Seahawks At 49ers: More of the Same

dt.common.streams.StreamServerAP Photo/Tony Avelar

The 49ers lost a game in an incredibly predictable fashion on Thursday, falling apart offensively and wasting yet another good defensive day. The ‘rivalry’, the state of the NFC and the lack of any signs of life from the offense made this loss feel like a big one, but it was yet another game thrown away by a 49ers team that refuses to try anything new against the Seahawks.

The Good Thing

Defense

Once again, the defense did a great job of keeping this game winnable. Despite three 49ers turnovers, they managed to get stops and pressure Russell Wilson. The Seahawks offense, itself pedestrian, did manage to take advantage of the 49ers’ linebacker’s notable lack of speed. Other than that, it was a solid day for the defense.

The Bad Things

Gameplan

Greg Roman, the favored target of frustrated 49ers fans (and Trent Baalke’s daughter) once again failed to draw up a comprehensible game plan. For the ninth time since 2011, Frank Gore was given the ball less than ten times (their record in those games is 2-7). For the fifth time since Colin Kaepernick took over as starter, Roman decided to try a pass-heavy attack against what remains the best secondary in the NFL (the pass totals for games against Seattle: 36, 28, 29, 29, 24, record: 1-4). This was a Seahawks team lacking some of its best run-stoppers in Red Bryant and Brandon Mebane. Obviously an all-out rushing attack wasn’t going to work, but a little balance would have taken pressure off of Kaep and given the 49ers’ receivers more chances to get open. I don’t know that firing Roman will fix the 49ers, but I have no faith in him to concoct even a marginally successful gameplan against Seattle. He just doesn’t seem to get it.

Turnovers

For the reasons cited above, the 49ers exposed themselves to turnovers in this game, and paid the price. They were able to survive against Washington despite three turnovers, but had no such luck against an offense with a competent quarterback. Hopefully the turnovers in the last few games are not a trend. The 49ers will not survive in Seattle if they continue to cough up the ball.

The Other Thing

Colin Kaepernick

I realize he should be in the ‘bad’ column, but hear me out. Kaep had his second truly bad game of the season. The other, against Chicago, was an ugly late-game collapse. In both games, he was put in a position where his only choice was to throw. You could make the argument that this was correct call, as the 49ers were losing, but it was a two score game until the 4th quarter. Since 2012, the 49ers have averaged 31 rushing attempts per game. They only had 18 on Thursday.

Colin Kaepernick is not BradyPeytonBreesLuckRodgers. For three years, he has made things happen on offense with the help of a great run game. He might get better as a passer, or he might not, but that is no reason to test him out against one of the best defenses in the NFL with the season potentially on the line. This is a transitional year for the 49ers’ run game; their o-line has been all over the place and neither Gore nor Carlos Hyde have been able to keep the run game consistent. This is why I am not taking the talk about Kaep’s regression seriously. He is the most sacked quarterback in the NFL suddenly lacking a run game that has been excellent for most of his young career. Despite this, the 49ers still have a winning record.

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49ers vs. Seahawks: What I’ll Be Watching For

Anquan-Boldin-49ers-Richard-Sherman-Seahawks49ers.com

The 49ers take on the arch-rival Seattle Seahawks tomorrow, hoping to exact some revenge for last year’s NFC Championship game. Both teams are very different from the two that faced off up in Seattle in January; injuries have devastated both rosters, forcing them to adapt and rely on unknowns to win games. The rivalry talk has died down somewhat, but with a playoff berth likely on the line, look for both teams to play their hearts out tomorrow. Here is what I will be watching for:

Pass Rush

After losing Golden Tate to free agency and Percy Harvin to… something, Seattle has morphed into a bizarre, run-first offense, relying on Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson’s scrambles to get first downs. They look more like the Braxton Miller-Carlos Hyde Ohio State Buckeyes than the Seahawks the 49ers played last year. Getting to Russell Wilson and keeping him contained has worked really well for the 49ers in the past, and it will be on the pass rush to do so tomorrow. Despite averaging 6.1 yds/rushing attempt in his career, against the 49ers Wilson has managed only 74 total yards on 25 attempts, good for 2.96 yds/attempt. Given that Seattle’s offense relies so much on his legs, whether or not the 49ers keep him contained could very well decide the contest tomorrow.

