Note: I haven’t been commenting much on the Seattle Seahawks so far this season. With the year ending injuries to key defensive stars Cliff Avril, Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor, plus the problems with the offensive line and the running game, I have been, more or less, in “wait and see” mode as regards this […]Read the Rest →
Like the rest of you “Twelves” out there I am eagerly anticipating this Sunday’s NFC Championship game between the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers. This is the game that we all knew had to happen and I must confess to a bit of anxiety at having to face the 49ers for a third time this season. After all, they have won 8 straight games, the last 3 on the road, which includes the 2 playoff wins against the Green Bay Packers and Carolina Panthers. Now they are coming to CenturyLink Field in Seattle for a 4th consecutive road game and what is by far the biggest game of the season for both teams—a winner take all grudge match to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Currently the 49ers are the hottest team in the league. They are healthy and have a bevy of excellent receivers in Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree and tight end Vernon Davis. Veteran running back Frank Gore has rushed for over 1100 yards this season and as the campaign has progressed quarterback Colin Kaepernick has settled down and gotten better and better. He can beat you with his arm or his legs and is a handful for any defense. Add to this the struggles of Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson and the Hawks offense of late and you can see why I worry.
In light of all this I found myself wondering, just what must the Seahawks do to beat these bad dudes from the Bay Area this Sunday? I think we can throw out the game that the two teams played in Seattle in Week 2, won by the Hawks 29-3. San Francisco is far better now than they were then. Of course Seattle will have its distinct home field advantage due the game being played at “The Clink”, the best home field advantage in the league, but it will take more than the throaty “Twelves” for Seattle to pull out this victory.
Seattle played their arch-rival another time this season, in week 14 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, a game won by the 49ers 19-17. That game, being much closer to the present, provides a superior comparative and a much better idea of what we could expect in facing San Francisco this Sunday. With an eye toward finding out just why the Seahawks lost that game, I delved into my season archives and watched that whole game again, start to finish. It was an illuminating experience and I emerged from it much more confident that Seattle can and will beat the 49ers this Sunday and go to the Super Bowl.
Allow me to explain: You dedicated “Twelves” will recall that towards the end of that game, with Seattle leading 17-16, 49ers running back Frank Gore broke off a 52 yard run when Hawks safety Earl Thomas got out of position and allowed him to cut back and tear off down the field with Thomas and Richard Sherman in desperate pursuit. The two Seahawks caught up with Gore about the Seattle 20 yard line but the damage was done. The 49ers kicked a field goal and won the game by the above noted 19-17 score. Gore’s run has been widely acclaimed as the reason San Francisco won that game. After looking at that game again it is very clear to me San Francisco didn’t win that game as much as Seattle simply lost it. Gore’s run was big and it was timely, however, had the Seahawks not shot themselves in the foot repeatedly throughout the game, it would have been inconsequential. The reason Seattle lost that game can be summed up in two words—stupid penalties.
To understand the importance of this you must realize that any play in a football game is as potentially important as any other play. It doesn’t matter if it happens in the first 2 minutes or the last 2 minutes. A big play or mistake earlier in a game can render meaningless or more important what would have been a big play or mistake late in a game. After studying this Week 14 Hawks-49ers game I isolated 4 key penalties on Seattle much earlier in the game than Gore’s run, and all of them potentially impacted the game’s outcome. Likely, if the Hawks do not commit those penalties, they would have defeated San Francisco, even if Gore does make his big run.
The penalties and their circumstances follow:
- At the 11 minute mark of the first quarter with a 2nd down and 6 yards to go at his own 31 yard line Seattle’s Russell Wilson handed off to Marshawn Lynch who broke around the left end for 13 yards and a 1st down. Hawks left tackle Russell Okung was flagged on the play for holding the 49ers’ Justin Smith and instead of a 1st down at their own 44 Seattle ended up with a 2nd and 12 at their own 25. Holding is a 10 yard penalty but when it wipes out a 13 yard gain it is far worse. The penalty destroyed Seattle’s drive and forced a John Ryan punt.
- With 3 minutes and 5 seconds left in the first quarter and trailing 3-0 the Seahawks had the ball with a 3rd down and 5 yards to go at their 36 yard line. On that 3rd down play Russell Wilson hit Golden Tate near the right sideline for a 15 yard gain into 49ers territory and a 1st down. On the play Tate was flagged for offensive pass interference because he pushed off from 49ers defensive back Eric Wright to get open. I watched the play several times because it reminded me so much of Darrell Jackson’s offensive pass interference push off in the end zone when Seattle played the Steelers in the 2006 Super Bowl following the 2005 season. Like Jackson, while I suppose you could say that Tate did push off, it was such a slight push as to have been inconsequential to the play. (Tate would have made the catch anyway, as would have Jackson–for a TD–in that Super Bowl.) As slight as Tate’s push was, the effect of the penalty was devastating. Instead of a 1st down in 49ers territory Seattle ended up with a 3rd and 15 from their own 26; again, the loss of the gain plus the penalty yards amounted to a 25 yard loss for the Hawks, a penalty far worse than 10 yards for offensive pass interference. On that subsequent 3rd down play Wilson was sacked for a 9 yard loss, forcing a punt that was blocked, thus leading to a 49ers field goal and a 6-0 lead.
- San Francisco had the ball with 2 minutes and 58 seconds left in the 2nd quarter with a 2nd down and 8 yards to go from their 30 yard line. A few moments earlier the Seahawks had scored their second TD of the quarter on a beautiful Russell Wilson pass to rookie tight end Luke Wilson to take the lead in the game 14-9. On the 2nd down play Kaepernick threw incomplete to Michael Crabtree near the left sideline about 25 yards down field. Hawks cornerback Byron Maxwell was flagged for defensive holding on the play, thus giving San Francisco a vital first down. From there the 49ers drove down the field and scored the go-ahead touchdown right before the half for a 16-14 lead. Replays showed that Maxwell was grabbing and holding Crabtree for at least half the time he was running his route.
- With 2 minutes and 10 seconds left in the 3rd quarter and trailing 16-14 the Seahawks had the ball with a 1st and 10 at their own 38 yard line. On the 1st down play Russell Wilson handed off to Marshawn Lynch who broke around the 49ers left side all the way to the San Francisco 42 yard line, a gain of 20 yards. On the play Hawks fullback Michael Robinson was flagged for a face mask penalty of 15 yards. Instead of a 1st and 10 on the San Francisco 42 the Hawks had a 1st and 25 at their own 23 yard line—a staggering 35 yard negative change in field position!
It is hard to estimate what these penalties cost Seattle in terms of points or gave to the 49ers in terms of points, but it is likely that Seattle would have at least had 7 more and San Francisco 3 less. That 10 point swing would have rendered Gore’s run, had it occurred, moot, and Seattle would have easily won the game.
Now, all of this is a little bit “shoulda, coulda, woulda” and that I admit. The 49ers had some penalties too and I did not evaluate the effect of theirs. But the effect of just these 4 was devastating to the Seahawks in that close game at Candlestick. They don’t commit them and they win, and I believe it’s that simple.
Which brings us back to the present and the big game coming up this Sunday. Seattle simply must, must and I emphasize MUST, play smart and not commit stupid penalties. The Seahawks are aggressive and one of the most penalized teams in the league, that I know. That aggressiveness is part of what makes them great. Somehow, without compromising their style, they must avoid the penalties that wipe out big gains or that wipe out great defensive plays and situations.
If the Seahawks accomplish this they will send the 49ers packing and punch their ticket to the Super Bowl.
And we “Twelves” deserve that, don’t you think?
Copyright © 2013
By Mark Arnold
All Rights Reserved