Kenny equated this game to war earlier in the week. Seahawks' personnel executive Scot McCloughan - a 49ers front office man and GM from 2005-2010 - said (apparently in a joking manner) the ‘Hawks will "beat the hell out of ‘em." 'Nough said; huge game. I'll be there yelling and will report back tomorrow morning. Go 'Hawks!
Quickly shifting gears, let's look at the battle between the Seahawks offense and 49ers defense in the redzone.
Because I live in the Bay Area and have an affinity for football television, every once in a while I turn on 49ers all access TV. During the preseason, I caught an episode that had a press conference with Jim Harbaugh. What I remember most about that press conference is him talking about the style of play he wanted his team have; he wanted to grind out games and be tough as nails to beat. The idea was to control game, and it didn't matter how ugly it got.
The 49ers are 11-3 and one of the toughest teams in football. Their 25th in yards per game, but averaging 23.4 points per (14th) and allowing a league low 13.2 points per game. They lead the league in opponents points per play - a stat that intrigued me, one I interpret to mean opponents must run many plays to score a lot on the 49ers - and opponent redzone scoring percentage. They haven't allowed a rushing touchdown all season. Their offense is 8th in points per play, to an extent a sign of overall efficiency. Their defensive numbers reflect the grind-it-out mentality that Jim Harbaugh has built into this football team from day one.
On the flip side, it's worth noting their offensive red zone attack ranks 30th in the league. Kenny noted yesterday that red zone woes contributed to the recent loss against Arizona. Though the Seahawks' defense is towards the top of the league in some defensive redzone and scoring categories - 6th in points allowed, 7th in opponent points per play, 11th in redzone defense, not to mention 5th in turnover margin - their offense is middling to towards the bottom of the league in many offensive metrics. For Seattle to win, they will have to take advantage of all redzone opportunities.
A stat that intrigued me from the 38-14 victory against the Bears last week; Seattle went 3 for 3 in Goal to go situations, 3 for 4 overall in the redzone. Along with opportunistic defense, they capitalized on their scoring opportunities. It's part of the formula. Here are some redzone plays from last week's win, both good and bad, that caught my attention.
1-1-CHI 1 (10:25) L.Washington left end to CHI 3 for -2 yards (C.Conte)
In week 11, Marshawn Lynch scored a touchdown from the upcoming formation; back then, Lynch lined up at fullback and got the handoff, busting it outside right for the touchdown. On that play, Michael Robinson was the tailback. Now onto this example.
They are in '21' personnel; Leon Washington (boxed) is at tailback instead of Robinson, Lynch (circled) is at fullback. Tate (arrow) and will come in motion before the snap.
Tate and the corner are now at the bottom. After the snap, Jackson fakes the handoff to Lynch (circled). The linebacker and safety are watching the exchange. There is a hole for Lynch, but the defenders could get there; beastmode versus the Bears. But that's not where the play goes. What happens when Lynch doesn't get the ball?
Leon gets the pitch. Tate with his defender and McQuistan with his defender are circled, as those two matchups are key to deciding the play. Do notice the safety lurking in the endzone and the second defender within the circle in the middle of your screen.
The circled defenders beat their blocks. The arrowed defenders (linebacker and safety) have been reading the play all along. This is going no where.
There you have it. A too cute first down call by Darrell Bevell, one that ultimately led to a Lynch run for -4 on 2nd down and a short Lynch catch on 3rd, setting up the field goal.
If not for a leaping penalty on the kick, they would have come away with three and not seven. As a result of the penalty, they got the ball on the 2 and went with a Lynch power run up the middle - a play that would've made more sense the first time around.
Given the 49ers prowess against the run, getting too cute probably won't work. Let's see if they stick to the basics early and try to break the 49ers no rushing touchdowns allowed streak.
This next play comes in the second half, when the Seahawks are up 21-14. It's worth noting that to get to 21, they handed it to Lynch in '11' personnel on 1st and goal at the three. Straight power football. Love the simple "back to the basics" adjustment there.
3-7-CHI 15 (1:14) (Shotgun) T.Jackson pass incomplete short left to G.Tate [A.Okoye]. Penalty on SEA-C.Morrah, Illegal Formation ("covered on the line of scrimmage"), declined
Here the Seahawks are in shotgun, '01.' Golden Tate (circled) will go in motion to Jackson's left and the cornerback (boxed) will follow.
(Note: Cameron Morrah is underlined.)
