Matt Maiocco, who expertly covers San Francisco for CSNBayArea.com, has been kind enough to answer five questions on the 49ers heading into this weekend’s big matchup.
Check out the Q&A below.
1. From a distance, Jim Harbaugh’s decision to switch quarterbacks from Alex Smith to Colin Kaepernick appears like the right move. Smith started against Seattle in the first game, so this will be the first opportunity for the Seahawks to play against the Nevada product. How has San Francisco’s offense changed with Kaepernick under center?
Maiocco: Kaepernick opens up the entire field in a way that Smith did not. With his strong arm and confidence to make every throw, Kaepernick will attack outside the numbers and down the field. He also runs a lot of zone read plays, where he can hand to Frank Gore or LaMichael James or keep the ball himself. Kaepernick had 50-yard runs in back-to-back games against St. Louis and Miami this month.
2. The Seahawks really had an issue stopping the diversity of runs San Francisco dialed up against them in the first matchup, including traps, wham plays and toss sweeps. We’re familiar with San Francisco’s offensive line coach Mike Solari from his time in Seattle. How much of the 49ers success is predicated on scheme, and how much is based on the talent level they have up front?
Maiocco: The 49ers built a physical offensive line in order to run the ball. Tackles Joe Staley and Anthony Davis are very good run-blockers. And so are the guards, Mike Iupati and Alex Boone. The 49ers have a lot of diversity in their run attack. They use split backs more than any team in the league. And they’ve started using a lot of full-house pistol formations, too, to get the defense balanced to the point where the 49ers can attack in any direction. They use their talent and scheme very effectively.
3. Michael Crabtree seems to have blossomed in his third season. What’s the reason for his improvement?
Maiocco: He has remained healthy. Last season, he played very well, but he got off to a slow start due to foot surgery right before training camp. He is running better than he has at any point in his NFL career. He has always had good hands, but now he’s able to turn short passes into long gains with yards after the catch. He’s a tough, physical runner.
4. Justin Smith’s availability is uncertain because of an elbow injury. How much does Smith being in the lineup help in the success of teammate Aldon Smith rushing the passer?
Maiocco: Justin Smith is the guy opposing offenses target. He dictates a double-team on just about every play. Even when he’s singled-up, he’ll often tie up to blockers to make things easier on Aldon Smith. If Justin Smith is unable to play, his replacement (Ricky Jean Francois) will get single-blocked, and the Seahawks can afford to pay a lot more attention to Aldon Smith.
5. There’s been a lot of talk about this being a rivalry game, with the “unique” relationship between Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh, and supposedly the players from both teams not liking each other. But San Francisco has defeated the Seahawks four straight times. Do the 49ers really view this matchup as a rivalry?
Maiocco: The 49ers try to keep the nameless-faceless approach. But there is something special here because these teams are so similar. It’s about which team can out-physical the other. Other than Dashon Goldson jawing with — and ultimately getting penalized for “taunting” – Marshawn Lynch, I don’t know that there’s been anything above and beyond going on. I know in speaking with many of the 49ers’ players, there doesn’t seem to be any personal animosity. The 49ers have a healthy respect for the Seahawks players — and that includes Goldson’s view of Lynch.