After watching their team lose to the Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game in Seattle in January – and then enduring cornerback Richard Sherman’s televised rant vs. San Francisco receiver Michael Crabtree – 49ers fans no doubt would love to see Crabtree have a huge game Thursday night in a victory at Levi’s Stadium.
Yet as delicious as that prospect might be, Crabtree’s performance in the nationally-televised Thanksgiving game (5:30 p.m.) is just a small part of the 49ers’ formula to beat their NFC rivals.
When the two 7-4 teams clash for the first time this season with their playoff lives on the line – oddsmakers have made San Francisco a 1- to 1½-point favorite -- the 49ers ability to come away with a victory will more likely hinge on these three key factors:
Stop the run: The Seahawks are the No. 1 team in the NFL in rushing, averaging 169.6 yards per game and 5.4 yards per attempt. The 1-2 punch of running back Marshawn Lynch (852 yards rushing with nine touchdowns this season) and quarterback Russell Wilson (644 yards and four TDs) is formidable. Though the 49ers have the seventh-best rush defense in the league, both Lynch and Wilson have had success vs. San Francisco in the past. Lynch has a sore back this week, but Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll says he’ll play Thursday night. The Niners defense overall had a solid game last Sunday in the win over Washington, coming up with five sacks and limiting Washington to 177 yards passing, but running back Alfred Morris had 125 yards on the ground vs. the Niners on 21 carries – not an encouraging sign heading into a game vs. the Seahawks. If Lynch can do the same thing, the 49ers will be in trouble. If San Francisco can slow the run and force Wilson to throw, the 49ers’ chances of winning will be much better.
The good Kaepernick: In some ways, 49ers coaches say quarterback Colin Kaepernick has developed to be a much better player in 2014. They say he’s better at reading his progressions and finding the right receiver. And, his overall QB rating of 92.1 this season is ahead of last season’s 91.6 – but below the 98.3 he posted his first season as a starter in 2012. Yet in games against the Seahawks, Kaepernick has been more down than up. In a short career in which he’s been very good in some games and error-prone in others, Kaepernick hasn’t yet had a "wow game" vs. Seattle. In 2012 at Seattle, the 49ers lost 42-13 and his QB rating was 72.0. In 2013, the 49ers beat the ‘Hawks at Candlestick 19-17, but his QB rating was just 67.5, as he completed 15-of-29 passes for 175 yards but was sacked twice and threw an interception. He and the 49ers lost two other games last season to Seattle – including the NFC Championship Game – with the QB posting ratings of 20.1 and 56.4 that included a combined five interceptions and five sacks. The Niners need a solid, play-making game from Kaepernick. At some point, he needs to make a big impact vs. the Seahawks.
Field position: The 49ers return teams need to be much stronger vs. Seattle than they were in the narrow win over Washington. San Francisco had horrible field position all day, starting five drives from their own 10-yard line or worse. That put the 49ers offense in a deep hole all day, and would be disastrous against a much stronger Seahawks defense. Winning the field-position battle Thursday night will be a key in a game that figures to come down to one score being the difference between winning and losing.