Here’s our regular day-before look at five things to watch in Sunday’s game:
1, CORRALLING COLIN: Colin Kaepernick has had two of his poorer performances against Seattle, going 32-64 for 371 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions in games won by Seattle by a combined 71-16. But each of those games were in the comfy confines of CenturyLink field. He also didn’t have his full complement of receivers in the week two game in Seattle. He does now, and he’ll be at home, surely hoping for some redemption.
2, THE BATTLE IN THE TRENCHES: Always a key, it may be more so in a game like this that figures to be physical, emotional (recall SF guard’s Alex Boone’s comments about no one on the 49ers liking anyone on the Seahawks?) and intense from the beginning. The edge could go to Seattle’s defensive line with San Francisco nursing some injuries on its offensive line. Specifically, left tackle Joe Staley is questionable with a knee injury though he is expected to play, and left guard Mike Iupati is also ailing with a knee injury — Boone will move to left tackle if Staley can’t go. The Seahawks offensive line, meanwhile, will be back to full strength for a third straight game. Still, the Seahawks will need to get the running attack going better than the last two games, when Seattle has averaged just 3.3 per carry.
3, SHERMAN AND BOLDIN: San Francisco receiver Anquan Boldin leads the 49ers with 61 receptions for 822 yards. But he was held to just one catch for seven yards in the first game against the Seahawks after Seattle decided to use cornerback Richard Sherman as his primary defender, an out of character move for the Seahawks who usually just leave Sherman on the left side. With Crabtree back, the Seahawks may not be able to single out Boldin as much as the first game.
4, TURNOVERS: This was a big key in Seattle’s 29-3 win over the 49ers in September, when Kaepernick threw three interceptions and the 49ers also lost two fumbles (one by Kaepernick on a strip-sack by Cliff Avril and the other on a kickoff return by momentary Seahawk Perrish Cox). Seattle had just one in that game, a differential that is a big part of the Seahawks’ plus-12 turnover differential for the season, tied for second in the NFL. The 49ers, meanwhile, are at plus-six, tied for 10th. Take that game out (and I know you can’t, but the point is to show how the teams have otherwise performed) and their turnover differentials are essentially the same for the season.
5, FIRST DOWN TUG-OF-WAR: For a team and coach that carry a run-first reputation, it’s surprising to see the 49ers ranked last in the NFC in total first downs with 206. Opponents have focused on limiting the 49ers’ running game this season in an attempt to force Kaepernick to throw more. Even so, the past two years it rarely mattered if teams knew the run was coming — the 49ers could run it anyway. But it’s been more of a struggle this season as the 49ers are averaging just 4.1 yards per carry, 19th in the NFL. That has forced the 49ers into more second- and third-and-longs, as well, as the 49ers are averaging just 5.15 yards on first down, 13th in the NFC and well below the 6.0 of Seattle and the 5.48 that is the NFL average. It’ll be a key for Seattle to keep those trends alive.