SAN FRANCISCO – To be the best, you have to beat the best.
And for the Seattle Seahawks, that means winning on the road against the reigning NFC West champs, the San Francisco 49ers, when the two division rivals clash today.
The teams are tied at 4-2, and a victory for the Seahawks could put them in good position for this year’s NFC West crown – Seattle has three home division games remaining in the second half of this season.
Today is San Francisco’s first of three consecutive games against NFC West opponents.
The Seahawks are 0-2 in the division, with close losses at Arizona and St. Louis. Turnovers have been a critical issue in those games, said Seattle coach Pete Carroll.
The Seahawks have a minus-three turnover differential on the road in three games, so it’s no surprise their record is 1-2.
“We need to play well on the road again,” Carroll said. “We did a good job in Carolina getting out of there with a win, and we need to do the right things and not make mistakes and put ourselves in difficult situations on the road.
“(The 49ers) are really good at home in making you do that, so it’s a big challenge for us. We’ve played much better at home than we have on the road. We’ve taken care of the football better and all of that stuff. We need to get that done in this game.”
Seattle hasn’t won in San Francisco since 2008, a 34-13 victory on Oct. 26 engineered by then-quarterback Seneca Wallace, who threw for 222 yards and two touchdowns in that game.
The Seahawks have a quarterback with similar physical attributes directing the offense now in rookie Russell Wilson. The third-round draft choice already has proven skeptics wrong by leading Seattle to come-from-behind wins against Green Bay, Carolina and New England this season.
And he’ll be tasked with putting points on the board against the No. 1-ranked defense in the league.
“They fly around and make so many plays,” Wilson said of the Niners. “They have so many athletes on that side of the football. It’s going to be a great game. Obviously, they can do a lot of great things up front – their front seven is extremely strong and extremely talented – and their back end is extremely talented as well and makes a lot of plays.”
But instead of relying solely on Wilson, the Seahawks will look to Marshawn Lynch to do the heavy lifting.
At the end of 2011, Lynch rushed for 107 yards in a 19-17 loss to San Francisco on Dec. 24, breaking San Francisco’s streak of 36 straight games without allowing a 100-yard rusher that dated back to Ryan Grant’s 129-yard effort on Nov. 22, 2009.
Heading into today’s game, Lynch is third in the league in rushing with 549 yards on 128 carries.
“They do a great job in their scheme,” Seattle fullback Michael Robinson said. “They’re a 3-4 (defensive front) team that gives you a mix of some four-down (linemen) looks, and they bring it. They bring the attitude, too. So we have to match their intensity.”
San Francisco will attempt to rebound from an embarrassing 26-3 thumping to the New York Giants in a rematch of last year’s NFC Championship game.
The Giants provided the blueprint for how to beat San Francisco at home, with running back Ahmad Bradshaw rushing for 116 yards, and New York’s defense totaling six sacks and coaxing 49ers quarterback Alex Smith into three interceptions.
“Thursday’s a big game for us,” San Francisco linebacker Patrick Willis said. “One, because it’s the next game, but also it’s a game in our division. We want to start it off right.”
SEATTLE (4-2) AT SAN FRANCISCO (4-2)
5:20 p.m., Candlestick Park
TV: Ch. 6/16, NFL Network. Radio: 710-AM, 97.3-FM.
The series: This is the 27th meeting between the two teams. The series is tied at 13-13. Last year, the 49ers swept the series, defeating the Seahawks, 33-17, in San Francisco on Sept. 11, 2011, and slipping past the Seahawks in Seattle on Dec. 24, 19-17. The 49ers have won three straight, and four of the last six.
What to watch: Seahawks coach Pete Carroll told reporters after practice on Wednesday that safety Kam Chancellor should be available for today’s game at San Francisco, despite being limited during the short week of practice because of an ankle injury. “He’s ready to go,” Carroll said. Also, defensive tackle Clinton McDonald is set to return this week after missing last week with a groin injury. Chancellor and McDonald were listed as probable on Seattle’s injury report. Cornerback Byron Maxwell is doubtful because of a hamstring injury. Offensive guard John Moffitt has been ruled out for a fourth straight week with a knee injury, but Carroll is hopeful the University of Wisconsin product can return for next week’s game at Detroit. ... For San Francisco, offensive tackle Joe Staley is questionable because of a concussion that forced him to leave last week’s game against the New York Giants in the third quarter. ... Linebacker NaVorro Bowman tops the 49ers with 72 tackles, but five-time Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis leads San Francisco in solo tackles (38). ... The 49ers are attempting to avoid consecutive losses for the first time since losing to San Diego and St. Louis in December 2010.
The pick: Seahawks, 17-14.
No. Name (position) Ht.Wt.Year
32 Michael Robinson (FB) 6-1240seventh
Expect to see a lot of two-back sets with Robinson as Seattle attempts to establish the run game.
18 Sidney Rice (WR) 6-4202sixth
The Seahawks need Rice to stretch the defense with his big-play ability in order to loosen up San Francisco’s tough run defense.
91 Chris Clemons (DE) 6-4254ninth
The University of Georgia product could have his second, multisack game if Niners offensive tackle Joe Staley (concussion) doesn’t play.
92 Brandon Mebane (DT) 6-1311sixth
A disruptive force inside, the Cal product is the key to Seattle stopping Frank Gore and San Francisco’s run game.
No. Name (position) Ht.Wt.Year
85 Vernon Davis (TE) 6-3250seventh
The Seahawks have had trouble covering talented, pass-catching tight ends so far this season.
11 Alex Smith (QB) 6-4217eighth
He needs to bounce back from a poor performance against the reigning Super Bowl champs last week.
52 Patrick Wills (LB) 6-1240sixth
One of the best defensive players in the league; the Seahawks need to account for him on every play.
94 Justin Smith (DT) 6-428312th
Versatile defensive lineman can play inside and outside, and create havoc in the run game.Eric D. Williams: 253-597-8437 eric.williams@ thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/seahawks @eric_d_williams firstname.lastname@example.org