49ers vs. Seahawks: All-22 Breakdown of the NFC Championship Game

Christian Petersen

An in depth analysis using all 22 film of how the 49ers came up short in the quest to return to the Super Bowl

A swift kick to the nuts, that's about what the 49ers loss to the Seahawks in the NFC Championship game Sunday felt like, with the pain creeping up into your stomach and wondering how one event can be responsible for so pain. The only difference this loss isn't going away anytime soon.

It wasn't that we got beat, winning in Seattle is the single hardest thing to do in the NFL, it's how we lost. To start the game, literally the first play, with a strip sack and proceed to dominate the first half only to be undone by a long touchdown pass on fourth down and turnovers on the final three 49er possessions, the last of which at the hand of the anti Christ himself Richard Sherman, was as bad as it gets.

Somehow 49ers fans and myself will get over this loss, my blood alcohol content is finally dropping to a reasonable level after days of drowning my sorrows, but this one will linger long into summer. A Bronco's victory will surely help but Sunday will be a source of pain until we finally get over the hump and win in the Northwest. With that out of the way for now let's examine the film and find out how the 49ers let another Super Bowl appearance slip through their fingers.

Inability to Establish the Rushing Attack: With a behemoth offensive line and head coach that openly professes his love for a fullback, it's safe to say the 49ers offense is built upon running the football. On Sunday, the 49ers failed miserably to do that as Frank Gore and Co. managed 31 yards on 16 carries and the 49ers offense became reliant on Colin Kaepernick's scrambles, an effective but unsustainable option.

Let's look at how the Seahawks overwhelmed the 49ers rushing game by stacking the box, effectively taking away the 49ers power running game.

Game Situation: 3rd Quarter, 14:55, 1st and 10 at the SF 21, Seahawks 3, 49ers 10

Offensive Personnel: 2 WR (Michael Crabtree) 3 TE (Vernon Davis, Vance McDonald, Garrett Celek) 1 RB (Frank Gore)

Formation: Power I

Offensive Concept: 97 G Rub (Power left)

Defensive Scheme: Cover 3

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Summary: With a stacked box, the Seahawks were able to stuff an off tackle power play very similar to the 51 yard run that doomed them in the Week 14 meeting in San Francisco. When Vernon Davis slid across the formation on a fake flat route, the Seahawks gained a 5 to 4 numerical advantage on the play side overwhelming the 49ers with sheer numbers. Add in great pursuit by DT Red Bryant and DE Michael Bennett beating LT Joe Staley badly at the point of attack and Frank Gore had no other options but to fall down for a 1 yard loss.

Looking at the blocking you can imagine if Staley was able to seal Bennett inside and Gore was able to outrun the backside pursuit of Bryant and this could have been a big gain for the 49ers. But the Seahawks and their aggressive style blew this play and the majority of the 49ers traditionally rushing attack up before they could materialize, forcing Colin Kaepernick to carry the majority of the offensive burden.

A Tales of Two Halves: Similar to the 49ers, the Seahawks' offense is focused around establishing the run game. While their zone blocking scheme can be downright devastating once its gets rolling, it requires a lot of discipline and technique out of their offensive linemen. An often overlooked but critical aspect of a successful zone run is the eliminating backside pursuit with cut blocks from the weak side guards and tackles.

Let's look at how the Seattle was unable to close the weak side gaps allowing the 49ers down linemen and linebackers to shoot into the backfield and prevent Marshawn Lynch from cutting up field.

Game Situation: 2nd Quarter, 3:22, 1st and 10 at the SEA 47, Seahawks 3, 49ers 10

Offensive Personnel: 1 WR (Golden Tate) 2 TE (Zach Miller, Alvin Bailey) 2 RB (Marshawn Lynch, Michael Robinson)

Formation: 2 TE Weak

Offensive Concept: Zone Run Right

Defensive Scheme: Cover 3

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Summary: Even before the snap, the 49ers, particularly Justin Smith, are preparing for a zone read left. Whether he knew the play was coming or the formation tipped him off, Smith's subtle movement to get inside leverage on Russell Okung's prevented the cut block and allowed the Cowboy into the backfield. With a defender in his face as he received the football, Lynch was unable to hit the nice crease created off tackle and was brought down for a 1 yard gain.

