Four thoughts on the Seahawks-49ers matchup

Dec 22, 2012, 7:02 PM | Updated: 7:20 pm

By Brady Henderson

Four things to consider regarding the Seahawks’ Week 16 matchup with the NFC West-leading 49ers at CenturyLink Field:

Justin Smith’s impact. Recent reports suggest the 49ers will be without All-Pro defensive lineman Justin Smith, who was listed as questionable on Friday’s injury report after he missed a third straight day of practice due to an elbow injury. Smith’s importance to the 49ers’ second-ranked defense cannot be understated.

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Justin Smith, arguably San Francisco’s best defensive player, might not play due an elbow injury. (AP)

“Absolutely huge” were the words Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. used when asked how Smith’s absence would affect San Francisco against Seattle.

“He makes so much happen for those two great inside linebackers, [Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman], for Aldon Smith. He never stops hustling, he’s a great, great run player,” Williamson told “The Kevin Calabro Show” on Friday. “You can align him all over the defense, he never comes off the field. I still think he’s their best defensive player.”

Goin’ deep. Russell Wilson has been particularly effective on throws of at least 20 yards downfield. Defending those deeper throws has been a strength of the 49ers.

ESPN Stats & Information came up with these figures regarding throws of more than 20 yards downfield: Wilson has eight touchdowns, second-most in the NFL; San Francisco’s defense has allowed an NFL-low one touchdown. Wilson’s QBR is an outstanding 98.9; quarterbacks have been held to a 33.5 QBR against the 49ers.

Wilson has thrown four interceptions on such passes, including one in Seattle’s Week 7 loss to San Francisco. He was 0 for 5 on deeper throws that game. Some of those incompletions were drops.

Defending Kaepernick. Alex Smith completed 14 of 23 attempts for 140 yards, a touchdown and an interception during that Week 7 win over Seattle. His QBR in that game was 35.3. The 49ers have since switched to Colin Kaepernick, whose mobility isn’t the only thing that sets him apart from Smith.

“He can throw the ball all over the field,” Williamson said of Kaepernick. “When you’re playing defense against Alex Smith, you’re not worried about him making the super hard throw from the far hash across the field, the real tough arm-strength throws. Where with Kaepernick, you better defend the whole field.”

According to ESPN Stats & Information, three of Kaepernick’s four touchdown passes against New England last week were on throws more than 20 yards downfield. No other quarterback has three touchdown passes on such throws in a game this season.

Special teams. The similarities between the Seahawks and 49ers – both in terms of style and their rankings in the major statistical categories – makes it easy to wonder whether special teams could be the deciding factor.

So does what happened in their last two meetings. Ted Ginn Jr. scored two return touchdowns during the fourth quarter of the 49ers’ Week 1 win over Seattle last season. In Week 16, Seattle’s Heath Farwell blocked a punt deep in 49ers territory that set up a go-ahead Marshawn Lynch touchdown run. San Francisco then drove for the game-winning field goal.

The 49ers are allowing 27.2 yards per kickoff return this season, second-worst in the NFL. Seattle has the fourth-best average on kickoff returns at 27.6.

Farwell discussed the potential impact special teams could have on this game when he joined “The Huddle” on Thursday.

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Four thoughts on the Seahawks-49ers matchup