The Seahawks gifted fans a restful and rosy bye week when they found a way to win a game they tried to lose in a variety of creative ways. Seattle was able to sit back and watch other NFC contenders and future opponents battle it out. That win over previously undefeated San Francisco will act as a demarcation line for this season. There is BSF (Before San Francisco), and ASF (After San Francisco). The final six games are a season of their own. Let’s look at what we have learned and what we have yet to learn that could determine just how far this season can go for the Seahawks.
San Francisco is vulnerable, but powerful
The 49ers beat the Cardinals yesterday in a game where they trailed 16-0 in the first half and 26-23 near the end of the 4th quarter. The easy storyline is that the 49ers have been overrated and exposed the past few weeks. Be careful with that perspective.
San Francisco has a great defense, a powerful run game, a great offensive coach, and a ton of fight. It would be easy to look at two close wins over the Cardinals and one loss to the Seahawks and think San Francisco’s 8-0 record was the product of a weak schedule.
There is no doubt the 49ers benefitted from weak competition, but so did the Seahawks. The difference is San Francisco annihilated opponents. Their 51-13 win over the Panthers was not a mirage. Holding the Rams to under 50 yards total passing in Los Angeles was not an illusion. Not only that, but they accomplished many of their most impressive feats with key players missing due to injury.
There are no teams in the NFL that I see as clearly better than the 49ers. The difference is that now I see they are to be respected, but not feared.
Both the Cardinals and the Seahawks managed to execute a game plan where they limited the 49ers rushing offense. That put much more responsibility on Jimmy Garoppolo’s shoulders. He came through in both games against Arizona, totally 741 yards passing, 8 touchdowns, a 75%+ completion rate, and a passer rating over 115.
He also threw three interceptions and could have easily had four or five more. This team is not dominant when they cannot run the ball. They are also not toothless.
George Kittle has missed the last two games, and he is a big factor. Deebo Samuel is emerging. Emmanuel Sanders will continue to grow his role as well.
Kyle Shanahan is resourceful and showed yesterday how he can leverage the running backs and the screen game to make life easier on his quarterback.
The idea that Garoppolo sucks is just foolish fan hyperbole. He has made some very impressive throws and has put together a season many quarterbacks would love to have on their resumes.
What we can now saw with certainty, though, is he is very unreliable when under pressure. He fumbles. He throws picks. He becomes inaccurate.
We also know that the 49ers pass protection is vulnerable.
The blueprint is out there to sell out on the run and pressure like crazy in obvious pass situations. It’s now on San Francisco to prove they can overcome it like they did against the Cardinals.
Their defense has also shown some weak spots, but not as much as you might think. Seattle did not score an offensive point until about four minutes were left in the third quarter. Both of their offensive touchdowns that quarter came after Garoppolo turnovers deep in 49er territory.
The Cardinals did not even break 150 yards passing. Both Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray hurt the 49ers with their feet. Arizona and Seattle had around 150 yards rushing in their games against the 49ers. Teams that can move the ball on the ground have an advantage against this defense.
San Francisco has lost some of their depth on defense. Kwon Alexander and Ronald Blair have been lost for the season. The lineman who knocked Joey Hunt on his but (DJ Jones) was hurt in that game. Dee Ford exited this last game with a hamstring injury. Azeez Al-Shaair, another linebacker, missed this past game with a concussion.
They face the Packers at home, then the Ravens and Saints on the road over the next three weeks. Given what I know of the 49ers right now and of those teams, I’d expect San Francisco to drop at least one of those games. The Ravens, in particular, look like a very tough match given their offensive and defensive strengths in the running game.
For those who are incredibly optimistic, you may find yourself cheering for the 49ers to beat the Saints should San Francisco drop a game or two before then. New Orleans has the tiebreaker over the Seahawks, and do not have nearly the challenging schedule Seattle and San Francisco do.
What we are going to find out over the next six games for the 49ers is whether they are truly a great team that is simply recalibrating to finding their formula against better competition, or a team that mixes elite talent with fatal flaws that keep them from contending.
Seahawks simply walked onstage. Their performance begins now.
Have you ever had the experience where you put someone firmly in the friend zone and then they did something that all-of-a-sudden made them desirable? That was the Seahawks on Monday. We all liked them, and their record was impressive, but only the truly desperate “like liked” them.
They just removed their black-rimmed glasses, released their hair from the ponytail, and smiled at us. Who knew?
The biggest story of that game by far was the performance of the defense. Yes, Jadeveon Clowney was the star of the show, and that was terrific, but that was not all.
