What do the Seahawks have to do to beat the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday on the road? Here are three keys to the game.
1. Don’t let Carlos run and Hyde
One of the biggest reasons the 49ers kept the first game between the two teams close — a 12-9 Seattle victory on Sept. 17 in which the Seahawks scored the winning touchdown with just 7:06 left — was the running of Carlos Hyde, who had 124 yards on 15 carries. That remains the most against the Seahawks this season. Hyde got most of that on two runs – of 61 and 27 yards — each of which set up field goals.
Those runs were emblematic of Seattle’s struggles early in the season stopping the run.
That hasn’t been an issue lately, though, as Seattle has allowed just 2.46 yards per carry the last five weeks, best in the NFL.
Defensive end Frank Clark said this week the Seahawks are eager to show the 49ers and Hyde they have shored up their run defense.
“He had a huge run on a play where we really looked like not the Seahawks’ defense that we are accustomed to, where we missed a lot of tackles,’’ Clark said. “We pride ourselves on having a great run defense and this time around we get a second opportunity to put that on display and that’s what we are going to do.’’
2. Keep the lid on the flags at corner, and everywhere else
While the Atlanta Falcons made a number of big plays in last Monday’s 34-31 win at CenturyLink Field, the Seahawks could also point to any number of plays they didn’t make — or mistakes they did — as being just as costly.
And in what is becoming a tiresome broken record (though admittedly there may not be any other kind) penalties were again a big deal as Seattle committed nine for 106 yards and now have 103 for the season, remaining on pace to set a dubious NFL single-season record.
The two big ones against Atlanta were pass interference calls on Jeremy Lane (25 yards) and Byron Maxwell (16) that each led to Falcons’ scores. Lane and Maxwell will again be Seattle’s starting corners with Richard Sherman and Shaquill Griffin out.
Defensive coordinator Kris Richard vows that Seattle will play as aggressively as it has in the past — and in fact, Pro Football Focus showed that Seattle blitzed Atlanta 35 percent of the time compared to a season average of 22 percent — despite the change in personnel and says it will be on the players to avoid big penalties.
“Our guys can cover and they can cover tight,’’ Richard said. “I think the main thing that we have to be obviously alert for and do a better job of is just keeping our game clean. We put ourselves in really good position, and we end up fouling in a couple of situations that put them in favorable positions to score, so that’s really a main focal point of ours is that we’re going to cover really tight, we’re going to be in great position, but we have to keep our game clean.”
3. Simply put, start more quickly
As frustrated fans have noted often, the Seahawks have a tendency to take a while to get going and that is the case again this season as Seattle has scored just 39 points in the first quarter this year, which ranks 17th in the NFL. That’s nothing new — in fact, Seattle hasn’t ranked higher than 15h in first quarter scoring in 2012, since Russell Wilson became the quarterback – they were 21st in the Super Bowl title season of 2013.
The Seahawks have always compensated by being fast finishers, which is the case this year — their 94 fourth quarter points ranks second in the NFL. But after the Atlanta game, when Seattle trailed 24-17 at halftime, the Seahawks are now being outscored in the first half for the season — 106-94. Counting on coming back worked when Seattle had a dominant defense and a consistent running game.
But the running game can no longer be depended on to wear teams out late and the defense without Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor may not be able to always finish out games the way it did in the past.
And in a game against a nothing-to-lose team like the 49ers, the worst thing Seattle can do is let them hang around, especially on the road. Seattle needs to start being more efficient early.