Our friends over at Field Gulls pointed out something worthwhile when Seattle plays a team for a second time; things don’t go so well. The Seahawks beat the Rams and the Cardinals the first time around but lost the second time around. From that article, Seattle is 1-5 in rematches since 2018. Their offense has been dreadful after the opening drive, which is scripted. The article notes that the Seahawks have scored 19 points in 21 drives, which is .9 points per drive. For reference, the Jets are dead last in points per drive at 1.3. Yes, it’s a small sample size. But the familiarity is imperative as players know what to expect the second time around.
What’s changed on offense?
Week 17 is a rematch, and a lot has changed since the first time these two teams faced off. It’s probably easier to ask what’s not different this time around. The 49ers went into the game without their best player, and within 24 snaps, lost Emmanuel Sanders for the game. Losing those two, and five drops led to Jimmy Garoppolo having his lowest completion percentage on the season. Completion percentage is a flawed statistic, but Kyle Shanahan usually lets Garoppolo throw it all over the place when he is in a groove. Garoppolo has completed over 64% of his passes in each game when he’s thrown the ball more than 30 times this season. Jimmy G has been above average on the season in terms of advanced stats like EPA and completion percentage over expectation, where Garoppolo is top-ten in both metrics.
The offense had three turnovers—which has been problematic all season as San Francisco ranks 20th in turnovers per drive—but the efficiency took a nosedive, unsurprisingly, with their top two targets out. When a Shanahan-led offense averages under 4.0 yards per play, something went wrong. In Week 10, just about everything did for San Francisco. From the drops near the goal line that could have led to touchdowns to drops turned interceptions. Those were the obvious plays that we all remember. The five sacks, Jadeveon Clowney, was playing the game of his life, converting only six of 16 third/fourth downs, and not being able to run the ball. Seriously, you name it, it went wrong for the offense.
Knowing all those things went wrong, the 49ers still were in a position to win the game at the end of regulation with a field goal. If it comes down to the final play again, Shanahan has stated he has plenty of confidence in Robbie Gould, 11-12 on extra points, and 8-9 on field goals since returning from a quad injury. San Francisco has had some tough luck kicking the ball this season. The 49ers have missed seven more field goals than their opponents. That’s essentially like having seven more turnovers. To be able to win 12 games despite that is impressive in itself.
What’s changed on defense
Seattle is so lucky they won’t have to face D.J. Jones extensively this season. In this game, Jones trampled over the center for a sack, but he also beat his man on five of the eight plays. He was in line for a dominant performance.
Seattle made a concerted effort to attack Emmanuel Moseley in Week 10. Moseley was targeted ten times compared to Richard Sherman’s three. The Seahawks wanted to take advantage of the size difference between Moseley and rookie wideout D.K. Metcalf. Moseley allowed 57 yards, but he did a great job of competing all night. Witherspoon has struggled the past two games, but he’s been excellent all season on vertical routes and against linear athletes like Metcalf.
That was also Dre Greenlaw’s first extensive action. Greenlaw only missed three snaps all game. Before Seattle, he had been playing around 20 snaps a game. That number jumped to 70. Greenlaw has grown quite a bit as a player since the last time these two teams met. Greenlaw had the critical interception in the game, but he also missed a couple of tackles. Since Week 10, Greenlaw has only missed one tackle. He’s also far more comfortable in coverage and has been reading and playing the run much better. The same can be said for Azeez Al-Shaair, who only played eight snaps but gave up two passes that went for first downs. Al-Shaair is recognizing passing concepts underneath far better. He’s also filling against the run more aggressively than ever. Both of those have allowed Robert Saleh to keep the rookie on rookie on the field.
The big blow for the 49ers in this one will be at the fourth defensive line spot. The team hasn’t gotten any production from their fourth rusher. In Week 10, Dee Ford played 23 snaps, and Ronald Blair played 14 snaps. Solomon Thomas has played starter snaps, and he has been a disappointment. Can Anthony Zettel do anything, and I mean anything? That’s the hope.
The score doesn’t reflect how well the defense played, despite all the new moving parts. Seattle averaged 4.6 yards per play. Wilson only had two completions over 20 yards and was limited to 232 yards on the night. If the 49ers can do that again, I love their chances Sunday night. The Seahawks did turn the ball over four times, which will be difficult for the Niners to replicate. Jaquiski Tartt’s forced fumble near the goal line remains one of my favorite plays this season. Just a spectacular play from Tartt.
If San Francisco can limit the big play and force Seattle to drive down the field methodically, they’ll win. Not having that fourth player on the defensive line to take advantage of 1-on-1 opportunities has hurt, but this is an offensive line allowed nine hurries, two quarterback hits, and four sacks to a Cardinals defense that has Chandler Jones and that’s about it. Jones had a field day. With Duane Brown out, Nick Bosa has to be licking his chops.