ReFo: Seahawks @ 49ers, Week 14
When the Seattle Seahawks dominated the New Orleans Saints at home last Monday night, most analysts placed them atop their all-important power rankings and all but punched their ticket to New Jersey for the Super Bowl. While they’re still the favorite, and they’re likely to have home field advantage where they play at an entirely different level, the San Francisco 49ers have started to find their groove in recent weeks.
Once again relying on their stout defense, San Francisco held Seattle to only 17 points for the first time since Week 8. Seattle’s defense also held strong, but the biggest play of the game saw running back Frank Gore break free for a 51-yard gain with about four minutes left, and San Francisco all but ran out the clock before sending kicker Phil Dawson out for a 22-yard game-winning field goal with 31 seconds left in the game.
As for the future, if the two division rivals meet in a rubber match, it will likely be in Seattle, which is obviously a major advantage for the Seahawks given their success at home and the success of the home team in this rivalry. But for now, San Francisco proved they can still play amongst the league’s best and they’re setting up to be a dangerous opponent come playoff time.
Here’s a look at the key performances from the game.
Seattle – Three Performances of Note
Not Wilson’s Finest
Coming into the game, quarterback Russell Wilson was our No. 2 QB grading at +24.6, but he struggled on his way to a -1.3 performance Sunday. It was by no means a horrible outing, but there were some uncharacteristic forced passes and questionable decisions. It started early in the first quarter as his attempt to prolong the play nearly proved costly as he was sacked by LB Navarro Bowman who forced a fumble that, lucky for Wilson, rolled out of bounds. He followed it up on the next series with a late throw to the sideline that nearly resulted in an interception by cornerback Eric Wright. In addition to the poor decisions, Wilson was plagued with inaccuracy issues, whether it was trying to fit the ball into the seam with 10:01 to go in the first or missing wide open wide receiver Golden Tate who broke free during Wilson’s scramble at the 12:56 mark of the fourth quarter. There were some positives sprinkled about throughout the game, but overall, it was Wilson’s worst performance since Week 4.
Depth at Cornerback
Seattle has stretched the cornerback depth chart this season. As Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond have moved out, third-year CB Byron Maxwell has stepped in with stellar play and now CB Jeremy Lane joined the mix on Sunday. Maxwell posted his fourth straight positive grade at +0.7 as he got his hands on three passes, including an interception. It was a beautifully played deep ball as he ran step-for-step with wide receiver Michael Crabtree before locating and attacking quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s underthrow at the 4:16 mark of the third quarter.
As for Lane, he made the most of his opportunities, deflecting three passes while only surrendering one catch on four targets. He had tight man coverage on WR Mario Manningham at the 11:59 mark of the first quarter, deflecting the back-shoulder attempt. Lane then showed his zone skills later in the quarter as he deflected yet another third down pass for Manningham, this time peeling out of the flat to knock away the curl attempt. Seattle has to be pleased with their cornerback depth as Maxwell and Lane haven’t missed a beat.
Unexpected Pass Rusher
Often lost in the sea of green that is the Seattle pass rushers (six of eight post positive pass rush grades), DT Clinton McDonald has quietly made his positive contributions to the group. While the rest of the bigger names struggled to get consistent pressure against Kaepernick, McDonald performed the best of the bunch with his two dominant rushes on 20 attempts. As we always like to remind here at PFF, the time with which pressure is achieved is often just as important as the end result. Putting quick pressure on the quarterback is a much harder job than cleaning up for a sack after someone else does the dirty work of moving the quarterback out of the pocket. Both of McDonald’s rushes came against left guard Adam Snyder and both got to the quarterback in under two seconds. He nearly prevented the 49ers’ lone touchdown of the day as he knocked Kaepernick to the ground with 10 seconds to go in the first half. McDonald came back with a similar rush with 10:08 to go in the fourth quarter, but this time after he beat Snyder to the inside, he got home and picked up one of Seattle’s two sacks on the day. McDonald’s +2.0 pass rush grade led the Seahawks.
San Francisco– Three Performances of Note
Boldin Stays Reliable
There’s no doubting Colin Kaepernick’s great chemistry with Michael Crabtree a year ago, and Crabtree’s return last week was a big boost for the 49ers. But while he works to get back to form, WR Anquan Boldin continues to make plays every week as he posted his fourth straight grade in the green. He caught six of his seven targets for 93 yards with four of his six catches going for first downs. It was classic Boldin at the 1:21 mark of the second quarter as Kaepernick threw a jump ball his way and Boldin shrugged off a defensive holding penalty from CB Richard Sherman before coming down with it for the 27-yard gain. With Boldin’s top-notch ability on contested passes, along with Crabtree’s route running, and tight end Vernon Davis’ ability to work the seam, the 49ers have the makings of developing a well-rounded passing attack these next few weeks as we head toward the playoffs.
Guards the Weakest Link
It’s been three starts for left guard Adam Snyder in place of usual starter Mike Iupati and it’s now been three straight negative games. It wasn’t an egregious effort at -0.5, but Snyder’s aforementioned blunders in pass protection were the worst of the day for anyone on the San Francisco offensive line. In addition to his poor play, RG Alex Boone continued his uneven season as he posted a -2.0 overall grade. He wasn’t helped by a -1.7 penalty grade that saw him pick up false start and illegal hands to the face infractions. Other than the discipline issues, it was a rather average day for Boone who found some targets at the second level as he did on Gore’s 51-yard run, but he also gave up a bit too much ground at times shown at the 7:35 mark of the third quarter when DE Michael Bennett got inside him but was unable to complete the tackle. Overall it was a stellar day for the 49ers offensive line with a couple minor blips along the way for both guards.
Strong Effort From Secondary
It was a good all-around effort from San Francisco’s secondary as three of four starters graded positively while Eric Wright added a +2.4 grade on his 17 snaps. Safety Donte Whitner graded at +2.0 in coverage including a nice break on the seam route to WR Jermaine Kearse at the 9:17 mark of the fourth quarter. Cornerback Tramaine Brock made a beautiful break on the ball himself with 7:48 to go in the third. He cut in front of Tate’s hitch route to thwart another third down opportunity for the Seahawks. As for Wright, he had the aforementioned tipped pass along the sideline and then put the game away with an interception on Wilson’s desperation pass near the end of regulation. On a day when the 49ers only pressured Wilson on seven of his 28 dropbacks, the secondary provided stellar coverage in holding Seattle to only 178 yards through the air.
– It was a pretty clean game with regard to tackling. The two teams combined for six (two for the Seahawks, four for the 49ers) missed tackles.
– Seattle LB Malcolm Smith replaced K.J. Wright after he went down to injury after only 22 snaps. Smith finished with a +2.0 overall grade on 55 snaps.
– Crabtree (-0.6) picked up four catches on eight targets including his first drop of the season.
PFF Game Ball
Frank Gore had the biggest play of the game as his 51-yard run set up the eventual game-winning field goal. He finished with 110 yards on 17 carries and a +1.2 overall grade.
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