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NFL Preview - Seattle (1-0) at San Francisco (1-0)
By Tony Moss, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks both raised expectations with impressive wins in Week 1. One Sunday later, as the two NFC West rivals prepare to face off at Candlestick Park, a win will vault those high hopes into the stratosphere.
The homestanding 49ers were one of the big surprises of the opening week, going to Arizona and defeating the defending NFC champion Cardinals, 20-16. The victory extended the run of success enjoyed when the team went 5-4 under Mike Singletary last season, and reinforced the decision to name Shaun Hill the team's starting quarterback to begin 2009.
Hill completed 18-of-31 passes for 209 yards and a touchdown in the victory, moving to 8-3 in his career as a starter.
A win for the 49ers in their 2009 home opener would put the team alone in first place, further evidence that they are on the path back to NFL relevance.
The Seahawks, meanwhile, seemed to display that their dismal 4-12 season of 2008 was an aberration.
Seattle blanked the rebuilding St. Louis Rams by a 28-0 margin, showing renewed health and a burst of enthusiasm under new head coach Jim Mora.
Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, apparently over the back injuries that tore down his 2008 season, was 25-of-36 for 279 yards and three touchdowns, hitting budding tight end star John Carlson with two of the scores and wideout Nate Burleson - himself re-appearing after an injury-plagued '08 - with a touchdown of his own.
Running back Julius Jones began his 2009 campaign with a 117-yard effort, and contributed one of the day's most exciting highlights with a 62-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
The Seahawks lead the all-time series with the 49ers, 11-9, including an unconventional split of last year's home-and-home. Seattle was a 33-30 overtime loser when the teams met at Qwest Field in Week 2, and exacted its revenge with a 34-13 win at Candlestick Park in Week 8, Singletary's first game as interim head coach. Seattle is 2-0 in San Francisco since last losing there in 2006, when the 49ers swept the yearly home-and-home.
Mora is 1-0 as a head coach against the 49ers, for whom he served as an assistant coach from 1997 through 2003. Mora's first win as a head coach was against San Francisco, a 21-19 road win for the Falcons in Week 1 of the 2004 campaign. The 49ers' Singletary is 0-1 as a head coach against the Seahawks, and will be meeting Mora head-to-head for the first time.
WHEN THE SEAHAWKS HAVE THE BALL
Despite last week's win, the Seahawks and their fans have to be a bit nervous about what has already transpired on the injury front for the team. One season after being ravaged by injuries, Seattle enters Week 2 with question marks along the offensive line, where tackle Walter Jones (knee) and center Chris Spencer (quadriceps) are questionable after missing the opener, and at wide receiver, where Deion Branch (hamstring) and T.J. Houshmandzadeh (back spasms) both missed practice time this week. The good news for Seattle is that Hasselbeck emerged from the Rams win without a hitch, showing great chemistry with both Carlson (6 receptions, 95 yards, 2 TD) and Burleson (7 receptions, 74 yards, 1 TD) as well as Houshmandzadeh (6 receptions, 48 yards). But the most encouraging development may have come out of the running game, where Julius Jones led a 167-yard ground assault despite the presence of a banged-up line. Hasselbeck was not sacked in Week 1, though he did throw a couple of interceptions.
A combination of big plays and a strong effort against the run helped fuel a fine defensive effort in the 49ers' win over the Cardinals last week. San Francisco sacked Kurt Warner three times, goaded him into two picks, and bottled up an Arizona running game which finished with just 40 yards on the day. The pass rush may have been the most encouraging element, as Ray McDonald (2 tackles), Parys Haralson (2 tackles) and Justin Smith (1 sack) all ended up with sacks of the quick-firing Warner. Smith is listed as questionable on this week's injury report with an elbow problem. On the back end, cornerback Nate Clements (5 tackles) and linebacker Patrick Willis came up with interceptions, while corner Dre' Bly (3 tackles) broke up three passes in his formal debut as a Niner. The Pro Bowler Willis headlined the run-stopping effort as usual, notching a game-high 13 tackles. No other member of the 49ers front seven had more than two tackles in the victory.
WHEN THE 49ERS HAVE THE BALL
Though San Francisco walked away from Arizona with an impressive win, Singletary and offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye II could not have been pleased with the team's production in the rushing game. Frank Gore was limited to 30 yards on 22 carries in the win, never managing more than six yards on any rush for a team that amassed an NFL-low 21 net ground yards in Week 1. Establishing Gore early against Seattle will be critical. When he looks to the air, Hill will try to connect again with his main triumvirate of targets - wideouts Isaac Bruce (4 receptions, 74 yards) and Josh Morgan (3 receptions, 38 yards) along with tight end Vernon Davis. Davis, who caught five balls for 40 yards, continues to build on a strong preseason. Though limited in the running game, Gore did score one of his two touchdowns on a three-yard pass play from Hill, which turned out to be the game-winner. The 49ers offensive line must do a better job overall after surrendering four sacks last Sunday.
The Seahawks' injury issues are not limited to the offensive side of the ball entering Week 2. The team has already had to do some major shuffling at linebacker, with LeRoy Hill out indefinitely with a groin problem and middle man Lofa Tatupu (3 tackles, 1 sack) questionable with a hamstring ailment. That situation will place additional pressure on rookie first-rounder Aaron Curry, who had four tackles in his formal NFL debut last week, as well as recently re-signed 'backer D.D. Lewis. Up front, new Seattle faces Colin Cole (3 tackles) and Cory Redding (2 tackles) combined for five stops in the win over the Rams. The Seahawks pass rush generated three sacks last week, though none of those came from former Pro Bowl end Patrick Kerney (3 tackles), returning to the field after an injury-plagued 2008. Linemen Brandon Mebane (1 tackle) and Lawrence Jackson (2 tackles) accounted for two of the sacks. Seattle did not manage an interception the back end, though cornerback Josh Wilson had a nice day with five tackles and three pass breakups and safety Jordan Babineaux (5 tackles) contributed as well.
It's hard to know what Seahawks to count on from a fantasy perspective this week apart from Carlson, one of the underrated talents in all of both fantasy football and real-life football. The battered state of the offensive line and receiving corps makes opening with Hasselbeck, Julius Jones or any of the receivers problematic, and it is worth noting that the 49ers defended both the pass and run reasonably well last week. Burleson looks he'll be the biggest factor in the passing game other than Carlson (especially with Houshmandzadeh dealing with back problems), so he should offer some production again this week.
The 49ers are much tougher to get a read on from a fantasy perspective than the Seahawks. Last week's win came despite the weakest rushing performance in the league during Week 1, though Gore's two touchdowns overshadowed his lack of rushing production. The tight end Davis is by all accounts ready for a breakout year, and his five-catch effort last week was probably not an aberration. Bruce, even at the ripe old age of 36, continues to get open and be a factor.
It has been so long since the 49ers have been in a truly meaningful game that it's hard to know how they'll respond to such an event. Seattle has much more experience in these types of contests, and it could be argued that the Seahawks will handle the pressure a bit better on Sunday. That said, although they lack experience on the big stage, this Niners team looks ready to prove its credibility. The way they shut down a good Cardinals attack last week is proof positive that the defense is finally there, and the team possesses enough weapons on offense to keep the pressure off the "D". It will be a surprise if this game doesn't come down to the wire, but look for the 49ers to deliver on the heightened expectations and pull out an impressive, and important, win.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: 49ers 23, Seahawks 21
09/17 13:41:21 ET
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