The San Francisco 49ers are riding high and feeling well-rested after their first victory of the 2017 NFL season. Despite the magic of the holiday season, the 49ers will not win six straight games to finish with a respectable record. But, the team has tasted victory and knows it can put together a competitive 60 minutes of football. Now, it’s a matter of taking these small, sturdy building blocks to start building a foundation for the future.
Here are three keys to beating the detestable Seattle Seahawks.
No Sherman; No Chancellor
I get it: rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard is not in the same galaxy as Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan. But, there isn’t a threatening soul left in Seattle’s secondary, and Ryan showed the league what a great quarterback could do against a depleted defense. For the first time in years, Seattle is vulnerable across the full dimension of the football field. Indeed, Seattle head coach Pete Carroll must think these key injuries are part of an overall conspiracy to bring down the Seahawks.
The whole wide world knows what kind of defense Seattle uses, and this is the week that the 49ers need to find every flaw in the armor. Head coach and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan can once again open up his playbook to use passing concepts – such as ‘Sail’ and ‘Smash’ – that rip apart a Cover 3.
Here’s how to spot ‘Sail’:
The Z-receiver runs a vertical route, and could even use a stutter-and-go to add a little extra mustard to the route. The Y-receiver runs a corner route, and the back runs to the flat. The 49ers can use ‘Sail’ from a variety of formations and shifts – anything from a basic Pro set to trips or even a bunch formation.
Here’s how to spot ‘Smash’:
Former head coach Jim Harbaugh used to run ‘Smash’ when quarterbacks Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick were behind center. ‘Smash’ is a two-man concept. The outside receiver, usually in a plus-split, runs a five-yard stop route. The inside or slot receiver runs a corner route. If the cornerback drops to cover the corner route, the stop route is wide open. There isn’t a linebacker on the planet who can cover that much ground. If the defensive back bites on the stop route, the corner route is wide open.
On the other side of the formation, a tight end or flanker may run a seam route to occupy the free safety. If the safety sticks with the seam route, the corner route on the other side of the formation is uncovered. 'Smash' is a vanilla concept, but can shred Seattle’s secondary.
Explode Through Seattle’s Offensive Line
It has been consistent all year, but the 49ers’ defensive line played an excellent game against the New York Giants.
At the end of the preseason, the 49ers cut defensive lineman Leger Douzable. In typical 49er fashion, the team resigned him on October 17. Since then, Douzable notched 17 tackles and two sacks. On November 4, the 49ers removed defensive lineman Ronald Blair from injured reserve. Over two games, Blair had five tackles and sacked Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning twice.
Seattle’s offensive line, specifically the interior positions, is still awful. Their offensive line continues to be the ignored older brother, and the brass sitting above the obnoxious cacophony at Century Link doesn’t seem to care. Not that it matters, because Seattle’s offense thrives on Wilson running around completely confused and throwing lunch recess-type passes to his receivers.
Seattle’s interior had difficulty containing Atlanta Falcons’ defensive tackle Dontari Poe earlier in the week. He caused problems for Seattle all night, finishing the game with a hit on Wilson, four hurries, and a run stop.
The 49ers have a player better than Poe and who’s had a week of rest: DeForest Buckner. When the 49ers and Seahawks faced off during Week 2, Buckner finished the day with nine quarterback pressures on 40 rushes. (Per Pro Football Focus). Expect more of the same from Buckner coming this Sunday afternoon.
With the elevated play of Douzable and Blair, along with the return of defensive linemen Tank Carradine and Solomon Thomas, along with the addition of defensive lineman Sheldon Day, the 49ers are set to control the game in the trenches.
Penalties – It’s Getting Better All the Time
The first four weeks of this season for the 49ers were rough; they weren’t playing quality football and were plagued with far too many mental errors. Like any sub-par team, they committed an average of 9.5 penalties per game, yielding 77 yards of field position.
Shanahan figured out how to reverse this treacherous course, possibly through extra wind sprints or monetary fines. Over the last four weeks, the 49ers were flagged an average of 5.5 times for roughly 47 yards per game. That’s an impressive turn around which hasn’t been properly addressed until now.
Whatever Shanahan did to dial back the infractions is a huge step in improving the team, and they need to continue this trend this week against Seattle.
When the 49ers face Seattle at home, I always think there's a chance for victory. Seattle isn't a complete squad right now, and the 49ers have a handful of key players ready to play this Sunday. It'll be a close game, possibly decided by a last-minute field goal from either team.
What keys do you think the Niners will need to beat Seattle? Let us know on twitter and stay tuned to 49ersHUB for more great content!