Seahawks Week 1 Preview: vs 49ers

The Seahawks open up their 2010 season against the 49ers. I’ll be playing my first round of PSSBL playoffs in a game that basically directly conflicts with the game, and likely won’t be able to watch any of it live. However, that doesn’t make any of this preview any less valid.

The game will take place at Qwest Field, starting at 1:15 PM PST. The 49ers have become the trendy pick to win the NFC West, and we’ll see firsthand if they’re as good as advertised.

Quarterbacks

Matt Hasselbeck vs. Alex Smith

Seahawks: Hasselbeck is truly the wildcard of this team. He’s coming off of two straight injury-riddled seasons, and two of the worst seasons he’s had since becoming one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL. He’ll have a new receiving corps to throw to apart from Deion Branch, and tomorrow’s game should be a pretty good indicator of the Hasselbeck we’ll see the rest of the season physically. It’s tough to say what he’s got left in the tank.

49ers: Unlike Hasselbeck, who came from rags to riches in terms of expected NFL production, Smith is in the discussion as one of the NFL’s biggest bust. He gets the chance to reclaim his once high-potential this season, as he’s been named the starter after a solid end to last season. 2009 was by far the best season in Smith’s career, though he’s still prone to turn the ball over frequently, averaging an interception on 3.2 percent of his passers (lower than Hasselbecks 3.5 percent).

Advantage: Even. Hasselbeck is on the wrong end of his career regression, as Smith still has some good years left if last year wasn’t a mirage. But now, they are probably equals.

Running backs

Seahawks: The Seahawks will trot out two pretty significant question marks for most of their carries. Starter Justin Forsett is likely to receive 15-20 touches, though many will come in the passing game. Spelling him is Leon Washington, a similar back who is less explosive but has better long speed. Forsett will need to prove that his productivity from 2010 was for real, while Washington may ultimately be a better back if he’s fully healed from his 2009 leg break.

49ers: Gore has been one of the NFL’s best workhorse backs in the past four seasons. Since the beginning of his 2006 season, he’s rushed the ball over 1000 times in 59 games. It looked however, like Gore may have been slowing down in 2007 and 2008, as his yards-per-carry dropped from 5.4 to 4.2 and 4.3 respectively. He returned big in 2009, averaging close to five yards per carry, and catching 52 passes in 14 games. Glen Coffee retired in the offseason, but Brian Westbrook took his place in what is likely an upgrade.

Advantage: 49ers. Gore is better than either Seattle back.

Wide Receivers

Seahawks:  The receiving corps has been one of the most volatile groups on the Seahawks this year. The Seahawks top three receivers: Deion Branch, Mike Williams, and Golden Tate combined to catch 45 balls in the NFL last year (all by Branch). The latter two are serious question marks, Tate being a rookie, and Williams having not played since 2007. Perhaps the team is better off without T.J. Houshmandzadeh, but it appears to be a pretty thin group.

49ers: Projected to the Seahawks in many mock drafts, the team passed on now-number-one Michael Crabtree, who was drafted by the 49ers 10th overall in 2009. Crabtree missed the first five games of the season holding out, but hit the ground running in 2009 catching 48 balls for 625 yards and two touchdowns in 11 games. Other than Crabtree the team features a lot of imperfection. Ted Ginn is tremendously athletic, but hardly fits a steady role, and the rest of the team’s receivers are middling at best.

Advantage: 49ers. Crabtree will be the only true No. 1 receiver on the field on Sunday.

Tight Ends

Seahawks: John Carlson may be the Seahawks best offensive threat this season. And considering that Carlson isn’t an amazing athlete that routinely makes explosive plays, that sucks. Carlson has become one of Matt Hasselbeck’s favorite targets, catching 106 balls in his first two years in the NFL. Behind Carlson are some interesting players, namely Anthony McCoy and Cameron Morrah. The duo could eventually usher Carlson out of town, as when Carlson’s rookie contract is up he’ll certainly look for a considerable raise.

49ers: Nobody has ever doubted Vernon Davis’ athleticism. The question has always been one of production. After catching 103 balls for 1,032 yards and nine touchdowns in his first three years, Davis exploded for a 78 catch, 965 yard, 13 touchdown season last year. As perhaps the best athlete in the NFL outside of Julius Peppers, there is no reason to believe that Davis’ won’t remain productive.

Advantage: 49ers. Say what you will about Davis, he’s got hall of fame caliber athleticism, and appears to have made a few deposits into what was a five cent head.

Offensive Lines

Seahawks: Top pick Russell Okung will miss Week 1, and the team has some serious question marks on the rest of the line. Chester Pitts has played guard for the past few years and will take his place, while combinations of young or disappointing players have taken other spots along the line. Alex Gibbs is also gone, and while his zone-blocking philosophy has almost certainly resonated with at least some Seahawks offensive linemen, his absence is noteworthy.

49ers: The 49ers are in a similar circumstance to the Seahawks, with youth across their entire line. Rookies Mike Iupati, while Chilo Rachal and Joe Staley are 24 and 26 years old respectively. David Bass gets the start at center, and completes an offensive line that includes nobody over the age of 30. The 49ers are well set up with power blockers for their running game, and an athletic bookend in Staley who can move laterally to protect the quarterback’s blind side.

Advantage: 49ers. Two first round rookies trump the Seahawks Dr. Frankenstein created offensive line.

Defenses

Seahawks: The Seahawks seem to be employing what will function as a 3-4, with three former defensive tackles on their line. The “elephant” will likely move around, and could cause the 49ers offensive line fits if employed correctly. With Josh Wilson gone, and serious question marks across the whole secondary, perhaps the linebacking corps of the Seahawks is their only known commodity. It looks like Lofa Tatupu will spend more time in the backfield, and if a scheme-change is effective, the team may surprise opposing offensive with their backfield penetration.

49ers: Patrick Willis leads one of the most imposing defenses in football, and that defense is the reason why many have the 49ers as the preseason favorite to win the NFC West. A defense that spends a lot of time in the backfield, and an opportunistic secondary will pose a pretty big problem for the Seahawks on Sunday. As often the 49ers blitz, they’ll have to be careful not to over pursuit Seahawks ball carriers or receivers, as the zone-blocking scheme and West Coast offense are designed to beat the blitz.

Advantage: 49ers. When healthy and operating on all cylinders, the 49ers have one of the best defenses in the NFL.

Special Teams

Seahawks: Justin Forsett is an average returner, and Golden Tate is an unknown commodity in the return game at this point. If both become large parts of the Seahawks offense, we may see some combination of Walter Thurmond and Leon Washington in the return game as the season goes on. This is where Josh Wilson comes in handy. Olindo Mare is an upper-echelon kicker, and Jon Ryan is a pretty good punter.

49ers: Ted Ginn should handle most returns for the 49ers, and has potential to be one of the best in the league. In a league that has been spoiled by Devin Hester’s heroics, Ted Ginn’s two return touchdowns last season are nothing to sneeze at. Joe Nedney seems like he’s been in San Francisco for two decades, though this is only his sixth year. He’s got a strong accurate leg. Andy Lee is one of the league’s better punters.

Advantage: 49ers. San Francisco is better than the Seahawks in all major aspects of Special Teams.

Prediction: 27-10, 49ers. It will be great to see the Seahawks youngsters in real-game action, but the team is young and rebuilding. They’re likely outmatched on Sunday, but they should be set up to compete for the division in 2012.