49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

September 16, 2013
Film review: Seahawks outsmart 49ers, Kaepernick's slow starts; d-line depth to be tested

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Was it Colin Kaepernick? Was it his protection? Was it the Seahawks defense? As is usually the case in a lopsided loss and an abysmal passing performance like the one the 49ers had last night in Seattle, it was a little bit of everything.

Kaepernick has not been a fast starter. Even in his epically fantastic game against the Packers last week, he began with two incompletions, one of them a near pick six by Packers cornerback Tramon Williams. He and the 49ers got off to slow starts in each of their playoff games last year, too.

He was off target early Sunday as well. The 49ers' plan was to catch the Seahawks defense and a Seahawks crowd off guard with a no-huddle defense. It almost worked. But a third-down pass to Bruce Miller was a bit off target and Miller stumbled and was tackled down a half yard short of the first down. Result: punt.

There were lapses in pass protection, especially after the Seahawks took a sizable lead late in the game and their pass rushers no longer had to worry about the 49ers' running game. But the bigger issue is that the 49ers pass catchers - so wide open last week against Green Bay - were being hounded by the Seahawks throughout. Kaepernick, for example, attempted five passes to Miller, his very last option. That signals that the quarterback, who isn't shy about firing the ball down field, found few openings.

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The 49ers tried to take advantage of the close, man-to-man coverage with more read-option runs by Kaepernick. The theory is that if the cornerbacks are engaged with the 49ers wide receivers and the safeties are deep to take away any downfield passes, they won't have time to react to the quarterback escaping the pocket.

The tactic was marginally successful. Kaepernick led the 49ers with 87 yards rushing, his highest total ever in a regular-season game. But the Seahawks inside linebackers are as fast as the 49ers', and they largely made sure there were no back-breaking plays like the Packers experienced in the playoffs. K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner finished one-two on the Seahawks in tackles.

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Meanwhile, the Seahawks defensive line easily won the battle against the 49ers' vaunted offensive line when it came to traditional runs up the middle by Frank Gore (1.8-yard average). I think a lot of that has to do with crowd noise. In a typical game, the offense has the advantage of knowing the snap count and getting a half-beat head start on the play. When no one can hear, both offense and defense start the play at the same time. There was no push.

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The Seahawks also were smarter than the 49ers. And not just from the standpoint of committing fewer penalties, especially the personal-foul variety, which for the second year in a row came in droves toward the end of the game, showing the 49ers' frustration and lack of composure.

Seattle also called better plays. When the 49ers were in striking distance of a touchdown early in the game, Kaepernick thought he had Vernon Davis open in the near corner of the end zone. He didn't realize, however, that Walter Thurmond was playing zone defense and came out of his section to knock the ball in the air for an interception.

Later in the game when the Seahawks were in the red zone, safety Craig Dahl blitzed up the middle on third down. Russell Wilson recognized the free blitzer meant one of his pass catchers was uncovered, flipped the ball to that pass catcher, Marshawn Lynch, and Lynch walked - literally - into the end zone for the second of his three touchdowns.

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On Lynch's 14-yard touchdown run, the 49ers were caught in their nickel defense. Seattle center Max Unger, one of the quicker centers in the league, got a second-level block on NaVorro Bowman, and once Bowman was taken care of, Lynch had nothing to worry about. Again, it was the perfect offensive call at the right time.

Another head-scratcher by the 49ers: Early in the fourth quarter, Kyle Williams caught a wide-receiver screen and had a phalanx of offensive linemen in front of him. It was one of the few times the 49ers seemed like they had the perfect play called, and as it was developing, it looked like it would be a huge gain. But one of those charging offensive linemen, Anthony Davis, ran right past cornerback Richard Sherman, who stuck Williams with a big tackle short of even a first down. Davis also was flagged for unnecessary roughness, the second straight year he's lost his cool late in Seattle in a blowout loss.

Sherman, by the way, was the player of the game just as he was in the teams' meeting in December.

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Aldon Smith had another multi-sack game. But he committed perhaps the worst penalty of the evening when, after the 49ers had appeared to force a long field-goal try in what was then still a tight game in the third quarter, he was hit with his own personal foul, which gave Seattle a first down. On the same drive, he bit to the inside on a read-option fake and Wilson gained nine yards.

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The caveat with cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha's solid offseason is that he never was challenged deep, which was his Kryptonite when he was in Philadelphia. Wilson threw deep against him on Sunday, Asomugha got turned around and committed a 40-yard pass interference penalty. It also came in the fateful third quarter.

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Why was Ray McDonald still in the game when he suffered his ankle injury with 3:31 to play? Because the 49ers suited up five defensive linemen and one of them, Ian Williams, already was out with a broken ankle. The only reserve, Demarcus Dobbs, was in for Justin Smith at the time.

With Williams out for an extended period if not the season, and with McDonald hobbled, the 49ers are likely to have both Dobbs and Tony Jerod-Eddie in uniform Sunday against Indianapolis. Two other linemen who spent the offseason with the 49ers, Lamar Divens and Will Tukuafu, were released with injuries and are unable to play. Tukuafu hurt his knee; Divens injured his hip.

The 49ers also could promote undrafted rookie Mike Purcell, a nose tackle, from the practice squad. Rookies Tank Carradine and Quinton Dial won't be available until after Week 6.

-- Matt Barrows



MATTHEW BARROWS

Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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