14 Dec 18
Marin Independent Journal
SANTA CLARA – Nick Mullens is 2-1 at Levi’s Stadium, and that qualifies as a beacon of hope.
The 49ers will need their quarterback’s moxie and magic Sunday – and so much more, from so many others — to end a 10-game losing streak to the Seattle Seahawks.
That said, no quarterback has thrived at Levi’s Stadium like the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson. He’s 4-0 there since the 49ers’ migration south from Candlestick Park.
“It’s definitely a different venue in terms of where they play now,” Wilson told Seattle reporters this week about Levi’s Stadium. “Over time, there will be a lot of history there.”
Since you’re now curious, here are how other 49ers QBs have fared there: Colin Kaepernick 6-11 (6-6 before his 2016 farewell), Blaine Gabbert 3-4, Brian Hoyer 0-2, C.J. Beathard 1-5 and Jimmy Garoppolo 3-0.
Wilson and the Seahawks (8-5) could add to their Levi’s Stadium legacy by winning Sunday and clinching a wild-card playoff berth against their once-heated rival. Before listing what factors to watch, let’s take a trip down memory lane to better days for the 49ers.
Seattle Seahawks’ Russell Wilson (3) throws the ball against San Francisco 49ers in the first quarter of their NFL game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. on Sunday, Nov. 26, 2017. (Josie Lepe/Bay Area News Group)
Wilson was 0-2 at Candlestick, site of the Seahawks’ last losses to the 49ers, in 2012 and ’13. However, he, like many 49ers fans, have fond memories of the ‘Stick.
“I remember my rookie year, playing in Candlestick and just the history there and just the tradition,” Wilson said. “As soon as you walk in the stadium, you could feel something different, it was special. So many Super Bowl (teams), so many crazy moments. Joe Montana. Steve Young. Jerry Rice.”
“Coming in my rookie year, I remember stepping up in the pocket, slid to the right, started taking off and sure enough (Patrick) Willis and (NaVorro) Bowman closed on me like I’ve never seen before, just their speed,” Wilson added. “I’ll never forget being in that stadium. Just the energy was really special.”
What will it take for these modern-day, makeshift 49ers to summon that energy and down Wilson and the Seahawks? Watch these areas:
Rashaad Penny #20 of the Seattle Seahawks tries to avoid a tackle by Jaquiski Tartt #29 of the San Francisco 49ers in the second quarter at CenturyLink Field on December 2, 2018 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
1. Run defense. Seattle’s league-leading rushing attack (153.8 yards per game) excelled at attacking the 49ers edges in a 168-yard effort Dec. 2, a 43-16 rout at Seattle. Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner called it a “lackadaisical” display by the 49ers, how they were “terrible” in the “Day 1 football” principal of setting edges.
The 49ers rebounded last Sunday. They upset the playoff-contending Denver Broncos 20-14 and limited Patrick Lindsay to 30 yards on 14 carries.
Seattle will be without one of its trio of running backs, as rookie Rashaad Penny (knee) has been ruled out. He’s the Seahawks third-leading rusher, and he had a 20-yard touchdown against the 49ers two weeks ago.
Key defenders to watch in this rematch are Arik Armstead (third-highest run grade among edge defenders, per Pro Football Focus), cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon (the Seahawks targeted him last game) and rookies D.J. Jones, D.J. Reed and Marcell Harris, who all earned an encore start after last Sunday.
Leading tackler Fred Warner offered this scouting report on the Seahawks’ other top backs: Chris Carson is “a workhorse, physical, hits the edge”, and former 49er Mike Davis is “reliable.”
San Francisco 49ers running back Jeff Wilson is tackled by Seattle Seahawks middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, left, as he rushes during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018, in Seattle. (AP Photo/John Froschauer)
2. Wagner’s impact. Richard Sherman called ex-teammate Bobby Wagner “the best linebacker in football for at least five years, and I don’t think he ever gets enough credit.” Well, Wagner has made All-Pro honors the past four years, and he absolutely crushed the 49ers last meeting, from stripping Jeff Wilson Jr. of the ball at the Seahawks 5 to returning an interception 98 yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown.
In the Seahawks’ Monday night win over the Vikings, Wagner controversially blocked a field goal to key their 21-7 win.
“He’s impacting the game so many ways,” Sherman said. “He’s blocking field goals. He returned a pick 98 yards – and he looked kind of fat and didn’t have a neck, but that’s a different story. The guys is all over the field, makes a ton of tackles.”
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3. Offensive savvy. Add Mullens’ 414 yards against the Seahawks and his 332 total in Sunday’s win over the Broncos and those 746 yards are the most by a 49ers quarterback in consecutive games since Steve Young’s 761 yards in 1995.
“I understand that stats don’t matter, points do,” Mullens said. “The first time we played Seattle, we did not score enough points. So, that will definitely be the emphasis as always, capitalize on important opportunities during the game and perform well in the moment of truth and that’s how we’ll get our points.”
Bobby Wagner #54 of the Seattle Seahawks sacks Nick Mullens #4 of the San Francisco 49ers in the first quarter at CenturyLink Field on December 2, 2018 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Mullens credits a lot of his success to Shanahan’s ability to scheme open receivers, and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll echoed that. “He adapts really well to the talents of the QB,” Caroll said of Shanahan. “He does a really nice job calling plays and spreading the offense around, so it enhances what the quarterback does well.”
There’s no better example than tight end George Kittle’s first half last Sunday, a 210-yard outburst. This Sunday, Shanahan, Kittle, Mullens and all need to produce more in the second half.
4. X-factors. OK, it’s obvious the 49ers need more takeaways (league-low five), plus better third-down and red-zone production. But what else? Try these on:
— Spoiler alert. The 49ers, as expected in September, are factoring into the playoffs, albeit in a spoiler role. After hurting the Broncos’ bid Sunday, Mullens said: “We are excited, I guess you could say, to take them out of the playoff hunt.” After the Seahawks, the 49ers host the NFC North-leading Chicago Bears before finishing at the Los Angeles Rams, who could be jockeying for home-field advantage.
SANTA CLARA, CA – DECEMBER 9: San Francisco 49ers’ Richard Sherman (25) celebrates a touchdown by San Francisco 49ers’ George Kittle (85) against the Denver Broncos in the second quarter at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)
— Weather. Could wet weather make for a much-needed equalizer for the undermanned 49ers? Heck, it never rains in Seattle, right? Well, it barely ever does on a 49ers home game at Levi’s, the only memorable one being a 30-17 loss to the 2016 New England Patriots. One slick football and one fortunate takeaway might be all the 49ers need Sunday.[related_articles location=”left” show_article_date=”false” article_type=”automatic-primary-section”]
— Personal bests. When Kittle scored an 85-yard touchdown catch last Sunday, Sherman immediately relayed word to Shanahan that put Kittle over 1,000 yards this season. “In these games, when you’re fighting and playing hard but playoffs aren’t an option, you have to find ways to celebrate your teammates’ accomplishments,” Sherman said.
With that, the 49ers want to see Buckner record his 10th sack, Robbie Gould notch one more point for 1,500 in his career, and Mullens become the first 49ers QB since Jeff Garcia in 2000 to pass over 300 yards in three straight games.