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Shane Waldron has no answers for the 49ers defense

The 49ers defense is tough to crack, but you’d think you’d be able to succeed at least once.

Washington Commanders v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

I know, I know. The headline is wide open to change for exaggerated comedic effect.

We’re in Year 3 of the Shane Waldron experience as Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator. In his first season, Seattle swept the San Francisco 49ers, only for the 49ers to return the favor (with interest) in the following season. Thursday’s heavy Thanksgiving defeat makes another sweep all but inevitable, and it’s just a matter of what the final score will be.

A common theme in these six games (yes, including the wins) is how generally inept the Seahawks offense has looked against a great defense. There have been some moments where the Seahawks defense has actually played reasonably well against a potent 49ers offense, albeit with some heavy aiding of injuries along the way. The Waldron offense, however? Nope.

Let’s take a trip down memory lane...

2021: Seahawks 28, 49ers 21

The key stats: 234 total yards | 4.3 yards per play | 2/10 on 3rd down | 7 three-and-outs | 0 turnovers

This is pre-Russell Wilson finger injury, mind you. It’s about as deceptive a 28-point effort as you’re likely to see. Seattle began the game with five consecutive three-and-outs, but the defense prevented an early blowout. Wilson and company finally got into gear with touchdowns on either side of halftime, and then were gifted a 14-yard drive after a fumbled kickoff.

Here’s some Wilson magic masquerading as effective, in-rhythm offense.

Seattle’s final TD drive was aided by consecutive drive-extending 3rd down penalties, but capped off by the late Alex Collins scoring on a 16-yard run.

Russell Wilson was 16/23 for just 149 yards but he did account for 3 TDs and didn’t turn it over.

2021: Seahawks 30, 49ers 23

The key stats: 327 total yards* | 4.8 yards per play | 5/15 on 3rd down | 4 three-and-outs* | 3 turnovers

Gerald Everett’s three-turnover disasterclass aside, this was another deceptive performance by the Seahawks offense. Almost a quarter of Seattle’s offensive output in this game was Travis Homer’s 73-yard fake punt touchdown. Without the fake punt, this would’ve been a three-and-out possession.

Seattle had five plays lose yards just in the 1st quarter, including a sack-fumble combo that put the Seahawks in 2nd and 43. Wilson did produce some great throws to DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, plus the TD to Dee Eskridge, but the defense held the 49ers to 0 2nd half points and even scored a safety. Seattle’s last touchdown drive only went 28 yards.

When Russell Wilson goes 30/37, it’s not supposed to be for only 231 yards.

This was the part of the season where Seattle let Adrian Peterson be RB1 over Rashaad Penny.

2022: 49ers 27, Seahawks 7

The key stats: 216 total yards | 4.6 yards per play | 2/7 on 3rd down | 2 three-and-outs | 3 turnovers (1 on special teams)

Zero points scored. The Seahawks offense put up 0 points in Geno Smith’s first start against San Francisco. By far the best chance they had at scoring was off a deep shot to Tyler Lockett, which set up this formation:

Seattle didn’t reach 49ers territory again until garbage time.

2022: 49ers 21, Seahawks 13

The key stats: 267 total yards | 4.5 yards per play | 4/13 on 3rd down | 5 three-and-outs | 1 turnover

If last night’s game felt familiar, it’s because the Seahawks basically did the exact same thing in the 2022 home loss. No first downs until the 2nd quarter, a critical fumble lost by a backup running back (albeit not on special teams), and humongous pressure in Geno Smith’s face. At least this group got a touchdown late to make the scoreline artificially close, but otherwise the 49ers held them in check without much difficulty.

2023 Playoffs: 49ers 41, Seahawks 23

The key stats: 332 total yards | 5.2 yards per play | 6/13 on 3rd down | 2 three-and-outs | 2 turnovers

This is genuinely the only competent performance I believe the Seahawks have ever had against the 49ers under Waldron. Both three-and-outs were early in the game, after which they did a good job of sustaining drives and converting on 3rd down. Hell, Seattle had a 17-16 halftime lead as a heavy underdog!

Then Geno got strip-sacked down 23-17 and the rest is history. Seattle still didn’t cross the 300-yard threshold until the garbage time touchdown to DK Metcalf. Any semblance of competent defense makes that a closer game, but the offense pretty much got figured out after halftime anyway.

This is really the only “good” Geno Smith performance against San Francisco, and even that fizzled out following the fumble.

2023 regular season: 49ers 31, Seahawks 13

The key stats: 220 total yards | 4.0 yards per play | 3/11 on 3rd down | 4 three-and-outs | 2 turnovers (1 on special teams)

Now to be fair, not all of this is on Waldron. When the offensive line is unable to pick up a basic stunt, DK Metcalf drops catchable passes, Geno Smith throws bad out-route balls, Gerald Everett fumbles a touchdown into an interception, your best running back is injured, you’ve got some issues that are down to player execution. But by Stathead’s tally, the Seahawks have put up only 12 touchdowns on 67 drives and have punted roughly half the time. Only 15 of their drives have gained more than 50 yards, and collectively the Seahawks have been consistently held below the average yards per play the 49ers typically give up.

If this problem transcends quarterbacks, offensive lines, and skill position players on the roster, then you have to point to the coaching staff. The Waldron hire has not been a disaster in totality, but he does not appear to be up to the task in the long-term.