NFL coaches generally focus only upon the game directly in front of the team, but Monday is an exception to that rule. The game-planning for next week’s opponent doesn’t start in earnest for the coaches until Tuesday, and the players won’t start learning that game plan until Wednesday.
Monday is the day for diagnosis in this league. The day when teams try to pinpoint what went right in Sunday’s game or where it went wrong. After a victory, coaches are asked to distribute credit, trying to determine just what factored into the result. A loss provokes an attempt to assign blame. Just whose fault was it?
So every Monday afternoon on the blog, we will be posting the distribution of credit or the attribution of blame, each factor measured on a scale of 1 to 5 (the higher the number, the more important it is):
Importance: 4 (Critical)
|San Francisco believed it could bully Seattle up front. Just give the Seahawks a healthy dose of Frank Gore running between the tackles, mix in a few underneath passes from quarterback Alex Smith and call it good.
Except it wasn’t that simple.
Seattle’s defense was stouter than expected with defensive tackles Colin Cole and Brandon Mebane holding their ground, leaving linebacker Lofa Tatupu free to clean up the mess. Heck, even cornerback Kelly Jennings with a critical open-field stop of Gore, who outweighs him by nearly 40 pounds.
Gore gained only 38 yards on 17 carries in the game as Seattle’s defense is the only reason the Seahawks stayed in Sunday’s game. They gave up just six points even though the 49ers drove inside the Seattle 10 on each of their first three possessions.
The run defense was one of the only bright spots of this team last season. Seahawks allowed only two players to surpass 100 yards rushing against them last season, quite an accomplishment considering how lopsided so many of Seattle’s losses were. Judging from Sunday, the run defense may be even better this season.
Importance level = 3 (Significant)
|Opponents completely disregarded the Seahawks’ ability to beat them deep last season and with good reason. Seattle’s wide receivers had only two receptions gain more than 40 yards all season.
San Francisco cornerback Nate Clements was working off that scouting report, aggressively looking to jump routes. It paid off on Seattle’s first possession when Clements totally disregarded Deion Branch — the player Clements was supposed to be covering — to jump in front of tight end John Carlson for an interception.
It cost the 49ers in the second quarter both on Mike Williams’ 35-yard reception to set up Seattle’s first touchdown and on Deon Butler’s 13-yard touchdown reception that put the Seahawks ahead 14-6 at halftime. In each instance, Seattle caught Clements creeping forward, biting on the wide receiver’s first move and leaving the defense vulnerable when the route continued after that.
Importance level = 1 (Negligible)
|The running game had pretty much nothing to do with Seattle taking the lead. The Seahawks didn’t attempt a single rush on the third-quarter drive that culminated with Deion Branch’s 3-yard touchdown catch 5 minutes into the second half. At that point, Seattle led 28-6 and had 7 yards rushing in the game on seven carries.
The only sign of progress on the ground was the fourth-quarter field-goal drive in which Seattle ran the ball eight times, using three different backs, gained 48 yards and two first downs and put Seattle in position for the final score.
Importance level = 2 (Acceptable)
|Raise your hand if you thought Seattle would have more sacks (two) than the 49ers (one) and more quarterback hurries (11) than San Francisco (five)? Now, everyone with a hand in the air, stop lying.
Defensive end Red Bryant had the first sack of his NFL career in the first half while defensive end Chris Clemons consistently pressured Smith in the second half. The Seahawks were a little over-eager with three penalties for neutral-zone infractions, but Seattle’s ability to pressure the passer — a consistent problem last season — showed signs of improvement.
Importance level = 3 (Significant)
|Yes, Alex Smith plays for the 49ers, but he might have been as important to the Seahawks victory as anything else. He was intercepted twice, the first one setting up Seattle’s second touchdown and the second interception returned for a touchdown.
And when Smith had a chance to put San Francisco ahead in the second quarter on a fourth-and-1 play at the Seattle 6, he lobbed a pass toward fullback Moran Norris and watched his fullback make a painfully awkward attempt to spin and catch the football. The ball looked like it was 6 feet over Norris’ head. It wasn’t or at least it shouldn’t have been if Norris turns like you’d expect person who’s paid to play sports would be able to. But ultimately it’s the quarterback’s job to put his team in position to succeed, and that means knowing your personnel. The pass to Norris was so wide open, which made it that much more awkward to watch it fail.
The 49ers did not plan to rely on Smith to beat Seattle with his arm, and when the Seahawks jumped out in front and the 49ers had to start throwing, they were dead in the water.