Game breakdown: 49ers vs. Seahawks

Taking a look deep inside Sunday's battle for sole possession of first place in the NFC West between the 49ers and Seattle Seahawks at Monster Park in San Francisco, with snapshot game details, series history, game plans, matchups to watch, injury impact, personnel updates and a look inside both camps before the big game.

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:05 Pacific
SITE: Monster Park in San Francisco
RECORDS: 49ers 2-1, 2-0 in NFC West; Seahawks 2-1, 0-1 in NFC West
TV: FOX, Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa

SERIES: 17th meeting. The series is tied, 8-8, with San Francisco winning the past two after Seattle had taken six in a row.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Seattle has not fared well against 3-4 defenses in recent years, and San Francisco would be more than happy to keep the score low. Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck has started off the season very strong, but still needs more help from his receivers holding onto passes, and coach Mike Holmgren would like to get TE Marcus Pollard more involved downfield. ... 49ers RB Frank Gore averaged 178 rushing yards in the two meetings last year, and his hard-hitting style should still give the undersized interior of the Seahawks' line major issues. WR Darrell Jackson faces his former team needing to step up for QB Alex Smith with TE Vernon Davis out and defenses overplaying to stop Gore.

FAST FACTS: Hasselbeck has a 105.8 passer rating in his past five games against the 49ers. ... Gore's 39 rushing yards last Sunday was his lowest output in 20 NFL starts.

BY THE NUMBERS: 27.5 -- The 49ers' league-worst conversion percentage on third downs. 30th -- The Seahawks' ranking in the league in the category of pass defense.

"This is a big game for a lot of reasons. These are the games that later in the year you look back at them as being meaningful." -- 49ers coach Mike Nolan on the significance of a division game against the Seahawks.
"I saw him on television; I don't think his helmet fits him right." -- Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, when asked if he's seen former teammate Darrell Jackson in a 49ers uniform.

49ERS GAME PLAN: Offensive coordinator Jim Hostler put together a nice approach against the Steelers, as he dialed up more shotgun and movement plays for quarterback Alex Smith. The strategy was mostly successful. The 49ers need better variety in their offense, mixing in power plays with draws and counters, while spreading the ball around with short, intermediate and long passes. The 49ers will not have tight end Vernon Davis, so they'll likely distribute the ball to wideouts Darrell Jackson and Arnaz Battle, and tight end Delanie Walker. Running back Frank Gore has to be a threat against the Seahawks after he torched them last season. With the Seahawks undoubtedly geared to stop Gore, the 49ers should be able to successfully use play-action passes. The 49ers have to do a better job of converting touchdowns after getting in the red zone. They have scored just three touchdowns on seven trips inside the red zone. Also, the 49ers rank last in the league with a conversion rate on third downs of just 27.5 percent. Defensively, the 49ers have to do a better job of clogging the middle against the run. They allowed too many big plays in the run game last week to the Steelers. Cornerbacks Nate Clements and Walt Harris are playing at very high levels. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky can continue to blitz. He likes to blitz on second-and-long situations after the 49ers hold the opposition to few yards on first downs.

SEAHAWKS GAME PLAN: Pretty simple for the Seahawks this week: Stop Frank Gore. Although Gore has been less effective thus far this season, he killed the Hawks in two games last year and the Seahawks are determined to jam the line to stop him.

--- 49ers RB Frank Gore, who rushed for 356 yards in two games against the Seahawks last season, vs. Seahawks SS Deon Grant, who figures to play close to the line of scrimmage as the eighth man in the box.
--- 49ers LT Jonas Jennings, in whom the 49ers have a lot of confidence to protect Smith's blind side, vs. Seahawks OLB Julian Peterson, the former 49ers player who leads the Seahawks with two sacks.
--- 49ers RT Joe Staley, making his fourth NFL start, vs. Seahawks DE Patrick Kerney, a nine-year veteran who has 1.5 sacks this season.
--- 49ers LB Patrick Willis, who leads the 49ers with 35 tackles, vs. Seahawks RB Shaun Alexander, who has 275 yards and two TDs rushing.
--- 49ers OLB Tully Banta-Cain, who has gotten off to a slow start with his new club, vs. Seahawks LT Walter Jones, considered one of the best at his position in the league.
--- Seahawks CB Marcus Trufant vs. 49ers WR Darrell Jackson. These guys used to go against each other in practice every day. Both are familiar with the other's strengths and weaknesses. Trufant is coming off a game in which he effectively shadowed Bengal Chad Johnson. The corners will be challenged more this week because it's likely they'll commit to stopping the rush by bringing up their safeties.
--- Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck vs. Willis. The rookie Willis has had double-digit tackle games every week, but Hasselbeck is adept at getting the Seahawks in and out of bad plays with his audibles. Hasselbeck surely will have his eyes on where Willis is lining up and be quick to direct the offense elsewhere.

