Seahawks vs. 49ers_ what's the game plan for san francisco_ _ bleacher report

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The San Francisco 49ers will look to continue their momentum as they host the Seattle Seahawks in a prime-time Thursday Night Football matchup in Week 7.

San Francisco is coming off a 25-20 victory over the Baltimore Ravens—a game in which the offense continued its upward trend with quarterback Colin Kaepernick passing for 340 yards and two touchdowns.

Whether or not he can do so against a Seahawks


team which, over the quarterback’s history, he’s struggled against will be an inherent part of the 49ers’ game plan. Additionally, San Francisco’s defense will need to ensure the Seahawks continue to struggle on offense.

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Both teams enter the contest with 2-4 records. So this game isn’t just another chapter of this heated rivalry but also, perhaps, a last chance for either team to save its playoff chances in 2015.

Let’s take a look at the 49ers’ offensive and defensive game plan and see what San Francisco needs to do to come away with the victory at Levi’s Stadium.

Can Kaepernick maintain his recent two-week success at home versus his old nemesis?

Offensive Game Plan

Despite their fourth-quarter woes, the Seahawks defense remains a formidable force. Seattle has given up the fourth-fewest yards in the league with just 1,917 allowed over six contests. And the Seahawks pass defense ranks No. 8 in the NFL with an average of just 229 yards per game as indicated by the B/R graphic below.

In contrast, and despite their recent offensive breakouts, the 49ers are still averaging just 198 passing yards per game.

Credit: B/R Insights

The context is slightly different for San Francisco’s aerial attack given both the New York Giants and Baltimore Ravens’ pass defenses are towards the bottom of league standings.

Moving the ball effectively against Seattle’s defense will have to combine both a strong rushing attack, with running back Carlos Hyde carrying a sizable workload, and Kaepernick continuing to make smarter decisions and executing properly under center.

Running back Carlos Hyde will need to have a strong performance in Week 7 to ensure offensive success for San Francisco.

The 49ers are averaging 129 yards on the ground per game, but Seattle is averaging only 93 allowed.

Simply stated, this game will be decided along the line of scrimmage.

Protecting Kaepernick has been problematic for San Francisco’s offensive line. He’s been sacked 19 times on the season, and the 49ers’ O-line has a minus-7.1 season grade per Pro Football Focus. Surprisingly, San Francisco is worse in run blocking with a minus-30.4 PFF mark.

One trend from the 49ers offense has been to line Kaepernick under center more frequently compared to his more traditional shotgun approach—an aspect discussed by CSN Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco. By not having to focus on the long snap from center Marcus Martin, Kaepernick is, instead, able to look straight into the defensive configuration and act accordingly.

The 49ers had success last week with Colin Kaepernick under center. And, sure enough, that’s how they’re opening this game, too.— Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoCSN) October 18, 2015

Of course, the Seahawks will look to apply pressure as much as possible. Seattle’s defense has a respectable 13 sacks on the year, and Kaepernick has an accuracy percentage of just 40.3 when pressured, per PFF—the fourth lowest in the NFL.

Additionally, Kaepernick’s completion percentage drops from 74.3 percent to 44.1 when he holds on to the ball for 2.6 seconds or longer, per PFF.

What this means is that Kaepernick should attempt executing more quick-strike passes to his receiving targets—play-calling involving slants, well-executed screens and passes out of the backfield to running backs Hyde and Reggie Bush.

Bush is listed as probable for the contest.

And when the Seahawks attempt to load the box, and provided the O-line can hold, the 49ers can attempt to open things up with deep plays down the field.

Here are a few of Kaepernick’s deep passes, including a 76-yard touchdown connection with wide receiver Torrey Smith:

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49ers. com also provided this NFL coaches-film viewpoint. Notice how many defenders Baltimore has in the box anticipating a run play with the two-tight end set. The play opens up single-man coverage against Smith, and the result speaks for itself.

How about this pass protection on @Kaepernick7’s 76-yard TD to @TorreySmithWR?

FILM REVIEW: https://t. co/vFvdMsLZYG pic. twitter. com/abUISRPNAU — San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) October 20, 2015

Granted, Seattle’s secondary is much better than the Ravens’, and the Seahawks won’t have a cornerback like Shareece Wright whom the 49ers can target.

But this is a balanced approach and one necessary for San Francisco’s success.

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And one can’t overlook Seattle’s fourth-quarter woes. The Seahawks’ four losses on the season have all come after they held fourth-quarter leads. And opponents’ quarterbacks are boasting a 130.6 passer rating in the final regulation frame though six weeks.

Look for this to be a factor.

Linebacker Aaron Lynch (No. 59) will need to pressure quarterback Russell Wilson sufficiently enough in Week 7.

Defensive Game Plan

A longtime staple of the Seahawks offense has been their rushing attack. Seattle has 827 yards on the ground and, despite the recent hamstring injury of veteran running back Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawks are still perfectly capable of asserting this approach in Week 7.

San Francisco isn’t as vulnerable against the run as it is versus the pass. The 49ers have allowed 617 yards on the ground and have allowed 100-plus net rushing yards only twice over six games this season.

