By Chris Cluff
If the Seattle Seahawks are going to beat the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night, they are going to have to do a couple of things they did not do in the first meeting, a 13-6 loss in San Francisco in Week 7: Catch the ball and stop the run.
In that Thursday night loss on Oct. 18, rookie quarterback Russell Wilson got little help from his receivers, who dropped four or five passes. Huge among them were miscues by Robert Turbin and Evan Moore. Turbin dropped a beautiful pump-and-go on the first drive that would have set up Seattle around the 49ers’ 10-yard line. Instead, the Hawks ended up settling for a field goal. Then Moore dropped a pretty pass down the right sideline early in the second quarter.
Wilson, who was making just his seventh NFL start, also missed open receivers at times, choosing to run or force the ball. His worst decision was a throw to a triple-covered Braylon Edwards late in the third quarter. That ball was intercepted. He completed just 9-of-23 passes for 122 yards and was sacked twice.
“He looked good against us the first game,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh told reporters. “We went into that game seeing a very good quarterback, a very accurate quarterback, very mobile quarterback that could hurt you running the ball and throwing the ball. Got real good command of the offense, and that’s continued and has been good. I really felt like in the first game we played them, he threw some beautiful passes. Fortunately for us, they were dropped, but his accuracy, his play, was right on the money.”
Wilson has grown a lot since then, completing 66.3 percent of his passes for 13 touchdowns and two interceptions in seven games, and the Hawks have not had many problems catching the ball. In fact, their 19 drops this season are the fifth fewest in the league, according to STATS.
Other than the poor passing attack in that first game, the Hawks lost because Frank Gore killed them again. He ran for 131 yards on 16 carries, gashing them on inside trap plays in which the 49ers’ massive guards swallowed up Seattle’s linebackers. Gore’s 8.2-yard average from that game is still the best of the season for him.
Meanwhile, Seattle’s defense, which entered that game giving up just 3.3 yards per rush, has steadily declined against the run. As ESPN’s Mike Sando points out, the Hawks have given up a league-worst 5.3 yards per carry since Week 7. That includes a 182-yard performance by Adrian Peterson, 189 yards by the Dolphins in Miami, 132 yards by the Bears in Chicago and C.J. Spiller’s 103 yards last weekend.
Defensive end Red Bryant’s plantar fasciitis problem surely has been a factor. He just has not been the force he was last season. And the Hawks could have bigger problems if defensive tackle Alan Branch’s ankle injury keeps him out.
The 49ers lead the league with 77 runs of 10 yards or longer (the Seahawks are third at 64, per STATS), and the Seahawks know they are going to have to stop Gore if they are going to beat the 49ers for the first time in five tries. Of course, Seattle head coach PeteCarroll doesn’t want to limit the focus just to stopping Gore.
“It’s a very challenging team, and it’s the running element,” Carroll told reporters, “but then there’s Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis, and then there’s the big fella, Randy Moss, out there running. This is a very talented football team and all of those guys present problems.”
The Seahawks are a little hamstrung in the pass-defense department, with cornerback Brandon Browner suspended and corners Marcus Trufant and Walter Thurmond nursing hamstring injuries. Rookie Jeremy Lane, who has been a standout on special teams, acquitted himself well in his first start.
“He did a great job,” Carroll said, per Seahawks.com. “They went after him right off the bat and tried to get him and he played a great deep ball.”
If Trufant and Thurmond remain out, Lane will have to keep it up against Crabtree and Moss. Byron Maxwell played pretty well as the nickel back and Ron Parker played a lot in the blowout of the Bills as well.
“All three guys did a good job,” Carroll said. “All of those snaps are just hugely valuable to us in bringing those guys along and getting a feel for them. They’re playing with really good technique and again this week they stayed on top like they’re supposed to. They’re gaining confidence. We’re seeing reason to trust them more. And it’s really crucial for us that that’s happening right now.”
- Trufant, Thurmond and Branch did not practice Wednesday. Neither did defensive tackle Jason Jones, who has battled a bad knee all season. Leon Washington also sat out with an illness.
- Receiver Sidney Rice did not practice and might sit out all week. He was reported to have banged his knee vs. Buffalo and also to have aggravated the foot injury that limited him last week. “He’s sore,” Carroll said. “We might have to take care of him a little during the week to get him ready for game day.”
- With receiver Charly Martin on IR, the Seahawks re-signed Deon Butler last Friday. The 2009 third-round pick was cut by the Hawks before the season and failed to hook on with anyone despite tryouts with Detroit, New Orleans, San Diego and Houston. Carroll said he was surprised Butler was available, “because he is a very good football player. He has great speed, he catches the ball, and he’s really reliable and all of that. He’s a really good route runner, too. He’s a smaller guy — maybe that’s part of the issue, I don’t know — but we were thankful that he was out there.”
- Cornerback Richard Sherman reportedly will appeal his four-game PED suspension Friday. The league is unlikely to issue a ruling that day, so he should be available Sunday night. But the Hawks seem likely to lose him after that for the rest of the season and as many as two games next season.
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Chris Cluff worked as a sports editor and writer for The Seattle Times for 11 years and has written two books on the Seattle Seahawks. Since leaving the Times, he has written about the Seahawks and Seattle sports for Bleacher Report and the blog he shares with a fellow sportswriter, outsidethepressbox.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com.