By Charles Jay
The San Francisco 49ers are the unlikely possessors of an 8-0 record, atop the pro football world right now. And while some people saw them emerging as a possible contender, not many saw them as a division champion, not in the NFC West, where the Los Angeles Rams and Seattle Seahawks reside.
Well, the Seahawks are intent on upsetting this applecart. And believe it or not, if they can pull off a win on Monday night, they will move to within a half-game of the division lead. These teams will do battle at 8:15 PM ET at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.
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There’s a lot of good news around the Niners’ camp right now, as they welcome back some players. On the defense, they are getting back Ahkello Witherspoon. On offense, they return a number of components, including both of the starting tackles. Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey are not stiffs. And the key lead blocker is available as well. Kyle Juzsczyk may be the best fullback in the NFL. You can’t imagine how the ground game, which may already be one of the two or three best in the league (we have to put Baltimore and Minnesota in this group), can’t be working even better.
Ideally, the Seahawks would like to commit themselves to the ground game as well. And the numbers bear that out; Seattle runs the ball 46.4% of the time, which represents the fifth-highest frequency in the NFL. Because Rashaad Penny, a former first-round draft pick, hasn’t panned out as had been hoped, Chris Carson (764 yards) has shouldered the burden more or less by himself, outside of those contributions from quarterback Russell Wilson.
So don’t be surprised if both teams are heavy on the run game.
In the Monday night NFL odds that have been posted on this game, as we will use for WagerWAR, the Niners are laying points:
San Francisco 49ers -6 (-115)
Seattle Seahawks +6 (-105)
Over 47 points (-110)
Under 47 points (-110)
Everything has been coming up roses for the Niners. The offense is working in the most fundamental way. The quarterback (Jimmy Garoppolo) is a winner; what can you say about a guy who has a 13-1 record when he is starting – and finishing – a game for this team? And the defense has 30 sacks and has been double-tough in the red zone – in fact the most difficult team to score TD’s against.
Is there some room for the underdog here? Well, maybe the Niners are a team that you can run, as they’ve given up 4.7 yards per carry. We said “maybe,” as their stats in the “power” situations, including short yardage, are the best in the league.
If you want to be nit-picky about it, you could point to the schedule with some skepticism. Beating Cincinnati, Washington, Arizona or even Tampa Bay may not have been that big a deal. Pittsburgh was starting Mason Rudolph for the first time. There were other rookies – or virtual rookies – they faced. The Rams did not have Todd Gurley. Okay, maybe we’re being too nit-picky.
What might be more significant than who the Niners have coming back is who they are going to be missing. Sure, picking up Emmanuel Sanders was a nice move, but when Jimmy G doesn’t have tight end George Kittle at his disposal it creates a big hole. He is arguably the best in the business and he has 46 receptions. The next guy down the list for the 49ers has only 22. So needless to say, he is by far Garoppolo’s favorite receiver. He has been listed as doubtful. And kicker Robbie Gould probably won’t play either. I’m not sure how much they miss here with Chase McLaughlin, playing for his fourth different team since training camp, set to assume the responsibilities.
I wish I could say that Seattle’s defense was able to stop teams cold, but I can’t. They’ve been kind of disappointing. But there is upside, for sure, and you wonder when it is going to show itself. Here is a team that is not content with standing pat, and you have to admire that. They have brought aboard Ziggy Ansah, Jadeveon Clowney and Quandre Diggs, and when they all get together and have an impact, this is going to be a markedly better unit. Will that happen tonight?
Hey, we haven’t even talked about Russell Wilson yet. He deserves all the MVP consideration he’s been getting. Do you realize that a Seattle win here – which would bring their road record to 5-0, by the way – would bring them within a half-game of the Niners and the division lead? This is a team with holes, and Wilson compensates for that as well as any quarterback.
I knew that Wilson was a guy with balls of steel, and knew how to get things done in different ways. But I admit that it kind of snuck up on me how good a passer he’s become. When you are NOT one of those dink-and-dunk West Coast offense QB’s and you have 22 TD’s and just one interception, you can’t fake that. Sure, he is going to get sacked in this game. But he often does that just so he’s able to avoid doing something stupid. He loves to throw it down the field, and he’s got the fleet-footed guys like Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf to put a lot of deep pressure on that San Francisco secondary. Now add another guy, as Josh Gordon is probably going to play a lot of snaps after having just recently been acquired.
And he’s really happy about hooking up with Wilson. “I love the way he plays, it’s as simple as that. He’s a great ballplayer, he can make it happen from pretty much anywhere,” said Gordon.
This can’t be all about numbers. Wilson brings intangibles into the situation that you can’t deny. He’s liable to so something, somewhere, to alter the course of the game, and for that reason, He will keep the Seahawks in this very much till the end. That is why, as we continue with WagerWAR (powered by the good folks of PPHVIP), I am taking the points.
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