Now that the puns are out of the way, let’s get onto the serious business that is the tantalising NFC West matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks in Washington. In my previous post I brought up the old adage ‘Defence wins championships’, and if either of these two teams are successful in Louisiana come February, then it would no doubt bolster this theory considerably. The 49ers have conceded a league-low 218 points this season while their west coast rivals have conceded just one point more in that time period.
During the regular season it’s not unusual for a variety of styles of offense to be successful, and although pass heavy attacks have been the norm in recent seasons, defences quickly adapt. It was only last season that 3 quarterbacks passed for over 5000 yards, a feat that had only been achieved by 2 quarterbacks previously. Having said this, there is no chance of this achievement being repeated this season no matter how many times Matthew Stafford throws the ball.
Defensive Backs- Defences have wised up to this aerial bombardment, none more so than the 49ers and Seahawks. Both teams possess some of the most physical safeties and corners in the league. The Seahawk secondary consists of many low round draft picks that are predominantly above 6ft in height, including Brandon Browner at 6ft 4 and Richard Sherman at 6ft 3. Although their build isn’t that of your typical NFL cornerback, they have been successful in disrupting receiver routes and may enable the Seahawks to eliminate the deep ball threat that is Randy Moss. Against the pitiful Cardinals 2 weeks ago the Seahawks had 4 interceptions and 4 fumble recoveries, and forced a further 3 turnovers last week against the Bills.
The Seahawks secondary will therefore be brimming with confidence, but so will the 49ers secondary who will be on a massive high after taking down the mighty Patriots in Foxborough last weekend. 49er safeties Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner are pretty much nailed on for the pro bowl, and have been terrorising offenses for the past few seasons, so it was no surprise that they caused the Patriots so many problems last weekend as I mentioned in my first post. The secondaries are therefore similarly matched but I might give the edge to the 49ers as cornerback Brandon Browner will be missing this Sunday through suspension.
Pass Rush- To be effective against passes an effective set of pass rushers is also vital. The Seahawks usually line-up with a single defensive end in the form of Bruce Irvin or Chris Clemons who has 11.5 sacks so far this season, while the 49ers are led by the 2nd year phenom Aldon Smith who has 19.5 sacks. Although the 49ers do have a defensive MVP candidate in outside linebacker Aldon Smith, he did struggle last weekend when teammate Justin Smith left the game with an elbow injury. If Justin Smith fails to be completely healthy in time for Sunday’s game, the Seahawks may have a pass rushing edge that could prove critical in the outcome of the game.
Rush Defence- With limited success through the air, offenses that utilise both an air and ground game are reaping the rewards this season. The 49ers and Seahawks rank in the top 3 NFL teams for rushing so it will probably come down to how each team defends against the runs of star running backs Frank Gore and Marshawn Lynch, and also young quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson. The 49ers have a notoriously strong rush defence but beyond All-pros Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman there aren’t many options, as was highlighted by the Patriot 4th quarter comeback on sunday. The Seahawks also have a stout set of defensive tackles but since week 7 they have given up the most yards per carry of anyone in the league. The run defence has improved over the past 3 weeks but with both the 49ers and Seahawks ranking in the top 3 for runs over 10 yards, this could be potentially more damaging to the Seahawks’ chances in the long-run than the 49ers.
Quarterbacks- While the defensive performances of both team have fluctuated over recent weeks, the young quarterbacks have consistently performed at a higher level than many expected. Both Colin Kaepernick of the 49ers and Russell Wilson have made decisional errors, but they have more than made up for these issues by adding a rushing element to their teams that wasn’t needed but definitely enhances each offense. Kaepernick’s performance against the Patriots indicates that maybe he is more comfortable in the pocket than Wilson, but Wilson already appears to be one of the league’s best at passing on the move, so if the pocket breaks down it shouldn’t be too much of a problem for an athletic Russell Wilson. Wilson has only thrown two interceptions in his last seven games so initially I would have said Wilson had a substantial advantage, but Kaepernick’s impressive four touchdown display last week definitely makes it much harder to call. Many analysts such as John Gruden were infatuated with Wilson before April’s draft, but they all pointed to one visible, or not so ‘visible’ flaw, his height. Wilson has proved many of his doubters wrong, while Kaepernick has proved that he is much more than a ‘highly paid Joe Webb’ that many feared he might be, so it will be exciting to see who comes out on top on Sunday.
For a 49ers win-
- Kaepernick must continue to be accurate and find his receivers, especially Crabtree who can turn Seahawk corners in the open field.
- Aldon Smith needs to contain Wilson and make an impact, especially if wants to break the single season sack record.
- The 49ers need to commit Seahawk linebackers with play action pass, so Gore will have to be effective early.
For a Seahawks win-
- Receivers can’t afford dropped balls that cost them the reverse fixture.
- Wilson must be conscious of pass rushers, especially if he leaves the pocket early.
- Most crucially, the Seahawk linebackers failed to keep their ‘gap discipline’ in the last meeting with the 49ers so it is imperative that they don’t become over excited with the Century Link Field atmosphere, and defend back side runs from Kaepernick and Gore.
The 49ers can clinch the NFC West with a win this weekend but the Seahawks are still in with a chance, and both teams could even meet in the playoffs so there is a lot up for grabs. The Seahawks have been on the wrong end of four 4th quarter comebacks so far this season, so expect a close and exciting finish between two top defences and two of the NFL’s most exciting young quarterbacks.
Channel 4, Monday, 1.05 am (if you have Sky Plus then perfect!)