Yes, the 49ers offense was absolutely abysmal last week against the Seahawks. With the help of the coaches film, I’ll be taking a more in-depth look at that topic in another post. Until then, here are 10 other things that I liked and didn’t like from Week 13.
1. Hyde and the Shotgun
Patient isn’t a word I’d use to describe Carlos Hyde. It feels like Hyde gets shot out of a cannon when the ball is snapped and he’s about to receive the handoff. Compared to one of the most patient runners in football, Frank Gore, well, let’s say that it doesn’t take much time after the snap to tell which back is in the game.
Hyde’s constant balls-to-the-wall speed can work against him at times, primarily on some of San Francisco’s base runs — power and counter — with Colin Kaepernick under center. These runs take longer to develop and Hyde doesn’t always give his blockers enough time to execute their blocks. Because of this, Hyde tends to be more effective on zone reads and other quick-hitting runs out of the Shotgun.
Against Seattle, this is exactly what happened. Hyde’s three carries from formations with Kaepernick under center went for five yards; his two carries from Shotgun netted 14 yards. Hyde picked up 12 yards on the first of those two Shotgun carries, and the second would’ve gone for more had Hyde not stumbled through the hole.
Hyde might very well develop the patience needed to better execute the Niners’ bread-and-butter runs from under center down the road — in fact, I have no doubts that he will. In the short-term, the 49ers need to put the rookie runner in the Shotgun and get him the ball where he’s most comfortable, because it might be their best option to pick up consistent yardage on the ground.
2. Cully’s Big Hit
There were few satisfying moments for 49ers fans on Thursday night. Chris Culliver’s big hit on Jermaine Kearse late in the first quarter was one of those moments.
3. Seattle’s Fumble Luck
The Seahawks recovered all four fumbles that hit the turf in this game, including three of their own. None were bigger than Seattle punter Jon Ryan’s mishandled snap on an all-around awful play that ended with a Perrish Cox fumble towards the end of the first half. Ryan fumbled the ball at Seattle’s 13-yard line. If that ball takes a weird hop and Ryan isn’t able to pick it up as cleanly, maybe Corey Lemonier is able to fall on it and gift the 49ers’ offense a touchdown.
Another Seattle fumble could’ve potentially given San Francisco the ball near midfield when Wilson’s handoff attempt bounced off Lynch’s forearm and on to the ground. Marshawn would beat a couple 49ers defenders to the ball and the Seahawks would eventually pick up three points on the drive.
It’s always dangerous to play the what-if game, because you can go in both directions. The 49ers didn’t deserve to win this game, but if they manage to recover a couple of those fumbles, the make-up of the game changes significantly, potentially providing the breaks San Francisco needed to at least make things interesting.
4. Wilson’s ‘Madden ’04 Vick’ Impression
Few things are as maddening to me as watching an opposing quarterback run around in the backfield and slip through several would-be tacklers before either flipping the ball out to a wide-open receiver or picking up first-down yardage with his legs. It’s demoralizing to go on that roller coaster of emotions — one second you’re fist-pumping a big sack, the next you’re sitting there wondering what the hell just happened.
No one induces this feeling more than Russell Wilson. And perhaps no play exemplifies that frustration more than Wilson’s third-and–9 conversion early in the second quarter.
Dontae Johnson comes free on a beautifully designed blitz, but Wilson manages to avoid him twice — reversing field each time — before tossing the ball to Tony Moeaki along the right sideline. Somehow, this play produced 63 yards. It’s dumb.
That play, and the several others like it, reminded me a lot of the frustration of trying to defend Michael Vick in Madden 2004. It didn’t matter what you did defensively, Vick would always seem to get out of it in a way that made you want to smash your controller into a million pieces. That’s exactly how I felt watching Wilson slither out of trouble time after time on Thursday.
5. Lynch Throwing Wilson to the Turf
Aaron Lynch felt my pain. If only this could’ve happened about a dozen more times.
