ReFo: SF @ SEA, Week 2
Many will have come away from last night's much-hyped main event a little disappointed, and, as Ben Stockwell writes, there is cause for concern on both sides.
ReFo: SF @ SEA, Week 2
The mouthwatering resumption of arguably the league’s fiercest current rivalry ended up much like the late-season clash in 2012.
In a game that featured scruffy and ineffective offense from both sides, it was the Seahawks who did enough with the ball during the second half to pull away from their 49er foes. San Francisco struggled to move the ball against a stifling Seattle defense, and when they occasionally did get going the drives ended positively for the Seahawks rather than the 49ers.
Both defenses played well, but it was the Seahawks who won the arm wrestle to gain the early-season impetus in the NFC West. The scary thing for the rest of the division, and even the wider NFC, is Seattle produced such a convincing victory on the scoreboard with their offense, and in particular their passing game, struggling to get out of neutral, let alone first gear. This season has plenty of time left to run, but this is likely to be one of the most important victories we see in September.
San Francisco – Three Performances of Note
Aldon Smith Leads the Defense
In what was a fairly dire display from the 49ers there was at least some credit to be given to their defense, which played well for the most part — without much help from the offense — but gave up a couple of back-breaking drives. Undoubtedly their best player in this game was Aldon Smith (+4.0), who made the most of the departure of Russell Okung. Smith hasn’t had his best games against Okung in recent seasons, and got only one hurry on a stunt before the Seahawk was lost for the game and the 49er made the most of his encounter with Paul McQuistan. Against Okung’s deputy, Smith racked up a pair of sacks and a pair of hurries, while also notching a hit in pursuit and a hurry against J.R. Sweezy — also on a stunt from an interior alignment. However, Smith wasn’t excluded from the overall culpability for the loss the 49ers shared as a team. His needless unnecessary roughness penalty at the end of the third quarter kept alive a drive the 49ers had just stopped. Instead of a potential 12-point lead, the Seahawks established a 17-point advantage three plays into the fourth quarter.
Sleepless in Seattle?
In last season’s heavy Week 16 defeat, Colin Kaepernick registered his lowest overall grade of the season, -2.8, as the 49ers crashed back to Earth. Last night, Kaepernick went even lower with a -4.8 overall grade, including a -6.1 passing grade, both of which mark out the worst performance of his career. In the passing game, Kaepernick had a few innocuous overthrows and underthrows that led to nothing more than frustrating incompletions, but his interceptions went beyond frustration with some alarmingly forced and wayward attempts. The Seahawks set out with a clear plan of attack for Kaepernick in this game — sit back with a base pass rush and don’t give him easy options. On 35 drop-backs the Seahawks blitzed only five times, which led to one scramble and a passing line of 3-for-4 for 45 yards. By comparison, when they sent a base pass rush Kaepernick was 10-for-24 for 82 yards, with all three of his interceptions and all three of the Seahawks’ sacks.
Offensive Nose Dive
The quarterback always takes the heat for a performance such as the one San Francisco produced last night, but there was a marked drop-off from Week 1 by the entire offense. Against the Packers, the 49ers’ offensive grade page in our premium section was essentially a wall of green — seven days later that became a wall of red. The only offensive lineman not to earn an overall grade of -1.0 or worse was Alex Boone (-0.3), with Joe Staley performing poorly in his customary strong suit as a run blocker (-4.9), while Mike Iupati let up seven pressures (one hit, six hurries) in a dismal display of pass protection (-4.6). With such a poor base, the skill position players didn’t really get much chance to produce. Bruce Miller (-3.2) netted the worst grade outside of Kaepernick or the linemen, and he never really recovered from the holding penalty that opened the scoring with Seattle’s safety.
Seattle – Three Performances of Note
New Signings Shine
The Seahawks were without their two edge defenders from 2012, again, but their newest signings on the end of the line filled the void and then some against the 49ers. Both Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril both netted +3.7 overall grades, with Avril doing all of his work as a pass rusher while Bennett also did some solid work in run defense. Registering only 28 snaps, Avril impressed in his debut and racked up his most pressures, four, (one sack, three hurries) since Week 13 last season, and his first batted pass since Week 10 of 2012. Fellow new signing Bennett also racked up his most pressure in a similar time-frame with six pressures (one sack, one hit, four hurries), the most since Week 14 of last season. This backed-up a solid debut in Carolina last week when he notched three hurries in the Seahawks’ slender victory against the Panthers. Generating a pass rush early in the season was one of the question marks hanging over Seattle, and their two newest additions answered that question convincingly last night.
Every member of the Seattle secondary got their hands to the ball, with each of them either contributing to, or collecting, an interception. Standing in for Brandon Browner for the second straight week, Walter Thurmond (+2.7 coverage) got things started with a pass defense on his own goal line just six minutes into the encounter that Earl Thomas (+1.1 coverage) hoovered up for the game’s first interception. Top corner Richard Sherman got in on the act with the second interception, as he tracked Vernon Davis down the field and elevated to snatch possession away from the 49ers and set up a 3-point three-and-out for the offense. Strong safety Kam Chancellor finished the rout by gladly accepting a wild overthrow by Kaepernick, and taking it back to the 2-yard line for Marshawn Lynch to punch in a play later. On 13 targets into the starting secondary, the 49ers collected only six completions, against the three interceptions with one other pass defense by Thurmond. Even without Browner, this Seahawks secondary had plenty enough bang for the 49ers.
Few Standouts on Offense
As convincing as this victory was on the scoreboard, the Seahawks are still yet to hit their stride on offense and they were short of standout performances to match their defensive counterparts. Aside from right guard J.R. Sweezy racking up a rare strong game as a run blocker (+2.2) it was Marshawn Lynch finishing drives that just about carried the Seahawks’ offense in this one. The run blocking was not there for Lynch to really control the game for Russell Wilson, who is yet to find his rhythm with his receivers. The likes of McQuistan (-0.9 run block), Max Unger (-1.7 run block), Breno Giacomini (-4.8 run block) and fullback Derrick Coleman (-4.1 run block) ensured there was no consistent base, option or no option, for Lynch and co. to build up a head of steam on the ground. The scoreboard was definitively in the Seahawks favor, and they finished drives well — and took advantage of a couple of coverage breakdowns for Lynch’s two meaningful catches — but on the whole this was another sub-par display from an offense yet to get on the same page in 2013.
– Both Kaepernick and Wilson were under pressure more often than not in this game. Kaepernick was pressured on 18 of his 35 drop-backs ,with the 49ers pressuring Wilson on 14 of his 26 drop-backs.
– After a disappointing 2012 season, Red Bryant maintained his strong start to 2013 and backed up his +2.0 overall grade last week with a +3.6 on 29 snaps this week.
– After Ian Williams went down after three snaps, Glenn Dorsey filled in well and racked up four stops (including a sack) on 35 snaps, to earn a +1.9 overall grade.
PFF Game Ball
It would be wrong to single out one Seattle defender after that display, as it was a whole team effort. The defense as a unit registered a +6.0 grade or higher in all three phases of the game — run defense, pass rush, and coverage. In a very expensive move, the entire Seahawks’ defense gets a game ball.
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Ben Stockwell | Director of Analysis
Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.