The 49ers host the Seahawks on Thursday in a game that matches teams that rely on their strong defenses and running games.
San Francisco is more than a team Seattle wants to beat.
The 49ers are the team the Seahawks want to be — from the unyielding defense to the relentless running game to the sticky-fingered propensity for taking the ball away from opponents. It’s a blueprint the 49ers embodied as they won the division at 13-3 last year, and it’s also the format the Seahawks have used in winning four of their first six games.
Whoever wins Thursday’s game in the Bay Area will have first place in the division for at least the next three days. There are no secrets in this game. Not in terms of style nor with regard to the stakes.
“We know what they’re going to bring to the table,” running back Leon Washington said. “I’m pretty sure they’re thinking the same thing on their side. This game is going to come down to fortitude and will.”
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For five weeks now, the Seahawks have been tested by some of the NFL’s most explosive offenses.
The Seahawks have played Green Bay, which led the league in scoring last year, and New England, which leads the league in that category this year. Ten NFL quarterbacks passed for more than 4,000 yards last year, and Seattle has faced four of them the past five weeks.
Check that. Seattle has beaten four of them.
The two games the Seahawks lost this year? Those came against teams that play the same kind of gritty defense that Seattle does. Those losses came in the division. Those losses came against teams that are aspiring to play the same kind of football that became San Francisco’s signature last year under coach Jim Harbaugh.
“They’re a more traditional, smash-mouth, run-downhill type of offense,” said K.J. Wright, Seattle’s middle linebacker. “This is the type of football the big boys up front are going to like.”
The 49ers’ rushing attack features Frank Gore, who ran for more than 200 yards twice against Seattle. He hasn’t hit 100 yards rushing in any of his past four games against the Seahawks, though, and in fact has averaged 2.9 yards per carry the three times he played since coach Pete Carroll took over.
But the 49ers have evolved over the course of Harbaugh’s time with the team.
“At the early time last year, they were really conservative,” Carroll said, referring to San Francisco’s Sept. 11 victory. “They’re not like that anymore.”
The 49ers have expanded that offensive repertoire to include Colin Kaepernick, the backup quarterback who is on the field for a dozen plays, and sometimes more, in a shotgun formation the 49ers are capable of running from.
But that doesn’t change the fact that this is the kind of game where everyone buckles their chin straps and no one wants to give an inch in a game between two co-leaders in the NFC West.
This is the 49ers’ first game in the division, and it is Seattle’s third, all of which have been played on the road. And Seattle’s first two games in the division showed pretty clearly the template for winning the division, which is to play 60 minutes of defense and hold on to the ball as best you can on offense.
There’s nothing subtle about the way these teams play, and the collision of two unflinching styles makes this a test of strength.
“When running teams with good defenses go against each other, you expect a tight game,” tight end Zach Miller said. “Turnovers are going to be a huge deciding factor. Who can take care of the ball better? I expect it to be a tight game.”
• CB Byron Maxwell (hamstring) is doubtful for Thursday’s game. Walter Thurmond will not be activated this week from the physically unable to perform list, which is where he began the year, recovering from a broken leg.
• DT Clinton McDonald (groin) and S Kam Chancellor (ankle) are both probable, which means they’re pretty much certain to play Thursday.
• San Francisco WR Mario Manningham (shoulder), RB Brandon Jacobs (knee) and T Joe Staley (concussion) are all questionable.
Danny O’Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org