“I could’ve done more. At the end of the day, I felt like I left some plays out there. I think I played a good game, but it could’ve been better.” Those were the words of Seahawks defensive end Jadaveon Clowney after a thrilling 27-24 49ers loss to the Seahawks, a game in which both teams had their chances to put the other away but couldn’t until the final three seconds of the game.
Clowney’s comments are alarming and downright scary for a 49ers offensive line that returned both starting tackles Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey to the lineup last night. Per Pro Football Focus, the Seahawks defense tallied 24 total pressure (6 sacks, four hits, 14 hurries), and Clowney registered 11 of those total pressures with one sack, four hits, and six hurries.
Between Staley and McGlinchey, each gave up a total of eight pressures. Although they gave one combined sack, the pressures did enough to force Garoppolo into hurried throws, resulting in incompletions and stalled drives.
First play: 2nd quarter, 1st & 10 at SF 27 (10:11)
The 49ers were able to move the ball decently well in the first quarter, but the Seahawks pass rush started to get home in the second quarter as they moved Clowney all around the front. His first victim was the right tackle/right guard tandem of Mike McGlinchey and Mike Person.
It appears the left side of the defensive line comprised of defensive tackle Al Woods (No. 72) and Clowney (No. 90) were trying to run an end-tackle stunt. In an end-tackle stunt, the end shoots inside underneath the defensive tackle, who loops around the edge. Clowney shoots inside after giving a subtle move outside and 2-hand swipe’s McGlinchey aside.
McGlinchey is off balance and recovers but engages Woods as well but it was too late. The pressure forces Garoppolo to leave the pocket where attempts an errant throw to Sanders while running left.
Second play: 2nd quarter, 3rd & 8 at SF 29 (9:31)
Garoppolo has been masterful on converting third downs this season, had already converted a third down for a touchdown earlier in the game to Kendrick Bourne, and somehow converted this third down in the face of pressure from Clowney.
In this rush, Clowney got an instant win against Staley with a quick inside move and elite hand fighting. Clowney got Staley to punch with both hands by shooting his outside arm up into Staley just enough for him to react. As soon as Staley went to punch Clowney, Clowney pinned/clubbed Staley’s inside arm and cut inside with a clear path to the quarterback through the B-gap.
He couldn’t finish with the sack, however, because Garoppolo felt the rush and correctly got a quick pass off to Bourne underneath on a crossing route. Bourne fought his way to a first down by a mere inches, and for the moment, the 49ers offense escaped disaster.
Third play: 2nd quarter, 2nd & 7 at SF 23 (2:57)
The 49ers still clung to a 10-0 lead most of the way through the second quarter thanks in large part due to the defense holding the Seahawks to just a few plays per drive. However, they’d still manage to get on the board when Garoppolo was strip-sacked by Jarran Reed, and the fumble was recovered and returned for a touchdown by Clowney.
The Seahawks are playing cover-3 strong buzz to empty against the 49ers 3x2 spread formation with Garoppolo in the shotgun. The play call is a spot concept to the left with Garoppolo looking for the high-low read to the trips. As he drops back, he expects the safety to the trips side, Qunadre Diggs, to stay in the deep middle of the field with safety Bradley McDougald rotating down away from the passing strength (two receiver side) as is common with the buzz rotation. The coverage blankets the receivers.
Upfront, the defensive line runs a tackle-tackle stunt with Jarran Reed (No. 91) going first and Poona Ford (No. 97) going second at guard Laken Tomlinson (No. 75) and backup center Ben Garland (No. 63). Garland and Tomlinson should’ve read the stunt and passed off each other’s defender to the other guy. Instead, Reed gets penetration amidst the confusion and forces Garoppolo off his spot and forces the fumble that Clowney scoops up for the touchdown.
Fourth play: 3rd quarter, 2nd & 6 at SEA 37 (10:56)
In the third quarter, the Seahawks came out driving downfield until running back Rashaad Penny fumbled the ball back to the 49ers. With the 49ers on the Seahawks side of the 50, points were imperative. But that didn’t happen, thanks in large part due to a sack that put them out of field goal range with no chance to convert.
