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How the Seattle Seahawks Beat the San Francisco 49ers, Part One

This is not a slideshow.

Tony Moeaki thinks he's safe but his feet and ankles are critically exposed.
Tony Moeaki thinks he's safe but his feet and ankles are critically exposed.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Crabtree is writhing on the ground. He punches at the turf. He grabs his left knee--or is it his ribs? Now it's his ribs. Fans are left the gruesome task of watching replays and attempting to pinpoint where and how Crabtree was hurt. It proves ... not-gruesome.

Now he is lying flat on his back and being attended to by team trainers. Harbaugh runs to his felled receiver's side and lowers himself to one knee. He extends a hand to tenderly brace Crabtree's helmet as team trainers extend his left knee and palpate around the joint. NBC breaks for commercials.

We return. The bumper shows lobsters in an industrial metal strainer about to be boiled alive by the dozen, a man utilizing rosemary branches bound together as a brush to butter a roast, and a simple rotisserie turkey revealed from behind a fading Jurassic World advertisement. That turkey is the turkey--the one Richard Sherman and Russell Wilson will eat. Before we can fade from turkey to football, San Francisco is set and ready to run another play. Crabtree is on the sideline, okay and will re-enter and play in 62% of his team's snaps.

So ends the peak moment for the San Francisco 49ers offense. San Francisco has the ball and a 53% chance of winning. That chance will inch up to 54% after an incomplete pass to Tony Moeaki, but no higher, and never again will San Francisco have the ball, be in the middle of a drive and have a better than 53% chance of winning.

Little more than partway through the first quarter, and after Carlos Hyde is stuffed for a loss of one, the Seahawks win probability moves past 50% for good. It reaches 70% by the end of the first quarter. Climbs to 90% by halftime. And but for a three yard run by Marshawn Lynch early in the second half, exists in that decile for the rest of the game.

Seattle administered thumbscrews to San Francisco for the better part of three hours. Judged in terms of suspense, scoring and Odell Beckham Jr. -style splash plays, yesterday's game contained all the thrill of a coma.

But for rivalry--so-so. But for playoff implications--finally, for playoff implications this was flippin Super Bowl III.

Here are the plays which either signaled the outcome of the game, or actually decided the game. Listed in chronological order for coherence, and analyzed in whatever way seemed most appropriate.

Play One: In Which a Damning Weakness is Revealed

2nd and 10 at SF 25(13:41) F.Gore left tackle to SF 29 for 4 yards (B.Wagner; E.Thomas).

The fourth play San Francisco ran from scrimmage was somehow both spooky and massively reassuring to Seahawks fans. Greg Roman and the 49ers immediately attempted to outflank the Seahawks, just as the Chiefs had done in Week 11. And as in Week 11, the offense achieved the foundation for a very successful run play.


So far so good for San Francisco and so, so bad for Seattle. The left edge is a shambles. Bruce Irvin is being trucked by pulling right guard Alex Boone, and Bruce Miller is slowing to coordinate his block with Frank Gore's burst through the hole. The design of the play is excellent and the execution is strong but for one vital handicap.

Here we see the pre-snap formation.


Here is the blocking scheme.


The object of the play is simple enough. The bunch package on the right forces K.J. Wright, Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman opposite the play side. The offensive line will angle block the defensive line and attempt to create a hole off left end. Right guard Alex Boone will pull and engage outside linebacker Bruce Irvin. Fullback Bruce Miller will follow and lead block Gore through the hole. Gore is set deep, almost eight yards behind the line of scrimmage, so to give the play time to develop, and so he may maximize his acceleration toward the hole. Frank Gore is deep into 31 and almost ten years removed from a Pro Day in which he ran a 4.58 forty.

Plays are rarely executed as drawn up, but as we see again, this play nearly was. Even Colin Kaepenrick's phantom bootleg works. It's a Gofannon bloodbath.


But then things fizzle--which means to fart but silently. Seattle stops Gore after only a four-yard gain. Why?

Well, it's a matter of rate. I calibrated the frame rate of this gif to match Gore's rate of advancement. His movements are fluid and clear. While the man who will tackle him approaches as blur. His motion rendered choppy, so he seems to skip ahead between frames.

Sir Blur

That's Earl Thomas.

Watch Gore. Watch Thomas. It's uncanny.

Thomas starts the snap 13 yards past the line of scrimmage. He is still ten yards away as Gore hits the hole. His speed breaks the gif. Gore cannot even run away from Wagner.

49ers backs averaged 3.1 yards an attempt against the Seahawks. Though score did not force San Francisco to abandon the run, the 49ers did. Attempting more than double the number of passes (33 counting sacks) as runs by backs (15)--a grave and unwanted deviation from last season, in which San Francisco ran on 52.6% of plays.

In one play, half a gameplan is snuffed out.

