Fooch's Note: Fantastic work here. I'll be moving it to the front page in just a bit.
(Quick note: The GIFs seem dont seem to be playing, I am working on this issue and will get it fixed ASAP. Until then a right-click and open in new tab will allow you to view them. Images will also become full sized which will help read the diagrams if clicked on.)
On Sunday night, the 49ers strolled into CenturyLink Stadium seeking to avenge last year's 42-13 loss in Seattle. They left questioning how they, or any team for that matter, could come to the Northwest and beat the Seahawks. Behind record breaking crowd noise, the Seahawks manhandled the 49ers 29 to 3. Seattle displayed a punishing defense that challenged the 49ers to throw the ball and a relentless rushing attack that wore down the 49ers. After watching the Full 22 gametape, three major themes appeared; the different defensive identities embodied by each team, the 49ers inability to get separation in the passing game and Russell Wilson’s composure under pressure.
Defensive alignment: Both the 49ers and the Seahawks have elite defensive players, the difference is where they lined up. The 49ers have arguably the most dominant front seven, with every player being above average and 3 superstars in Justin Smith, Patrick Willis and Aldon Smith. While Seattle's front seven is no joke, their secondary is their greatest strength. All Pro caliber players such as Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor form the premier secondary in the NFL.
These dominant defensive units dictate the style of defense the two teams play. The 49ers generally play fairly conservative with 2 high safeties and off coverage trying to contain offenses, putting the pressure on their front seven to stop the run and generate a pass rush. Seattle's style is the complete opposite, they challenge offenses with press coverage and crowd the line of scrimmage, putting the pressure on their secondary to neutralize opponents passing games without help from their safeties. This difference in styles was evident Sunday night as the 49ers' offense struggled to run the ball due to a crowded line of scrimmage and Seattle found success running the ball against 7 man fronts.
Game Situation: 1st Quarter, 4:29, 2nd and 15 at the SEA 22, Seahawks 0, 49ers 0
Pre-Snap: The Seahawks are in their 12 personnel with both TEs Miller and Wilson to the right, WRs Tate and Rice spilt out to each side and QB Wilson in Pistol with RB Turbin behind him. The 49ers respond with their nickel package with CB Rodgers covering TE Wilson, a clear blocking mismatch. The 49ers are aligned in Man 2 with both safeties, SS Whitner and FS Reid, 15 yards away from the line of scrimmage providing little run support.
Post-Snap: The play is a simple off tackle strong side run with a man to man blocking scheme, LT Okung attempting to reach block DT Smith, LG McQuistan getting to the second level to block ILB Willis, C Unger and RG Sweezy blocking DT McDonald, RT Giacomini blocking ILB Bowman and the TEs blocking OLB Brooks and CB Rodgers. The combo block of C Unger and RG Sweezy push McDonald wide of the play and both second level blocks manage to keep the ILBs from filling the hole. DT Smith sheds LT Okung to collapse the running lane from the back side but RB Turbin has already passed the line of scrimmage and has a full head of steam. The play results in a 5 yard gain.
Summary: This play was destined to be a successful running play well before the snap. The advantage of having 7 blockers for 7 defenders in the box, one of which is a TE blocking a CB, allowed Seattle to double team the play side DT and created a running lane for RB Turbin. Another interesting observation is technique used by 49ers defenders when engaged in a block. They follow a relatively conservative strategy by locking up the blocker and then shedding the block once the runner has committed to a certain lane. This allows them to cover two gaps but limits penetration, reducing the chance of a substantial gain or loss on the play. If DE Smith doesn't beat his man and make the tackle, this could have been a bigger gain.
Game Situation: 2nd Quarter, 11:25, 1st and 10 at the SF 6, Seahawks 2, 49ers 0
Pre-Snap: The 49ers are in their 21 personnel with WRs Moore and Bolding out right, TE Davis inline to the right, FB Miller motioned out wide right and QB Kaepernick in the Pistol with RB Gore behind him. The Seahawks are in their base 4-3 defense with SS Chancellor walking up to the line of scrimmage right before the snap. This puts 8 defenders in the box with only 6 blockers for the 49ers, not a good sign for a running play.
Post-Snap: As the ball is snapped things go from bad to worse for the 49ers. The entire Seattle defensive line beats the 49ers offensive line off the ball (the record-breaking crowd noise effectively neutralized the offensive advantage of knowing the snap count). This advantage and the gap penetrating technique of the Seahawks results in 3 different Seahawks meeting RB Gore in the backfield for a 2 yard loss. The differences between this gap penetrating style and the 49ers lock and shed technique are obvious on this play. The Seahawks are able to shoot the offensive gaps for two reasons: the aforementioned crowd noise effect and their elite secondary that can play Man 1 or Cover 0, allowing for more defenders in the box.
Summary: Much like the Seahawks running play, this play was made by the numerical advantage the Seahawks were able to get pre-snap. In most situations, QB Kaepernick would have audibled into a pass play to exploit Seattle's alignment but changing the play at the line of scrimmage in Seattle is near impossible due to the crowd noise. Regardless of scheme or numbers, Seattle's hyper-aggressive defensive linemen absolutely blew this play up with quick penetration.
49ers wide receivers inability to separate: After the loss of WR Crabtree to an Achilles injury, there were serious questions about the 49ers wide receiving corps. Anquan Boldin’s dominating performance in Week 1 against the Packers seemed to provide the answer, but the real test was if they could find success against Seahawks dominant secondary. Through jamming receivers at the line and exceptional safety play, the Seahawks completely smothered the 49ers passing attack. A week after a career high 412 yard, 3 touchdown day, Kaepernick was held to his worst passing day; 13 of 28 for 127 yards, 0 touchdowns, 3 interceptions and a QB rating of 20.1. While a quarterback gets all the credit or blame depending on the outcome, a major issue with the 49ers' passing offense was the inability to get open on the outside.
