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Matchups to watch: Seahawks at 49ers

12/5/2013
Harry How/Getty Images

With Michael Crabtree's return last week, and games remaining against the Buccaneers and Falcons, San Francisco's playoff chances look pretty good. At 8-4, the 49ers are a game up on the Cardinals, as well as the Cowboys and Eagles, who are competing for the NFC East crown.

The postseason scenario isn’t particularly complicated for Seattle -- a win or tie seals the Seahawks’ first NFC West title since 2010.

Since the start of 2011, the 49ers (plus-211.3) and Seahawks (plus-165.4) are the first- and second-best defenses in the league in expected points added.

Russell Wilson vs. 49ers Defense
Throws 15+ Yds Downfield

Wilson vs. San Francisco’s deep-ball D

Of his throws at least 15 yards downfield this season, Russell Wilson has completed nearly 60 percent. That’s a higher completion percentage on deep throws than 11 qualified quarterbacks have overall.

Wilson is averaging two more yards per attempt on deep throws than any other quarterback.

On the other side of the ball is the best defense in the league at defending deep passes. Opposing quarterbacks have completed just 31 percent of deep throws against the 49ers, the third-best average by a defense in the past eight years (the start of Stats & Info’s video analysis data).

Crabtree vs. Seahawks' secondary

As most quarterbacks in his spot would be, Colin Kaepernick is a better passer with Crabtree on the field. After missing the first 12 weeks with an Achilles injury, the star wideout had mixed results in his return last week.

Colin Kaepernick Past 2 Seasons
Passing With/Without Crabtree

Crabtree was largely quiet (one catch for eight yards) in the first half, but showed the big-play ability that has been missing among San Francisco's wide receivers all season.

He had a 60-yard reception with 43 yards after the catch in the third quarter, both of which immediately set season highs for 49ers wideouts. And Seattle will be short-handed in the secondary on Sunday.

Gore vs. Seattle’s loaded box

The quality of Seattle’s cornerbacks allows defensive coordinator Dan Quinn to commit extra defenders to the box. The Seahawks have had 109 snaps this season with at least eight defenders in the box, fifth-most in the league.

This is not a new strategy to Frank Gore, who has 92 rushes for 333 yards against eight or more defenders in the box this season (both second-most in the NFL behind Adrian Peterson).

His 3.6 yards per rush against at least eight in the box is eighth of 31 backs with at least 20 rushes, but both the Seahawks and recent opponents have stacked the box with success against Gore.

Seattle held Gore to 3 yards on six rushes against a crowded box in Week 2, while the Rams used the same technique to hold Gore to 14 yards on five rushes Sunday.

Lynch vs. 49ers' linebackers

Marshawn Lynch is 30 yards from being the only player in the league with 1,000 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns in each of the past three seasons.



A quick glance at his numbers suggests a down season -- his 4.3 yards per rush average ranks 19th among qualified rushers. A closer look shows Lynch hasn’t been getting nearly as much room to run as he had last season.

He’s averaging 2.0 yards after contact per rush this season, seventh among qualified rushers and better than his average in 2012. Lynch is averaging a full yard less before contact this season (2.3 compared to 3.3 in 2012).

His dependency on yards after contact this year may not serve him well against San Francisco. Linebackers NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis are elite run stoppers. Since Bowman joined Willis in 2010, San Francisco has averaged 1.3 yards after contact per rush allowed, fewest in the league.

Only Kiko Alonso (60) has more tackles within three yards of the line of scrimmage on running plays than Bowman (49) this season.

During Willis’ career (starting in 2007), only London Fletcher and Curtis Lofton have more of those tackles than Willis.