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What must 49ers do to beat Seahawks?

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SANTA CLARA — Not the same two teams who faced each other seven weeks ago.

When the Seahawks beat the 49ers 27-24 in November, the 49ers were missing key players. Now they have tight end George Kittle, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, all of whom missed the loss to Seattle.

And the Seahawks have gotten banged up since then. They lost their starting free safety Quandre Diggs, their starting left tackle Duane Brown, plus their top three running backs — Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny and C.J. Prosise. The Seahawks are so desperate for a running back that this week they signed 33-year-old Marshawn Lynch, who hasn’t played since Oct. 14, 2018. He might not be good anymore. Who knows?

The 49ers are better than the Seahawks. But the Seahawks have home-field advantage and pedigree. They’ve been good for a decade and have won lots of playoff games. The 49ers have been good for four months and haven’t won in Seattle since 2011.

Winning in Seattle would be a coming-of-age moment for the 49ers, no matter how injured the Seahawks are. They still have quarterback Russell Wilson and head coach Pete Carroll.

Here are the 49ers’ keys to victory:

1. Block Jadeveon Clowney: Last time, the 49ers didn’t do that so well. Clowney took turns embarrassing the 49ers’ starting offensive tackles, Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey, and recorded one sack, five quarterback hits, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a touchdown.

“It was brutal to watch,” said Kittle, who sat out the game with a broken ankle, and watched from a luxury suite. “I will say Clowney is pretty good. He’s an incredible player.”

Clowney has missed the Seahawks’ past two games with injuries, so he probably isn’t 100% healthy. Plus, he doesn’t always play hard every snap — at least that’s his reputation. But he’s a prime-time player who usually rises to the challenge when he needs to. He could wreck the game for the 49ers.

They need to assign multiple blockers to Clowney almost every play. Don’t let him rush one on one against Staley or McGlinchey. Make Clowney rush against Staley AND Kittle, or Staley and backup tight end Ross Dwelley.

Plus, make Clowney defend the run. Run the ball right at him. Tire him out. Make him a football player, not just a glamorous pass-rusher.

2. Maintain the offense’s identity: The Seahawks’ defense almost certainly will load the box against the run and dare the 49ers to throw. That’s the blueprint to defending the 49ers’ offense.

The past few weeks, head coach Kyle Shanahan has countered this blueprint by spreading out his offense, using more wide receivers and fewer blockers and putting Jimmy Garoppolo in the shotgun.

This is not the 49ers’ offensive identity. This is something foreign. It makes fullback Kyle Juszczyk irrelevant, plus it takes away the downfield play-action passes which are the foundation of the 49ers’ offense.

Shanahan can’t let the Seahawks dictate what kind of offense he will run. If the Seahawks sell out to stop his rushing attack, Shanahan should bring even more blockers into the game — two tight ends and a fullback — fake the run and throw deep play-action passes to Kittle and Sanders until the Seahawks back off.

That’s the 49ers’ offensive identity.

3. Make sure Ahkello Witherspoon doesn’t lose the game: The first three weeks of the season, Witherspoon played like a Pro Bowler. But then he injured his foot and missed six games, and has not played well since his return. Just last week, he gave up two touchdown catches against the Rams.

“We’ve got full confidence in Ahkello,” defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said. “I know he’s not happy with the way he played, I know we’re not overly excited about it, but before he got hurt, he played at a very, very high level. There’s some things that he can clean up and he knows he can clean up. I’ve got faith that he’s going to come out and play a really good game.”

Witherspoon hasn’t done much recently to reward Saleh’s faith.

Witherspoon’s backup, Emmanuel Moseley, started the previous game against the Seahawks, and recorded 10 tackles and three pass breakups and held Seahawks wide receiver D.K. Metcalf to just 41 receiving yards.

If Witherspoon struggles again on Sunday, the Niners should bench him quickly for Moseley. No faith necessary.

4. Keep Russell Wilson in the pocket: All due respect to Lynch, but he probably won’t beat the 49ers by himself, not in his first game back. For the Seahawks to pull off the upset, Wilson will have to run and throw for big gains.

The 49ers sacked Wilson five times earlier this season. But with the game on the line in overtime, the 49ers let Wilson squirt away and run for 18 yards, and the Seahawks kicked a game-winning field goal four plays later.

“Understand, he will break the pocket a couple of times,” Saleh said. “We’ve just got to make sure that when he breaks the pocket, we find a man and stick with him. The front has to remain relentless in their pass rush and understand that the play’s not over until the whistle blows.”

5. Bring Nick Bosa off the bench: He’s a terrific rookie, but he’s tired. He has just two sacks the past eight games after recording seven sacks during his first seven games.

The 49ers should reduce the rookie’s workload. Bring him off the bench for the regular-season finale. Let Solomon Thomas start and worry about tackling Lynch and defending the Seahawks’ run-first offense. Then when it’s second and long or third down — obvious passing downs — bring Bosa onto the field to rush the quarterback. That way, he’ll be fresher and more effective.

The 49ers don’t need Bosa to play 60 snaps. They need just a couple of timely sacks from him, and they’ll win.

Final score: 49ers 20, Seahawks 16.

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