The Seahawks’ defense is allowing an NFL-low 284.5 yards per game. You know all about Richard Sherman & Co., now meet the man calling all the shots in his first year on the job ... plus, a reality check for Browns OC Norv Turner, the one-on-one battle to watch and five bold predictions for Week 14
The 49ers have lost two straight games to the Seahawks heading into Sunday’s NFC West showdown by a combined score of 71-22, but both losses were in Seattle, where the Seahawks play extraordinarily well. The games got out of hand quickly, and the 49ers never got into their physical style of offense.
The 49ers, who beat the Seahawks in their first meeting last season by rushing 32 times for 175 yards, have won seven of their last nine games after the offense returned to a more run-first attack. That is very much on the mind of Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who watched his unit give up over 200 yards (5.4 per carry) to the Rams and Bucs in late October/early November. The Seahawks have given up an average of 80 yards on the ground in their three games since. And even though they were all lopsided affairs, Quinn thinks the Seahawks have sured things up with the run defense.
“It starts with ourselves being as physical as we can be,” Quinn told The MMQB this week. “I think we started playing maybe a little bit better in the Atlanta game (three weeks ago) on. We kind of came back and said, ‘We have to get back to our own physical style of play.’ We went through a couple of games where we didn’t have the second, third or fourth guy coming in to help make the tackle. Sometimes there was just one guy making the tackle. It wasn’t so much a schematic change during that time ... we kind of went back to hard ball, tackling, the intensity.”
Quinn knows that despite the Seahawks’ having won seven straight to wrap up a playoff berth (and in short order, home-field advantage), the 49ers are going to be a very stiff challenge for his defense, which ranks second in points and first in just about everything else not related to stopping the run, especially now that San Francisco has gotten Michael Crabtree back to complement Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis. “With all their firepower,” he says, “I know we have a challenge.”
Quinn will be in the spotlight as the Seahawks’ make their stretch-run and in the playoffs. The 43-year-old got the keys to the Ferrari this season after former defensive coordinator Gus Bradley left to coach of the Jaguars. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll immediately tapped Quinn, a former Seattle assistant who had just finished his second season coordinating the University of Florida’s defense for Will Muschamp.
“I was really fortunate,” Quinn said. “Had been a defensive line coach for a long time, loved it and had a blast. I kind of wanted, in the back of my mind, to take a bigger role to try and coordinate. Will gave me a shot. Although I was having a blast here, I felt I should take that chance. I thought eventually I’d be back to coach in the NFL, but to have it all work out where I was fired up for Gus to get a job and for them to reach out to me? I was jacked and more fired up to back.”
Quinn has been a rising coaching prospect for some time, and should be at the forefront of coaching vacancies on the college and pro level after this season. One thing going for Quinn is his varied history. He started out with Steve Mariucci and the 49ers, then was on Nick Saban’s staff with the Dolphins before moving to Eric Mangini and the Jets. Muschamp was a Saban aide back to their LSU days, and Quinn and Muschamp were both on Saban’s defensive staff in Miami.
“I learned a lot from Mooch with the energy that he brought every day and just kind of the whole organization at the time. Coach (Bill) Walsh was still there and Terry Donahue was the general manager, so I had these types of guys that were really influential on me. It was an awesome place to start. Saw the West Coast offense way of practicing, then I was in similar systems that were rooted in what Bill Belichick does with Nick and Eric. And to come here and kind of get exposure to Coach Carroll’s philosophy and how we do things, I’ve learned that there are a lot of different ways to be successful. The one thing I have learned, and you can really feel it, is if it’s the same messaging and phrasing every day, that consistency shows up in players.”
Quinn’s name will get hotter the longer the Seahawks last in the postseason, without question. How the Seahawks fare against the 49ers’ power running game this weekend will be a big indicator for their long-term prospects.
* * *
On Thursday, Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner, for the second time this year, made passing reference to my observations about receiver Josh Gordon from a June mini-camp visit.
“That’s why I don’t pay attention to all the people that come in here for one or two days of practice,’’ said Turner, according to MaryKay Cabot of the Plain Dealer. “They sat here in August and complained that the guy doesn’t work hard, that he doesn’t run routes, he doesn’t finish. And there were four minutes left in the (Jaguars) game. He had already caught nine balls for 150 yards. I didn’t see him not run a route full speed, and he goes 95 yards and pulls away from two pretty fast guys.’’
Maybe Turner should pay more attention, considering I said then that Brian Hoyer was the Browns’ best quarterback. Maybe they’d be a little better than 4-8 with the 28th-ranked offense.
Since I’m not sure Turner is exactly up on my Twitter account (it was June and not August), let’s recap exactly what I said:
- “There’s no question Josh Gordon is the most talented WR the Browns have and there’s a lot to like there, but I’m not a fan.”
- “IMO, Gordon won’t reach his full potential until he gets it. Greg Little might not be as talented, but he has urgency and fun.”
- “Maybe I’m spoiled from covering GB & NE, but I’m used to seeing all-out hustle and urgency. Gordon lacks that. Loafs a lot.”
