49ers vs. Seahawks: Matchups to watch

September 10, 2011, 2:09 am
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Matt MaioccoCSNBayArea.com
The 49ers open the regular season and the Jim Harbaugh era on Sunday at Candlestick Park against the Seattle Seahawks. And here is a look at the individual matchups that will play a huge part in the outcome:Matchup to watch
49ers left defensive end Ray McDonald (91) vs. Seahawks right guard John Moffitt (74)Tale of the tape
McDonald: 6-3, 290, Florida, fifth season
Moffitt: 6-4, 319, Wisconsin, rookieRay McDonald spent every day of the lockout thinking about what would happen this week.Tired of being a role player -- a specialist -- McDonald set out to make sure he was no longer just a one-down player. So while he and his 49ers teammates were locked out of the teams practice facility, McDonald found a home at the San Jose State workout facilities.McDonald hung out daily with veteran defensive lineman Justin Smith, talking football and preparing for the rigors of the season. And McDonald's focus all along was Sunday's season opener against the Seattle Seahawks.Oh, sure, there was that other matter. McDonald first had to sign a contract to return to the 49ers. And, as it turned out, McDonald received the most-lucrative free-agent contract the 49ers doled out for a player this offseason. McDonald signed a five-year, 20 million contract.So if there are 65 snaps in Sunday's game for the 49ers on defense, how many does McDonald figure on playing?"All 65," he answered.That's because McDonald will start at left defensive end. Then, when the 49ers go to nickel situations, he'll pick up his role of last season as an inside pass-rusher on their four-man line."I've worked hard to be able to play in every situation," McDonald said. "I'm really excited about this game and this season. It's going to be pretty emotional for me. But I know I'm in good shape to be able to play every down. I'm in the best shape of my life."A year ago, he could've been known as Near-Miss McDonald. After all, McDonald was generally one of the 49ers' top pass-rushers despite failing to record a quarterback sack. McDonald was credited with 26 quarterback hits (tied for second on the team with Parys Haralson and behind leader Justin Smith). And his 56 quarterback pressures was second only to Smith's 73.This season, the 49ers' hope for an improved pass defense hinges largely on McDonald's ability to finish those plays. And he might get a few chances on Sunday.The Seahawks' offensive line is in a state of flux with starting left guard Robert Gallery expected to be out of action with a knee sprain. That means that projected starting right tackle James Carpenter, a surprise first-round draft pick, might switch to left guard with Breno Giacomini taking over at right tackle.Rookie John Moffitt, a third-round pick from Wisconsin, will remain at right guard and matched up mostly against McDonald. Moffitt and Carpenter started all four exhibition games side-by-side, and that is what McDonald has studied."They are both talented players, and they are playing better and better," McDonald said.But, now, with an expected change in the starting lineup, McDonald will have to figure things out as the game goes along. At least, he should have plenty of time to figure out what works best."You can watch all the film you want, but when you get into a game, you're able to figure out what's working and what's not," McDonald said.Other matchups worth watching
49ers QB Alex Smith (11) vs. Seahawks QB Tarvaris Jackson (7) -- Although they'll never be on the field at the same time, just compare the stat sheet at the end of the game. Smith is in his first season with the new system coach Jim Harbaugh brings from Stanford. And Jackson reunites with former Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. This is their first game together with the Seahawks. Both quarterbacks had shaky offensive line play in front of them during the exhibition season, so it's difficult to predict how they'll perform in the regular season. In four practice games, Smith completed just 55.6 percent of his passes with no touchdowns and two interceptions. Jackson connect of 58.2 percent with one TD and two interceptions in the exhibition season.49ers MLB Patrick Willis (52) vs. Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch 24) -- Lynch and Willis can be expected to meet throughout the game, whether or not Lynch has the ball in his hands. Seattle must have success running the ball, and Willis is a sideline-to-sideline presence who'll be focused on bring down Lynch, a powerful 215-pound runner. And Willis also figures to be more of a presence as a pass-rusher this season. In those instances when Willis is blitzing, Lynch must step up and prevent him from getting to the quarterback.