Davis sustained a partially torn MCL in his right knee and is expected to miss at least two games with the injury. S Mark Roman missed practice time early in the week with an elbow strain but was expected to return to his starting role against the Seahawks. LT Jonas Jennings left practice Wednesday with a leg strain but he returned Friday and will be ready to play. WR Jason Hill, a rookie who was expected to start seeing more practice time, is unlikely to be available with a hamstring strain. Hill has been inactive for the first three games of the season. He was healthy for the first two weeks. CB Tarell Brown did not see practice time this week due to a hamstring strain. His availability for Sunday's game is in question.
SEAHAWKS: The only major concern among the starters is the cracked wrist of RB Shaun Alexander, although he has practiced during the week and is not expected to be limited in the game by the protective cast.



--- TE Delanie Walker believes he can be a stronger receiving threat than teammate Vernon Davis, who will miss at least two games with a knee sprain. Walker played wide receiver at Central Missouri State, where he caught 113 passes in 20 games. "I'm going to be a little different than Vernon," Walker said. "I'm more of a receiver. When I get the ball, I'm going to get yards after the catch." Walker had a brace on his right thumb. He said he sustained a sprain in last week's game, but that it won't be an issue against the Seahawks.
--- RS Michael Lewis, a six-year veteran whom the 49ers signed Tuesday to replace Brandon Williams, will likely return punts against the Seahawks. The 49ers are not planning on him returning kickoffs, but he could do that, too.
--- LB Patrick Willis has registered double-digit tackle numbers in each of his three games, according to the coaches' review of the game film. Willis, a rookie selected with the No. 11 overall pick, has 35 tackles in three games.
--- P Andy Lee has gotten off to a strong start. Lee has a 47.3-yard average on a league-high 19 punts this season. His net average is a strong 41.7. The 49ers matched an offer sheet from the Steelers in the offseason to retain his services.

--- RB Maurice Morris, who practiced Wednesday and was expected to be back in action after nursing a hip injury, did not practice Thursday but is expected to be ready for action.
--- WR D.J. Hackett continues to work on the sidelines and is not expected back from his high-ankle sprain until the Seahawks' bye week in late October.
--- TE Ben Joppru, out with an ankle injury, continued to miss practice this week.
--- WR Ben Obomanu is back from a hamstring injury and is serving as the fourth receiver.
--- RB Shaun Alexander continues to practice with a cast to protect the cracked bone in his left wrist.



Niners wide receiver Darrell Jackson claims this is just another game. But facing his former team, and an NFC West rival, is bound to get him a little more determined.

"You want to do good," he said, "because we can go to 3-1."

Jackson, in his first season with the 49ers, will be facing his former team, the Seattle Seahawks, for the first time in his career. He spent his first seven NFL seasons with the Seahawks, where he led the team in receiving four times.

It is obviously a big game for Jackson and the 49ers. He wanted to be ready for the occasion, so he went out and got a haircut. Jackson had let his hair (and beard) grow to the point that his helmet did not fit properly.

"I couldn't see the ball because my helmet was sitting too high on my head, you know what I'm saying?" Jackson said. "I tried to get away with it for three games. I had some problems seeing. Now it's a little better, I guess."

Jackson and quarterback Alex Smith are showing the makings of building good chemistry. Jackson leads the 49ers with 11 receptions for 166 yards in three games.

"I was pleased to see Alex's confidence in him and trust in his route-running," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "It was evident by the way he threw the ball to him. I know there were back-to-back throws that he threw to D-Jack that involved anticipation on Alex's part, and D-Jack was going to be where he had to be."

The 49ers acquired Jackson in April on a draft-day trade with the Seahawks. Jackson was unhappy with his contract situation with the Seahawks for a couple years. He did not see eye-to-eye with Seahawks general manager Tim Ruskell. Nolan said he and vice president of player personnel Scot McCloughan, who formerly worked for the Seahawks, talked a lot about Jackson leading up to the trade.

"He was aware of the fact that (Jackson) was unhappy with some contract things," Nolan said. "There is a little bit of a surprise (in an intradivision trade), but not totally."


On one play against Cincinnati, Shaun Alexander executed a double-flub. First, he missed his block on the blitzing linebacker, and when quarterback Matt Hasselbeck tried to quickly unload a pass to Alexander before he got hit, Alexander dropped it.

Not that the back has earned a strong reputation for either blocking or receiving, but now he's attempting it with a cast on his left wrist, protecting a cracked bone. At one point against the Bengals, he got the wrist bent back slightly and came out holding it. At halftime, they put on a larger, sturdier cast to protect it.

Alexander has practiced again this week and is expected to see full duty against San Francisco.

That doesn't mean that coach Mike Holmgren is entirely comfortable with him. During the week, he tested Alexander.

"I asked him if the cast bothered him," Holmgren said. "There were a couple times in the game he didn't use his cast hand. I got the trainers, I got everyone together and I said, 'Listen, either we can do this or we can't.' The trainer said he should be able to do it and Shaun said he was okay. Nobody can block with one arm, it just doesn't work. I think he will be fine."

Complicating the issue is the uncertainty of the return of Alexander's backup Maurice Morris, who was expected back this week after missing time with a hip injury. Morris practiced Wednesday but was held out on Thursday, but he's expected to be available Sunday.

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