A familiar foe in top-ranked ground game

The 49ers know Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch all too well, and that stopping Seattle's defense starts with containing him.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. - The 49ers held Marshawn Lynch to 33 yards on 12 on carries in the first half of the conference title game. Up 10-3, San Francisco played its best half of football in Seattle in at least two seasons and didn't appear shaken by Seattle's vaunted home field advantage at CenturyLink Field.

But on the Seahawks' first drive of the third quarter, the home field advantage erupted once again. The stands shook, the music blared, and the home team stole the momentum that belonged to the 49ers in the first two quarters.

Marshawn Lynch catalyzed Seattle's 20-7 second half that ultimately led to a trip to the Super Bowl with a 40-yard run that rookie safety Eric Reid thought about more than any other play from his first year in the league.

"That play ate me alive in the offseason," Reid said.

Lynch busted through the left side of the line into the second level of the defense, and with strong safety Donte Whitner being doubled teamed by a receiver and lineman, Reid was the last line of defense.

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But he over-pursued toward the middle of the field, leaving Lynch a wide-open lane down the right side giving him a path to the end zone. Lynch cut right, beat Reid and the rest of the 49ers' secondary for game-tying touchdown that brought the Seahawks, and their home crowd, back in it.

"It was killing me last year," Reid said. "That’s last year. I think I’ve become a better tackler (this year). I hope I could say that, I hope the film shows that. The test is on Thursday."

"He just didn’t leverage it correctly and got caught a little bit out of position, which consequently caused him to miss the tackle," defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. "But it’s been talked about in the offseason.”

Seattle will pack the league's No. 1 rushing offense for its trip to Levi's Stadium for Thursday night's Thanksgiving affair between two of the most prominent rivals in the NFL.

The 49ers, without their two All-Pro inside linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, still own the league's seventh-ranked run defense. But they have allowed 100-yard rushers in two of their last three games.

Lynch has run for five touchdowns against the 49ers in eight career games, tied for the most among opponents. But he isn't the only capable runner in Seattle's backfield.

"They’re a tough running game to defend," Fangio said. "They’ve got Marshawn Lynch, who we all know is if he’s not the best back in the league he’s second to somebody, I wouldn’t know who that would be. And then you’ve got [Russell Wilson] back there who could pull the ball at anytime and become a runner himself...and when Wilson has the ball in his hand, he’s like defending Barry Sanders with his quickness and speed and elusiveness. He’s a tough assignment."

Wilson has 644 yards rushing on 84 carries, averaging 59 yards on the ground each week. Wilson leads all quarterbacks in rushing and is 15th overall in the NFL, better than half the league's starting running backs. He has just 40 fewer yards than Frank Gore.

The 49ers held Wilson to a net of 0 rushing yards on 5 attempts in January's title game, mostly by setting the edge and preventing him from getting outside. Lynch finished the night with 109 yards on 22 carries, thanks to his 76-yard second half.

Lynch has been in the news this season over rumors about his future in Seattle. The 28-year-old is approaching 2,000 carries - a number many believe turns on the check-engine light for aging running backs. He is signed through next season and due to count for $8.5 million against the Seahawks' salary cap.

But national reports indicate Lynch will not be with the Seahawks in 2015, citing antics like being a no-show at the White House to celebrate the team's championship and holding out of training camp.

But those reports aside, Lynch is still the linchpin of Seattle's offense. He's just 148 yards shy 1,000, and has nine touchdowns, pacing him toward a new career high with five games remaining.

[Related: Johnson wants to be 49ers’ X-factor]

While calling more running plays than any team in football, Seattle also utilizes more play action than anyone else. The passing game ranks ranks 30th in the league, while Lynch and Co. average 5.4 yards per carry, topping the list.

“Great football player," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said of Lynch. "‘Beast Mode.’ I’ve heard him referred to that complimentary. He is a ‘football player.’ Hard. Aggressive. Tough runner. Talented.”

With Willis and Bowman out, San Francisco will continue to rely on rookie inside linebacker Chris Borland and former reserve Michael Wilhoite against Seattle, who might provide the new duo's toughest test yet.

In New Orleans Nov. 9 and against Washington Sunday, the 49ers allowed 100-yard games to Mark Ingram and Alfred Morris for the just the second and third times all season. Prior, it only happened in the opener against Dallas' DeMarco Murray.

Starting nose tackle Ian Williams was lost for the season with a fractured ankle in that game in New Orleans, while 2013's starter Glenn Dorsey has yet to return to the field since being reinstated to the 53-man roster. He sustained a torn biceps tendon early in training camp and was given the injured reserve return designation. Dorsey has not practiced this week.

Have those absences led to struggles defending the run in otherwise solid defensive performances, or has it simply been a lack of execution?

"I think it’s a little bit of both," Reid said. "We definitely miss those guys, but we definitely have the guys that can step up and fill those spots until they’re able to return. I think the plays that got us...one guy maybe not being in the right gap or making a slight mental error and getting out leveraged, and that creates a big enough hole for the backs to get through some. I think it’s all things we can get corrected."

Next story:

Kaepernick not thinking about Sherman

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