The Morning After: Seahawks Stomp 49ers with Backups of Backups

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Surprisingly dominant performance against rival 49ers

A rookie wide receiver turned tight end played defensive end. A rookie fifth round pick got his first start on the defensive line. A 49er castoff played his first game for the Seahawks. A fourth-string rookie running back got his first start. Seattle was as depleted by injury as they have been since last season, and they turned in their most complete performance in devastating the 49ers with another 3rd quarter flourish at home that helped them build a 30-7 lead. It made for a nourishing day for Seahawks fans as NFC foes, Green Bay and Los Angeles, dropped games in the morning to strengthen Seattle’s path to the top seed.

There will be many angles on this game from both the 49ers and from those who cover the Seahawks. San Francisco will play up Jimmy Garoppolo’s ankle injury and the very lengthy list of players they were missing. Seattle coverage will (and is already) play up that the aggressive blitzing style the Seahawks defense deployed was the moment where the team found their identity on that side of the ball. Both are incorrect.

Kyle Shanahan has been masterful the previous two weeks picking apart both the Rams and the Patriots defenses. They scored 23 and 21 points in the first half of those games, and did so behind a clever offensive attack that did not ask Garoppolo to throw the ball downfield very often. Bill Belichick had no answer for what San Francisco did. That was literally last week. Same quarterback. Same coach. George Kittle was still there. Brandon Aiyuk is more than capable of running the receiver jet sweeps that Deebo Samuel often gets. JaMycal Hasty was being touted as a “mini-Marshawn.”

This 49ers team was coming to Seattle to face what has been the worst defense in the history of the NFL that was missing more starters than at any point in the season. They were red hot. This game had absolutely nothing to do with Garoppolo’s ankle, and while the Samuel injury mattered, it was not the difference in the game.

Give Pete Carroll and Ken Norton Jr. credit for understanding how to disrupt Shanahan’s horizontal offense. As I mentioned earlier in Tale of the Tape and on the podcast, there was not a lot of reason to fear the deep pass against this team and one thing Seattle has managed to do well this season is defense bubble screens and jet sweeps. Carroll has defended Shanahan quite well in San Francisco.

That brings us to the second misnomer about the degree to which Seattle blitzed being the blueprint for the rest of the year. It is not. Or rather, it should not. This was a unique matchup with no vertical threats at wide receiver and only Kittle to contend with down the field. It is very much a horizontal offense that stretches the field width and plays to the Seahawks “strengths.” Blitzing heavily made a ton of sense this week. It is not sustainable.

The Seahawks coverage has not been sticky enough to support taking players out of coverage. That is how they got into this mess in the first place, surrendering so many deep throws. That is not to say the blitz should be shelved. It is going to be a key ingredient to how this defense must play, but this coaching staff overused it early in the year, and there is some danger they will oversimplify this game and overuse it again.

The real story of this game was a handful of players putting together dominant performances, and a list of role players stepping up.

It starts with D.K. Metcalf. We have been blessed to watch Steve Largent, Brian Blades, Joey Galloway, Darrell Jackson, Bobby Engram, Golden Tate, and Doug Baldwin excel at the receiver position for Seattle. Never have we seen something that resembles Metcalf.

The normal hope for a young player is to piece together flashes of progress to project a trajectory toward being a quality starter or a pro bowler or even an All-Pro. In exceedingly rare instances, the trajectory is so steep that it points to the potential of being a Hall of Famer, and in even more rare moments, the sliver of possibility opens up to being the best who has ever played the position. While it would be absurd to say Metcalf is headed toward being the best receiver to ever play, it is not absurd to say he his ceiling is reaching those heights.

A player’s ceiling is the absolute best case scenario for what they could be. Cortez Kennedy had a ceiling of being the most dominant defensive lineman of his generation. He fell a bit short of that, but did become a Hall of Famer.

Metcalf is currently on pace for season totals of 82 catches, 1,554 yards, and 16 TDs as 22-year-old in his second season. There have only been two such seasons in the history of the NFL:

Calvin Johnson (96 catches, 1,681 yards, 16 TDs)

Randy Moss (111 catches, 1,632 yards, 17 TDs)

Both Johnson and Moss were a full four years older when they had those seasons. If you rewind to their second seasons, Metcalf is outpacing them both. Johnson had 78 catches, 1,331 yards and 12 TDs his second year, and Moss had 80 catches, 1,413 yards, and 11 TDs his second season. A better comparison? Jerry Rice had 86 catches, 1,570 yards, and 15 TDs. Rice was two years older than Metcalf when he compiled those numbers.

Yes, Metcalf still has to finish the season and put up these numbers. Yes, he has to do it for many, many years before he earns the right to truly be in that conversation. My point is that his absolute ceiling is higher than almost any Seahawk to ever wear the uniform.

The other guy in that conversation is Russell Wilson, who still has the potential to be the best player to ever suit up. More on him in a bit. Metcalf was so dominant in this game, against a defense and secondary that has been very good, that you have to wonder if he has a better chance to top those season projections than to fall short. Seattle plays some really poor competition later this year. Is it really out of the question that he would put up multiple games like the one he just had, or even better?

His battery mate, Tyler Lockett, just came off a 15 catch, 200 yard, 3 TD performance. Both players are on pace for 16 TDs. They are tied for the NFL lead in touchdown catches. No duo has ever had 15+ TD catches in a year. In fact, there have only been six times in league history that multiple players from any team had 15+ TD catches in a season. In other words, it is pretty rare for two players in the league to have that many receiving touchdowns. It is impossible to have two players on the same team do it.

