NFC Championship Preview: The Key To Neutralizing Seattle’s Defense

December 8, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore (21) runs past Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman (25) and free safety Earl Thomas (29) during the fourth quarter at Candlestick Park. The 49ers defeated the Seahawks 19-17. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Few thought the Pentagon was vulnerable on Sept. 10, 2001, but we stood corrected.

The Seattle Seahawks defense in 2013-14 also seems impenetrable. They boast an All-World secondary in Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Cam Chancellor and sidekick Byron Maxwell, and there’s Bobby Wagner, a rangy middle linebacker who led their club with 120 tackles. They possess beefy nose tackles, and a pass-rush rotation of Chris Clemons, Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, Clinton McDonald and Bruce Irvin that would make a backup quarterback squeam. The result is a defense that is ranked first in the NFL in yards allowed, points allowed, turnovers produced and touchdowns scored. But there’s a chink in the armor.

The Seahawks may flinch when you smash the ball down their throats. Seattle surrendered 100 rushing yards or more in their three regular season losses, and allowed 200 or more in two nail-biters to the sad St. Louis Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Including the playoffs, the Seahawks have allowed eight 100-yard games on the ground, which hints at a blueprint the San Francisco 49ers already know.

The 49ers ran the rock only 20 times in a Week 2 loss to the Seahawks but coincidentally 33 times in a Week 14 win. San Francisco can attack Seattle’s 4-3 and 5-2 base fronts as they feel, since the Buccaneers showed you can test them up the middle (13 rushes for 96 yards through both A gaps) or on the edge like the Cardinals (23 rushes for 105 yards) or a combination of the two like themselves in Week 14 (Pro Football Focus).

It’s not like the 49ers would be playing out of element either. San Francisco earned the third-best rushing assault in the league in part to road-graders like Mike Iupati, Joe Staley, and Anthony Davis on the front five. The 49ers own immense depth at tailback, so a carousel of downhill runners could be in full force on Sunday.

The 49ers would be suicidal to abandon the passing game. But a commitment to the ground would gas Seahawks’ defenders and keep the ball out of Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch’s hands. Nothing would be more satisfiable than giving Seattle a taste of its own medicine, and a trip to the Super Bowl would be a decent consolation prize.

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