When: Sunday, 1:05 p.m., Candlestick Park, San Francisco
Record: 4-8 after Sunday’s 34-16 loss to the Packers in Green Bay
Where they rank: No. 24 on offense (15th rushing, 22nd passing); No. 11 on defense (tied for 10th rushing, 18th passing)
Series: The Seahawks lead 13-10, including a 31-6 win at Qwest Field in the season opener
Star power: Patrick Willis. With old nemesis Frank Gore and his thundering thighs on injured reserve because of a fractured hip, the nod goes to the tackling machine that plays middle linebacker for the 49ers. Willis once again leads the team with 101 tackles and he also has a career-high five sacks. As good as Willis has been since the 49ers made him the 11th pick overall in the 2007 draft, he seems to play even better against the Seahawks. As a rookie, he had 16 tackles in the game at Candlestick and 10 more in the game at Qwest Field. In 2008, it was 12 and 10, and his only career interception. Last season, it was five and 16 – but one of his five tackles at Candlestick involved Willis’ helmet going into to the back of Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck, cracking two ribs. In the opener at Qwest this season, Willis had 10 tackles. That’s 79 tackles in seven games against the Seahawks, a pace that would produce a 181-tackle season.
Unsung hero: David Baas. He was drafted in 2005 to play guard, but has moved to center because of a season-ending injury to Eric Heitmann. Baas had not played center since his days at Michigan and his first start in the NFL at the pivotal position was in this year’s opener against the Seahawks. With Baas in the middle of a line that includes rookie starters at right tackle (Anthony Davis) and left guard (Mike Iupati), the unit did not allow sacks against the Saints or Broncos and rushed for a season-high 261 yards against the Cardinals.
On the spot: The 49ers’ running game. Without Gore – who has supplied 40 percent of the 49ers’ offense this season as the team’s leading rusher and receiver – it’s up to former Philadelphia Eagle Brian Westbrook and Anthony Dixon. They combined for 64 yards on 18 carries against the Packers. The loss of Gore has altered the way the 49ers call plays. As coach Mike Singletary explained it to reporters on Monday, “Frank runs plays well inside. Obviously, you have Brian Westbrook, a guy who’s had issues with concussions; we are not going to run him the same way.” But run they must, especially against a Seahawks defense that has allowed an average of 165 rushing yards the past six games.
Burning question: Alex Smith? The word from Singletary is that Smith will return as the starting quarterback against the Seahawks. Smith, the first pick overall in the 2005 draft, was 1-6 as the starter before separating his non-throwing shoulder in the Week 7 loss to the Panthers. That’s when Troy Smith took over and led the 49ers to three wins in a five-game span. But after T. Smith completed 10 of 25 passes against the Packers, it’s back to A. Smith. “Right now, he gives us the best chance to win,” Singletary said today in making the announcement on a Bay Area radio show. A. Smith has had mixed results against the Seahawks in the past. He is 2-5 – with both wins coming in 2006 – while completing 56 percent of his passes (107 of 191) for 1,051 yards with five TDs and three interceptions.
Familiar faces: FS Dashon Goldson played the University of Washington, while backup SS Taylor Mays played at Seattle’s O’Dea High School. Offensive line coach Mike Solari and offensive assistant Chris Beake held the same positions with the Seahawks the past two seasons. Special assistant to the head coach Bill Nayes was the Seahawks’ football operations coordinator from 1999-2006.
The last word: “We’re going to need our fans big-time. Good or bad, don’t give up on us until the season is done and we’re out of it.” – Willis, remembering what the fans were like at Qwest Field in the season opener