Tale of the Tape — 49ers Defensive Line Could Cause Trouble for Seahawks

The San Francisco 49ers are half of a team. Their offense has a few talented players, but it is their defense that glitters with first-round talent. Three players on their defensive line, and six players overall on the defense, were selected in the first round. The score of their home opener against the Panthers was a woeful 23-3 in favor of the visitors. Look more deeply into the script of that game and you will find a stout defense that was unable to shoulder the burden of an inept offense. That might sound familiar to Seahawks fans. Seattle is the overwhelming favorite in this game (-13) for good reason, but there are matchups that could cause this to be far more uncomfortable than any Seahawks fan wants to imagine. 

The way this works: Each offense will be pitted against the opposing defense and compared on an array of key statistical attributes based on their respective rank in the NFL. The tables that follow show the rank of each unit for each of these categories. 

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Seahawks Offense vs 49ers Defense


The 49ers defense starts with their ultra-talented defensive line. Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner, Tank Carradine, and Solomon Thomas are all talented young players. Veteran Elvis Dumervil was once an elite pass rusher, and still has enough in the tank to give the troubled Seahawks offensive line a problem. It would not be hard to argue that this defensive line boasts more talent than the one the Seahawks were dominated by in week one.  This one matchup could unravel the whole game for Seattle if the offensive line does not take a significant step forward this week.


49ers key advantages on defense

It is hard to imagine all five Seahawks offensive linemen playing better this week. That is what it will take to create any sort of rhythm. San Francisco has enough talent across their line that any one weak link on the Seahawks could lead to Wilson running for his life again. The hopeful news is despite the talent, the 49ers did not record a sack last week, and had just two quarterback hits. It is not only about pass pressure.


49ers run defense by direction. Source: sharpfootballstats.com

The 49ers were very tough to run on a year after being a historically bad run defense. NaVarro Bowman still patrols the middle of the field, and Eric Reid does a nice job in run support. San Francisco will be missing Reuben Foster, who looks well on his way to being a game-changing talent at linebacker, but that front seven still has enough leftover to make life difficult for the Seahawks.

Seahawks key advantages on offense

Seahawks receivers are better than the players they will be facing on Sunday. Tyler Lockett sounds like he will be cleared for a larger role in the offense than he had in week one, which could give Wilson another separation receiver available for shorter, quicker, throws. Wilson, historically, has been a stronger deep passer along the left side of the field. That area was vulnerable in the 49ers first game.


49ers defensive passer rating by direction and depth of throw. Source: sharpfootballstats.com

Look for the Seahawks to utilize more quick screens to their receivers, even though those did not work well against the Packers. Playing at home will give Wilson a better chance to communicate at the line, and that will hopefully help reduce miscues from the guys in front of him. It is hard to feel confident describing any Seahawks advantage on offense until the line shows it can block for more than one second.


49ers Offense vs Seahawks Defense


Here is where this game should open up for Seattle. The 49ers are lacking talent on offense, especially at the quarterback and receiver spots. Brian Hoyer is not going to scare anyone other than the fans of whichever team he is playing for. He was responsible for an interception and a fumble that turned the Carolina game into a blowout. That was at home. Welcome to CenturyLink Field.


49ers key advantages on offense


Oh boy. Well, Carlos Hyde is a good runner, and the 49ers have some decent players on their offensive line. Joe Staley is not what he once was, but is tough and smart. Trent Brown, the team’s right tackle, is a mountain of a man, and is a good pass blocker. Kyle Juszczyk is arguably the best blocking fullback in the game. This team wants to feed the ball to Hyde on the ground and through the air. He is their most dangerous weapon by far.

Pierre Garcon is a tough and reliable receiver, sort of an Anquan Boldin-lite. Marquise Goodwin is a decent depth receiver, but is their other starter. There just is not a lot there to work with.


Seahawks key advantages on defense


They are plentiful. Start with looking at the spray chart for where Hoyer’s passes went against the Panthers:

Brian Hoyer pass frequency by direction and depth vs Panthers. Source: sharpfootballstats.com

A remarkable 91% of Hoyer’s throws in week one traveled less than 15 yards in the air. Even with the protection challenges Wilson faced in Green Bay, over a quarter of his throws (26%) traveled more than 15 yards. Seattle is built to take away the deep ball. When they do not need to worry about deep passes, they can be ultra-aggressive in rallying forward to snuff out short passes and deliver big hits that are more likely to result in turnovers.

The 49ers also have a real weakness on their offensive line. Zane Beadles is their left guard, and he was eaten alive in the first game. ProFootballFocus gave him a -9.0 grade, including -7.4 on pass protection after he surrendered 5 quarterback hurries and a sack. Look for the Seahawks to put Sheldon Richardson over Beadles and torment him all afternoon.