The Seahawks front ran the same stunt with Reed and Ford as they did on the fumble recovery touchdown late in the second quarter. Same replica copy of the pass rush too. Staley gets beat by Clowney again with a swim move to the outside. Clowney gave a subtle move to the inside that drew Staley out of position, and he never recovered.
The pressure forced Garoppolo to step up into the pocket to avoid the sack, but he ran right into the rush of Reed and Ford. The interior linemen picked up the stunt this time, but Garoppolo never looked to reset and tried to escape between Tomlinson and Richburg. Reed and Ford were there to meet him for the sack. Garoppolo had Coleman on the checkdown, but he took his eyes off the field and never looked up.
Fifth play: 3rd quarter, 2nd & 18 at SF 32 (3:46)
At this point, the 49ers are down 14-10 late in the third quarter. Seattle took the lead after a Garoppolo pass for Bourne was intercepted and returned inside the 49ers red zone. On a shortened field, the Seahawks punched it in. On the ensuing 49ers drive, a Garoppolo fumble would give the ball right back to the Seahawks for another touchdown drive following the recovery.
In this play, Shanahan’s play call was designed to hit a receiver at or near the sticks for a first down or at least make the 3rd down manageable to convert. The play call is “Dale Both Bench,” where the outside receivers are running “bench” routes or deep outs. The inside receivers in the pattern run check flat routes underneath the out routes.
The Seahawks are in a quarters coverage and sink under the flat routes and into the passing lanes of the deep out routes. Garoppolo is looking to the left where he has a deep dig route from the slot as well that’s open when he hits the top of his drop and would’ve required a bit more anticipation. Meanwhile, with Garoppolo scanning, Clowney bull rushes McGlinchey into Garoppolo’s lap as he pulls the ball down to throw.
Clowney beats McGlinchey inside after giving a slight jab outside, getting McGlinchey to react. As he punches Clowney, Clowney pins his arms inside, and bullrushes his way into the pocket, hits the ball out of Garoppolo’s hand, where Poona Ford scoops it up for the recovery. Seattle would add another touchdown on the next drive.
Sixth play: 4th quarter, 2nd & 3 at SEA 16 (7:09)
This play and the play that followed were arguably the worst two-play sequence for the 49ers in the game. Garoppolo took the sack on this play, and Bourne dropped an easy first-down catch inside the red zone. Had he caught it, the 49ers chances for a touchdown increase, so do their chances of winning the game. Unfortunately, the opposite happened.
Shanahan’s play call is a run-pass option sweep (RPO). They set this up earlier in the game with a decent gain by Matt Breida and then coming right back to the RPO for a big gain to Deebo Samuel on the backside slant. The slant here is disrupted by Shaquill Griffin, but it likely doesn’t matter because McGlinchey got beat by Clowney, who jumped up into the throwing lane as Garoppolo was looking for the slant to Samuel.
Garoppolo had no throw and had to take the sack. As he was readying himself to the throw, Clowney again put McGlinchey on skates. Clowney’s first step is to the inside, getting McGlinchey to jump his pass set inside. As McGlinchey jumps inside, Clowney executes a nice power step to hop back outside the tackle and into the throwing lane. Garoppolo pulls it down, but by this time, defensive tackle Al Woods was in the backfield for the sack.
On the next play in the drive, Bourne dropped a would-be first down and to make matters worse, was wide open but tried to run before he secured the catch and/or was worried about the impending hit from the Seahawks middle hole defender.
The 49ers passing game struggled without Sanders and Kittle, a problematic scenario going forward with the possibility of those two missing additional time and games. Their status is day-to-day right now with decisions coming on game day as to whether or not they’ll play.
If this offense is going to have a chance to function at all against their upcoming opponents, McGlinchey will need to shake off this rust (Staley is out additional weeks now due to a fractured finger), and Justin Skule will have to show he can step up again and fill in for Staley. He held up well last time against the Cardinals. He’ll have even bigger tests in the coming weeks with the Packers, Saints, and Ravens.