MMQB: Seahawks 31, 49ers 6

MMQB: Seahawks 31, 49ers 6

Matt Hasselbeck went 18-for-23 for 170 yards with 3 total touchdowns (2 passing, 1 rushing) in the Seattle Seahawks 31-6 win over the San Francisco 49ers

Seattle Seahawks 31, San Francisco 49ers 6
Sunday, September 12, 2010
Qwest Field
Seattle, Washington


Play of the Day: On 3rd-and-8 from his own 22-yard line, 49ers quarterback Alex Smith's pass intended for Michael Crabtree fell right into the arms of Seahawks cornerback Marcus Trufant, who returned it 32 yards for a touchdown that gave Seattle a 21-6 lead and essentially sealed the win.

Saw Some Positive Things Out There

Seattle's third-down defense was outstanding on Sunday, limiting the 49ers to just one conversion on 15 attempts (6%). The 49ers did attempt third fourth-down conversions, and were successful twice, but the defense kept the 49ers out of the end-zone, and the third-down defense was exceptional the final three quarters.

Matt Hasselbeck got off to a disastrous start, throwing an interception on his first pass attempt of the season. Afterwards, Hasselbeck was 18-of-22 for 170 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Two of his four incompletions were flat-out drops by Mike Williams, who led the ‘Hawks with four receptions for 64 yards.

The Seahawks bigger defensive front, and the return of Lofa Tatupu, held Frank Gore to just 38 yards on 17 attempts. Tatupu had a team-high 8 tackles, and Colin Cole, Red Bryant, and Earl Thomas made some big plays on run defense.

All of the talk emanating out of VMAC that Trufant was back to his Pro Bowl form was on display Sunday. Trufant had the pick-six, but also forced Josh Morgan out of bounds in the end zone, and had a huge hit on Crabtree in the second quarter, showing no ill-effects of a back injury that kept him out for nearly half of the 2009 season.

Offense

As noted above, the Seahawks offense got off to a terrible start, with Hasselbeck turning the ball over on the season's first play, which was followed by a three-and-out after beginning the drive near midfield.

After another three-and-out, the Seahawks got on track, thanks largely to a ticky-tack defensive holding call on Nate Clements on 3rd-and-4. Four plays later, Hasselbeck hit Williams, who abused Clements on an out-and-up route, for a 35-yard gain to the 49ers' one-yard line. Hasselbeck dove into the end zone for his first rushing touchdown since January 14, 2006. (Playoff win over Washington)

Seattle's defense got the ball back, with Jordan Babineaux snaring a third-down pass that caromed off Michael Crabtree, returning it 20 yards to the 49ers' 13-yard line. Hasselbeck hit second-year wide receiver Deon Butler in the corner of the north end zone to give the Seahawks the lead for good.

With the score 21-6, Hasselbeck threw the team on his right shoulder, completing 5-of-7 passes for 55 yards, capping the drive off with a nice back shoulder throw to Deion Branch for a 3-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 28-6.

Aside from Hasselbeck's run, the Seahawks' ground game spun its wheels for much of the game. Until Justin Forsett's 32-yard run on 3rd-and-1 in the 4th quarter, Seattle's running back-by-committee approach had 31 yards on 15 carries against the stout 49ers run defense. Forsett (7 carries, 43 yards) ended up the game's top-gainer on the ground, with Julius Jones (8-18) and Leon Washington (6-12) chipping in, as well.

Seattle's interim offensive line, playing without first-round left tackle Russell Okung, created few holes for either running back to get through. The ground game failed to gain much traction, even when the Seahawks, as expected, utilized two- and even a few three-tight end sets. Starting left guard Mike Gibson also missed the second half of the game, and was replaced by veteran Ben Hamilton.

Left tackle Tyler Polumbus, the consensus weak link on the offensive line, gave up one sack to Travis LaBoy in the 3rd quarter, but for the most part, Hasselbeck got rid of the ball quickly and wasn't put in harm's way too often. Pro Bowl inside linebacker Patrick Willis got a shot on him in the second half on a delayed blitz off the left side, but for the most part, the closest Hasselbeck came to contact was on his pair of scrambles.

Williams (4-64) was Hasselbeck's preferred target, with six passes thrown in his direction, followed by Carlson, who caught 3 of his 5 targets for 36 yards. Carlson made an outstanding one-handed catch on a 1st-and-20 play in the fourth quarter. Carlson was being held on the play, which drew a flag, but with the game well in hand, the Seahawks declined the penalty to reward Carlson for sacrificing his body to make the play.

Forsett and Branch caught three passes apiece, fullback Michael Robinson caught a pair of passes, with Butler, Cameron Morrah, and Ben Obomanu catching passes that went for either touchdowns or first downs.

Offensively, the Seahawks were flagged three times, including twice for holding. One (on Max Unger) was declined, but tight end Chris Baker cost the ‘Hawks 10 yards, with Carlson flagged for offensive pass interference that negated a 9-yard pass to Butler. The Seahawks were outgained and lost the time of possession battle, but thanks to a 45% third-down conversion rate (5-of-11), and 75% red-zone conversion rate, they're 1-0 in the game's most important statistic.

