What We Leaned In Week 2: Niners Sleepless In Seattle
The 49ers-Seahawks turned into a snoozer on Sunday night, I myself almost fell asleep nearing the end after the lengthy weather delay. Although the football wasn’t inspiring, there were some notable takeaways for the Niners. There should be one comment made about the Seahawks really quickly, though. They are undeniably the toughest team to play on the road. If you count last year’s “Fail Mary” as a win, the Seahawks haven’t lost at home since December of 2011 to the 49ers. The combination of defensive intensity and crowd noise made the Niners’ offense look like a polar opposite of what they showed against Green Bay. If they go 8-0 at home, they may just need to go 4-4 or 5-3 to lock up home-field advantage in an incredibly competitive NFC. That’s why the Seahawks have to be a favorite to reach MetLife Stadium in February. Alright, let’s get on to the 49ers.
Simply put, the Niners’ offense was anemic. The offensive line, which created huge holes for Frank Gore last season, fell on its face for the second consecutive week. Seattle’s fearsome front split the gaps and disrupted the running game all night. Joe Staley, Mike Iupati, Anthony Davis; all of them were far from their best. Of course, it’s not time to panic yet. The 49ers draw a very weak Colts run defense this Sunday. Look for Gore and the offensive line to get back on track at home against Indianapolis. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman could start to get more inventive with his play calling. Roman is known as a creative genius when it comes to play design and scheme. It was his inventiveness when Colin Kaepernick took over for Alex Smith that made the running game even more potent, pairing his new quarterback’s laser arm with the power running game. I expect Roman to get back to basics with his power run game early and often against Indy. Gore should easily see 20-plus carries, and even Kendall Hunter will be mixed in for good measure.
Colin Kaepernick’s two worst games of his career have been in Seattle on Sunday night. It’s a troubling trend, but it’s clear he’s not quite ready to be anointed the greatest quarterback of all-time. Yet. Okay, I jest, but Kaepernick didn't look at all comfortable against a somewhat muzzled Seattle pass-rush. Without the suspended Bruce Irvin and recovering Chris Clemons, Seattle sent Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett after Kaepernick all night. Even when Kap was afforded the time, he just didn’t look confident enough to sling the ball down the field. On multiple occasions, Kyle Williams broke free from Walter Thurmond deep, but the trigger wasn't pulled.
Additionally, Richard Sherman was on Anquan Boldin. While the veteran receiver is smart and savvy enough to get open against most cornerbacks, his separation skills are next to nothing at this point in his career. Sherman handled him with ease. Against elite cover corners, Boldin will always struggle. By the end of the night, the Niners’ offense primarily moved the ball with Kap’s legs. That may be the silver lining to the tough loss. We all knew his long, loping stride could create problems for defenses, but when the defense is playing man coverage, and the protection breaks down, Kap should be encouraged to tuck the ball and go. Tony Romo and Ben Roethlisberger have mastered the buying time and finding a receiver downfield routine, and I think that will come with Kaepernick — why not give him free reign to pick up yards on the ground? Provided he beats the linebacker to the edge, he’ll make four strides and gain 15 yards easy. Expect the Niners to get back to basics on offense over the next few weeks, emphasizing the run and using Kap’s arm for intermediate and deep plays. However, when the 49ers struggle to move the ball, we’ll see how and if the game plan changes.
The 49ers’ defense didn’t have as bad a game as the offense. For the most part, they shut down Marshawn Lynch early in the game. Starting nose tackle Ian Williams left early, but Glenn Dorsey came in and didn’t completely embarrass himself. Lynch’s powerful, hard-as-nails running style just wore down the defense throughout the game. After his Week 1 struggles against a stout Panthers front, there were some who expressed concern about Lynch, saying Christine Michael was waiting in the wings for the Seahawks. However, there is no problem with “Beast Mode.” Even against San Fran’s stout front, Lynch has had sustained success over the past few seasons.
The loss of Ian Williams shouldn’t have too much of an effect on the Niners. Although he was the starting nose tackle, he wouldn’t have seen the field with most teams forcing Vic Fangio to use his nickel package. Dorsey will slide in and play nose tackle with the first-team defense. The 49ers’ depth on the defensive line is certain to be tested over the coming weeks. Rookies Quinton Dial and Tank Carradine won’t be eligible to return until Week 7, and even then, neither seemed very close to practicing before they went on the Non-Football Injury List. Although the 49ers wanted to rotate their defensive linemen this season, it now looks like Ray McDonald and Justin Smith will receive all the snaps they can handle. Tony Jerod-Eddie, a game-day scratch through two weeks, will likely be active and see a few snaps against the Colts.
In the passing game, the 49ers gave Russell Wilson problems. Aldon Smith continues to rampage through the league. While we can go on and on about Justin Smith’s role in his teammates’ mastery of the sack game, it’s undeniable that the younger Smith is an absolute terror on the edge. His size, speed, length and power are overwhelming for just about any left tackle. Although Russell Okung left the game early, Smith’s 37 sacks in 34 career games is a mind-boggling figure. He’ll face-off against Indianapolis’ Anthony Castonzo, who has struggled through the first few seasons of his career. Sunday’s game may turn on that matchup. Since we don’t know how Trent Richardson will be used after just two days with the team, if the Smith brothers can get to Andrew Luck, it could be a long day for the Colts.
The Niners’ backend left plenty to be desired against the Seahawks. Nnamdi Asomugha wasn’t targeted as often as he was in Week 1, but he still struggled in coverage. He also missed three tackles, and has to be worrying the coaching staff. Similar to Carradine and Dial, defensive back Eric Wright isn't available to return to the team until Week 7. Even then, nobody knows what he’ll be able to offer the team? Nnamdi should continue to be the starter in all nickel packages, but how long until we see Tramaine Brock? Eric Reid left the game with a concussion and backup Craig Dahl was immediately exposed for what he is. He just simply is not very good in coverage. Reid has returned to practice, so he concussion may be closer to Andre Johnson’s than Eddie Lacy’s. He’s still probably questionable for Sunday's game, but with Reid’s hard-hitting style, it might be best to hold him out for the week. The Niners will need him down the line.