The 49ers should not find the endzone in this game. Seattle’s defense playing in front of their home crowd needs to create turnovers to reduce the burden on their offense. This is a game where two or three turnovers should be possible. Anything more than 9 points for the 49ers would be a major disappointment.

Special Teams

Seahawks kicking vs 49ers returning



49ers kicking vs Seahawks returning




Blair Walsh and Jon Ryan got off to great starts, and the coverage teams were great as well. Seattle has allowed a total of zero return yards so far. Walsh has kicked every ball out of the end zone, and every punt return has either been fair caught or gained no yards. Lockett broke loose for one long return.


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  1. I’m glad you chose to frame this article the way you did, as I agree it’s the Niners D that will keep them anywhere near in this game. Given the Seahawk early season history and the seeming unwillingness of the staff to adjust in game to what the opposition D throws at them it wouldn’t surprise me one bit for this to be a close final score game………..say 3 points difference. Until our offense finds it’s footing, which seems to almost always take a while, it may even turn out that the D puts up more points given how Hoyer plays.

    Seems like worried Hawk fans are grasping at the allure of the “hurry up” offense since it provided the closest thing to a successful offensive drive last week. There’s a place for that, but not a steady diet of it alone. One, the offense can only sustain that kind of dynamism for so long, and two, other defenses will likely adjust. Mixed in with other strategies it’s a good leverage tool to keep the opponent off balance. But mixing strategies doesn’t seem a likely strong suit given the past performance of Bevell/Wilson.

    It will be interesting to see the performance of individual O team members. Hopefully Graham got his bad hair day over with last week. While Carson is the most intriguing running back, and has earned more playing time, if it were me, I’d start by giving Lacy the rock early and perhaps often. Quite frankly it’s not too early to put him to the test to prove he deserves to keep his spot on the roster. If he can’t perform against these guys it may be time for the team to cut it’s loses with him. Mike Davis is still on the practice squad I believe, and couldn’t/hasn’t been any worse than Lacy so far. While some might be tempted to do the same with at least a couple of the O-linemen I think that that would just be continuing the churning that isn’t helpful for this unit.

    I hate being this cynical, but until these guys can stand up toe to toe with a playoff caliber team and show growth/performance excellence on both sides of the ball it’s hard not to be.

  2. The problem, Uncle Bob, with a sink or swim approach with Lacy is that you give away too many touches that could go to Rawls and Carson from the get go. And From The Get Go is where I think the Hawks need to start every game from now on. As in, hand it to Rawls or Carson, or roll out the Russ, already. Get the deer out of the headlights and back into the limelight. And (gasp) score some first half touchdowns.

    (My unoriginal 2 centavos).

    1. I’m not averse to the “Rawhide” approach, and understand the feeling of urgency. It would be particularly appropriate if staff has already made up it’s mind that the Lacy experiment hasn’t worked as hoped. Given that it’s early in the season and some experimentation is better afforded now than later (though risking a division game has it’s additional drawback) I was feeling generous in giving him a one game “prove it” deal. But building some positive momentum ASAP is not without merit…………

    2. Here’s to hoping the 49’ers bring every defensive package they have; I’d like to see both the front & back of that little piece of paper… And so would their players & fans.

  3. Eddie Lacy’s best used as someone to run out the clock once we’re ahead by more than a TD. Since he’s a load to bring down, he’ll wear out their defense, without risking injury to our more valuable RBs.

    I really don’t think a 2-minute offense is the solution. It succeeds not because of its hurry-up tempo, but because the offensive play calls lose their balance and become 80% passing and 20% running. That succeeds largely because the change catches their defense off-guard — once they shift out of run-prevent into pass-prevent, that 2-minute offense suddenly becomes a lot less successful.

    We catch them off-guard the same way any football team does — by being less predictable in our play-calling. Bevell was so predictable last Sunday that it almost seemed like GB knew what play we’d be calling even before we did.

    So let’s take a page from the Rams’ offensive revival and at least notice what happens when a team shifts from an offensive system that wasn’t working into one that’s working perfectly for the Rams’ offensive players. Of course, we could also learn the Rams’ lesson of what happens when you bring in an expensive new OT to anchor the O Line around.

  4. No chance with Cable in mix. If team is not willing to move on this week the next opportunity we be on the bye week. Not playing Pocic and Aboush at all is sign that Cable is not going to improve as a coach. Max protection will make tape look better but in no way will help the team . It’s a sad joke with a simple solution. Team is treating Cable like a bonus baby qb with a bad contract. All future o line talk should focus on who is possible Cable replacement. Go hawks.

  5. Please stop talking about Joe Thomas is not going to make it work. Unless he would become player/coach. Marshawn and Russ made the numbers look good when line always was bad. If Cable had a line of Walter Jones,The Hulk,Jesus,Andre and Joe Thomas we would still need to have tight end stay in and protect. For the love of Pete what does it take. Just take the punch. Go hawks

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