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Reloaded: This Week in Defense - the NFC Championship Game

DK Note: From the archives -- Joshua wrote and published this article about the Seahawks' defensive performance in the NFC Championship Game back on January 27th, during the week before the Super Bowl. Whether you missed it the first time around or just need a refresher, hopefully you enjoy it.


Narrative of the game:

We all know what the local and national media talk was going into the game. San Francisco is hot, they're more talented; Seattle's offense has been struggling. It was almost all about how the Seahawks would lose this game except for the few who said the venue was too big of an advantage for the Seahawks.

If any of you had the misfortune of following me on Twitter (@Darthkripple) you'd have seen that I thought the narrative was bogus and I spent nearly three days attacking it. In Seattle, there was tension, and fans tried to ease it by remembering the 2005 NFC Championship Game against the Panthers, but there was an undercurrent of doubt. You could feel it all the way until gametime and even after kickoff. I didn't feel it change until Seattle broke out of their slump with a field goal five minutes before the half.

Regardless, let's take a look at why all that stress was for nothing, shall we?

[1st Qtr 13:32 3rd and 6] C.Kaepernick up the middle to SEA 7 for 4 yards (B.Wagner).

This play was really a pre-cursor to what we would see in the game. I have to say, this is where I think the 49ers tried again to out think the Seahawks. They also know that Collin Kaepnernick struggles the most in the redzone. Taking the ball out of the air plays right into this big strong defenses' hands with a QB draw right up the middle.

The play, which originally looks pretty promising, is stuffed by Bobby Wagner, who goes right through the block of Vernon Davis to finish the play. It's really a good snapshot of how Wagner changed up his game after those two tough games against the Bucs and Rams earlier this season.

I don't think he was afraid to go through blocks like some inferred, but I do think at times he wasn't sure and then his indecision caused him to get blocked or to slide out of his gap. In this play, you see perfect technique once he identifies the run and he gets underneath Davis, who can't maintain his leverage for the block. This stop was key after such a tough turnover.

[2nd Qtr 14:49 1st and 10] (Shotgun) C.Kaepernick pass incomplete short left to A.Boldin (B.Maxwell).

Maxwell got a majority of the work in the game in terms of sideline throws, as we know. This play is great because while Anquan Boldin is probably the strongest in the game in running off coverage, working his way back to the ball, then creating just enough separation with a push off, Maxwell is able to hang right with him then punch the football out after he makes the catch. Great ball skills by Maxwell.

I need some opinion on this though, as it looks to me that Boldin feels the contact from Maxwell and starts to hunch over as he tries to make the catch and Maxwell makes contact with the ball, I could be exaggerating though, anyone see the same thing?

[2nd Qtr 12:35 1st and 10] C.Kaepernick scrambles right tackle to SEA 10 for 58 yards (K.Chancellor).

Kaepernick breaks it huge here. The Seahawks make a mistake in rush, bunching up with Clinton McDonald swinging wide. McDonald, who still almost makes the play, now gives CK the perfect running lane with all the defenders spread away from the middle of the field. This gives CK the chance to run unmolested in a straight line where his speed is most effective. With a few poor pursuit angles, Kaep is into the open field.

Fortunately for Seattle, Kam Chancellor makes the stop (and could have hilariously pantsed CK), but the ensuing set of downs results in a touchdown nonetheless.

I tipped my hat to Chancellor for sticking with it and running down this play. Chancellor's a guy that's gone from being pulled in key nickel and dime packages at times last year to a full time strong safety and one of the best in the league.

[2nd Qtr 5:18 3rd and 12] (Shotgun) C.Kaepernick pass short left to Q.Patton to SF 20 for 2 yards (E.Thomas).

The Seahawks are spread out here and this is a typical San Francisco look on long yardage downs. At the snap, most of the routes run off the coverage and Quinton Patton runs a shallow cross underneath. This being long yardage is huge, but check how quick the throw time to Earl Thomas' missile-shot of a tackle is.

