The San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks kick off Sunday afternoon, but in the meantime, I had a chance to chat with Danny Kelly from Field Gulls. We pay plenty of attention to the Seahawks, but who better to get the inside scoop than the man behind Field Gulls? He took some time to answer a few questions I had, and give us a better idea about the 49ers Week 14 opponent.
I answered some questions for Danny as well. You can read over those at Field Gulls. Additionally, if you feel in more of a trolling mood, drop in our NN/FG-endorsed trolling FanPost. It continues to roll along with over 3,200 comments. Huzzah for trolls!
1. Russell Wilson has been doing some great things this season. 49ers DC Vic Fangio said he deserved consideration in the MVP race. Can you tell us a little about both his strengths AND weaknesses in year 2?
Russell has been playing very well over the past several weeks - ‘lasered in', as he puts it - and from the eye test, has looked a lot more comfortable within the offense, in the pocket, and appears to be seeing things much better than he had been in the first six weeks or so. Wilson has been more accurate, has stuck to the pocket more frequently, has focused on the intermediate and short passing game, and just in general, has tried to become more ‘rounded' than he was early on.
After seeing inordinate amounts of pressure in the early parts of the year, which he struggled with for a time, he's settled down and improved in several key areas - namely ball protection (he had some issues with fumbles early in the year) and accuracy (he was off the mark more than we were used to here in Seattle). His YPA has steadily creeped up as he's gotten more in sync with his receivers, and his passing on 3rd downs has improved greatly after some very troublesome performances in that key area early in the year.
Since Seattle's loss to Indianapolis in Week 5, the Hawks have gone 7-0 and Wilson has completed 70% of his passes for 1,675 yards, 14 touchdowns and only two interceptions with 9.41 yards per attempt and a rating of 120.9. That's pretty good. In fact, he's still trending up - if you narrow it to his last three games, he's passed for 827 yards with a 73% completion rate with 7 touchdowns and no picks, a 141.0 rating and 11.18 yards per attempt.
Of course, Wilson's worst game as a pro came at Candlestick last year, where he went 9 of 23 for 122 yards, no touchdowns and a pick. Playing in Candlestick is no joke, so it's going to be really interesting to see how he does in that hostile environment against one of the better defenses in the NFL.
2. You guys are coming off a big win over the Saints, but there have been times where the team has scuffled. The most notable examples were against the Bucs, Texans, Titans and Rams. What were the issues in those games?
The Rams game was, for me, the most concerning, because Seattle could literally do nothing to protect their quarterback. Wilson was sacked 7 times in that game, hit 10 times total, and really took a beating the whole way through. The Hawks ended up squeaking out a victory in St. Louis, but it sure wasn't pretty - particularly on offense. Since then, they've cleaned up their protection and gotten two key starters at tackle back, so it's less concerning this week (though I'm always concerned about the Smith Brothers when we play the Niners).
Defensively, Seattle was gouged in the run game against the Rams and Buccaneers, so I'd have to think that establishing and sticking with a punishing ground attack is the way to go if you want to beat Seattle. Keep the ball out of the offense's hands, move the chains, and hope to catch the defensive secondary flat footed and maybe get a shot play or two down field. Of course, that's San Francisco's bread and butter, so things could be pretty interesting this weekend.
3. The suspension thing is frequently brought up by 49ers fans. How do Seahawks fans view the number of suspensions handed down?
49er fans bring that up? I didn't know that. ...............
It's pretty annoying, frankly, that Seattle players seem to keep finding themselves in on the wrong side of PEDs and/or Drugs tests, but overall it's not super concerning for the long-term prospects of the team. It distracts from what most believe to be a superbly led and well-managed franchise by Pete Carroll and John Schneider, and gives a bad rap to what's really a hyper competitive and positive team culture.
It's a roster filled with players that are highly involved with local charities and aid organizations and the vast majority of guys in that locker room have had no issues with rules violations. These failed tests are, of course, major miscues by a few key players like Brandon Browner, Bruce Irvin and Walter Thurmond (and 49er fans start yelling "Richard Sherman"), but the idea that it's pervasive throughout the roster is incorrect, in my opinion. Much like Niner fans are likely to forgive a guy like Aldon Smith for his mistakes, Seahawk fans are typically able to do the same for their guys that screw up.
It's also worth pointing out that the majority of the players have been in trouble for PED use in the past and helped Seattle gain the poor reputation in this area - namely John Moffitt, Winston Guy, Allen Barbre, and Vai Taua, - are all long gone. Guy/Barbre/Taua were back-end roster guys, Moffitt got some playing time last year, but all four have since been released (Moffitt was essentially traded for nothing, as Seattle released Sealver Siliga shortly after he was acquired).
Regardless, I'm sure Niner fans will continue to call Seattle the "CheatHawks" and "Seadderal Seachickens" and hilarious things like that, and that's fine because it's easy to hate division rivals and all that, but I'm not personally worried about the leadership in this front office. It's mostly just annoying that these few guys that mess up are giving the rest of their teammates a bad name in the national media.
4. Who's an under the radar player we should keep an eye on in this game?
I'm not sure how under the radar he still is after playing extremely well last week, but CB Byron Maxwell has come on in relief of Browner/Thurmond and showed that Seattle's depth in the secondary is very strong. Maxwell and Sherman will have their hands full this week with the Niners' receiving corps finally getting some of their guys back, so he's definitely a guy to watch. He's #41.
5. What's your final prediction?
Nothing would surprise me too much, really. NFC West grudge matches are always super difficult to predict, and while I believe the Hawks will win their first game in San Francisco during the Pete Carroll era this weekend, I don't think it's going to be easy for them. Seattle's been playing very well the past few weeks, but San Francisco matches up with them in some key areas from a physical standpoint. If the Niners can get some pressure on Russell Wilson and take away Marshawn Lynch and the Seattle run game, it could get interesting.
6. I am convinced that if you swapped Pete Carroll with Jim Harbaugh, 49ers fans would love Carroll and hate Harbaugh, and vice versa for Seahawks fans. What do you think of that notion?
Yeah, I'd agree with that. I think the rivalry between the two teams and the prior rivalry between the two coaches has really spurred that along. Hell, Harbaugh has actually grown on me a little bit this year, what with his thinly-veiled yet somehow calculated lunacy and super-awkward verbal-chess-match press conferences and all that fun stuff. He's certainly not boring, and the apparent animosity between Carroll and Harbaugh is pretty funny to watch. Even if I can't bring myself to actually like Harbaugh, it's easy to recognize that he's an excellent football coach.