The San Francisco 49ers are headed to the Super Bowl, partially because they have the most talent top to bottom in the league. They'll also make the title game because their NFC West division rivals, the Seattle Seahawks, can't make plays in the passing game.
Russell Wilson doesn't represent a weakness for the Seahawks, but his unwillingness to take chances has hurt his team's aerial attack. Wilson took just two deep shots down the field in the game against the New Orleans Saints in the divisional playoff round, per Pro Football Reference.
Seattle's receiving corp is not dynamic. It doesn't have big targets capable of winning jump balls or a ton of speedsters who consistently get separation from cornerbacks.
You look at Golden Tate and Jermaine Kearse and think that's who they should be, but it's simply not happening over the last five games for Seattle. Percy Harvin is looking more like the latter half of this question from Football Outsiders.
Percy Harvin: Schematic weapon of doom or injury-prone contract bust? Yes. http://t.co/g2U8wyL4kM— Football Outsiders (@fboutsiders) January 14, 2014
Wilson hasn't even thrown for 225 yards in a game in that span, nor has he completed as many as 20 passes. Against the Saints, Wilson completed just nine of 18 pass attempts.
Despite the excellent game the defense played against New Orleans, things got close down the stretch because of the offense's inability to sustain drives. The Saints loaded up to stop Marshawn Lynch and forced the Seahawks into five straight punts in the second half.
When they finally did score in the fourth quarter, it was mostly on Lynch's back. He scampered 31 yards for the score, but Wilson did complete a 24-yard pass to Doug Baldwin to set it up.
Baldwin's catch was magnificent, and it was a brilliant play call on third down with three yards to go.
Unfortunately for Seattle, the drive was the exception to the rule of late. The lack of offense through the air has to be at least concerning to Seahawks nation.
What does Wilson say about his recent play? Wilson said this per Curtis Crabtree of NBC Sports:
You know we’re winning a lot of football games and that’s the best thing. I think that I can always do better, I’ve always thought that. So there’s a lot of room for improvement and that the exciting about it.
It's the predictable, formulaic, team-first answer that could turn out to be a double-edged sword for the Seahawks and their star.
Seattle is putting too much pressure on its defense to be great. It's also forcing the running game to supply most of the offensive punch. That's not a recipe for success against the 49ers.
With Michael Crabtree back, the Niners are a different team.
They have multiple weapons in the passing game. Shutting them down the way the Seahawks did the Saints won't be nearly as simple. Saints quarterback Drew Brees is great at sliding his feet to create more time to get rid of the ball, but Niners QB Colin Kaepernick might be one of the best athletes on the field on Sunday.
He's capable of scrambling and breaking off yardage in huge chunks. He'll have more opportunities to hurt the Seahawks with his legs, because the Seattle defense will have to account for the likes of Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, Frank Gore and Vernon Davis in the passing game.
To put it plain, Seattle is going to have to score points to win this game. Can it do that with an aerial attack that isn't clicking?
The answer to that is no.
The Niners' linebackers and defensive line have the requisite playmakers to keep Lynch from breaking them down. If Wilson decides to try to make plays with his legs, the Niners have the athletes to take away his running lanes.
Wilson is intent upon not costing his team the game by taking too many chances. Because the Seahawks are unable—or unwilling—to push the ball down the field, the offense won't put enough pressure on the 49ers.
Thus, they won't advance to the Super Bowl.
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