Looking over the box score from last night’s game I find myself amazed at the ugliness of it all. Even Marshawn Lynch’s numbers don’t pop out at me; I remember him running over the 49ers, but it was only late in the game that he had any marked success. It was a disappointing game on a lot of levels; the most prominent being how little fun it was to watch. Although they would probably never admit it now, I’m sure Seahawks fans felt the same way. It was two teams struggling to get things going, while their respective defenses gritted it out and forced turnovers. Games like that usually come down to who blinks first. Whether it was the crowd noise, exhaustion or just overall sloppy play, the 49ers blinked and the Seahawks found ways to take advantage.
Defense: The 49ers defense came to play. They held the Seahawks offense to three points in the first half, keeping Lynch relatively inert and putting plenty of pressure on Russell Wilson. Pass coverage was great as well; Wilson actually had a negative quarterback rating at the end of the second half. I can’t help but look at their struggles in the fourth quarter as the result of the 49er’s offense failing to stay on the field for very long. The Seahawks held the ball for 13:26 minutes longer than the 49ers, giving them plenty of chances to look for holes and leave their defense fresh. With three turnovers in the second half stopping 49er drives and giving the Seahawks great field position, the Niners defense was hard pressed to keep stopping them. There was still plenty of good to be seen; game ending penalty aside, Aldon Smith was great against Lynch and was all over Wilson for much of the game. This is overall a good sign. The defense kept the game well within reach, contained Wilson and came up with a slew of big stops.
Offense: This game really comes down to the offense. The penalties were brutal; the offense lost a total of 50 yards from mostly sloppy penalties, killing multiple drives and forcing Colin Kaepernick to pass. The Seattle defense held most of the 49ers’ receivers in check, and had great coverage all night. Kaepernick did a good job scrambling, picking up 87 yards on the ground, but couldn’t get anything else going. Seattle’s defense came as advertised, but I also got the feeling that Kaepernick was failing to read and execute plays. Too often replay showed a wide open Anquan Boldin, Vernon Davis or Kyle Williams that Kaep had missed. It seemed like the 49ers phoned it in for most of the game; the offense looked confused and struggled to gain even a little yardage. Although the game was still winnable at the half, penalties and turnovers meant the 49ers couldn’t stage any kind of comeback.
The Run Game: One of the biggest questions about this game and the team as a whole is whether or not Frank Gore is the same back we saw last year. Looking over the numbers from the last two games, it seems like the 49ers are trying to get Kaep to pass more and hand the ball off less. Last season Gore averaged 16 rushing attempts per game. Last night he was given the ball 9 times. The Seahawks managed to wear down the 49ers defense by constantly forcing them to deal with Lynch. Eventually he was able to break through and make plays. The 49ers could have tried a more balanced approach; it was clear from the first quarter that Kaep was struggling to read the defense and throw accurately. San Francisco’s last win against Seattle was wholly based on the run game, with Gore rushing for 131 yards on 16 attempts. It would stand to reason that going with what has worked in the past might have led to a more even final score, if not a win.
Penalties: Last week, the 49ers struggled to wrap up Green Bay’s receivers, missing several tackles and giving up big yardage. That issue seems to have been addressed, but the overall sloppiness remains. The 49ers were penalized 12 times last night, losing 121 total yards. Two of the penalties came on crucial 3rd down plays, giving the Seahawks a fresh set of downs to continue their scoring drive. Although this game will be seen as a major coup by Seattle, it’s hard to overstate how the 49ers contributed to the loss. Seattle’s offense looked fairly one-dimensional until the last leg of the game; it was the 49ers’ tendency to shoot themselves in the foot that pushed this game over the edge.
Colin Kaepernick: Kaep was extremely frustrating to watch last night. His body language lacked the confidence we saw against Green Bay in week one, and he missed multiple opportunities for big gains with his arm and legs. It is important that the coaching staff recognizes these kinds of problems early on. He is a young and inexperienced quarterback that is trying as hard as he can to learn Harbaugh’s system. These last two games show the high upside and ugly downside to Kaep as a pocket passer. When the 49ers face the Colts next week, it will be a good opportunity for Kaep to rely on his backs and only throw when he reads the play properly.
Week 2: This is week two, everybody. At this point in the season a game like this will come as a painful learning experience rather than proof of any team being better than the other. It would be incorrect to say that Seattle is a definitively better team the San Francisco. Last night was ugly for both sides, and the advantage went to the home team. The 49ers will face the Seahawks at home in week 14, a game made all the more fascinating by last night’s overhyped showdown. Wilson won, but it was not an inspiring showing by Seattle’s offense, and I am excited to see whether the 49ers can take what they learned at Century Link and set themselves up to dominate when it counts.
Precedents: In week six of last year, the 49ers played the Giants at the Meadowlands, falling 26-3. Alex Smith was intercepted 3 times, and Gore was held to a paltry 36 yards rushing. It was an ugly, tension filled loss that felt meaningful at the time but was soon buried by Kaepernick’s emergence. Much like last night, it seemed like the Giants had all the answers, and not even the 49ers #1 ranked defense could stop Eli Manning and Ahmad Bradshaw. Games like last night happen; Seahawks fans have another win to beat us over the head with, but the season is far from over. Last night was ugly, boring and forgettable, but it may also provide the impetus for the 49ers to correct what needs correcting and improve. The Seahawks may have gutted it out at home, but I’m still not impressed. It is clear that both quarterbacks have a lot to learn, and the real test is whether or not the 49ers can bounce back in a meaningful way.