The Seahawks face off against the 49ers on Sunday in the season opener and both teams will look to get a jump on the lead in the NFC West. The Seahawks will be looking to repeat as Division Champions, this time hopefully with a winning record, and the 49ers will be looking to knock them off their block, so to speak.
Here are some things that Seattle will have to do to come out of San Francisco with a win on the road:
1> Limit turnovers. The Hawks have to win the turnover battle. This is never more important than playing on the road with an inexperienced line, an untested quarterback, a young defense, and a new offense. These are the issues that Seattle will be dealing with so if they start coughing up the football they will have major problems.
2> Settle down on offense. The Seahawks first team offense really sucked ass in the preseason (pardon my french). The line was porous, the passing game was inefficient, the run game didn't gain a ton of traction, and many of the Hawks starting players were limited with minor injuries.
If the Hawks can settle in and string together a few first downs early in the game, it will be huge for their confidence and they can start to build some momentum on that side of the ball. Tarvaris Jackson is under a huge amount of pressure both from the fans and from opposing defensive lines, so if he can calm down a bit and distribute the football, he should be fine. If he continues to hold on to the ball in the face of the pass rush and take sacks, it's going to be a very LONG day for the offense (and consequentially, the defense).
3> The offensive line play. It's looking like James Carpenter will be playing at left guard for the injured Robert Gallery, and Breno Giacomini will take over at right tackle. Neither of them have started an NFL game. John Moffitt, the right guard, hasn't either. Max Unger, the center, has started 17 games. Russell Okung has started 10. Yikes.
It's very likely they're going to struggle. This is the NFL. You can't just throw together a line and hope it magically works. The level of suckatude is what to watch here. Can they get by with a little grit and get the job done well enough to eek out the win? It's very possible. I'm not saying that the sky is falling, but this will be something that could severely hamstring their efforts.
4> The defense will need to get pressure on Alex Smith. Any quarterback in the NFL, with time, can pick apart a defense. You don't make it to the NFL if you can't make passes under no pressure. Even Alex Smith, the former number one pick that has mostly busted in the NFL (though he IS still starting... so it's not a complete waste), could pick apart the Seahawks secondary if given time to sit back and hit an open target.
The Hawks will need to bring pressure from their LEO end, typically Chris Clemons and Raheem Brock, but will also need to get a little push from the defensive interior -- Brandon Mebane and Alan Branch. If these two can collapse the pocket, force Smith to scramble or throw it away, it will take some pressure off of the young secondary to make plays.
San Francisco upgraded their receiving corps this offseason with the addition of Braylon Edwards to augment the weaponry they have in TE Vernon Davis and 3rd year receiver Michael Crabtree. Former CFLer, Brandon Browner will likely get the start opposite Marcus Trufant, and he'll likely match up against Crabtree. It will be a tough assignment for Browner, but it will be interesting to see what he can do against a talented receiver in Crabtree.
5> Special teams. The special teams won Seattle a few games last year, and I have to think that this year will be the same. New kickoff rules. New personnel. A new kicker in Steven Hauschka that we haven't seen kick one ball yet this season, apart from the one he made to beat the Seahawks as the clock ran out in Preseason Week 3 while playing for the Broncos. Does he have a big leg? Can he boot it through the endzone on kickoffs? I don't know. I would guess yes, but we have yet to see.
It's likely the Hawks will rely on his leg because I think it's realistic to assume the offense won't be able to move the football at will. They could prove me wrong of course, but just referencing the problems I stated above with the offensive line, I'd be surprised if they work like a well-oiled machine at this point in the season.
That's what I got for you. There are hundreds of other variables at play here, and that's why I frickin love the NFL. Should be a good game!
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