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How will Jimmy G fare in his first start against Seattle?

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The 49ers offense will likely be without their best player against the Seahawks, but Kyle Shanahan should have the team prepared, like always

San Francisco 49ers v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

We’ve talked about how the San Francisco 49ers defense will slow down Russell Wilson. Now it’s time to look at the other side of the ball, where quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and company have been firing on all cylinders. There are several reasons for the Niners’ offensive explosion in recent weeks, but it has to start with the addition of Emmanuel Sanders. Jimmy G and Sanders look like a duo that has played together for years, not less than two weeks.

Griffin joins me once again to discuss what we can expect to see when the 49ers offense is on the field.

Griffin

While the Seahawks offense versus the 49ers defense is a more even and less predictable match up, the reverse is much more lopsided. The 49ers are obviously humming on the ground and in the air, and the Seahawks defense has systemic schematic and execution issues.

They are the bottom of the barrel in almost every statistical passing defense category. They can’t rush the passer. They can’t cover long enough to compensate. They’re forced to field three linebackers because they don’t have a nickel corner and then are forced to constantly send their SAM linebacker, Mychal Kendricks because they have any speed rush. And then sending five so often puts the coverage in a further bind as they are then down a man in the back end and said pressures aren’t getting home often enough.

It’s bad.

More specifically, Seattle is still primarily a cover-3 team, even with the loss of Earl Thomas. They have had instability at the safety position due to injury. Bradley McDougald, when healthy, is a damn good and versatile safety for them, but his play speed seems to ebb and flow this year and has been burned (he’s also made incredible plays, so he’s a mixed bag right now). They will often give him match duties on a tight-end to 2x2 formations and be responsible for the #3 receiver to 3x1s. San Francisco has a host of guys that can threaten the seams so that match up might be the most interesting. George Kittle’s health will obviously drive the makeup of said matchup as well. You have to give the edge to Kittle on paper, but McDougald will put up a fight.

KP

Kittle will do everything he can to give it a go on Monday night, but I imagine we’ll see Garrett Celek elevated in his spot. Not having Kittle will be a big blow for the offense, but, as Griffin mentioned, we are not talking about your Seahawk’s defense of yesteryear.

Seattle’s defense is middle of the pack in allowing explosive plays as well. There isn’t an Earl Thomas patrolling the middle of the field that will scare play-callers away. Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett aren’t lining up with their hand on the ground to rush the passer. The Seahawks are 31st in adjusted sack rate. As Griffin said, when you have to manufacture pressure, that leaves holes in your defense. The 49ers receivers have struggled this season to separate against man coverage. They have zero issues against zone. From a matchup standpoint, this is where San Francisco will win the game, even if Kittle can’t go though I do worry about rookie safety Marquise Blair—who has shown a veteran-level of recognition—which has allowed him to jump routes and make plays.

Griffin

The other starting safety is rookie Marquise Blair. He has an exciting skillset. In college, he was primarily a down safety, and Seattle has played him down to the flat, but last week almost exclusively the FS in cover 3. They’re having him melt quite deep at the snap to sell out on deep concepts, leaving a soft spot atop the linebackers, so that will be an area of the field that I expect Shanahan to attack.

And speaking of the linebackers, Bobby Wagner and KJ Wright remain the strengths of the defense. Both have had some bad moments, especially Wright, whose age is showing. Still, part of that is the 3-deep 3-under structure that caps the pressures defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. has been sending putting them in tough spots as the pressures aren’t actually getting home. Wagner is still dependable to close off the middle of the field when he has match assignments on the #3 receiver no matter the coverage shell. Along with McDougald, he’ll be put to task in that arena. Wright has been given those assignments, as well. His intelligence and position maintenance is still superb. Still, his waning speed can hurt him, and given Shanahan’s penchant for targeting matchups that favor his offense, I will be holding my breath when KJ is inserted into the weak hook to trips.