Run Defense

The 49ers’ run defense needs to be on point tomorrow. Newbies like Aaron Lynch and Chris Borland will have a long day ahead of them; despite being banged up, Seattle’s offensive line is great at run blocking, ranked 5th in the league by Football Outsiders. The 49ers’ run defense has suffered since losing Ian Williams and Glenn Dorsey, and they would do well to load up the box against Seattle.

Penalties

The players are well aware of the rivalry and what is at stake tomorrow, adding a layer of emotion that will no doubt have an impact on the field. Just like their last contest in San Francisco, the 49ers need to stay cool and not make stupid mistakes.

Turnovers

Since taking over as the starting quarterback, Colin Kaepernick has played Seattle four times, throwing just two touchdowns and seven interceptions. Kaep does not need to be great or even good tomorrow for the 49ers to win, but he needs to avoid turnovers. Seattle is no longer the turnover king of the league, but they are still very good, with 15 takeaways in 11 contests. Kaep has done a good job limiting turnovers this season, and he must continue to play smart tomorrow.

49ers at Seahawks: Dealing With It

willisMichael Macor

The 49ers season ended yesterday with a slightly underthrown pass, tipped into the hands of Malcolm Smith. Despite leading a jaw-droppingly effective drive to Seattle’s 18 yard line, Colin Kaepernick failed to execute the perfect throw to put the 49ers over the edge. It is difficult to explain how I feel about this game. The 49ers, in my opinion, played a great game. They were playing their fourth straight road game, and were no doubt exhausted after winning in the cold at Lambeau and out-muscling the Panthers in Carolina. In a game where they had no real advantage, the 49ers managed to win through three quarters. Unfortunately, the referees got involved in the course of the game (more on that later) and the Seahawks were able to take advantage. All that said, it took a career play from one of the better defensive backs in the league to keep the 49ers from winning. Had a few things gone differently in the regular season, and the 49ers had the chance to play at home, there is do doubt in my mind that they would have won. Here is what I saw:

The Good Things

Run Game

Greg Roman yet again failed to use Frank Gore effectively. He had one of the worst games of his career, rushing just 11 times for 14 yards. However, this had more to do the play calling than Gore himself. The 49ers pushed him up the middle constantly into a stacked box. His largest gain of the day (9 yards) was off the right end, which allowed him to cut around Seattle’s front seven.

Fortunately, Kaepernick more than made up for this, rushing for 130 yards on 11 attempts, including a scorching 58 yard run that set up a 49ers touchdown. Overall, the run game gets good marks, partially for Kaep’s production and for the excellent downfield blocking.

Defense

The defense was ferocious on Sunday, keeping Marshawn Lynch bottled up for most of the game and hassling Russell Wilson constantly. Aldon Smith strip sacked Wilson on the first play of the game, allowing the 49ers to score 3 points early on. They gave up some big plays, but weathered the worst of what the Seahawks (and the referees) threw at them.

The Bad Things

Turnovers

The 49ers once again lost the turnover battle, losing the ball 3 times to the Seahawks’ 1. This has as much to do with the Seahawks’ ball security and commitment to the run as it has to do with the Kaep’s play. Forcing turnovers is the Seahawks’ bread and butter, and the 49ers could find the balance between moving the ball and playing conservatively.

Officiating

More on Gene Steratore’s poor effort here.

Other Things

Colin Kaepernick

The most interesting thing about this game was watching Kaep. We saw the best and worst of what the 49ers’ young quarterback has to offer, from his incredible speed and laser throws to his poor decision making and lack of touch. He carried the team in the first half, shredding the Seahawks on the ground, but couldn’t fully adapt to the Seahawks’ adjustments. He distributed the ball fairly well, but made a poor call throwing to Crabtree on the final play. If Kaep can learn to use short passes effectively and put better touch on the ball, the sky is the limit. Even if yesterday was his peak, the 49ers could still win a Super Bowl.

The “Seattle Curse”

One of the silver linings of this game was the overall feeling that the 49ers’ struggles in Seattle have less to do with the venue than originally thought. The crowd noise didn’t have any effect, and the 49ers looked much more composed on offense than week 2. As I said before the playoffs started, the 49ers can win in Seattle, and they nearly did yesterday.

