On Sunday afternoon, the San Francisco 49ers were able to easily dispatch the St. Louis Rams. Headlined by the return of Michael Crabtree, the 49er passing attack, backed up by a stifling defensive effort against backup quarterback Kellen Clemens, picked apart an overaggressive, overmatched Rams secondary. With Colin Kaepernick back on track and his full arsenal of weapons returned to him, the Niners were feeling pretty good about their home matchup with the Seattle Seahawks the following Sunday.
Then they watched Monday Night Football. They saw Russell Wilson dismantle the Saints’ secondary. They saw the mighty Drew Brees held to 147 yards and a single touchdown. And worst of all, the Seahawks defense showed no signs of weakness, despite the loss of two of their top three cornerbacks.
On Tuesday night, the Golden State Warriors were down by 18 points at halftime to the Toronto Raptors. Jermaine O’Neal said to each and every player that their actions in the second half would determine what their team was made of. By the end of their game on Sunday afternoon, the San Francisco 49ers too will know what their team is made of. The NFC West title is all but lost for the Niners, as the Seahawks are a full three games ahead in the division race. With only four games left to play, it would take a major collapse on the part of Seattle for San Francisco to leapfrog them for the division crown. But from the 49ers perspective, this game is the most important game of their entire season. After being trashed by Pete Carroll and company in their last two meetings in Seattle, this matchup at home against their rivals from the north is crucial for the morale and confidence of the Niners. They are currently 1-5 against teams with a record above .500, with that only win against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 6. If the Niners want to succeed in the playoffs, this win is critical for them to prove they can hang with the elite teams in the National Football League.
So what makes the Seattle Seahawks so dangerous? They are 11-1 after all. Seattle has won by an average of 13.8 points per game. Aside from their quarterback and their stud cornerback, the Seahawks don’t appear to have an excess amount of individual talent.
It all starts with the quarterback. Russell Wilson has put himself in the MVP conversation with his play in recent weeks. Behind a patchwork offensive line and with an uninspiring group of receivers, Wilson has done nothing but produce. Despite facing injuries to his starting left and right tackles, Wilson has made the most of it. He has been among the most sacked quarterbacks in the league, but his ability to escape pressure in the pocket and make plays out of thin air has allowed the Seahawks offense to continue to produce first downs.
Wilson is also capable of making every single throw on the football field, from the short crossing routes, the intermediate routes, the sideline routes, and the deep routes. His highest passer rating of 143.8 comes on passes attempted over 30 yards. Despite his relative inexperience, his ability to create offense in any formation, any offensive motions, and in any blitz package is what makes Wilson so dangerous. His passer rating is above 100.0 in every offensive set (2 WR, 3 WR, 2 TE, etc) except for 4 WR, in which it is 96.3. He has a staggering passer rating of of 158.3 when he signals for motion, demonstrating an advanced sense of recognition of the defense. Add one of the best running backs in the game in Marshawn Lynch, and this Seahawks offense has been nearly unstoppable despite the problems along the offensive line and the lack of talent in the receiving corps. In a “down year”, Lynch has accumulated 970 rushing yards and nine touchdowns with a 4.3 yards per carry average.
And of course, we cannot forget the prowess of the Seahawks’ defense. Seattle’s defensive end rotation of Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, and Chris Clemons have combined for 17.5 sacks. They are even generating pressure from the interior, as defensive tackles Tony McDaniel, Red Bryant, and Clinton McDonald have combined for 6.0 sacks.
The success of the Seattle defense starts at the defensive front four. Their ability to harass opposing offensive lines at the tackle, guard, and center spots puts tremendous pressure on the opposing quarterback without having to blitz. This in turn allows the Seahawks’ legendary secondary have the opportunities that they get. It is true the secondary has lost their No. 2 and 3 cornerbacks to suspension in Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond, and until Jeremy Lane proves over multiple games that he can hold down the fort, that spot may be a liability. But the rest of the secondary more than makes up for it.
Richard Sherman is one of the best football players in the league. At 6’3” 195 pounds, he is big, physical presence at the line of scrimmage for any receiver. The Seahawks run a lot of press coverages, allowing Sherman to use his physicality and speed to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage. He is one of the few cornerbacks in the league who can outmuscle receivers at the line, stay with them down the field, and set the edge against the run. Sherman hasn’t put him the gaudy statistics he put up last year, but week in and week out, he eliminates the opposing team’s No. 1 receiver from the game plan entirely, as he did to Anquan Boldin in Week 2.
The Seattle safeties are no slouches either. Kam Chancellor is a safety in a linebacker’s body. At 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds, he is bigger than many middle linebackers and is agile enough to cover tight ends and receivers across the field. He has produced in a big way this season, recording 68 tackles, one forced fumble and two interceptions. His versatility allows the Seahawks to start him inside the box in their base defense and allow him to adjust to the direction of the play. In the last two meetings with the Niners, he has limited Vernon Davis to 30 yards receiving … total. Their other safety, Earl Thomas, is in the running for Defensive Player of the Year. He leads the Seattle defense in tackles (84), forced fumbles (two) and interceptions (four). Thomas has the speed to range from sideline to sideline to stop ball carriers and to cover receivers downfield.
It is the Seahawks explosiveness on both offense and defense that makes them such a dangerous team. In any given week, if one falters, the other seems to pick it up. If the Niners want to win on Sunday, they will have to contain Russell Wilson in the pocket and beat this talented secondary.
Tags: San Francisco 49ers