Seahawks-49ers Preview

The Seattle Seahawks are in trouble. Seattle is unexpectedly on the verge of missing the playoffs for the first time since the 2011 season. On Thursday night, Seattle travels to San Francisco to play the 49ers in what has turned into a must-win game, otherwise the Seahawks will find themselves with a record of 2-5 and almost no chance of postseason play.

This has been a weird year in Seattle. This is a team that could easily be 5-1 just as easily as they could be 1-5. The Seahawks clearly could have (should have?) won their last two games after holding leads in the fourth quarter. The team could have beaten the St. Louis Rams in week one. They held a fourth quarter lead there as well. Seattle could have lost to the Detroit Lions if not for a miracle of a play by safety Kam Chancellor. Seahawks fans would be as right to look around in confusion over what has gone wrong this season just as Seattle’s secondary has looked when watching wide open receivers score late touchdowns to beat them. Whatever Seattle’s fourth quarter issues are, they need to be corrected. Now.

Panthers-Seahawks-1

How does Seattle defeat San Francisco and move to 3-4 on the year?

Maintain Focus

Obviously, anyone with the ability to think clearly would say this is important. Seattle has been very good for most of the first three quarters of four of their first six games. (Surprisingly, the team has looked worse in the first three quarters of their two wins than in any of their losses.) Then the fourth quarter starts and the Seahawks suffer miscommunication after fundamental breakdown after dumb play. The squad has been outscored by 28 points if the final frame, 27-55. This from a team that dominated in second halves of games the last three years, and most of the players are the same as previous seasons.

This is where the 49ers can be helpful for Seattle, if history between the two remains the same. The Seahawks have outscored the 49ers 47-10 combined in the fourth quarter in the last six meetings between the two teams, and the 49ers have not scored a point in the fourth in the last three games against the Seahawks.

San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick has three touchdowns versus nine interceptions and has been sacked 18 times in the last six games against Seattle. Kaepernick has never been the most accurate passer, but does have raw skill. The key is to keep pressure on him. The Seahawks defensive front needs to do a better job than they have this season at getting to the quarterback. If they do this, the secondary miscommunication issues will mostly dissipate as Kaepernick will not have time to throw to open receivers. It needs to be a total effort by the defense.

kaepernick

Go Back to Basics of Defense

Seahawks new defensive coordinator Kris Richard has made some slight changes this season in an attempt to make an already aggressive defense more antagonistic. This is not necessarily a bad idea, but the Seahawks were dominant without so many blitzes or alignments. Seattle has always been at its best when 1) cornerback Richard Sherman plays straight up and shuts down one side of the field, forcing the quarterback to make throws to other areas, 2) having linebacker K.J. Wright be the lead defender on tight ends instead of covering that position with more a zone look and 3) the linebackers were not asked to blitz as much. Seattle should simply go back to the fundamental cover-three scheme and rely on instincts through experience and knowledge of that system.

It will also help the Seahawks if middle-linebacker Bobby Wagner can play against the 49ers. He is the quarterback of the defense, covers well and is dominant as a run-defender. Wagner missed the Panthers game, and his absence showed on the two 80-yard Carolina drives in the fourth quarter.

Score Touchdowns in the First Half

Over the last three seasons, the Seahawks have been a much better team offensively in the second halves of games than first halves. This season is no exception, and the difference is worse. In 2015 the Seattle offense has generated three first half touchdowns, one in each of the last three games. Even with a great defense, which the Seahawks have not had this year yet, that will lose you games. The Seahawks need to score touchdowns, not field goals, in the first half against the 49ers to both generate some offensive confidence and allow the defense some breathing room.

Seattle-Seahawks-Steven-Hauschka-002

No team in the National Football League should be able to say that the player on their team who has had the most positive impact is the placekicker. There is very little doubt that if the Seahawks had to say who the team’s 2015 Most Valuable Player is so far it would be Steven Hauschka. Hauschka has scored 54 of Seattle’s 134 points. The players who are second on the Seahawks in scoring, Doug Baldwin, Jimmy Graham and Tyler Lockett, individually only have the same number of points that Hauschka has extra points, 12. He has made all 14 of his field goal attempts and all 12 of his extra point tries. The offense is not even really helping him with easy field goals, either. Four of his field goals are from 50, 51, 52 and 54 yards. This unfortunately means Hauschka is making the offense look better than it is. It is time for the offense to help Hauschka and score some touchdowns, and do so in the first half.

Percentages show that the Seahawks are already in danger of missing the playoffs. Since 1990, only 14 of 168 teams that began a season 2-4 went on the playoffs, and none of them won a Super Bowl. To give themselves a chance to be the 15th team to do it, Seattle has to win on Thursday and it is difficult to win away from home in the NFL – the Seahawks are 0-3 on the road this season.

Prediction: San Francisco 24 Seattle 21