49ers vs. Seahawks: 5 questions with Field Gulls about the Seahawks defense

Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

The 49ers and Seahawks square off for the right to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLVIII. We know plenty about Seattle, but there is always more to learn. We spoke with Danny Kelly from Field Gulls about the Seahawks defense. New to Niners Nation? Sign up here and join the discussion!

Yesterday afternoon, we took a look at the Seattle Seahawks offense with the help of Danny Kelly from Field Gulls. We're following up with some questions about the Seahawk defense. I sent over five questions, and earlier today, I put together a stand-along post on the first question. The biggest topic of discussion when it comes to the Seahawks secondary seems to be about holding. I figured that was worth its own post. If you want to talk about that, we've got plenty of discussion going on right now.

Here are the remaining four questions, which help give us a better understanding of what the Seahawks defense is all about. Thanks to Danny for his thoughts on the stout Seattle defense. I answered five questions about the 49ers defense, and you can read those answers over at Field Gulls.

Niners Nation: The Seahawks brought in all sorts of depth along the defensive line this past offseason. How has that worked out?

Field Gulls: The two biggest additions to the defensive line were Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett, and those turned out to be fantastic signings. Avril finished with 8.0 sacks, mostly from the strong side end, and Bennett with 8.5, mostly from the interior. Both are disruptive and high-motor guys and even with the initial optimism around their signings, I don't think anyone could have hoped for better from these two guys. Pete Carroll said at the end of last year that the Hawks' number one priority was improving the pass rush, and these two guys have really helped in that area.

The other major addition to the DL was 6'7, 310 pound three-technique Tony McDaniel, who has done a great job in run support in base defense and again, is a high-motor, disruptive but disciplined player.

NN: Do you expect K.J. Wright to play? How has his loss impacted the defense?

FG: I am tentatively expecting that Wright will play, at least in some limited capacity. He was apparently close last week, but will practice this week with the thought of getting back on the field. Wright is a pretty key player for the Hawks - he's very instinctive in coverage, solid in his run fits and is a strong blitzer when called to do so. He's a veteran on a young squad so his ability to prepare for and recognize different offensive looks is important.

His backup, Malcolm Smith, is good in space and a strong cover linebacker, but he's on the smaller side and definitely struggles taking on the run. Particularly, unfortunately, when it comes to power schemes like the Niners, where he's tasked with taking on pulling guards. he tends to overrun the play or get engulfed by the offensive lineman. K.J. Wright is a bigger 3-4 type linebacker that excels in this area. Ultimately, I think it's pretty key to get Wright back this week against a tough Niners offense.

NN: What would you view is the weakness of what has been a very good defense?

FG: I would say the run defense might be the possible weak link, particularly this week. It has been hot and cold throughout the course of the year, and while the Hawks have severely limited Gore at CenturyLink the last two games, it's no forgone conclusion they'll do it again. Over the past few weeks, things have been really tight in that area, and the Seahawks have really shut down some good rush offenses, but like we saw in Week 14 with Frank Gore's (essentially) game-winning run for 51-yards late in the fourth, there have been a few lapses in pursuit that allow for big gains to happen.

The run defense is absolutely key this week, and every player has to be on point with their gap discipline and pursuit angles. This is particularly tough against the Niners because of all the trapping and pulling up front, so it's a concern. Frank Gore is so, so good at staying patient and ‘drafting' off his lead blocker through gaps, and his unique ability at this means he can break one even if the Hawks are all hitting their gaps. Seattle needs to play disciplined, stay patient, don't over pursue, and tackle well.

NN: What kind of scheme can we expect to see on Sunday? Cliffs note version.

FG: The Seahawks, as Pete Carroll puts it, run a 4-3 with 3-4 personnel. Most commonly, you'll see a single-high safety (Earl Thomas) and he's responsible for covering redline-to-redline down the middle of the field. Underneath, you see combinations of zone and man coverage with linebackers and nickel backs, and on the outside, they mix cover-3 zone with cover-1 man principles. It will be interesting to see how Seattle matches up with Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin because generally they keep their corners on a certain side and stick with that, but in the last meeting, Richard Sherman moved around with Boldin. With Crabtree back, I'm guessing, tentatively, that they'll return to their norm of keeping Sherman on the defensive left and Byron Maxwell on the right.

The Seahawks play a combination of 3-down and 4-down lineman fronts and mix up their pressure packages with Bruce Irvin, Cliff Avril, Chris Clemons and MLB Bobby Wagner (5.5 sacks). The main characteristic of their defense, apart from physicality, is their discipline. Everyone has to do their job and hit their landmarks on drops. The X-factor will be how they decide to defend Colin Kaepernick, because the Hawks don't want to go the way of the Packers and let him run all over the yard. Finally, it's going to be fun to see how they defend Vernon Davis. That guy is absurdly good, and completely different in style than Jimmy Graham. It's going to be a great game.

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