Seattle built its NFC West lead to three games with a 31-16 victory last Sunday over second-place St. Louis. San Francisco and Arizona have fallen five games back of the Seahawks, whose season sweep of the Rams give them the tiebreaker if those teams finish with identical records.
“It’s a really cool thing when you can see the changing of the guard,” said running back Shaun Alexander, who rushed for 165 yards and three touchdowns on a season-high 33 carries against St. Louis.
The Seahawks, seeking their second straight division title, have won five in a row. A victory Sunday will give the team its longest winning streak since an eight-game run during the 1984 season, when it finished with a franchise-best 12-4 record.
Last week’s win saw Alexander, who became Seattle’s all-time leading rusher earlier in the season, become the NFL’s first player to have 15 touchdowns in five consecutive seasons. The six-year veteran leads the league with 1,114 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns.
He’s the biggest reason Seattle boasts the best offense in the NFL, averaging 391.0 yards per game.
Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who was 17-of-29 for 243 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions against the Rams, is averaging 235.6 yards per game with 11 TD passes.
Those marks are fairly solid considering injuries have been rampant throughout Hasselbeck’s receiving corps, leading to a different player topping the team in receiving yards in seven consecutive games. It was reserve wideout D.J. Hackett’s turn last week as he made two receptions for 78 yards, including the first touchdown of his career.
“I would like to maintain our balance. We’re playing pretty well right now,” said Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren of his team’s offense. “We’re running the ball, which is very, very important in making everything else work.”
The Seattle defense continues to improve. In the first five games of the season, the Seahawks gave up an average of 21.4 points per game. In the last four, they have only allowed 13.8.
Seattle is the only NFC team yet to allow a 100-yard rusher this season.
“We are proud of it,” said rookie linebacker Lofa Tatupu, who had a team-high 10 tackles against the Rams and leads Seattle with 62. “We are just trying to get after them.”
The Seahawks held St. Louis’ offense, then ranked second in the league, to its lowest point total of the season despite missing Jamie Sharper. The veteran outside linebacker is expected to miss a month with a staph infection in his right knee.
Seattle’s top-ranked offense will be a tough matchup for the 49ers’ league-worst defense, which gives up 397.1 yards and a league-high 29.2 points per game.
The 49ers lost 17-9 to Chicago last Sunday for their seventh loss in eight games. San Francisco could only muster three field goals and have not scored an offensive touchdown in six of its nine games.
“We still need to make changes on the offensive side of the ball, and that’s what we’ll do,” 49ers coach Mike Nolan said.
One of those changes will be at quarterback, though that’s nothing new for Nolan’s team. He’s switching starting quarterbacks for the fourth time in six games, giving Ken Dorsey his second start of the season.
“Hopefully we can get back to having some fun and scoring some points,” said Dorsey, who went 7-of-18 for 40 yards in his first start against Tampa Bay on Oct. 30 before leaving with a sprained ankle.
“It’s not a competition. As a group, we all have a lot of respect for each other. We all like each other. We prepare together and go into every game together.”
Top draft pick Alex Smith, who missed three weeks with strained ligaments in his knee, is expected to be Dorsey’s backup. Cody Pickett got the nod against Chicago and finished a franchise-worst 1-for-13 for 28 yards.
San Francisco has gone 39 straight possessions, and three games, without a touchdown.