When: Sunday, 1:15 p.m., Candlestick Park, San Francisco
Records: Each team was 2-2 in the preseason; Seahawks were 7-9 and won the NFC West last season, while the 49ers were 6-10
Rest of the West: The Arizona Cardinals host the Carolina Panthers, while the St. Louis Rams host the Philadelphia Eagles
TV: KCPQ/13 (Fox), with Dick Stockton, John Lynch and Jaime Maggio
Radio: 710 ESPN and 97.3 FM, with Steve Raible, Warren Moon and Jen Mueller
Seahawks LT Russell Okung vs. 49ers DE Justin Smith. Okung, last year’s first-round draft choice, has not played since spraining an ankle on the first series of the preseason opener in San Diego on Aug. 11. He steps back in against one of the best – and most active – pass-rushers in the league. Smith was voted to the Pro Bowl last season after producing 8½ sacks, to tie his career-high from 2001 when he was a rookie with the Bengals; and 107 tackles, three shy of his career-high from 2006. This isn’t just about Okung’s ability to prevent Smith from getting to QB Tarvaris Jackson; it’s also about neutralizing Smith on run downs to allow the running game to setup the play-action passing game. And Smith will slide inside on passing downs, so rookie left guard James Carpenter also will be matched up against him on occasion.
One to watch
Seahawks NT Brandon Mebane vs. 49ers RB Frank Gore. In the two games in his career where Gore has rushed for more than 200 yards – both against the Seahawks – he has been able to get through the line and into the second level. Too often untouched. Part of the problem is that the 5-foot-9 Gore is difficult to find behind his blockers, especially on the left side with 6-5, 315-pound Joe Staley at tackle and 6-5, 331-pound Mike Iupati at guard. Part of the problem is that Gore cannot be stopped with arm tackles. So Mebane, in his first start at nose tackle, must be stout and disruptive.
Fun the watch
Red Bryant. Remember when the Seahawks had the No. 2-ranked run defense in the league? It was going into the Week 8 game against the Raiders in Oakland last season. Bryant, a violent presence at the five-technique end spot, went down with a season-ending knee injury in that game – and the run defense followed, allowing 239 rushing yards to the Raiders and finishing the season ranked No. 21. Well, Bryant is back and looking better than ever. That’s a needed plus for the Seahawks’ defense, especially with Gore on tap this Sunday.
One tough task
Whoever is matched up against 49ers TE Vernon Davis. It could be SS Kam Chancellor. It would be one of the middle linebackers – Wright in the base defense or Matt McCoy in the nickel. It could be strong-side ‘backer Aaron Curry. It likely will be all of the above at some point. Davis is a physical freak, as no one that big (6-3, 250) should be able to run that fast (4.38 seconds for 40 yards). Then there’s the vertical leap (42 inches) and the strength (33 reps with 225 pounds). But the bottom line with Davis is the production: 56 catches for 914 yards and seven touchdowns last season; 78 for 965 and 13 in 2009. In the past two seasons, he has 21 catches for 286 yards against the Seahawks.
The Seahawks also opened the 2010 season against the 49ers, winning 31-6 in Seattle. … The Seahawks have won five of the past 10 meetings to lead the overall series 13-11, but the 49ers have won the past two games played in San Francisco. … QB Alex Smith passed for 255 yards and a career high-tying three TDs for a career-best 130.9 passer rating in the 49ers’ 40-21 victory at Candlestick Park last season, and also had a career-best 310-yard passing performance in the game in Seattle in 2009. … ILB Patrick Willis has led the 49ers in tackles in each of his four seasons, and also been voted to the Pro Bowl four consecutive times. … For the Seahawks, WR Mike Williams is the only offensive starter who will be at the same position from the starting lineup that faced the 49ers in last year’s opener. … Pete Carroll is 4-1 in season openers as a head coach in the NFL, including last year’s win over the 49ers. … Jim Harbaugh makes his regular-season debut as a NFL head coach for the 49ers.