Robbed, Again

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Kirby Lee

I felt surprisingly emotionless after last night’s game. It was upsetting, but in a way that was different from the Super Bowl. Maybe I learned last February that playing “what if” after a tough loss is unwise, or I was better braced for a loss. After months of buildup and a week filled with internet trash-talking, I was totally prepared to embrace the rivalry and come away from the game hating the Seahawks. That didn’t happen. Their fan base is obnoxious and doesn’t deserve the win, but any anger I felt last night was directed at the referees. If you look at last night’s game as a series of semi-connected events, the 49ers were given multiple opportunities to take the lead and failed to do exactly that. The three turnovers in the 4th quarter are the 49ers’ fault, no question. However, that entire series of events came after the game pivoted on a crucial point. After being behind for most of the game, a mishandled penalty by the referees gave Seattle a possession they never should have had. The Seahawks used that possession to score a touchdown and take a lead they would never surrender. Despite barely keeping up with the 49ers for much of the game, the Seahawks were suddenly in the ideal position: ahead of the 49ers and only a couple of defensive stands away from a trip to the Super Bowl.

It was a day of baffling officiating. The Seahawks were given generous spots numerous times, providing first downs that were not earned and keeping drives alive. Donte Whiter was penalized for a tackle which he had no control over, while the Seahawks administered numerous helmet to helmet hits (with LaMichael James and Vernon Davis on the receiving end) that were never flagged. The referees also seemed unwilling to penalize Russell Wilson for intentional grounding; it took Wilson committing the penalty twice and Coach Harbaugh hassling the referees to get a flag thrown. Navorro Bowman sacrificed his leg to hold on to a fumble and give the 49ers possession at the 1 yard line, only to have the referees give possession to the Seahawks once Marshawn Lynch snatched the ball away from him.

The worst penalty came in the 4th quarter. With the score 17-13 in the 49ers’ favor, Andy Lee punted the ball away from San Francisco’s 20 yard line. He was tackled in the leg by Chris Maragos. A review of the play held that the tackle should have resulted in 15 yards and a fresh set of downs for the 49ers. Instead, the referees called it a 5 yard penalty and allowed the Seahawks to take possession. The Seahawks managed to put together a drive and score, putting them 3 points ahead of the 49ers. When they were ahead, the 49ers played conservatively and challenged Seattle’s defense to make plays. When they fell behind, Kaep was forced to throw more, and Seattle was primed to force turnovers.I cannot say that the 49ers would have won had the officials done their job properly, but I can say there is simply no excuse for these failures. Given what happened, no one can honestly say that the better team won yesterday.

As I watched the 49ers squander their final opportunities, it felt meaningless. If the rules are not enforced as they are written, the game loses legitimacy in my mind. The stats from each team are remarkably similar; the same yardage, penalties, passes and almost everything else. However, when a team loses a possession and the other gains one and it allows them to put the other team behind, it makes everything that occurs after suspect. It is becoming more and more difficult to accept this kind of error. The NFL has done the bare minimum to address problems with officiating, and we can only hope that games like this put more pressure on them.

49ers vs. Seahawks: What To Watch For

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Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group

When Cam Newton threw the game-ending interception to Donte Whitner last Sunday, it felt like the culmination of something that has been developing since the offseason. The two most touted teams in the NFC will be facing off in one of the most talked-about environments in sports. It is remarkable what a difference a few regular season plays can make in the playoffs: if Ahmad Brooks wasn’t flagged for strip-sacking Drew Brees, if Luke Kuechly didn’t break up a perfect pass to Vance McDonald, if the Rams had called a run play from the 1 yard line in the last second of their game against the Seahawks, the NFC Championship would be taking place at Candlestick. Instead, as if the script were written before the 2013 season began, the 49ers will head to Seattle with a Super Bowl berth on the line.

I wouldn’t say my attitude about this game is overbearingly confident. I know the 49ers can win, and I know how they can win, but the pressure is certainly on them to execute. Their last two trips to Seattle were blowouts, ugly, boring and not really characteristic of the 49ers we had grown accustomed to. Most cite the crowd noise as a deciding factor, but there were plenty of things the 49ers did wrong. The 49ers seemed to lack a cohesive game plan, or at least an effective one. The offense looked confused in all four quarters, and the Seahawks took advantage. More importantly, a lot went right for the Seahawks, including a slew of turnovers and some bizarre play calling from Greg Roman. Here is what I will be watching for:

Run Game

The strangest aspect of the 49ers last two games in Seattle was the run game. For whatever reason, Frank Gore saw season-low use twice at Century Link. In 2012, he was given the ball 6 times for a respectable 28 yards. In 2013, he got 9 carries for an abysmal 16 yards. When the 49ers faced Seattle at home this year, Gore was given the ball 17 times for 110 yards, including a monster run in the 4th quarter that effectively ended Seattle’s chances. In most of the 49ers’ wins over the last two seasons, Gore was given the ball more than 15 times, more than his total carries in his last two games in Seattle combined. Whatever happens tomorrow, the 49ers need to commit to the run. Even if Gore gets stuffed more often than he breaks through, it is essential that the 49ers attack the Seahawks on the ground.

