We've all heard the today's NFL is a passing league. With all the protections on QBs and WRs, numbers have gone through the roof. So much so that tomorrow's NFC Championship Game has been frequently billed as a QB duel between Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson just as much as a match between the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks (maybe because of their Madden commercial?).
But there's something else going on here. Despite the gaudy passing figures, it's very interesting that in the playoffs, rushing is still king. You can see the full post with all the numbers here, but just look at the following chart:
Teams with a higher yards/carry than their opponent are 7-1 in the playoffs, with the one loss being the Panthers, who barely out-rushed the 49ers and were elsewhere dominated in the coaching and passing departments.
Seattle won't have those problems in tomorrow's game. After re-watching the tape from the last contest, it became clear that both the Seahawks and the 49ers held something back in the running game. It will be interesting to see which team can take advantage of their ace in the hole better:
By the 4th quarter of that game, the 49ers started to figure out the Seattle run defense. Frank Gore, one of the most cerebral players in that locker room, was starting to read the safeties ran than the linebackers, seemingly because the line had figured out Seattle's hybrid one gap/two gap front to a degree, and had blocking assignments down pat. Even Kendall Hunter was reading the Seattle secondary well:
This was a balanced set with a TE to the left and the FB to the right.
The Seahawks are playing one gap to the offense's left and have a two-gap player on the right. The 2-gapper (usually Red Bryant) needs to dominate his man control the lanes to either side, but in this frame, you can see he has been pushed a yard behind the line of scrimmage.
Immediately after the handoff, Hunter starts his cut to the right. The 49ers have the front blocked well.
Hunter takes a glanced at the corner but is already turning his eyes further upfield.
If Kam Chancellor doesn't fill this lane, it gets ugly.
Chancellor makes the play, but look how Hunter's pounding the turf. He knows he would have had a big run deep into the secondary if he could have just burst past the corner. Later in the quarter, Frank Gore would leave All-Galaxy safety Earl Thomas in the dust because Gore read Thomas' route to the ball and started his cut before the safety could get to the hole. The Seahawks have to disrupt the 49ers RB's ability read into the secondary tomorrow.
First, look at how much the 49ers respect the Seattle read-option:
The Seahawks have taken Aldon Smith completely out of this play. This happened over and over again. The interesting thing is: I don't think the Seahawks were actually running the read-option. The whole game it looked like it was just inside zone, with Russell pretending to fake the read. Remember, just because a handoff looks like inside zone doesn't mean the QB has the flexibility to pull it and run. For example, on plays like this, Wilson had swaths of turf in front:
The Hawks have the play blocked well on the weak side, but I don't think the staff let him read this. Wilson is certainly smart enough to pull the ball when he's this open. Part of taking the read out of Russell's hands is to protect him; another part perhaps is to leave stuff off film. In the Championship game, though, I expect the gloves to come off and we should see a few devastating Wilson runs.
Despite the quality of the defenses, I expect both teams to have success on the ground. Again, this post has all the details, but running the ball often and effectively has proven to be a harbinger of playoff success. We should get a great, smash-mouth game tomorrow.