Monday, September 16, 2013

The Morning After: Seahawks Soul Stomp 49ers, 29-3

Logo by Kevin Gamache, Hammerhead 

Apparently lightning does strike the same place twice. San Francisco fans and players may have preferred to be struck down than to endure a second straight humiliating loss to a team some consider a bitter rival. Seattle dominated the 49ers so thoroughly that it is fair to question just how much of a rival they really are. This was the worst statistical home game of Russell Wilson's career, many key players were injured, and the Seahawks still won by twenty-six points. Rivals are competitive. San Francisco is left hoping they can rival the Seahawks some time in the future. That will be difficult, given that the Seahawks stand to improve considerably with names like Harvin, Irvin, and Clemons returning to action. If you walk away with one thing from this game, it should be that there is only one true rival to the Seahawks, and it is the team staring back at them in the mirror. The ceiling is so much higher than what they showed last night. It is up to them to see just how good they can be.

Turn up the volume to 12

The team may not have delivered the the most impressive performance of the night. Having attended every Seahawks home game for the past 16 years, I can say the only other time that compared to the atmosphere last night was the NFC Championship game in 2005. Not Beast Quake. Not the Giants false startapalooza. Fans brought a level of mayhem to that game I did not think possible in a regular season contest. This was not just about pure record-breaking decibel level. The noise started during the 49ers huddle, and often before. It was as loud in the 4th quarter as it was in the first. Some other stadium may reset the noise record, but none will sustain like Seattle did on Sunday. Bravo, folks. 

Pass rush turns up

There will be plenty of talk about the Seahawks secondary, and rightfully so, but the most encouraging aspect of the defensive performance had to be the pass pressure applied by the Seahawks defensive line. Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, O'Brien Schofield and a cast of others all took turns collapsing the pocket and making Colin Kaepernick look like a system quarterback. The cooperation of coverage and pass rush made this one of the most complete efforts by a Seattle defense in recent memory. Chris Clemons should be back in the next week or two, and Bruce Irvin returns for week five. It is now safe to believe this pass rush could be special when fully equipped. Couple even a top ten pass rush with this secondary, and most teams will struggle to reach double digits against this defense. 

FACT: Seattle finished with five QB hits from four different players

Congrats to Cliff Avril for getting some well-deserved revenge against d-bag extraordinaire Anthony Davis. He appeared to be part of the nickel pass rush package, as opposed to the base LEO, which is what I observed during camp, and he looked lethal doing it. It would not surprise me to see him end the year with 12+ sacks.   

Secondary to none

So. Damn. Good. If Cam Newton and Kaepernick are two of the best future quarterbacks in the NFL, Seattle's secondary appears future proof. 

FACT: Seahawks defense held Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick to a combined 52.1 passer rating
Richard Sherman is making his early push for defensive player of the year with another stellar outing. His partners in the defensive backfield were right there with him. Earl Thomas had a crucial impact play for the second straight week. Kam Chancellor collected his first interception since a 2011 game against Philadelphia. But perhaps the strongest statement came from Walter Thurmond, who continues to show why he will be one of the most coveted free agent cornerbacks on the market this off-season. Enjoy him while he is here, because there is no way this team will be able to afford him if he continues to put together games like he has the first two weeks of this season. The play he made on the goal line after the blocked punt was all instinct and speed. He came off his coverage to disrupt the pass and cause a turnover that turned the game around. More than one Seahawk receiver has described 

FACT: Anquan Boldin has 3 catches for 29 yards in his last two games against Seattle 
Thurmond as the best pure cover corner on the team, and we are seeing what this secondary looks like with two elite cover corners in the lineup. Browner may be my favorite defender on the roster, but he is not a cover corner in the sense that Sherman and Thurmond are. There has only been one game when all three players suited up, and that was in Chicago last year. Things are bound to get even more entertaining when everyone is healthy. San Francisco fans will want to believe that getting Michael Crabtree back will change the equation. Take a look at what he has done in his career against this secondary. None of the 49ers major receiving options qualify as a threat to Seattle. Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman have their work cut out for them.

Run defense sparkles

Never has a 5.0 yards per carry night for an opponent looked so dominating. San Francisco running backs managed 13 yards on 11 carries for an average of 1.2 yards per carry. Kaepernick accounted for 87 yards on his own. Good for him. It had nothing to do with the run defense. I don't have access to splits that show his success on designed runs, but it was not pretty. Nearly all of his yardage came on scrambles. I was not sure this front seven was capable of this type of showing against the best offensive line in football. Suddenly, that match-up in Houston in a couple of weeks is looking a little different. Just imagine what it would have looked like if Anthony Dixon hadn't been putting those extra weights on the racks all week. 

Run defense and pass rush were the two biggest question marks headed into the year for the defense. Both aspects were fantastic Sunday night. Seattle has held their two opponents to a combined total of 10 points, or 5 ppg. Scoring tends to be difficult when an offense cannot run or pass. 

Offense uneven

Start with the great. Piling up 172 yards rushing on the 49ers defense is fantastic. The yards were hard-earned, and the running game looked so much more like the aggressive North-South style we saw last year. To do it without Russell Okung for much of the game made it that much more impressive. Justin Smith was back and knocking people silly, but that did not stop the Seahawks from winning the battle with the best defensive line in football. Seattle should be aiming to average 175 yards rushing per game. They exceeded that average in the last half of 2012. 

Running will continue to be key as the passing game is out of sorts. Pass protection was again not good enough, and Wilson looked uncomfortable all night. He does not look like he has found his rhythm yet at all. We very well may be witnessing a plateau period as teams have adjusted to his tendencies. He will need to make his own adjustments to rediscover that zone he was in late last year. Darrell Bevell looks to be struggling with play-calling a bit as well. There have been few easy wins for Wilson two weeks into the season. The tight ends have been under-utilized, possibly due to pass protection problems requiring their attention elsewhere. 

This offense can be the best in the NFL. They have some work to do to reach that potential. Jacksonville gives them a good chance to find their footing.

Stage is set

Seattle exits this game with their destiny firmly in grasp. There are already commentators out there dismissing this victory as "doing what they were supposed to do at home." That is a tone deaf interpretation of the events that transpired last night. Seattle has dominated the defending NFC Champions in back-to-back games. Winning by a few points would be what the home team was supposed to do. Check the Vegas line for proof of that. This win puts Seattle clearly in the position of top dog until San Francisco can find a way to beat them by a similar margin. Squeaking out a 13-6 win in Candlestick like last year won't cut it, and it also won't happen. The 49ers now know that cannot physically beat the Seahawks. They cannot schematically beat the Seahawks. They walk away knowing they have to find some new way to play against this team. The things that work against every other team, do not work against this one. That is a hollow and anxious feeling to carry around for the next few months. Seattle no longer has to measure itself against any other team. They begin their trek up the mountain top with only the peak in mind, and the path ahead looks all clear.

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