The Seattle Seahawks (4-2) travel to California on Oct. 18 to face the NFC West rival San Francisco 49ers (4-2) in a crucial battle for both teams in a tight division race. What can the Seahawks do to beat the team that many pundits expect to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl?
This is one of the fundamental rules of football: protect the pigskin. When looking at San Francisco's two losses--to the Minnesota Vikings and the New York Giants--it quickly becomes evident that when the 49ers cough up the ball, they do it in bunches.
Against Minnesota, they lost three turnovers--a fumble and interception by Alex Smith and a fumble by Frank Gore--in their 24-13 loss. Against New York, it was another three turnovers--three picks by Smith--in their 26-3 whipping at home. Two games, six turnovers, two losses.
In San Francisco's four wins, they have a combined two turnovers.
The Seahawks, sitting on a minus-1 turnover margin, are going to have to focus on improving in this area to keep the 49ers offense on the bench.
Contain Frank Gore
The 49ers tried to pass first and run second against the Giants, and the strategy failed miserably. Gore only had 8 carries for 36 yards--his lowest totals in both categories this year.
His second-lowest totals in both categories were against the Vikings, when he only carried the ball 12 times for 63 yards.
Additionally, Gore scored a rushing touchdown in each of the four Niners victories. He was held out of the end zone in both losses.
Seattle, then, has a lot to gain by bottling Gore up all night, and they're well-equipped to do just that, allowing just 70 rushing yards per game--second-best in the NFL. The 'Hawks have also allowed just two rushing touchdowns this year, which ties them for fourth in the league.
Stuffing Gore also forces Smith to beat Seattle through the air and, going back to the first point, puts the ball in the hands of the guy who has committed all of his turnovers in San Francisco's two losses.
Pound the Ball
Much like in the game against the Green Bay Packers, the Seahawks need to pound the ball down San Francisco's throat with Marshawn Lynch. New York's Ahmad Bradshaw just frolicked for 116 rushing yards against the Niners, so while it's rare to succeed on the ground against a stout San Francisco defense, it can be done.
Adrian Peterson had a pretty good day against the 49ers, too, chalking up 86 rushing yards.
In both losses, neither opposing quarterback had to do much against San Francisco--Christian Ponder threw for just 198 yards and Eli Manning had just 193 passing yards--which again plays into Seattle's strength.
With the second-worst passing offense in the NFL, the Seahawks don't need Russell Wilson to be someone he's not yet against the 49ers. Just give the ball to Lynch and let him do his thing.
I correctly predicted the Seahawks' victory over Green Bay, although thanks to the replacement officials, it ended up being nothing to celebrate.
Seattle tends to shine on national television, and even though this game isn't at CenturyLink Field, I like the 'Hawks' chances if they can execute these three keys to victory.
In a low-scoring affair dominated by defense, Seattle sneaks home with a 17-14 win.
The author grew up in Washington State and is a lifelong fan of the Seahawks. He's also a Featured Contributor in Sports with the Yahoo! Contributor Network. You can follow him on Twitter at @RedZoneWriting and on Facebook.
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