The Seahawks head to Santa Clara this weekend to face the San Francisco 49ers in both teams' first NFC West game of the year. Seattle is 1-0 after a win over Denver on Monday, while the 49ers lost their opener on a wet, sloppy day in Chicago. The Seahawks are hoping to continue their recent success both in the NFC West rivalry, and in the Bay Area in particular, having won six of the seven meetings at Levi's Stadium since the 49ers moved into their new home, and having gone 15-2 against the 49ers dating back to their NFC Championship game win in Seattle after the 2013 season.
Here are five things to watch as the Seahawks face the 49ers at Levi's Stadium:
1. How will the rookie tackles hold up against Nick Bosa and a loaded 49ers front seven?
The Seahawks opened the season starting two rookies at tackle, a rarity in the NFL, and for the most part Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas held up well as Geno Smith took only four quarterback hits—a couple of which he said he could have avoided by stepping up in the pocket—and as Rashaad Penny averaged 5.0 yards per carry.
But for Smith and the Seahawks offense to build off an encouraging start, Lucas and Cross will have to be on their A games on Sunday afternoon, because they'll be facing a daunting challenge with it comes to blocking Pro-Bowl defensive end Nick Bosa and the rest of a loaded 49ers defensive front.
"Starting with Bosa there, obviously, these guys are just nonstop collapsing the pocket," said offensive coordinator Shane Waldron. "So really being aware of that, completely understanding on how we are playing with a different style of defensive line that we are going against, understanding the techniques that they want to use. And also going into our first road environment of the year, you know doing a great job on getting off on the ball, on the snap there, and not letting them have that defensive home-field advantage. And really that's about us being efficient, having a good huddle operation, getting in the line of scrimmage, being able to get our cleats in the ground, and really being in that attacking mindset. And knowing the flip side of that is they want to be in those known passing situations and get all of their exotic fronts they have going and get those pass rushers rolling."
2. What does Geno Smith do for an encore?
Making his first Week 1 start in eight years, Smith was sensational against the Broncos, completing his first 13 pass attempts and 17 of 18 in the first half, along with two touchdown passes. Smith and the offense cooled off a bit in the second half, but overall he was incredibly efficient, took care of the football, and showed off some big play ability—both touchdowns were 25-plus yards—and even a little bit of running ability.
Now Smith will try to back that performance up on the road against one of the NFL's toughest defenses. The Seahawks don't necessarily need Smith to have a near-perfect half or game once again, but they do again need his combination of playmaking and sound decision making to show up while also contending with a tough pass-rush and a defense with playmakers at all three levels.
"They have a great front seven, they have a great defense overall, and it will be another test for us as an offense," Smith said. "It's going to test our offensive line and it's going to test our running backs in protection. Really for us, it's doing what we do best, controlling what we control and playing our game, but also being mindful that they do have a lot of great guys on that side."
3. Do the Seahawks clean up their run defense?
For the past two seasons, the Seahawks have had one of the best run defenses in the NFL, including last year when they gave up only 3.8 rushing yards per attempt, the second-best mark in the NFL. And Seattle fully expects to be strong in that area again this year, but in Week 1 the Broncos were able to find success running the ball, averaging 5.2 yards per carry. Against an offense that has been among the league leaders in rushing ever since Kyle Shanahan took over, the Seahawks know they'll need to be more disciplined and tackle better to control the 49ers ground game, particularly with a dual-threat quarterback like Trey Lance upping the degree of difficulty.
"Their commitment to it and what Kyle (Shanahan) does with the running game and what they have done over the years has really been impressive, because they have always been able to run the football well," Carroll said. "That commitment, I love to see that it is part of their makeup. They have a big variety of runs and they have a bunch of style to them. (Tight end George) Kittle and (fullback Kyle) Juszczyk give you so much freedom to do so many things that it is really challenging. They are as hard to defend in the running game as anybody we play. I don't know what's going to happen with Kittle (who is questionable with a groin injury), whether he's going or not, but we are going to anticipate that he is. That just poses a lot of issues for us."
4. Will the Seahawks D dominate in the red zone again?
One of the biggest reasons Seattle came away with a victory in Week 1 was the way the defense dominated in the red zone. Most noteworthy were the two forced fumbles at the goal line, but the Seahawks also held the Broncos to field goals on their other two red zone trips, including one in the fourth quarter on a drive that got inside the 10-yard line, allowing Seattle to protect the lead.
It's hard to take much out of the 49ers' Week 1 game given the conditions, but in the past two seasons, San Francisco has had one of the league's best red zone offenses. In 2021, the 49ers scored touchdowns on 64.4 percent of their red zone possessions, which ranked fourth in the NFL, while the year before the ranked seventh at 67.3 percent.
The Seahawks, meanwhile, ranked third in the NFL in red zone defense a year ago, allowing touchdowns on 50.8 percent of opponent trips into the red zone.
Asked about being good in the red zone, and at the goal line in particular, defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt said, "It always starts with the mentality and the attitude that you have to have. That ball gets down that low in the red zone, you want to keep them out. Obviously, you can't worry about the plays that happened beforehand or how they got down there, so the attitude is to defend whatever amount of field that we have and keep them out. If we can hold them to three, then that is a win for us. Obviously, we had the two takeaways down there, so those are just huge, monumental plays that we want to have. We've talked about that mindset and that standard really since the springtime. Don't concede anything, always continue to compete, trust in your teammates and the execution of the calls, and great things will happen for you."
5. How do Josh Jones & Ryan Neal look filling some pretty big shoes?
The Seahawks unfortunately lost Pro-Bowl safety Jamal Adams to a knee injury that will require surgery, meaning the defense will be without one of its top playmakers. While no one player will be asked to duplicate everything Adams does, the Seahawks do have good safety depth in which they're confident moving forward. Josh Jones is expected to step into the starting lineup, while Ryan Neal, who started nine games over the past two seasons, will also feature in the defense if and when the Seahawks use three-safety packages.
"I've been really pleased with Josh Jones," Carroll said. "Josh has done nothing but positive stuff since the day he got here. Since then, he's taken the next step and then the next step. Coming into this camp, he came back and had a great camp. He had the most turnovers and he had the most big plays and big hits of all of the guys. You saw him in the rotations already, he was already part of the plan. Now, he just takes a bigger step forward. He's strong, he's fast, he's (210) pounds, he's a big kid that plays the position with a really big motor, and he is a smart kid.
"Ryan Neal is going to play more, and he will be part of what we are doing. Fortunately, he made it back last week, and he is there. We love what Ryan brings. You asked about the position, I think at the position, we are going to be okay. We are going to be alright with our guys. We were trying to figure out how we were going to play Ryan anyway going into it until he got hurt. Here we are, so we will see how it works out."
The Seattle Seahawks take on the San Francisco 49ers for Week 15 of the 2022 season. Take a look back at some of their previous matchups.