Aiyuk gets opportunity to carry 49ers with Deebo out originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
The 49ers have experienced defeat in nine of their past 10 trips to Seattle.
This one, however, is much different than all the other games in which the 49ers have faced Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson on his home field.
Seattle is struggling like never before under Wilson and coach Pete Carroll.
That duo has never formed a below .500 team. Currently, the Seahawks are in last place in the NFC West with a 3-8 record.
The 49ers could guarantee the Seahawks finish with a losing record. But they know it will not be easy.
Here are five 49ers who need to step up in order for the team to experience the rare taste of victory in the Pacific Northwest:
5. K Robbie Gould
The points always seem to be at a premium for the 49ers when they travel to Seattle. Despite the Seahawks being in a bad way right now, that probably will not change.
Coach Kyle Shanahan will be more inclined than usual to take the points at every opportunity, rather than roll the dice. The 49ers have been very good in the red zone this season, but it will not be a bad thing if they settle for a field goal here and there.
Gould has made 10 of his 12 field-goal attempts this season. That 83.3 percent success rate is just a shade lower than his career accuracy mark of 86.5 over 17 NFL seasons.
And whom among us would be surprised if this game comes down to a field goal?
4. CB Josh Norman
It has been an up-and-down ride for veteran cornerback Josh Norman, who will start his 10th game as a member of the 49ers on Sunday.
The challenge this week will be significant for him and Emmanuel Moseley. They will be lined up against Seattle wide receivers Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf.
“Those are two really good receivers and you’ve just got to make sure it's not just those two versus each other,” Shanahan said. “Most corners, if you just go out and it's one-on-one all day, I don't care what the receiver is, they should eventually get you.
"So he's got to make sure that they compete, go hard against them. We have a good pass rush. We mix it up in coverage and try to confuse the quarterback a little bit.”
While in coverage, Norman has surrendered 26 receptions for 363 yards and four touchdowns this season, according to Pro Football Focus. He has also been called for nine penalties (three were declined) totaling 62 yards.
But it certainly has not been all bad. Norman has one interception and leads the NFL with six forced fumbles. He will give up some plays, for sure. But if he limits the damage and makes a play of his own, it will be a good day for the 49ers' defense.
3. RB Elijah Mitchell
It would be difficult for the 49ers to ask more of rookie running back Elijah Mitchell.
After all, he has carried the ball 27 times in his two most recent games.
The running game, again, figures to be a big factor against a Seattle defense that has faced an average of 31.8 rushing attempts per game this season.
The Seattle run defense is a mixed bag. Some numbers look bad. But the Seahawks rank second in the NFL with a run defense that allows just 3.9 yards per rushing attempt.
Mitchell is adept at squeezing out every inch with his legs-always-churning style.
Mitchell is closing in on the 49ers’ rookie rushing lead. He has 693 yards and four touchdowns on 143 attempts. His four games with 100 yards or more are the most all-time for a 49ers’ rookie.
He is also getting more opportunities in the passing game. The offense this week could call for him to be on the receiving end of passes designed to get him out in space.
2. LB Azeez Al-Shaair
How do the 49ers replace Fred Warner?
That’s a trick question, of course.
The answer is ... they can’t.
Warner is likely to be officially listed as doubtful for Sunday’s game. Because we're talking about Warner, the 49ers are likely to hold out a very small hope that he can play against the Seahawks despite a hamstring strain.
But, in all likelihood, they will turn to Azeez Al-Shaair to play middle linebacker. Al-Shaair will wear the green dot, which signifies the man in charge of relaying the communications from defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans to the 49ers’ huddle.
Al-Shaair struggled in the home loss to the Arizona Cardinals. But he shored up his tackling and bounced back with three strong games to play a major role in the 49ers’ three-game win streak.
Al-Shaair led the 49ers in tackles in the Week 12 win over the Minnesota Vikings. He also came up with an interception and a fumble recovery.
The Seahawks have their issues in the run game, but they might try to get things going with Alex Collins and, perhaps, newly signed veteran Adrian Peterson. Al-Shaair will play a major role in stopping run plays near the line of scrimmage as they try to keep Seattle as a one-dimensional offense.
Al-Shaair will also have been on alert for times when Wilson breaks out of the pocket on scrambles.
1. WR Brandon Aiyuk
Right now, wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk is a better player than he was at any point in his rookie season.
And although his individual statistics might not support that statement, anyone around him with the 49ers will surely make the same observation.
The 49ers will need Aiyuk to play like a true No. 1 wide receiver for as long as Deebo Samuel is not available. And they will need him to continue to play well in all facets of the game even after Samuel returns from the groin injury that will sideline him for Sunday’s game.
Aiyuk benefited greatly from Shanahan challenging him to step up his work ethic and all-around game. The results have been obvious to everyone, most notably to quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
“Whatever it was with B that made him flip the switch, it's been working for him,” Garoppolo said.
Aiyuk is averaging nearly 75 yards receiving a game over the past four weeks after a slow start this season. He has also been a factor as a blocker in the run game.
Without Samuel’s all-around production available, Aiyuk will face the challenge of getting open and making plays while being the focus of the Seahawks’ secondary.