Six days after a crushing loss to the Atlanta Falcons at home, the Seattle Seahawks traveled to San Francisco and defeated the 49ers 24-13. For the Seahawks, Russell Wilson again carried them on offense through both the air and on the ground, throwing two touchdowns and running for a third. For San Francisco, it was an ugly game in which they only looked capable of moving the ball when Carlos Hyde heated up to begin the second half.
The win moves Seattle to 4-0 inside the division and keeps them in the hunt for either the NFC West title or a wildcard berth. It started ugly - with a Wilson interception on the first play from scrimmage - but the Seahawks bounced back to play a tidy game in all three phases.
Bradley McDougald’s best Kam Chancellor impression
Last week I spoke to Pewter Report’s Trevor Sikkema about Bradley McDougald’s time as a Buccaneer, and what to expect from him in Kam Chancellor’s role. Coming away from that study and conversation, the biggest concern was his anticipation and play recognition. Playing in the underneath (hook/curl) zone in Seattle’s defense, breaking on passes is massively important to stop any yards after the catch.
On San Francisco's opening possession, they faced a third down and C.J. Beathard hit George Kittle underneath - at the same time as McDougald. His arrival essentially with the ball was a great moment of play recognition. The rest of Sunday’s win was filled with strong play from McDougald. His athleticism is obvious, making three tackles in the open field, flying into the backfield to trip up Carlos Hyde, and nearly getting to a tipped ball for an interception. On the edge, he was impressive holding up against the much bigger Kittle, shedding his blocker to get to the ball. If his first start at strong safety last week was discouraging, Sunday’s performance was a big step in the right direction.
Nazair Jones, the new Clinton McDonald
Since Clinton McDonald’s departure following the Seahawks’ triumph in Super Bowl XLVIII, Seattle has lacked a player to fill his role. A fourth pass rush option, inside, that can chip in five sacks a season that the defense wouldn’t get from anywhere else. In 2014 it seemed like it was going to be Jordan Hill, but injuries took their toll. In Nazair Jones, Seattle has finally found their McDonald replacement.
Still averaging under 40-percent of snaps on a weekly basis, Jones has begun stacking tackles for loss, showing up in the backfield once a game. After forcing the 49ers’ offense off the field on their second possession - again being in the backfield before he had any business being there - Jones is up to four tackles for loss, to go along with his two sacks, an interception, a fumble recovery and three pass breakups. In the preseason, his versatility appeared to be the thing that got him on the field as early as week one. In the subsequent 12 weeks, it’s his penchant for showing up in the backfield that’s keeping him out there.
Defensive line rotation
A great game from the rotational players along the defensive line, at just the right time. I was critical of the decision to release Dwight Freeney last week, particularly over players such as Quinton Jefferson and Garrison Smith. But with a performance like Marcus Smith’s on Sunday, Freeney’s departure becomes a whole lot easier to swallow. Without Dion Jordan against San Francisco, Smith became the team’s first option as a rotational defensive end and he responded with a great game, totaling three pressures, two quarterback hits, a sack and a forced fumble.
Across from Smith, Branden Jackson showed up with a strong game as well, getting a sack of his own with a beautiful move against Joe Staley. Faking inside, Jackson exploded outside of Staley’s frame, getting around him easily and getting to Beathard. As Seattle gets deeper into the season, Jordan, Smith and Jackson will likely start seeing more time on early downs; games like Sunday’s will only help that cause.
In recent weeks, I’ve come around on the idea of replacing defensive coordinator Kris Richard at the end of the season. It almost certainly won’t happen - Richard is a Pete Carroll-prodigy and beloved by the defense’s veterans - but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t happen. Sunday’s win over San Francisco was a shining example of my biggest reason for why.
Richard’s lack of in-game adjustments has been an issue since his first season as defensive coordinator, and it showed up again. The 49ers’ vulnerability upfront was obvious from the opening possession, with both Sheldon Richardson and Michael Bennett getting pressure immediately. Little was done to take advantage of it, however. The Seahawks hardly ever brought extra pressure, instead relying on a four-man rush. Instead of letting the pass rush take over the game, like Arizona did in their five-sack performance against the 49ers three weeks ago, Richard and Seattle allowed Beathard time to throw again and again.
In the case of offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, it’s the lack of ingenuity and playing to the strengths of the team’s playmakers. On a failed third-and-five pass, Jimmy Graham ran a simple slant - he dropped it - but had he caught it, the Seahawks would’ve been three yards short of the first anyway. The depth of the route has to be adjusted in situations like that, and it comes back to coaching. Graham, J.D. McKissic and C.J. Prosise (when healthy) represent three incredibly difficult mismatches for defenses. Instead of exploiting that, Bevell too often lets opposing defenses off the hook with vanilla play-calling.
Running Back check-in
Eddie Lacy finished with 46 yards on 17 carries. It would’ve been a better figure if Seattle kept him running north-south, and not going back to outside runs with him. It doesn’t make much sense, so you bet the Bevell is going to dial it up.
McKissic was shot out of a cannon to the tune of 5.75 yards per touch. His position, and role, remains undefined, but it’s abundantly clear McKissic should get a handful of touches every game. Matched up against a linebacker in coverage or stretching the field threatening to turn the corner on an outside run is a frightening proposition for any defense.
Thomas Rawls had zero carries on just a single snap. It’s his second active-but-no-carries game of the season, matching his two games as a healthy scratch. If the Seahawks’ plan is to piss him off as much as possible, only to unleash him on the NFL in mid-December… well I’m going to want to see how that ends.
Odds and Ends:
- After seeing the payoff during the last two games for all the early season jet sweeps called to Tyler Lockett, it was interesting to see them go back to it again on Sunday. A good way of keeping actual jet sweeps on recent film for opposing teams, keeping them honest for the next time a payoff play gets called.
- Sheldon Richardson continues to be Seattle’s best defensive lineman and will get paid as such. By the Seahawks.
- Two straight games with a pass breakup for Neiko Thorpe, who is set to be the first player in NFL history* to be named an All-Pro at both cornerback and as a special teamer.
*I don’t know if this is true but you won’t tell me otherwise.
Seattle will now return home to welcome the NFC-leading Philadelphia Eagles in prime-time next Sunday, while the NFC West-leading L.A. Rams will close out their season series against the Cardinals.