Seahawks vs. 49ers: Breaking Down Seattle's Game Plan

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Seahawks vs. 49ers: Breaking Down Seattle's Game Plan
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks head into hostile territory to take on the rival San Francisco 49ers. This is the second time these two teams have played this year, with Seattle winning the first matchup 29-3 back in Week 2. Given how well these teams know each other, it is safe to say that both teams will be bringing all-new game plans into this matchup. 

There is a lot at stake in this game. Seattle can clinch the NFC West title and a first round bye in the playoffs with a win. They cannot clinch home-field advantage this week, but a win against San Francisco will put Seattle just one win away from doing so. 

For San Francisco, a win would keep them mathematically alive within the division, though they'd still be two games behind Seattle with just three games left. A loss could drop them to seventh in the NFC. This would put them outside of the playoffs and needing help just to get in as a wild card team. 

 

The Competitive Edge

NFL Rankings for Seahawks and 49ers
Seattle Seahawks Category San Francisco 49ers
2nd Scoring Offense 10th
11th Total Offense 28th
22nd Passing Offense 31st
1st Yards Per Attempt 8th
3rd Rushing Offense 7th
7th Yards Per Carry 16th
2nd Scoring Defense 3rd
1st Total Defense 5th
1st Passing Defense 3rd
1st Yards Per Attempt 4th
13th Rushing Defense 11th
15th Yards Per Carry 10th

ESPN.com

Quite surprisingly, the Seahawks have been statistically better than the 49ers in every category except for rushing defense. "Better" in this case is relative, since the difference between the two teams is rather small in most categories. 

Seattle's three recent blowout wins have propelled them into having the top rank in four different statistical categories. These include stats on both sides of the football. This should highlight just how well the Seahawks have been playing over the last month. 

This is also a matchup of two of the top three passing defenses in the league. Passing yards may be hard to come by in this game for either team, especially since they both are in the bottom third in the league in pass attempts. 

 

Seattle's Offense vs. San Francisco's Defense

A Stead Dose of the Outside Zone

There isn't a weakness to exploit in San Francisco's front seven, but that doesn't mean that the Seahawks cannot run the football against them. The Seahawks have at their disposal just the right tool to do so.

Schematically, the San Francisco run defense is predicated on penetration and attacking downhill to get to the ball-carrier. The "outside zone," also called the stretch zone, is the perfect way to attack this type of defense. Defending the outside zone requires defenders to move laterally in order to try and maintain gap integrity. Defenders attacking the backfield will find themselves hopelessly behind the play. 

The outside zone is a staple play in Seattle's running game and was profiled in detail earlier this season. It is also a complex play from a blocking standpoint.

NFL Rewind

The objective of this blocking scheme is to get defenders moving laterally on the play side, while cutting the defenders on the backside of the play to the ground. The running just has to pick the correct gap based on the blocking. 

NFL Rewind

 

Go Deep Off Play-Action

The weakness of the San Francisco defense is still their cornerbacks, though it has been better with the addition of Eric Wright into the rotation. The Seahawks lead the league in yards per pass attempt and are near the top in pass plays over 20 yards as well as pass plays over 40 yards.

Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson also leads the NFL in efficiency when throwing the ball to targets that are more than 20 yards downfield. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he's completing 60 percent of those passes, including eight touchdowns and only two interceptions. 

Using play-action will help occupy safety Donte Whitner and keep him from providing deep help coverage. This will allow the Seahawks to create situations where one-on-one coverage is available for Wilson to exploit. 

Top 5 QBs On Passes To Targets At Least 20 Yards Downfield
Rank Player Team Yds TD Int Comp%
1 Russell Wilson SEA 847 8 2 60.0
2 Aaron Rodgers GB 596 2 1 53.1
3 Alex D. Smith KC 349 3 0 50.0
4 Nick Foles PHI 549 12 0 47.1
5 Peyton Manning DEN 942 7 4 46.6

Pro Football Focus

 

Seattle's Defense vs. San Francisco's Offense

Bring in the Heavy Package 

The 49ers' offense calls the highest percentage of run plays in the NFL. Their offense is dependent on running back Frank Gore and his ability to grind out yards on the ground. The Seahawks should be able to slow the 49ers' rushing attack by bringing in some extra beef on the defensive line. 

This means, on obvious running downs, playing 275-pound defensive end Michael Bennett instead of the 235-pound Chris Clemons at the LEO position. Bennett is at his best when used as an interior pass-rusher on passing downs, but he's the superior run defender on the outside. 

The one drawback to this plan is that the Seahawks will need someone to replace Bennett when he moves to the outside. Perhaps rookie Jordan Hill will finally see the field again after being inactive for most of the season.  

 

"Spy" Kaepernick With Bobby Wagner

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick still struggles to get past the second read in his progressions. If his first and second options are not open, Kaepernick will just pull the ball down and run.

Most teams don't have the speed at linebacker to track down Kaepernick and prevent him from picking up big chunks of yards. Luckily for Seattle, they don't have that problem because of the presence of middle linebacker Bobby Wagner.

Seattle's use of a single-high safety with Earl Thomas on almost every play frees up an extra defender in the box. The Seahawks can use this advantage to keep Wagner free from coverage responsibilities on passing downs so that he can prevent Kaepernick from picking up yards with his legs.  

 

Game Notes and Facts (via Pro Football Reference and NFL.com)

Predict the Outcome

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Seattle leads the all-time series between these teams 15-14, including blowout wins in the last two meetings. 

The Seahawks haven't won in San Francisco since 2008, when Mike Holmgren was still the team's head coach. 

Both teams have given up the same number of sacks this season (30), though the Seahawks have four more sacks defensively than the 49ers. 

With just six interceptions, Russell Wilson and the Seahawks are tied with Alex Smith and the Kansas City Chiefs for fewest picks by a team in the NFL. Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers are just one behind with seven. 

The Seahawks are the best the NFC with a plus-12 turnover differential while the 49ers are eighth at plus-6. 

Seahawks' punter Jon Ryan has still given up just 15 punt return yards all season. Against the 49ers in Week 2, Ryan gave up just one return for zero yards.

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