The 49ers and the Seahawks, along with the Broncos, comprised the top three spots in most people's power rankings this offseason, and nothing much changed after all three teams won their week one games. Make no mistake, the 49ers are one of the toughest teams the Seahawks will face all season, and the matchup is made even tougher by the fact that they play the Seahawks twice a year. Both teams know each other's systems and tendencies, so nobody is likely to win on a surprise or trick play -- the victor tonight is going to be the team that executes better and doesn't let their tempers get the best of them (I'lm talking to you, Giacomini).
The Seahawks' run game looked anemic last week, but that was all thanks to the efforts of a spectacular defensive effort by the Panthers' front seven. I hate it when people use that tired old Madden line "Team X didn't beat them, Team Y beat themselves;" not only is it supremely condescending, it's insulting to both teams and the intelligence of everyone watching the game. I believe in giving credit where it's due, and in this case MLB Kuechly and the rest of Carolina's front seven looked and played like a top five defense. The secondary is the weak link on that defense, but not by much -- if Cam Newton and the rest of the offense can manage to produce at even an average level, that defense could very well end up pushing the Panthers' win column up into the double digits this year.
The 49ers aren't slouches on defense -- it's damned hard to underachieve with Willis and Bowman roaming the middle of the field -- but last week their performance didn't even come close to what the Panthers were able to do. That isn't a joke, and it isn't a cheap shot aimed at a divisional rival; I watched both the Panthers-Seahawks and 49ers-Packers games, and I'm just repeating what my eyeballs told me. So long as the Seahawks play to their smashmouth strengths, there will be room to run tonight. Perhaps not a lot of room, but enough to get the job done.
Seattle's defense is going to have a much harder time of it this week. Gore still has plenty of tread left on his tires, Kaepernick appears to be a more accurate thrower than Newton, and Boldin is still the big, physical competitor we all learned to hate back when he played for Arizona. Clemons is still questionable to play, but Avril will almost certainly be suiting up. Getting either one of them back will provide a welcome boost to a Seahawks pass rush that struggled to consistently pressure Newton with just a mixture of Bennett, Schofield, and Mayowa to do the honors. Browner is doubtful to play, but Thurmond and Maxwell played more than well enough to hold down the fort in his absence versus Carolina. Neither is as physical or as good at frustrating receivers as Browner, but their coverage skills are starting quality. Also, Kelly Jennings still doesn't play for the Seahawks -- that isn't really relevant, I suppose, but it's a reason to celebrate regardless.
On another note, this week has been eaten up by construction in and around the house, but that should be more or less done by Monday. In other words, you can expect my usual wordy, stats-laden goodness to return to normal levels around here by early next week. For now, I just have one last thing to say: