As Tim Kawakami put it this morning, the 49ers were a good quarterback away from beating the Seahawks. As Brick by Brick goes, that’s not an insignificant brick to have to find, but yesterday’s performance certainly demonstrated that there are aspects of the this team that are further along in their development curve than anyone might have expected going into the season.
Robert Saleh’s defense: What an effort it was from this group – I could divide this section into multiple different parts. Yes, it wasn’t perfect, with Rashard Robinson in particular struggling in coverage both with dropped interception chances and letting his man get open too often. But Russell Wilson was pressured on almost 47% of his snaps (per PFF) as the 49ers’ pass rush got warmed up, led by DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Aaron Lynch. The run defense was savage again, allowing 3.5 YPC on the game, a figure inflated by a 16 yard gain on a holding-assisted game sealer from Chris Carson. Tank Carradine was a force once again whilst Solomon Thomas had a much improved second outing.
Furthermore, the coverage for the most part held up. Jaquiski Tartt delivered a bone jarring hit on Jimmy Graham out of the gate which set the tone for Graham’s contribution, whilst Dontae Johnson and K’waun Williams both made good plays against the pass. Jimmie Ward was flying around. Saleh has done an excellent job with this defense so far.
The offensive tackles: Before the game, I spoke with Mike Andrews about the importance of Trent Brown to this 49ers’ offense. Against the Hawks, Brown was again magnificent, and this week he was complimented brilliantly by veteran Joe Staley on the other side. Neither player needed assistance sent their way in the passing game as they shut down the Seahawks’ highly touted pass rushers out on islands. This allowed the 49ers to get more receivers running routes. They were both people movers against the run, contributing to the 49ers’ running effort (more on that later). The interior o line has to take their share of the credit, as they were better than last week, but the offensive tackles were the big success story this week, as their success enabled greater help to be sent the way of the interior.
The running offense: This week, the running offense was the 49ers’ offense. If Carlos Hyde or Matt Breida could reel off a succession of good carries, the 49ers moved the ball. But it wasn’t just those two, of whom Hyde in particular was excellent. Kyle Juszczyk was superb as the lead blocker and the 49ers got movement against the highly touted Hawks defensive line across the board. If the 49ers’ run game continues to excel, that will really take the pressure off the passing game and enable it to open up a little when not facing two of the best defenses in the NFL.
Kyle Shanahan’s big moment play-calling: This isn’t so much a general point, as I thought for the most part Shanahan called a good game and his players didn’t execute. One particular big play sticks out to me though, thought there were others. On what proved to be their final drive, Shanahan called a quick slant with a designed rub on it. Garrett Celek was the go to man and he was covered by K.J Wright – not a matchup that the 49ers could really want (you hope). It went just about as expected, with Wright dragging Celek down short of the sticks. For an offensive guru, you’d have thought Shanahan could have at least matched Kittle up on Wright. Better would have been to call a different play.
The officials: I don’t really like to do this, but in a game decided by 3 points, the officials had a big bearing on the final result of this game. On the Seahawks’ penultimate, game-winning drive, they missed a multitude of holding calls as the Hawks’ offensive line tried desperately to contain the 49ers’ rushers. They then called Dontae Johnson on a defensive hold, one that looked eerily similar to a play Richard Sherman wasn’t called for minutes early (both should have been penalties). Then, on the game sealing Chris Carson run, they missed what looked like two holding calls, as the 49ers’ defensive linemen were prevented from getting to the edge. Shanahan said in his press conference after the game that many holding penalties don’t get called, but that the 49ers didn’t get as many called as they would have liked. That’s a fair and diplomatic approach to take. It is still a shame that the officials allowed a tightly contested rivalry game to be settled by a dire offensive line who resorted to holding to do their job. The NFL needs to take a look at it, as it dilutes their product.
Brian Hoyer and the 49ers’ passing game: Holding the 49ers back all day was their passing game. There was another ugly interception from Hoyer, another drop from Marquise Goodwin and generally an inability to get open from 49ers’ receivers. Unfortunately, when they did get open downfield, Hoyer missed them anyway. It was that kind of game. Regardless of the aforementioned preponderance of no-calls from the officials, if the passing offense had executed in “the moment of truth” as their head coach put it, the 49ers would have won this game.
Image courtesy of 49ers.com