The Hit Job editors Julian Rogers and Jessica Ridpath preview the week 11 matchup between the Seattle Seahawks (4–5) and the San Francisco 49ers (3–6).
When: 1:25 p.m. PT Sunday, Nov. 22
Where: CenturyLink Field, Seattle, Wash.
Rogers: Whereas last Sunday night’s game against the Arizona Cardinals proved to be a season-turning point for both teams, this Sunday’s matchup looks to be anything but. In week 11, the Seahawks/49ers is a calendar event between two also-rans. Apart from pride, what can either squad hope to gain from a victory over the other team?
Ridpath: If there’s one thing this season has shown us so far, it’s that anything can happen. Seattle’s road to the post-season may be a steep uphill climb, but it’s technically doable. A victory over San Francisco will keep them clinging to the playoff precipice.
With the Cardinals at 7–2 and looking fairly unflappable, the top seed in the NFC West is all but sewn up. But the NFC Wild Card race is wide open. If we take the under-performing NFC East and the almost-certain-to-be-top-seed Carolina Panthers (9–0) out of the Wild Card picture, the leading contenders as of today are the Vikings (7–2) and Packers (6–3), who are battling for the top spot in the NFC North, and the Falcons (6–3), who are hanging on to #2 in the NFC South. But after a surprising spate of losses, both the Packers and the Falcons are looking vulnerable. The good news for Seattle is that this vulnerability could free up a Wild Card spot. The bad news is that there are more 4–5 teams in the hunt than you can count on one hand.
In short, a win this week keeps hope alive for the Seahawks. But their fate is hardly in their own hands. As much as they need to win, they need other teams to lose. That’s never a comfortable position to be in.
Julian, Russell Wilson is taking some well-deserved flack for delivering his worst performance of the season last week (14 of 32, for 240 yards, with one TD and one INT). What does he need to do differently to avoid a second straight loss at home?
Rogers: Mr. 87.6 million-dollar-man needs to deliver a steady flow of wins, by whatever means necessary. That has to start this Sunday against the rebuilding 49ers. The Seahawks won’t have talented but erratic Colin Kaepernick to beat up on, but instead will face off against the steadier Blaine Gabbert.
But your question about Wilson is a good one. What he needs to do to get the team back in the plus-column is to better diagnose defenses pre-snap, so he can make better adjustments and get the ball into the hands of his playmakers — in the right situations. In other words, despite Wilson’s most recent poor showing, he’s not going to haul them out of the loss column on his own. He won’t get much help from the line. It’s going to have to come from his brain. I have no concerns about his physical abilities.
Starting with this Sunday’s game, the Seahawks have a talent advantage over their opponent. Gabbert does not have the skillset nor the skill players to match up with what Wilson has at his disposal. The Seahawks should win this one at home. If they don’t, it will mean they are unraveling.
The Seahawks have been punched in the mouth, in ways not previously seen in their recent successful years. It’s a time when team leaders lead their team out of trouble, if they’re capable. The critics are coming out of the woodwork, and Pete Carroll says the “season is this week.” Jess, what team leaders do you expect to make a mark — good or bad — in this Sunday’s division game?
Ridpath: It would be easy to say that Marshawn Lynch, who had only 42 yards on eight carries last week, needs to step up and play better. But anyone who watched last Sunday’s game will remember that Beast Mode logged a sizable chunk of hard-won yards that were called back by penalties.
And that’s exactly where Seattle’s team leaders need to right the ship. Long known as a team with a penchant for yellow flags, the blue birds seemed to be playing cleaner football this year — giving up fewer than 50 penalty yards in six of nine games. Last week was a different story, however, with penalties costing them a whopping 131 yards. If you take into account the fallout from several key penalties on defense — including two Cardinals’ TD drives that were kept alive by Seattle flags on third down — it’s easy to see why the Monday-morning reports were all about how the Seahawks beat themselves last week.
The story was even worse on offense, with penalties killing their first four drives. The result? Too many first-and-twenties. Punts-a-plenty. And seven meager points in the first half.