Unless, of course, you are quarterbacked by Mr. Impossible. Wilson was masterful again in this game, throwing four touchdown passes and no interceptions. He did it differently, which was the most encouraging part. There were not any of his famous deep shots over the defense. All of his touchdowns and yards came on slants and crossing routes and other short-to-intermediate routes. That is a big deal!

Defenses have started to adjust to Seattle’s deep throwing strength. Minnesota was one of the first teams to do it well, and it took forever for Brian Schottenheimer and Wilson to adjust. It was clearly the game plan to attack underneath in this game, and Wilson was terrific in doing so. The first touchdown to Metcalf came on an intermediate crossing route that allowed Metcalf to simply boat race the defense to the endzone.

It also helped the Seahawks have their first game converting more than 50% of their 3rd downs (9 of 15). Wilson found Metcalf multiple times on slant routes, where the defender was helpless against his size and strength. This film is going to give defensive coordinators heartburn. If Seattle can carve teams up like this and beat them over the top, and beat them with one receiver or the other, even without the services of a running game, the list of ways to slow them down gets very slim.

The Seahawks have scored 31 points or more in every game this year except against the Vikings when they scored 27 points, and that game was in the rain. Wilson has 26 TDs, trailing Tom Brady’s 2007 pace by one touchdown, but already matching or exceeding his full season totals in four of his eight seasons. He had 13 TDs after three weeks. There are more than a dozen starting QBs, including names like Drew Brees, Kyler Murray, Matt Ryan, Lamar Jackson, and Philip Rivers, who have 13 TDs on the year. Wilson is redefining what is possible.

Bobby Wagner had one of his best games as a Seahawk. He finished with 11 tackles, 2.0 sacks, and 4 QB hits. That is a stat line few defenders ever reach. Inside linebackers, especially, are not typically tormenting quarterbacks. Wagner was great on blitzes all afternoon and was also stout against the run.

The 49ers had totalled 197, 122, and 131 yards rushing in their last three games. They finished with 52 against Seattle. The same JaMycal Hasty who averaged over six yards per carry a week ago against the Patriots barely averaged over two yards per carry this week.

Wagner played angry. His defense needed it. Garoppolo felt it.

Duane Brown had what I thought was one of his best games as a Seahawk. His blocking has been dominant the past two weeks, especially in the run game. He is making a case to be an All-Pro this season. The offensive line, as a whole, was terrific again. Did we hear a single thing from Arik Armstead? 49ers fans have to wonder if they traded away the wrong young defensive line stud when they sent DeForest Buckner to the Colts.

Then, there were the less-heralded heroes. It should start with a name you would never expect. Nick Bellore.

Seattle took over at their own 14-yard-line, having punted on their previous two possessions and generally looking out of sorts. After a loss of one on the first play, and a short pass to DeeJay Dallas on the second, they faced a lengthy 3rd and 8, in serious danger of punting again from deep in their own territory. Instead, Wilson dumped off what appeared to be an innocent pass to Bellore out of the backfield. Bellore took the throw and managed to drag three 49er defenders past the first down marker. Huge play.

Four plays later, the Seahawks had a touchdown. Later in the game, the Seahawks had taken control with a 20-7 lead when Cody Barton destroyed Dante Pettis on a kick return, forcing a fumble that was recovered by…Bellore. Seattle would score another touchdown to essentially end the game.

The more durable new name to mention would be DJ Reed. The former 49er who the Seahawks claimed off waivers (SF did not want to lose him and was trying to sneak him on IR), played his first game, and what a debut it was. It was his interception that started the Seahawks first touchdown drive. Had he not made that catch, the 49ers would have kicked a field goal to take a lead.

Reed did more than cover pretty well. He also was an effective blitzer on a number of plays. He was not perfect, but he made plays on defense that needs them. Ugo Amadi has been good this year, and deserves to have his spot back when he returns, but the emergence of Reed as a legitimate alternative at the nickel corner spot is a big deal.

Alton Robinson had a nice game starting for Benson Mayowa. It was not dominant by any means, but it was impactful. He got his second sack of the season, and did a nice job defending the edge in the run game.

Jordyn Brooks flashed again as a player who could be a plus run defender. His goal line stand with Wagner was impressive. Brooks is showcasing physical tools that are translating to the NFL. The more he is able to diagnose plays, the more impactful he should become.

Tre Flowers appeared to have his best game. He was much closer in coverage than he has been, and did not surrender much on the day.

David Moore had another solid complimentary game with a clutch catch on 3rd down early, a touchdown, and a few good returns.

Dallas finished with two touchdowns, and had some nice moments as a runner and receiver, but I expected more from him. He was timid at the point of attack, and too often went lateral when the hole was small instead of taking the yards in front of him. I think he has more to offer than what we saw in this game.

Beating the 49ers is always satisfying. Beating them this handily while being this injured is honestly a bit surprising. I was convinced Jamal Adams was a key for Seattle in this game. They proved they could dominate without him. There was a very real chance the Seahawks could have fallen to 0-2 in the division this week. A hot 49er team with a great offensive coach going against this defense, and a solid defense that knows the Seahawks well, made for what should have been a tough matchup. It was a mismatch.

Seattle now travels to Buffalo before facing the Rams and Cardinals. They are 6-1. The goal absolutely should be to win each of those games. Carroll said Adams will be back next week. Damon Harrison should be activated. Carlos Dunlap could see his first action. It is unclear if Shaquill Griffin or Ugo Amadi or Benson Mayowa will make it back next week. The trade deadline is Tuesday, and Seattle may add one more pass rusher.

The stage is set for the Seahawks to earn the top seed and the only bye in the conference. They have elite players having career years. They have fresh faces putting the league on notice. That is what happens during truly special seasons. This is an already great Seahawks team that should get stronger. There are plenty of reasons to want to push 2020 out of our minds. This team is giving all of us reason to never forget it.