Happy Veteran's Day. Thanks to Darrin Beene for being custodian of the blog while I was in the wedding of a friend in Texas. I got back late last night. Let's look ahead to tonight's big game and some of the most pressing issues.
This is the first game in the second half of the season and I think will go a long way toward setting the tone for the direction the Seahawks are going to take in the final eight games. Arizona won yesterday, so this game is a must-win if the Seahawks want to maintain sole possession of first place in the division. More important, they need to win to regain some confidence lost during this stretch in which they have dropped three of four.
How will the death of Mike Nolan's father affect the game? Nolan, the SF head coach, has not been with the 49ers for several days because his dad, for whom he wears those nice suits on the sidelines, passed away. Does that distract the Niners? Or does it inspire them? It may not have any tangible or noticeable affect, though it is sure to be played up by ESPN during the broadcast.
Will the Seahawks really come out and pass with the sense of urgency Mike Holmgren has professed in the past week? Everybody with one good eye has been saying for weeks that the passing game is the strength, and Holmgren has not been secretive about wanting to exploit that area, which I think would rejuvenate him as the coach as well. We'll see what the new-look Seahawks offense looks like, if that is indeed the case.
Will Shaun Alexander be able to play? We may get to see first-hand if Mo Morris is a capable replacement to Alexander, or if the running problems are all because of the offensive line. Even if Alexander can play, he certainly will be limited by his left knee sprain, so Morris' presence should be increased anyway.
Injuries have played a role in the entire NFL season, and the Seahawks have not been able to escape that either. Marcus Pollard, Patrick Kerney, Leroy Hill and Deion Branch all are game-time decisions that could affect the outcome if their replacements do not perform as well.
Will the defense be able to get to Alex Smith? It did in the teams' first meeting. It didn't come close to Derek Anderson last week. It is an on-again, off-again thing for the pass rush, so it would be nice if this was an on-again game. Smith still is having problems with his accuracy, perhaps a result of the shoulder injury he suffered at the hands of Rocky Bernard. Julian Peterson pressuring him would add to those problems.
Two of the three interceptions Marcus Pollard has this season came against the 49ers. Of course, those came courtesy of Trent Dilfer. Can Trufant have a similar impact on this outcome?
Nate Burleson has two consecutive games with lengthy returns for touchdowns. A third would tie with Chicago's Devin Hester, who has three -- and who will face the Seahawks' special teams next week.
I'll be at Qwest Field a couple hours before the game and will begin filing as soon as I get there.