Note: I am sorry to post this on early Thursday, but I am finding it difficult to truly move onto the Colts matchup without putting the Seattle game out of my mind.
Week 2 was not good for us at the CLink. I won't rehash all of the usual stuff because you guys already know it. So instead, let me just focus on why Seattle is better than us when we go head-to-head. This is not to say that Seattle has more talent than us, or that Carroll is better than Harbaugh, or that Russell is better than Colin. It just means that Seattle has designed the team & coaching scheme with us in mind, and therefore have been better than us in the last 2 games.
Also, it is clear that homefield advantage matters greatly for them. We might be slightly better than them at Candlestick, but they are significantly better than us in Seattle. It would be really awesome if we can meet them in a neutral field, but that will never happen.
So, here goes:
Seattle Offense v.s Niners Defense
Put simply, they have matchup & scheme advantages over us. First of all, their personnel formations essentially forces us into our nickel package which usually takes the NT out of the game and creates a four man line of Aldon, Justin, Ray & Ahmad. Against this formation, Marshawn Lynch has proven time & again that he can gain first downs, get 100+ yards and score TDs. Next, Russell Wilson's Houdini-routine negates some of our lethal pass rush from that front-4. So in essence, that front-4 is not very effective against either the run or the pass. Then, their 3 WRs + TE are good enough to find space downfield to make big plays. Thus, through players, matchups & schemes, they have created an advantage over our defense. Any way you slice it, their offense has increased the odds of winning the down.
To regain the advantage, we have to play a more traditional defense with 3 or 4 linemen. But in order to get 4 DLinemen in the game, we can't have all 4 of our All-Pro LBs on the field. Or, we can have a traditional 7-man front (either 4-3 or 3-4), while taking away a Safety or CB from the nickel package. Or, we keep the nickel secondary package with 2 Safeties & 3 CBs, but take away a pass rusher in either Aldon or Brooks. Or keep the nickel & both pass rushers, but take away either Willis or Bowman. We can probably mix and match as long as we can both contain Lynch & stop big plays downfield.
During the December rematch, I think our goal should be to initially stop Marshawn Lynch from gashing the defense. That means playing as many as 4 linemen and forcing RW to make plays downfield against a 5-man Nickel Package. This means we can only have 2 of 4 LBs on the field. Or keep 3 LBs, but stop playing the two-deep-safety look and go 1-1 against their receivers -- including Percy Havin -- with a single deep Safety.
Essentially, we have to pick or poison on whom to stop because they are too good to be stopped completely.
Seattle Defense v.s. Niners Offense
This is relatively easier because Seattle has matchup advantage over us in multiple ways. Their Secondary can match up with our WRs really well (including Browner v.s. Crabtree). Their LBs are very fast and reactive on the second level, and are solid tacklers to contain our intermediate passing game. Their DLine and pass rushers -- including Bruce Irvin & Chris Clemons -- are fast & athletic, and can find a gap to get into the backfield to affect the play on a fairly consistent basis.
Our WRs + TEs are not good enough to consistently win 1-1 matchups against their Secondary. And our Offensive Line is better in run blocking than in pass protection. Therefore, we should go with our strength which is the Power Running game. Take 6-7 blockers and pound away with a steady diet of Gore, Hunter, James & Dixon. The big key here is getting first downs. As long as we can keep the chains moving, Seattle will adjust to the flow of the game and eventually play differently. We need to change the status quo in order to dictate the matchups we want.
From a QB standpoint, we can't simply beat them with a traditional passing game. Their players and schemes are too good to just line up and play. But if our running game is at an A level, the passing plays will come eventually. Kaep will need to leverage his big play capabilities and find receivers downfield. Kaep will also have to get comfortable with a higher risk profile because Seattle won't allow plays to develop where he has open receivers.
Beating Seattle is not impossible, but we won't be able to do it with the Pistol formation or the Read Option. We need our Power Running game. On defense, we won't be able to stop them with the static looks that Fangio gives on every play. Because we have too many good players at certain spots, someone has to come off the field so that we can get the right guys on the field. Odd as it sounds, a 265-pound All-Pro Aldon Smith may have to make room for a 305-pound undrafted FA Tony Jerrod-Eddie. Or, Pro-Bowl safety Donte Whitner may have to make room for Tank Carradine or Quinton Dial. Or, let 52 & 53 exclusively worry about stopping Marshawn and let a Safety take care of the TE in pass coverage. Something has to change because the current system is not working against Seattle.
Harbaugh, Roman & Fangio have work to do if they want to avoid another trip to Seattle in the playoffs. Longer term, we need to get players who are matchup busters against their players. For example, a deep threat at WR would force Seattle to keep at least one Safety deep which means they can't stack the box with 8 or 9 guys. And having a penetrating Defensive Tackle that can disrupt the run & the pass would force them to add an extra blocker in the backfield. Finally, having speedier CBs & Safeties who can stick with their pass catchers would force Wilson to make tighter throws downfield and become more cautious from outside the pocket.
The biggest mistake we can make is take the last 2 results lightly and pretend that things will work out when the venue changes. It is not that simple because Seattle is not a marginal foe.