Run Defense

Stopping Marshawn Lynch early and often will be essential. The 49ers have to focus on fundamentals; sound tackling, speed and aggression are the only way to slow Lynch down. Russell Wilson’s drop in production has been well-documented, but he doesn’t have to have a big game for the Seahawks to win. If Lynch can get going against the 49ers, the Seahawks can control the clock and wear the defense down. This was what happened in week 2, when Lynch rushed for 98 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Penalties

Week 2 saw the 49ers penalized a season high 12 times for 121 yards. Many of these penalties killed drives or gave Seattle’s offense a fresh set of downs. The 49ers did a great job staying controlled last week against an overly-aggressive Carolina team, and the same must happen on Sunday. The Seahawks are the most penalized team in the league, but this is a symptom of their defensive strategy. This strategy is only effective if the other team lacks discipline; the 49ers can turn the Seahawks’ flagrant disregard for the rules into an advantage if they stay calm and collected.

Let Colin Kaepernick Run

Kaep rushed 9 times in week 2 for a massive 87 yards. He was held more in check in week 13, but was still able to convert on a huge 3rd down during the 49ers final drive. He has been held mostly in check this season, and for good reason, but in a game like this the 49ers will need to use every weapon available. Designed runs and improvised scrambles were the key to the 49ers beating Green Bay, and they could be a huge difference maker on Sunday.

Turnovers

The 49ers turned over the ball a season-high 5 times in week 2. They haven’t turned the ball over more than 2 times since. Of all the things that went right for Seattle in that game, this was the biggest. It had a lot to do with the pass-heavy attack the 49ers employed, as well as the aggression of the Seahawks’ secondary. The 49ers have to win the turnover battle if they want to go to the Super Bowl. Kaep needs to be accurate and controlled, and understand that Seattle’s coverage is designed to force turnovers. The 49ers have done a great job with ball security since week 2, and that trend needs to continue.

Evaluating the 49ers’ Hot Streak

gorehawks3AP Photo/ John Froschauer)

The 49ers will attempt to pick up their ninth win in a row on Sunday. I was tired of hearing about this game before the season even started; this matchup has been beaten to death by the ranks of sports punditry. As such, I have limited my consumption of 49ers-related information this week. Even so, the pro-49ers narrative has filtered through. Bloggers, pundits and fans seem more confident about this game than I expected. The 49ers’ last two trips to Seattle saw them totally discombobulated. They were two uncharacteristically bad games that showcased some of the worst tendencies of the current incarnation of the 49ers.

The narrative follows a basic logic, namely that the 49ers are hot and the Seahawks are cooling off. The 49ers have been playing their most consistent football of the season. All three phases of the game have been solid, if not excellent, for the last eight games. The offense hasn’t been spectacular, but the team has limited turnovers and controlled the game. Colin Kaepernick has been highly efficient, tossing 12 touchdowns against 2 interceptions over the last eight games for a QBR average of 102.14. However, he played a mediocre game against Seattle at home, where he completed just over half of his passes with 1 touchdown and 1 interception.

The story of the Seahawks’ lack of recent success centers on the offense. The defense has been just as good as it was in week 2, forcing a staggering 19 turnovers in the last eight games and generally stymying elite offenses. However, the Seahawks offense has been hard pressed to keep up with this defensive production. After an early to midseason hot streak, Russell Wilson has been underwhelming, tossing 4 touchdowns against 3 interceptions in the last five games for an average QBR of 77.5. These offensive struggles hurt Seattle against Arizona, when the defense forced 4 turnovers, but the offense managed just 192 yards in the 10-17 loss. All that said, the Seahawks have still gone 3-2, and have proven that they can rely on their defense and run game to win. Wilson has played well and poorly against the 49ers in the past; counting on him to struggle on Sunday isn’t a strategy that I find reassuring.

