Be Warned: Massive post to follow.
- Matt Hasselbeck had an erratic half. On the fifth play of the game he threw it directly at Derek Smith on one of those "it's good our opponent isn't better" type plays. For the half he had 12 accurate passes, three overthrown, two underthrown, one tipped and one right at Smith, so into coverage. Here's a funny lesson in not trusting results based analysis. Beck's throw to Deion Branch for 65 yards was underthrown, luckily for Beck Branch had completely run past Nate Clements on a simple stutter step, go route. Still, Branch had to break his stride and track the ball as it meandered to the middle of the field. Were it a better throw that's likely a touchdown. So Beck shares the big gainer with Branch, but Branch deserves most of the credit. Branch also had a 26 yard completion on a tipped pass.
Hasselbeck made some poor decisions in the pocket, too. Both of his sacks were tallied in this half, and neither were the product of overwhelming pressure by the 49ers. The first was a pure coverage sack. The Niners send four, the linebackers in coverage and though we never see it, the corners and safeties deep. Beck hem and haws for a few seconds, pulls the ball down and runs right into Tully Banta-Cain for a gimme sack. By this point the pocket is disorganized and degraded, but Beck has to throw the ball away earlier and avoid the sack. He certainly shouldn't have considered running it. On the replay we see Nate Burleson giving up on his route, that's a Blown Assignment, Burly. On the Marques Douglas sack Beck falls victim to almost the same set of circumstances, though the Niners are running a blitz, rushing five, and Beck hasn't the same amount of time before he, again, tucks it and runs into a defender.
- Speaking of Douglas and poor decision making, on the Hawks' second play from scrimmage Alexander is tackled for a loss of 2 attempting to string a play outside left. Moose was all over himself complimenting Douglas, and saying ridiculous absolutes like "two years ago you'd never see a defense get penetration on Seattle's left side". Really, never? What you notice right away when you rewatch this play is that Alexander missed a pretty sizable hole. Here's how it was designed: Walter Jones moves hard right eliminating the Niners nose tackle, Rob Sims pulls out from under him and moves to the second level and Marcus Pollard is asked only to keep Douglas outside of the play long enough for Alexander to hit the hole. Had Alexander hit the hole he would have had one man to beat about 7 yards past the line of scrimmage and then a bunch of daylight. Instead, apparently not seeing a hole quite large enough, Alexander darts out wide left, Pollard, clearly mismatched against 292 pound Douglas loses his tackle and Alexander is stopped for a loss. When I speak about my frustration with Alexander it's not just his deteriorating skills, it's his increasingly poor decision making. Alexander made a similar goof against the Bucs, attempting to turn a right off-tackle run into an play wide only to be hit for a loss and a fumble (not lost).
One final knock on the offense before I travel to sunnier climes. Again we talk about Alexander and a clear gaffe. First play of the Hawks third overall drive. Seattle is in that once staple of Holmgren's system, the 2 wide, I-Back, one tight set. At the snap Alexander runs right into Sean Locklear's back, more or less precluding any chance of the play, as called, succeeding. He then run backwards two yards, now five yards behind the line of scrimmage. The plays ends with Alexander falling forward for a mere loss of two. On first watch this looks like Sean Locklear's fault, and I'm not willing to let him completely off the hook, but back to that in a second. I watched this play 13 times in my best attempt to be diplomatic, I'm a skeptical contrarian so even I wonder sometimes if I'm not giving Alexander a fair shake, but I just couldn't deny what I saw: Lock and Gray are both recessed 3 and 1.5 yards behind the line, the left side, meanwhile, is mirrored, like a dash: /, owning their blocks three yards past the line of scrimmage. It looks like a cutback run, where the right side is meant to draw the Niners in, while the left side is creating a huge cutback lane. Had Alexander not run into Lock, this play should have been huge, as the line executes it to textbook perfection. It's reasonable to think that Lock probably allowed too much give on the right, but Alexander absolutely cannot run into his own blocker. Nor should he run backwards, especially behind the line of scrimmage. A really miserably wasted opportunity that I got to see in slow mo, over and over. Doh!
- Branch did everything right. One thing I never hear enough about is a receiver's ability to track a ball in flight, Branch is excellent at that. He is also tremendously agile, has sure hands and knows when to be tackled. That last one might sound a little off, but sometimes your not going to break a tackle, three guys are closing in on you or you're abutting the sideline and its vainglorious to put a pop to a defender or attempt to rip through the pile. Especially when you're slightly built and 5'9". Branch falls forward in front of sure tackles. It's a smart move that protects the ball and protects his health. Actually, for years I complimented Alexander on doing the same thing, too bad that caution has turned into yel--ah, forget it.
- Two funny moments courtesy our crack announcing team. The first is Tony Siragusa talking about how it's tough for Frank Gore because Seattle is consistently putting eight or nine men in the box. The play he's referring to? A four yard run by Maurice Hicks on third and twelve against nickel coverage. Seattle rushes four and never has more than six "in the box". A phrase that's quickly driving me to distraction. Here's thing, the Hawks run a base package on almost every defensive play. That's just how they roll. Sometimes a safety will cheat up, but almost always that safety retreats back at the snap. That's all very standard football, nothing exceptional, nothing that would particularly punish the running back. Once the play has started and it's clearly a run, Seattle's linebackers and safeties rush forward to stuff it. Every team in football does this, it's called playing defense. The Hawks weren't loading eight in the box or whatever nonsense.
The second is Darryl Johnson all beside himself "oohing" and "ahhing" at Nate Clements big hit on a Deion Branch slant route. He even invokes the name of Ronnie Lott. One problem, Clements jumps right over Branch making almost no contact. Branch dives under him for an extra yard or two, but the big hit Moose was having kittens over existed only in his mind.
- The funny thing about the defense is that even though they manhandled the Niners all game, they didn't do much particularly worthy of break down. Julian Peterson got free twice on overload blitzes, meaning he was unimpeded to the quarterback. Rocky Bernard had a really nice half. On the play where he knocked out Alex Smith he recorded the trifecta: Penetration, forced and split double team finished with a sack. You could call it the perfecta if you factor in that he injured Smith. Otherwise, what's to know? The Hawks' front seven dominated the Niners offensive line like is rarely seen in the NFL. Six sacks isn't an astounding total in of itself, McNabb suffered 12 just last night, but on the majority of plays Seattle's front seven simply blew up the play before it had a chance. It was a showing reminiscent of college football, the disparity was great. Look at it like this, if you take out the final drive against soft coverage, and factor in all the yards lost to penalties, San Francisco had five yards of gross offense for the half. That's some shit.