In their recent visits to Seattle, the 49ers have lost on the scoreboard, lost on the stat sheet and lost on the injury report. Most of all, they’ve been blown out in the battle of intensity.
Whipped up by their relentlessly positive head coach, key players and the loudest crowd in the NFL, the Seahawks have overwhelmed their division rivals early on in the most recent games and outlasted them in others. Seattle has won the last six meetings at CenturyLink Field by an average of 17.7 points.
General manager John Lynch said one of the keys to Sunday’s game is making sure the 49ers’ energy and ferocity are cranked to the highest level possible.
“To go up there against a very good football team in the Seattle Seahawks and match their intensity and match their physicality and beat their physicality,” Lynch said on his weekly appearance on KNBR radio. “You’ve got to stand up to the bully.”
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Coaches generally were pleased with the intensity level in the 49ers’ Week 1 loss to the Carolina Panthers.
“I thought we played hard. I thought we competed,” Kyle Shanahan said. “We just didn’t play good enough. (Intensity) is definitely big versus Seattle but it’s big versus any team. If you ever come out flat in this league, it doesn’t matter if you’re playing the best team or the 32nd team, it’s going to be a long day.”
Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, who coached under Seattle’s Pete Carroll for three seasons, said his defense was close to having a “dominant” performance against the Panthers.
“I felt like we could have dominated. I felt like we could have kept them under 10 (points),” Saleh said. “That’s always a challenge: How much further can you push it?”
Instead, he and Shanahan blamed the lopsided 23-3 outcome on errors.
The defensive miscues included a blown coverage by cornerback Donate Johnson on the Panthers’ 40-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter, a mis-tackle by safety Jaquiski Tartt on the same play and an unnecessary roughness penalty against Tartt later in the game.
The 49ers’ offense had more lapses than the defense, including dropped passes and pre-snap penalties, issues they can’t afford in Seattle.
One of the aspects of Sunday’s game that makes the rivalry different than it’s been in the last few years is the 49ers’ roster overhaul. Since the end of the 2016 season, Lynch and Shanahan have added 31 new players to San Francisco’s 53-man roster. Only left tackle Joe Staley and linebacker NaVorro Bowman started the team’s last win in Seattle, which came on Dec. 24, 2011.
Among the 49ers skill position players likely to start Sunday’s game, only running back Carlos Hyde and receiver Marquise Goodwin have played a game in Seattle. Goodwin’s Buffalo Bills squad lost 31-25 there last season.
Tight end Garrett Celek, one of the few 49ers with a deep background with the Seahawks, said he was cautious not to blow the crowd noise or the animosity out of proportion. But the team’s six-game losing streak in Seattle definitely has been part of the locker room conversation.
“Oh, they know,” Celek said of his new teammates. “We’ve talked about it. I mean, we haven’t won (there) since 2011.”
Celek is one of several 49ers whose season ended with an injury – in his case an ankle injury – in Seattle. Others include receiver Mario Manningham (knee), nose tackle Ian Williams (ankle), nose tackle Glenn Dorsey and Bowman, whose 2014 season was washed out after he suffered a multi-ligament knee injury in the 2013 NFC Championship Game.
Lynch said his young team has to look at the Seahawks’ noisy, frenetic atmosphere and their hyper-aggressive style of play as an opportunity.
“You’ve got to almost welcome and embrace that challenge and look forward to it,” he said. “And understand what a great opportunity you have at your hands to go up against one of the better teams in one of the tougher environments in football. You’ve got to love that.”