San Francisco 49ers (1-1) at Seattle Seahawks (1-1)
SERIES HISTORY: 35th regular-season meeting. Seahawks lead series, 19-15. Seahawks won both meetings last season. Seattle has won four straight over the 49ers and six of the last seven games played.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The 49ers rank ninth in points per game at 27.5 through two games, but coach Chip Kelly admitted concern over the Seahawks' playmakers at all three level on the league's top-ranked defense. San Francisco's personnel is still adapting to Kelly's system, and there have been breakdowns in protection, routes and timing in the passing game. The goal is to get RB Carlos Hyde untracked early and keep QB Blaine Gabbert out of dangerous down-and-distance situations in a hostile road environment. San Francisco scored a combined 16 points in dropping both meetings last season and while Kelly's system is new to the 49ers, the Seahawks have seen it before and allowed only 14 points in a victory in Philadelphia in 2014.
Seattle's offensive issues are arguably far more concerning. The offensive line has been dominated in each of the first two games and QB Russell Wilson was unable to utilize the rollouts and read-option that have been so integral to his success over the past three seasons. Seattle hasn't shown the ability to establish a consistent ground game, which has left the offense in a slew of long passing down it has proven ill-equipped to convert. Look for the 49ers to test Wilson's mobility early, clog the ground game and then pressure the edges of the pocket on third down. RB Thomas Rawls has a leg contusion that could leave the brunt of the carries to Christine Michael, especially with rookie C.J. Prosise (hand) also uncertain. Knee injuries to WRs Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett bear watching as well, although TE Jimmy Graham did play the bulk of the snaps last week in an increased role.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--49ers WR Jeremy Kerley vs. Seahawks CB Jeremy Lane: When opponents have gone with three receivers, Lane has typically moved inside with DeShawn Shead playing outside. With Richard Sherman on the other side of the field, Shead has been a popular target. Kerley largely plays the slot, but has picked up the offense quickly with a team-high 10 catches for 90 yards and will see plenty of time against the Seahawks' veteran slot corner.
--49ers ROLB Eli Harold vs. Seahawks LT Bradley Sowell: Harold has yet to record a sack this season, but is one of several pass rushers Sowell can expect to do battle with on Wilson's blind side. The journeyman won the left tackle job in the preseason, where he was a pleasant surprise, but has been largely overwhelmed during the first two games of the regular season.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: 49ers LB Michael Wilhoite. With Ray-Ray Armstrong placed on injured reserve, Kelly indicated Wilhoite will be the reserve asked to step up and fill the coverage role of Armstrong, who was a converted safety. Armstrong won a battle for that role over Wilhoite during the preseason.
FAST FACTS: Gabbert has thrown at least one touchdown pass in 12 consecutive games. ... 49ers LB Ahmad Brooks has 5.0 sacks in the past four meetings. ... Wilson is 6-2 with a 93.7 passer rating in eight career starts against the 49ers. ... Rawls had 209 rushing yards in the last meeting in Seattle last November, the second-most rushing yards in a single game in franchise history (Shaun Alexander, 266 vs. Oakland in 2001).
PREDICTION: The Seahawks have a slew of offensive issues, and the offensive line issues are typical of recent seasons. In what shapes up as yet another low-scoring game, it's Seattle's defense that finally begins to generate turnovers and short fields to help the offense show signs of life.
OUR PICK: Seahawks, 23-19.