In a way, the playoffs have begun for the Seattle Seahawks. All crazy and hopeful scenarios aside (I can’t stand those by the way..Just win) the Seahawks must win out to give themselves a chance. The first huge test and last home game of the year, will be this Saturday against a very polished, and tough 49ers team. Fresh off their destruction of the Steelers, many in the media have begun to notice and overly praise them. I say wait a minute. While their season has been a huge success considering recent years, this team is not a juggernaut, and can be beaten with the right game plan. Also, with return specialist Tedd Ginn hobbled during the Steelers game, out goes the one guy who killed us in week one. That “should” mean this game will probably look alot like week one on many fronts, minus the two returns for scores. Notice to 49er fans: The Seahawks are a much better football team now..
Let’s take a look at one of the biggest surprises for the NFC West Champion 49ers this year ( I may have thrown up a bit typing that). Former 1st overall pick QB Alex Smith. Smith’s resurgence, is not so much a product of more wow plays, but a very carefull and calculated game plan from new head coach Jim Harbaugh. The 49ers are one of the few teams in the NFL with a Run-Pass ratio of 54%-46%.. That’s a big reason for his improvement. He’s also had the training wheels put back on so to speak, and the 49ers attack has become death by hammer (running game), and a thousand pin pricks (smart, quick passing game). If you make a mistake they will capitalize, but they never, i repeat never, force much of anything. This type of game plan takes serious patience from the coaching staff, and has put them in a great position heading into the playoffs.
Alex Smith’s numbers are solid.. 2752 Yards Passing, 16 TDs, 5 interceptions, with a passer rating of 91.1. But let’s look deeper. His passing percentage is very impressive in the intermediate and short areas of the field. Let’s compare them to Tarvaris Jackson and I think you’ll see a couple of things.
1. For all of the talk about Alex Smith finally showing why the 49ers drafted him, take a look at Tarvaris Jackson’s numbers and you will see why I think the Seahawks could be fine if they don’t get the QBOTF in next year’s draft. The run heavy approach does not require a Peyton Manning type at the QB position. Just a smart, and accurate QB that limits mistakes and put’s his team in position (playcalls, hots, and line protection adjustments) to win every week.
2. From 20 yards and in you are looking at two QBs who are hitting 67% and 65% percent of thier passes respectfully. But as I’ve stated, the 49ers aren’t winning because of Alex Smith’s arm. They are winning running the ball and playing incredibly impressive defense.
The 49ers formula at work:
The 49ers have allowed only 4 teams to score 20 points all year (NFC East: Cowboys, Giants, Eagles, NFC West Cardinals).
*NOTE: They are just 2-2 in those games.
The 49ers Defense has not given up a single touchdown on the ground.. not one. We will see if that stat survives through Saturday.
The 49ers are +21 on takeaway/giveaway margin.
The 49ers run a hefty 54% of the time, and look to control the clock.
Where the Seahawks can take advantage of the 49ers:
The 49ers are awful on 3rd down, ranking near the bottom of the NFL at 29%. The Seahawks must not allow the 49ers to improve on this number.
The 49ers Defense is ranked 21st for passing yards allowed per game (240). While I don’t anticipate a ton of throws for QB Tarvaris Jackson, I do think the Seahawks can utilize the passing game if RB Marshawn Lynch and the running game struggle early. However, they should avoid CB Carlos Rodgers. He has not allowed a 100 yard receiver since week 10, and that happened to be the only time he has all year. He is giving up an average of 45.9 yards a game and shares the team high in interceptions (Safety Dashon Goldson) with six. Instead the Seahawks need to go after CB Tarell Brown. Brown is not an awful CB, but on this stellar defense, he’s the guy i would target on key downs. He only has 2 interceptions, and 7 pass deflections all year, plus per profootballfocus.com, QB’s have a rating of 85.7 when targeting him. Not a huge advantage, but the best choice of cornerback targets Tarvaris Jackson has in the 49ers base defense.
The Seahawks Offense need to focus on attacking the Center-Guard holes on zone runs. The graphic below illustrates why:
Even though the 49ers are really tough against the run, the 49ers softest spot is inside so the Seahawks must focus their attention there. The matchups off the left and right tackle positions (DE Justin Smith and Ray McDonald) are going to be too tough to attack consistently.
