Three Thoughts: Seahawks' defense shines again in crucial win over 49ers
A week ago at this time, the Seahawks were looking down the barrel of a season that was falling away from them. They were 6-4, losers of three of their last six games, and locker room discord had split a team that was most certainly on the same page all the way through last season's Super Bowl run.
Then, there was a series of team meetings sparked by safety Earl Thomas' donnybrook with a couple of larger players who Thomas didn't think were taking things seriously enough. With a new united sense of purpose, the Seahawks welcomed the 9-1 Arizona Cardinals to CenturyLink Field last Sunday and beat them into submission, 19-3.
And then, on Thanksgiving night, Seattle traveled down to Santa Clara to continue the NFL's most compelling current rivalry and made this game a lot less close than it had been in most recent iterations. In dominating the 49ers by that same 19-3 margin, the Seahawks gave up just 164 total yards. They did this after allowing 204 yards to the Cardinals, and all of a sudden the Seahawks appear to be the team nobody wants to face. Especially on defense.
"It started right at the beginning of the week, the topics that we’re on, and we worked our way through it," Seattle head coach Pete Carroll said Monday about his team's re-focus. "The players really contributed well to what we needed to get to and they had a huge role in getting the messaging right. We were just fine-tuning. All throughout the season, you always have these opportunities to go one way or the other and to grow hopefully in the right direction and we made a real nice shift and took a nice step forward to getting to where we want to get.
"Each week brings new challenges and we have to make sure that we bring our game again and if we do that, we will give ourselves a chance to finish this thing well," Carroll continued.
No question about that, as the Seahawks beat the 49ers for the first time in the Bay Area in the Carroll era. On offense and defense, Seattle had this one going away.
Three other thoughts from the game:
1. Russell Wilson continues to drive defenses nuts.
It's been an increased element in Seattle's offense this year that Wilson will take off on designed runs, and he was especially dangerous against the 49ers. One play in particular epitomized Wilson's ability to make a defense guess wrong no matter what it does. With 13:00 left in the first half, Wilson saw pressure and bailed out of the pocket to his left, only to turn and rampage through the middle of the field. Then, he hit tight end Tony Moeaki for a 63-yard pass play which he brought down to the San Francisco one-yard line. Seattle couldn't punch it in and had to settle for one of Steven Hauschka's four field goals, but as he has all season, Wilson set a defense on edge with his mobility and broke it apart.
Runs like this just added to San Francisco's defensive frustration.
(GIFs courtesy Bleacher Report)
2. Richard Sherman has his game back, to the annoyance of just about everybody.
Maybe Sherman, the loquacious cornerback who led the league with eight interceptions in 2013, should do a press conference skit with a cardboard cutout of receiver Doug Baldwin every week. This season, Sherman had just one pick through the season's first 12 games, but picked up two against Kaepernick and nearly had a third.
It was a serious and obvious reversal of fortune for a player who had struggled a bit to start the season. But the game against Kaepernick was no fluke: In his last four games before this one, Sherman had allowed just eight catches on 19 targets in 136 passing snaps, with that one interception, no touchdowns and an opponent quarterback rating of 36.0.
And after Sherman almost picked off a second pass in the second half, he started taunting the crowd at Levi's Stadium. It was par for the course with Sherman, but he was backing up his bravado this time with a defense that was definitely living up the Legion of Boom billing. The second pick, late in the fourth quarter, was just an addition to the clear statement that Sherman — and the Seattle defense — are all the way back to form.
3. Colin Kaepernick needs some accuracy work.
“He’s a great player. I don’t know how everybody else doesn’t see it that way. Great with a capital ‘G’ — at the highest level of great.”
That's what Jim Harbaugh said of Kaepernick after the 49ers beat the Washington Redskins last Sunday, as Kaepernick completed 20 of 29 passes for 256 yards, one touchdown and one interception against a defense that hasn't done much this season. Harbaugh has a gift for constructive exaggeration at times and this had to have been another example. Because as smart as Harbaugh is about the quarterback position, he has to know that in his fourth season and third as a starter, Kaepernick is still limited in several aspects. Yes, he can run like a demon and make every throw, but he has struggled with accuracy this season, completing just 61.7 percent of his passes through the season's first 12 games and just 28 percent (6-of-25) on passes of 20 or more yards in the air.
Things got worse against the Seahawks. Kaepernick missed pass after pass, and his timing and accurary were off over and over. Perhaps most distressingly, he was missing throws that were first reads. Even when he went to his second read (which isn't often, to be sure), things didn't get much better. Kaepernick finished the evening with 16 completions on 29 attempts for 121 yards and no touchdowns, and his passes to Sherman looked more accurate than the ones he threw to his own guys half the time. Kaepernick will need to turn this around if the 7-5 49ers have any hope of making the wild-card round of the playoffs, never mind contending for an NFC West division that looks just as competitive as it was in 2013.
"We've got to reboot, come back and win them all," Harbaugh said after the game.