I like the way the 49ers are playing. Greg Roman has simplified the game plan and shown a better balance between the pass and run, allowing the offense to do what it does best. The defense has also proven capable of withstanding the pressure of the playoffs, helped a great deal by their depth and the unsung heroics of players like Tramaine Brock, Tony Jerrod-Eddie and Dan Skuta. However, they will need to play on another level if they want to get back to the Super Bowl. They faced down one of the best defenses in the NFL on the road in Carolina and managed to get enough done to win, but the Seahawks are better, particularity at home. The 49ers are playing winning football, but I won’t believe that their hot streak puts them above the Seahawks until I see it.

Potential 49ers Playoff Matchups

super-bowl-xxiv-jerry-rice-001310690Heinz Kluetmeier/SI

Looking over my preseason playoff bracket, I am astounded by how wrong I was about the NFC. I thought the Rams, not the Cardinals, would be the third NFC West contender. I had the Falcons winning the NFC South, and the Redskins winning the East. Several implosions later, the NFC side of my playoff bracket was in shambles. The AFC, on the other hand, was uber-predictable. The only shocker was the Houston Texans, who burned out early and slid to the bottom of the league. The Patriots, Broncos, Bengals and Colts making it to the playoff tournament felt like a given before the season even started.

I am actually pretty happy with the slate of playoff teams this year. Seeding issues aside, most of the teams in the playoffs deserve to be there. Every team has flaws, but some are much scarier than others. The 49ers are capable of beating any team in the playoffs. Here is how I think they match up, from worst to best.

NFC:

1. Eagles- The Eagles are definitionally a hot team. Nick Foles’ run has been incredible, albeit unsustainable. He will regress to the mean at some point, but I would prefer it to be against a team other than the 49ers. The last two teams the 49ers lost to in the postseason were led by quarterbacks with ridiculous touchdown-to-interception ratios, first with Eli Manning and then Joe Flacco. You never want to play the hot team.

2. Packers- The 49ers match up poorly against strong passing attacks. Matt Ryan, Carson Palmer, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers have all been able to shred the 49ers’ secondary in the past. After a largely disappointing season, the Packers have most of their offensive weapons back and will not doubt want to make the 49ers pay for last year’s embarrassment.

3. Seahawks- The 49ers can beat the Seahawks in Seattle. They’ve done it before, and no amount of screaming fans can legitimately stop them. If the 49ers can man up and play the way they did in week 14, they can shut up the crowd and control the game. They just need to stay out of their own way, keep penalties to a minimum and make good adjustments at the half.

4. Panthers- The 49ers were thisclose to beating a scorching hot Panthers team in week 10, and, with a healthy Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree, could beat them on the road. I don’t have confidence in Cam Newton to take on the 49ers front seven and make big plays, and I don’t think the Panthers’ defense can keep them in the game long enough.

5. Saints- Should the 49ers and Saints win out, the 49ers would play the NFC Championship Game at Candlestick, against a team that has been mediocre on the road. The 49ers would be out for blood after being robbed of a win in New Orleans. The Saints are still dangerous, but they have cooled off since the 49ers last saw them. I like this matchup the best, but it is also very unlikely to happen.

AFC:

1. Broncos- Peyton Manning has played like the 49ers’ worst nightmare this season. Quick, accurate passes, calm pocket presence and a multitude of great receivers could very easily be too much for the 49ers to handle. The pass rush would need to be unbelievably good if they wanted to take it to the Broncos in any significant way. The 49ers offense could handle Denver’s defense, but getting in a shootout with Peyton Manning would be unwise.

2. Colts- This team is like a junior Broncos, with a more athletic quarterback, a better defense and almost no run game. The 49ers wouldn’t look as inept against the Colts as they did in week 3, but I still don’t like their chances. The Colts have the right mix of veteran and young talent and could stand up to the 49ers’ physical defense.

3. Patriots- The Patriots have struggled against defenses like the 49ers’ this season, losing out to scrappy squads like the Jets, Bengals and Panthers. You can’t count them out, given that Tom Brady is their quarterback, but I feel good about the 49ers’ chances.

4. Chiefs- This is the hardest one to picture. I could see the 49ers falling flat against the Chiefs’ defense, and Jamaal Charles breaking big runs for the whole game. I could also see an underwhelming game from Alex Smith dooming Kansas City early on. This would be a battle of coaches, and I honestly don’t know who would get the upper hand.