Tate (arrow) will run what looks to be a wheel route (something I've been hoping the Seahawks would do with Leon Washington) but the defender isn't sold, at all. Looking out to the left, Jackson will see Obomanu stop short of the sticks and Tate doesn't do much to help Jackson.
Above, Jackson is in position and ready. Below, you'll see Tate appear to slow up on the route, put his hands out and look back to Jackson. The defender realizes he has position and the sideline as his friend. Jackson goes from standing tall in the pocket...
...To getting pressured a bit and throwing off of his back foot into a nonexistent window. Presumably this ball is supposed to get to the sticks, if not a shot at the endzone. Tate was looking for the ball around the line of scrimmage; was there confusion on his route? Also, could Jackson have moved better within the pocket, perhaps sliding forward and not back? Just a thought.
The ball sails way out of bounds, and no where near Tate or the open space towards the endzone. A sound job by Jackson not forcing the ball here, but could Tate have made the play if he got the chance? The timing seemed a bit off here, but I like the concept of moving the receivers into the backfield. It helps diagnose coverage and provides an opportunity to create the mismatch on the linebacker (the 49ers are a 3-4 team).
Onto the 4th quarter and the good stuff, also the Seahawks' next offensive possession. Seattle is knocking on the door. And, they are about to pick on a linebacker.
3-4-CHI 12 (13:27) (Shotgun) T.Jackson pass short right to J.Forsett pushed ob at CHI 3 for 9 yards (B.Meriweather)
Seattle is in '11' with a trips bunch right. Baldwin (arrow) will move into the backfield. We saw this concept on the last redzone third down with Tate. I like their willingness to go right back to this idea, and with a different look.
Now there are two skill players in the backfield. Interesting. This next view is right after the snap, from behind.
The linebacker (Lance Briggs, 55) is watching the play-action and will be responsible for Justin Forsett, who leaks behind Jackson. (The Fox-drawn squiggly line denotes the defensive end will get upfield and affect the play.)
Here is slightly after the shot above, but from the broadcast angle.
Next, Forsett is going to negotiate the defensive end (boxed) as he swings out of the backfield and creates enough width for Jackson to make a smooth throw. Unger (arrow) is leading out for an eventual chip block and Tate (circled) is screening the linebacker (55) that was responsible for Forsett. Baldwin (underlined) leaks out the backside, but appears to be covered by two guys. Was there a coverage breakdown here?
Good balance by Forsett along the sidelines. Unger (circled) makes a semi-successful chip and Briggs (arrow) isn't a factor in the play. Tate's pick worked.
Consequently, Forsett will get the first down easily, and more. Question; why is Tate signaling touchdown when the four players closest to the ball are all Chicago Bears?
Nice job by Forsett, slipping by the contact and making an attempt at the endzone. Tate is still signaling touchdown, which at least makes a little more sense at this point. In the end, a cleverly designed play that gets the Seahawks in goal to go.
We'll end on a touchdown, which comes two plays later.
2-2-CHI 2 (12:44) T.Jackson pass short right to M.Robinson for 2 yards, TOUCHDOWN
Seattle is in '23' and about to go play action on a play-action down. It's worth noting that Seattle could've used a sixth lineman here for a running play. The usage of three tight ends potentially creates indecision in the minds of the defense, as the Seahawks are still in a power football set. Anyway, Robinson (boxed) will get the ball. McCoy (lined) will go in motion. Miller (arrow) is a key cog in making this play work. Motion, snap...
Robinson is going to leak, sliding by the defensive end. Miller (arrow) is about to go beastmode.
You've gotta love Miller occupying the defender who is responsible for Robinson, and his own man. Look at all the space he creates. Notice Lynch (underlined) go low on the defender and chip him slightly, just enough...
...That Jackson is able to sneak the ball over the outstretch fingertip of the end...
...For the easy catch. Robinson turns and dives into the end zone.
Summing up; the Seahawks got lucky with their second opportunity after the failed Washington pitch early in the game. That said, it was encouraging to see the adjustments work over the course of the game, starting from previously said second opportunity.
Going with Lynch on 1st and goal early in the third quarter made sense and the motion plays, I think, are wrinkles we should see more often, but only if they are crisply and consistently executed. The play-action pass to seal the deal was a nice touch. We've seen Michael Robinson much more involved in the passing game lately and watching a Miller block create yet another big play is great to see.
Seattle may not get many chances in the redzone versus the 49ers, especially if it turns into a weather-influenced, potentially sloppy, low scoring field position game. A mix of aggression, sticking to the basics, poise, creativity and execution will give Seattle a chance to win the redzone battle, and hopefully the 60 minute war.