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Cigar Thoughts, Game 3: Seahawks invite 49ers over for tea, punch them in the head for three hours instead

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The Seahawks stagnant offense explodes in lopsided victory over rival 49ers

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Once upon a time, the Seahawks and the 49ers had the best rivalry in the NFL and it wasn’t particularly close. That was less than four years ago, but if it seems longer than that it’s because these two teams haven’t been particularly close, either. It started on a rainy winter night in Seattle, when Kam Chancellor hit Vernon Davis so hard you could see his soul leave his body on impact.

In the nine meetings since Kam effectively ended Vernon’s career, Seattle is 8-1 against San Fran and have outscored the Niners 233-96, an average final tally of 25-10. When they play in Seattle over that same stretch, the Seahawks are 6-0 and have outscored San Francisco 177-71.

Put simply, the 49ers have had as much chance against the Seahawks as a mouse in a piranha tank.

Today’s match-up was simply a continuation of the battle between hammer and nail, with the Seahawks cruising out to a 37-3 lead and holding on for a 37-18 victory after a couple of late, cosmetic 49ers TDs. It was the performance we’ve been waiting for, with the ‘Hawks looking polished and determined in every aspect of the game. After starting the game with an ambulance ball to Christine Michael, Russell Wilson locked in like a sniper for the rest of his day. He hit Doug Baldwin for 34 yards on the next snap, the first of many hook-ups with Seattle’s WR1-come-lately. That play was followed up by the best run of C-Mike’s career, as he careened through every level of the Niners’ defense on a 41-yard touchdown sprint.

Earlier this year I talked about how Michael has lived on the cusp of busting the big one without ever breaking through and indeed, that scamper was the first rushing touchdown of his enigmatic career. A fluke it was not, however, as he stomped all over the San Fran defense early, totaling 72 yards and adding a second TD run before the first quarter even ended. He ran with savage decisiveness, gold chains wobbling near his knees as he stunted around defenders with powerful cuts and a nigh-inhuman body lean. It was 14-0 in a blink, and that’s the closest the 49ers would get the rest of the way.

I think many of us came into this one with a similar uneasiness. I know I, for one, felt a hopeful trepidation where the belief in Seattle’s talent superiority was coated in a not-so-thin layer of “yeah but” stemming from anemic offensive performance through two weeks. The Seahawks have been as good as anyone in the NFL over the past four years, but we had yet to see them act like it this season. All of that doubt went out the window in this one, as Seattle looked every bit the contender against Chip Kelly’s new-look-but-still-actually-pretty-bad 49ers team.

With the offensive line consistently winning up front, Wilson was able to find a rhythm and began immediately harmonizing with Jimmy Graham. Graham, as you know, has been slowly but miraculously working his way back from one of the most debilitating knee injuries you can suffer. Despite being carted off the field just ten months ago, he emerged from the depths as the game-changing leviathan Seattle thought they were getting when they traded for him prior to last year. After catching two contested passes over the middle (and absorbing big ol’ hits each time), Graham skied for a deep jump ball in double coverage, out-beasting the defenders for a 40-yard gain. A couple plays later, he found an opening in the endzone on a (yay) Russell Wilson scramble for his first touchdown of the year. Graham logged six catches for 100 yards and that score on seven targets in the first half alone. If this Jimmy Graham is the one Seattle’s getting for the rest of the year, an already potent offense just added a coverage nightmare.

With the sky lit by the Jimmy Graham supernova, Baldwin streaked across it like a comet. I, like many, wondered if Baldwin’s stellar play last season would continue once defenses began keying on him. Through three games, I can safely say that doubt has been kicked out of the house and the locks on the doors changed. Baldwin logged a devilish 164 yards and a touchdown on eight catches, and Seattle’s efficiency when targeting him are insane. Get this, throwing to Doug Baldwin this season has netted the following line:

20-27 (74.1%), 276 yards (10.3 Y/A), 2 TDs, and a passer rating of 131.1

Doug Baldwin is completely unguardable right now and, combined with a healthy Russell Wilson, is capable of busting through any ceiling that anyone has ever set on his career like Wonka’s great glass elevator. Now, about that whole “healthy Russell Wilson” thing. For the second time in the last 15 days, Wilson was hobbled by a defender. The first injury was maybe a little happenstance, as Ndamukong Suh presumably inadvertently stepped on his right ankle. Today’s scare, however, came from a vicious horse-collar/facemask-pulling takedown during which I swear Russ’ shin broke in half.