Play Two: In Which a Damning Weakness is Revealed II

3rd and 8 at SF 30(5:39) (Shotgun) C.Kaepernick pass deep right intended for B.Lloyd INTERCEPTED by R.Sherman at 50. R.Sherman to SF 45 for 5 yards (B.Lloyd).

Brandon Lloyd is Colin Kaepernick's first (and only) read. In order to disguise this, Kaepernick waits until the final moment to look at Lloyd. So final, in fact, his arm moves faster through the motion than his mind through the read.

Lloyd and Kassim Osgood are split wide right. Prior to the snap, Osgood motions inside Lloyd and almost to right tackle. He throws a chip block on Avril and then releases into a route. It's an unorthodox way to keep in seven blockers but an effective one. Kaepernick is never remotely pressured, and has more yardage of space in any direction (3+) than defenders within five yards of him (2). He gets to doggedly look off deep safety Earl Thomas, and does. And does. And does.

In this fit of misdirection, Kaep doesn't however actually read his designed target. Sherman has not jumped the double move. Sherman is parallel the receiver and watching the quarterback. A blinking neon sign could not more emphatically say "Don't target Lloyd."

The double move Sherman doesn't chase.


And what Kaepernick throws toward.


As a Seahawks fan, I have long looked for the worst in Colin Kaepernick. For a time, he would stare down his read, and if that read were not there, begin to panic scramble or just panic. What's funny about this play is the deliberate way Kaepernick looks away from his read, looks off the deep safety, and then throws without ever before looking at his target. in order to overcome telegraphing his target and being doomed to be a one-read quarterback, Kaepernick displays the optics of progress, before revealing himself to be a no-read quarterback.

An inaccurate pass finds Sherman square in the mitts and seals the pick, but this pass should have never been attempted. Kaep did however look off the deep safety.

Play Three: An Insurmountable Lead

2nd and 13 at SF 13(1:36) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass short left to R.Turbin for 13 yards, TOUCHDOWN. Caught at SF 12. 12-yds YAC S.Hauschka extra point is GOOD, Center-C.Gresham, Holder-J.Ryan.

Cris Collinsworth: Chris Borland ... too small, too slow--his arms too short. He's been told his entire life he can't play this game.

Chris Borland is an inveterate ankle grabber. Perhaps his penchant for sliding toward ball-carriers' feet and stubbornly clinging to foot and ankle, is an attempt to demonstrate how tackling could be made safer--or at least a lot less exciting and dignified. But whatever the cause, San Fran's newest much-hyped linebacker attacks ankles like a Victorian sex fiend.

(And yes I know that's a myth. People today are probably more uptight than ever about sex. Hooray.)

This punishing tackle for a loss of three ...


put Seattle in second and 13.

Seattle broke in a two-back pistol, with Robert Turbin to Wilson's left and Marshawn Lynch behind Wilson. Almost immediately, Lynch motioned wide right. This confused the livin' hell out of San Francisco.

Lynch is wide open. Besting that, Turbin is totally unaccounted for. Tony Moaeki, he hosts a quartet of defenders: two inside linebackers on bass and drum; one safety on the soprano sax; Antoine Bethea manning the vibes.


The 49ers hopefully analyzed the heck out of this. What seemed to happen, simply put, is that Seattle broke with an unorthodox look, ramped up the pressure by motioning Lynch wide, and none of the 49ers remaining defenders could shift coverage to account for the change.

Darrell Bevell, today you are a king.

This play pushed Seattle's win probability past 70%, and for good.

Play Four: How to Disappear Completely

3rd and 9 at SEA 36(13:00) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass short right to T.Moeaki to SF 1 for 63 yards (P.Cox; C.Culliver). Caught at SEA 48. 47-yds YAC

Al Michaels: How did that happen!?

Cris Collinsworth: I'll tell you how that happened. Russell Wilson is one of the great players in the game. Watch this!

Seattle does not account for a free pass rusher. How novel.


Wilson is forced to turn on a dime and evade the ankle tackle by Dontae Johnson. Eventually he scrambles himself here.


Where he makes one of those microsecond reads only Russell Wilson seems to be capable of, before scrambling back across field. Which allows Lemuel Jeanpierre to atone for his lousy line read.


That's Johnson receiving the crushing ex-up block by Lemuel.

Borland closes, launches and heroically grasps an ankle--but too late!


Because while Yaketty Sax has been playing, Tony Moeaki has run away from a flummoxed and inert Perrish Cox and toward the right sideline. The rest, the rest is run after catch.

Seahawks reach 89% win probability.

To be continued ... probably Monday.

John Morgan wrote and re-wrote a book. It is called 100 Things Seahawks Fan Should Know & Do Before They Die. As a post- post-modern antinovel, it is mediocre.