49ers QB Alex Smith vs. Seahawks QB Russell Wilson: This isn’t that kind of matchup – mano-a-mano – but the play of the opposing quarterbacks definitely will impact the outcome in this battle of NFC West co-leaders. And they’re coming at it during a short week to prepare for everything the opposing defenses can throw at them, and from opposite directions off their most-recent outings. Wilson had the best game of his rookie season, passing for two touchdowns in the final 7½ minutes as the Seahawks rallied for a one-point victory over the Patriots as the capper to his 16-of-27, 293-yard, three-TD effort. Smith, meanwhile, threw three interceptions in an eight-pass span and was sacked four times in what looked like a turn-back-the-clock outing in a 26-3 loss to the Giants. Can Wilson continue his rapid progression against the league’s No. 1-ranked defense? Can Smith recapture his efficient touch that was vital to the 49ers going 13-3 last season and winning four of their first five games this season against the Seahawks’ defense that is better than the one he beat twice last season?
The Seahawks’ No. 2-ranked run defense vs. 49ers RB Frank Gore: As with the Seahawks and Marshawn Lynch, everything the 49ers do offensively starts with Gore. He moves the chains, as well as the pile. His running sets up the play-action passing game. So the Seahawks cannot allow Gore to get going as he did in rushing for 212 yards against them in 2006 or 207 yards in 2009, when he scored on runs of 80 and 79 yards. But this isn’t the same defense that was Gore-d in the past. To contain him, nose tackle Brandon Mebane, three-tech tackle Alan Branch and 330-pound end Red Bryant have to clog the running lanes, and also keep blockers off the linebacking trio of Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright and Leroy Hill. The Seahawks are allowing averages of 70 rushing yards per game and 3.3 yards per carry. Gore is averaging 78.3 and 5.4.
FUN TO WATCH
Seahawks FB Michael Robinson vs. 49ers LB Patrick Willis: They used to be teammates, as Robinson played with the 49ers for four seasons before joining the Seahawks in 2010. They also were members of the NFC Pro Bowl squad last season. Thursday night, however, they will be on a collision course, as Robinson is now the knock-their-block-off lead blocker for Lynch and Willis is the I-dare-you-to-run-my-way centerpiece of a 49ers defense that has allowed only two 100-yard rushers in its past 46 regular-season games – Lynch in Week 16 last season and the Giants’ Ahmad Bradshaw on Sunday.
ONE TOUGH TASK, 49ers VERSION
Whoever lines up at left tackle vs. Seahawks DE Chris Clemons: Starter Joe Staley went out of the 49ers’ game against the Giants on Sunday with a concussion, and he has been limited in practice this week. When Staley left, Alex Boone, the first-year starter at right guard, moved to left tackle. Either will have his hands full with Clemons, who leads the Seahawks with 7.0 sacks and continues to come oh-so-close to even more sacks with his relentless rushes. Clemons hit Patriots QB Tom Brady three times on Sunday, and has 12 for the season.
ONE TOUGH TASK, SEAHAWKS VERSION
Whoever lines up vs. 49ers defensive lineman Justin Smith: Any of the Seahawks’ five O-linemen could see Smith on any given down, as the 49ers move him depending on the front and package they’re playing. Smith already has 48 tackles, 19 QB hits and 30 pressures, and often causes the disruption that leads to others making the play. “One-on-one, you don’t really want to be in a battle with him,” Robinson said. “He’s a pretty tough player. So you’ve definitely got to find out where he is on every play.”
The 49ers swept the season series against the Seahawks last season for the first time since 2006, and have won four of the past six meetings. … Lynch leads the NFC with 549 rushing yards and has at least 85 rushing yards in 13 of his past 15 games. … In the Week 16 game last season, Lynch not only became the first back to rush for more than 100 yards against the 49ers since 2009, he also was the first to score a rushing touchdown against them in 2011. … Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin had a TD catch in both games against the 49ers last season. … Since 2006, Gore has 7,487 rushing yards, the second-highest total in the league during that span. … The 49ers are averaging a league-high 176.8 rushing yards, while the Seahawks are allowing an average of 70.0 to rank second in the league. … Smith has beaten the Seahawks three consecutive times and is 7-1 in his past eight starts against the NFC West. … Linebacker NaVorro Bowman leads the 49ers with 72 tackles, but Willis leads them in solo tackles (38). … Wright and strong safety Kam Chancellor have 43 tackles to lead the Seahawks.