Let's face it: Saturday's post was rushed.
Among its many weaknesses, it featured no analysis of Demarcus Dobbs or his two successful run tackles which preceded Richard Sherman's interception*. Let us double down on the mistakes of the past, writing a thin analysis, mostly concentrating on flashy plays, and sell some gosh darn books, God damn it.
When we left off, Tony Moeaki was beginning his long, laborious slog toward the end zone. He never arrived, and not because of the obvious reason, the easy reason, the reason spoon fed to you by the Sports Media Elite. No, the expansion of the universe didn't reach infinite sparseness, didn't collapse on itself, did not create another Big Bang, and no we are not existing in a parallel dimension of near exact similarity to our last universe but for a ... coin flip ... landing heads not tails ... now. That didn't happen. Whatever that pointy-headed intellectual Skip Bayless may say. The intervening eons between Moeaki catching the ball and lumbering forth toward the end zone are a lie! He was tackled. Because he's not very fast. That's all. It took like four seconds. You have such a wild imagination, fair reader. A wild, dangerous imagination.
And Seattle didn't score a touchdown, either. After Moeaki's dead-man's crabwalk to the one, the drive stalled, Seattle settled for three and the 49ers win probability improved from 11% to.. 12% or something. I don't know. Moving on and toward an important digression ...
Before Thursday, San Francisco was the top rated pass defense in football as measured by Football Outsiders. San Francisco's run defense, however, was ranked only tenth. While Seattle's rush offense ranked first and by a good 50 parsecs. Seattle was running better than 27 teams in the NFL were passing the ball, executing at an absurdly efficient 32.3% DVOA. The second ranked Chiefs were performing at less than a quarter of the Seahawks efficiency.
Yet Seattle's ground game sputtered. A few long runs made for superficially impressive yardage totals, but overall Seattle lost "points" by running the ball. Instead Seattle beat San Francisco by attacking the 49ers paramount strength: defending passes to tight ends and backs. San Francisco had ranked second and first in the NFL at defending passes to ends and backs.
Given the overlapping personnel involved with both stopping the run and defending passes to backs, it may be that San Francisco game-planned in such a way that stopped the run but weakened that specific kind of pass defense.
(Conversely, maybe splitting the already small sample of data from 12 weeks of play into even smaller samples creates instability, and these numbers should be understood for what they are: Binding qualities written in ink from God's very inkwell. And by that I mean hugely variable and more fun than definitive.)
But let's ignore the snarky parenthetical above and instead pretend we're really onto something.
Seattle got the ball back with nine minutes remaining after a solid-try of a return by Bryan Walters, done in by our man Chris Borland.
Throw in a few smash cuts and Borland's highlight reel becomes a Quentin Tarantino mock biopic.
That set up this.
1st and 10 at SEA 40(9:00) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass short left to R.Turbin to SF 26 for 34 yards (C.Borland). Caught at SF 49. 23-yds YAC
Russell Wilson threw for 15 completions and 234 yards overall. Nine of those completions and 168 of those yards were to backs and ends.
Here's the first critical moment of the above play.
Vic Fangio springs a blitz by sending 51, previously covering the slot receiver Doug Baldwin, into a sort of surprise nickel blitz. It totally fails. Defensive coordinators rush five against mobile quarterbacks because, as we see above, it creates outside contain and eliminates scramble lanes up the middle. One of the two inside linebackers, seen standing on or near the midfield emblem, needs to account for Robert Turbin running out the backfield. Which never happens.
Eventually Seattle's Mr. Ankle Tackle is tracked down by San Fran's Mr. Ankle Tackle, and of course this ends with a nice form tackle of Turbin's torso. Oh well.
Collinsworth blames the breakdown on blitzing, time in the pocket and a subsequent zone break down. But the blitz was a five-man blitz and should not have much affected coverage, Wilson had about four seconds and only after scrambling, and Turbin was never even once accounted for throughout the play.
The confined camera angle makes it tough to understand exactly what did happen, but I'll go ahead and guess.
