COMMENTARY | For the second consecutive season the San Francisco 49ers had to open up against the Green Bay Packers in a game that seemed to have a playoff atmosphere to it. For the second consecutive season Jim Harbaugh's squad came out on top.
Proving skeptics wrong, quarterback Colin Kaepernick went away from the run and torched apart a pedestrian Packers secondary to the tune of 400-plus yards and three scores. For Kaepernick and the 49ers, this was a statement game. It showed that they are truly the class of the NFC a year removed from winning the conference.
San Francisco must now travel to the Pacific Northwest to take on the division rival Seattle Seahawks in yet another statement game.
The last time it played in Seattle last December, San Francisco literally laid an egg. It lost 42-13 in a performance that seemed to change the dynamics in the NFC West. The 49ers turned the ball over two times in the game, as their defense yielded 176 rush yards to the Seahawks.
While it makes little sense to put a lot of stock in an early-season game, both San Francisco and Seattle will be looking to make a statement here.
The Seahawks have won their last three home games by a combined score of 120-26, proving that their home-field advantage is the best in the entire National Football League. Couple that with the fact that this is their home opener and you have what promises to be a hostile environment for the defending conference champions.
Can San Francisco withstand the noise on offense? Will it be able to overcome issues as it relates to getting the call to the field on a timely basis? These are two primary aspects of the game that Harbaugh and Co. are currently working on. The 49ers have been blasting loud music during practice in Santa Clara in an attempt to mirror the environment they're going to see in Seattle. While that's fine and dandy, the only way to actually mirror the noise that they are going to have to get accustomed to is to actually show up and perform well early on Sunday night.
A slow start for San Francisco will only pump up the crowd more and could lead to another runaway victory for the hometown team.
In order to actually get off to a strong start, San Francisco will have to make sure a few things happen out of the gate.
First, it needs to avoid the dreaded third-and-longs as well as the false start penalties that have become so mainstream for visiting teams in Seattle. A sustained opening drive without a hiccup, whether it leads to a touchdown or a field goal, could set the pace.
Second, it needs to actually find a running game early. While San Francisco did put up nearly 500 yards against the Packers last week, it wasn't able to hit the triple-digit plateau on the ground. That needs to change Sunday night. An early emphasis on Frank Gore and the running game could very well set the tempo and take the crowd out of it.
Third, the 49ers must dominate in the trenches. They have a built-in advantage on both sides of the ball here. Seattle's offensive allowed the Carolina Panthers to get to Russell Wilson two times and pressure him on a consistent basis. With the likes of Justin Smith and Ray McDonald upfront as well as talented pass rushers Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks at linebacker, the 49ers need to take advantage of this mismatch.
Even if it doesn't get to Wilson for sacks early on, San Francisco can take the young quarterback out of his comfort zone and cause issues with timing in the passing game. If it is able to rattle Wilson early at home, it bodes well for continued success as the game goes on.
We already know that the environment will be electric. Two of the best teams in the league taking on one another on Sunday Night Football. Tension promises to run high for both teams, but the 49ers need to stay above the pray. They can't fall into the trap of committing dumb personal foul penalties and making a rowdy environment even more hostile than it already promises to be.
This means that offensive tackles Anthony Davis and Joe Staley cannot get involved in scrums at the line after the play has concluded. There is no success in going from a third-and-short to a third-and-long because a specific player lost his cool.
This is also where the 49ers' coaching staff comes into play. They need to prepare the players for a second consecutive high-intensity matchup. Tempers promise to boil over throughout the game, it is how the players on each team react that could change the outcome as the game itself moves along.
If the 49ers are able to do this during the early part of the game, they will be in a good position to knock off the closest competitor in the division and the conference. If not, we could be looking at another blowout in the Pacific Northwest.
You can rest assured that Harbaugh and the 49ers coaching staff has preached this to the team over the past couple days in preparation for this huge divisional game. As it is, don't expect San Francisco to come out and play vanilla football. It knows exactly what has to be done in this one. Punch the Seahawks in the face and wait for a response.
It should be a good one.
Vincent Frank has been covering the National Football League for three years. He started out writing for Niners Nation and was a featured columnist at Bleacher Report. His work has been published on CNN, Pro Football Focus and BR, among other sites.
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