Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
A few years ago, the thought of the San Francisco 49ers earning a playoff berth seemed as mystical as being visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve.
Like Ebenezer Scrooge, the 49ers learned from previous mistakes to become one of the best teams in professional football.
Already, there's plenty of debate floating around the ethos discussing what the 49ers need to do this weekend in Seattle. Ideas run from resting starters and entering the playoffs with healthier roster, to a scorch-the-earth mentality displaying to all the world who is the real menace in the NFL.
I want scorched earth.
I want Jimmy Garoppolo to have his revenge on Seattle.
I want Elliott Bay boiled away and replaced with green, viscous herbicides.
After two lackluster games against the Atlanta Falcons and Los Angeles Rams, the 49ers need a statement game at CenturyLink to start down the final path for a sixth Lombardi trophy.
Maintain the Play Ratio –But Get Aggressive
For some reason, I felt head coach Kyle Shanahan had relied too much on the pass since Week 12. My brain might have been remembering specific moments where Shanahan should have run the ball, so I decided to check the statistics.
As usual, the math proved me wrong.
Since Week 12, the 49ers' offense has rushed 125 times for 687 yards and seven touchdowns. That's a 5.5 yards-per-rush average if you're keeping notes.
During the same time, Garoppolo has attempted 138 passes for 1,250 yards and ten touchdowns. He's averaging nine yards per completion.
Garoppolo's yardage and touchdown numbers should be higher, but his receiving corps has dropped at least six catchable footballs that could have kept drives going.
It's not a greater balance the 49ers' offense needs - Shanahan is calling nearly a one-to-one ratio of passes and runs. Week 17 is the time Shanahan needs to get a fire started in the belly of the offense this weekend and stoke it as he prepares the team for its first playoff game since January 19, 2014.
My fear for the 49ers is another poor offensive showing, which looms over the team like a rail whiskey hangover.
Open the game with a no-huddle offense. Don't substitute a single offensive player, and force Seattle into the wrong coverage or defense. Call more mesh routes, patterns with double moves, and let running back Raheem Mostert find every vulnerable pore in Seattle's defensive line.
Mostert has earned a starting role for the 49ers and has outplayed both Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida. He's been an unsung hero for the 49ers over the past few seasons, and it is time he reaps the rewards.
Do whatever it takes to grind Seattle into a fine powder and leave nothing for the so-called experts to dissect.
Kill the Head and the Body Will Die
The 49ers have two opponents on Sunday night in Seattle.
First, the offense has to deal with a thieving fanbase whose football knowledge starts with “Go Hawks” and ends with a lot of screaming. The quickest way to silence the sheep is to provide it no oxygen to breathe.
Seattle's defense is ranked twenty-first in the NFL, but its fans are probably unaware of that reality. Today, Seattle gives up almost 6 yards per play to opposing offenses, the seventh-worst in the NFL. They've also allowed 328 first downs and 365 pass completions - both terrible statistics for a defense that used to lay the leather on opponents.
A fast start offensively, based upon a strategy that relentlessly beats down upon Seattle's bottom-feeder defense, is a surefire way to silence an otherwise deafening crowd.
Second, Sunday gives the 49ers organization a chance to shake its ongoing fear of the Seahawks. Twice a year, the entire franchise sprints into a dark corner and trembles at the mere mention of the Emerald City.
The 49ers' defense forgets that quarterback Russell Wilson can run the ball, while the offense looks like a sputtering mess.
Sunday night provides an opportunity to overcome a towering mental challenge before playoff football.
Shanahan can call a no-huddle series with plays that build Garoppolo's confidence throwing the ball. Call slant routes to wide receiver Deebo Samuel or choice routes to tight end George Kittle. Not every pass play needs to stretch the field vertically – six- and seven-yard gains are body blows that will deflate the crowd and Seattle's defense.
Get Garoppolo Out of the Pocket
Somehow, the 49ers have 12 wins behind a questionable offensive line. The interior offensive linemen were and still are the weak link of the team, but tackles Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey have had their share of bad outings.
I'll give Shanahan and offensive line coach John Benton credit - these men were able to win games with two no-name players at tackle and one at center.
Starting center Weston Richburg made significant improvements from his dismal 2018 season. Unfortunately, his knee injury in Week 14 against New Orleans forced Shanahan to play reserve center Ben Garland.
Garland has allowed one sack, two hurries, and three pressures, but his skill level is nowhere near Richburg's
Veteran guard Mike Person did not play against the Rams due to a sore neck. His injury forced Shanahan to play Daniel Brunskill at right guard. Person was coming off a terrible game against Atlanta in which he allowed five hurries and five pressures.
Brunskill played well in the run but had a terrible game pass blocking. He allowed one sack, three hurries, and four pressures. Left guard Laken Tomlinson allowed two sacks against the Rams, the first two he'd allowed all season.
Part of Sunday's strategy must include getting Garoppolo outside the pocket with movement plays.
Shanahan has a myriad of movement plays that mimic zone and power runs. By setting up Seattle's defense with four and five yards runs from Mostert, he can free Garoppolo from the pocket with ”Keep Right/Left” movement plays throughout the evening.
Seattle has given the world Jimi Hendrix, Pearl Jam, and Chris Cornell, and we should be grateful for these gifts.
But that's where the holiday cheer must end.
Seattle stands in the way of a seven-pound, sterling silver trophy that rightfully belongs at 4949 Centennial Boulevard.
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