What to watch for in Seahawks-49ers on 'MNF'

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  • By Jelani Scott NFL.com
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So ... we're all going to agree to declare the winner of this game the team to beat in the NFC, right?

Of course, there are a couple of teams who still have a hat in that ring but the anticipation surrounding the Seattle Seahawks (7-2) and San Francisco 49ers (8-0) matchup on Monday Night Football feels like a heavyweight clash between two franchises that are far and away the best clubs in the NFC West.

As if a primetime meeting with the 49ers' perfect record on the line wasn't already high enough in the stakes department, the divisional implications this game carries will be felt in the weeks that follow based on the likelihood that the NFC West crown will be worn by one of these teams.

When they last played in Week 15 a year ago, the 49ers, sitting at an abysmal 3-10, beat the 8-5 'Hawks after Robbie Gould nailed a 36-yard game-winning field goal in overtime. This time around, Gould, along with another prominent name, won't suit up on Monday night, which only adds more intrigue to an already interesting game. What a difference a year makes.

Here are four things to watch for ahead of one of the biggest matchups of the NFL's historic 100th campaign:

Who will step up without safety net George Kittle?


After being ruled doubtful on Saturday with a knee/ankle injury, the 49ers dominant tight end was officially announced as inactive on Monday afternoon, making tight end Ross Dwelley (7 catches, 28 yards) the next man up.

George Kittle has often been called "underrated," which is surprising for a guy who commands as much attention on the field as him. A glance at his level of productivity this season, though, should go a long way in helping him truck his way through that label once and for all.

In his third season, the 26-year-old has accounted for the highest percentage of the 49ers' targets (25.7), receptions (28.6) and receiving yards (29.7), numbers that also rank highest in the NFL, according to NFL Research. Kittle has recorded 46 catches for 541 yards and two touchdowns in 2019.

It goes without saying that not having Kittle in the lineup for the biggest game of the season is going to hurt, but there is a way the 49ers can attempt to account for his production.

The play-action-heavy 49ers have called run plays on 54.8 pct. of their plays (most in the NFL), per Next Gen Stats, and are the only team in the league with three 300-plus-yard rushers in Matt Breida, Tevin Coleman and Raheem Mostert. That run game will get a boost with injured fullback Kyle Juszczyk and his vital blocking skills expected back. Meanwhile, Seattle posts the second-highest missed tackle percent (15.7) and is allowing a league-high 3.3 yards after contact per rush. See where this is going?

The addition of Emmanuel Sanders is also an important X-factor; the 49ers have led the league in points per game (39.5) since Sanders' Week 8 debut. The speedy vet has 11 receptions for 137 yards and two scores in his two appearances.

Kittle and Jimmy Garoppolo rank among the top QB/TE duos in the NFL, so his absence will be noticeable. But the 49ers have the weapons to make something happen, and they're all going to need to step up to get it done.

Russell Wilson has been superb ...


We all know Russell Wilson is a fun guy, but his MVP-caliber play has been particularly fun to watch this season.

Seattle's version of Iron Man has scorched teams week in and week out, leading the NFL in TD-INT ratio (22-1) and passer rating (118.2). Against the 49ers, Wilson can expect to face a lot of zone coverage, which happens to be a scheme he has excelled in with a second-best 117.8 passer rating and 10.1 yards per attempt.

Should this come down to the wire, Wilson's clutch gene should be in full effect. He leads the league in fourth-quarter comebacks (four); only one of those photo finishes came on the road (Week 6 at Browns).

Wilson is 7-2 on MNF and will be making the 30th prime-time start of his eight-year career. His 23-5-1 record is the highest win pct. of the 28 QBs with 10-plus prime-time games since 2012, per NFL Research. He has thrown 56 TDs, 14 picks and notched a 106.1 passer rating in such games.

Oh, and on top of all these stats, Wilson's 11-3 all-time record against the 49ers is the most wins he has versus any opponent. So yeah, the numbers indicate Wilson could be in for a big night, but that's not all they suggest.

The numbers give the 49ers' defense an edge


We're 10 weeks in and it's safe to say the once-expected dropoff from this defense has still not happened. And there's a good chance it won't happen at all.

The Niners have been elite under defensive coordinator Robert Saleh's direction, and his knowledge will be uber-valuable in this one. Saleh coached under Pete Carroll from 2011-13 where he helped to sculpt the vaunted "Legion of Boom" as the quality control coach.

Under Saleh, the Niners are looking similar to the 2013 title-winning "LOB" group but are still in the process of writing their story. San Francisco has allowed the fewest total YPG (241) and passing YPG (128.1) and the second-fewest PPG (12.8).

This defense has all the ingredients of the type of groups that have troubled Wilson; the 'Hawks QB is 0-2 against top-ranked defenses, his last game ending in a 30-24 loss to the Jaguars in 2017. He had three picks that game.

Wilson has been sacked 22 times (ninth-most) in 2019 while the 49ers rank top-three in sacks with 30. Led by the dangerous Nick Bosa and Deforest Buckner, the Niners also rank first in red-zone TD percentage and fourth in turnovers.

Linebacker Kwon Alexander's season-ending injury in Week 9 will slightly weaken the group, but Dre Greenlaw has played well and should fill in nicely as a starter. Alexander will be missed but the D-line, along with a tough secondary led by former Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, should produce more than enough obstacles to get in Wilson's way.

Stats suggest this could be a classic in the making


We can dream all we want about the numbers produced in this one, but we won't know anything until kickoff. Still, there's a lot to be excited about before they take the field.

Tyler Lockett (767 yards) and D.K. Metcalf (525 yards) have flourished alongside Wilson, who has completed 68.3-pct of his passes (seventh-best) and is averaging 278.3 yards per game. Adding Josh Gordon to that group feels unfair, but his debut and potential to make an immediate impact will be more than welcomed.

Seahawks running back Chris Carson has been on a tear of late, averaging 100.4 rushing yards since Week 5. Pitting him against the 49ers' stingy D should make for a smashmouth affair, especially since the team has allowed two 100-yard rushers the last two weeks.

Garoppolo's 70.8 completion rate is tied for second-highest in the league, and has set him up for the successful year he's had. He has thrown 13 TDs to seven picks and is averaging 225.8 YPG while posting a top-10 passer rating (100.6).

Garoppolo has managed to stay mostly clean this season, being sacked just 12 times thanks to a sturdy offensive line that is expected to return injured tackles Mike McGlinchey and Joe Staley. As long as he has time, Jimmy G and the 49ers' top-10 offense should be able to take advantage of a Seattle D that has allowed 380.8 YPG and notched just 15 sacks.

In fact, the potential for big plays are high for both squads, per NFL Research, San Francisco ranks fourth and Seattle ranks sixth in plays that go for 10-plus rushing yards and catches that go for 20-plays receiving yards.

It's been said countless times how huge this matchup is going to be and, thankfully, the wait will soon be over. Here's to hoping the showdown provides the fireworks we're all hoping to see.

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