Center Max Unger and right guard Robbert Gallery need to win their one on one matchups all day to give the Seahawks running game a chance. If the Seahawks can establish something inside, I anticipate the 49ers will counter by moving their DE’s (Justin Smith, Ray McDonald) to 5i techs (5 technique with and inside shade) to start attacking the B gap aggressively. This could lead to some nice wham blocks with a back side TE or G similar to the runs we saw vs the Eagles. While the alignments are obviously different, similar blocking angles can be attained. RB Marshawn Lynch has a great chance to be the first running back to break into the endzone vs this 49ers defense..I say he does it.!
The Seahawks defense needs to take away the middle of the field: The 49ers love to utilize the middle of the field in thier quick passing game (primarily the intermediate and shallow depths). WR Michael Crabtree and TE Vernon Davis are the biggest weapons for Alex Smith in thes areas.
The Seahawks can punish the 49ers here like week one with continued great safety play (Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor), and the bruising style of emerging corners Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman. Thier ability to disrupt patterns, and muscle recievers down the field have severely frustrated opposing offenses the last several weeks. In particular, the 6-4 Brandon Browner has started to make Pete Carroll look like a genious with 12 pass defensed, 6 interceptions, and 3 interception returns for TDs. Not to be outdone, 6-3 Richard Sherman has locked down opposing recievers to the tune of 3 interceptions, 8 pass defensed, and a 63.9 rating for QB’s when he’s targeted.
Improve the run defense and stop RB Frank Gore: There is a very simple solution to stopping a team like the 49ers (on paper at least): Stop the run, and force the so-so QB to be the hero. Easier said than done, and it’s only happened 3 times this year.The last time the Seahawks faced the 49ers, RB Frank Gore couldn’t get anything going (22 Carries, 59 yds). I have a feeling the Seahawks can recreate this effort if we can get back to the stellar interior defensive line play we had prior to the bye week.
It’s very interesting to see that during the first five games, opposing runners found almost nothing in the A gap..Nothing. Also, Due to former Seahawk LB Aaron Curry’s awful play, DE Chris Clemons had a difficult time handling the run, and this exposure led to hefty yardage per game totals. Enter rookie LB KJ Wright and you can see how dramatically the numbers have shifted. All that would be great if the interior lineman were playing on the same level, but they are not. What was once a strength, has now become the Seahawks biggest weakness in the run defense.
I’ve noticed lately that both DTs Brandan Mebane and Alan Branch are slow getting off the ball, playing high, and are getting turned in the hole more often than ever before. This is coachable, and must be corrected if the Seahawks want to win this matchup.
Players to watch on offense for Seattle: RB Marshawn Lynch, LT Paul McQuistan, RT Breno Giacomini, FB Michael Robinson, QB Tarvaris Jackson, and WR Golden Tate
Players to watch on Offense for San Francisco: LT Joe Staley, LG Mike Iupati, RB Frank Gore, WR Michael Crabtree, TE Vernon Davis, and QB ALex Smith.
Players to watch on Defense for Seattle: DT Alan Branch, DT Brandan Mebane, MLB David Hawthorne, SS Kam Chancellor, FS Earl Thomas, and CB Brandon Browner
Players to watch on Defense for San Francisco: LB Aldon Smith, DE Justin Smith, DE Ray McDonald, DT Isaac Sopoaga, CB Carlos Rodgers, and FS Dashon Goldson
Final Match up thoughts: This is the biggest game of the year, and it’s not even close. The Seahawks entire season has come down to beating tough divisional rivals two weeks in a row and the 49ers just happen to be one of the best teams in the entire NFL. However, I believe that the Seahawks are peaking at the right time, and that momentum could be enough to overcome the odds.
Make no mistake, the NFC West has made great strides (excluding the Rams) in the second half of the season, and this game will be tougher than 49er fans want to admit. This is a total 50/50 game in my opinion and no one would have said that earlier in the year.
Prediction: Seahawks: 21, 49ers: 19 GO SEAHAWKS!!