With the 49ers losing to Seattle, there were two huge factors that greatly affected the outcome of the game. Those two factors were offensive game-plan and the absence of defensive end Justin Smith.
We all know that the San Francisco 49ers pride themselves in being physical up front and dominating on the line of scrimmage, so it was surprising to see the Niners come out throwing the ball on the opening drive. I’m not sure what the 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman was thinking, but it obviously didn’t work. Of course, everything is hindsight, but as a coach you need to tailor your play-calling to a team’s strength, and Roman simply did not do that.
The 49ers offensive line did not get enough opportunities to open holes for running back Frank Gore as he finished the game with a mere six carries for 28 yards. To put that in perspective, in their first meeting, Gore had 16 carries for 131 yards. So why didn’t Roman stick with the run? The answer remains to be seen. I’m not an offensive coordinator and I’m not trying to say I know what’s best, but what I do know is that if a team is built a certain way, it’s the coach’s responsibility to get the player’s in the best position to be successful. And that certainly didn’t happen last night.
If the 49ers hope to make this Super Bowl run a reality, Roman will need to check his ego at the door and stick to what the Niners do best, and that’s smash-mouth football.
As for the 49ers defense, they looked downright awful. The number one ranked scoring defense was non-existent as the Seahawks marched down the field en-route to 42 points.
So what changed? Can one player really make a difference?
In my opinion, it’s a definite yes. With defensive end Justin Smith ruled out of the game, the 49ers defense did not look the same. They were out of sync, confused, and disrespected.
The Niners defense was consistently burned both against the run and pass, as Seahawks’ running back Marshawn Lynch exploited them early with a 24-yard touchdown run and finished with his second 100-yard performance against them this year. As if things weren’t bad enough, rookie quarterback Russell Wilson threw four touchdowns against the 5th ranked passing defense. The four touchdown passes were most by any quarterback this year. Was this all a coincidence? I would say absolutely not, especially considering how they played without Smith last week in the second half.
The player known as “Cowboy” was sorely missed, and the Seahawks game-planned for it. Justin provides the Niners with stability, strength, and quickness to hold the point of attack. And although backup Ricky Jean-Francois filled in nicely, he is by no means of Smith’s caliber, and it didn’t take scout-esque eyes to notice that.
Justin not only helps against the run, but equally against the pass. Just ask outside linebacker Aldon Smith, who before today’s game was on par to challenge Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record. Justin’s presence alone commands double teams and allows other players like Aldon to make plays. It was quite evident that the pass rush was lacking last night due to Justin’s absence as the 49ers only sack came by nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga. Without a pass rush, Wilson was able to pick the 49ers’ secondary apart like a John Madden video game.
If the 49ers have any dreams of hoisting that Lombardi Trophy this year, they will need to stay true to themselves and have a healthy Cowboy, saddled up and ready to roll.