3TFO: 49ers @ Seahawks, NFC Championship

| January 17, 2014

2013-3TFO-CC-SF@SEAIn what many prognosticators predicted when training camp opened back in July, the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks will meet on Sunday to decide who represents the NFC in two weeks in Super Bowl XLVIII.

The 49ers are coming off their second consecutive playoff road victory, a 23-10 defeat of the NFC South champion Carolina Panthers.

After earning a bye with their No. 1 seed, the Seahawks handled the New Orleans Saints once again last week 23-15 in the wind and rain at CenturyLink Field.

These teams split their season series, each winning at home. Here are three things to watch as the Seahawks attempt to wrestle the title away from the defending NFC champion 49ers.

49ers Receivers vs. Seahawks Secondary

It’s no secret that the Seahawks sport the best secondary in football, led by first-team All-Pros Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas. Sherman has allowed just a 47.3 passer rating when targeted this season, which was best among all qualifying cornerbacks. Right behind him was Byron Maxwell, who has performed extremely well since entering the starting lineup, with a passer rating allowed of 47.8.

What’s even more impressive about Sherman’s numbers is that he was targeted only 58 times during the regular season, yet still led the league with eight interceptions. He intercepted 13.8% of the throws that came his way, an astounding figure.

Combine that with safeties Earl Thomas (+11.1 coverage grade, 67.6 passer rating allowed) and Kam Chancellor (+4.5 coverage grade, 63.6 passer rating allowed) and you have a secondary that has put the clamps down on most passing offenses it has faced this season.

With Michael Crabtree now close to full health along with Anquan Boldin, the 49ers sport a stronger receiving unit than in either of their two previous meetings this season. Crabtree did play in the Week 14 matchup at Candlestick; however it was just his second game back as he was working his way up to speed and he was held to four catches for 40 yards.

Since Crabtree’s return to health, it’s been a “pick your poison” situation for opposing defenses. Crabtree and Boldin have alternated 100+ yard receiving games the last four weeks. Prior to that streak, no 49ers wide receiver had over 100 yards receiving since Anquan Boldin did so back in Week 1.

While this matchup still favors the Seahawks’ secondary, this is the strongest the 49ers receiving corps has been in quite some time and should give Colin Kaepernick more opportunities to make plays than in previous visits to Seattle.

Marshawn Lynch vs. 49ers Run Defense

While the Seahawks can claim the best secondary in the league, the 49ers may have the best front seven in all of football. Their task this week is to try and stop Marshawn Lynch, one of the most physical backs in the game.

Including Saturday’s victory over New Orleans, Lynch has forced 99 missed tackles on the season, 22 more than LeSean McCoy who is second on the list. Lynch also finished as the first runner up just behind Adrian Peterson in our Elusive Rating stat.

The 49ers have not allowed a 100-yard rusher the entire season. However, Lynch was the closest when he ran for 98 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries in the Week 2 game in Seattle. Free agent pickup Glenn Dorsey has been a pleasant surprise for the 49ers in their base package. Dorsey’s +12.1 grade against the run ranks ninth among all defensive tackles, and his 10.4 Run Stop Percentage is fifth among interior linemen.

At the second level, Lynch will have to deal with the inside linebacker tandem of NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis, who for the second time in three seasons finished one-two in our inside linebacker rankings.

It will be up to Lynch to grind out yardage on first and second downs to keep Russell Wilson from having to face many 3rd-and-long situations against the 49ers’ pass rush.

49ers Offense vs. CenturyLink Field

The Seahawks have the best home field advantage in the league by a wide margin. The boisterous crowds, combined with the acoustics of CenturyLink Field, provide a deafening atmosphere for opposing offenses.

For the 49ers to advance to their second consecutive Super Bowl, their offense is going to have to find a way to execute and make plays in an extremely hostile environment, while limiting turnovers and pre-snap penalties. Colin Kaepernick has only thrown 11 interceptions in his career during the regular season. However, four of them have come in his two games in Seattle.

The 49ers came out in Week 2 vs. Seattle with a strong drive on their second possession, advancing to the Seattle 5-yard line before Kaepernick was intercepted in the end zone, ending the drive. The 49ers never got any momentum going after that and the offense only was able to put up a second-half field goal while going down to a 29-3 defeat.

Another important factor is the tendency of the 49ers’ offense to bleed every second of the play clock. The 49ers often call two plays in the huddle and will switch up at the line of scrimmage after getting a peek at the defensive alignment. While it often gets you the look you want against the defense, it’s also caused several delay of game penalties and burned time outs over the course of the season.

The 49ers may have to limit what they do in the huddle and at the line of scrimmage on Sunday. The Seahawks’ defensive line, led by Michael Bennett (+20.9 pass rush grade), along with Cliff Avril (+14.4), Clinton McDonald (+8.9), and Chris Clemons (+1.4) has one of the best pass rushes in the league and they are already getting a head start on the opposing offensive line due to the crowd noise. If the 49ers back themselves up into long down-and-distance situations due to false starts or fall behind due to turnovers and become one dimensional, their offensive line is going to have a very difficult time keeping Kaepernick upright.