And, for the second time in 15 days, Seahawks fans found their stomachs in knots as Wilson’s body lay crumpled on Century Link Field. Nonetheless, Wilson hopped back up and after spending exactly one snap working his leg out on the sideline, he returned to the game and continued bludgeoning the Niners before giving way to Trevone Boykin with a 30-3 lead. We’ll have to wait on the official word with Wilson’s leg but it sounds like plugging Seattle’s rookie backup QB in was the plan all along if the ‘Hawks got up big.

Boykin, for his part, was 7-9 for 65 yards and his first career touchdown, a strike to Baldwin that he quixotically followed up with a goofy interception. His final line was pretty good but I think the real value in his performance was a chance to run the actual offense against an actual first-team NFL defense and I thought he acquitted himself nicely.

All of these superfluous offensive efforts were made possible because the O-line looked excellent. They sealed off their blocks in the run game and kept Wilson upright and comfortable* on nearly every dropback. Michael had time to hit full speed before contact and even rookie Alex Collins was able to chip in 12 yards on four carries. Collins has been a special runner at every level of football so far, but I think it’s pretty clear he lacks the explosion that Michael and Rawls possess. Still, great to see him get some work. It remains to see if this type of performance can be replicated by Seattle’s tattered quilt of an offensive line, but today’s effort may have added the extra stitching needed to keep this unit together. All told, the Seahawks racked up 418 yards at 6.4 yards/play clip. I’ll take that any day against anybody. Great work from Cable’s guys.

*Even the hit that injured Wilson came after he escaped a fairly clean pocket and decided to run instead of throwing the ball away.

Somehow we’ve made it this far without talking about Seattle’s defense, which continued to play like the most suffocating, connected unit in the NFL. In their first 11 drives of the game, the 49ers managed a measly three points and went 1-10 on third down. At that point, the Seahawks defense had been on the field for 34 opponents’ drives on the season and had allowed exactly one touchdown. Carlos Hyde would add a couple of short TDs in the last few minutes when the game was well out of reach, but even those did little to mask the domination by the defense in blue. They held San Fran to 104 yards in the first half and just 254 overall. They have yet to allow an opponent to gain 300 yards and even with the late scores, are giving up fewer than 13 points per game.

They’ve dominated opposing rushers as they do every year, but the most outstanding part of their defense is the one that plagued them so inopportunely last season: pass defense. Check it- here’s how opposing teams have done through the air against Seattle this season:

Week 1 - 150 yards, 0 TDs
Week 2 - 219 yards, 0 TDs
Week 3 - 119 yards, 0 TDs

The Seahawks defense, four-time defending NFL scoring champs, fits every definition of elite, subjective or otherwise. They don’t get a lot of sacks (0 today) or turnovers (first of the season came in this one), but their dedication to their assignments and unmatched tackling have them playing at a championship level. If the offense even sniffs the type of upper-echelon consistency that this D has, look the hell out America.

The Seahawks were excellent on third down today, something they’ve been frustratingly inept at so far in 2016, going 9-14 and keeping the chains moving. The result was possession for 60% of the game, ensuring that the Niners never got a chance to climb back into it.

In the first half, the Seahawks continued to hoard penalties like they’re on an A&E special but cleaned up their act in the second half and finished with a surprisingly normal six fouls for 50 yards. Wouldn’t mind seeing that continue.

And while it’s too early to scoreboard-watch with any urgency, it brings me great pleasure that the Cardinals got their brains beat in by the Bills to the chagrin of their pompous, stubbed toe of a head coach. All in all, a pretty nice lil Sunday.

From here, the Seahawks head to New York for a battle with the Jets, who turned the ball over eight times against the Chiefs today. A win next week sends the team into a much-needed early bye week at 3-1. Onward, upward.

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