Niners linebacker Patrick Willis says his team needs to get off to a good start in 2011. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
For the first time in 11 seasons, the Seahawks will have a new starting quarterback when they open the season Sunday against the host 49ers.
They also have a completely revamped offensive line, a new featured running back –their fifth different Game 1 starter in five years – a new field-goal kicker and a young secondary that may (or may not) be ready to improve after a woeful 2010.
The Niners, meanwhile, have a new coaching staff, a new offensive system and several new faces all over the field.
So with two teams having undergone major offseason surgery, predicting what happens on the field Sunday may be a little like explaining a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.
Oddsmakers have made the 49ers six-point favorites for the game at Candlestick, but both teams and coaches say they’re really not certain what Sunday’s matchup will produce.
New Seahawks quarterback Tarvaris Jackson – who takes over for veteran Matt Hasselbeck, now in Tennessee – has been trying to get a read on San Francisco’s defense by studying film of Stanford, which was guided last year by Vic Fangio, now the Niners’ defensive coordinator, reports the Chronicle’s Eric Branch.
“Who knows if they’ll keep doing the same things they did at Stanford?” says Jackson.
Seattle head coach Pete Carroll told reporters this week that, with so many new wrinkles expected from both sides, he and new 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh will probably be called on to make a number of adjustments off the surprises they see in the first half.
For the first time in years, Seattle has a mobile QB in Jackson, who gives the ’Hawks a scrambling dimension they never had in Hasselbeck’s long tenure. Jackson also brings a history of inconsistency, as well, during his five seasons with the Vikings.
Former Cal star Marshawn Lynch, acquired last October from the Bills, will start at running back (despite a recent ankle injury) behind an offensive line with three new starters.
San Francisco, meanwhile, goes into the season with many of its prime-time players healthy. Wide receiver Michael Crabtree looks fully recovered from a foot injury, reports Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group, and, with Joshua Morgan, Braylon Edwards and Ted Ginn, Jr., plus tight end Vernon Davis, will give Alex Smith plenty of options in Harbaugh’s new West Coast scheme against a secondary that ranked fifth-worst in the league in 2010, giving up 250 yards per game.
There may be plenty of unknowns going into Sunday, but 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis knows one thing for certain: he says it’s important the team gets off to a good start in 2011, avoiding the 0-5 beginning in 2010 that produced a 6-10 record and the firing of Mike Singletary as head coach.
“We know we have the guys here in this locker room to have a great team and a winning season,” Willis told reporters. “But it all starts with consistency. Until the day we get that, it’s going to be hard to win games and go anywhere.”