Radar Week 14: 49ers vs. Seahawks

As the 49ers enter the final quarter of the regular season, we break down the team's strengths, weaknesses and look ahead at the team's final few games we the Seahawks looming Sunday.

Statistics Through Week 13

Offense (rank):

Points per game: 24.8 (#10) previous week: 24.9 (#10)

Yards per game: 311.0 (#28) previous week: 308.5 (#30)

Passing yards (per game): 180.2 (#31) previous week: 173.5 (#32)

Rushing yards (per game): 130.8 (#7) previous week: 135.1 (#4)

3rd-down conversion rate: 36.65 percent (#19) previous week: 36.91 percent (#18)

Red zone scoring rate (TDs): 61.54 percent (#5) previous week: 62.86 percent (#5)

Defense (rank):

Points per game: 16.4 (#3) previous week: 16.7 (#4)

Yards per game: 314.0 (#5) previous week: 314.2 (#7)

Passing yards (per game): 208.5 (#5) previous week: 209.5 (#5)

Rushing yards (per game): 105.5 (#11) previous week: 104.7 (#12)

3rd-down conversion rate: 33.92 percent (#6) previous week: 34.18 percent (#6)

Red zone scoring rate (TDs): 53.12 percent (#14) previous week: 55.17 percent (#19)

Misc.:

Turnover margin: +6 (23 takeaways, 17 giveaways) previous week: +6 (22 takeaways, 16 giveaways)

Penalties per game: 6.4 (#16) previous week: 6.2 (#13)

Penalty yards per game: 54 (#16) previous week: 51.2 (#13)

NFC West Standings (record, division)

Seattle Seahawks (11-1, 3-0)

San Francisco 49ers (8-4, 3-1)

Arizona Cardinals(7-5, 0-3)

St. Louis Rams (5-7, 1-3)

NFC Playoff Standings (record, conference)

1. Seattle (11-1, 8-0)

2. New Orleans (9-3, 7-1)

3. Detroit (7-5, 6-3)

4. Dallas (7-5, 6-2)

5. Carolina (9-3, 7-2)

6. San Francisco (8-4, 5-3)

In the Hunt

7. Philadelphia (7-5, 6-2)

8. Arizona (7-5, 4-5)

9. Chicago (6-6, 3-6)

What It Means

Reading the mood in the 49ers' locker room, there's no panic among the veteran group that's reached the last two NFC Championship games. And despite knowing a third-straight division title is likely out of reach, they seem to be relishing the opportunity to be the underdog with something to prove instead of sitting comfortably with a first-round bye.

The Seahawks game this weekend will be more about proving to their division rival – and the rest of the NFL – San Francisco can do more than just beat up on bad teams. They are a couple plays away from winning games against New Orleans and Carolina that would push their record to 10-2 instead of 8-4. In a league that says "You are what your record says you are," the 49ers are a team that's dealt with adverse situations all season. With just four games left, they hope they are better built for a long playoff run than they were the last two years.

Late in 2012, San Francisco's defense appeared battered and worn, allowing big yardage totals to Patriots, Seahawks, Falcons and Ravens. There are a number of factors to point to, including injuries to Aldon and Justin Smith along with very high snap totals for most of the defensive starters.

But more than the previous two seasons, the depth of the roster has been big in 2013 and allowed the team to remain relatively healthy down the stretch. The Smiths appear to be back to form thanks in part to rest afforded by the play of Dan Skuta, Corey Lemonier, Tony Jerod-Eddie and Demarcus Dobbs.

Make what you will about the "peaking at the right time"-notion, but the 49ers appear to have their best football ahead of them. Offensively, Colin Kaepernick has looked more comfortable in recent weeks thanks to some bad opponents and the additions of Mario Manningham and Michael Crabtree.

Kaepernick can no longer benefit from being an unknown commodity as he did last year, forcing him to adjust and develop into a more refined player. And despite all the criticism, he's leading an offense that's No. 10 in the NFL in scoring in his first full season as starter.

Strengths

Kaepernick's improved play was on display against a Rams defense that's been very good against San Francisco of late. He was particularly good under pressure, completing five of seven passes for 63 yards. His numbers for the season are far worse, as he's completed just 30 of 75 attempts.

It's a small one-game sample size. But having his favorite target back in Crabtree is a likely contributor even though No. 15 made just two receptions Sunday. For the first time all season, the 49ers had their top-3 receivers on the field at once, which could make a world of difference for the young quarterback.

The next step in Kaepernick's evolution will be properly making his check downs and finding his safety valves instead of taking sacks. In last year's win over Seattle in October, Alex Smith made Frank Gore his No. 1 target allowing him to go away from the Seahawks' play-making secondary. Gore finished with a game-high five receptions for 51 yards. As much as Kaepernick likes to go down field, Pete Carroll's team will key on shutting things down over the top and force the young QB to beat him short throws.

Per usual, the team's defense continues to show up in a big way for the 49ers. Since losing those two games to Carolina and New Orleans, the unit has played with a chip on its shoulder that might not have been there earlier in the year. Since Jim Harbaugh and his staff took over in 2011, San Francisco's defense has been the best in football at home, allowing just 13.6 points per game. Over the last nine games, the 49ers have allowed an average of 12.6 points to opposing offenses.

The obvious moral of this story is the defense continues to play at a high level despite dealing with injuries along the defensive line and turnover at in the secondary. Tramaine Brock, Eric Wright and Eric Reid have all stepped in allowing the defense to not miss a beat.

Areas to Improve

Frank Gore has struggled in recent weeks, which could be cause for concern had the passing game not rebounded over the last two weeks. Gore ran for just 121 yards over the last three weeks which is the lowest total of three weeks since his rookie season of 2005 when he was backing up Kevan Barlow.

The 49ers have varied their run play designs which might be contributing to the struggles. The trap play where Delanie Walker would blind side defensive tackles hasn't been as effective this season and the team is focused on more traditional downhill runs. Defenses have also loaded up on Kaepernick forcing him to beat them with the passing game while condensing the field. But with Crabtree back that could change.

Health of the offensive line will be key. It appears Mike Iupati will be out Sunday after not practicing all week. On the other hand, Joe Staley looks like he will go against the Seahawks after leaving Sunday's game during the first offensive possession with a right MCL sprain. Staley continues to be one of the league's best run blockers at his position and will be vital against Seattle's talented defensive front.

Going Forward

Sunday's game won't have the ramifications many anticipated when the schedule released. It's a virtual lock the Seahawks will remain the No. 1 seed and clinch home field throughout the playoffs regardless if they win or lose on Sunday. But San Francisco is still fighting for its playoff life as the No. 6 seed and can't afford to drop any games going forward. The home team has far more to play for.

After Seattle, the 49ers remaining games include a trip to Tampa Bay, a home Monday night game against the Falcons and trip to Arizona to play the Cardinals.

But the 49ers are only a game up on the Eagles and Cowboys (both 7-5), who are battling for the NFC East title and are separated only by a tie-breaker. Dallas is 4-0 within the division while the Eagles are 3-2. That battle could come down to the final week of the season with Philadelphia travels to Dallas.

San Francisco remains a game up on Arizona and has the jump on the divisional record tie breaker - the 49ers are 3-1 against the NFC West while the Cardinals are 0-3.

*Statistics from Pro Football Focus were used in this report*

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