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Seahawks Vs 49ers: What Went Wrong

Revisiting the Seahawks loss to the 49ers on Sunday. What went wrong?

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The Seahawks and 49ers put together a pretty lackluster performance on Sunday and I remember thinking during the game how incredibly boring it must have been for anyone that wasn't a fan of these two teams (and even people who are fans). The first half was a demonstration of offensive incompetence for both teams, and the second half was a penalty-ridden grudge match where special teams made the difference. 

Regardless, sometimes that's how the NFL goes. Sometimes it's ugly. Sometimes your gameplan goes awry. So what happened that the Seahawks hadn't planned? Let's take a look at a post I wrote on Saturday with some 'keys' to the game, and how the Seahawks fared in them on Sunday. My pre-game keys in italics, followed by my post-game follow-up.

1. Limit turnovers. The Hawks have to win the turnover battle. This is never more important than playing on the road with an inexperienced line, an untested quarterback, a young defense, and a new offense. These are the issues that Seattle will be dealing with so if they start coughing up the football they will have major problems.

The Seahawks lost the turnover battle. Specifically Tarvaris Jackson, who coughed up the ball three times. The 49ers didn't turn it over. Any time you're trying to come from behind, like the Seahawks were in the second half after falling behind early, a turnover severely hampers your progress and greatly reduces your statistical chance at a win. One of Jackson's turnovers, an interception, was flukey as it came at the end of the half on a hail mary type throw, but he also fumbled the ball three times, losing it twice.

His pocket presence was mostly to blame. He failed to step up into the pocket on a few occasions, and on others, failed to see the pressure coming. Of course, a lot of the blame is on the offensive line for this, and it's tough to see something from your blindside, but he also needs to develop a better sense of how long he's holding on to the ball. With more reps and more experience with these receivers and linemen, this is something that can be improved upon, but for now it's something that's going to plague Jackson and the Seahawks. 

Alex Smith actually played a game that the Seahawks were probably hoping Jackson would. Smith didn't turn the ball over, connected on 75% of his passes, and 'managed' the game for a 49er win. It was the most boring solid performance ever (well, not ever) by a starting quarterback but he got the job done. To be honest, this is sort the expectation I have for Tarvaris -- I'm not sure if anyone believes he'll be a star in the NFL but I do believe that he has the capability to be a solid, game-managing performer. He just can't turn the ball over three times. Something to improve on.

2. Settle down on offense. The Seahawks first team offense really sucked ass in the preseason (pardon my french). The line was porous, the passing game was inefficient, the run game didn't gain a ton of traction, and many of the Hawks starting players were limited with minor injuries.

If the Hawks can settle in and string together a few first downs early in the game, it will be huge for their confidence and they can start to build some momentum on that side of the ball. Tarvaris Jackson is under a huge amount of pressure both from the fans and from opposing defensive lines, so if he can calm down a bit and distribute the football, he should be fine. If he continues to hold on to the ball in the face of the pass rush and take sacks, it's going to be a very LONG day for the offense (and consequentially, the defense).

Yeah... well, didn't quite happen. Especially early. The Hawks started out the game with an 8 play, 34 yard drive that should have been a 3-and-out but was helped by a key 49er penalty to sustain the drive. After that, here's how the Seahawks offensive possessions went. I hope you're sitting down.

-- 3 plays for -1 yards. Punt.
-- 3 plays for 4 yards. Punt.
-- 4 plays for 7 yards. Fumble, turnover by Jackson.
-- 3 plays for -5 yards. Punt.
-- 3 plays for -2 yards. Punt.
-- 1 play for 0 yards. Jackson Intercepted as time ran out in the first half.

The Seahawks managed 37 yards of total offense in the first half. Not exactly the "settling down" and "stringing together of a few first downs early" that I was hoping for. 

Now, if you look at the third quarter start, you feel better. The Hawks made some halftime adjustments and came out like they should have to start the game but putting together a nine-play, 56 yard touchdown scoring drive where they looked in command. They got five first-downs on that drive and the offense finally looked like something that should be playing in the National Football League. 

So, as always, a little bad (the first half), with a little good (the third quarter). If you're a silver lining type of person, which I am, there's that.

3. The offensive line play. It's looking like James Carpenter will be playing at left guard for the injured Robert Gallery, and Breno Giacomini will take over at right tackle. Neither of them have started an NFL game. John Moffitt, the right guard, hasn't either. Max Unger, the center, has started 17 games. Russell Okung has started 10. Yikes.

