The San Francisco 49ers are heading into their first division game of the season in a worse mood than they expected to, carrying last week’s demoralizing loss, preparing to face the Seattle Seahawks, feeling good about themselves and especially their defense.
One week, one loss, one win, changes a perception very quickly in the NFL. A lot of flaws in the 49ers master plan were exposed last week against the New York Giants, especially Alex Smith not being able to operate the offense when things don’t work out on first down and under pressure. The running game wasn’t there to help, and the 49ers scored only 3 points.
The Seahawks? A completely different feel, heading into the game with a huge confidence boost after beating the Patriots. After already being involved in the most talked about game this season (Packers – Seahawks), people couldn’t stop mentioning their defense this week; its unorthodox composition of players that didn’t necessarily fit in other places, but their size and physical nature seems to be perfectly suited for what their doing in Seattle.
A big key to a slightly surprising start has been the play of rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, preferred over Matt Flynn for the starting position. It doesn’t hurt having the 7th best rushing attack in the NFL, spearheaded by Marshawn Lynch (549 yards, 4.3 per carry), but Wilson is surprising many with his progress, delievering the best game of his young career against the Patriots; completing 59.3% for 293 yards and three touchdown passes.
What’s more impressive is his ability to hit the long ball. He’s 9-16 from week 2 onward on throws more than 20 yards downfield, including five touchdowns. Wilson has a league-best 100 Total QBR on such throws this season. The problem is the 49ers defense, which hasn’t given up a touchdown on throws for over 20 yards, allowing only a 23.5% success rate in those situations.
Despite the abilities of the Seahawks on defense, they sacked Tom Brady only once last week. Without rattling Alex Smith like the Giants did (six sacks, multiple hits), there’s a good chance that the best rushing attack in the NFL will have enough time to do their thing. The Seahawks have a great run defense (allowing 70 yards a game), but the 49ers get very creative with their offensive schemes, averaging 176.8 yards on the ground.
And then there’s the 49ers defense. They didn’t get to Eli Manning once, but they hardly tried to blitz. There’s a lot of confidence in their front four, with a cover 2 playing behind him. Against Wilson and the Seahawks, we’ll probably see a lot more five and more pass rushing schemes, knowing that the rookie doesn’t handle that kind of pressure very well.
Prediction – Two teams who like to establish the run and are extremely physical when it comes to moving the ball. The 49ers don’t mess up with their protection a second week in a row, and their offensive weapons are superior to what the Seahawks have.