Written by Brandan Schulze.
It’s time to put to rest all of the talk about Jim Schwartz looking like he wanted to fight Jim Harbaugh after a rough post-game handshake and backslap. The real issue after this weekend is how the San Francisco 49ers appear to be for real.
As a Seahawks fan, I didn’t want to believe it after seeing the box score of the 49ers’ 48-3 win over the Buccaneers. I wanted to believe that was a fluke in front of their home crowd. And with the Seahawks on their bye week, I couldn’t wait to watch San Francisco get slapped back down to Earth.
Outside of a bunch of penalties by the Niners and watching Alex Smith complete just over 50 percent of his passes for a total of 125 yards, I did not like what I saw. This team is actually pretty good, and to see it go on the road and win against an undefeated Detroit team was very impressive.
Now at 5-1, the question is whether or not the Seahawks even have a chance at running them down in attempt to retain the NFC West crown. It certainly doesn’t look good, but there is still plenty of room in the schedule for a meltdown. Just ask former Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels.
In 2009, the Broncos were quick out of the gate and McDaniels was worshipped in Denver for the great start. I’ll hold off on making any comparisons to Harbaugh, though, until he loses 17 of the next 22 games. I’m not saying it’s going to happen—I just really hope that it does.
Maybe Seahawks fans ought to take the same attitude as Raheem Brock. On Monday, he posted on Twitter, “Yeah the 49ers r lookin good! But we won’t worry about that until Dec! We got cleveland this week!”
The Seahawks don’t face San Francisco again until Christmas Eve in Week 16.
As good as the 49ers have been so far, it’s had more to do with Smith not making mistakes than any sort of miraculous turnaround from his previous years. The 49ers are ranked 30th in the league in passing, two spots behind the Seahawks, with an average of 171 yards per game.
“Alex is playing winning football. Playing tough. Managing the offense, you know, doing a great job with his assignments and his role,” Harbaugh said.
Smith is winning, but he hasn’t been dominant by any means. Outside of a 291-yard passing performance against the Eagles, his best game was against the Buccaneers, in which he threw three touchdowns but only 170 yards.
“I don’t think anybody played perfect on the offensive side of the ball in this game,” Harbaugh said. “But I thought they overcame adversity, got stronger as the game went on, and didn’t flinch at crunch time.”
The 49ers are getting wins through a strong running game, limiting turnovers and with a defense that is playing very well, particularly against the run, and limiting opponents to only 16.2 points a game.
While San Francisco has a few difficult teams on the schedule that could trip it up, five of its final 10 games are against the Browns, Cardinals and Rams, who have a combined record of 3-12.
While the season isn’t near over yet, it’s definitely time for Seahawks fans to be worried. The 12th Man will continue to cheer in Seattle, but it wouldn’t hurt to also start rooting for a catastrophic collapse similar to the 2009 Broncos.
Brandan Schulze is a Navy veteran and member of the military chapter of the Sea Hawkers, the official booster club for the Seattle Seahawks. For more information on the chapter, visit http://www.militaryseahawkers.com
For years it seemed like we would never hear the end of the “finesse” talk. Season after season we would be over-matched physically, and even in victory opposing players would give interviews describing their disdain for being beaten by smaller guys. I personally prefer a large defense to the smaller, built for leads types. You must be able to physically dominate your match up or at least let them know it’s going to be an all day battle. Thank you Pete Carroll for bringing that feel to the Seahawks.
COVER 1: The Secondary
SS Kam Chancellor and FS Earl Thomas both had 2 tackles for losses, to go with a combined 19 tackles. I can’t say enough about the way both safeties flew to the ball. There was rarely a play that they didn’t have a hand in stopping. What a great move by Pete Carroll to give Kam Chancellor a chance to start this year. The young safety is validating that decision so far.
Brandon Browner, in the genesis of his NFL career, physically dominated his match up with Braylon Edwards (3 catches for 27 yds). What stood out to me, was the fact that Browner was able to get into Edwards’ head in the first game of his career. While Browner is still very raw, and has a penchant for grabbing and pulling at receivers, the sky is the limit for him.