So when it comes to team leadership, I say step number one is a collective effort to avoid costly mental mistakes. I’m looking at you, Richard Sherman (penalized twice for pass interference … not to mention the blown coverage on Arizona’s first TD of the second quarter). And you, Earl Thomas (called for illegal contact and beaten downfield on the Cardinals’ game-ending TD run). And you, Luke Willson (called for offensive holding that negated a Lynch first-down run and teed up Arizona’s safety).
Not accruing penalties is a pretty mundane way to make your mark as a team leader. But it’s all the Hawks would have needed to do to win last week.
Julian, assuming the blue birds can stay out of their own way, do the 49ers have any chance of stealing a victory in Seattle?
Rogers: There’s always a chance. The Seahawks are not faring well against NFC West opponents (1–2). Their lone win, of course, came against Santa Clara Junior College on the road. The 49ers played terribly in that game and the Seahawks had just enough offense to return home a winner (20–3) when the 49ers were arguably at their Kaepernickian lowest.
The question that can only be answered after kickoff on Sunday is which team will show up? With Kaepernick on the bench, might we see the efficient, run-heavy offense that took apart the NFC North-leading Minnesota Vikings in week one or the play-it-safe team that eeked out a victory over the Atlanta Falcons? If either of those teams show up, there is a chance they can, indeed, win this Sunday’s game.
The formula for the 49ers to beat the Seahawks lies in making few mistakes and executing a heavy ball-control offense. Unlike the Seahawks’ last opponent (who were treated to the many penalties you noted) that featured a high-powered offense, the 49ers will have to earn a victory in a different way. If the Seahawks make their penalty-prone recent selves a feature and not a bug in the blue bird machine, the 49ers will have an opportunity to win. If the 49ers can further ride the (comparatively) mistake-free arm of Gabbert while grinding out clock and yards, they can win. This won’t be easy without Carlos Hyde and Anquan Boldin, both of whom are still day-to-day with injuries. I still think this is a contest between a team that isn’t very good and another team that isn’t playing as well as it can. Prediction: Seahawks 23, 49ers 14.
Ridpath: I have to say I’m disappointed in you, Julian. We’ve made it through almost an entire column and you didn’t once call me out for using language of the hippie or hillbilly variety. Are you feeling okay?
I’m also disappointed to see you’re not making the mistake of picking San Francisco to win again in their second battle with Seattle. If you don’t make silly predictions, how will I ever get back to even with you?
I wish I could find something to disagree with in your astute observations. The fact that I can’t probably means that this match-up is a fairly straightforward one. As the (clearly) better team, Seattle should win. But there’s always a chance they won’t. Especially if they have the lead in the fourth quarter (note: ask multimedia dept. to add rim shot sound effect).
The sting of last week’s defeat (and another blown fourth-quarter lead) left a sizable welt on the Seahawks’ brand — one that all of Seattle’s team leaders will be looking to soothe with an authoritative victory over their longtime rivals. Prediction: Seahawks 31, 49ers 17.
Here’s what we were right and wrong about last week.
What he got right: The game winner. I’m 6–3 on the season. You are what your record says you are and the Seahawks and Cardinals are not the same squads as they were the past two seasons. The baton has been passed. I foretold that the Seahawks would probably resurrect the can’t-hold-a-fourth-quarter-lead narrative. Bingo. I stated that last week’s game was a turning point for the season for the Seahawks. They almost certainly cooked their own goose as far as playoffs go by losing at home and dropping below .500 again. The last time the Seahawks were below .500 this late in the season was 2011, when they finished in third place in the NFC West (7–9).
What he got wrong: Last week’s game was a higher-scoring event than I anticipated. I revealed some stats last week that noted Lynch’s drop-off in average yards before and after contact. Even though Lynch didn’t get many yards, I don’t think he left many on the field. He fought hard for all he got.
What she got right: I was right to think that Seattle was capable of beating the Cardinals: They had a four-point lead early in the fourth quarter. I was wrong to think they would actually pull it off.
What she got wrong: The game winner, dropping me to 5–4 on the season. I predicted that Seattle’s defense would spell trouble for Carson Palmer. Even though they harassed him with two fumble-inducing sacks (one of which was returned for a TD), Palmer clearly won the battle — connecting for 363 passing yards and three TDs.
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