Power-run with two backs. This serves to expose their weaknesses in gap integrity and to minimize the impact Seattle's powerful secondary has on the game. Khiry Robinson and Mark Ingram combined for 24 carries and 108 yards. This was obviously a tatctical decision by Sean Payton, and while some early uncharacteristic (weather-induced?) inaccuracy on Brees' part prevented it from working, the thinking behind it was solid.
Hang. On. To. The. Football. After Ingram's fumble gave the Seahawks the ball on the Saints 24, the Saints win probability dropped to less than 20%. It never jumped up above that number the rest of the game.
Force the Seahawks to keep scoring. Seattle's offensive possessions vs. NO from 14:51 left in the 2nd quarter to 3:51 in the 4th quarter went punt / FG / punt / punt / punt / punt / punt. During this period they held a 13 and then a 16 point lead, so some of their lack of success can be attributed to weather and a conservative offensive philosophy. But it's not like they were moving the ball They gained a grand total of 136 yards over those 8 drives.
Tackle Marshawn Lynch. Marshawn Lynch went through the Saints' defense like a wrecking ball. Sorry for the Miley Cyrus reference, but the metaphor is apt: there was plenty of contact but Lynch kept on going. He broke 17 tackles vs. the Saints, which is as many as all of the other running backs on Divisional Championship weekend broke combined.
The Seahawks also caught a couple of unanticipated breaks early in the game. Mark Ingram dropped a catchable screen pass that looked set up for a first down on third down on the Saints first possession. Shayne Graham missed a first-quarter field goal when Luke McCown failed to hold the ball laces-out. Then Mark Ingram fumbled. Then Brees missed consecutive throws to an open Lance Moore and an open Josh Hill. By that time the
Saints Seahawks were up by 13. If Shayne Graham hadn't missed that early field goal (from 45 yards) and the one he missed later (from 48 yards), the score would've looked different.
This suggests a final point: Score early. The Seahawks defense allowed a total of 22 total first-quarter points this season, and yielded 0 first-quarter touchdowns. That is huge for allowing them to dictate the style of play. It also allows their crowd to get into the game. Gaining an early lead on the Seahawks would not only potentially dampen the spirit of the 12's, it would cause the Seahawks to expose Russell Wilson to situations that he has seldom faced as a pro, and in which he does not thrive.
The Seahawks' dominance on Special Teams and Defense and their solid running game serve to shrink Russell Wison's role on the team; he has 30 or more pass attempts in only 8 of his 35 career games. We saw vs. Carolina that when a QB who is used to a smaller role is forced to take on a bigger role, to stand in the pocket, and to push the ball down the field, things usually go well for the defense. In fact, the moment I saw the situation (Cam Newton and the Panthers down 13 points halfway through the 4th quarter), I thought to myself, "Cam will throw an interception this drive."
There are obviously many other keys, but I think these are unquestionably some of the things that 49ers should watch out for.
- Ahmad Brooks, NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis lead dominating defensive performance
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- Pastor speeds through service because of 49ers-Panthers game
- 49ers snap count vs. Panthers: It's all about the deep depth
- The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: Breaking down the 49ers win in Carolina and looking ahead to Seattle