Three things we learned: 49ers 19, Seahawks 17
Posted by Danny O'Neil
Three things we learned
- The turnaround in Seattle's running game is for real.
When the Bears stymied the Seahawks ground game in Week 14, you had to wonder whether Seattle's rushing success in the second-half of the season was at least partly due to circumstance. Yes, Seattle had run the ball well against Dallas and Baltimore -- two well-regarded run defenses -- but the Seahawks had also faced the Rams (twice) and the Eagles. On Saturday, the Seahawks became the first team to rush for a touchdown against San Francisco this year, and Marshawn Lynch became the first player in 25 months to gain 100 yards on the ground against the 49ers. Consider that Seattle did all that without three starters on the offensive line, it's a validation of the progress Seattle has made on the ground.
- There is a legitimate rivalry in the NFC West.
The Week 1 meeting was notable for the heat between coaches Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll during a post-game handshake in 2009. That's like a footnote now. These are two teams that play the same way with a big-bodied, punishing defense on one side and a run-oriented offense on the other. If four after-play skirmishes were any indication, Saturday's game made it pretty clear that neither team is going to back down. Of particular note, the right tackles for each team were both flashpoints as Seattle's Breno Giacomini and San Francisco's Anthony Davis each drew the repeated ire of the other side.
- You can only manage your way so far in an NFL game.
At some point, it comes down to an ability to make plays. San Francisco did with a 41-yard pass from Alex Smith to Michael Crabtree in the fourth quarter, setting up the game-winning field goal. Meanwhile, the Seahawks had a total of three first downs in the first half, and had it not been for a blocked punt, Seattle never would have been in position to score the final two quarters. The Seahawks offense has come a long way this season, but their second-half offensive performance shows that Seattle has a long way to go. The Seahawks couldn't keep pace with the 49ers who don't play anywhere near the track-meet speed of New Orleans or Green Bay.
Three things we already knew
- Tarvaris Jackson's fourth-quarter limitations.
So Jackson isn't the long-term answer at quarterback, you say. Well, whoever said that he was? The Seahawks are open to that possibility, yes, but they also signed him to a two-year contract for $8 million. He wasn't paid to be the long-term answer in Seattle. Not like Kevin Kolb in Arizona, and while Jackson has played better than most expected, his limitations have been apparent, too. Seattle's only fourth-quarter comeback victory this season was on the road at New York, a game that Charlie Whitehurst finished. In each of Seattle's four home losses, the Seahawks have had the ball at least once in the final 4 minutes while trailing by eight points of fewer. In two of those losses, they had two possessions that matched that criteria. Those six possessions produced a total of four first downs, two turnovers and no points. Jackson is 11-for-20 passing in those situations for 79 yards and an interception, which translates to a passer rating of less than 50.
- Special teams is again a Seahawks' strength.
It's not just because of Leon Washington's returns this year, but Seattle's proficiency in blocking kicks. For that special-teams coach Brian Schneider deserves some recognition. Seattle's Red Bryant has blocked three field-goal attempts, one point-after try and on Saturday the Seahawks blocked a punt for the second time this year. That is a tribute to Schneider's attention to detail, pin-pointing and targeting weaknesses in opponents' formations. Last year, his units were the single biggest strength of the team, and while Seattle's kick coverage was a problem the first half of this season, the other units have shown his imprint.
- Turnovers are a fickle friend.
They are the single most important factor in deciding a football game, but a defense doesn't entirely have control over them. The opponent has some say in it, too, and on Saturday the 49ers played a very sound game, and didn't give Seattle any openings. The Seahawks had forced 18 turnovers in their previous six games, but got none against San Francisco even after grabbing an early lead.
Three things we're still trying to figure out
- Does Seattle have enough explosive offensive players?
Now, keep in mind, Seattle has lost its two starting wide receivers to injury, including Sidney Rice, who was signed to be that big-play threat. The Seahawks identify an explosive play as any run that gains 12 or more yards, a pass that gains 16 or more. By that measure, Seattle had four explosive plays against the 49ers, and three were from Lynch. The other? A 44-yard pass to Ricardo Lockette, an undrafted rookie playing in his first game. It was the only pass to a wide receiver that gained more than 15 yards, and Seattle can't win consistently without more flash to the offense.
- Will another NFL team come calling for O-line coach Tom Cable?
There are already a couple of vacancies out there, and given Cable's success first in revitalizing Oakland's rushing offense and now in Seattle, it's hard to think that a team like Kansas City wouldn't be at least intrigued by the possibility of bringing Cable aboard. It's not just the improvement of Seattle's run game that's a selling point, but the Seahawks' ability to sustain that improvement even after injuries to three starters.
- Which loss is Seattle kicking itself over more?
Is it the come-from-ahead defeat against Washington at home? The Hail Mary of a field-goal attempt against Atlanta? Or maybe the 6-3 loss in Cleveland that was the lowest-scoring game in franchise history? If you're looking for a reason why this team's playoff chances were officially shipped off to the morgue this weekend, the cause of death can be found in some combination of those defeats.
Dec 24 - 6:10 AM Looking back: Revisiting Sunday's scouting report
Dec 24 - 1:09 AM Seahawks' scoring binge
Dec 24 - 1:01 AM Video: Summing Seattle's victory
Dec 24 - 12:58 AM Video: Russell Wilson post-game comments
Dec 24 - 12:21 AM Rookie passing roll call