After the initial play action motion, Wilson and the line begin to boot right. Borland and Michael Wilhoite putz around the line of scrimmage as if both are spying. Wilhoite probably is. Borland eventually turns his head and back to the quarterback and runs straight back into a deep middle zone.
Seattle's offensive left is comprised of Paul Richardson wide and Doug Baldwin in the slot. When Dan Skuta passes on Baldwin and blitzes, Baldwin becomes the assignment of deep safety Eric Reid. Baldwin runs Reid in and up, and that creates the aforeseen wide open Turbo. Altogether, Seattle has five receivers and San Francisco has six men in coverage.
Wilson's boot motion draws coverage right. Seattle's left-side receivers force San Francisco deep. And maybe Borland did nothing wrong, but even if, he also did nothing right. So where Borland would most naturally be, left and shallow, and whom Borland would most naturally cover, Turbin, are unmanned and uncovered, respectively.
I do not know, but I'd guess that if any one of the boot motion, the play action (which briefly sucked in Borland forcing him afterward to turn tail and run--his back facing the quarterback), and the blitz (forcing the offensive-left safety Reid deep) didn't happen, Turbin would not have been so wide open. But all did, and altogether, Seattle's passing offense beat San Francisco's top-rated pass defense by targeting the common responsibilities of their linebackers, backs and tight ends.
Maybe it's a blip. Maybe it's a signal. Boreland certainly doesn't seem like an elite pass defender.
For a long time after, and in retrospect, most of the game, Seattle chipped its way down the field and San Francisco idled. Both teams achieved 16 first downs on offense. Both teams allowed four sacks of their quarterback. Seattle won the turnover battle 3-0, and more than doubled the 49ers total yardage. But what I think truly separated the two teams was Russell Wilson's and Colin Kaepernick's perception of and reaction to pass rush.
Wild variability of reaction to pass rush is one of many, many reasons why it's all but impossible to measure a defender's ability to create pressure. And it's not like I am whistling in the dark here. Through the 2007 and 2008 seasons, I hand tallied that exact stat for all Seahawks players. It seemed important to me. It was often talked about. And I understood how pressure that, say, forces an interception is more valuable than a sack. Further, that pressure, rather than a handful of sacks over an entire season, is a defensive end's primary job. It's not enough or Darryl Tapp would be a starter, but over the course of a season, consistent pressure rather than fits of hits or sacks is what defines a great pass rush.
Problem is, our only barometer for pressure is the quarterback, and some quarterbacks like Philip Rivers are all but impervious to pressure. While Kaepernick ... let's just say there's a short and steep descent from franchise quarterback to Seneca Wallace.
This play is instructive, features a Richard Sherman interception, and is the exact point in which Seattle first reached a 99% win probability.
1st and 10 at SEA 46(7:13) (No Huddle, Shotgun) C.Kaepernick pass short right intended for S.Johnson INTERCEPTED by R.Sherman at SEA 31.
San Francisco sets: 2 WR L, TE L, WR R, RB R
Seattle: 4-2 Man (spaced like:
...but we have pictures. Let's use pictures.
Wagner's spying Kaep.
Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril are opposite offensive right. This is a HUGE part of Bennett's value. It's 1st and ten but SF's in shotgun, and so Seattle can risk playing Bennett at DT. This allows a tremendously effective complement of stunts from Avril and Bennett.
Inside is turmoil but Hawks haven't accomplished push. Outside is self explanatory. Bennett's clear. Irvin may still be caught and cleared, but he's at least turned the corner.
Kaep could step up. Instead Kaep puts his head down and begins to run toward a clear spot in the right flat. It's possible Kaep is reading one guy here but we do not yet know how effectively.
Bennett is functioning as a Condemned spell. The grasp spooks Kaep but is not likely to end his down.
Fleeing protection causes Wagner to close. Above he's on the shorter, lower horizontal of the SF "F." He didn't run at the Combine, but his quickness seems pretty dang good. Consider, Kaepernick has run away from perceived pressure and into absolute pressure, and all it cost him was any ability to read coverage.