6. Niners’ Run Defense
Seattle has put together one of the most efficient rushing attacks that Football Outsiders has ever measured. The combination of Marshawn Lynch and Wilson has been deadly on the ground, spearheading a Seahawks run game that was far and away the best in football coming into the week. Against the Niners, that run game was largely ineffective.
Don’t let the box score fool you, Seattle was nowhere near as effective on the ground as their 147 rushing yards would lead you to believe. Five Seahawks carries went for 10 or more yards, but three of them came on third-and-long, inflating Seattle’s rushing total but failing to produce first downs. Of their 34 rushing attempts, 21 of them went for three yards or less. In all, the Seahawks’ success rate on the ground was a pedestrian 23.5 percent.
Chris Borland was again everywhere at once, recording team-highs in stops (8.5) and defeats (2.5), with all but two of those stops coming in the run game. Borland wasn’t the only one getting in on the act; eight defenders recorded two or more stops on the day, including some big plays from…
7. Brooks’s Goal Line Stand
Ahmad Brooks has a knack for making big plays at the goal line. Following the aforementioned 63-yard pass to Moeaki that set the Seahawks up at the 1-yard line, Brooks was instrumental in preventing Seattle from getting into the end zone.
After Ray McDonald got into the backfield to stop Lynch on first down, Brooks chased down Wilson as he was sprinting towards the pylon on second down before swatting away a pass intended for Doug Baldwin on the money down. Seattle would settle for a field goal.
That goal line effort was the most notable part of one of Brooks’s better performances on the season. I’m still not sure he should be getting more snaps than Lynch at this point, but it’s a little easier to take when Brooks is making plays.
8. Field Position Woes
San Francisco owned the field position game in their first three seasons under Jim Harbaugh. In those three seasons, the Niners ranked no worse than second in net starting field position. While it hasn’t been terrible in 2014 — they ranked 10th entering Week 13 — it’s been considerably worse and Thursday’s game did nothing to change that.
Kaepernick & Co. started from their own 20-yard line on average last week. On the other side of the ball, Seattle’s average starting field position on offense (own 33) was better than San Francisco’s best starting field position on the day (own 31). Two Seahawks’ possessions started in 49ers’ territory, including their only touchdown drive.
As poorly as the 49ers’ offense played on Thursday, it might not have mattered if they’d gotten better field position to work with. But field position is one of those subtle things that most people don’t give enough weight to. While I certainly wouldn’t put it at the top of the list, worse starting field position is one of the many things that have contributed to San Francisco’s offensive struggles.
9. Perrish Cox, Punt Returner
Speaking of field position, San Francisco’s special teams have been terrible this season. Football Outsiders puts the 49ers’ special teams as the third-worst in football. Every single aspect of San Francisco’s special teams has been below average. The coverage units (punt coverage especially) share in the blame, but the return units have been awful.
Perrish Cox has become San Francisco’s primary punt returner over the past four weeks, and to put it mildly, things haven’t gone very well. Cox has averaged 3.5 yards per return since taking over for Bruce Ellington, and has yet to produce double-digit yardage on a single return. His 10 returns fall just shy of meeting the minimum to qualify for league leaders, but if he did that average would be the league’s worst.
Cox’s aforementioned fumble with 2:36 remaining in the second quarter erased San Francisco’s best opportunity to get points before the half. While the 49ers’ defense would hold and force another punt, Cox’s mishap cost San Francisco 20 yards worth of field position and nearly two minutes of game time.
10. Tank Shows Flashes
Tank Carradine’s 28 snaps were the most he’s received all seasons and were actually more than his total snaps on the season coming into the contest. And while I wasn’t focused on him every single play, he certainly flashed on a few occasions.
Carradine’s four stops trailed only Borland and considering he played fewer than half the snaps Borland did, his stop rate was actually a shade higher. Tank recorded two tackles for loss, including a third-and–1 stop of Robert Turbin in the red zone that forced a Seattle field goal.
With just four games remaining in the regular season, hopefully Tank’s snaps continue to increase so that we can get a better idea of the type of player he might become going forward.