Sunday, January 19, 2014

NFC Title Game: Why the Seahawks have a tiny edge over the 49ers

I have received dozens of tweets and e-mails for picking the Seahawks to win the NFC title game against the 49ers in Seattle. KNBR’s Larry Krueger blasted me for it Friday morning and said he was going to scratch me from the 49ers pregame show.
Krueger was trying to stir a little controversy on the final day of his show with Gary Radnich before the game. Upshot – I will be on the pregame show at around 1:00
With this recent history, I better put forth my reasoning for why Seattle has the slightest edge in this game.

REASON 1: Fundamentally, the 49ers do not match up well against Seattle. In fact, when the Seahawks beat the 49ers 29-3 in Seattle during the second week of the season, they provided the template for how to beat the 49ers that several other teams followed.
The result was a loss the next week at home against the Colts and this template sent quarterback Colin Kaepernick into a prolong slump that he only now is emerging from, with the help of wide receiver Michael Crabtree.
The template is press coverage with physical cornerbacks, eight men in the box with the addition of a big, run-supporting safety and a fast and instinctual free safety to defend deep passes. The Seahawks play this style of defense possibly better than any team in league history.

REASON 2: Three of the last five 100-yard rushers against the 49ers belong to Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch. Lynch also could have pushed that number to four of the last five, but he didn’t play in the fourth quarter of Seattle’s 29-3 win and finished with 98 yards rushing.
The reason for Lynch’s success is his immense talent but also Seattle’s zone running approach. It’s a scheme designed to not necessarily rip off the big run, but to keep the chains moving by sheering off 3- to 4-yard runs a pop. And it’s rare to see Lynch lose yardage with zone runs.
The scheme is particularly successful in Seattle because the best way to disrupt zone blocking is with penetration, but that’s nearly impossible because of the noise.
The 49ers power, gap running scheme can be explosive, but it can also lose yardage. In the 49ers’ 19-17 win over Seattle last month at Candlestick, Frank Gore cracked Seattle’s nine-man front for a season-high, 51-yard run. It allowed kicker Phil Dawson to boot the winning field goal.
However, gap runs can lead to three-and-outs.
Consequently, with the noise, the zone running scheme and Lynch, Seattle has a better chance to control the clock.

REASON 3: If Seattle is able to lean on the 49ers with their running game, they could fatigue the 49ers defensively in the fourth quarter. One other fatiguing factor? The noise. It has a tendency to wear the visiting team down. That’s why the Seahawks have only lost once in Seattle in two years. However, the 49ers often fatigue quarterback mentally with their complex secondary alignments. Just ask Cam Newton.

CAVEAT: When I made the prediction, I hadn’t watched Seattle’s divisional playoff win over New Orleans for the second time. Russell Wilson was awful in that game. In reviewing more games, it’s clear Wilson is in a slump. He’s tentative, he doesn’t keep his eyes downfield and his passes are all over the place. You wonder if he’s hurt.
Because of this, Seattle’s edge is greatly reduced.

ONE LAST OBSERVATION: NFL Films senior analyst Greg Cosell noticed that Lynch has carried 21 times out of a three receiver formation against the 49ers and is averaging 6 yards per carry.
The 49ers should take notice and use their three receiver formation more often because it puts Quinton Patton on the field more and he is better than second tight end Vance McDonald or any fullback the 49ers have on the roster right now. Also Patton is a willing blocker, and Seattle plays less man-press coverage against three receivers.

STATS TO NOTE: NFL statistics for the season list 17 different offensive and special teams categories, in nine of those categories the 49ers and Seahawks are within four slots of each other. On defense however, Seattle is first in six different categories, including points and yards allowed per game. The highest defensive rank is third for both points allowed per game and points per game differential. … The 49ers have blocked two Seattle punts in the last two games. … Keapernick is listed as 6-4, Wilson at 5-11, yet Kaepernick has 13 batted passes and Wilson has 6.

Copyright : Kevin Lynch


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