Those observations had nothing to do with how Gordon plays in games, and I absolutely stand by them. It only had to do with practice, mostly routes on air, when Gordon would drop a pass or miss a route and then walk—yes, walk—after the ball, holding up the drill. This is something I had never seen before in covering practices coached by Dave Wannstedt, Nick Saban, Mike McCarthy or Bill Belichick, (along with covering other practices as a national writer). Maybe Turner’s OK with that stuff, which would probably help to explain his 114-122-1 career record as a head coach, but most aren’t.
I don’t even think the fact that Gordon can loaf at practice is even up for debate. When I was in Berea, I talked to about a dozen members of the organization, from front office people to coaches to several players. I asked each of them about Gordon. None of them threw water on my observation. In fact, the phrase I heard three times was, “The coaches are having a lot of troubling getting to him.”
That also jives with what one of Gordon’s former teammates said about him a month later.
“I’m confident that anybody can do it if they want to. And for Josh, it’s got to be a want-to from him,” tight end Ben Watson told Bull & Fox on 92.3 FM. “Nobody can do it for him. When he wants to, and I’m assuming he already has, and he’s sure he wants to clean it up and wants it to be about football, the sky is the limit for him to. This is a guy who, when he first got to Cleveland, we had to get on him every to sprint five yards after he caught the ball. He just didn’t know. Fast forward to the end of the year, he was coming around. I believe that he can turn it around and he can have a successful year.”
No one has ever questioned Gordon’s physical gifts. When I first saw him on that practice field, I was taken aback by his size and athletic ability. But everyone has questioned whether he would ever realize those gifts. With the first-ever back-to-back 200-yard receiving games in NFL history, it looks like Turner and his son Scott, who coaches the wide receivers, have found the right buttons to push with Gordon. Congratulations to them. That’s what good coaches do. It’s another example of why Turner is much better as a coordinator than he is as a head coach. But don’t sit there six months after the fact and act like Gordon has been practicing like Jerry Rice since he arrived in Cleveland. But I understand, when you’ve lost six of your last seven games, it can be frustrating. Turner decided to blow off a little steam. Maybe now he can sympathize with Chargers fans.
GET YOUR POPCORN READY
The one-on-one battle to watch closely in Week 14:
Broncos RG Louis Vasquez vs. Titans DT Jurrell Casey
The Broncos continue to be, by far, the best pass-blocking unit in our Pressure Points rankings. The ability for Peyton Manning to get rid of the ball quickly definitely factors into that, but the Broncos have also received great play from center Manny Ramirez and Vasquez.
According to Pro Football Focus, Vasquez hasn’t allowed a sack or quarterback hit this season (and just seven hurries). He’ll get a terrific test going against Casey, who has had a terrific season. He’s tied for eighth among interior rushers in our ratings, with three solo sacks, five assisted sacks, one easy sack, two sack assists, one drawn hold, 28 hurries and seven quarterback hits.
This is a heavyweight battle that will be worth the money.
Last week’s verdict:
Rams DE Robert Quinn vs. 49ers LT Joe Staley
Unfortunately, this battle never got off the ground because Staley sprained an MCL after just seven plays. However, Quinn was still held sackless for just the second time in seven games, and tallied just three hurries. In any event, advantage 49ers.
FIVE BOLD PREDICTIONS FOR WEEK 14
1. If the Saints play Cam Newton like they did Russell Wilson, they will lose. New Orleans defensive coordinator Rob Ryan made the curious decision to play a lot of man-to-man against the Seahawks last Monday, and Wilson burned them with a team-leading 47 rushing yards on eight carries, in addition to his stellar 22 of 30 passing for 310 yards and three touchdowns. You have to take Newton’s legs away from him because he’s still not a great pocket passer. If the Saints play man-to-man, Newton is going to make plays with his legs, and the Panthers will roll to their ninth straight win.
2. We’ll know whether or not to pay attention to the Colts in the postseason. Thanks to the atrocious AFC South, Indianapolis can just about sleepwalk into the playoffs. Can the Colts be a factor once the postseason starts? Since Reggie Wayne’s season-ending ACL injury, it hasn’t seemed likely. Quarterback Andrew Luck continues to take a pounding as the offense has been limited. But if the Colts can play tough against the 8-4 Bengals, you might not want to count them out quite yet.
3. The 49ers will regain their confidence against the Seahawks. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see them beat the Seahawks, especially since the game isn’t in Seattle, where opponents can’t even hear themselves think. The home field will give San Francisco a much-needed esteem boost, but in the long run, the playoff road will still run through Seattle, where the 49ers have lost four of the last five. Three of their last four losses there have been by a combined score of 102-28.
4. Josh Gordon won’t go for 200 yards this week. (Sorry, Norv!) There is no way Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who hates giving up big plays more than anything, will allow Gordon to put up the kind of numbers that he did against the Jaguars and Steelers. It simply won’t happen.
5. The Soldier Field scoreboard might explode on Monday night.