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Reloaded: This Week in Defense - Niners at Seahawks

Otto Greule Jr

DK Note: As we Field Gulls writers go through the tape and break down the win over New Orleans, then look forward to San Francisco, I thought I would re-load Josh's look at the Week 2 matchup between the Hawks and Niners. Though it's far enough in the past now that it really doesn't offer much predictive value for next weekend, it's a good refresher for the last game these two teams played at the CLink. I'll likely be taking a look at the matchup at Candlestick, which had a less-awesome outcome, later this week. This was originally published on Sept. 18th.

A few notes: Seattle's defense was without Brandon Browner, Bruce Irvin, and Chris Clemons. The Niners were without Michael Crabtree.


Narrative of the game:

A lot of folks were touting the Seahawks' defense heading into this game, saying that despite the Niners' performance against the Packers, the Legion Of Boom would be locking down the high-powered barrage San Francisco displayed in Week 1. I noted on twitter that San Fransisco had used a lot of specific gimmicks (stack/bunch) and motions to put both Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis into favorable matchups, and the Packers couldn't respond and had significant weaknesses in their secondaries.

Most people thought it would be a tough game but seemed confident in the defense and the 12th man. The best summation of the thoughts by those of us that have broken down Seattle vs San Fransisco games over the past few seasons came to us from Hawk Blogger, when he broke down how San Francisco was yet to solve Seattle's defense.

Here's what I found from my tape study:

3rd and Goal (8:49 1st quarter) (Shotgun) C.Kaepernick pass short left intended for V.Davis INTERCEPTED by E. Thomas (W.Thurmond) at SEA 1. E.Thomas to SEA 12 for 11 yards (A.Boldin).

Earl Thomas' interception was a key play after the disaster that was the blocked punt, after which coach Pete Carroll indicated that even the Head Official had heard the whistle which caused some players to stand and stop playing.

Regardless, what I like on this play is just the awareness and short area speed Thurmond shows to flash in and deflect this errant pass by Colin Kaepernick. Earl fields the deflection but this is the typical soft zone drift that Pete likes to play in the Red Zone.


Why most teams fail to run this effectively is most DBs have trouble driving on the football because they tend to settle themselves in the zone like a stick in the mud. Thurmond drifts back but never sets his feet, keeping his head on a swivel - and once he sees the ball thrown he drives and gets the deflection. He never really stopped moving on the play.

3rd and 16](5:27 1st Quarter) (Shotgun) C.Kaepernick pass short right to K.Williams to SF 40 for 7 yards (R.Sherman).

I made sure to mention this play specifically because Richard Sherman played the underneath route beautifully., tackling Kyle Williams well short of a first down.

These type of plays are the staple of the current structure of the 49er offense, clearing space and making a high percentage underneath throw. Sherman sees this while playing off coverage, and basically comes up like a third safety and makes a form tackle.

These were the type of plays Seattle needed to control which the Packers were unable to control a week ago.

[2nd Qtr 10:51 2nd and 12] (Shotgun) C.Kaepernick pass incomplete short left to F.Gore. PENALTY on SF-B.Miller, Offensive Holding, 4 yards, enforced in End Zone, SAFETY - No Play.

Niners QB Colin Kaepernick gets flushed up through the pocket and attempts a little jump dump off. This play resulted in a safety as the fullback/tight-end Bruce Miller mugged a blitzing Malcolm Smith.

One encouraging thing I noticed from watching tape? Smith had some nice blitz fits last week.

He's sneaky in terms of exploiting a 1-on1 or a crease created by lineman. The unsung hero though, on this play, is Red Bryant, as he pretty much obliterates the tackle and forces CK (I'll use his initials from now on because I don't want to spell his name as I'll be mentioning him a lot) to step up and try a dump off throw to the back. Safety, Seattle defense.


[2nd Qtr 8:17 3rd and 10] (Shotgun) C.Kaepernick sacked at SF 33 for -7 yards (C.Avril). FUMBLES (C.Avril) [C.Avril], RECOVERED by SEA-K.Wright at SF 29. K.Wright to SF 29 for no gain (A.Boone).

The strip sack by strip-sack specialist Cliff Avril. This isn't anything flashy or scheme related, Avril just surges against the tackle, times his spin move to correspond with CK moving up into the pocket to the right. Seattle rushes three in an unbalanced look, and uses K.J. Wright as a spy. (I wonder if that's because Wagner had trouble in that role last week).

Avril surges against the tackle and CK steps up and then starts to scramble, but by then Avril disengages with his man and hits the Niners' QB from behind for the strip sack. This turnover led to 3 points by the offense, bringing the defensive total to 5 points created on back-to-back drives.


[2nd Qtr 3:45 3rd and 4] C.Kaepernick pass incomplete deep left to F.Gore (K.Wright).

Another combination route from a double bunch-formation look by San Francisco. Seattle defends it well enough to force CK to hold on the ball. Kaep could have run for the first down, as the d-line lost contain for one of the rare times in this game.

