49ers vs. Seahawks: Key matchups to look for on SundayLoading
  • GS71DKLUI.1
    Here is a slideshow of key matchups for the NFC championship game Sunday between the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks at the CenturyLink Field.

  • GS71DKLUQ.1Senior Photographer
    When the 49ers have the ball:

    49ers’ Kaepernick and Gore: San Francisco runs the ball as well as anyone left in the playoffs, with RB Frank Gore (21) as the focal point, but QB Colin Kaepernick (7) as the wild card. Look for plenty of Gore inside and even a bit outside, and Kaepernick using his speed to get to the edge.
    Paul Kitagaki Jr. | pkitagaki@sacbee.com
  • GS71DKLV3.1Senior Photographer
    Seahawks' D-Line: But Gore has struggled at Seattle, and the Seahawks command the line of scrimmage as well as any team, even San Francisco. They ranked seventh at stopping the run, with huge tackle Brandon Mebane (92) (pictured) clogging the running lanes. Seattle's other D-linemen, particularly Red Bryant (79) and Michael Bennett (72), are versatile and rugged.
    Jose Luis Villegas | jvillegas@sacbee.com
  • GS71DKLVA.1Senior Photographer
    Seattle linebackers: If the 49ers can't get the rushing game going, it lets Seahawks linebackers Bobby Wagner (54) (pictured) and Bruce Irvin (51) get even more involved. It also means Bennett, DEs Chris Clemons (91) Cliff Avril (56) and Irvin will be more of a threat in the passing attack, although trapping and sacking Kaepernick is no easy chore.
    Paul Kitagaki Jr. | pkitagaki@sacbee.com
  • 49ers Football
    Passing: Here’s where the most intriguing matchups of this game will occur: San Francisco's receivers against Seattle's secondary. WR Anquan Boldin (81) has had a superb season. Since WR Michael Crabtree (15) returned from a torn Achilles tendon, the 49ers haven't lost. Vernon Davis (85) is the best deep threat in the league among tight ends.
    Jeff Chiu | AP
  • Titans Seahawks Football
    Pass defense: All-Pros CB Richard Sherman (25) and S Earl Thomas (29) are elite in coverage and will make for a juicy encounter with San Francisco's receivers. Sherman led the league with eight interceptions, Thomas had five.
    Scott Eklund | AP
    When the Seahawks have the ball:

    Seahawks’ Lynch and Wilson: RB Marshawn Lynch (24) is Gore's counterpart and comes off a great game vs. New Orleans: 140 yards and two touchdowns. He's a similar-type runner and when in "Beast Mode," he's as tough as they come. Coach Pete Carroll is most comfortable when Lynch is on the loose, which makes things much easier for QB Russell Wilson (3). If the 49ers can control Lynch, who averaged 105 yards rushing at home against them, it puts a heavy onus on Wilson, whose passing numbers have been pedestrian recently. Wilson, of course, is like Kaepernick with his escapability.
    Harry E. Walker | MCT
  • 49ers Football
    49ers’ run defense: San Francisco's run defense is led by do-everything tackle/end Justin Smith (94) and linebackers NaVorro Bowman, an All-Pro, Patrick Willis (both pictured) and Ahmad Brooks. The Niners aren't quite as deep up front as Seattle, but they make up for it with the NFL's top linebacking corps.
    Jeff Chiu | AP
    Passing: Where the Seahawks don't equal the 49ers on offense is at receiver. There's not a lot of star power there, especially if Percy Harvin (11) (pictured) can't go because of concussion symptoms. Still, don't underestimate the hands of Doug Baldwin (89), the moves and quickness of Golden Tate (81) or the steadiness of TE Zach Miller (86).
    Carlos Gonzalez | MCT
  • RB 49ers v Seahawks
    Special Teams

    49ers kicker: Both sides treasure the reliability of their kickers. San Francisco brought in veteran PK Phil Dawson (9) as a free agent after David Akers flopped last season. Dawson has excelled, and he beat Green Bay in the wild-card round with a final-second field goal through the frigid night air. Punter Andy Lee (4) has been a perennial Pro Bowler.
    Randall Benton | rbenton@sacbee.com
  • Ravens Seahawks Football
    Seahawks’ kicker: Seattle counters with PK Steven Hauschka (4), who also has had a topnotch season, and Jon Ryan (9), who regularly buries punts deep in opponent's territory.
    Elaine Thompson | AP
  • GS71DKLSS.1Senior Photographer

    49ers’ Harbaugh: Jim Harbaugh and Carroll have no love lost, dating to when they were at Stanford and Southern Cal and Harbaugh ran up the score, prompting Carroll to ask him, "What's your deal?" Harbaugh's deal has been winning like no coach in San Francisco since Bill Walsh. This is the Niners' third straight trip to the NFC title game under him. He exudes confidence and, yes, arrogance, and it works for the 49ers.
    Paul Kitagaki Jr. | pkitagaki@sacbee.com
  • Seahawks Broken Offense Football
    Seahawks’ Carroll: Carroll's nonstop exuberance rubs off on his players, and no team is more aggressive, especially on defense, which is Carroll's specialty. He had some success in a previous head coaching stint with the Patriots, then went to USC and, since returning to the pros, Carroll has done a brilliant job turning the Seahawks into a championship contender.
    Ted S. Warren | AP
  • Pick Six NFL Stadium Signatures Football

    The 12th Man: Playing in the same division means both sides are deeply familiar with each other; there won't be many secrets on display here. That the Niners have struggled in the Pacific Northwest is, well, tangible: They were outscored 71-16 in their last two visits, Harbaugh's two worst losses. They're an experienced outfit in pressure situations, though, so the supersonic noise from the 12th Man in the stands shouldn't affect them. But it has. And it figures to be louder than ever on Sunday.
    Elaine Thompson | AP
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