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Seahawks RB Chris Carson
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3 Key Players: 49ers have a weakness that plays into a Seahawks strength

With Chris Carson leading the way, the Seahawks are eighth in rushing offense this season. (Getty)

The 7-2 Seahawks are heading to Levi’s Stadium for their first game of the year against the undefeated San Francisco 49ers. Getting a win won’t come easy; the 49ers have the NFL’s top ranked defense and rushing offense, and Seattle will be playing on the road against its NFC West rival.

Huard: Hawks’ addition of Josh Gordon sent message to DK Metcalf

The Seahawks will need a stronger performance from their struggling pass rush, but the key to a win will be to exploit a strength they already have – which we’ll get to.

Here are the top Seahawks players to watch on Monday night:

WR Josh Gordon

He may not even see many snaps against the 49ers – that’s obviously yet to be determined and will depend on a good week of practice – but all eyes will be on wide receiver Josh Gordon should he suit up for the Seahawks Monday night. Seattle’s decision to claim Gordon off waivers was headline-grabbing news, both for his talents on the field and troubles off of it.

“He’s really talented,” Carroll said of Gordon Thursday. “He looked talented in the walk through. He’s a big, good looking kid and all that. He’s just got to fit in and see if we can fit it together where it’s not a distraction for us. We’re not going to put him in the game to throw him the ball. We’re trying to win a football game. If he can help us do that then we’ll figure out a way.”

Gordon, an All-Pro in 2013, had 20 receptions for 287 yards and touchdown in six games with New England before landing on injured reserve with a minor injury designation. He caught five passes for 59 yards on Oct. 6 in Week 5, and two weeks prior to that set season-highs with six catches and 83 yards. The 28-year-old Gordon joins a Seahawks receiving corps that features Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf, who are both coming off 100-yard performances in last week’s Seattle win over Tampa Bay.

Defensive line

The Seahawks’ defensive line took a hit after the team traded sack leader Frank Clark to the Kansas City Chiefs in April, but by September it looked like Seattle had made up for the loss – or at least had started to fill the void. There was 2019 first-round pick L.J. Collier, whom Pete Carroll compared to Michael Bennett, along with pass rushers Ziggy Ansah and Jadeveon Clowney, acquired in free agency and via trade, respectively. There was also defensive tackle Jarran Reed, who would return in Week 7 after serving a six-game suspension.

But nine weeks into the season, Seattle trails 27 other clubs in pass defense. The Seahawks’ sack leader is outside linebacker Mychal Kendricks (3.0) and the most productive member of the defensive line has been Clowney – which probably explains why he’s among the league’s most double-teamed edge rushers.

If the Seahawks want to make a deep postseason run, they’ll need more from their defense, particularly up front. They have the talent, but there’s no better time to take a step forward than against an unbeaten division opponent. They’re expecting the return of defensive end Quinton Jefferson, who missed their Week 9 game with an oblique injury, which at least provides more depth. But pay no mind to the 49ers’ ranking (22nd overall) in the pass game – this will be another tough test for the defense.

RB Chris Carson

The 49ers’ defense looks unbeatable on its face. And to be frank, they’re really, really good, limiting opponents to an average of 138 passing yards per game. More passes from opposing quarterbacks have been intercepted (10) by the 49ers than have been completed for a touchdown (7) against them. Their 30 sacks are tied for third-most in the league behind only New England and Carolina. Leading the pass rush is 2019 second overall pick Nick Bosa (7.0 sacks), while in the secondary veteran cornerback Richard Sherman (you’ve heard the name) leads the team with three interceptions and eight passes defensed.

If there is an Achilles heel for this side of the ball – albeit a small one – it’s their performance against the run.

“They’re not going to be perfect across the board, considering where they were and where they’re trying to get to,” 95.7 The Game’s Joe Fortenbaugh said on 710 ESPN Seattle’s The Huddle Thursday. “So it’s been a marked improvement. But the one advantage the Seahawks may have is the ability to pound the ball on the ground. Tre Greenwall is going to be stepping in (for Kwon Alexander) and he’s a mid-round rookie with very little experience. Now, he can fly too and he’s got the instinct, he just doesn’t have the experience that Alexander has. So that’s going to be an advantage.

“… The ability to run the ball is going to be key for Seattle.”

Luckily for Seattle, that particular weakness matches up well against a strength of its team. The Seahawks are averaging 131 rushing yards per game, slightly below last year’s average but good enough for 8th overall. They’ve finished with at least 100 yards on the ground in each of their last eight games, and lead back Chris Carson saw his fourth 100-plus yard game last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who boast the league’s best rushing defense.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Stacy Rost on Twitter.

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