Game Situation: 3rd Quarter, 3:44, 3rd and 4 at the SF 38, Seahawks 5, 49ers 0
Pre-Snap: The 49ers are in their 11 personnel in a tight bunch set with WRs Boldin and Patton out wide right, TE Davis in the right slot and WR Williams out wide left. QB Kaepernick is in the shotgun with RB Gore to his left. The Seahawks are in their nickel package in Cover 1 with FS Thomas over the top. The Seahawks are challenging the 49ers WRs with 9 of the Seahawks defenders within 3 yards of the line of scrimmage at the snap.
Post-Snap: All five 49ers skill players set out on routes; TE Davis and WR Patton run go routes up the seams, WR Boldin runs a quick out, WR Williams runs a 10 yard hook route and RB Gore runs a flat-and-up. Not a single 49ers player gains a step of separation from the tight coverage, especially WR Boldin who is jammed excellently by CB Sherman. The Seattle pass rush, consisting of a DT stunt and a bull rush from DE Avril, forces QB Kaepernick to escape the pocket to his left. The QB spy by ILB Wagner quickly closes on QB Kaepernick, eliminating any chance of a scramble for a first down. The remaining options for QB Kaepernick are so bleak that he lobs a pass well wide of RB Gore on the flat-and-up for an incompletion that brings up 4th down.
Summary: The Seahawks challenged the 49ers to beat them vertically with their alignment and won resoundingly. Despite single coverage on all five receivers, there wasn’t anybody open at any moment (one could argue that TE Davis was open on the go route but it would have required a perfect throw). The textbook coverage was complimented by an effective pass rush that forced QB Kaepernick escape the pocket just 2.5 seconds after the snap. To complete the play, the QB spy was in position and eliminated any sort of scramble. This play demonstrates why the other 31 teams in the NFL fear the Seahawks; they have the best secondary and potentially the best pass rush, a deadly combination.
Wilson’s composure: The ‘Young Guns’ that are poised to take over the NFL in the next few years are all the rage, but somehow Russell Wilson seems to get overlooked. Guys like RGIII, Luck, Kaepernick and even Newton seem to get more attention than Wilson does. Why this is I don’t know. Maybe it’s the lack of the game winning drives like Luck or the record setting rushing numbers from Kaepernick or returning from a torn ACL like RGIII. Regardless of why the media overlooks him, he is what Jon Gruden would call a cool cat. Whether it's on a read option or a scramble play, Wilson always seems to make the right decision. It isn’t always flashy or breathtaking, but he makes great decisions in adverse situations. During the 49ers game he was consistently under pressure and made sound decisions. Just look at this play.
Game Situation: 3rd Quarter, 12:37, 3rd and 12 at the SEA 29, Seahawks 5, 49ers 0
Pre-Snap: The Seahawks are lined up in their 02 personnel with WR Rice out wide right, WR Baldwin in the right slot, TE Miller off right tackle, TE Wilson off left tackle and WR Tate out wide left. The 49ers are in their nickel package running a Cover 2/Man hybrid (it's Cover 2 except CB Asomugha is playing man coverage on WR Rice).
Post-Snap: All five Seattle skill players begin their routes; both TEs run flat routes to their respective sides, WR Rice runs a go, WR Baldwin runs a deep post and WR Tate runs a 15 yard comeback. The 49ers run a inside stunt with OLB Smith and DT McDonald resulting in pressure from the middle in addition to the pressure from DE Smith off the edge. QB Wilson calmly steps forward into the vacated space while keeping his eyes down field. As this is happening, FS Dahl (who replaced starting FS Reid after a concussion in the 2nd quarter) fails to get enough depth to cover his deep half of the field. On the opposite side, WR Baldwin threatens SS Whitner and sends him the wrong way with a step to the outside. WR Baldwin then quickly breaks back inside gaining multiple steps of separation from SS Whitner, who has no help because of FS Dahl's failure to be in position to cover his half of the field. After QB Wilson eludes the pass rush, he simply lobs it down field to a wide open WR Baldwin for a 51 yard gain.
Summary: While QB Wilson isn’ as athletic as RGIII or Kaepernick, he possesses a cool demeanor and always seems to make the right play. A forward flip for a first down on a critical third down later in the game also comes to mind. After the injury to FS Reid, the Seahawks tested the 49ers secondary with deep routes that put their playmakers in 1 on 1 match ups. This large gain (it accounted for more than a third of Wilsons passing yards on the day) and a 40 yard pass interference provided the offensive spark the Seahawks needed to blow the game wide open.
Conclusion: Despite only being Week 2, this game was huge. A lead for home field advantage in the playoffs, a divisional win and bragging rights were all on the line Sunday. Seattle delivered a beat down on national TV to claim all of these and assert themselves as the team to beat in the NFL. Many people, including myself, wonder how the 49ers will ever beat the Seahawks after the last two performances. However, despite the lopsided score, this game was within reach until the 4th quarter and the penalties and turnovers leave lots of room for improvement. It will be interesting to see if the trends; the different defensive styles, 49ers' wide receivers inability to get open and Wilson's composure, continue in the rematch scheduled for December 8th at the 'Stick in San Francisco. Another element will be whether the Seahawks will be able to match their intensity without their home crowd. All I know is that the 49ers will be out for revenge.