Jarran Reed has 1.5 sacks and contributed. Poona Ford looked like the disruptive player we had hoped for. Al Woods continued his steady play. Shaquem Griffin did not register a single pressure, but at least he pressed threatened the pocket with his speed, which opened up space for others, including blitzers.
We also saw Quandre Diggs play safety as well as anyone has since Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor left. That’s not to say he is anywhere near either of those players, but the drop-off in safety play has been massive over the past two years, and Diggs looks like he can help stem the tide.
Now we get to see what the coaches do with the bye week. Do they figure out how to get Jamar Taylor off the field? He is the glaring weakness. There are multiple options:
Play Diggs and McDougald in base defense, and slide Diggs to corner in nickel with Marquise Blair playing safety
Play Ugo Amadi
This is perhaps the most important area the team needs to address if they hope to make a deep playoff run. Taylor is a major problem.
As crazy as it sounds, we do not yet really know if Ziggy Ansah is done. He has played like it. We have no indication he has anything to offer. At the same time, I have this curious feeling that losing snaps to Griffin, the extra time off from the bye week, continued healing from his injury, and just the energy of renewed pride of the defense could lead to an uptick as the year closes out. He cannot be less impactful than he has been, so it would all be gravy.
On offense, the addition of Josh Gordon is very intriguing. He only made two catches against San Francisco, but they were in big spots and were impressive routes and catches. He could become a real problem for opponents who have been able to shift coverage to Tyler Lockett and single up on D.K. Metcalf.
Gordon could force teams to re-evaluate where they want to focus their coverage. Lockett could see more single coverage. Gordon has not even shown his deep ball ability yet. Meanwhile, Metcalf has grown each and every week. His fumbles have been a problem, but his impact is undeniable.
Joining them is Jacob Hollister who hauled in 8 passes and is proving to be a great partner for Wilson in clutch moments. Ed Dickson is due back, and gives the team their best blocker at tight end since Will Dissly went down.
As well as the Seahawks defense played against the 49ers, the offense did not answer the bell in the same way. They need to play much better over this stretch to win the 5 or 6 games necessary to secure home home field advantage.
What’s it gonna take?
So you say you want the Seahawks to have a bye and home field throughout the playoffs? Let’s take a look at what realistically has to happen for that dream to become reality.
First and foremost, that Seahawks defense we saw last week cannot be an aberration. Nobody would be shocked if we spend the offseason muttering about why the Seahawks could not recapture that fire and aggression they displayed in that game. There is no way this team wins 13-14 games without the defense being at least adequate. That means playing like a top 15 defense week-to-week, with flashes of a top 5-10 defense when they play their best. No more playing like a bottom 5 defense for weeks at a time.
Second, Wilson must continue to be special. In fact, he may have to play better in these final six games than he has to this point. The competition is going to be tougher, and he has to be Brady-like in his ability to take down opposing defenses.
Chris Carson must stop fumbling. Honestly, the whole team needs to stop fumbling. It’s been a major issue. Those are the most preventable turnovers. This team is very tough to beat when they do not turn the ball over.
Jason Myers must make 85%+ of his kicks the rest of the way. No more choking away points.
The 49ers must lose at least one game outside of the matchup with the Seahawks to end the year. The Saints must lose at least two games.
Both of those are required with the assumption the Seahawks will lose at least one game the rest of the way.
The Saints have the Panthers, 49ers, and Colts at home, as well as the Falcons, Panthers and Titans on the road. They very well could win all of those games. Finding two losses is pretty optimistic.
One loss definitely could happen. If that’s the case, Seattle would need to win out to earn the top seed. That’s asking a lot.
Seattle has the tiebreaker over the Packers in case you were wondering about them. That would only change if the Seahawks lost a conference game as they currently have the better conference record between the two teams.
The Packers have a very easy closing slate. After a tough game in San Francisco, they play the Giants, Redskins, Bears, Vikings and Lions.
A more plausible path might be Seattle getting the second seed and a bye, and hoping someone goes in and knocks off the Saints in the divisional round.
Whether it be the first or the second seed, the Seahawks likely cannot lose more than one game the rest of the way, which would give them 13 wins. They might be able to win the division with 12 wins if the 49ers drop two of their next three, but chances are Green Bay could grab the tiebreaker in that scenario and may even win 13 themselves.
There is no easy road to home field advantage. The Seahawks are undeniably on it after switching out a few flat tires. Their ability to maintain this new cruising speed will determine just how far they go.