he Seahawks head to the Bay Area this weekend to face the 49ers for the second time in the past three games, hoping to put forth a better showing than they did in a 31-13 Thanksgiving loss. Seattle will also hope to take advantage of a bit of extra rest having enjoyed a weekend off following a second straight Thursday game.
"It's good to be coming off of a couple days that we got a break," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "I'm feeling the fresh legs myself, I'm sure the players are too. We have to take advantage of that and make sure that this preparation is right on point. We played these guys a couple of weeks ago and I did not feel like I did a good job in the preparation in the short week with our team. Last week was a really good week and we need to come back and get a really good week again here so that we're right to play and do the things we want to do. That's the main focus for me and I know our guys are looking forward to this."
Here are five things to watch when the Seahawks face the 49ers at Levi's Stadium:
1. Who starts at quarterback, and can the offense build off last week's momentum, regardless of who's under center?
The Seahawks head into the weekend with starting quarterback Geno Smith listed as questionable due to a groin injury, and while the hope will be that he can go, they know they'll need to be ready to perform better on offense, regardless of who starts, than they did in the previous meeting.
Facing the 49ers in Week 12, the Seahawks were held without an offensive touchdown, went just 3 for 11 on third down, and Geno Smith was sacked six times. The good news for Seattle is that the offense made a big leap last week against a very good Cowboys defense, scoring five offensive touchdowns with Smith and the passing game thriving with a quicker passing attack, leading to a season-best 9 for 14 day on third down and zero sacks on Smith.
"There was a lot of positives in that game, and our ability to convert on third down, you could see," Carroll said. "Look at the difference in the game. It was a fantastic start, I think we were (9 of 14), which is great stuff. It allowed us to have long drives, sustaining opportunities with the ball, all of those things. That's a real positive for us."
If Smith can't go, Lock would be making his first start since joining the team, but the team will be confident in his ability to run the offense if that ends up occurring.
"He's been waiting for this opportunity, looking forward to it and preparing for it," Carroll said. "If this comes to pass, then he is as ready as he can get."
2. Can the Seahawks slow down the 49ers' top offensive playmakers and limit explosive plays.
One of the many challenges of facing the 49ers is the number of quality playmakers they have on offense. In the previous meeting, for example, the Seahawks limited All-Pro tight end George Kittle to three catches for 19 yards, and San Francisco's leading receiver, Brandon Aiyuk, to two catches for 50 yards, though one of those was a 28-yard touchdown. The limited production of those two was hardly an issue for the 49ers, however, because running back Christian McCaffrey rushed for 114 yards and two scores on 19 carries, adding 25 more yards through the air, and receiver Deebo Samuel had seven catches for 79 yards, as well as a rushing touchdown.
49ers coach Kyle Shanahan is great at scheming players open, and quarterback Brock Purdy has been one of the league's most efficient quarterbacks all season long, meaning the Seahawks will need to figure out a way to slow down San Francisco's playmakers better than they did two weeks ago to change the outcome.
"It is getting the ball in guys' hands that can really make things happen, they're really good at doing it," Carroll said. "Kyle does a great job of using McCaffrey in all ways, in the multiplicity of it. They have really identified his talents and they're using him to the max, same with Deebo and George and Aiyuk also. They use their people really well. They maximize the potential of their guys in a really consistent way. I think it's really impressive of them to do that."
While it will be impossible to keep the ball out of all of those players' hands, the key for the Seahawks will be to limit the number of big plays the 49ers create after they had six plays go for 22 or more yards in the previous meeting.
"The biggest thing is obviously cut down on the explosive plays, just understanding what they're trying to do," defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt said. "Just understanding all the motions and whatnot to create the angles in the run game, but then obviously avoiding the zones when you end up chasing the ball as hard as you do in some of their wide zone runs. Just understanding that discipline and playing deep-to-short on stuff, so those are the things we'll be working on in preparation for the match-up."
3. Does DK Metcalf build off last week's success in a rematch with Charvarius Ward?
DK Metcalf is coming off his best game of the season, a six-catch, 134-yard game that saw him find the end zone three times, doing much of that damage against standout Cowboys cornerback DaRon Bland.
A week prior, however, Metcalf was limited to just three catches for 32 yards against the 49ers, a game that saw him shadowed throughout the contest by 49ers cornerback Charvarius Ward. Ward didn't take Metcalf out of the game all together—there were a couple of passes that hit Metcalf's hands that he would tell you he should have caught, and he caught a deep pass down the sideline after getting a step on Ward, but couldn't get a second foot down in bounds—but it was definitely a strong showing by Ward, who no doubt will find himself on Metcalf plenty of times on Sunday.
Metcalf said this week he has respect for Ward's game, noting, "Any corner who can travel with me for a whole duration of a game I have mad respect for."
The Seahawks know they need to be better offensively than they were in Week 12, and getting Metcalf more involved would be a great place to start.
4. Can the Seahawks avoid the self-inflicted mistakes that have hurt them in recent losses?
Facing the 49ers two weeks ago, the Seahawks had two turnovers in the first half—an interception and a muffed punt—that contributed to a 24-3 halftime deficit, exactly the kind of mistakes they know they can't afford against a team as good as San Francisco. And in losses to the Rams and Cowboys, the Seahawks piled up a whopping 22 penalties for 260 yards, and while the Seahawks can and probably should take issue with some of the calls, plenty of others were mistakes they know they can cut out of their game.
As Smith noted earlier in the week, the key is to not just make plays on offense, but also not make mistakes.
"Get first downs, score points, give ourselves a shot," Smith said. "No turnovers, go out there and play clean football, be aggressive, get the ball out. Like I always talk about, get the ball out on time and for our guys to make the plays that they're accustomed to making."
5. Who's available at running back, and can the Seahawks get more out of their running game whoever is carrying the ball?
The Seahawks head into this game with starting running back Kenneth Walker III listed as questionable due to an oblique injury that has kept him out of the past two games, and with rookie back Zach Charbonnet questionable due to a bruised knee that knocked him out of last week's game.
The good news is that both of them practiced fully on Friday, with Carroll saying, "Both of those guys looked pretty good. They looked pretty good. We've got to see what happens tomorrow, see how they feel and all that, but both guys worked today."
Potentially having both of those running backs back in action would be a big boost for Seattle's offense, especially if the Seahawks are playing without their starting quarterback.
"(Walker) has got a real style about him that we love," Carroll said. "He's really quick and explosive, elusive. Like I've been saying the whole time, we love having those two guys going at it, because they're so uniquely different. It would be fun to have them out there. We'll be looking forward to that."
Regardless of who is carrying the ball, be it one of those two or DeeJay Dallas or Kenny McIntosh, the Seahawks know they'll need more out of their rushing game after gaining just 88 yards on 21 carries in the previous meeting.