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49ers vs. Seahawks: How Do We Explain The Defensive Performance?

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Yesterday's 40-21 victory over the Seahawks had a little bit of everything for 49ers fans. The defense forced some monstrous turnovers and the offense was able to capitalize like we hadn't seen in quite some time. It's always great to win the turnover battle, but if you're not putting points on the board, all you're doing is chewing up the clock. It's certainly an admirable achievement, but great teams convert turnovers into a lot of points.

The 49ers forced five turnovers by the Seahawks, and from those turnovers they put 20 points on the board. Matt Hasselbeck was responsible for all the turnovers in some form or fashion as he had one fumble and four interceptions. The fumble was turned into a Josh Morgan touchdown while the four interceptions turned into two field goals and a touchdown on the pick-six by Dashon Goldson. Two touchdowns and two field goal off five turnover is not too shabby all things considered.

I DVR'd the game and decided to took a look back at the first half when the game was still competitive. After the Goldson INT to start the second half the score as 37-7 and the route was basically on at that point. I'd be happy to check that part out, but for the purposes of the victory, the first half defense provides the most insight.

After looking back over the tape, the 49ers success in stopping the run was key, but I'd argue the play of the secondary against a banged up group of Seahawks wide receivers was the bigger reason. The 49ers haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 19 games but still have had struggles against the pass during that time. Yesterday the secondary took care of its business. They weren't battling the greatest wide receivers but poor wide receivers have tripped up the 49ers secondary in the past.

I credit the secondary because the pass rush really didn't have a big presence in the first half. Travis LaBoy's sack and forced fumble was the only sack for the 49ers. They got legit pressure on Hasselbeck about three other times in the first half, but that's about it. For the most part, he had plenty of time to make his reads. I credit the secondary because Hasselbeck found himself continually checking down to his running backs. Ruvell Martin and Deon Butler both had solid games, but Marshawn Lynch led the team in receptions with seven. The 49ers secondary forced Matt Hasselbeck into Alex Smith's normal role of Captain Checkdown.

Aside from the checkdowns, poor decisions killed the Seahawks. The most obvious was the decision to throw a bit of a fade pattern deep to Michael Robinson on 4th and 2. I enjoyed the interception late in the second quarter because Brian Billick summed it up best when he said, "I don't know whether this was stubborn or stupid." Matt Hasselbeck has been a fairly smart QB as he's gotten older but he made some bone-headed decisions.

Of course, he also struggled with accuracy issues. His pick-six to Goldson was an inaccurate pass thrown a bit off his back leg. His interception deflected to Takeo Spikes was just a shade behind Michael Robinson, who tipped it around until it ended up in the hands of Spikes. Nate Clements interception (prior to the picture above) was a bit more of just bad luck, but it was the way the day went for Hasselbeck.

To sum all this up? The 49ers benefited from a strong rush defense, a strong secondary, and a fair amount of luck. The luck makes it a bit harder to judge the end result, but given how much bad luck the 49ers found at times earlier in the season, maybe it's just time for things to swing the 49ers way.

It's safe to say I don't expect to see similar problems from Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers. Maybe they'll have some problems, but I expect a better performance from the Chargers than what we saw from Seattle. The 49ers defense has been incredibly inconsistent this season, so it should be interesting to see if they can put together back-to-back quality performances.