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Updated Friday, December 21, 2012 at 02:31 AM

Pete Carroll, Jim Harbaugh share strategy, if not personality

By Danny O'Neil
Seattle Times staff reporter

RENTON — The similarities don't exactly stick out.

Seattle's Pete Carroll played in the secondary at University of Pacific and his coaching career started on the defensive side of the ball, while San Francisco's Jim Harbaugh is a former quarterback from Michigan who went on to play in the NFL.

Carroll has never met an interview he can't talk around, while Harbaugh hasn't found a conversation he can't make agonizingly, haltingly awkward.

But someone who has played for both coaches said that as different as they were to play for, there is a common ground between the two head coaches in Sunday's game between the top two teams in the NFC West.

"Their personalities are completely different," said Seattle receiver Doug Baldwin, who played for Harbaugh in college. "Coaching style is completely different. But there's a strategic way that they go about running their teams.

"Obviously, they both love to run the ball. Passing is not necessarily at the forefront of the offense. It's all running, and then you build the pass off the run. That, I guess you could say is comparable. Defense as well. You've got to have a strong defense to back everything up."

That means that Sunday's game at CenturyLink Field isn't so much a clash of styles as a contest to see which team can execute its style the best.

Seattle has allowed 219 points this season, fewer than every team in the NFL, save one: San Francisco has allowed 218. The 49ers rank No. 2 in the league in rushing at 162.9 yards per game, and the Seahawks are third at 160.7.

"They seem like they're the same team as us," safety Kam Chancellor said. "I hate that fact."

Familiarity has been known to breed contempt.

"I want us to be our own," Chancellor said. "And I feel like they're similar to our team."

That's not necessarily true in terms of X's and O's. The 49ers are a power running team that looks to go downhill, while the Seahawks employ a zone-blocking attack that depends heavily on timing.

On defense, San Francisco is among the NFL's most infrequent blitzers and stays with its base personnel in most situations, while Seattle has a variety of players it brings on the field.

While the methods may differ, the objectives do not.

"It's going to be a very physical game," Carroll said. "It's going to be an attack-of-the-line-of-scrimmage game. Both teams are going to try and get their quarterbacks moving, and I think it's a fascinating matchup because of the similarities of style."

The parallels continue down to the fact that each team has turned to a young quarterback it believes to be a difference-maker, Russell Wilson earning the starting job before the season, while the 49ers' Colin Kaepernick will be making his sixth start.

And in a game between two teams that try to play so similarly, it just might be one of the young quarterbacks who makes the difference in Sunday's game.

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or doneil@seattletimes.com.

Advantage, Harbaugh
Jim Harbaugh is 3-0 against Pete Carroll in the NFL:
Date Outcome Comment
Oct. 18. 2012 @ San Francisco 13, Seattle 6 Wilson struggles, completing 9 of 23 passes for 122 yds.
Dec. 24, 2011 San Francisco 19, @ Seattle 17 Akers' FG with 2:57 left dashes Seattle playoff hopes
Sept. 11, 2011 @ San Francisco 33, Seattle 17 49ers pull away in fourth with 102-yard kickoff return

Carroll vs. Harbaugh

According to CBSSports, Sunday will be the 19th time Harbaugh and Carroll face each other on opposite sidelines for a regular-season football game. The personal series dates to 1987, when Harbaugh was the Chicago Bears' quarterback and Carroll was the Minnesota Vikings' defensive backs coach. The rivalry highlights:

2006: Weeks after being hired at Stanford, Harbaugh told CBSSports.com: "(Pete's) only got one more year (at USC), though. He'll be there one more year. That's what I've heard. I heard it inside the staff."

2007: Harbaugh's Cardinal, a 41-point underdog, upsets Carroll's Trojans, the nation's No. 2 team, 24-23.

2009: During Stanford's 55-21 rout of USC, Harbaugh elected to go for two after a touchdown while up 48-21, prompting Carroll to ask "What's your deal?" during the coaches' postgame handshake.


JOHN LOK / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Unlike some past encounters, Harbaugh, left, and Carroll shared a courteous handshake after the Seahawks-49ers game on Oct. 18.




STEVEN SENNE / AP
Jim Harbaugh's unapologetic approach has worked for San Francisco, which won at New England on Sunday.




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