I guess it’s only natural at this point in the NFL schedule to be looking at a team that is 8-0 and asking whether they are in fact “all that.” With apologies to Bill Parcells, who famously talked about how “you are who your record says you are,” sometimes that’s really not the case.
Now we are the first to admit that you can’t be a total mirage and get to 8-0 at the same time, but we have a team over here who has gotten to that point even while being banged up at some critical positions. The San Francisco 49ers probably aren’t going undefeated, but they are very much for real. However, they face a genuine stumbling block as they line up for action against the Seattle Seahawks in the Monday night game that is set to begin at 8:15 PM ET at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.
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He was largely associated with the West Coast offense and working with the likes of John Elway, but one thing that was always underrated about Mike Shanahan was his ability to unearth “no-name” backs and turn them into thousand-yard rushers. He did it time and again. His son is cut from the same mold; the run game was always going to be essential to his plan.
The Niners are second in the league in rushing yards, and that makes sense, because they run the ball more than 50% of the time. And it’s a very effective rotation, with Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman, who was in Atlanta when Kyle was offensive coordinator of the Falcons.
And what is scary is that this was all built without the guy Shanahan really coveted. When he acquired Jerick McKinnon, he gushed about how critical he could be with his rushing-receiving abilities, but he has not gotten on the field in two seasons because of knee injuries.
In the Monday Night NFL odds posted on this game, the Niners are decisive favorites:
San Francisco 49ers -6.5 (-105)
Seattle Seahawks +6.5 (-105)
Over 47.5 points (-105)
Under 47.5 points (-105)
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When your best receiver is a tight end, it becomes a very big thing to talk about when there’s a possibility he might not make it to post. And that appears to be the case with George Kittle (46 catches, 541 yards), who has knee and ankle injuries and as of Saturday was listed as doubtful.
Somehow this feels like less of a concern that it would be if the Niners didn’t have multiple players coming back into the lineup. And some of this should be very good news for the ground game. First of all, fullback Kyle Juszczyk, who Kyle Shanahan considers to be indispensable, is set to return and he’ll be the lead blocker for what could be a trio of ball-carriers, including Mostert, who is questionable but should be back to lend support to the cause.
And the 49ers have gotten to this place for the most without two outstanding offensive tackles – Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey – who are both on track to return. So this is all pretty impressive.
Cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon is also expected back, and that brings us to the subject of the defense. The Niners are currently second in the NFL in yards allowed per drive. And statistically they are the stingiest in the league when it comes to playing in the red zone.
Oh, and Jimmy Garoppolo has lost one out of 14 games he has started and finished as QB for this team.
So there’s a lot of evidence to support the Niners’ case here.
But you know, this is the NFL, so the Seahawks deserve a fair trial before being sent packing.
Seattle basically tries to do the same thing San Francisco does, which is control the ball and the clock, and in Chris Carson they don’t have a bad guy to do it with. The defense should have safety Quandre Diggs available, and with Jadeveon Clowney and Ziggy Ansah being recent additions, your looking at a stop unit that has upside.
If you’re looking for an underdog with the mental toughness to pull this off, you’ve found it. The Seahawks have won all four of their road games. And they have gone into this stadium and won five of the last six.
And of course, you can’t ever count Russell Wilson out. This is maybe the best season of his career. Twenty-two (22) touchdown passes. ONE (1) interception. Eight and a half yards per attempt. He’s going to make plays that aren’t there. He’s going to run the ball and hurt you. He’s going to go downfield. And he has speedsters like Tyler Lockett and rookie DK Metcalf to work with, and they’re dangerous. And guess what? In all likelihood, they are going to be joined by new arrival Josh Gordon. Left tackle Duane Brown should be healthy enough to play, which is good news.
If Kittle can’t go, that’s a big factor, because he has more than twice as many catches as the next leading receiver. Translation – he’s the guy that Jimmy G looks to first.
And how about some perspective – for as well as the Niners have played, if they lose this game the Seahawks are only a half-game behind in the NFC West.
With the number like this, and knowing that Wilson will be throwing haymakers until the final gun if need be, I’m comfortable taking the points.
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