NFL Network showed both 49ers/Seahawks games this past week on NFL Replay. Richard Sherman was mic’d up in Week 2, and after the game started getting out of hand he was shown on the sideline. He yelled, “They said this was supposed to be a matchup. MISMATCH!”
At the end of that game it appeared the worst mismatch of the game was in large part due to Sherman’s talents, as he kept Anquan Boldin quiet a week after Boldin went off for over 200 yards. With the rest of the 49ers wide receiving corps looking rather pitiful, Seattle had reason to believe they’d keep Colin Kaepernick from throwing a touchdown against the Seahawks for the rest of the season.
Kaepernick did throw a touchdown — just one — in Week 14, but in that game they showed they can move the ball through the air against Seattle at a reasonable rate. Since that game, the 49ers’ passing offense hasn’t been unstoppable, but they’ve become more difficult to stop. Seattle’s secondary still probably holds the advantage over San Francisco’s receivers, but that edge has narrowed.
The same can’t be said for the gap between the levels of play seen from the 49ers’ defensive line and the Seahawks’ offensive line. Seattle is a team without many weaknesses. Other than wide receiver depth problems caused by injuries to Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice, they’re pretty loaded. But their offensive line would be subject to a lot more criticism if it weren’t for two ridiculously talented players who refuse to go down. Russell Wilson is the most difficult quarterback to capture in the NFL. Marshawn Lynch forced 78 missed tackles, 17 more than the guy in second place (Adrian Peterson).
Aldon Smith is back and taking up two blockers more often than not. Ahmad Brooks is coming off one of his best games as a pro. Justin Smith is Justin Smith. Ray McDonald has done a nice job rushing the passer for three games in a row. Tony Jerod-Eddie played great in Carolina, and he and Demarcus Dobbs have allowed the 49ers to rest Justin Smith and McDonald more often than in seasons past. Glenn Dorsey has been one of the 49ers’ best players on either side of the ball in their two 2013 meetings with Seattle.
I asked Justin Smith yesterday about the advantage of having a guy like Dorsey against teams that are balanced (translation: they like to run), such as the Panthers and Seahawks.
“In 3-4, it starts with the nose. Glenn’s came in when the injury happened to [NT] Ian [Williams] and came in and he’s played at a Pro-Bowl level. Tons of tackles, not getting moved at all off the ball. That’s where your focal point is around. If that guy gets moved at all you’re kind of hosed, so he’s done a hell-of-a job. A big addition.”
The 49ers were “hosed” last year against Seattle with Isaac Sopoaga as the team’s main nose tackle. He only played eight snaps in the 49ers’ 13-6 win at Candlestick (back when the Justin Smith, Aldon Smith, McDonald and Brooks took almost zero plays off every week), and was next to useless against the Seahawks in the 42-13 drubbing at CenturyLink.
The Seahawks ranked in the bottom third of teams in both pass blocking and run blocking, according to Pro Football Focus. It’s not that their linemen are horrible, but there aren’t any standouts — especially with Russell Okung at leass than full strength. Here’s what Grantland’s Bill Barnwell wrote about Okung in his NFC Championship preview:
The Seahawks will hope for a better game from left tackle Russell Okung than the one they got in Week 14. Hell, Okung will hope for a better game than the ones he’s had against the 49ers this year. In the first game between these two teams, Okung suffered a toe injury on the first series after the hour-long weather delay8, and it kept him out for the next eight weeks. Then, during the first half of the second game this year, he committed a holding penalty, got pushed back into Wilson by Aldon Smith on the opening play from scrimmage, and gave up a sack on a twist stunt from Ray McDonald. Okung is still not back to 100 percent and won’t be until after the season is over, but the Seahawks will need him to resemble his usual self. Smith doesn’t quite look like the terror of 2011-12 since returning from rehab, but he does manage to look like his old self for a couple of series per game, during which he is mostly unblockable.
Even if Aldon isn’t “unblockable” for much of the game, the 49ers should win the battle against Seattle’s offensive line. Their defensive front is deeper than before, they’re relatively healthy considering they’ve played 18 games, and they’re coming off a four-sack, two-goal-line stand performance against the Panthers.
“I just think we’re playing better football,” Smith said.
“Defensively, we’ve done pretty well against (Seattle). The last time we went up there we kind of lost it in the fourth quarter, but we’re not too worried about that. We know what we have to do.”