3TFO: 49ers @ Seahawks, Week 16
The San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks last met on a Thursday night back in Week 7, and combined for 19 points in a game where both teams had more yards rushing than passing. With the way these two offenses have since thrived under their young quarterbacks, we may see more than 19 points in the first quarter. The 49ers have gone 4-1 and scored 28.8 points since Colin Kaepernick was named their starting quarterback. The Seahawks have won five of their past six games and just became the first team since 1950 to score 50 or more points in back-to-back games. You could argue that, for the first time in recent memory, the two hottest teams in the NFC reside in the West.
Will the 49ers tarnish the Seahawks’ perfect home record and clinch the NFC West? Or will Pete Carroll earn his first NFL victory over Jim Harbaugh? These three matchups could make the difference here.
49ers Run Blocking vs. Seahawks Defensive Line
The biggest mismatch, and the biggest surprise, in the first meeting between these two teams was San Francisco’s absolute domination of Seattle’s defensive line in the running game. Frank Gore averaged 8.2 yards per carry, with 84 of his 131 rushing yards coming before contact. Every time Gore grabbed a handoff, he ran an average of 5.3 yards past the line of scrimmage before a Seahawks defender even touched him. The 49ers ran at will in all directions, but most of their success came behind their interior line, where they averaged an absurd 15.8 yards on six carries into the A-gaps. That makes sense when the charge is led by Jonathan Goodwin, whose +11.7 run block grade this season ranks sixth among centers, and Mike Iupati and Alex Boone, who’s +21.7 and +18.3 marks rank second and third among guards, respectively.
Needless to say, this performance did not reflect well on a Seahawks defensive line that prides itself on being physical. All four starters recorded a career-low run defense grade in the five years we’ve been charting games. Eight Seattle defensive linemen who took a snap combined for just two run stops between them (both coming from defensive end Red Bryant). Brandon Mebane’s 9.1 Run Stop Percentage ranks third among all defensive tackles, but that Thursday night he was simply pushed around all game by the 49er linemen. And to think, all this happened before the 49ers had an aggressive running threat at quarterback.
Colin Kaepernick vs. Seahawks Cornerbacks
As good as the 49ers were on the ground in Week 7, they were powerless through the air. In a game tailor-made for Alex Smith detractors, the veteran quarterback completed 70% of his passes, but was just two of six for 32 yards on throws that traveled 10 yards past the line of scrimmage. Coming off a big win against the New England Patriots (albeit one that he nearly fumbled away), Kaepernick certainly looks like a tougher matchup for the Seahawks. His 101.90 PFF QB Rating is tops among quarterbacks, and his 79.3% Accuracy Rate is nearly as good as Smith’s league-leading 81.2% mark. He still only throws 20+ yards downfield on 11.7% of his attempts, but his 302 yards this season on such throws have already surpasses Smith’s total of 293. More importantly, while Smith took a sack 33.8% of the times he faced pressure (the highest rate in the NFL), Kaepernick has been sacked on only 21.2%, despite facing a higher rate of pressure.
In his first start against the Seahawks, Kaepernick will face a secondary that is flush with depth, but also uncertainty. Seattle hopes that Richard Sherman’s appeal today for a four-game drug suspension doesn’t keep him out of the game. As our fourth-highest-graded corner, he’ll try to bounce back from a tough matchup with Stevie Johnson to shadow Michael Crabtree, who has 301 yards over his past three games. Brandon Browner’s suspension continues, and Walter Thurmond and Marcus Trufant are both dealing with hamstring injuries, so Seattle may again have to rely heavily on rookie Jeremy Lane and second-year corner Byron Maxwell. Lane held the Buffalo Bills to 29 yards on seven targets, and Maxwell was our Best Defensive Sub for Week 15, but that was the first time either of them had played more than 50% of the snaps in a game. You can be certain that Harbaugh is devising some ways for Kaepernick to test these two.
Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini vs. Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks
The 49ers badgered Russell Wilson into a 38.7 passer rating in Week 7, his lowest of the season. But the rookie QB appears to be improving each week, and his 94.52 PFF QB Rating is fifth-best among all current starters. The Seahawks must keep him upright this week, and much of that responsibility falls on the shoulders of their offensive tackles. Russell Okung didn’t surrender a QB pressure against the 49ers the first time around, and his 97.1 Pass Blocking Efficiency this season is the fourth-highest among tackles. On the other side, outside linebackers Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks terrorized right tackle Breno Giacomini with four hurries and a sack. Smith’s excellence is well-documented, as his 12.0 Pass Rush Productivity leads all 3-4 outside linebackers. But Brooks is no slouch either, with an 8.3 PRP mark and the fifth-most QB pressures at his position. If Justin Smith is healthy enough to demand double-teams on the inside, then these one-on-one matchups on the edges will be critical to how much time Wilson has to operate.
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