Why do the Seattle Seahawks present a troubling match up for Colin Kaepernick? Because he hasn’t seen a similar defense all season. Yes, the New England Patriots presented a difficult task. And, yes, the Chicago Bears were statistically comparable to Seattle. But none have presented quite the challenge that the Seahawks will on Sunday.
Chicago, while sharing some likeness to Seattle, was at a disadvantage given their unfamiliarity with Kaepernick. Plus, Chicago’s stats are skewed slightly by a schedule that ranks as fifth easiest in the NFC, according to Pro-Football Reference. Since playing the 49ers, the Bears have lost three of four and have given up nearly 19 points and 339 yards per game. Which is to say, perhaps the 49ers saw a Bears team that was on the decline.
This won’t be the case with Seattle. Though helped by games against the Buffalo Bills and Arizona Cardinals, Seattle has been borderline dominant over the last three weeks. They’ve won three straight by a combined 97 points. They’ve held their opponents to an average of 284 yards per game on just 4.6 yards per play.
We discussed the Seahawks’s defense with blogger Brian Nemhauser of HawkBlogger.com, where Nemhauser offers unflinching and uncompromising analysis of his favorite team. Though Seattle may be without cornerback Richard Sherman, in addition to defensive tackle Jason Jones and cornerback Brandon Browner, Nemhauser is still confident.
East Bay Sports Guy (EBSG): Would the Seahawks rather face Alex Smith or Colin Kaepernick on Sunday?
Brian Nemhauser (BN): Kaepernick is tougher to defend, but he still has to prove he can beat a good defense on the road. Alex Smith did not scare anybody, but you know what you were going to get each week. It was very hard to get the ball off of Smith. Kaepernick will take more risks, which result in more rewards and more chances for a defense to make plays. I think Kaepernick makes the 49ers Super Bowl favorites, but it is really hard to get all the experience you need in half a season.
EBSG: According to PFF, Richard Sherman is the Seahawks’ best defensive player in 2012. If Sherman’s hearing on Friday leads to a suspension starting Sunday, what effect will that have after already losing Brandon Browner?
BN: It is highly unlikely Sherman will be suspended before Sunday, but if he does, it would be a major loss. Harbaugh whined about the physical play of Browner and Sherman in the first game for a reason. Assuming Sherman will play, the bigger question is whether Walter Thurmond will be healthy. He is a different player than Browner, but quite possibly a better corner, and the long-term solution if he can stay healthy. He plays outside in base packages, but slides inside on nickel, and is a far better slot corner than Marcus Trufant. Trufant has been victimized all season, and was part of the reason the 49ers found success in the short middle in the first game. If Thurmond plays, this will be the best secondary Kaepernick will have faced, without question.
EBSG: While Aldon Smith gets a lot of national attention for his pass rush ability, Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin have had exceptional seasons as well (especially Clemons). But in their last matchup, Clemons and Irvin combined to pressure Alex Smith only three times. Will Carroll and company do anything exotic to generate pressure? Or was Week 7’s game an exception to the rule?
BN: The Seahawks rarely get creative in their blitzes. It has been a point of frustration for many fans. They have great speed, but most offenses can see where it is coming from. Still, Jason Jones collapsing the pocket from the middle and Clemons and Irvin careening in from the outside makes this tough. Irvin does his best work when used like Aldon Smith on twists inside of Jones (versus Justin Smith). Expect the Seahawks to do what they’ve done all season, which is to play a lot of base defense, and force the quarterback to make the right read and right throw against tight coverage.
Special thanks to Brian Nemhauser for participating. Stay tuned for Nemhauser’s take on Jim Harbaugh.