As we draw nearer to the end of the decade, it feels fitting to look back on the great teams, games and rivalries that graced the 2010s. Among those noteworthy moments, the rivalry between the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks feels like a missed opportunity. From 2012 to 2014, the NFC ran through two of the most exciting and dynamic franchises in the league. Both teams possessed electric, young quarterbacks with seemingly limitless raw potential, two eccentric coaches and two vaunted defences.
The 2013 NFC Championship game felt like a pivotal moment for both the 49ers and the Seahawks. As Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman batted down that pass to Michael Crabtree, the time between that pigskin being batted down and hitting the turf, the two franchises split irrevocably apart.
As we all know, the Seahawks went on to win Super Bowl XLVIII in devastating fashion and appeared in Super Bowl XLIX to lose in devastating fashion. The 49ers, however, went on to fall into NFL purgatory for six years, only now emerging under the tutelage of Kyle Shanahan and quarterbacking Jimmy Garoppolo.
This brings us to Monday Night Football, the schism between two of the NFL’s most notable franchises has begun to close. So much so in fact that Monday night presents an opportunity for both franchises to stake their claim atop the NFC West.
Here are five things to look out for on Monday Night:
Russell Wilson versus the 49ers Defence
Much of the Seahawks success this year can be attributed to the MVP front runner behind centre, the painfully elusive boogieman that has terrorised the NFC West for almost a decade – Russell Wilson.
Without Wilson, it wouldn’t be aloof to say that the Seahawks would be near .500 at this point in the season. Time and time again, no.3 has saved helped his team clutch victory from the jaws of defeat. Wilson has always been a top five QB in the league and now he’s staking a claim for the top spot (2505 yds passing, 22 td’s, 1 int on 68.5% completion rate and 8.5 y/a.)
The Niners D struggled to contain Kyler Murray on TNF to a certain extent. This could be a bad sign for the Niners defence as Murray has a similar skill set to Wilson.
However, the 49ers were playing on the road on a Thursday night and the defence did just enough to close the game out to get the win. With almost a ‘mini-bye week’ for the Niners, the defence should be well rested and prepared for Wilson. What could turn out to be a big miss for the Niners is the absence of Kwon Alexander with a torn pectoral. In Saleh’s wide 9 system, Alexander provided much needed speed and intensity from the weak-side linebacker spot. Don’t be surprised if the Seahawks target rookie replacement Dre Greenlaw early in both the running and passing game.
Tyler Lockett, D.K. Metcalf, Josh Gordon versus Richard Sherman
Per PFF, Richard Sherman is playing lights out this season, allowing the lowest total quarterback rating when targeted in the NFL. With this in mind, Tyler Lockett is a special type of talent. Lockett is a crisp route runner with lethal speed and arguably the best hands in the league. His chemistry with Russell Wilson is off the charts.
The 49ers play a lot of single-high safety looks and leave Sherman one-on-one on the left hand side of the field. Keep an eye out for how many times the Seahawks line up Lockett on Sherman and test this vaunted Niners defence deep. The 49ers defence is created for and much more comfortable when everything is in front of them. If Carroll decides to keep Lockett in the slot, then rookie D.K. Metcalf could see a fair share of snaps against Sherman. Metcalf has impressed this season, using his physical gifts to box out corners and make high point catches look easy. Sherman at 6’3 matches up well against Metcalf and could limit the rookie, in comes Josh Gordon. Gordon was acquired of waivers by the Seahawks early last week and is expected to play on Monday night. Gordon was let go by the Pats for a reason and it will be interesting to see how effective he is as a possible WR1 for the Seahawks.
Jimmy Garoppolo building off Thursday night
As this season has drawn on, there were a fair few questions surrounding starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Barring a few brain-dead interceptions, Garoppolo has played at an okay level so far.
That was until Thursday night when the Cardinals completely stopped the impressive Niners running game and forced Jimmy to win the game. And that he did. Garoppolo finished with 317 yards and 4 touchdowns to 0 interceptions including a number of clutch, Brady-like throws. If Garoppolo can repeat his Thursday night performance as well as the Niners run game re-finding it’s form, then it could be a long night for Seattle.
The Run Games
Much has been discussed this season about both these respective teams’ running games. Chris Carson and Russell Wilson provide a solid, capable running unit, Wilson more so as a scrambler than a designed runner. Seattle has amassed 1185 yards total rushing this year, Wilson accounts for 203 of those yards (along with 3 TDs). Carson accounts for 764 yards and also 3 TDs, although Carson has fumbled 5 times this year.
San Francisco run a more zone based running game with the finesse of Matt Brieda and Tevin Coleman leading the way. The 49ers lead the league in rushing attempts and have 1369 rushing yards in total with 13 touchdowns. The beauty of Shanahan’s system is that it’s very much plug and play in the backfield. Coleman, Breida and Raheem Mostert all can be productive from that position. Add the extra factor of best full-back in the league Kyle Juszczyk returning and the Niners running game should be clicking on all levels.
We have commented on the trenches somewhat already. We are all aware the threat that the Niners d-line poses for Seattle. Seattle’s o-line has been usually mediocre to bad this season. Centre Justin Britt went down with a torn ACL which was a huge blow for the Seahawks. LT Duane Brown is the highlight of this line which contains veterans Mike Iupati at LG and D.J. Fluker at RG. Expect the Niners to have success penetrating the interior of Seattle’s o-line. While most of the attention will be on Nick Bosa and Dee Ford, expect Solomon Thomas, Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner to be productive from the interior.
On the flip side, Jadeveon Clowney has performed adequately this season without the gift of having J.J. Watt operating to the left of him. While Clowney is big, he is an incredible athlete and possesses great speed. However, the Shanahan run game does a good job of freezing d-linemen in their tracks by using a variety of pre-snap motion and counters. Borderline Hall of Famer Joe Staley will be returning for the Niners after eight weeks missing alongside starting RT Mike McGlinchey. If Staley and McGlinchey perform to their usual impressive standard off of injury, then the Niners should win the battle in the trenches.
To conclude, Monday Night has game of the year potential. The Niners will be out to exorcise past demons as the Seahawks aim to prove that they’re not ready to roll over to the team they beat to ignite their success. Whatever the result, we should be in for some November fireworks.