Narrative of the Game
Folks, including myself, were nervous about this game for several reasons, not the least of which was track record. The Seattle Seahawks had not won a game against the 49ers at their place since 2008, on the back of a two-touchdown performance from Leonard "Church Van" Weaver at running back and Seneca Wallace playing QB. (I still have that game on VHS.) Josh Wilson also barely outran Vernon Davis on a pick-six at the end of the second quarter.
Since then, it's been tough even under Pete Carroll, who is terrific as a road coach but the Seahawks hadn't been able to spin it into a single win on the road against the Niners. Add onto that history a short week and I just was not hopeful of a win last Thursday. This game proved that the 49ers may in fact be on a downturn.
Let me show you why.
[1st Quarter 13:41 2nd and 10 Run by Frank Gore gains 3 yards tackled by Bobby Wagner and Earl Thomas.]
If this were 2010, this would have been a huge run. The 49ers pull Alex Boone as Joe Staley blocks down. It's good execution by them but Gore stutters in the hole. Knowing he doesn't have the speed to run passed Thomas, he tries to cut up and find blocking help to pick him off. Unfortunately, Wagner works free from traffic to make the stop as Thomas streaks down to Gore to finish the play for good.
Four years ago Gore gets about eight or so out of this but because he is lacking acceleration here he can't really get a head of steam. He's had lots of trouble this year on these types of plays without the typical "Frank Gore next level gear" we're used to seeing.
The truth is Gore should probably be a 3rd-down back in this system, but with the losses of Kendall Hunter and Marcus Lattimore, the only option in this complex running system is rookie Carlos Hyde, who has shown flashes mixed in with inconsistent vision.
[1st Quarter 9:33 3rd and 5 Colin Kaepernick sacked by Cliff Avril loss of 6 yards]
This is one of Seattle's exotic calls on a rush. Michael Bennett and Avril are again tagged right, KJ Wright is down on the line of scrimmage as a blitzer. At the snap, Bennett stunts in behind Jordan Hill and Wright is going to cross over that stunt while Wagner hangs in as a spy on Kaepernick here. The complexities all go for naught as Avril just outruns Jonathan Martin's edge to pick up a sack. It does collapse the pocket though and with guys like KJ flashing around the LOS, CK is already turtling before the pressure arrives.
[1st Quarter 5:42 3rd and 8 Pass intended for Brandon Lloyd intercepted by Richard Sherman]
Sherman doesn't bite on many things and so when this double-move occurs and Kaepernick tries to look it off (Like Earl needs to help Richard) Sherman is in great position over-the-top to contest it and Lloyd still has his back to the throw when it's in the air. Sherman can adjust to the mistaken position of the throw and Lloyd is left to play defense with a nice wrap up.
This play is more of a conclusion to what had already been a series of deep shots sailed too high or poorly positioned. Kaepernick looks in between here. He's trying to see the throw before he makes it and then not using proper QB mechanics on top of poor throw selections. The truth may be stuff we can't know about, but I can't imagine that the pressure of piloting a successful franchise out of the gate has helped this kid's growth. He seems to be cracking under the pressure both on the field and off because as bad as he's been at times, he's never been this bad for this stretch in this fashion before.
[2nd Quarter 9:36 2nd and 11, Pass incomplete intended for Brandon Lloyd, Thairold Simon with the coverage]
The Niners tried several of these deep shots; this is an overload formation, no receivers right. Sherman and Byron Maxwell are fastened to Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree; Simon is outside on Lloyd. This is the best matchup but Simon doesn't get bit on this one. He stays in perfect trail and Kam Chancellor is breaking on the throw but Colin has to throw this away. Seattle rarely gets beat deep and so when it actually happens there are celebrations throughout the NFL and on several SBN blogs.
[2nd Quarter 5:40 1st and 10, Run by Gore for -2 yards. Tackled by Bobby Wagner.]
The run defense stood up for most all this game, save for like three or four plays. This one is really a demonstration of Demarcus Dobbs making sure no one can clean up Wagner. This is a smooth play and if you watch it several times you'll begin to notice there is zero drive at the line. No one is moving past the line of scrimmage for the SF O-line. Dobbs has had a part in some nice plays and this nice surge from this jumbo set with Kevin Williams and Tony McDaniel gives me some confidence going forward.
[3rd Quarter 7:19 2nd and 5 pass to Vernon Davis for 10 yards tackled by Byron Maxwell.]