COVER 2: Aaron Curry
Aaron Curry gave me hope that the former 4th pick is on his way to becoming the guy we
thought we drafted. I really feel like it’s the shift to the weak side that has open up his game. In Pete Carroll and Gus Bradley’s defense the LEO, WLB, and FS are schematically protected to make plays, and this freedom let Curry shine. One of my biggest gripes concerning Curry on the Strong side was poor pursuit angles and unwillingness to take on blockers. Against the 49ers he improved dramatically in that area. Curry was able to squeeze the gap, keep his outside shoulder free, then knife through to make, or contribute, on several key stops. Textbook, and very nice to see.
COVER 3: Defensive Line
Brandon Mebane, Alan Branch, Red Bryant, and Chris Clemons.
When I watched the game again, I noticed something. Something I’d been wanting for years. A bigger stronger and more disruptive defensive line. The Seahawks front 4 was so stout at the point of attack, Frank Gore was left little room to operate inside. The way in which each defender squeezed the gap, and blurred Gore’ running lane vision was impressive. The only thing I wish, was a little more QB pressure, but that had more to do with the 49ers conservative offensive game-plan. One of the key matchups I wrote about prior to the game was DT Mebane vs LG Iupati. In film study the 49ers Iupati was a man amongst boys. His strength had opened several gaping holes in the running game in past games. If we were going to win the battle in the trenches Mebane would have to come up big. Both Mebane used very solid technique, initial quickness, and leverage against the powerful Iupati rendering him a non-factor on a majority of running plays. This was the nail-biting matchup for me, and Mebane managed to impress me, yet again.
My favorite stats from Sunday’s game:
Frank Gore: 22 rushes, 59 yds, 2.7 YPC
49ers Offense: 1-12 on 3rd Down, 1-5 in Red Zone efficiancy, 1-3 in goal to go efficiancy.
Time of possession: Despite the Seahawks offense’s awful 1st half performance, the Defense played so well that the end of game TOP was 28:53 to 31:07. That’s incredible.
There has been a lot of “suck for Luck” talk out there and it baffles me. We are watching what could be a dominant defense. I have a serious football crush on the strategy that Pete Carroll and John Schneider have used to build this team. We can have our concerns about the Offense, and I get that they will be a work in progress, but most of the pieces are in place.
Bottom line: It was a loss. But not all is lost Seahawk fans. We have something to hang our hat on until the rest of the team develops.
Week one of the regular season is finally upon us. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I couldn’t be happier to see the 2011 Seahawks. You know, the real Seahawks, and not the bizarre and somewhat disappointing pre season version. It’s going to be great to see an actual game plan for once.
Each week we will go deep into the film and bring you the KEY match ups that may impact the game in the biggest way. It may be as obvious as the QB, it may be the second string outside linebacker, and it may even be a D lineman in passing situations. It all depends on what we feel a coaching staff may try to exploit on game day.
So let’s begin:
1. LT Joe Staley and LG Mike Iupati vs DE Chris Clemons and DT Brandon Mebane.
This is the look the Seahawks have to be a little nervous about. Never really understood just how impressive Mike Iupati was until I watched him closely on every play. He is extremely aggressive in his approach to the position. He can sometimes play a little high, but he is so incredibly strong that it usually doesn’t matter. He consistently throws DT’s around like rag dolls and will finish off blocks. He’s quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with at the guard position.
Seahawks DT Brandon Mebane, depending on alignment, will have his hands full. Mebane excels at penetration, and his ability to take on blockers to squeeze plays is well documented. He will have to be on his game for this success to continue against Mike Iupati.
Left tackle Joe Staley is another player that our defensive line will have to deal with. While he does not display the raw power that Iupati does, he shows great duck, fit and finish in his drive blocks. Chris Clemons will have a lot of trouble handling him on running downs. Look for the 49ers to run against the weak-side as much as possible. There are 2 reason’s Frank Gore is a household name, and one of them is the play of the offensive line.
