In this week’s Deep Dive, the San Francisco 49ers tackle a familiar foe (well, at least try to), arch nemesis – the Seattle Seahawks. With both teams coming off losses from opening weekend, this grudge match will be fiercely contested – one might even say this is a critical game for both teams in terms of where their respective seasons may be headed. Both San Francisco and Seattle have a huge, glaring problem along their offensive lines, which has been rendering both offenses essentially useless.
I’ll be taking a look at how the 49ers defense might look to exploit the Seahawks offense. Also, perhaps the opportunities the Hawks offense might look to prey on when facing this young 49ers defense – a defense that will be without electrifying rookie linebacker, Reuben Foster. Also, by the looks of it safety Jimmie Ward will also be out due to a lingering injury.
The 49ers defense faces a different type group of pass-catchers this week with the likes of Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, Paul Richardson and Jimmy Graham. This is a shifty group with the potential to really kick it into hyper speed after the catch, so look for DC Robert Saleh to stick to his Cover 3 look to keep these speedsters contained. In this look, expect the 49ers to keep their free safety deep and use their corners and linebackers to bottle up the big play ability of Seattle’s offense. There will likely be some zone blitzes to pressure elusive quarterback Russell Wilson and his struggling offensive line.
This is a favorable matchup for the 49ers’ defensive front particularly on the left side of the offensive line where incumbents Odhiambo and Joeckel, who appear to struggle against power, are going up against a powerful 49er front lead by Earl Mitchell, Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner. That threat alone should see the Seahawks provide their line with as much assistance possible, Jimmy Graham and the backs will have the task of staying in to block which I’d say is an advantage for Robert Saleh.They will be hoping that their young but talented defensive front can feast on Seattle’s putrid offensive line, creating a plethora of sacks and turnovers. Opportunities should be plentiful if the defensive line is able to get pressure on Wilson and the coverage holds, hopefully forcing throws and presenting chances for interceptions. Look out for the linebackers and defensive backs to aggressively attack when the ball is thrown in their zones.
Another few aspects to keep an eye on are whether or not Robert Saleh uses a defender to spy on Russell Wilson, and whether he has the defensive ends and linebackers rush from a wider position, thus containing the threat of Wilson escaping the pocket (which I’ve heard he has quite the knack of doing). The glaring threat posed by the host in this contest is star tight end Jimmy Graham. The 49ers will try their best to nullify him, possibly by covering him with big, explosive safeties Eric Reid and Jaquiski Tartt. There’s a feeling that Graham can be contained if defensive backs and linebackers are physical enough with him, so Saleh’s eagerness to see his players show a level of violence in their play should definitely benefit the 49ers. The Seahawks Offensive line struggles have been so mundane that Graham and the Running backs will probably be tasked to stay in to block leaving the Wide receivers to be the focal point of their offense.
It will certainly be an interesting matchup given the injuries Wilson has sustained over the last two seasons. I’d be willing to bet Seattle’s staff probably does not want to see him take anymore punishment Sunday. Something under the radar to keep a look at is the 49ers defense level of conditioning, as the Seahawks offense has the added dimension of Wilson extending and improvising with his feet, all while still keeping his eyes downfield. I can only hope the 49ers defense won’t be too fatigued or deflated if multiple extended drives occur. The opportunity will be there for the 49ers defense in this matchup, let’s hope they can seize it.
This won’t be a one-way road by any means, as the Seahawks are also looking to get back to their smash mouth running game. The shadow of Marshawn Lynch still looms over the offense, which now looks to be led by a running back by committee theme. Thomas Rawls, former-Green Bay Packer Eddie Lacy, CJ Prosise and rookie Chris Carson will all be vying for touches. Each running back presents a unique set of problems for the 49ers defensive front (which let’s be honest, has improved noticeably). I’m expecting the Seahawks to test out the 49ers linebacking corps with Reuben Foster and former-Seahawk Malcom Smith out. They might take the opportunity to test out NaVorro Bowman in coverage and his lateral speed by using Prosise or Rawls to catch passes, even stretch run plays.
The Seahawks will look to impose their wide receivers early and often in this game; they will try to exploit the young 49ers secondary that has already been tested by the opposition in the preseason – most notably Rashard Robinson. If the Seahawks find any success in this matchup, then this game will likely be blown wide open. Paul Richardson and Tyler Lockett have immense speed which they’ll look to put on full display for the 49ers defensive backs, with double moves and crossing routes. One of the main issues I expect the Seahawks staff to address in this game is the vulnerability of their offensive line. We could see more screen passes, short passes and moving pockets to assist both the line and quarterback Russell Wilson. The arch rival Seahawks will know that the 49ers struggled mightily last season against the run and will test them out with a heavy dose of runs, hoping to ignite their offensive line and take some pressure off their franchise quarterback.