The contrast between Seattle’s ground game and San Francisco’s run defense can be seen here courtesy of B/R Insights:

Credit: B/R Insights

The 49ers rank dead last in passing yards allowed per game as indicated above. Yet the Seahawks’ aerial attack isn’t exactly inspiring.

A microcosm of this matchup will be, again, in the trenches. San Francisco is struggling to generate a pass rush with just nine sacks and a PFF pass-rushing grade of minus-7.8. But Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has been sacked more than any other quarterback this season (26 times).

Wilson has been sacked more than any other quarterback in 2015.

Seattle’s O-line is permeable and, despite Wilson’s abilities in extending plays, 23 of those 26 sacks have come when he’s been forced to hold on to the ball for longer than 2.6 seconds, per PFF.

The question will be whether or not the 49ers pass rush can close the distance without allowing Wilson to get beyond containment.

If he can, tight end Jimmy Graham will be a primary target. Seattle’s leading receiver is a threat against San Francisco’s middle-of-the-field defense. According to PFF (h/t B/R’s Grant Cohn), opposing quarterbacks are completing 84 percent of passes when targeting this area.

On throws over the middle this season, the 49ers’ defense is allowing 10 ypa, a completion % of 84 and a passer rating of 115, per @PFF — Grant Cohn (@grantcohn) October 20, 2015

Graham is a significant threat here. And this NFL. com video showcases where Graham will likely attack:

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So how do the 49ers defend against Graham? Second-year cornerback Dontae Johnson may be a plausible option given his 6’2″ stature going up against the 6’7″ prowess of the standout tight end. Or the 49ers could elect to combine coverage with their safeties and linebackers.

At any rate, San Francisco likely won’t be able to afford to send as many defenders on blitzes during the contest for fear of the mismatch Graham creates.

Hopefully, the lackluster abilities of Seattle’s O-line will mean the 49ers won’t have to.

Cornerback Richard Sherman’s interceptions off Kaepernick last year stand as a reminder of the quarterback’s struggles against Seattle.

Key Players and Matchups

Johnson versus Graham will be an intriguing storyline to watch during the contest. And it should be known Graham has averaged just 37.5 yards per game in four career matchups against San Francisco.

But the bigger defensive focus will be up front. Given Seattle’s pass-protection woes, look for linebackers Aaron Lynch and Ahmad Brooks to get involved with the 49ers pass rush. Lynch is leading the team with three sacks and has 19 quarterback hurries, per PFF.

On the flip side, Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril will look to apply pressure on Kaepernick. Avril boasts a plus-14.1 PFF grade and will frequently go up against left tackle Joe Staley—the 49ers’ best O-lineman.

Which running back—Hyde or Lynch—contributes the most on Thursday will also bear significant weight. Possession time, thanks to the running game, will play a critical role.

Yet, with little doubt, the biggest matchup will be that of Kaepernick versus cornerback Richard Sherman and the Seahawks secondary.

Will 2015 be the year in which Kaepernick finally gets “over the hump” versus the Seahawks?

Sherman and the Seahawks have long been Kaepernick’s primary weakness. San Francisco’s quarterback owns a 53.7 passer rating against Seattle with just two touchdowns against seven interceptions.

Sherman’s minus-3.4 pass-coverage PFF grade suggests he’s not playing at the same level the 49ers are accustomed to. But that doesn’t mean Kaepernick will be able to simply “pick up where he left off” in Week 6 against a suspect secondary.

Thursday’s contest will mark the next chapter in the intriguing storyline between Kaepernick and Wilson.

Prediction

On paper, the Seahawks appear to be a far better team than the 49ers right now. Seattle has lost to three teams that are still undefeated on the season. And the margin of defeat has never been more than 10 points.

San Francisco can’t say the same.

But the 49ers do have the benefit of staying home on the short week and also didn’t have to travel for Week 5. This wasn’t a beneficial factor for San Francisco when these two teams met on a Thursday last year for Thanksgiving.

And yet the context was so vastly different back then.

As Grant Napear of Sacramento’s KHTK 1140 noted Tuesday, Seattle is losing games it typically didn’t before and, per Napear, the Seahawks “aren’t playing well at all.” He predicted a 49ers upset, and we should as well.

Look for the Seahawks’ fourth-quarter woes to haunt them Thursday. Combined with the short week, Seattle’s issues in the final frame could either hand over the lead to San Francisco or allow the 49ers to increase the lead if they’re already in front.

The 49ers have been able to increase their scoring by quarter, while the Seahawks have a major drop in the fourth.

Let’s go with a 24-17 victory by the red and gold. The 49ers are trending upward, while the Seahawks are scuffling.

Either way, if the 49ers can make this a competitive game and remain in contention until the end, San Francisco will continue to move in the right direction.

All statistics, injury reports, records and accolades courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference. com and ESPN. com unless otherwise indicated.

Peter Panacy is a Featured Columnist covering the San Francisco 49ers for Bleacher Report. Follow him @PeterPanacy on Twitter.

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