Logo by Kevin Gamache, Hammerhead
Gobble, gobble, turkey. Just gobble, gobble, gobble, turkey from jive turkey gobblers. That was how Jim Harbaugh responded to criticism of Alex Smith a few years ago. He may need to craft a different defense after a game in which the Seahawks feasted on the 49ers all night, and eventually a turkey provided by NBC. One can only assume the carcass was in better shape in the locker room than Colin Kaepernick or the 49ers playoff hopes. Both were at the mercy of the Seahawks, and the reigning kings chose tyranny over benevolence. Drawn and quartered, San Francisco had no ability to defend their home. After a lengthy trip to some unknown land, the kings have returned to reclaim their throne.
Zombie movie turned Die Hard
It was less than two weeks ago that I declared the rest of this season a zombie movie after the Seahawks not only lost the game in Kansas City, but their cornerstone members of the offensive and defensive lines. It seemed like the only objective conclusion given they had been a two-legged stool most of the year, relying on run offense and run defense, and both legs appeared to be removed. But in the last five days, the Seahawks have rushed for more yards than any other team against two of the best run defenses in the NFL and held both to 64 yards on the ground.
That is a 281-128 rushing differential, for those keeping track at home. Seattle has done more than run the ball and stop the run. They have also passed the ball efficiently and stopped the pass. Kaepernick and Drew Stanton produced the worst two passer ratings against the Seahawks so far this year, and combined for a 45.3 rating. Meanwhile, Russell Wilson has posted two of his four highest ratings of the season. Oh, and the special teams have allowed a combined 6 yards in punt returns, blocked a punt and forced a fumble.
Seattle is now in position to turn Arizona into Hans Gruber. Their self-assuredness built on so many things going right for them and the bloodied adversary from the Northwest, has turned to at least a shred of doubt. Somewhere, Richard Sherman is preparing to say “Yippee ki-yay, [R-rated]!”
Pain can be a powerful motivator, and the 49ers felt plenty of it the last time they played the Seahawks. They lost a chance to play in the Super Bowl by the tip of a finger, and then endured choice words from Sherman. Kaepernick and Michael Crabtree had special dispensation for vengeance heading into this game. They would up in more pain than when we last left them.
Crabtree was injured on the first pass of the day on a crushing hit from Kam Chancellor and Bobby Wagner. He managed to play on and contribute 3 catches for 10 yards. Kaepernick almost had equal luck throwing to Sherman, who had 2 catches (interceptions) for 6 yards.
In fact, Sherman’s two catches in five targets eclipsed Kaepernick’s efficiency throwing to Brandon Lloyd (1 catch, 6 targets). Kaepernick kissed the dirt more often (4 sacks) than his biceps (0 smooches).
His coach told NBC at halftime that they would “show up” in the second half. Three points later, his job, and that of his offensive coordinator Greg Roman, were being heavily debated while owner Jed York apologized for the performance on Twitter and general manager Trent Baalke’s daughter tweeted out her wishes
for Roman to be shown the door.
The 49ers are starting to more resemble the ultra-talented and aimless squad that Harbaugh inherited than the punishing war machine they have been the last three years. They will enter Seattle in two weeks looking to regain dignity, which the Cardinals proved last year is a dangerous motivator, but the S.S. 49er is taking on water and their captain very well may go down with the ship.
Scoring points is awesome. We all love a good touchdown run or long pass. But is there anything more fun than watching a defense surgically remove hope from opponents souls? Every blade of grass gained against Seattle in the last two weeks came at great expense. The fury has returned, and while it is convenient to say it is all due to Bobby Wagner returning and Kam Chancellor getting healthy, that would be selling a lot of other players short.
Earl Thomas is playing superhuman football again. His open-field tackles on Frank Gore last night will go mostly unnoticed, but those are the difference between a 7-yard gain and a 70 yard gain, as we have seen before.
Sherman is making receivers look like cardboard cutouts of themselves. Byron Maxwell is blanketing receivers, and Tharold Simon is cementing his role as the third corner. He looks just like a baby L.O.Boomer, complete with a bevy of penalties while he learns the league and the refs learn about him.
Tharold Simon is cementing his role as the third corner
The Seahawks are regularly pushing either Maxwell or Sherman inside, depending on the matchups, in nickel situations and letting Simon play the edge. His only negative plays in the past couple of games have been penalties. Nobody is burning him. He has been closer to getting an interception than to getting beat.
Cliff Avril is terrorizing quarterbacks and tackles. Kevin Williams is holding his own at nose tackle. K.J. Wright is continuing his terrific season, and Bruce Irvin is playing with power and speed.
Players that are fortunate enough to catch a ball against this defense right now are barely able to get two feet on the ground before being tackled. The swarm is back. Ball carriers are getting met in the hole with ferocity. Demarcus Dobbs introduced himself to Seahawks fans with a jarring tackle for loss early in the game.
This is a group playing opponent-independent football right now. They are dictating outcomes and forcing submission. And the only people having more fun than the fans watching it are the players making it happen.
The Seahawks have averaged 19.3 points per game over their last three games. That is their lowest total over any three-game stretch this season. Yet, they have also had at least five red zone possessions in four straight games. That is the longest such streak for the this offense in at least the last two seasons. They are moving the ball enough to put up big point totals, but are robbing themselves of better outcomes with inefficiency in the red zone.
Seattle has at least five red zone possessions in four straight games
Officials appeared to take away at least one touchdown against the 49ers on a bad offensive pass interference call, and it looked very much like Tony Moeaki got the ball over the goal line earlier. Those two plays would have made 19 points turn into 27 points.
With a defense that is allowing 11.8 points over the last four games, this offense does not need to be explosive. But they are a few tweaks of efficiency away from being an accomplice in turning comfortable victories into blowouts.
The lengthy break comes at a good time for Marshawn Lynch, and should Max Unger truly be only a couple weeks away from returning (I have my doubts), this group could be set up nicely for the stretch run.
All paths remain open
Just one week ago, it would have been the height of homerism to think the Seahawks could win their next two games, let alone their final six. That is now a realistic scenario. If the Seahawks defense continues to play like this, they will win their final six. And should Seattle find a way to make that happen, there is a very real chance they will earn the top seed in the NFC.
The Seahawks have concocted a cocktail of confidence and talent that tastes very familiar. It is as bitter to their opponents as it is sweet to Seahawks fans. They need to bottle it and serve it on a weekly basis from this point forward. They believe they will do it. Their only true opponent is looking back at them in the mirror.
A bird can only be captured if it flies low enough to the ground. These Seahawks are soaring, and show no signs of landing anytime soon.