5. Bengals- I just don’t have confidence in Andy Dalton. He doesn’t strike me as a quarterback capable of delivering on the biggest stage, no matter how much talent is around him. He has dropped the ball against some really bad teams, and I have a feeling that the 49ers’ pass rush would eat him for breakfast.

6. Chargers- I was sorta stoked the Chargers made it to the playoffs. Of all the middling AFC teams (Ravens, Steelers, Dolphins etc.) the Chargers deserved it the most. They would have to get scorching hot to make it to the Superbowl, but not even that could save them from the 49ers. They managed to take down the Chiefs twice this season, but San Diego’s defense wouldn’t be able to stand up against Colin Kaepernick with a full slate of receivers.

The 49ers and the Press

kaepMichael Macor

The press around the 49ers organization has been one of the low points of the 2013 season. A general frustration with the tight-lipped stance taken by Colin Kaepernick, Jim Harbaugh and other members of the team has transformed into willful criticism of the 49ers for the meaninglessness or brevity of their answers. The need to produce compelling stories is a constant in the life of a sports reporter, and when a reporter is only covering one franchise, a lack of interesting information from the team and coaching staff makes the job that much more difficult.

I understand this frustration, but the 49ers’ treatment of the press hasn’t lessened my enjoyment of the team or the games they play. Of the many tools available to a sports reporter, the least compelling is interview or press-conference based writing. Athletes are, in my experience, not particularly articulate when it comes to describing their performance. I have never watched a press conference or read an interview transcript that helped me understand the team better. Almost all of them contain the exact same phrasing, catchy ESPN-inspired phrases and platitudes that mean next to nothing. Matt Maiocco matched up pregame interviews from Russell Wilson and Kaep, comparing how they answered the same questions about their team. Even a cursory glance shows that both players say the exact same thing, but one says it faster. Nothing in Wilson’s sprawling laundry list responses overshadow Kaep’s terse throw away answers; both are saying almost nothing.

Mercury News reporter and general shit-starter Tim Kawakami recently wrote an article citing some suspect evidence that Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke do not work well together. Glossing over the fact that Harbaalke has a combined record of 34 and 11, Kawakami states that some inconsistencies between Harbaugh’s claims at press conferences and the actions taken by the front office proves that the two butt heads on a regular basis. This article would be relevant if the 49ers were in the midst of a losing season or such ‘tension’ was manifesting on the field. As it stands, most of the inconsistencies had little or no impact on the team. Harbaugh is an intense person, and I would have trouble believing that he and Baalke never had any disagreements. This type of article isn’t bad because it might be wrong, it is bad because it doesn’t legitimately enrich anyone’s understanding of the team or the front office.

This is not to say the press has been wholly awful this season. Film breakdowns, game analysis and articles based on both the practice field and the games themselves are great, and improve our enjoyment of the 49ers and football itself. In my opinion, athletes are the most ‘communicative’ on the field; their physical successes and failures in game provide the information we care about. What they say before and after games, and in press conferences is far less important, and should be treated as such.

Seahawks at 49ers: Defending Candlestick

Kyle Terada

Kyle Terada

The 49ers beat the Seahawks on Sunday, preventing Seattle from clinching the division. A glance at the numbers would tell you that it was an ugly, defensive game, and you would be right. It was also one of the best games of the season, which showcased how good the 49ers are, and hinting at how much better they could be. An incredible second half by the defense and excellent special teams controlled the game, making the margin of victory feel much larger than two points. It wasn’t dominance, and the 49ers offense still hasn’t hit its stride, but it was the outcome we wanted and should give the team confidence as they push for the playoffs. Beating a team that only a few days ago was considered the best in the league goes a long way. Here is what I saw:

The Good Things:

Defense

Their play wasn’t perfect, but considering how well Seattle has looked on offense in the past, it was an excellent game for the 49ers’ D. Limiting Russell Wilson to a career low 2 yards rushing was huge, as was holding Marshawn Lynch to 74 yards on the ground. The defense did a great job preventing big plays, keeping Wilson in front of them and covering Seattle’s receivers. However, it was their adjustments going into the second half that set this game apart. Holding the Seahawks to 83 yards and 3 points in the last two quarters was remarkable; their stifling play was best encapsulated by a game-saving red zone stand that kept Seattle from scoring a touchdown. After a 38 yard return from Golden Tate, the Seahawks took over at San Francisco’s 27 yard line. They only managed to gain 14 yards, the defense stuffing Lynch for 5 yards on three carries and giving the offense a chance to retake the lead. I have written about Seattle’s ability to lock down the fourth quarter and come back; it is a testament to the 49ers defense that they made such a comeback impossible.

