The San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks rivalry is quickly becoming the best rivalry in the NFL. Both teams lead a much more challenging NFC West division, and both look to be serious threats to represent the NFC in Super Bowl. These two teams are virtually identical to each other.
Both teams feature rosters that place an emphasis on being extremely physical on both sides of the ball. They both feature power running schemes, ones that finished in the top four in total running yards. They also possess dominating defenses, with the Niners featuring a stronger front seven and the Seahawks getting the edge in the secondary. Both defenses were top four units, while the Niners allowed fewer yards and the Seahawks allowed fewer points.
Scot McCloughan is the mastermind behind both of the these teams, as he was in charge of the Niners’ player personnel from 2005 to 2010 before leaving for “personal reasons”. Then, he was hired by the Seahawks prior to the 2010 season. McCloughan’s trademark is to have a roster full of big-bodied, strong players, which is evident when you look at the two rosters.
This parity has lead to a sort of “arms race”, as each team is vying for the top spot in the NFC West. The Seahawks made the first big move when they traded for Percy Harvin. They traded their first-round pick and seventh-round pick in 2013 and third-round pick in 2014 for the explosive playmaker. The Niners answered shortly after by acquiring playoff hero Anquan Boldin for a sixth-round pick.
The moves were made to push each team over the top, as they both filled major holes. The Niners got more depth at the receiver position behind Michael Crabtree, while the Seahawks got the top-flight playmaker at the receiver position.
Those plans went up in smoke as the two teams took turns on a “reverse arms race.” On May 21st, Michael Crabtree tore his Achilles tendon during the teams offseason OTAs. His injury is devastating to the Niners offense, as it hoped he would take that next step into the league’s elite receivers.
Crabtree had a break through season last year with 85 catches for 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns during the regular season. He stepped up big time in the playoffs after a dismal playoff performance in 2011. During the playoffs, Crabtree accumulated 20 receptions for 285 yards and three touchdowns.
The addition of Anquan Boldin was to not only make the offense more dynamic with more weapons, but for Boldin to take some of the coverage away from Crabtree. There were vision of the Niners featuring an offense like those during the late 80’s and the early 90’s with Crabtree and Boldin looking like Jerry Rice and John Taylor.
The addition of Boldin looks much better, as he will be an adequate replacement to step into Crabtree’s slot. With Boldin, you give up a little speed and big play ability, but you gain more consistency and catching in traffic. The place where it hurts the most is the depth at the receiver position. It puts the Niners right back to where they were before the acquisition of Boldin, as they remaining players are young players that need to step up.
Just two months following the Crabtree injury, the Seahawks placed Harvin on the active, physically unable to perform list with a torn labrum in his hip. Harvin injured the hip working out on his own between the team’s minicamps and the opening of training camp.
The Seahawks had high hopes with Harvin to be their multi-tool weapon with his explosive, playmaking ability. Harvin was a perfect fit in the dynamic option offense that the Seahawks wanted to run with their talented signal caller Russell Wilson. They also wanted Harvin to come in a provide a spark on special teams in the return game.
Harvin is dynamic player that has been a rushing and a receiver threat. Harvin’s best season came in 2011, which was his last full season. He collected 87 receptions for 967 yards and six touchdowns. He also added 345 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
Seattle has some talent at the skill positions with Marshawn Lynch at running back and Sidney Rice and Golden Tate at the wide receiver position. This would have allowed the Seahawks to be creative in the ways they got the ball into Harvin’s hands. They could line him up outside, in the slot, and in the backfield and then they could use him in a variety of ways at each spot. He would have been nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators to game plan around.
The question that arises from this is which team does it affect worst, or do the two injuries effectively cancel out one another. At first glance, it would look like the two injuries effectively cancel each out, as it rids the team of two playmakers at the receiver position. Also, on the premise that Boldin is the replacement for Crabtree, both teams are essential the same at the receiver position that they were last year.
Looking deeper, it would seem that the Niners are affected more adversely. They lose a key contributor to their offense from last season. He was the Niners’ number one receiver last year and now they are without his services. Boldin is a great player, but he is on the downside of his career while Crabtree was finally on the way to reaching his potential. So, the Niners do not lose much with Boldin, but they lose enough for it to be noticeable and it puts pressure on their youngers players to take on a much larger role.
They Seahwaks have pretty good depth at the receiver position. They have their top two receivers in Rice and Tate, who combined for 95 receptions for 1,436 yards and 14 touchdowns. They also have talented third-year player Doug Baldwin as their slot receiver. They also added Chris Harper from Kansas State in the fourth round of the draft.
Also, the Seahawks do not lose production from last season. Harvin was an addition to the team and he is not production that the Seahawks lost. They had a pretty effective offensive unit last season and much of that unit is intact, along with several talented rookies to provide more depth.
The facts show that the Niners losing Crabtree is a little more severe than the Seahawks losing Harvin. Both players are aiming for a return around Thanksgiving, but how effective they will be on their return will have to be seen.
So, it might be another year before we can see these two offenses at their peak potential, but as of right now, the Seahawks have the initial edge at the receiver position.