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The key to a Seahawks' win on Sunday: Red-zone efficiency

More opportunities for Seattle Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham, seen here against the Los Angeles Rams on Sept. 18, 2016, could be a key for a victory Sunday against the 49ers. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)

SEATTLE -- The Seattle Seahawks are 6-1 vs. the San Francisco 49ers dating to 2013.

Still, the Seahawks' offense is limping into Sunday's contest. In two games, Seattle has managed to score only 15 points, ranking it 31st of 32 NFL teams. Only the Los Angeles Rams have scored fewer points. Russell Wilson's 2-yard touchdown pass to Doug Baldwin with 31 seconds to go in its home opener vs. the Miami Dolphins is the Seahawks' only touchdown on the season.

Meanwhile, San Francisco under new head coach Chip Kelly has its offense performing much better and scoring 55 points over its first two games and ranking it 10th among NFL teams. However, the 49ers results have been mixed. San Francisco was impressive in Week 1 vs. the Rams, but last week, its defense gave up big yardage and points, as it could not stop Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers.

Scoring isn't the only Seattle offensive stat that is sputtering out of the gate. With a mere three trips to the red zone this season, Seattle has scored only once, yielding a 33 percent red-zone efficiency. Over the last three seasons, the Seahawks have converted at a much higher rate of 53.4 percent of its trips to the red zone. Taking advantage of its opportunities inside the 49ers' red zone this Sunday will be a key to a Seattle victorty.

Seahawks' tight end Jimmy Graham could be the missing piece on Sunday, assuming that his knee injury is no longer an issue. With only five targets on the season, Graham has four receptions for 53 yards. In New Orleans, Graham was targeted nine times per game, and his offensive production of 51 touchdowns over five seasons is a key reason the Seahawks acquired him. That said, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell runs a much different scheme than the Saints, and Graham's targets are roughly half of what they were early in his career.

Despite Seattle's struggles on offense, its defense remains No. 1 in the NFL in total and scoring defense. The Seahawks rank second in the league in sacks with eight but the team's nine hurries rank Seattle near the midpoint. That defensive pressure and crowd noise will help the Seahawks on Sunday. Chip Kelly wants to get his offense in an uptempo rhythm. The Seahawks will look to use stunts and blitzes and pressure on the quarterback to disrupt any rhythm that Kelly and 49ers' quarterback Blaine Gabbert hope to establish.

Seattle needs its defense to lead the charge Sunday and to keep pressure on Gabbert, disrupting the 49ers' execution. If the Seahawks' offense can improve efficiency in the red zone, it has a good chance to win at home on Sunday. Targeting Jimmy Graham in the red zone with one to three more passes per game, especially in the red zone, would be a good start.


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