Frank Gore

It was a mostly uneven day for Gore, who saw limited use, but, as we all know, delivered the play of the game. Taking away that play, his yards per carry stand at about 3.7, which is low but not terrible given the tenacity of Seattle’s defense. He left the game with an injury early on, but made his impact felt in the fourth quarter, busting out a 51 yard dash that set the 49ers up for the game winning field goal. The mesmerizing .gif of his run encapsulates why Gore is one of the best backs in the league. A great play call and some excellent blocks from Bruce Miller and Vance McDonald gave Gore a big hole, but it was his incredibly subtle movements across the line of scrimmage that made the play. Betting on Earl Thomas to go after him, Gore feints left as he enters the Seahawks’ secondary. As Thomas bites, Gore turns on the jets, streaking between Thomas and Richard Sherman and grinding Seattle’s hopes and dreams into dust. Realizing he didn’t have a chance to take it to the house, Gore goes down at Seattle’s 18 yard line, allowing the clock to run. His vision, intelligence and speed make this play, in my opinion, the play of the year.

Special Teams

The 49ers’ special teams unit rose to the occasion, providing great coverage for most of the game. Raymond Ventrone, Kassim Osgood and LaMichael James had great days, giving Seattle’s top-flight special teamers a run for their money. Osgood’s blocked punt was a great tone-setter, even if the 49ers’ offense wasn’t able to fully capitalize off of it.

The Bad Thing:

Red Zone Execution

The 49ers mostly fell apart in the red zone, settling for two field goals and a boneheaded interception inside Seattle’s 20 yard line. Seattle is very stingy, and it wasn’t necessarily surprising that they were able to stall drives. What was surprising was the stubborn play calling, which kept the 49ers from reaching the end zone. Running up the gut into a stacked box hasn’t worked well this season, and it isn’t going to work going forward. Colin Kaepernick’s interception was the result of a bad throw, and it echoed a similar red zone pick he threw against Seattle in week 2. The win was great, but the team will have to take full advantage of red zone appearances if they want to win in the playoffs.

The Other Things:

Penalties

As expected this game was heavily penalized, with Sherman, Pete Carroll and even golden boy Wilson complaining about the amount of flags that went against them. It was a poorly officiated game, but it struck me (and everyone else) as more ineptitude than favoritism. As a matter of fact, the referees mishandled the blocked punt, and took ten yards away from the 49ers. No penalty call or non-call ‘stole’ the game from either team; Seattle committing lots of penalties goes right in line with their season, which has been the second most penalized of the year.

Offense

If the offense is looking to get hot before the playoffs, this game might not be the best blueprint. Kaep looked shaky but got enough done and led some solid drives. This isn’t terrible worrisome, as it was against one of the strongest defenses in the league. Many are saying that the best is yet to come; hopefully this offense is close to turning the corner and getting back to its winning ways.

Michael Crabtree

Crab didn’t have a very good day, netting 40 yards on 4 catches. As some have pointed out, he was only a couple of drops from a huge day, but it is clear that Crab isn’t ready to be 49ers’ number one just yet. If he can get his pass-catching skills going, he might become a big factor in the playoff push. His development in the next couple of games will be interesting to watch.

49ers vs. Seahawks: What To Watch For

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The 49ers face the Seahawks for the second time on Sunday in a game that feels sort of important. It isn’t quite a must win; Seattle is the last playoff-bound team that the 49ers will play this season (unless Arizona continues to make a push), meaning they will be well set up to compete for the 6th seed should they lose. The importance is more psychological. Allowing Seattle to clinch the division at Candlestick would be annoying, and it would make the prospect of facing the Seahawks at Century Link in the playoffs all the more daunting. The last two matchups, Seattle seemed to get under the 49ers’ skin and control the game. They need to shake this feeling of ownage, and shake the narrative that the Seahawks are an insurmountable opponent. Nothing I have seen this season tells me that the 49ers cannot win this game. What to watch for:

