The narrative all this week concerning the Seattle Seahawks is and will continue to be about Marshawn Lynch and the defense. And why not? The power running game and the defense in general are the two strengths of the football team. That’s coach Pete Carroll’s modus operandi — run the ball and play great defense — and it’s not going to change. But if the Seahawks want to win the Three-Match with the San Francisco 49ers Sunday and secure the franchise’s second appearance in the Super Bowl, it’s all about quarterback Russell Wilson.
Tuesday, 1090 The Fan’s Bill Swartz wrote that Wilson is a trustworthy quarterback, capable of making the plays necessary while remaining efficient and safe with the football.
That’s good news because the Seahawks’ hopes are riding on it.
Both teams will run the ball Sunday. A lot. Both teams also will attempt to stop the run, and will likely put a lot of effort into such a task, forcing the opposing quarterback to make plays. Both defenses also will keep a sharp eye on the mobility of said opposing quarterback, meaning what Colin Kaepernick and Wilson do from the pocket or on quick rollouts could very well be the difference in the game. If Kaepernick is to beat the Seahawks, it will have to be in the passing game, not with his feet, or at least that will be Seattle’s goal. If Wilson is to beat the 49ers, they’ll force the second-year QB to do so with his arm, and largely from the pocket.
In the divisional playoff, Wilson struggled, completing just nine of 18 passes for a career-low 103 yards. It was just the fourth time in 32 games Wilson did not throw a touchdown pass. He was admittedly off his game, missing the target on three key slant passes, a route at which he’s generally as accurate as any passer in the league.
To be fair, the gameplan clearly was about running clock, playing it safe and winning the game with defense, particularly after the Seahawks jumped out to a 16-0 lead in the first half. Wilson threw just three passes in the third quarter and eight total in the second half.
That won’t work Sunday versus the 49ers.
Wilson’s struggles aren’t limited to last weekend’s game, but he was solid versus the St. Louis Rams Week 17, solid Week 15 in New York versus the Giants and in the game at San Francisco was 15-for-25 with 199 yards and a touchdown, a solid, if unspectacular effort.
With the 49ers boasting what may be the game’s best set of linebackers in Patrick Willis, Ahmad Brooks, Navarro Bowman and Aldon Smith, the task is even taller than a week ago for the Seahawks offense. Smith’s strength is rushing the passer but he’s also strong against the run. Neither Willis nor Bowman have glaring weaknesses, but Brooks struggles in coverage, an area in which Smith occasionally has problems, too.
All four are best suited to rush the passer or stop the run. The Seahawks have to force them to cover. That may mean more targets for Zach Miller and/or Luke Willson, and it may mean more routes to the middle of the defense, right behind the defensive line and just in front of the safeties, for Lynch, who has led the team in receiving three times this season.
The Seahawks haven’t used the tight end a lot in the passing game in 2013, instead utilizing Miller’s blocking skills to aid a struggling offensive line. Attacking the middle of the field is, however, a part of the offense and something Wilson is fully adept at executing, despite the lack of such play calling for the better part of 2013.
Examples include the divisional playoff last January at Atlanta when Wilson and Miller lit up the Falcons and Game 1 of this season at Carolina when Miller and Doug Baldwin were targeted effectively in the short and intermediate areas between the hashes. The Seahawks also used the middle of the field with success against the 49ers in both Week 2 at CenturyLink Field at later in the season on the road. In that second game, a 19-17 49ers win, Seattle didn’t go there enough and had to settle for a field goal one too many times.
The above clip is from Week 2. It was 3rd down and 28 for the Seahawks and they lined up Miller on the left, in front of an end and a player to the right of Brooks, who backed off the line into pass coverage just after the snap. Miller drove Brooks 10 yards deep, then Brooks peeled off to help on Baldwin who ran a 5-yard dig to the left of the field. Miller went two yards further and cut toward the middle of the field where Wilson found him wide open.
Brooks’ responsibility may have been to help on Baldwin, but it should have been to the deeper route — Baldwin wasn’t likely to take that dig and ramble 23 more yards for the first. The safety on this play may have been late, too — unless Brooks indeed made a mistake in breaking off Miller early — which is why Miller caught the pass for a gain of 15.
In the frame, you can also see Bowman on wide receiver Sydney Rice — bottom of the screen. Sunday, that’s an advantage for Seattle if it’s Bowman on Golden Tate or Percy Harvin.
The Seahawks have recently become extremely predictable in the passing game, using slants, bubble screens, slot screens, deep-up or go routes and some back shoulder fades and the occasional double move on a stop-and-go. Aside from the short slants, all of those routes are to the outside. Seattle must make the 49ers defend the entire field. Doing so forces the Niners’ safeties and linebackers to honor such routes, making the outside routes more effective over the course of the game and even assisting Lynch and Robert Turbin in getting additional yards on plays where they bounce it outside or when the safety is responsible for the receiver or tight end running a seem route or a curl to the middle. Forcing the linebackers to cover also takes them away from the line of scrimmage, where their job is disrupt Lynch and the running game.
San Francisco possesses a fast defense; their ends are fast, their linebackers are fast and despite not having the All-Pro secondary the Seahawks boast, they, too, can run and cover ground. Giving that defense more ground to cover is a large advantage to Wilson and the Seahawks, and one they must create with wise play-calling and proper execution.
Most importantly, though, Wilson must be on target. If he has another sub par game, something that has occurred more frequently the second half of this season than at any other time in his two years in the NFL, the Seahawks are at a great disadvantage, and probably one they cannot overcome, even at home in front of 68,000 screaming 12s.
– Jason A. Churchill, 1090 The Fan
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