He diagnosed it, and if you watch the play on the broadcast angle, he's not even in the picture when the ball is thrown. By the time it arrives, Earl is there, making the tackle. Patton gains maybe two yards, and the Seahawks eliminate that play. The 49ers weren't too enthused with the idea of passing though, and so these crossing patterns, no matter their depth, became very obvious by the third quarter. I'll show some of that in a few plays.

[3rd Qtr 14:18 2nd and 11] (Shotgun) C.Kaepernick pass short middle to A.Boldin to SF 26 for 6 yards (K.Chancellor).

After a swing run fails and Tony McDaniel forces a one yard loss, the offensive brain trust for the 49ers continues to try and make it easy for Kaepernick to throw into a space. Again, the Seahawks are spread out and CK immediately throws to Boldin who picks up six, but check out the diagnosis and play by Chancellor.

If you have a team spreading you out, your safeties have to play perfect football to find success. You can watch as Chancellor sees this play develop and he reacts to it; this is clearly something he's seen on film because he's attacking Boldin the whole way here. The 49ers clearly wanted to try and eliminate risk in the passing game here, but it's clear that Seattle was ready for how they would adapt.

This kind of play also bodes well for their up coming opponent in the Broncos.

[3rd Qtr 6:39 2nd and 8] (Shotgun) C.Kaepernick pass deep middle to A.Boldin for 26 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

This throw by Colin Kaepernick to Anquan Boldin is Brett Favre-esque, a total dart on a rope to the endzone. If you watch the formations, the read and response by the secondary, based on the look they got, was right.

Boldin has gotten open a few times this year deep because teams just assume the deeper route isn't going to be going to him, but here, the deep route is correctly released to Earl, and for the second week in a row he misses a pick just barely.

If you'll allow me a few assumptions, I think the velocity confused Earl a bit here, and he just over runs it. He's in perfect position for it, and if he continues to step back he's got a better shot at this than Boldin does. This is also a throw that Peyton Manning can't get away with, as his velocity makes the football catch a little more air on deep throws.

[4th Qtr 13:37 1st and 10] C.Kaepernick pass incomplete deep left to A.Boldin (B.Maxwell).

Kaepernick attempts a back-shoulder sideline shot to Boldin, but it's broken up by Byron Maxwell. I love this play because it's the perfect illustration of Boldin's subtle work of pushing off - watch the shove on Maxwell's shoulder - but the kid hangs in there to challenge the pass.

Boldin is famous for this throughout his career, and I've watched him do this since his Arizona days, so I haven't complained, but I wanted to make note of it here in case people wanted to be sure that the game was equally called.

[4th Qtr 10:36 3rd and 6] (Shotgun) C.Kaepernick sacked at SF 23 for -6 yards (C.Avril). FUMBLES (C.Avril) [C.Avril], RECOVERED by SEA-M.Bennett at SF 23. M.Bennett to SF 6 for 17 yards (A.Snyder).

Avril gets a strip sack. The guy's play is always better in those closing quarters it seems, and the fact that he and Bennett - two of the bigger free agent gets this offseason - were in on this together makes it all the more smile inducing.

When the Seahawks signed Bennett, I said people had no idea the potential he had in the system. Even better, it's been compounded with the addition of Cliff Avril, as you'll see on the final play of this piece.

However, lets get back to this play because Dan Quinn likes to put strain on an offensive line with looks not necessarily bringing, but showing pressure combined with a good line stunt. This play is actually set up because of the look on the previous down where Malcolm Smith lined up at the LOS and came inside on a blitz. It's nullified by the delay of game, but Quinn shows the same look and this time Malcolm bails out.

I think this confused CK, who was looking to throw quickly. The tackle, Anthony Davis, doesn't get beat here as he forces Avril wide. Kaepernick strafes sideways, which gives the pursuing Avril the run at a strip sack. Bennett is working himself toward where CK is running as well, and follows the play perfectly as the ball is slapped free.

[4th Qtr 7:50 1st and 10] C.Kaepernick pass short left intended for A.Boldin INTERCEPTED by K.Chancellor at SF 40. K.Chancellor to SF 40 for no gain (A.Boldin).