2. Flex or TE combination routes against the 49ers underneath zones.
The Seahawks use of multi TE sets and Slot receiver crossing routes can be an issue for the underneath coverage of the 49ers linebackers. Patrick Willis is an amazing all world talent, but after the departure of Takeo Spikes, he is left as the lone elite player in the LB corps. Navarro Bowman has been promoted to take the spot vacated by Spikes, but has yet to play up to the required level so far this pre season. One thing I witnessed in a few different games was the ease at which underneath combination routes confused Bowman and Parys Haralson. Below is just one example of routes in question:
As you can see, the 49ers matched the Texans 3 wide, TE flex formation with a nickel alignment. Carlos Rodgers was left to cover the rub combination alone after Navarro Bowman dropped too deep into coverage and failed to recognize the routes developing in his zone. This made for a very easy pitch and catch. Patrick Willis can only do so much, and the fact that the Seahawks love to utilize similar formations to isolate the weak-side in coverage, bodes well for a couple nice completions. One has to think this will be something Darrell Bevell could look to exploit on Sunday.
3. Tarvaris Jackson vs the 49ers front 7.
When the Seahawks named Tarvaris Jackson the starter at QB the first thing I pictured was him on the move. Boots, waggles, half rolls, and sprint outs, all with the goal to vary his launch point and take advantage of his athleticism. When you add in the size of our receivers, you can see why I was very excited to see if this would work. While we all know everything starts upfront with pass protection, I feel like this approach would aid the line, and keep the 49ers from attacking the same landmark over and over.
This play turned into a great first down, but more importantly it showed another chink in the front seven’s aggressive style. Vic Fangio loves to blitz, and blitz, and blitz. If we can set up Tarvaris Jackson with a balanced attack, this could mean big things in the passing game.
After all of this pre-season scouting, I’ll admit this will be the hardest week to predict, considering the change in coaching staffs, lack of established team tendencies, and the vanilla styles employed. So just sit back, grab your beverage of choice, and enjoy the start of the 2011 Seahawk Season..
By Will McDougle
The San Francisco 49ers struggled under the weight of Mike Singletary’s dictatorial reign as head coach in 2010. Enter former Stanford Head Coach Jim Harbaugh. One of the biggest coaching staff changes under the new Harbaugh regime was the hiring of Vic Fangio, his former Stanford defensive coordinator.
Vic Fangio spent nearly 24 years as an NFL assistant coach prior to being hired at Stanford. He has run both 4-3 (Colts) and 3-4 (Panthers, Houston) defenses and has close ties with Packers Defensive coordinator Dom Capers. One can only assume that after 16 years of working together their defenses may have some similarities.
Scheme: 3-4 Base defense
Defensive Philosophy: Like the Rams and the Cardinals profiled earlier, Vic Fangio’s 49ers will likely look to apply pressure from all directions. History has a way of repeating itself , and his penchant for heavily calling blitzes have been legendary. In a 1995 game against the Colts he ordered his Panthers defense to blitz 48 times in a 50 play stretch, recording 7 sacks in the process.
“I don’t think I’m a risk-taker, but I would say I’m an educated gambler,” Fangio to the Charlotte Observer in 1996. “I want to know what the risks are and what the rewards are before I do something. I need to be convinced the rewards are high and the risk is worth taking.”
Greatest Strength: Without seeing much of the new defense on the field it’s hard to say what will stand out. But I will speak to a couple of players who have a heavy impact on what the 49ers do defensively. Several nice off-season acquisitions in the secondary could ultimately be where this team shines, but according to the Defensive Hog Index at ColdHardFootballfacts.com the 49ers front 7 is by far, the cornerstone of the defense.
DE Justin Smith is the highest rated 3-4 DE in football according to ProFootballFocus.com. Using their grading scheme, Smith scored 29 points higher than the 2nd highest rated DE Cullen Jenkins. His amazing ability to disrupt both the running and passing game of an offense is why he will be such a nightmare for the Seattle Seahawks’ inexperienced offensive line. The communication and execution of Tom Cable’s new protection schemes will be paramount.
ILB Patrick Willis has been a star since he was drafted with the 11th pick of the 2007 NFL Draft. His multiple All-Pro honors & Pro-Bowls are validation of his tireless effort on the field. While I refuse to count out of context tackle stats as the barometer of defensive prowess, the fact that he led the league in tackles in 09, and has led his team in tackles year after year says something. What says even more is his teams ability to stop the run with him as the catalyst, ranking 6th last season.
With a defense highly touted by their loyal fans as one of the best in the league, assumptions fly that the 49ers are just another offensive system, and QB to command it, away from an NFC West title. One thing is for certain, the 49ers have the pieces in place to make some noise on defense. The question is; with the lockout, completely new coaching staff, newly installed defense, and multiple roster changes, will they?