythm a little bit of understanding what a defense is getting. That's why, personally, as the year has gone, I've gotten a little more away from it because I like to get a feel for what the defense is doing."
Besides a garbage time series against the Jaguars in Week 11, Lance hasn't really seen the field since his first start in Week 5 against the Cardinals, and Shanahan is okay with that. While many are quick to make the Alex Smith-Patrick Mahomes comparisons, Shanahan wants the best quarterback in the building to be under center and at this point in time, it's Garoppolo. Although Lance is understandably the future of the franchise, the 49ers anticipate the rookie, who played in just 17 games over his three years at North Dakota State, to continue to develop behind Garoppolo until he is ready, or needed to step in.
Deebo Samuel has been so good this year for the 49ers, what does his absence mean for the offense?
Martin: Samuel has undoubtedly been a huge part of the 49ers success this season, but in an untraditional way. Shanahan has unlocked another level to the wideout, who obviously does damage lining up at multiple receiving spots and sits in the Top 4 in the league in receiving yards through Week 12. But more recently, Samuel has added another layer to his game as a rusher, totaling 19 carries for 181 yards (9.5 yards per carry) and four touchdowns over the last three games.
The 49ers will be tasked with continuing their momentum on offense without the stud wideout, but optimistically have some playmakers who can step up in his absence. We've already discussed Mitchell and his early impact thus far. But Brandon Aiyuk has truly come into form lately and also deserves credit for San Francisco's recent turnaround. Since Week 8, Aiyuk sits behind Samuel with 336 yards on 23 receptions and two touchdowns.
Kittle's value can't be understated. Jauan Jennings and Trent Sherfield are two other wideouts who have continued to make the most of their opportunities. Meanwhile, Shanahan has been eager to unleash Travis Benjamin's speed on offense.
While replacing a player of Samuel's caliber obviously isn't a simple fix, the 49ers feel confident in their pieces on hand to remedy his (hopefully) brief absence.
Same question, but Fred Warner.
Martin: Warner has been playing his best football of the season over the 49ers recent turnaround and his play and leadership are certainly a loss to the defense. Since joining the team back in 2018, Warner has played (and started) in every single game, so I'd assume it will feel foreign out there to be without the All-Pro linebacker.
But all eyes will be on Azeez Al-Shaair, who has been having a standout season thus far, and is coming off of a two-takeaway game against a relatively "clean" Minnesota Vikings team.
Al-Shaair has primarily been filling in for Dre Greenlaw, who missed nine games with a groin injury. With Warner out, he'll be making his first start at middle linebacker. Given his recent string of performances and experience as San Francisco's backup MIKE, the 49ers feel confident in the former undrafted linebacker quarterbacking the defense.
"Azeez has been ready for anything we've asked him to," Shanahan said. "And I think you guys can tell. He always runs around and plays like his hair is on fire and that he loves playing the football game, but that's not changing.
"Azeez, he's been playing at a high level all year, whether he's inside or outside. I expect it to continue. We needed it to continue because it's one of the reasons why we're playing pretty good right now."
What are a couple of matchups you're most looking forward to seeing play out this weekend?
Martin: One of the names that hasn't received much credit this season is cornerback Emmanuel Moseley. Many figured San Francisco's cornerback play would see a steep decline following the untimely loss of Jason Verrett (knee). However, Moseley has maintained a steady level of play in the 49ers sixth-ranked passing defense. The corner has notched 10 passes defended through nine games, while also allowing a completion percentage of just 56 percent.
Moseley has held his own this season against some of the top receivers in the league, including Davante Adams, Cooper Kupp and Justin Jefferson and will continue to round out his matchups in his second meeting against DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. While Monday night's showing was definitely an anomaly, I expect the corner to be tested again against Seattle's 1-2 punch.
As history has told, these are two teams who play each other extremely tough, despite record and personnel. I expect no different on Sunday and for this NFC West showdown to be yet another thriller.
The Seattle Seahawks take on the San Francisco for Week 13 of the 2021 season, the 47th meeting between the two teams. Take a look back at some of their previous matchups.