Niners linebacker NaVorro Bowman and his teammates will have to stop Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
In Seattle, “Beast Mode” is an attitude.
The Seahawks offense prefers to batter opponents with Marshawn Lynch, giving him the ball early and often. When he gets rumbling, the 5-foot-11, 215-pound former Cal star can carry the Seahawks to wins while running over defenders in the process.
Lynch rushed for 1,257 yards this season, 1,590 last year and 1,204 in 2011. Over that span he’s run for 35 touchdowns.
When Lynch is in “Beast Mode,” the Seahawks generally win. In five playoff games with Lynch, Seattle is 3-0 when he runs for 100 or more yards. The Seahawks are 0-2 when he doesn’t.
So, when the 49ers defense lines up against the Seahawks Sunday in the NFC Championship Game at CenturyLink Field, its primary task is to stop Lynch. Or at least contain the damage he does.
“You have to take him away,” 49ers safety Donte Whitner told Ashley Fox of ESPN.com this week. “Like he said, he doesn’t run to get tackled. He’s one of the best backs in the National Football League, very rough style. We have to take him away and make the quarterback beat us.
“(It’s) very difficult. Everybody’s been trying to do that all year, and they haven’t been able to do it. But if we want to go where we want to go, we have to do it, so that’s the mindset.”
When Whitner says no team has stopped Lynch, however, he’s a bit off target.
In the 49ers’ 19-17 victory over Seattle at Candlestick Park in December, the Niners did a good job limiting Lynch’s damage, giving up 72 yards on 20 carries. That’s the lowest rushing total Lynch has had against the 49ers over his past five games.
The difference in that game, many believe, was the return of Aldon Smith at linebacker. His presence, along with inside linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman and outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks has made the 49ers’ run defense even better. In two playoff victories, the 49ers have allowed just 108.5 yards rushing per game. Meanwhile, Glenn Dorsey at nose tackle has been disruptive and defensive ends Justin Smith and Ray McDonald have blown up blocks and collapsed plays.
Over the two playoff games, San Francisco’s defense has two goal-line stands and nine sacks.
Bowman says the Seahawks like to use multiple receiver sets to force the 49ers into nickel coverage. That limits the 49ers' ability to put run defenders close to the line of scrimmage and puts Lynch in position to take on defensive backs.
But the 49ers’ linebackers have more range than most, so they believe they can counter that strategy.
“We’re able to (defend) that more than other teams and force them to do other things,” said Bowman.
Brooks said the game will come down to the physical battle of the Seahawks running game against the 49ers defense, which was fourth in the league this year against the run.
“It’s going to be a showdown,” Brooks told the New York Post. “They’ve got a lot of good guys that can play ball. We have to match their intensity.”
It will be Beast Mode vs. the 49ers’ Best Mode.
NOTE: At around 4:45 p.m. Friday, the 49ers' team buses are scheduled to depart from team headquarters to Mineta-San Jose International Airport en route to Seattle. Check back in to this story for a live feed.