Explosive Opponent Preview: The San Francisco 49ers

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The NFC West title is up for grabs and the San Francisco 49ers are kindly reminding their fans how to be fans. The big play will be a big part of this match up on Sunday.

I knew what I was seeing it but I couldn't quite believe it.

I was watching the Seattle Seahawks completely and totally dismantle the New Orleans Saints.

After a certain point, it really wasn't funny anymore. Hearkening back to a play late in the game, the Seahawks pass rush rattled Drew Brees so much he simply chucked the football with two hands toward the turf, attempting a bounce-pass more than a forward pass. It was a ridiculous looking play so I couldn't help but laugh. Though I wasn't just laughing out of mirth, I was laughing out of pity. Here was one of the best quarterbacks the world has to offer and he's making plays that would make Mark Sanchez snort with derision.

It was as glorious as it was heartbreaking.

This Seahawks team is very, very good and just about every metric you can conjure up will support that claim. Total yards, scoring, DVOA, toxic differential, power rankings (hey, I never said they had to be credible metrics)...they all point to Seattle as the best team in football.

Seattle now has an opportunity to clinch the NFC West division championship by defeating the hated San Francisco 49ers in Candlestick Park. Before we delve into how explosive our ne'er-do-well rivals by the bay area are, let's update the Seahawks explosive stats.

Week

Opponent

Ex. Run

Ex. Pass

Total

Ex. Run Alwd

Ex. Pass Alwd

Total

1

at CAR

2

7

9

2

1

3

2

vs. SF

4

3

7

4

2

6

3

vs. JAX

1

9

10

0

4

4

4

at HOU

5

2

7

4

9

13

5

at IND

6

5

11

2

4

6

6

vs. TEN

5

4

9

0

2

2

7

at ARZ

2

7

9

0

3

3

8

at STL

1

2

3

6

4

10

9

vs. TB

7

7

14

4

3

7

10

at ATL

5

7

12

1

2

3

11

vs. MIN

3

6

9

3

4

7

12

BYE

13

vs. NOR

3

6

9

1

2

3

Season Totals

44

65

109

27

40

67

Avg. per game

3.67

5.42

9.08

2.25

3.33

5.58

Seattle has been holding steady at an average of 9 explosive plays per game on offense for most of the season. Only once, against St. Louis on Monday Night, were they held to fewer than 7 explosive plays. On defense they have only allowed an average of about 5 and a half explosive plays per game. They have only allowed more than 7 explosive plays twice: against Houston and St. Louis. The Seahawks won both games, albeit in close fashion.

A key for Seahawks fans should be two numbers: 9 and 3. When the Seahawks make 9 or more explosive plays in a game they average 30.4 points per game. Opponents only score an average of 11.8 points per game when generating 3 or fewer explosive plays. Getting 9 big plays and only allowing 3 will go a long way toward helping you win.

Drive Result

For

Against

Touchdown

31

14

Field Goal

17

10

Turnover

9

10

Punt

11

10

End of Half

1

1

Season Total

69

45

Score Rate

70%

53%

The Seahawks are getting better at converting explosive drives into scores as the season progresses. After their beat-down of the Saints, their score rate jumps up about 70%. That's great and all, but the goal is to hit the historic league average of 75%. Seattle's defense continues to dominate, allowing only 45 explosive drives and 24 scores.

The San Francisco Offense

Week

Opponent

Ex. Run

Ex. Pass

Total

1

vs. GB

2

10

12

2

at SEA

4

2

6

3

vs. IND

4

2

6

4

at STL

7

3

10

5

vs. HOU

6

1

7

6

vs. ARZ

3

4

7

7

at TEN

2

6

8

8

at JAX

5

5

10

9

BYE

10

vs. CAR

4

0

4

11

at NO

2

1

3

12

at WAS

0

6

6

13

vs. STL

0

8

8

Season Totals

39

48

87

Avg. per game

3.25

4.00

7.25

After charting the 49er's explosive plays from this season, their balance is apparent. Explosive rushes make up nearly 45% of their total output, whereas the Seahawks are in the 40% neighborhood. On the whole the 49ers aren't nearly as explosive as the Seahawks. With a 109 to 87 explosive play advantage, Seattle is about 25% more explosive than San Francisco. The Seattle running game is only about 13% more explosive but the Seattle passing game is 35% more explosive. But that's okay, because Colin Kaepernick has a chance to be the greatest HAHAHAHAHhahaohohohlolololol oh man...sorry about that.