A Tale of Two Halves: After a first half which saw the Seahawks struggle to run the football and create any sort of offensive rhythm, Seattle begin mixing in more man blocking run plays. This change prevented the 49ers from exploiting the backside gaps to get into the backfield allowing Lynch to get his pads downfield and use his devastating power.

Let's look at how this simple change revitalized the Seahawks run game and ultimately their entire offense.

Game Situation: 3rd Quarter, 10:30, 3rd and 1 at the SEA 4, Seahawks 3, 49ers 10

Offensive Personnel: 1 WR (Golden Tate) 3 TE (Zach Miller, Luke Wilson, Alvin Bailey) 1 RB (Marshawn Lynch)

Formation: 2 TE Weak

Offensive Concept: Dive

Defensive Scheme: Man 2

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Summary: With a slight change to the blocking scheme up front, the Seahawks were able to create the chunk plays on the ground that fuel their offense. With a scrum forming at the point of attack, Patrick Willis and Bowman were forced to go over the top allowing Lynch's cutback to seal the entire front seven from the play. As the entire NFL knows by now having Marshawn Lynch in your secondary with a head of steam is a very bad place to be and he showed why with a quick cut that broke him free en route to a 40 touchdown run.

Playing with Fire: After rightfully avoiding Richard Sherman for the entire evening, Kaepernick attacked him with the game on the line attempting to find Crabtree in the back of the end zone. It proved to be the final play of Kaepernick's and the 49ers season as Sherman displayed textbook coverage on a go route and ultimately deflected a pass that would land in teammates Malcom Smith's hand for a game ending interception.

Game Situation: 4th Quarter, 0:30, 1st and 10 at the SEA 18, Seahawks 23, 49ers 17

Offensive Personnel: 3 WR (Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, Quitton Patton) 1 TE (Vernon Davis) 1 RB (Frank Gore)

Formation: 2 TE Weak

Offensive Concept: Sail/Go

Defensive Scheme: Cover 3

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Summary: Simply beautiful coverage as Sherman squeezed Crabtree towards the sideline, stayed snuggly in his hip pocket down the field and played the football at its highest point. Add in a nice hustle play by LB Smith and it was all over for the 49ers. Some have speculated that Kaepernick's throw should have been a yard or two further but there was no possibility of completing that pass with Sherman in such tight coverage given his exception height for the position. Yes a pick could have been avoided but this played was doomed as soon as Kaepernick looked in Sherman's direction.

Overall: Given how the 49ers won't play another competitive game for 9 months, this game and the pain from this loss has really just begun. That said, there were some positives that left me proud of my boys on Sunday, primarily their desire to fight back.

After the Seahawks tied the game at 10 with Lynch's 40 touchdown run, it looked as if the 49ers were destined to wilt down the stretch as they had in their previous two games in Seattle. Yet they responded with a 6 play 83 yard drive capped off by a 26 yard laser to Anquan Boldin that was a statement. On the ensuing kickoff Golden Tate's 70 yard kick return put the 49ers defense in a bind, but they held strong and forced a field goal. And the list goes on; a 37 yard touchdown on 4th and 7 or their first two drives in the 4th quarter ending in turnovers. Despite all of opportunities to crumble in the most hostile environment the 49ers didn't and managed to claw themselves 18 yards from a colossal win displaying the kind of resilience that makes me proud to a 49er fan.

Maybe I'm just talking myself into moral victories and am too fragile still to face that facts; we choked away a victory and allowed our arch nemesis a birth in the Super Bowl ending a 3 year stretch that has seen the 49ers progress deep into the playoffs only to be undone by a pair of Kyle William fumbles, failing to score from 1st and goal from the 5 in the Super Bowl and throwing a game ending pick in Seattle. When you put it that way it hurts, bad. Wake me up when September rolls around.

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