The earlier strip sack maybe had something to do with his decision, as he looked out of sorts on a weak lob to Gore. Bennett had a great rush that caused CK to scramble to his left on the play.

Michael Bennett was all over the place in this game and I'll make some note of that in my closing overall view but I haven't seen a guy like this in Seattle since Rocky Bernard.

[3rd Qtr 7:29 2nd and 10] (Shotgun) C.Kaepernick scrambles left end to SEA 29 for 28 yards.

The Seahawks, yet again, defend a bunch formation combo route by the 49ers. Unfortunately, on this particular drive CK kicked his running into gear, grabbing a 28 yard rush. Seattle brought Malcolm Smith here from the weakside and shifted Bennett into coverage.

Red Bryant, though he had a really good game and initially got into the pocket, looks woeful against CK's straight line speed and it sort of looks like he tries to swat at him.

This play, combined with an earlier scramble completion, meant the 49ers had their first real offensive drive after two and a half quarters.


Good huss by Brandon Mebane, at least.

[3rd Qtr 5:00 3rd and Goal] (Shotgun) C.Kaepernick sacked at SEA 3 for 0 yards (K.Wright).

Discipline. The defense played this so well down in the redzone. So many players would panic here, especially with the drive that CK had orchestrated up to that point with his scrambles. Rather than pull off their guys the second he started to run around, CK tries to bait the defense into moving down but no one moves away from their guy. K.J. Wright, who stayed back on Frank Gore until the last second, quickly comes up to make the tackle well before the goal-line. After all that, on their one sustained drive of the game, the 49ers come away with a field goal.


[4th Qtr 13:21 1st and 10] (Shotgun) C.Kaepernick pass deep right intended for V.Davis INTERCEPTED by R.Sherman at SEA 47. R.Sherman ran ob at SF 25 for 28 yards.

An inexplicable throw by CK, which is picked off by Richard Sherman. Vernon Davis lines up wide and Kaepernick attempts a lob throw instantly to him down the sideline. It makes no sense against Sherman, who has great speed and perfect position, and because the throw is so quick, any speed advantage is diminished, and Davis' physicality has no chance to develop.

Sherman easily plucks this out of the air and it reminds me of a similar throw Tom Brady tried to get away with last year.

[4th Qtr 11:10 2nd and 1] (Shotgun) C.Kaepernick pass incomplete short right to V.McDonald (W.Thurmond).

Walter Thurmond had a nice game, and again, playing a short zone, he drives perfectly on the football as CK hangs on to it a bit too long. With the speed and quickness with which he drives on a football, it's only a matter of time before these start turning into interceptions.

Folks wondered if we really were better at nickel this year, and so far I think the answer is a resounding "yes."


[4th Qtr 5:09 2nd and 16] (Shotgun) C.Kaepernick pass short left to M.Moore to SF 13 for 6 yards (W.Thurmond).

I figured the final play should be dedicated to my player of the game, Michael Bennett. A couple of people wanted to debate me on that point the other night, but as I indicated in my introduction to these articles, I don't give out game balls to one player for a single play considered to be most impactful - I look for consistency throughout a game.

Michael Bennett had been all over the field - inside, outside, left side, right side - and was constantly applying pressure to CK. On 5 or 6 occasions, he came completely free and had runs at CK, in addition to making some great plays against the run.

Here, with 5:09 left in the fourth - I like this particular play because he's still got loads in the tank as he spins past the guard-center double, right into the crease left by the left guard as he tries to repel D'Anthony Smith.

CK completes a short inaccurate throw for six yards, avoiding the pressure by only an instant.



Overall View Of the Game:

A lot of positives in this one, but unlike last week, very few straight-up blitzes were called and Seattle ran more 3-man rushes than I thought they might. Richard Sherman and Walter Thurmond were key cogs in the secondary this week, and a wide receiver corps that most expected to be weak coming into the season was exposed as such in this game.

Colin Kaepernick struggled to throw short with accuracy, though he's trying to change that as his velocity is way down on those throws. Where last year he struggled with gunning everything at 98 MPH short or deep, he was trying to float some of those throws. This weakness played right into the hands of Seattle's defense, who pushed everything to be thrown short. With some good pressure - which Seattle lacked last year - CK could not get to a 3rd or 4th read on most of his passing plays.

The running game was non-existent for the 49ers and with only 11 carries, a tone was set early by Red Bryant - who just mauled his one-on-one match-ups in this game.

Not much to dislike, so it was quite the look back, and I did so with a giant grin on my face.

Game Ball:

Michael Bennett. I know I gave this away on Twitter and earlier in this very article, but I just can't see how you ignore a guy who was loose all over the field, and stirring the pressure drink. He has such a motor, and to think we once cut him, for god knows what reason (Tim Ruskell). Regardless, I'm just glad he's back.


Needs Improvement:

Hard to find something without knowing more about the defenses called and so on, but I would say that scrambles should be contained just a bit better. K.J. had a couple of spy plays and Wagner had one that I saw, but mostly later in the game Seattle played a ton of cover-3 so CK got to use his legs.