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Clayton: Seahawks face an even younger 49ers team in Santa Clara

The Seahawks have a chance to secure a playoff spot with a win Sunday. (AP)

Even though the Seahawks played the San Francisco 49ers two weeks ago, Sunday’s game looks so much different.

Things have broken so well for the Seahawks that they get a playoff spot if they beat the 49ers. Meanwhile, the Niners have gone into a youth movement, phasing out some of the veterans on defense and going with more rookies.

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Let’s break down what’s ahead for the Seahawks:

• In the 20-14 49ers victory over the Denver Broncos, the 49ers started six rookies. D.J. Jones got the start ahead of veteran nose tackle Earl Mitchell. Fred Warner is a rookie doing well at middle linebacker. The injury-depleted safety position had fifth-round choice D.J. Reed at free safety. On offense, the 49ers started Dante Pettis at wide receiver, Mike McGlinchey at right tackle and Jeff Walker at running back. They’ve benched former Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith.

There were plenty of changes heading into the Seahawks-49ers game two weeks ago: Reuben Foster was cut, and safety Jimmy Ward went on injured reserve prior to that game. This will be an even younger 49ers team the Seahawks will be facing Sunday.

• For the sake of pride, Seahawks pass defenders should be extra focused Sunday. Even though so many of the yards allowed during their last meeting was in garbage time, the defense allowed too many yards and had too many mistakes and too many missed tackles in their 43-16 win. 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens completed 19 passes in the second half and threw for 304 yards after halftime. For the game, Mullens had 30 completions and 414 yards.

For the season, the Seahawks rank 18th in yards allowed. A good game against Mullens could drop their totals below 15. Playing the 49ers two weeks after giving up that many yards could be good motivation for the pass defense.

• Stopping tight end George Kettle will be a challenge, but the Seahawks did a good job against him in the first game. Safety Bradley McDougald, in particular, was an effective part of that attack. Kettle had three catches for 27 yards in the first half. In the garbage time of the second half, he ended up with six catches for 70 yards.

Still, Kettle is one of the best young tight ends in the game. Last week, he had more than 200 yards against the Denver Broncos. For the season, he has 69 catches for 1,103 yards. The Seahawks are the fifth-best team against tight ends, limiting them to 47 catches for 502 yards.

• You have to wonder if the 49ers would give halfback Matt Breida a rest. Although Breida has an outside chance to rush for more 1,000 yards, he’s had ankle injuries for more than a month. It was painful watching him two weeks ago — twice he had to go off the field to take care of the ankle, and it was so sore in the second half that he spent several minutes trying to put pressure on it. Ultimately, he was unable to return to the game.

But one thing that’s amazing about 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan is how well he does getting a running game going — even if you’ve never heard of the running back. Like his father, Mike Shanahan, his running schemes are among the best in football and many teams are still trying to copy them.

• It would be a plus for the Seahawks to get some playing time from Doug Baldwin. Baldwin has been fighting injuries all season. But as Brady Henderson of pointed out this week, Russell Wilson’s numbers aren’t as good when Baldwin isn’t on the field.

Baldwin is questionable for Sunday with a hip injury and Pete Carroll has to make a game-time decision whether to play him.

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John Clayton on 710 ESPN Seattle
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