ReFo: 49ers @ Seahawks, Week 16
Just when you think you know what’s going on in the NFL, this happens. Losing just one of their past eight, the San Francisco 49ers came in hot after dealing the Patriots a firm defeat at home. However, they could not regain the magic, as they were flat offensively, and the defense, which has been so suffocating this year, was made to look ordinary. The result was the likely loss of a first-round bye, and, if they lose next week, the 49ers could fall into a Wild Card spot as well. Week 17 brings a home game against the struggling Cardinals though, so if San Francisco can muster a better performance, they should have the division under wraps when all is said and done.
What a statement from the Seahawks. This win guarantees them a playoff spot, regardless of what happens against St. Louis next week. The way Seattle has been playing recently, it’s hard to think that game will be any less uneven than this one. They’re peaking at the right time, and with such huge contributions from rookies, the Seahawks are one of the most dangerous teams in the league right now.
Let’s take a look at what went so right for the Seahawks, and so wrong for the 49ers.
San Francisco – Three Performances of Note
Any time you sit down an experienced quarterback for a young, unproven talent like Colin Kaepernick, you’re bound to see a game like this (-3.8) out of him from time to time. He was fine when not pressured, with a QB rating of 103.6, but under duress he fell apart, completing just two of nine for 6 yards and a QB rating of precisely zero. He was late on a number of throws, including his interception, as throwing windows that were there when Kaepernick threw had often closed by the time the ball arrived. This tendency even resulted in a penalty on his LT Joe Staley on a designed screen when Staley got downfield to block only for Kaepernick to hold onto the ball and look elsewhere. He did manage to average 5.8 yards per carry on his five scrambles, something he had to do often considering the coverage downfield. Going forward with Kaepernick at the helm was always a risk, and the 49ers will have to do a better job of stepping up in other areas when he has another ‘down game’.
Where’s the Other Half of the Smith Duo?
Aldon Smith has generated quite a bit of press for his gaudy sack numbers, but it became quite apparent here who really does the hard work for the 49ers. With Justin Smith missing his first start in seemingly forever, San Francisco’s pass rush was virtually nonexistent. They managed 12 hurries, which seems good until you realize that only four of those came by beating a pass protector — the rest came either unblocked or due to the quarterback holding onto the ball for an inordinate amount of time.
One Thing Remains the Same
If there was one component of the 49er machine that was functioning as usual on Sunday, it was their offensive line. One of the best in the business this year, the line again had a fine day. Collectively, they allowed just two hits and five hurries (the sack was credited to Kaepernick for holding onto the ball too long). Even on running plays they held strong, accumulating a combined +3.2 grade. The tackles in particular stood out, as Red Bryant had little control over where he was going on most running plays, and the aforementioned Staley (+3.0) and Anthony Davis (+4.0) conspired to deal him a complete blank on the stat sheet. Only Jonathan Goodwin was really noticeable as being sub-average, getting beat for a hit and two hurries, a less than ideal outing for the veteran center.
Seattle – Three Performances of Note
Where’s the Hype?
A lowly third-round pick out of Wisconsin, Russell Wilson wasn’t expected to do anything more than back up free-agent signing Matt Flynn. But fate works in funny ways, as an injury to Flynn in the preseason handed Wilson a shot to start in Week 1. After a -3.1 grade in his first start, Wilson has been phenomenal,and he earned his highest grade of the season this weekend (+7.2) as he led his team to a playoff berth. Asked to throw the ball only 21 times, Wilson was nearly flawless, completing 15 of them while his receivers dropped two. Factoring in his two throwaways, Wilson was on target on 17 of 19 passes for an accuracy percentage of 89.5%. Nowhere was this more apparent than on short and intermediate passes (0-19 yards in air), where Wilson completed 13 of 14 for 118 yards and all four touchdowns. Wilson was just about as dangerous when he couldn’t find a receiver, evading defender after defender while scrambling in the backfield and generally making life miserable for anyone trying to take him down. He lacks the hype of a top pick in the draft, but he certainly doesn’t lack the talent to play like he was drafted there.
With Wilson making plenty of plays on offense, Richard Sherman (+4.2) tried to outdo him on the defensive side of the ball. He was an absolute menace for Kaepernick, getting his hand on more passes than the 49er receivers in his coverage. He made plays at the best possible times too, picking off what would have otherwise been a touchdown pass, and breaking up another potential touchdown in the first quarter. He wasn’t limited to playmaking on defense though, as he returned a blocked field goal for a touchdown in a move that killed all momentum for the 49ers. Even on the three catches he allowed Sherman was in tight coverage, surrendering just 7 yards after the catch. He’s proved just how valuable he is to the team, and if the appeal for his four-game suspension gets denied, it will be a tough blow to the Seahawks’ defense.
The Unheralded Stars
The best chance at dominating the 49ers’ defensive line is with Justin Smith out of the lineup, and Seattle took full advantage. Outside of the three hurries that RT Breno Giacomini allowed, the other four members of the line gave up just a solitary pressure. The running game was a mixed bag, with the left side having some trouble dealing with Ricky Jean-Francois (+3.5 run defense), but Max Unger (+4.5) more than made up for it. The goal of a 3-4 nose tackle is often to take up space, but Unger ensured that the space occupied by Isaac Sopoaga (-3.5) was usually several yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Even rookie J.R. Sweezy (+2.7), in just his second full game in the NFL, played well, getting the better of a number of 49ers — not the least of which was his work on Navarro Bowman in the running game.
— Six different Seattle rookies saw the field, for a combined 260 snaps. The only 49er rookie to see the field was LaMichael James (14 snaps).
— Despite his struggles, Colin Kaepernick was six of eight for 163 yards and a lone touchdown, on passes over 20 yards in the air.
— Seattle’s starting cornerback tandem of Richard Sherman and Jeremy Lane was targeted on 20 of Kaepernick’s 34 aimed passes.
Does this guy ever look like a rookie? A halfway-decent performance would have been enough for the win, but Russell Wilson put in another fantastic game anyway.