Seahawks built to compete with 49ers on Thanksgiving
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RENTON, Wash. — The usually loquacious Pete Carroll could hardly wait to leave the podium while speaking to reporters on a Zoom call from Seattle Seahawks headquarters on Monday.
“Gotta go, gotta go,” Carroll said with a laugh. “Last one.”
You can understand Carroll’s haste given everything the Seahawks are up against heading into their Thanksgiving night matchup against the San Francisco 49ers at Lumen Field (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC).
The circumstances were already challenging enough, with a short week to prepare for a loaded opponent that dominated Seattle in a three-game sweep last season (including the playoffs). Things got even harder for Seattle when quarterback Geno Smith and running back Kenneth Walker III were injured in Sunday’s loss to the Los Angeles Rams. Carroll expects Smith to play despite the triceps contusion on his right arm that has continued to cause him discomfort, while Walker is listed as doubtful because of a strained oblique.
The Seahawks are 7.5-point underdogs, according to ESPN Bet. If that line holds, it’ll be the most that a Seattle opponent has been favored by at Lumen Field since the Rams were in Week 5 of the 2018 season (+7.5). From the moment the NFL schedule was announced in May, this game looked like the measuring stick to see how much the Seahawks had closed the massive gap between themselves and the 49ers that was repeatedly exposed in 2022.
San Francisco won 20-7 in Week 2, with the Seahawks’ only points coming on a blocked field goal that they returned for a touchdown. The second matchup in December was an eight-point 49ers win, but Seattle got a late touchdown that masked what was more of a one-sided affair than the final score indicated. The Seahawks actually led by a point at halftime of their wild-catch matchup, but the 49ers’ talent edge and physicality won out in the second half of what became a 41-23 San Francisco runaway that included 505 yards of total offense.
Over three games, the 49ers outscored the Seahawks 89-43, outgained them 1,259 yards to 825 and took the ball away six times compared to Seattle’s zero.
“Obviously they beat us three times last year, and to me that’s unacceptable,” Smith said.
The transformation the Seahawks have undergone defensively is the best reason to think they’ll be more competitive against the 49ers this time around. After getting run all over last season, Seattle overhauled its front seven via a rare free-agent splurge on Dre’Mont Jones and reunions with Bobby Wagner and Jarran Reed. That makeover continued with the addition of Leonard Williams at the trade deadline.
The Seahawks also beefed up their secondary by signing safety Julian Love and selecting cornerback Devon Witherspoon with the No. 5 overall pick. Witherspoon has arguably been their best defensive player this season. They also have Jamal Adams back after he missed almost all of last season with a quad injury.
Thus far into the season, they’ve been a middle-of-the-pack defense by several measures but much better against the run than a year ago — allowing 4.1 yards per carry compared to 4.9 in 2022. Carroll believes they stack up better against San Francisco now compared to last January, when the 49ers averaged 5.5 yards per carry and got three touchdown passes from Brock Purdy in the wild-card rout.
“Yeah, I like where we are,” Carroll said. “I like where we are and what we’ve done coverage-wise and system-wise. This team really does check you out. They’ll check out your scheme. So we give them a lot of credit and have a lot of respect for them. But I feel like we’re much farther along than we were.”
The bigger uncertainty is how equipped Seattle is to deal with the 49ers’ top-ranked scoring defense, a tall order for a banged-up offense that has curbed its turnover problem in recent weeks but still struggles to sustain drives, ranking 30th in third-down conversions.
“I think that’s a question we have to answer on Thursday night,” Smith said when asked how Seattle’s offense stacks up against the 49ers 10 months after the wild-card game. “I don’t think nothing I can say up here is going to help us in that regard, so we’ve just got to go out and execute.”
If the Seahawks are going to muster any explosive plays — already hard enough against a defense that’s allowing the fourth-fewest yards per play in the NFL and the third-fewest yards after the catch — they’ll have to do it without one of their best home-run threats in Walker, not to mention with a quarterback with a sore arm.
Smith said Tuesday he has been getting treatment around the clock and that he was feeling “a little bit better” compared to Sunday, when he gutted his way through the pain to return for the final possession and nearly lead Seattle on a game-winning drive. But he was still hurting.
“I’ve had better days,” Smith said. “But getting there.”
On their estimated practice reports — Seattle held walk-throughs, as is typical on a short week — the Seahawks listed Smith as a non-participant Monday, limited Tuesday and a full participant Wednesday.
“He did quite well today,” Carroll said Wednesday. “We rested him for most of the week, the short week, in terms of throwing. He did really well today.”
ESPN’s Football Power Index gives the Seahawks only a 5.2% chance of winning the NFC West but a 56.7% chance of making the playoffs. They currently hold the NFC’s sixth seed, though that could change in a hurry with Thursday night kicking off the toughest stretch of their schedule. It includes games against the 9-1 Philadelphia Eagles and 7-3 Dallas Cowboys on either end of the rematch against the 49ers — all in the span of 18 days.
As daunting as the next month looks for the Seahawks, they would at least momentarily overtake San Francisco for first place in the division with an upset win Thursday night.
“Huge opportunity,” Smith said. “We’re right in the thick of the playoff race. We’re right in the thick of our division race and we’ve got a big chance in front of us, but it’s also a big opponent, a tough opponent. They’re a really good team.”
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Seahawks built to compete with 49ers on Thanksgiving