49ers-Seahawks showdown rife with playoff implications

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49ers-Seahawks showdown rife with playoff implications

The NFC West title will not be at stake when the division-leading San Francisco 49ers face the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday night. But the game has plenty of implications for both teams.

The 49ers (10-3-1) are already in the playoffs. But they might need two victories to finish off the regular season to head into the playoffs as the No. 2 seed in the NFC, which guarantees a first-round bye.

The Seahawks (9-5) can wrap up a spot in the playoffs with a victory over the 49ers. They can also keep alive their slim chance of winning the division title.

"All we can do is focus on this game right here," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "We'll have no trouble focusing. They're a great team, and coming home and all that, it will be exciting to get ready."

The 49ers won the first meeting, 13-6, on Oct. 18 at Candlestick Park. Since that time, the 49ers changed quarterbacks and the Seahawks have taken flight with their own rookie quarterback.

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick got his chance to play when Alex Smith, the third-leading passer in the NFL at the time, sustained a concussion. When Smith was cleared medically, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh decided to stick with Kaepernick.

In Kaepernick's five NFL starts, the 49ers are 4-1. The 49ers are coming off a 41-34 victory over the New England Patriots last week in Foxboro, Mass. Kaepernick threw four touchdown passes and was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week.

Seahawks rookie Russell Wilson had his worst game of the season when the clubs met earlier this season. He completed 9 of 23 for 122 yards with no touchdowns and one interception at Candlestick Park.

Now, both teams are playing their best football of the season.

The Seattle offense has put up huge numbers the past two weeks, scoring 58 and 50 points in back-to-back blowout victories over Arizona and Buffalo. The Seahawks became the first team since the 1950 New York Giants to score 50 points in consecutive games in the same season.

This is a game that will feature two hard-hitting teams, and two coaches who are familiar with one another. Harbaugh and Carroll had an adversarial relationship as coaches at Stanford and USC. In three head-to-head games in the NFL, Harbaugh is unbeaten.

While both coaches joked this week about not exchanging Christmas cards, Harbaugh suggested he has a lot of respect for Carroll's coaching. He said there are certain characteristics of a Carroll-coached team.

[RELATED: Carroll, Harbaugh joke about greeting cards]

"Enthusiastic team. They play with a lot of energy. Play a high level of energy, intensity," Harbaugh said "Well-coached teams."

Both teams use similar formulas from their young, mobile quarterbacks to strong defenses. The 49ers rank second in the NFL in total defense, while the Seahawks are No. 3. The 49ers are preparing to play without All-Pro defensive tackle Justin Smith, who missed most of the second half against the New England Patriots with a left elbow injury.

[RELATED: Justin Smith might not play Sunday]

"The Seahawks are a hot team right now," Kaepernick said. "Their defense is playing great. Their offense is putting up points, so we have to be ready."

Seattle, which has not lost a home game this season, has won five of its past six games overall. Over the past six games, Wilson has led the charge with 11 touchdown passes and just one interception.

"Our trust in him has just skyrocketed in the last month," Carroll said. "He's ready, and we try to utilize every way we can to make it hard on our opponents."

“That’s our goal,” 49ers left tackle Joe Staley said. “We want to get the bye. We don’t shy away from what our goals are. We want to win the division, get the bye and go into the playoffs and go on from there. That’s something we control if we win out. It’s a big game, as far as the division and getting the bye.”

Kaepernick and the 49ers will a tough challenge in dealing with a loud environment at CenturyLink Field, along with a strong challenger. This is Kaepernick’s most important start, as the 49ers hold a half-game lead over the Green Bay Packers for the No. 2 seed with two weeks remaining.

"We're both great teams that want to win," Wilson said. "It's going to be a one of a kind (atmosphere). This is the best place to play in the NFL in terms of the energy."

With as well as both teams are playing, it's not out of the question there could be a third matchup down the road in the NFC playoffs.

 

49ers begin final phase of offseason program

49ers begin final phase of offseason program

The 49ers have graduated back to the phase of the offseason when offense-vs.-defense drills are allowed.

Because of the hiring of Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers were allowed an additional “voluntary” minicamp before the NFL draft. That meant the 49ers were permitted to skip from the two-week conditioning phase of the offseason straight to what is allowed under Phase III.

But after the three-day minicamp in late-April, the 49ers were forced to retreat back to Phase II, when on-field drills but could not include offense vs. defense.

Beginning Monday – and over the next three weeks -- the 49ers can get back to conducting the standard one-on-one, 7-on-7, 9-on-7 and 11-on-11 "non-contact" drills. The 49ers have the maximum number of 10 organized team activities scheduled. The official offseason program concludes with a mandatory minicamp scheduled for June 13-15.

