• Geoff Castaneda

Busting the Coverage: Breaking Down the 49ers’ Secondary Performance Against Seattle

Image Credit: Meg Williams/San Francisco 49ers

Leading into the season, the 49ers were much maligned for their lack of cornerback depth. Draft correspondents called for San Francisco to invest an early-round pick to shore up a secondary headlined by the oft-injured Jason Verrett and the undrafted Emmanuel Moseley. The 49ers eventually drafted Ambry Thomas in the third round and Deommodore Lenoir in the fifth. Following Verrett’s season-ending ACL injury, fans demanded a reunion with free agent Richard Sherman. The 11-year veteran eventually signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. San Francisco moved forward with the additions of Josh Norman and Dre Kirkpatrick. With Norman sidelined with a chest injury, the secondary lineup was especially suspicious leading into Week 4’s matchup against the Seahawks. Seattle’s headlining wide receiver duo of Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf seemed like an unfair advantage. Factor in perennial Pro Bowl quarterback Russell Wilson, and there was reason to doubt the 49ers’ secondary.

Image Credit: Lachlan Cunningham /Associated Press

Russell Wilson entered Week 4 averaging almost 300 passing yards per game. He left Levi’s Stadium 16 of 23 for 149 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. DK Metcalf was Seattle’s leading receiver with four receptions for 65 receiving yards. Moseley lined up against Metcalf for most of the game. He did a fantastic job stalling the 6’4” receiver. Per PFF, Moseley was targeted 10 times and allowed just five completions. Wilson’s passer rating when throwing at Moseley was a modest 68.8. Metcalf’s longest catch, a 28-yard completion in the second quarter, can at least partially be attributed to safety Jimmie Ward accidentally picking Moseley on the crossing route. Metcalf would score a few plays later on a 12-yard pass from Wilson. Metcalf was lined up against linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair in the slot, a choice defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans surely regrets.

Image Credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

On the flip side, Dre Kirkpatrick allowed four completions on as many targets. Russell Wilson’s passer rating was 91.7 against Kirkpatrick. While Kirkpatrick only allowed 24 yards on those four completions, his downfall was a costly fourth quarter penalty. On third-and-10 from San Francisco’s 41-yard line, Kirkpatrick was flagged for pass interference. The 23-yard penalty extended Seattle’s drive. Two plays later, Alex Collins put the game out of reach with a 14-yard touchdown.

Image Credit: Tony Avelar /Associated Press

Seattle’s other touchdowns came on a Russell Wilson 16-yard rushing touchdown and an 11-yard pass to Freddie Swain, both occurring in the third quarter. Credit Wilson’s scrambling ability, and San Francisco’s lack of contain, for the QB’s score. Swain’s touchdown was a byproduct of Trenton Cannon’s fumble on the preceding kickoff, leading to a short field. The 49ers attempted to regain momentum by sending Dontae Johnson on a cornerback blitz. Wilson eluded Johnson and Nick Bosa before firing towards the corner of the end zone. Neither Fred Warner nor Azeez Al-Shaair were able to make a play to prevent the score.

The 49ers’ secondary, not their entire defense, is not to blame for the 49ers’ second consecutive loss. While one could argue that their failure to generate turnovers was a factor, the 49ers had two costly turnovers of their own. Toss in a 2-for-14 performance on third down, and much of the blame goes back to the offense and Kyle Shanahan. The secondary will continue to be an area of concern unless John Lynch pulls the trigger on a blockbuster trade. Although it was far from ideal, the 49ers’ defensive backs submitted an admirable performance in Week 4. That notwithstanding, look for Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray to target the piecework secondary in Week 5.

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