After a lackluster performance by the offense in the first two quarters, some might say that the Seahawks were lucky to only be down by seven at the half. There didn't seem to be a rhythm for Russell Wilson and the offense, and solid tackling on defense seemed nowhere to be found as Colin Kaepernick had rushed for 98 yards on 8 carries.
Of course, stats are also deceptive, and there was no doubt that the game was still pretty open even despite a series of miscues on Seattle's part. The defense certainly believed so. Keep in mind that the Seahawks thrive on being the hammer, not the nail - and though they were behind for the time being, they wouldn't let opportunities like those get away from them.
Throughout the first half, the Seahawks offensive game consistently chipped away at the Niners defense, driving itself off with short but effective gains. The Seattle philosophy, though, is to stay with the run game even when gains are meager. Chip away. Test vulnerabilities, gather some rhythm, sooner or later...Bam! You hit one, and get right back to where they want to be, with the lead.
But first, they need the ball back.
1-10-SF 38 (13:16 3rd Quarter) C.Kaepernick pass incomplete deep left to M.Crabtree.
Kaepernick runs a pretty effective play-action fake here, but he throws it to Michael Crabtree, who is under triple coverage. Byron Maxwell and Kam Chancellor are covering underneath and there's the ever-present possibility of Earl Thomas speeding over the top.
Crabtree is a good foot or two ahead of both guys - a testament to his ability, and had Kaepernick not overthrown the pass, it most likely would've been a big gain.
2-10-SF 38 (13:10 3rd Q) F.Gore left guard to SF 32 for -6 yards (M.Bennett; C.Clemons).
The Niners go to a rare 11 personnel, 3 WR set, which the Seahawks respond to with their nickel package. San Francisco must've thought they could exploit the difference and calls a run towards the left side with Frank Gore. The 12th man, however, puts a dent into their plans. The play is broken, and Gore runs towards the right side of Kaepernick to take the handoff. Kaep, however, is concurrently reaching out with his right arm, and this slight confusion forces the two to hesitate and cutback almost immediately. Just enough time for Chris Clemons and Michael Bennett to burst into the hole and stuff him for a loss.
3-16-SF 32 (12:28 3rd Q) (Shotgun) C.Kaepernick pass incomplete short right to F.Gore.
Facing third and long for the first time in a while, the Seahawks utilize their "NASCAR" package (labeled the CERN package here at Field Gulls), which is essentially a lineup utilizing your four best pass rushers. Let them pin their ears back and go nuts rushing the quarterback.
Here, all four provide substantial pressure despite the Niners choice to have Frank Gore in as an extra blocker. He half heartedly settles through the line as a check down option.
Kaepernick spins away twice from the pack, like a lone doe fleeing from a pack of wolves. Commentators have consistently noted the quarterback's long strides, and to quote something along the lines of Joe Buck, "makes him run like five yards every time". Well, this doesn't bode very well considering that Kaepernick is running towards the sideline, continuously trying to buy time while the Seahawks front four are not that far behind.
Finally managing to catch his breath a footstep away from the sidelines, Kaepernick chucks it into the ground.
San Francisco had received the kickoff and is promptly punting the ball back following a few plays.
Half of the job is now complete. How does the offense respond?
1-10-SEA 40 (12:06 3rd Q) #78 eligible. M.Lynch up the middle to SF 49 for 11 yards (J.Smith; N.Bowman).
Doug Baldwin motions in from the left side just as Wilson takes the snap. It's a straight handoff to Marshawn Lynch. Three steps in and already multiple offensive linemen have reached second level in their blocks. When a Niners defender does touch Lynch,
the man the pile itself is already five yards pass the line of scrimmage. He would end up with 11. Gorgeous.
Upon closer inspection, you can't help but feel the physicality of the play just by noticing the idiosyncrasies of the players. Glenn Dorsey, the nose guard, flattened to his knees with the double team of James Carpenter and Max Unger two yards away from where he was originally lined up.
NoVarro Bowman, the middle linebacker, losing balance and backpedaling five yards with his arms flailing in the air like a fish out of water. Alvin Bailey, the perpetrator, chugging along from one defender to another, first attacking Bowman with his arms and extending them in perfect form, literally pushing Bowman away then using his quickness to grab another Niners defender before the whistle stops him from another beatdown.
Next to him is Unger and Caprenter again, back for more as they charge at Ahmad Brooks with heads on his chest like a pair Spanish bulls. Russell Okung shimming the defensive end towards the right side then turning his shoulder outward, while Zach Miller does the same with his left to part the sea of gold.
Gosh, isn't this gorgeous?
1-10-SF 49 (11:28 3rd Q) #78 eligible. M.Lynch left tackle to SF 44 for 5 yards (R.McDonald; D.Whitner).
Same exact format, except now the run is to the left. Carpenter turns Justin Smith, and with the double team of Okung and Miller on the defensive end, opens up a hole wide enough for Lynch to slash his way through. The backside of this play was a bit lacking though, and a series of 49ers backers crash hard down from the left to stop Lynch from breaking it out.
(By the way, if there's a testament to Ahmad Brooks' speed, note how he lined himself up on the far end of the field, and came all the way back to make the tackle.)
2-5-SF 44 (10:45 3rd Q) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass short right to D.Baldwin to SF 40 for 4 yards (P.Willis).
If there's ever a good time to go empty shotgun and four wide, this might be the best opportunity. Baldwin strides again from left to right, and the snap comes again while he is in mid-motion. Curling himself around the line of scrimmage, Baldwin catches the screen pass on point. Meanwhile, he already has been cleared a running lane with the excellent cutblock of Ahmad Brooks by Jermaine Kearse, and he has Zach Miller and Breno Giacomini in front of him. Space is something that any WR will need in the short gain, and he has plenty here.
(Second exemplar on the play of Ahmad Brooks: He gets cut by Kearse early and literally rolls himself off the ground to make the tackle. Jeez.)
3-1-SF 40 (10:03 3rd Q) #78 eligible. M.Lynch left guard for 40 yards, TOUCHDOWN
Short yardage situation on 3rd down. All signs point to a run play here. (Or maybe not, considering Darrell Bevell's inherent love for shotgun). Nonetheless, the Seahawks return to their 6OL Jumbo package.
Analytically, there are only three possible passing targets should Wilson run play action, so the Niners don't hesitate in stacking eight men in the box then pressing the line of scrimmage at the snap. Kearse's inside motion brings the defensive back with him, and now the line of scrimmage looks like a giant amoeba mass. Whatever the original design for the play was, the Seahawks will need a lot of push to simply get past the first down marker.
Or just one Marshawn Lynch.
Eerily reminiscent from the days of Walter Jones, Steve Hutchinson and Robbie Tobeck, the interior of Max Unger, James Carpenter and Russell Okung collapses itself on a sea of red. The zone blocking scheme layers these guys' blocks on top of one another, and all Lynch needs is a pinhole to squeeze through for the first.
Then here's the second part. Coming from the outside two spots, Alvin Bailey and Jermaine Kearse straight up double team on the lone safety playing shallow, stone walling him from making any attempts on the play. Lynch, who's original thought was to probably truck that guy, runs into Bailey and for a second everything was stuck.
Eric Reid, the other Niners safety has already flied himself down in a (seemingly) great position to make the tackle. It sure just looks like another ten yard gain.
A move towards the right and there is nothing but open space. Touchdown.
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