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Seahawks 3rd Down Notebook: Near misses, the well-executed, and the extraordinary

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The Seahawks went 5 of 14 on 3rd down (36%) against the 49ers, which is not a great day, but not crippling, as Seattle was able to move the ball well in between the 20s. Notably, the 49ers have a very good defense by many of the traditional metrics, and the Seahawks were in tough situations on 3rd down, with five coming at yardages of of 11 or more.

(In a slightly related stat: Seattle has controlled the ball for an average of 35 minutes per game in the last five games. Put another way, Seattle has possessed the ball for 175 minutes of gameplay in the month of November, while their opponents controlled it for only 125 minutes.)

Seattle converted one 3rd down (not in official stats) via penalty, so they went 6 of 15 according to the way I track it. The distances look as follows:

1, 2, 2, 3, 6, 7, 7, 7 (MEDIAN), 7, 9, 12, 16, 16, 18, 22

Seattle converted a 3rd and 4, a 3rd and 6, three 3rd and 7s (one via penalty), and 3rd and 9.

Seattle is 41% on the year via the official stats (middle of the NFL) and 44% the way I track it (credits penalty conversions and excludes kneeldowns).

In a game where the defense was playing lights out, the only way the 49ers were going to get back into the game was via turnover. Seattle ran the ball on all the 3rd downs of 11+ yards (two to Marshawn Lynch, two to Russell Wilson, and one "sack" of Wilson which may have been more a "TFL"). Obviously, field position and maintaining or gaining "field goal" position was also a big factor in the game -- perhaps even more than 3rd down efficiency.

Seattle is still very bad on 3rd and 11+, but has been fairly impressive in all distances of 10 yards or less. If you told me before the season started that the numbers below would be Seattle's performance on 3rd down, I would be happy to sign up for this:

DISTANCES         ATTEMPTS          CONVERSION PERCENTAGE

1-3 YARDS           25 OF 38               66%

4-6 YARDS           20 OF 36               56%

7-10 YARDS         21 OF 47               45%

11+ YARDS          4 OF 38                 11%

TOTAL                   70 OF 159             44%

Struggles in and staying out of 3rd and 11+

If Seattle perhaps converts just one more in the each of three under-10 yard categories and perhaps 20% in the 11+ category, their 3rd down work would be very impressive indeed.

You could probably say that is true of every NFL team, but the biggest thing of note is that Seattle has done considerable work improving in the important 7-10 yard area. In the last 4 games, Seattle has gone 10 of 15 in that important area (67%) after beginning the year 11 of 31 (35%).

The next area to focus would be, I imagine, the 11 and 12 yard area, perhaps trying to get those distances converting at slightly north of 30. Seattle is in a constant quest to reduce these 11+ situations, but in all fairness -- three of the five 11+ situations against the 49ers were because of penalty, but none of them were pre-snap. One was on Lynch for "taunting", one was on Justin Britt for "clipping," and the other was on Robert Turbin for the pick play to get Paul Richardson free for the TD called back.

About 24% of Seattle's 3rd downs have been of the 11+ variety, so, on a 13-15 opportunity day -- you really want that closer to about three situations.

A few plays

A handful of the 3rd down hits and misses are detailed below...

The Near Misses

3-2-SEA 29 (7:20 1ST Q) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass incomplete short left to T.Moeaki.

Russell Wilson just throws this pass to Tony Moeaki a bit low.

The Seahawks break out of the huddle in "11" personnel (3WR, 1RB, 1TE), with Moeaki split out far left. Wilson makes the correct read on the sprint left, as Moeaki is open and they only need a short 3rd down conversion, but if you notice -- Paul Richardson is open and has leverage in man coverage rolling in the same direction as Wilson.

A few other things on this play: Niners LB Chris Borland cheats once he sees that Wilson has the ball. I believe he is supposed to carry Marshawn Lynch into the flat. The other San Francisco inside backer is the "spy" for Wilson. It's a tough throw to make -- notice Lynch is wide open on the backside -- but it's hard to see that through the clutter. Ultimately, I think Wilson makes the right call here. I believe his progression is something like Moeaki, Doug Baldwin, Richardson, then Lynch.

