What must 49ers do to beat Seahawks?
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.