This is exactly what happened in Week 2, as Joe Staley (-3.0), Mike Iupati (-6.3), and Anthony Davis (-4.0) all had their worst games of the season. The 49ers will have to limit their mistakes, and like the Seahawks, run the ball effectively on first and second down to setup makeable third-down conversions for Kaepernick and the 49ers offense.

 

Follow Jeff on Twitter: @PFF_Jeff

  • Mylegacy

    The only two real differences between the teams is that Seattle’s defense is not just excellent, it’s historically excellent, the other difference is that Seattle has a 67,000 person, ear smashing and brain numbing, group of muggers who will turn Northern Californian minds to jelly. Advantage (via the 12th man) Seattle.

    Whichever of these two magnificent teams leaves the field still alive will be a scary foe for the Super Bowl.

    • Dave Erhardt

      It will be the Hawks.

  • ninerswillwin

    This should be an excellent game. If the Niners can stay close in the first half (like they did last time in Seattle when it was 5-0 Seahawks at halftime) then the Niners should win. The Niners have all of their players this time around. They need to absorb “the first punch” that the Seahawks and their loud fans will give them. If they can do this (they have shown that they are an excellent road playoff team) then the Seahawks and their fans will sense defeat. The stadium will not be quite as loud and the Niners will be in a good position to come back and win. However, if the Niners fall behind (like17-3 at halftime) then this one is over. It could even get ugly.
    The crowd noise will be a factor. Certainly the stadium was designed well as it helps trap noise and makes the place louder. Probably Seattle fans are a little louder than the Niner fans in general too because Seattle fans are really really hungry. Seattle has never won anything. San Francisco has won many championships. Niners have won 5 Super Bowls (everyone 40 and older remembers all of them) and the Giants have won 2 World Series in the last 4 years. Seattle, sadly has never won anything. The closest they have gotten was the Super Bowl a few years ago when they got robbed by the officials (they should have won that game). The Mariners had a season when they won over a 100 games and most baseball fans thought they would win the WS but they were dismissed early by the dreaded Yankees. In short, Seattle fans need this one way more than San Francisco fans do. This game, contrary to some with limited football knowledge who think Seattle could never possibly lose, could really go either way. Whoever plays their brand of football tomorrow will win.
    Seattle is a great city. Niners absorb the “first punch” and win a close one.

    • Joseph

      Actually Seattle has won the NBA championship unlike any bay area team….to say this is why we have good fans is ridiculous. Your fans need instructions and you blame it on winning 5 superbowls. I had 5 bombshells in highschool its why I’m now a bad husband……is the logic.

      Some large differences between this game and the last the everyone is ignoring. Bowie at left guard (1st and 2nd game) which if you missed the large holes again NO was greatly helped by him, Irving in the game (1st), Clemons (1st game), and KJ wright at linebacker (2nd game). Wright if I’m not correct was out in the td drive before half and the big run by gore in the second half. Don’t get me wrong that crabtree back at full health is a huge upgrade for you guys, but don’t kid yourself that seattle is the same team as the last two either. we would be way different on offense with Harvin, but injuries are a part of football, so no excuse there. I personally don’t want it close at halftime either and our game is to get out in front and force you to pass.

      • MosesZD

        Speaking as a life-time (52 year old) 49er/Giants fan, our SF team fans have always been pretty crappy. And, until they all hopped on the World Series and Superbowl bandwagons for the Giants and 49ers respectively, practically invisible.

        I remember being at games where there were more Rams fans making noise than 49er fans despite the numbers were clearly in favor of the 49er fans. It was a home field ‘disadvantage.’

        Of course, it’s not as bad as the 1970s. In the 1970s, there almost no 49er fans to be found. Most eveyone in HS were Bronco, Steeler, Raider and Cowboy fans and 49er fans, like myself, were routinely mocked…

        • Joseph

          similar experience for me as a kid with the seahawks in the early 90s. Most people were so sick of the team losing they were half fans and called the team seachickens. I didn’t care I was a fan through the losing and winning. The 12th man though has been around shortly after since Holmgren came in and brought people back to the team.I do remember there almost being more greenbay fans at the kingdom when they were going to the superbowl than seahawk fans. It crazy now how you’ll have a very large 12th man fans follow this team on almost every road game.

        • Jeff

          They call those fair-weather/bandwagon/frontrunner fans. Don’t mistake them for real fans. For example not many people have ever met a true Patriots fan. Real Patriots fans (pre-Belichick) are rare, and they are not obnoxious snobs a-holes like the current crop of fans. True fans are there through the good and bad times.

      • Jeff

        Seattle had its NBA team taken away to Oklahoma of all places! So its unfair to mention that in comparison

  • Dave Erhardt

    The team with the best defense in the NFL at the noisiest stadium go against the tough 49′ers. Got to love the 12th man, the doomsday defense, and beast mode, etc. Do you think I’m a Seahawks fan, you bet I am. It will be a close game most of the day, but the Seahawks will pull it out 20-14. Let’s get ready for the Super Bowl.

  • Scott@Seattle

    Great game, hats off to the 49ers you have a great team. Hope Navarro Bowman isnt hurt as bad as it looked. The Seahawks, Broncos and 49ers are the best 3 teams in the NFL.