Second and goal from the one yard line. Seattle had marched 60 yards on their first possession of the game last night and had three feet left. The Super Bowl 50 trophy was in attendance, as if to sit in judgment. Russell Wilson took the snap and immediately came under pressure after a play-action fake. He threw it safely out of the end zone. Third down. Marshawn Lynch took the hand off and leapt over the pile for a touchdown that seemed like a perfect way to try and close the book on a painful start to the season, and end to the previous one, while starting something new. It was certainly more than enough to beat a toothless 49ers squad.
This was Wilson’s best game of the season. He has had games with gaudier passer rating numbers, but he set a season-high for good choices. Yes, I remember the two picks. Yes, I remember the couple of sacks that were clearly on him for being unwilling to throw the ball away. What stood out to me, though, was the growth he showed in being willing to swing the ball to his running backs and dump the ball over the middle for short gains, as well as repeatedly standing in the pocket to throw without dropping his head or being indecisive.
He threw on time more than he has all year. The offense felt more crisp. Third downs were well executed. There was less desperation even though he still was sacked a lot. Wilson wound up completing 75% of his passes for nearly 10 yards per attempt. It is that type of hyper efficiency that has always made Wilson such an intriguing fit for this team.
The two picks were deeply negative plays, and should not be swept under the rug. The first was just outside the red zone, and was a forced throw on the run. Had Wilson lofted the ball for the back boundary, there is a chance the play could have been made by Doug Baldwin, and a much lower risk of an interception. Better yet, realize the situation was 2nd and 10, up 17-0, and you had some room to pick up a few yards in front of you.
Similarly, it was 2nd and 6 when Wilson chose to force a ball into double coverage that resulted in a second interception, and a drive that gave San Francisco their only points of the game. Wilson does a great job of giving his receivers a chance to make a play down the field. I don’t want him to lose that. Taking unnecessary risks with double coverage or in the red zone can be eliminated without abandoning that aggressive mentality.
This was a really encouraging game, though, for Wilson. He must play this way consistently, and continue to grow as a young signal caller.
Defense looked familiar
Fourth quarter meltdowns against Cincinnati and Carolina obscured six quarters of dominant Seattle defense the past two weeks. Seattle did not look better against the 49ers. They looked like they maintained their level of play the whole game and were playing a hopeless opponent. That is not to say the defense was unimpressive.
Bennett was Kaepernicking all night
Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril were challenging the bounds of reality. They teamed for 5.0 sacks between them and a forced fumble. Bruce Irvin was right there all night, but these two guys kept arriving a split second before him. Irvin once again showcased his supreme athleticism by rushing the passer one play and covering Anquan Boldin another. He had a terrific game.
Kudos to Kris Richard for entering this game with a clear plan and sticking to it. It helps when things work early and often, but lesser coordinators may have oversteered following the collapses the past two games. He showed confidence in their system, and the players all looked locked in.
Colin Kaepernick was hardly a worthy foe. He might as well have come out wearing a white flag instead of a uniform. It was clear that his primary goal was to protect the ball, which he did, but points are pretty important if you want to win. Seattle seemed to have all his receivers double-covered most of the night because they were sending so few out. They needed extra people to try and protect, which still did not work.
Don’t look now, but the Seahawks are tied with Denver for the best pass rush in the NFL over the past three games. They are sacking the quarterback on over 11% of dropbacks during that time. They are over 8% for the season, which is better than their 2013 team. The defensive line has been playing really well. It is the secondary that has sprung the leaks. That looked much more disciplined this game, and will hopefully get some reinforcements like Marcus Burley back soon.
Offensive line making strides
Seattle surrendered five sacks to a team with a weak pass rush. A couple were on Wilson, but the right tackle spot was weak most of the night. Garry Gilliam played injured and Alvin Bailey whiffed on a number of blocks.
That said, there were some terrific holes opened for the running game all night. This was the second time in three games where the line imposed their will on an opponent. They won with power and toughness. The number of negative rushing plays has steadily decreased as the line has begun to gel.
The best way to help their pass protection is to have a consistent running game. Seattle will be going to Dallas for their next game against a team with a great pass rush. That would have felt overwhelming a few weeks ago. Now, it is not hard to imagine the Seahawks working hard to establish the run and picking their spots for passing. That represents real growth, and is why Tom Cable gets the recognition as a great teacher. The extra time before the next game, and the bye week after, will offer additional chances for the line to continue their growth.
The Seahawks did not play a completely different game against San Francisco. They were not reborn. They played their brand of football and were facing an inferior opponent. There is a massive divide between the undefeated Bengals and Panthers, and the 49ers.
There were plays made in this game, though, that represented a step forward. Seattle got the ball back after the 49ers scored their only points, and faced a 1st and 16 to start the 4th quarter after a questionable holding call on the previous play. Wilson passed quickly to Jimmy Graham for 8 yards, and then swung the ball to Fred Jackson for 18 yards and a first down. They would go on to pick up a 3rd and 1 when Wilson kept a read option. The could not overcome another negative play when Wilson was sacked, but managed to tack on a field goal and burn seven minutes off the clock. Almost any one of those plays would have probably been enough to win either of the last two games. That drive certainly would have.
Sometimes it takes facing a weaker sparring partner to build the confidence and good habits necessary to rise in the ranks and face the elite. There is no shame in dominating a bad team, especially on the road, and on a short week. Seattle now gets a long week to feel good about themselves and prepare for Dallas with a little more pep in their step.
Dallas has more talent than San Francisco, and represents a right-sized step up in level of competition. The Seattle team that played last night should win. Their new goal is to capture that level of play two games in a row.