Kam Chancellor has had such an impact but most of it will go unnoticed because of how NFL cameras take in a football game. He's been a force on those clearing patterns and basically spent all day erasing Vernon Davis from the game, exemplified by my favorite (but unspotlighted) play, where he obliterated Davis on a crosser creating an incomplete pass.

This play is just a result of how cool he was during the game. Kaepernick throws this right to Chancellor, but as I noted with Thomas earlier, you have to sometimes continue to work back toward the sideline. Kam works his feet back instead of freezing in place after the throw. If he doesn't take that extra backpedal it's got a great shot at being completed.

[4th Qtr :40 1st and 10] No Huddle, Shotgun) C.Kaepernick pass deep right intended for M.Crabtree INTERCEPTED by M.Smith (R.Sherman) at SEA 0. Touchback.

This is the play that defined a season for the Seahawks. Nothing has been easy for this team - only four of their now 15 victories are blow out wins, and several wins were comebacks, including this one.

This play made almost made it impossible to sit down and take apart and explain the rest of this game. I felt personally as if I had a mental block, where the only thing my brain would even consider was this play. It was actually pretty frustrating as someone who prides himself on being able to be level headed and walk folks through the good and the bad.

Well, here it is, the play that sent the Seahawks to the Superbowl. The 49ers are driving and it's pretty simple to see what Seattle wants to do and what the 49ers don't; Pete Carroll and Dan Quinn want Redzone Kaep here, that's what was is my head.

What gets lost on the tip and the result is two things:

1) The Pass rush: People looked at that closing drive and just imagine no pass rush, but on this play Michael Bennett pulls the right guard inside on a wicked spin move, the offensive line are kind of playing in between and with all the space cleared by the sliding guard Avril is able to get a good inside rush against Davis.

CK apparently feels this, but because he has already predetermined to throw, he kind of chucks it, but his arm looks funny. I couldn't see if maybe he double clutched or just hurried, but Avril's rush gives CK no time to pull it down or make another read.

2) Malcolm Smith trails this play once the ball is in the air. Most guys don't or wait too long or hurry once they see opportunity. He trails this at full speed and then came to a stop on a dime and pulls in the tip by Sherman, this isn't as easy as he made it look.

Danny took on the mechanics of the play in a great piece for SBN earlier in the week, which continued to make me contemplate this play for hours on end instead of the entire game. Thanks Danny.

Overview of the game:

This game was another impressive performance by the Seahawk defense. No crowd noise was needed in this game as they were on point and technically sound throughout most of the football game.

Save for two plays that I noted, which ended in touchdowns, (and probably couldn't have been accomplished by anyone other than Collin Kaepernick), Seattle had a great defensive outing and matched up about as perfectly as I have ever seen a defense do.

The 49er coaches looked scared to throw the ball, and used designed runs to try and catch Seattle off guard early. If you remember the long tipped pass from last year and the swing run that opened the game this year, Jim Harbaugh and his offensive staff look to always be trying to catch this team off guard. It just didn't look like Seattle ever got off its amazing performance, no matter how many bunts the team laid down to try and disturb the defensive rhythm.

Game Ball:

Kam Chancellor gets it. The 49ers were hell bent on not throwing deep, and so Kam Chancellor had to work to take a lot of shorter throws and crossing patters away. He had several highlights, including a few hits a tackles on Vernon Davis who is his bestest enemy. I glowed on him through out the piece here and it's a well deserved game ball for Kam.

Chancellor split this honor last week with Bobby Wagner, and while I could make the case to do it again, how can I when Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin were non-factors for most of that football game as a direct result of his play? Hint: I can't.

Needs work:

The only thing I could say here is that Seattle needed to be a bit more sound in containing the scrambles of Kaepernick. This would be hard to work on in the Superbowl, considering you have the most immobile QB of all time (Maybe Drew Bledsoe is worse) to work against.

So I really have nothing useful to put here coming out of this football game.