Seattle chooses not to match up man-to-man against the Niners bunch formation and they bring Davis across the field. Bruce Irvin gets caught flat-footed as he stares at Kaepernick here and that creates just enough space for the pass and run after catch. Vernon has had a tough year and it's mostly due to the disappearance of his deep threat ability.
Some folks are pointing to his back injury and I think I agree. Going full out with a back issue is hard and if you watch Davis he's just not as quick nor as explosive. That said, this was an extremely nice play by both Vernon and Colin. It's just that there have been so few of them as of late. Davis has been the only vertical dimension for years in this offense. The rest of their guys have to use gimmicks to get down the field.
Without Davis at full strength San Francisco loses their one true one on one vertical threat and so the deep game is currently broken for them.
(If you're wondering where the 3rd quarter went to with just 7 minutes on the clock when I highlighted this, Seattle's offense drained 6:54 off the clock on their field goal drive.)
[3rd Quarter 1st and 10 Collin Kaepernick sacked by Bruce Irvin for -6 yards.]
This is where scrambling can hurt you as a QB. Kaep is going to get pressured by Bennett but his man contains it. For the most part on this play the pocket is good but Collin panics and scrambles. Bruce comes out of coverage as now Kaep has ultimately shrunk the field on himself and makes the sack. Big sacks for big losses have been another huge problem for the struggling 49ers offense.
[3rd Quarter 4:11 2nd and 16 Pass to Frank Gore complete for 9 yards. Tackled by Earl Thomas. Bobby Wagner with the coverage]
Thomas cleans up many messes for the defense. It's why he's where he is. If there's something to fix he's gonna do it right quick and with authority. Wagner gets a slight hesitation from Gore on the catch here and he stops all his momentum instead of exploding through a tackle. The freeze by Gore actually makes Wagner fall into a bad angle and as he reaches off-balance he ends up doing an impressive barrel roll as Gore is corralled by Earl "Lasso" Thomas, forcing a third down.
[3rd Quarter 2:03 3rd and 7 Collin Kaepernick sacked by Michael Bennett for -4 tards]
The protection for the Niners has been bad, but it's been a combo of bad play by the o-line, bad play by Kaepernick and bad play calls for situations too. In this case it's a miscommunication by the O-line between Martin and Alex Boone. This allows Bennett to rush untouched into the backfield for the sack. One of the things I noticed was when Seattle showed pressure looks Boone stood up and seemed to set the protection.
This would be because they have a young center and either Kaep can't do it or Boone is just more apt but having your right guard setting protections against pressure looks is a huge disadvantage because the center still has to dictate fan outs post snap based on rush result.
I can't know this definitively because I am not able to ask the 49ers but this sure looks like what's happening and other teams including Seattle have gone to this type of response when starting a young center.
The actual showing of blitz here produces the sack because in the other two scenarios of this down an distance the Seahawks brought the rush.
[4th Quarter 7:15 1st and 10 Pass intercepted by Richard Sherman intended for Stevie Johnson]
At first, this play looks like a designed run. I say that because of #7's run here is very aggressive. Stevie Johnson attempts a double move at the top of his route but Sherman doesn't bite on it. This looks like the gimmick play they used on the Saints. This team was mentally locked in deep and just like his last pick Sherman sees the ball well before the intended receiver.
Overview of the game:
The Seahawks were geared up to stop all the deep passes the Niners wanted. In the running game the return of Wagner and Chancellor has cleaned up some leaks in the front seven. It was stunning to see how simple the play was. Seattle left some check-downs open and had a chance to get hurt there a few times. It's the typical approach, take away Kaepernick's deep ball and force him short (within ten yards) and it's worked every game since the blowout in 2012 at home.
The game plan was executed to a T and it's the best defensive game I've ever seen in recent memory on the road. The play calling was on point too, with just the right mix of pressure and base calls to keep the Santa Clara team out of rhythm and unable to flow.
The LOB. It's hard to single out one guy when everyone played so good across the board from Sherman to Maxwell to Simon to Chancellor to Thomas, so instead I will just award this to the whole group with a slight a snorting nod to Sherman who makes the Niners fans skin crawl with rage.
I'd like to see those Illegal contact penalties dry up in a hurry against Philly next Sunday.
**GIFS are one again thanks to the outstanding Jennifer Chen.