He just needs to hit the throw, and he can. Lynch being open on the backside is something I am sure the Seattle coaches upstairs look for as the game progresses.

3-7-SEA 25 (2:40 2ND Q) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass incomplete short middle to J.Kearse (C.Dahl).

Seattle has improved on specifically 3rd and exactly 7 yards in the last 4-5 games after going "0-Fer" from that distance well into the season.

For this look, the Seahawks are in their trips-left read-option look with Jermaine Kearse in the near slot. Tony Moeaki gets vertical in his strong-right in-line position. Lynch releases into the flat.

The protection is decent, not great -- even though I believe Russell Okung false starts here and they do not throw the flag. The 49ers blitz five in pressure.

I'm not sure this if this is a bad play by Kearse to not come up with an acceptable throw by Russell, or just a better play by the defender.

Perhaps Wilson could lead him a tad bit more.

One thing I did notice, and perhaps Wilson has a bit more time than he thinks, I believe he has Moeaki open on the corner route.

The Well-Executed

3-7-SF 34 (3:02 1ST Q) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass short middle to D.Baldwin to SF 10 for 24 yards (P.Cox) [J.Smith]. Caught at SF 26. 16-yds YAC

Seattle initially shows a trips-left read-option look, but then motions Baldwin back across to the right side. The protection is pretty poor, as Okung gets flat-out beat by Justin Smith on a four-man rush.

No one is really open on this play, but Doug does an amazing job of starting and stopping in his route as he navigates through the underneath zone. I think Niners' linebacker #57 Wilhoite blows it here a bit, he is in position but breaks a bit deep to follow the TE.

Wilson and Baldwin are on the same page here as Baldwin stops and then starts again to sneak behind Borland.  I believe Wilson thinks WIlhoite is breaking on the ball and he leaves it high for Baldwin, but Baldwin is able to get YAC as WIlhoite has over-committed. Wilson does not have split second more, as he gets hit by Justin Smith, but just a great play to get in sync with Baldwin.

This is a big 3rd down conversion, which sets up the game's only touchdown.

3-4-SEA 41 (12:58 3RD Q) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass short middle to P.Richardson to SEA 47 for 6 yards (M.Wilhoite). Caught at SEA 43. 4-yds YAC

This was a nice play in the middle of Seattle's scoring drive to begin the 3rd quarter. Seattle is approaching midfield with a manageable 3rd and 4. Seattle is in "11" personnel with a "doubles" look, and Lynch offset right.  The two defensive backs on Baldwin and Richardson (both left side) are conceding the underneath flat route as they have an underneath zone with their linebackers. It's just too much space and Moeaki comes across to impede Borland as Richardson crosses Borland's face.

A really good play by a linebacker (perhaps Bowman or Willis) and P-Rich does not gain the necessary yards here -- but he shows some wiggle and he gets an important six yards. 

3-7-SF 40 (13:11 4TH Q) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass short right to L.Willson to SF 32 for 8 yards (C.Borland). Caught at SF 46. 14-yds YAC

Chris Borland had 70 tackles in the month of November, and was credited for a tackle on this play -- but it should have gone for a gain of 5, not 9. The 49ers again try to blitz CB Johnson #36, to put a fast player in Wilson's face, but Seattle is ready and likely expecting blitz on 3rd and 8.

Luke Willson chip blocks and then hides in the weeds, only to release into the flat.

Russell Wilson stutters to hold the rushers and then lofts an easy pass to Luke Willson. These are types of plays where Luke Willson can do something for you -- grabs a relatively easy pass, and shows athleticism and speed to run and click his heels to avoid Borland's ankle biting prowess.

The Extraordinary

3-9-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

Probably only one player in the NFL completes this play in this manner.

The 49ers dial up a sweet disguised cornerback blitz that is well timed, and they pick the perfect gap. Most quarterbacks would be DOA, but Wilson eludes Johnson not once, but twice (with assistance from Lem Jeanpierre). What else can be said here? Wilson swings Seattle from a likely punt situation (or worse) from deep in their territory to knocking on the door step for another score.

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