Defense

Seattle's bigger defensive front paid dividends, with the ‘Hawks bottling up their nemesis, Frank Gore, to the tune of 38 yards on 17 carries, and just 26 yards on 13 first-half carries. Seattle's littlest defender, first-round safety Earl Thomas, made his presence in the run defense felt with a solo tackle on Gore for a four-yard loss, and picking up assisted tackles on two runs that netted San Francisco one yard.

Gore's 10-yard run in the 3rd quarter and Delanie Walker's 10-yard run in the 1st quarter were the 49ers' longest runs on the day, neither qualifying for "Big Play" status.

Tatupu led the defense with 8 tackles, with Jordan Babineaux, who played extensively in Seattle's nickel and dime packages, adding 7 and Thomas adding six of his own. Up front, Cole (4), Red Bryant (3), and Junior Siavii clogged the running lanes.

Due to solid run defense, the Seahawks were able to put the 49ers into several 3rd-and-long situations. With the 12th Man in full roar, Seattle's pass rush was able to use their half-step advantage and put continuous pressure on Alex Smith. Bryant got a sack/forced fumble in the 2nd quarter, but Chris Clemons and Aaron Curry, the defensive ends in Seattle's nickel and dime packages, routinely hit Smith, making him uncomfortable in the pocket and forcing him into some ill-advised throws.

Bryant (1) and Curry (2) were flagged for 5-yard neutral-zone infractions on Sunday.

Clemons had zero sacks, and only three tackles, but put four hits on Smith, while Curry added three tackles and a pair of licks on the former first overall pick from Utah. Seventh-round defensive end/linebacker Dexter Davis, the 236th overall pick of the 2010 NFL Draft, beat 49ers right tackle Anthony Davis, the 11th overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, for his 1st NFL sack in the fourth quarter.

Seattle's secondary turned in a solid game, with Trufant's pick-six accompanied by perhaps an equally important force-out of 49ers wide receiver Josh Morgan that was initially ruled a touchdown before being overturned by replay. Much-maligned starting cornerback Kelly Jennings played well, posting five tackles and breaking up a slant to Crabtree. Babineaux blew up a screen to Gore in the fourth quarter to go along with his key 2nd quarter interception, while Thomas, Roy Lewis, and Walter Thurmond made no glaring errors in pass coverage. Veteran safety Lawyer MIlloy dropped an interception on an errant throw by Smith.

It wasn't always pretty, but the Seahawks' defense were solid on "money" downs, getting off the field on third down 94% of the time, and keeping the 49ers out of the end zone.

Special Teams

Olindo Mare was only called upon to attempt one field goal, which he put right down the middle. Four his six kickoffs went into the end zone, two for touchbacks. The four returnable kicks averaged less than 17 yards, with Babineaux, Thomas, Thurmond, and Matt McCoy making tackles on kick coverage units.

Jon Ryan punted five times for a net average of 36 yards. Ryan out-kicked his coverage twice, allowing 49ers punt returner Ted Ginn to have returns of 16 and 11 yards, affecting Ryan's performance. Robinson and Davis had tackles on punt cover units, with special teams captain Roy Lewis going for a big shot, but missing.

Leon Washington handled the kick returns in his Seahawks' debut, gaining 41 yards on his first returnable kickoff, setting the Seahawks up with excellent field position. Washington's next return would go just 17 yards due to the wind in the south end zone deadening the length of Joe Nedney's kick.

Forsett handled the punt returns, averaging 5.7 yards per return, with a long of 12 yards.

Notes: Golden Tate, Anthony McCoy, Russell Okung, Chester Pitts, Evan Dietrich-Smith, E.J. Wilson, Nate Ness, and Kennard Cox were inactive…Former Seahawks linebacker Chad Brown raised the 12th Man flag…Seattle sported an all-Seahawk blue look after wearing Seahawk blue jerseys with Seahawk navy blue pants at home during the pre-season…Pete Carroll is 1-for-1 on replay challenges, an area his successors struggled. Jim Mora was 0-for-7 in 2009, while Mike Holmgren was 17-of-52 from 2000-08…The Seahawks Leroy Hill's one-game suspension (substance abuse policy) ends on Monday.

Summary

Underdogs at home to the prohibitive favorites in the division, the Seahawks got off to as disastrous start as Pete Carroll could have imagined, only to rally, recover, and then blow the 49ers out with 31 unanswered points. Games like this are possible when you have a veteran quarterback like Hasselbeck, a creative offensive coordinator like Jeremy Bates, and some fast & physical players on defense with coaches (Carroll/Gus Bradley) who aren't looking for reasons to restrict their development.

Seattle will face tougher teams and better quarterbacks than the 49ers and Alex Smith, but the Seahawks have sent the message that they shouldn't be counted out in the NFC West this season.

The next challenge for Pete Carroll and his "Win Forever" charges is to see if that applies on the road. Seattle will get their chance against next Sunday against the 0-1 Denver Broncos at Invesco Field.

In addition to writing for NorthwestFootball.net, Brian McIntyre blogs daily at Mac's Football Blog. You can follow Brian on Twitter, and if you'd like to e-mail him, you can always do so by clicking here.

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