While the 49ers aren't as explosive as Seattle, if they do get explosive Seattle must watch out. The 49ers have made double-digit explosive plays three times this season and have scored 34, 35 and 42 points in those three games.

Result For

Number

Touchdown

28

Field Goal

11

Turnover

11

Punt

10

End of Half

1

Season Total

61

Score Rate

64%

San Francisco has a respectable number of explosive drives but their score rate on those drives is lacking. However, their touchdown rate of 46% is actually slightly better than the Seahawks' 45% rate. At least when the 49ers do score they make their scores count. I would be very comfortable keeping Jim Harbaugh out of the end zone and forcing Phil Dawson to beat us.

The San Francisco Defense

Week

Opponent

Ex. Run Alwd

Ex. Pass Alwd

Total

1

vs. GB

0

7

7

2

at SEA

4

3

7

3

vs. IND

4

3

7

4

at STL

0

4

4

5

vs. HOU

2

3

5

6

vs. ARZ

2

4

6

7

at TEN

1

7

8

8

at JAX

1

1

2

9

BYE

10

vs. CAR

1

4

5

11

at NO

1

5

6

12

at WAS

2

2

4

13

vs. STL

2

6

8

Season Totals

20

49

69

Avg. per game

1.67

4.08

5.75

The 49ers have had a well-respected defense for quite some time and for good reason. Seattle's and San Francisco's defenses are near-equals when it comes to limiting the big play; both only allow between 5.5 and 5.75 big plays per game. While San Francisco has the edge in big-play run defense (20 to 27), Seattle has the edge in big-play pass defense (40 to 49). However, Seattle was one of two teams (the other being the Indianapolis Colts) to put up the largest number of explosive rushes on the San Francisco defense. The 49ers have lost the big-play battle just four times this season: to Seattle, Indy, Carolina and New Orleans.

Result Vs.

Number

Touchdown

16

Field Goal

10

Turnover

13

Punt

10

End of Half

1

Season Total

50

Score Rate

52%

We again see a few similarities between the two defenses when looking at explosive drive score-rate. The 49ers boast a opposition score-rate of 52%, allowing 26 scores from 50 explosive drives. Seattle has only allowed 24 scores from 45 drives for a 53% rate. As always, I'll take the defense allowing fewer explosive drives and fewer scores in this case.

The Verdict

Last week, I guessed the Seahawks would make 9 big plays against the Saints. While I got the final number right, I was off on the big rushes (guessed 4, there were 3) and big passes (guessed 5, there were 6). I was (thankfully) wrong about the Saints; I guessed they'd make 5 big pass plays and they only could muster 2. The Saints running game was nowhere near a factor with Jed Collins gaining the Saints only big run of the night.

This week features two stingy defenses and two balanced offenses. I'm guessing Aldon Smith and the 49ers defense limits Russell Wilson and company below their season average, but only just below. I say Seattle has 8 explosive plays: 3 runs and 5 passes. Like last week, Seattle must finish explosive drives with points, preferably touchdowns. Turnovers are a big no-no.

Defensively, we know Seattle can rattle Kaepernick because they have before. Now, we get to see how well they can rattle him without 67,000 Seahawks fans screaming at the San Francisco huddle. I think Seattle gives up 6 big plays: 4 runs and 2 passes. I don't see Kaepernick doing much through the air, because while he plays checkers, Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman are playing chess. I do think he'll pick up some big yards on broken plays, however.

The Seahawks won the explosive play battle decisively against the Saints. If they can do the same against San Francisco, then we'll all get to see Richard Sherman prancing around Candlestick Park post-game, wearing a "Seattle Seahawks 2013 NFC West Division Champions" shirt and hat, taunting the 49er faithful as they leave dejectedly.

I know you want that noise.

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