It's very likely they're going to struggle. This is the NFL. You can't just throw together a line and hope it magically works. The level of suckatude is what to watch here. Can they get by with a little grit and get the job done well enough to eek out the win? It's very possible. I'm not saying that the sky is falling, but this will be something that could severely hamstring their efforts.

Well, they did struggle. The Seahawks gave up five sacks and probably double-digits in the amount of quarterback pressures. Though a few of the sacks came on plays where Tarvaris just held on to the ball for too long, they were consistently beaten by the 49ers defensive line. They didn't fare any better in the run game. 

That said, there appears to be room for improvement. Like I mentioned in my post, I wasn't expecting much from this unit. They helped the Seahawks offense get themselves in a position to win the game. The Hawks trailed only 19-17 with under four minutes left in the game. The offensive line can be much, much better than this. They made some adjustments from the first half to the second half and looked a lot better.

James Carpenter looked decent at the left guard spot. Breno Giacomini ... well I didn't really notice him all that much so he wasn't a glaring liability. The longer these guys play together the better they'll get. That's not just me being 'rah-rah,' I believe it's actually true. You can't just throw guys into the fire like this in the NFL -- well, you shouldn't, but Pete Carroll did. Either way, it wasn't as bad as I thought it could be. So there's that.

4. The defense will need to get pressure on Alex Smith. Any quarterback in the NFL, with time, can pick apart a defense. You don't make it to the NFL if you can't make passes under no pressure. Even Alex Smith, the former number one pick that has mostly busted in the NFL (though he IS still starting... so it's not a complete waste), could pick apart the Seahawks secondary if given time to sit back and hit an open target.

The Hawks will need to bring pressure from their LEO end, typically Chris Clemons and Raheem Brock, but will also need to get a little push from the defensive interior -- Brandon Mebane and Alan Branch. If these two can collapse the pocket, force Smith to scramble or throw it away, it will take some pressure off of the young secondary to make plays.

San Francisco upgraded their receiving corps this offseason with the addition of Braylon Edwards to augment the weaponry they have in TE Vernon Davis and 3rd year receiver Michael Crabtree. Former CFLer, Brandon Browner will likely get the start opposite Marcus Trufant, and he'll likely match up against Crabtree. It will be a tough assignment for Browner, but it will be interesting to see what he can do against a talented receiver in Crabtree.

Again, the Seahawks didn't really succeed in this facet of the game. I believe they only got one quarterback pressure and zero sacks. Not good enough. The Hawks really wanted to get at Smith and force him to make some bad decisions but he didn't get pressured consistently and he didn't turn the ball over. This is disconcerting because when the Hawks start facing a team with quarterbacks named Matt Ryan, Tony Romo, Michael Vick, etc., there could be problems. 

The Hawks defensive line looked really good in run defense but pretty poor in the pass rush, which is pretty much what I was expecting. I'd take a 'great' run defense and a 'great' pass rush but in reality would be fine with little more balance between the two -- maybe a good run defense and an 'acceptable' pass rush. Anything to take pressure off of this secondary.

5. Special teams. The special teams won Seattle a few games last year, and I have to think that this year will be the same. New kickoff rules. New personnel.

Funny. The one unit I wasn't really that concerned about. I was a little concerned about our kicker - Steven Hauschka -- but overall he looked fine. He booted the ball into the endzone on pretty much every kickoff but that didn't stop the 49ers from bringing the ball out. 

Anyway -- funny I even mentioned it. The special teams essentially lost the game for Seattle. As I said above, the Hawks had pulled to within two points with under four minutes to go. The Hawks possessed the momentum and had taken the Candlestick Park crowd out of the game. They were poised to make a defensive spot, take back the ball, and kick the winning field goal. 

Then Ted Ginn took the ensuing kickoff 102 yards for a touchdown. The Hawks went down by nine. Then they went three and out, punted, and Ted Ginn returned it 55 yards for a touchdown. Game over.

Oops. Special teams are important after all! So what went wrong? Well, it certainly didn't help that Michael Robinson and Byron Maxwell went out early with injuries. With those two out of the game, fill-ins came on and didn't do their jobs. As Earl Thomas put it: "All it takes is somebody to miss an assignment and out the gate it goes."

The Hawks missed some assignments and I saw a quote from Earl Thomas somewhere (that I can't find now) in which he was alluding to the fact that some people starting 'making things up' on those plays. This resulted in blown assignments, bad angles, and loss of contain. Something that will need to be coached, but thankfully something that is eminently coachable. The Seahawks could still have a top-notch special teams unit, they just didn't show up on Sunday.

So that's what I got on the games keys right now. I'll have more analysis a little later but check in to Field Gulls for more!