The last two times the 49ers played the Seahawks, both of which were on the road, didn’t go well for San Francisco. The last time the two teams faced was during week 2 when the Seahawks won at home 29-3. Tomorrow, the 49ers will get another shot, this time at home. In this post I will outline what I think San Francisco needs to do to win this game. This is not a prediction and is intended to be just for fun.
I’m not going to say much about the defense because contrary to what one might surmise if they were to only look at the final score of the last game, the defense actually played very well and it was very close until late in the game. Seattle led 5-0 at halftime and was held at 5 points until late in the 3rd quarter. It wasn’t until Seattle scored a TD and made it a two-score game that the 49ers offense panicked and began forcing the ball downfield, resulting in turnovers and great field position for the Seahawks—leading to more points for them.
What the defense needs to do tomorrow, and what they did well in their first meeting, is to funnel the plays inside. It’s very prudent to maintain good outside defense—forcing Seattle to run inside and preventing Russell Wilson from rolling out. The 49ers defense has played well lately and I hope they continue playing at a high level tomorrow.
As I previously mentioned, the main problem with the last game was the offense. There were the egregious turnovers late in the game, but even prior to that, the offense was struggling to move the ball and score points, which is something that must change tomorrow. Having Crabtree and Manningham playing will certainly help, but I think the gameplanning will be key in this matchup.
Seattle’s defense is a 4-3 Under base that Pete Carroll learned while working as a graduate assistant with defensive coordinator Monty Kiffin under Lou Holtz at the University of Arkansas. He later worked with Kiffin within the Minnesota Vikings organization. One difference in Carroll’s defense from that of Kiffin’s is that he uses an “elephant defender”, where the defensive end on the weakside rushes the passer form the 2-point (standing) stance. This should seem familiar to 49ers fans because this elephant defense was pioneered by George Seifert in San Francisco. The purpose of this defense is gap control and building a wall sideline to sideline. Each of the front 7 are responsible for one gap and the RDE, the “elephant defender” is responsible for controlling the weakside C gap while rushing the passer.
More information about the under front here.
So now that we know a little bit about Seattle’s defense, I’m going to point out some weaknesses and how the 49ers offense can be effective against it. Since the losses to Seattle and Indianapolis in weeks 2 and 3, the 49ers have relied more on their power running game, and this is a good thing. One point of attack in the running game should be the weakside A-Gap, which provides great angles for attack. The weakside A-Gap is usually controlled by their Will Linebacker. In this case, Seattle’s KJ Wright doesn’t have a huge size advantage over 49ers FB Bruce Miller so a good play would be a weakside ISO with Miller blocking for Frank Gore.
In the passing game, the point of attack would be the middle of the field and it is important to use the backs in the passing game a lot too. By using backs under coverage, they can not only make plays using their running ability, but this also opens up the deeper passing game, which will get guys like Vernon Davis open. By utilizing all positions as receivers, the offense can attack the entire field and reduce the defensive coverage into one-on-one situations.
It will be essential for Kaepernick to be protected and for the wide receivers to time their routes. If a receiver breaks into his route before Kaepernick is ready to throw, then the defender has time to close in and can make a play on the ball. If Kaepernick is ready to throw the ball, but the receiver has not yet cut into his route, the coverage can key in on where Kaep is looking to throw. Protection is also important for maintaining timing between kaepernick and his wide receivers so he isn’t pressured to throw before a receiver has made a break into his route. Here’s a screenshot from the game against Carolina a few weeks ago where it is evident that Kaepernick is pressured to throw the ball before any wide receiver is ready for a pass. Carolina is in a cover 4, yet no underneath routes are called, nor is any receiver adjusting for a hot pass.
The other thing I’d mention is winning the turnover battle. Seattle has won some close ugly games, mostly because they didn’t make costly mistakes. And as I mentioned in the beginning, the last game between these two slipped out of reach for the 49ers when Kaepernick started making mistakes. In addition to everything above, the 49ers need to be very disciplined and not make mistakes. Don’t give Seattle’s offense easy opportunities. Don’t give their defense a chance to come off the field. As Jim Harbaugh teaches, make every drive end with the special teams. Whether it’s an extra point, a field goal, or even a punt (better than a turnover), all drives should always end with the special teams unit.