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Thursday, January 16, 2014
NFC Championship: Matchups to watch

By John McTigue


Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesWho will be smiling on Sunday: Kaepernick or the Seahawks secondary?
The San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks have split their four head-to-head matchups the last two seasons, with the home team winning each time.

Both teams are very similar in their makeup and a trip to Super Bowl XLVIII could hinge on these key matchups.

Colin Kaepernick vs Seahawks’ secondary
Kaepernick has been the most blitzed quarterback in the NFL the past two seasons, but the Seahawks have gone a different route. The Seahawks have brought four or fewer pass rushers on 75 percent of Kaepernick’s dropbacks, forcing him to throw into a crowded secondary.

This has posed several problems for the 49ers. First, despite teams bringing five or more rushers frequently against Kaepernick, his decision making in those situations is strong.

His 19-to-2 touchdown-to-interception differential against such pressure the past two seasons is behind only Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. Against a standard rush of four or fewer, Kaepernick ranks tied for 21st.

The Seahawks’ secondary is one of the most physical in the NFL. No team has committed more defensive pass interference, defensive holding or illegal contact penalties this season. Although that could be viewed as a negative, it also indicates a lot of contact is being made on the field.

Because of this, Kaepernick has completed only 47 percent of his attempts to wide receivers against the Seahawks with no touchdowns and three interceptions.

49ers’ defense vs Beast Mode
The 49ers have allowed five 100-yard rushing games since the start of 2010 and three of those belong to Marshawn Lynch.

Most of Lynch’s damage has been straight up the middle. Lynch has averaged 5.0 yards per rush between the guards against the 49ers since joining the Seahawks. All other running backs have averaged 3.5 yards per rush on such plays.

The 49ers have done a good job of limiting running backs’ production after contact this season. They are the only team in the league that allowed fewer than 500 rushing yards after contact this season.

Frank Gore vs play calling
In his last two home games against the Seahawks, Frank Gore ran the ball 31 times for 241 yards. Yet in his last two games in Seattle, Gore totaled 15 rushes and 44 yards.

San Francisco trailed during most of the games in Seattle, but the 49ers got away from the run quickly in each. The two games remain the highest dropback percentages for the 49ers in the Kaepernick era.