He points. He runs parallel to the line of scrimmage and away from Wagner. He throws. At some point, perhaps because of panic, perhaps because of a kind of blinding focus, Kaepernick begins seeing his receiver and no one else. He throws. It's a pick. It's another easy pick by Richard Sherman.
Replay reveals this.
Stevie Johnson runs a quick curl, achieving little separation but some. The play goes stale. He sidles toward the sideline. Sherman turns, closes, and is in position to drive on a pass.
Johnson turns up field and runs another curl. Sherm is able to know where he is by kinda swatting at him. The pass comes in incredibly hot and so it's an incredible show of ball skills that Sherm catches this. But you know ... Richard Sherman. He does and like this:
The blur of his hands and the ball give you sense for how fast he and it are moving.
Apart from just how valuable it is to have DB's who never let a gimme go untaken, the takeaway here is Kaep really, really messed up, and twice in quick succession. One screwup creating the other.
With that interception the game was over but for some scrimmaging, some forever lost childhood memories, and NBC could transition to what really matters: awkward dinner conversation and inducement of Richard Sherman into a soundbite--as if he were a dog being commanded to "roll over."
Yes, the anatomically incorrect turkey was to be awarded because because, and if Richard Sherman's face doesn't express how you feel about all this, we probably couldn't be friends.
Allow me to put myself in the proper mindset.
... and we're off.
Michelle Tafoya announces Russell Wilson and Richard Sherman as the players of the game. She says "each take a ball," to which we get a "nice" from Wilson and drawling "yeah" from Sherman.
Wilson then asks "we get to eat dinner?" To which Tafoya Unit replies "grab a leg. Grab a leg. Dig in."
The way the legs come unattached from the Turkey is disturbing. Neither player seems exactly amped to eat the strange bird and on TV and right after playing three hours of football, but to not is gauche and so both take an exaggerated bite of skin, getting less in their mouth than a toddler might.
Wilson flashing some wit and character asks "Man, Madden make this himself?" To which spontaneity Tafoya is defenseless. She wheezes a two-pack a day "laugh," and says matter of factly "Madden didn't make this himself."
"Where's the mac and cheese? Where's the mac and cheese?" asks Wilson. Tafoya again deflects and works desperately to get back on script. Bullshit ensues.
Finally the whole point of this stupid enterprise is revealed: controversy. NBC wants their "CRABTREE!" moment. Perhaps not perfectly media savvy young men are live and on camera, and Tafoya smells blood. She sets Wilson up with some whopper of a question about celebrating on the 50-yard line, and Wilson being the professional he is, resorts to the gracious Bull Durham he's perfected. And it's possible I slipped into a minor coma because little is remembered until!
Sherm is asked a similar question.
Sherm credits his entire team, name checks everyone down to Tharold Simon, talks up his D-line and generally Russell Wilsons his way through the interview. Tafoya's visibly impatient.
"Alright, Russell didn't bite. I'm hoping you might, here," says Tafoya to Sherman. Wilson turns to the camera and smiles. Sherman expresses mild annoyance, perhaps indicating that much to national media's frustration, Richard Sherman is not in fact a trained seal. "We're on the 49ers logo! Eating turkey! Doesn't that mean anything!?" says Tafoya.
Sherm thinks. Finally says "You know ... I guess it means a little bit.
"Their fans were saying some pretty vulgar things to us earlier ... you know obviously you never want to hear that. We always ask our fans to be classy, and be a first-class organization. So sometimes you should let sleeping dogs lie or you're gonna get this."
Sherman looks a bit irritated with this spectacle and maybe unhappy he participated.
Russell Wilson is asked another fool question. Answering which he reveals that he does not know which game is next, or even if Seattle's on the road or at home. At one point and before another "one game at a time" he takes a hard swallow. As if finally after nearly three seasons, Russell Wilson is getting fed up with Russell Wilson doing the Russell Wilson schtick.
Sherm says something nice, professional. Who will eat the turkey is discussed though no one mentions the right answer "a nearby garbage can." And we're done.
John Morgan wrote and re-wrote a book about the Seahawks. It is called 100 Things Seahawks Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. I would not suggest reading it if you are about to die.