The design of said pressures has been trending away from trying to hit kill shots and more invite an easy throw that Norton wants his underneath players to go kill. It works in theory, but the execution has been spotty with poor angles of pursuit and tackling. It is my understanding that Jimmy G has dealt with >4 man pressures well this year so that Seattle will be in a bind all game. Upfront, the main guys offensive lines have to key are, of course, Jadeveon Clowney and Jarran Reed. Reed had great games against San Francisco last year but hasn’t regained his 2018 form since getting back from suspension. His doing so might give Seattle’s defense some fight. Clowney hasn’t been totaling sacks, but his bullrush and inside swims and swipes have been live all season, but without surrounding impact players, guards have been sliding to him all year. A potential additional difference-maker for Seattle is versatile lineman Quinton Jefferson. He rattled off several pressures early in the year before slowing to injury. Something I noticed about him is his uncanny ability to slip blocks and leak into the backfield against play-action slide protection. His reentry will be needed for a desperate pass rush.

If there’s a bright spot in Seattle’s collective defense, it’s found defending the run. Shanahan is renowned for his outside zone scheme, but I hear he’s been diversifying what he does upfront of late too. Seattle stands a better chance of putting the clamps on the run game than they do the passing game, so they’ll need to focus the run down to help out their pass rush and force 3rd and longs as much as possible.

The other starting safety is rookie Marquise Blair. He has an exciting skillset. In college, he was primarily a down safety, and Seattle has played him down to the flat, but last week almost exclusively the FS in cover 3. They’re having him melt quite deep at the snap to sell out on deep concepts, leaving a soft spot atop the linebackers, so that will be an area of the field that I expect Shanahan to attack.

And speaking of the linebackers, Bobby Wagner and KJ Wright remain the strengths of the defense. Both have had some bad moments, especially Wright, whose age is showing. Still, part of that is the 3-deep 3-under structure that caps the pressures defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. has been sending putting them in tough spots as the pressures aren’t actually getting home. Wagner is still dependable to close off the middle of the field when he has match assignments on the #3 receiver no matter the coverage shell. Along with McDougald, he’ll be put to task in that arena. Wright has been given those assignments, as well. His intelligence and position maintenance is still superb. Still, his waning speed can hurt him, and given Shanahan’s penchant for targeting matchups that favor his offense, I will be holding my breath when KJ is inserted into the weak hook to trips.

The design of said pressures has been trending away from trying to hit kill shots and more invite an easy throw that Norton wants his underneath players to go kill. It works in theory, but the execution has been spotty with poor angles of pursuit and tackling. It is my understanding that Jimmy G has dealt with >4 man pressures well this year, so Seattle will be in a bind all game. Upfront, the main guys offensive lines have to key are, of course, Jadeveon Clowney and Jarran Reed. Reed had great games against San Francisco last year but hasn’t regained his 2018 form since getting back from suspension. His doing so might give Seattle’s defense some fight. Clowney hasn’t been totaling sacks, but his bullrush and inside swims and swipes have been live all season, but without surrounding impact players, guards have been sliding to him all year. A potential additional difference-maker for Seattle is versatile lineman Quinton Jefferson. He rattled off some pressures early in the year before slowing to injury. Something I noticed about him is his uncanny ability to slip blocks and leak into the backfield against play-action slide protection. His reentry will be needed for a desperate pass rush.

If there’s a bright spot in Seattle’s collective defense, it’s found defending the run. Shanahan is renowned for his outside zone scheme, but I hear he’s been diversifying what he does up the front of late too. Seattle stands a better chance of putting the clamps on the run game than they do the passing game, so they’ll need to focus the run down to help out their pass rush and force 3rd and longs as much as possible.

KP

The past two weeks, we’ve seen Sanders camping out over the middle of the field. He may have ten catches on Monday night. Crossing routes, combinations where San Francisco will “high-low” Seattle’s linebackers, and stretching the field horizontally is what I’m expecting. Jimmy’s quick trigger and ball placement have allowed receivers to pick up yards after the catch recently, as well Garoppolo playing well under pressure.

Garoppolo is comfortable when bodies are flying around him. Being calm in the pocket is what separates the competent from the greats.

Will Seattle load the box without Kittle and force the receivers to win 1-on-1? Here is a look at the Seahawks run defense from a success rate standpoint as well as directional rushing production via Sharp Football Stats.

The 49ers are 10% above league average when rushing behind the left guard. I wonder which direction Shanahan will run!

Matt Breida, Tevin Coleman, and Deebo Samuel have been fantastic this season at breaking tackles and getting more yards than you’d expect them to. The Seahawks have missed the 11th-most tackles in the NFL. All signs point to this matchup favoring San Francisco. Play your game, and the Niners should remain undefeated.