Defense: The 49ers defense did pretty well against the Seahawks the last time they faced off; it was the turnover battle and a flurry of penalties that eventually led to the lopsided score. Russell Wilson had a particularly underwhelming game, going 8-19, 142 yards with 1 touchdown and 1 pick. Seattle’s offense has improved since, but the 49ers’ defense has gotten scarier as well. The pass rush will be crucial in this game; it has been picking up steam over the last few weeks, and needs to have a big day against Seattle’s mediocre offensive line. Keeping Marshawn Lynch out of rhythm and Wilson on his back will go a long way. Similarly, the secondary has gotten stronger, with Tramaine Brock and Eric Wright bolstering a hard-hitting pair of safeties in Eric Reid and Donte Whitner. This defense has done well against hard-running offenses (Washington) and aerial attacks (Green Bay, New Orleans), but they will need to stay balanced if they want to handle the Seahawks.

Run Game: Frank Gore’s recent struggles, mostly the result of opposing defenses working to take away the run, need to end. Greg Roman needs to make an early commitment to the run and keep Seattle on its heels. The Seahawks’ defense isn’t great against the run, and the only way the 49ers will get anything going in the air will be by forcing Seattle to sell out to stop Gore. Hopefully, the home field environment and a few weeks of limited ground attack will set Gore up for some big plays.

Vernon Davis: The last two times the 49ers played the Seahawks, Davis left the game early after taking a big hit. He is an indispensable part of the 49ers’ offense, and, whether or not he has a big pass-catching day, needs to stay healthy. His blocking is a huge part of what powers Gore and Kendall Hunter in big-bodied, physical running plays like Trap and Wham. Losing him against Carolina and Indianapolis hamstrung the offense, and it cannot happen against Seattle.

Early Starts: The offense doesn’t need to be incredible to win this game. A revitalized receiving corp will be helpful, but only if used effectively. The 49ers need to get started early, however, if they want to control the field. Scoring a touchdown or at least putting together some long drives in the first quarter will help keep the defense fresh and knock the wind out of Seattle’s secondary. The Seahawks are a team that thrives on momentum, and keeping them off-balance is essential if the offense wants to get anything going.

Penalties: Seattle is the league’s second most penalized team, averaging 74.25 yards lost per game. On the road, this number ticks up to 81, and against NFC West opponents, 79. The last time the 49ers played them, they outdid the Seahawks, losing an appalling 121 yards in penalties to Seattle’s 84. Many penalties came on third down, and kept Seattle drives alive. As we saw last week against the Rams, the 49ers tend to get scrappy against divisional opponents (averaging 81.5 vs. NFC West), but they have otherwise been pretty clean, averaging 54 yards lost per game. The Seahawks have a reputation as smack-talkers, and the 49ers will need to lock things down if they want to keep the game winnable. Stupid penalties sustaining Seattle drives or putting the offense in long-yardage situations will destroy their chances, particularly in a defensive battle like this game promises to be. The cooler heads will prevail on Sunday.

Turnover Battle: Turnovers will loom large in this game. The 49ers were utterly defeated in the turnover battle last time, coughing up the ball 5 times to Seattle’s 1. Kaepernick, and the offense as a whole, has since improved ball security, but the Seahawks are notorious for forcing turnovers. I do not foresee the turnover battle being so one-sided this time around, but it will no doubt play a crucial role, particularity late in the game. The 49ers’ defense has been great at forcing turnovers this year, which has become a huge weapon given the offense’s perfect track record scoring after turnovers. If they can force Wilson to make poor decisions, it could prove the difference in this game.

Special Teams: This will be a good game for LaMichael James to go full on Kyle-Williams-fair-catchathon. Seattle has excellent special teams, and it would probably be best to play things safe rather than risk any special teams turnovers.

Rivalry: A final note on the rivalry… Just like the last game, the hype around this matchup has been ridiculous. It doesn’t have the playoff implications that everyone predicted before the season, but it still has the feel of a huge game. That said, nothing about the week 2 or the games before it have inspired me to look at the Seahawks as a rival. They are a big challenge to the 49ers’ Super Bowl hopes, sure, but the stupidity of both fanbases only reinforces my opinion that the ‘rivalry’ is just a big, overhyped, profit-push by the NFL, ESPN and anyone else that stands to gain from fan fervor. If this becomes a long term rivalry, fine, but fans of both teams need to chill out. Its getting embarrassing for everyone.