SAN FRANCISCO – Greetings from The Stick, where some of the Seahawks already are on the field preparing for their regular-season opener against the 49ers.
And the Seahawks will need to burn this Candle(stick) at both ends to emerge with a needed opening-day victory.
Much was made during the week about the uncertainty over just what to expect from the 49ers because they’ve got a new head coach (Jim Harbaugh), a new offensive coordinator (Greg Roman) and a new defensive coordinator (Vic Fangio). All three were at just-down-the Stanford last season.
So, do you study video of the 49ers’ preseason games? Or video of what Harbaugh and crew did at Stanford last season? Or video of the 49ers from last season, when they were drubbed by the Seahawks 31-6 in the opener in Seattle and then got even with a 40-21 win over the Seahawks here in Week 14?
Before this trio of scenarios could even be completed in the locker room the other day, middle linebacker David Hawthorne interrupted with the obvious.
“It all starts with stopping Gore,” Hawthorne said. “That’s first and foremost.”
That would be Frank Gore, the 49ers’ bruiser of a back. Anyone who has followed his exploits against the Seahawks knows exactly what Hawthorne was talking about. Three of Gore’s top seven rushing performances have come against the Seahawks – that unbelievable 212- and 144-yard double in 2006 and a 207-yarder in 2009.
So Hawthorne is right: Stopping Gore is a good place to start.
“No doubt. No doubt,” defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. “We’re in the mindset that we’re just going to have to be flexible and kind of have our base game plan, but also have a chance to adjust a little bit based off what we’re seeing.
“But the whole premise is we’ve got to stop the run.”
The other side of the defensive equation is forcing QB Alex Smith to beat you, and then not allowing him to do it. Smith had set a career-best for passer rating (130.9) and tied his career-high in TD passes (three) in that win here last season. He was especially efficient in the red zone last season, completing 30 of 42 passes for 177 yards with nine TDs and no interceptions. That completion percentage (.714) inside the opponents’ 20-yard line ranked second in the league behind the Cowboys’ Tony Romo (.720, 18 of 25).
When the Seahawks have the ball, the newest look for the new-look offensive line has to give QB Tarvaris Jackson time to pass. Rookie James Carpenter has moved from right tackle to left guard to replace Robert Gallery (knee) and been replaced at right tackle by Breno Giacomini.
The left side of the line will have to deal with the 49ers’ Justin Smith, who lines up at end in the base defense and slides inside to tackle in passing situations. Smith is productive (tying his career-high with 8½ sacks last season) and even more disruptive. So it will be up to left Russell Okung and Carpenter to try and control him.
Given time, Jackson could have success against the 49ers’ revamped secondary. Former University of Washington safety Dashon Goldson is not expected to play because of a knee injury, and will be replaced at free safety by Madieu Williams – who joined the team last month. Cornerback Nate Clements and strong safety Michael Lewis, who started against the Seahawks in the opener last season, are gone and have been replaced by Tarell Brown – a fifth-round draft choice in 2007 who has started only five games; and Donte Whitner – a free-agent addition who had a career-high 140 tackles for the Buffalo Bills last season. Left cornerback Shawntae Spencer missed all but two days of training camp with a hamstring injury and has been replaced by Carlos Rogers – a free-agent addition from the Washington Redskins who has started 68 games after being a first-round draft choice in 2005.
So there could be plays to be made against this still-jelling unit, if Jackson has the time – and the Seahawks are able to decipher just what the 49ers are doing.
“Probably one of my first times that I had limited looks on a team,” said Jackson, who was 10-10 as a starter with the Minnesota Vikings the past five seasons but is making his first start for the Seahawks.
“Most of the time if it’s a new coordinator, you go back to the last time he was a coordinator (in the league) and what team he was on. But it’s kind of a little different now knowing he (Fangio) was in college before. But it’s the same scheme so we’re just going to try and take as much as we can from the film and just try to get as much as possible. We know we’re going to have to make some adjustments, but we’re prepared for that.”
Which leads us to obvious: Are you prepared – and not just ready – for some regular-season football?