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December 22, 2012 at 11:00 AM

GameDay prep: San Francisco at Seattle

A look inside Sunday’s matchup atop the NFC West between Pete Carroll’s Seahawks and Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers.

Keys to Seahawks victory

Seahawks1. Get back to basics in the run defense.
Seattle’s Week 7 game at San Francisco marked a turning point in Seattle’s run defense. The Seahawks had allowed an average of 3.3 yards per carry over the first six games, and no back had surpassed 100 yards rushing in a game. Frank Gore gained 131 yards against the Seahawks, and their run defense hasn’t been the same since. Adrian Peterson hit triple digits against Seattle. So did Buffalo’s C.J. Spiller as opponents have averaged 5.3 yards per carry against Seattle its last eight games. Beating San Francisco starts with stopping the run.

Seahawks2. Pressure San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick.

The 49ers have allowed 39 sacks so far this season, seventh-most for any team in the league. Seattle’s Chris Clemons has totaled 4.5 sacks over the past four games, exceeding double digits for his third successive season in Seattle. Rookie Bruce Irvin has eight sacks this season, six of which have come at home. The key for Seattle will be collapsing the pocket on Kaepernick without losing containment because Kaepernick is a threat to run. He has two runs of 50 yards in the past three games.

Seahawks3. Be careful on the back end.
The 49ers didn’t complete a pass longer than 20 yards in the Week 7 meeting against Seattle, their three longest plays from scrimmage all runs by Gore. In Kaepernick’s five starts at quarterback, he has completed 18 passes of 20 yards or more, an average of 3.6 per game. The Seahawks better keep the back end of their secondary buttoned up. “Colin has such a strong arm,” coach Pete Carroll said. “He really can fire the ball down the field on down the field stuff along with they’re play action stuff.”

Keys to 49ers victory

for-mark-1-cl.gif1. Don’t fall behind.
This is important not only because Seattle has scored first in 11 of its 14 games this season, but because the 49ers are not built to play from behind. They’ve trailed after the first quarter only twice this season and haven’t won either game. They’ve faced a halftime deficit of seven or more points three times this season and haven’t won any of those games, either. The fact CenturyLink Field is one of the league’s loudest stadiums makes it even more important the 49ers not fall behind.

for-mark-1-cl.gif2. Protect the ball.
The 49ers are good at this, having committed only 14 turnovers this season, which is tied for third-fewest in the NFL. Seattle has forced 11 turnovers in its past two games, though, which goes a long way in explaining how the Seahawks became the first team in 62 years to score 50 or more points in consecutive games. Giving Seattle’s offense a short field would mean a long night for the 49ers.

for-mark-1-cl.gif3. Don’t underestimate Seattle’s offense.
This isn’t the same unit that played in San Francisco back in Week 7. At least not in terms of productivity. The Seahawks’ 13-6 loss in the Bay Area was the fifth time in the first seven games they failed to score 20 points. They haven’t failed to hit that mark in any game since. Not only that, but Seattle is more aggressive throwing down the field now with rookie quarterback Russell Wilson and also using him as a runner, too.

Matchup microscope

Seahawks LT Russell Okung vs. Niners OLB Aldon Smith.
Seattle offensive line coach Tom Cable has said Okung is playing as well as any left tackle in football. This game will be one of the biggest tests as Okung will repeatedly face Smith, whose 19.5 sacks is tied with Houston’s J.J. Watt for most in the NFL. The fact that 49ers defensive lineman Justin Smith is questionable for this game makes the matchup even more important. Justin Smith is an essential part of this defense, and if he’s absent, the 49ers will rely upon Aldon Smith to help fill some of that void.

Series history

The Seahawks beat the 49ers in Pete Carroll’s first regular-season game as Seattle’s coach, but have lost four in a row to San Francisco since then. The last three have come with Jim Harbaugh coaching the 49ers. The two coaches faced three times in the Pac-10, Carroll at USC and Harbaugh at Stanford with Harbaugh holding a 2-1 edge in those games.

| More in Keys to the Game | Topics: 49ers

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