The real competition does not begin until the pads go on during training camp. but here’s a look at the team’s most notable offseason competitions (one position you will not find is quarterback, where the depth chart of Brian Hoyer, Matt Barkley and C.J. Beathard appears clearly set):

Running back: Carlos Hyde, entering the final year of his original four-year contract, has a lot of competition to hold onto his role as the featured back. He is coming off his most-productive season, finishing just 12 yards shy of the 1,000-yard mark when he sustained a knee injury with one game remaining. Shanahan and running backs coach Bobby Turner lobbied for Utah running back Joe Williams in the draft. They clearly see a fit for him within the system.

Pass-rush end: The 49ers’ pass rush was among the worst in the NFL the past two seasons. Arik Armstead will be given an opportunity to see if he can adapt to the “Leo” position. Aaron Lynch must earn the confidence of the coaching staff and front office. The 49ers added explosive, 243-pound pass Pita Taumoepenu in the sixth round.

Tight end: The 49ers confirmed Vance McDonald was available for a trade during the draft. After finding no takers, the 49ers brought back McDonald and he rejoins the competition among rookies George Kittle and Cole Hikutini, and veterans Logan Paulsen, Garrett Celek and Blake Bell.

Cornerback: Rashard Robinson is the obvious choice to start on one side. And assuming Jimmie Ward remains at free safety, the 49ers have no other player on the roster who has started a significant number of games at cornerback. Rookie Ahkello Witherspoon, a third-round draft pick, will have a legitimate opportunity to win a starting job, as long as he displays a willingness to stick his nose into the action and play with the requisite level of physicality. Dontae Johnson, Keith Reaser and Will Redmond should also be in the mix to replace Tramaine Brock, who was released shortly after his arrest after an alleged domestic incident last month.

Center: Jeremy Zuttah, a Pro Bowl performer, was added in the offseason via a trade with the Baltimore Ravens. Daniel Kilgore has been the 49ers’ center the past three seasons but injuries have limited him to just 23 starts over that period of time. Zuttah has position flexibility. The 49ers could determine the best thing for the offensive line is to move Zuttah to one of the guard positions – to challenge Zane Beadles or Joshua Garnett -- if he is not clearly better than Kilgore.

Weakside linebacker: The 49ers signed veteran Malcolm Smith on the first day of free agency, providing him with $11.5 million of fully guaranteed money. The 49ers ranked Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster as the No. 3 overall prospect in the draft. They traded up to select him at No. 31 overall. Assuming Foster is ready to compete at the beginning of training camp after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery, it appears likely he would line up in that position and compete with Smith. The 49ers’ medical staff does not believe Foster will require any additional surgery, and Foster said he expects to be cleared for the opening of camp.

Barkley continues work with personal coach of Brady, Ryan

Barkley continues work with personal coach of Brady, Ryan

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan spent last offseason working with Tom House and Adam Dedeaux on his throwing mechanics.

Ryan went on to set career-bests in completion percentage (69.9), yards passing (4,944), touchdowns (38), interceptions (7) and passer rating (117.1).

New 49ers quarterback Matt Barkley worked with House and Dedeaux for the fourth offseason in Southern California before reporting to Santa Clara for the team’s offseason program.

“Kyle (Shanhan) is on board with what House and those guys are doing – I think, really, because of the year Matt Ryan had,” Barkley said on “The 49ers Insider Podcast” on NBC Sports Bay Area.

“He’s a believer in that. He saw the benefits of what Matt did with some of his drops and the timing on routes, how he changed his feet on some things. So we’re kind of sticking with that plan. Everyone is a little different, but for the most part we’re all on the same page when it comes to what our drops are looking like, our footwork and how the ball is coming out.”

House is a former major league pitcher and pitching coach who founded the 3DQB training facility in Los Angeles. Dedeaux pitched at USC and is the grandson of USC baseball coaching legend Rod Dedeaux. Former NFL quarterback John Beck is a motion mechanics instructor.

Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Alex Smith and Carson Palmer are among the NFL quarterbacks who have worked with 3DQB.

“I believe in those guys and what they’re doing,” Barkley said. “They’re at the top of their game, working with Brady and a bunch of other guys. They’ve helped me.

“He won’t change your throwing motion or really tweak how the ball comes out, but he’s going to try to maximize velocity and ground force production and torque -- a lot of sports science terms. But, really, just maximizing efficiency with your motion and making sure you’re sequencing is right.”

Barkley had never played for Shanahan before signing a two-year contract with the 49ers on the first day of free agency. But there are two obvious connections. Barkley’s offensive coordinator last season with the Chicago Bears was Dowell Loggains, Shanahan’s quarterbacks coach in 2014 when Shanahan was the Cleveland Browns’ offensive coordinator. The other connection is House.

"It’s kind of funny, he worked with Atlanta’s staff all of last year, helped Matt Ryan, kind of build his base from the ground up and helped him a lot and he had an MVP year," Barkley said of House.

"There may have been talks down the pipeline, who knows. I don’t think that was the deciding factor by any means, but it never hurts.”