After a 42-13 beatdown of the San Francisco 49ers in Week 16 of the 2012 season, the Seattle Seahawks were, once again, up to their old tricks this past Sunday. For the second time in as many meetings, the ‘Hawks defense made quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s life a living hell.
They forced Kap into three interceptions and held him to a career-low 127 yards passing. It’s safe to say Pete Carroll’s defense has had the young signal-caller’s number at CenturyLink Field.
In the last two matchups between these teams, Kaepernick has only managed to complete 49.6 percent of his passes and score one touchdown. His quarterback rating (46.1) has been abysmal and the 49ers offense has struggled to keep drives alive, with a 26.1 percent conversion rate on third downs.
All mind-blowing considering the Niners' high-octane offense. Do the Seahawks have the ultimate game plan for shutting down Colin Kaepernick, or are they on the verge of having one of the best defensive seasons in NFL history?
In all honesty, the Seahawks do have the ultimate game plan for shutting down Kap, but they also have one of the most talented defenses in the league. Defensive backs Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner (inactive Sunday with a hamstring injury), Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor have all been named an All-Pro or a Pro Bowler in the past.
Linebacker Bobby Wagner is a star on the rise who was declared the second-best inside linebacker in the NFL in 2012 by the analysts at Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Furthermore, defensive ends Chris Clemons and Cliff Avril are two of the best pass-rushers in the league.
Clemons has had a career revival since coming over to the Pacific Northwest. In 48 games with the Seahawks, he has amassed 33.5 quarterback sacks, 31 quarterback hits and 144 quarterback hurries. Avril, on the other hand, has a nose for finding the quarterback as well.
In six seasons, he has a record 40.5 quarterback sacks, 28 quarterback hits and 132 quarterback hurries. Neither player has ever been selected to a Pro Bowl, but their time is coming.
Yet, a player’s individual skills and abilities can only take him so far. Football is the ultimate team sport, and all 19 Seahawks players on the defensive side of the ball came together and executed a precise game plan on Sunday Night Football.
On this second-quarter play, defensive coordinator Dan Quinn’s unit deployed a 3-2-6 look. Avril was lined up at the left defensive end position, and he was working against one of the best right tackles in the game, Anthony Davis.
To counter Seattle’s 3-2-6, San Francisco used a “10 personnel” grouping. Kaepernick was looking to push the ball down the middle of the field on a few long developing routes.
Despite the fact the Seahawks only sent three rushers, Avril timed the snap perfectly and got a great jump on the ball as he dipped his shoulders around the corner. His speed forced Kaepernick to step up in the pocket for more time to throw. Unfortunately for San Francisco, Seattle’s defensive backs had swallowed up the Niners receiving corps.
At that point, Kaepernick would have been best suited to throw the ball away and live to see another down. Yet, he felt he was better off improvising. So what did Avril do? He spun off Davis and worked his way back to the quarterback.
The end result was a devastating strip-sack that put momentum firmly in the Seahawks' favor. Six plays later, kicker Steven Hauschka boomed through a 30-yard field goal to give the ‘Hawks a 5-0 lead.
Most people would give Avril all the credit for beating Davis around the corner and hustling back to the ball to knock it out. However, that play wouldn’t have been successful were it not for the “Legion of Boom.”
Strong coverage down the field gave Avril the opportunity to finish the play off. When a quarterback doesn’t pull the trigger or throw the ball away, a coverage sack usually ensues.
This next play here is a third-down play from five yards out. The 49ers were looking to spread the Seahawks defense out on the goal line when they utilized an “11 personnel” package.
Running back Frank Gore was split out wide to the left, wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Quinton Patton and tight end Vernon Davis were in the slot, and wideout Kyle Williams was split wide to the right. The defense answered with zone coverage.
Zone coverage on the goal line is fairly common because it doesn’t allow anything to get behind the defense, and it allows the defensive players to cover a short area of the field.
As the pocket started to break down, it was easy to see Kaepernick had nowhere to go with the ball. Sherman was sitting down between Boldin and Patton, and three defenders were eyeing Williams as he flashed in front of the end zone.
Kap could have forced a throw into Williams, but odds are, it would have either been picked off or broken up. He made the right decision to pull the ball down and escape out of the pocket.
Yet, leaving the pocket didn’t get Kap anywhere. Three defenders emerged and tackled him out of bounds at the 3-yard line. The goal-line stand held the Niners to three points, while keeping it a two-score game, 12-3, as the fourth quarter neared.
Even though those two plays are but a small sample size of analysis, they both represent what the ‘Hawks defense did all game long. Getting great coverage on the backend and a strong push from the defensive line was Seattle’s modus operandi.
San Francisco didn’t have an answer. There’s not much an offense can do when the quarterback is running for his life and the receivers aren’t getting open. It may sound simple, but syncing up the D-line and secondary is not an easy thing to do.
Teams spend years trying to find the right defensive combinations. Under Coach Carroll, the Seahawks have done an outstanding job of drafting and acquiring players who fit their 4-3 scheme.
Can other teams find success in Seattle's game plan to shut down Colin Kaepernick?
Yes, their game plan worked to perfection against the 49ers, but it worked to perfection the previous week against Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers as well. For the second time in as many weeks, two quarterbacks were held to career lows through the air as starters.
As much as every other defense in the league would like to copy Seattle’s game plan for shutting down Kaepernick, it’s not logical to think they will be able to. The perk of having the deepest secondary in the league and a plethora of defensive line talent is what makes Quinn’s defense so good.
Now that the blueprint is all laid out, it’s up to the rest of the league to obtain talent that rivals that of the Seahawks.