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Seahawks-49ers matchup is a test of strengths

By Danny O’Neil

Subtlety is not Seattle’s strong suit.

At least not in the run game, and the key to the Seahawks’ game against the 49ers on Sunday night couldn’t be more straightforward. Well, at least the Seahawks hope to move straightforward against that San Francisco defensive front.

Marshawn Lynch has averaged 107 yards rushing in Seattle’s last three meetings with the 49ers. (AP)

“You’ve got to have a strong foundation,” receiver Sidney Rice said, “and ours is the run game.”

That cornerstone of Seattle’s offense is just as critical to San Francisco’s defense, which means that Sunday’s game may come down to a test of strengths. Because as good as the two quarterbacks in this game are – and Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick are wonderfully talented – this one may come down to whether Seattle’s rushing attack is an irresistible force or San Francisco’s defense is the immovable object.

And over the past two years, Seattle is perhaps the only team in the league that can point to a recent string of success running the ball against San Francisco.

It started on Dec. 24, 2011 when Marshawn Lynch became the first player in 44 games to surpass 100 yards rushing against the 49ers and it continued to last season when Lynch had two more triple-digit performances. In the past 53 games, San Francisco has allowed a 100-yard rusher only five times; Lynch was responsible for three of those performances.

The ground game could be considered Seattle’s biggest edge in this game if only it weren’t such a large question mark after the season opener.

Seattle was held to 70 yards rushing last weekend in Carolina, its lowest total in any game since December 2011, and if Seattle’s run game is held to a similarly pedestrian total against San Francisco, the Seahawks will be in big trouble.

But while the Seahawks may have struggled to run the ball a week ago in Carolina, that’s not going to do anything but strengthen their emphasis upon that approach. Running the football isn’t a strategy for Seattle so much as a belief system.

710 ESPN Seattle hosts weigh in on Seattle’s Week 2 matchup against San Francisco, finishing the sentence, “The Seahawks will win if … ”

Brock Huard: They hit/hurry/sack Colin Kaepernick more than San Francisco does to Russell Wilson.
Bob Stelton: They limit penalties, shut down the 49ers’ run game and force Colin Kaepernick to test the Legion of Boom.
Dave Grosby: The 49ers have trouble with the crowd noise, whether that’s getting plays in on time or committing false starts.
Dave Wyman: They outrush the 49ers.
Jim Moore: Marshawn Lynch rushes for more than 100 yards, and there’s good reason to think that he will since he did it in both games against the 49ers last year.
Michael Grey: They reach 100 yards rushing as a team.
Danny O’Neil: They hold the 49ers to fewer than 90 yards rushing.

“It’s staying committed to it and then kind of seeing it through,” said Tom Cable, Seattle’s offensive line coach. “Letting the momentum build with it, letting your runner kind of get comfortable and really our guy can kind of take over when that happens. So that’s what you’re trying to do in this league when you run the football.

“It takes patience, and you’ve got to stay with it.”

That perseverance will be tested by a 49ers defense that has allowed the fewest rushing yards in the league since Jim Harbaugh became the team’s coach in 2011.

To say the Seahawks have run the ball twice as effectively as San Francisco’s other opponents is neither hyperbole nor a figure of speech. Since Harbaugh became head coach, the Seahawks have averaged 125 yards rushing in four meetings with the 49ers. All other opponents have averaged 62.3.

No team ran the ball more than Seattle last season, and the Seahawks’ ground game is as much a conviction as it is a game plan at this point.

“Running the football is difficult to do in the first place,” Cable said. “Once you kind of find your rhythm in it, it’s important that you stay in it, stay with it.”

There’s no questioning Seattle’s faith in its running game at this point. The question is how the results will stack up Sunday against San Francisco.