The five keys
1. SILENCE IN SEATTLE: There's a lot of hype surrounding the Seahawks this year, and the home crowd will be roaring at top crescendo during Seattle's home opener as the Seahawks make their first appearance at Qwest Field this year after beginning the season with two impressive road victories. The Seahawks have a nine-game winning streak in Seattle and were 8-0 at home last year, and the Niners simply cannot allow that crowd to get into the game and become a thunderous second opponent they must compete against. The best way to do that is to take the crowd out early by asserting command from the opening kickoff, something the Niners have failed to do during slow starts in their first two games. 2. SHINE IN SECONDARY: Seattle starter Matt Hasselbeck may be the best passing quarterback the 49ers have faced so far this year, and he has a quality group of receivers with which to work. The Niners simply have to step up in the secondary, where they had several breakdowns last week that ultimately were the difference in their close loss to the Saints. Rookie Shawntae Spencer joins the starting unit this week at right cornerback, and Spencer, left cornerback Ahmed Plummer and the rest of San Francisco's defensive backs need to make plays and both know and execute their assignments for the Niners to have a chance. 3. ELIMINATE MISTAKES: The 49ers easily could be 2-0 if they had been able to eliminate just a few of their crucial mistakes during their first two games. It got ridiculous last week in New Orleans, where three turnovers and 125 yards in penalties doomed the Niners in a game they almost had won - and certainly should have won. The Niners need to pay attention to the finer details of the game to not make these crucial and consequential mistakes. They've had two games now to work out the kinks; now they must go out and play virtually mistake-free against ostensibly the best team they have faced so far in 2004. 4. BIG GAME FROM BARLOW AND BACKFIELD: Kevan Barlow's a little banged up, but the Niners need him to shrug of his ouches and come up big against the Seahawks. He needn't do it all by himself - Jamal Roberston and Terry Jackson will get some backfield touches, too. But Barlow needs to be the workhorse who keeps the chains moving against an aggressive Seattle defense that will be the best San Francisco has faced so far. The Niners need to control the clock with Barlow leading the way to keep Seattle's offense off the field and keep the San Francisco defense fresh. The Niners must sustain drives or else it could be a long day in Seattle, and Barlow and Co. are the best bets to keep those drives alive. 5. HASSLE HASSELBECK RELENTLESSLY: Sure, it's chancy. Sure, Hasselbeck is adept at burning opponents who blitz, as he did a few times against the Niners last year. But San Francisco must blitz Hasselbeck and pressure him relentlessly to force the issue here. The Seattle offense has gotten off to a sputtering start, and the Seahawks had just 182 total yards last week against Tampa Bay - their lowest total in two years. The Bucs came after Hasselbeck with blitzes and sacked him four times, which threw off the rhythm of the Seattle offense in the Seahawks' 10-6 victory. The Seahawks have a quality offensive line that usually protects Hasselbeck well, but opponents can get to him via the blitz, as last week indicated. Hasselbeck isn't as mobile in the pocket as the first two quarterbacks San Francisco has faced, so the Niners need to come after him and stay after him.
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