MMQB: San Francisco 20, Seattle 14

MMQB: San Francisco 20, Seattle 14

This game had "trap" written all over it. The Seahawks would be traveling to San Francisco, and few Seahawks teams have traveled well. The Seahawks started a Shaun Alexander who wasn't 100%. The 49ers, while not a consistently high-performing team, were known to pull off an upset win occasionally.

The 49ers’ offense relied upon a tough, inside running back, the kind that a Marcus-Tubbs-less Seahawks team struggles with. Most foreboding of all was the way the 49ers had played the Seahawks the last time the teams played in San Francisco, where the Seahawks barely held on to a 27-25 victory. So it was only a mild shock when the 49ers beat the Seahawks, 20-14. The momentum generated by essentially eliminating the Rams from the divisional race was destroyed, as suddenly the team must keep an eye on how the 49ers play for the remainder of the season.

San Francisco 49ers 20, Seattle Seahawks 14
November 19, 2006
Monster Park, San Francisco, CA

Play of the Game: Seneca Wallace’s third and final interception. After a befuddling play call by Head Coach Mike Holmgren on 4th and 1 gave San Francisco the ball with 1:53 left, MLB Lofa Tatupu made an excellent play, stripping RB Frank Gore of the ball and giving Seattle possession with enough time to piece together a drive. On the very next play, Wallace threw the ball right to the pleasantly surprised Walt Harris, with no Seahawk in sight, making it the third change-in-possession in as many plays. By the time Seattle was able to get back out on offense, only a miracle could have won the game.

Bringing Their “A” Game: WR Darrell Jackson, 4 receptions, 77 yards, and a touchdown... WR Deion Branch, 7 receptions, 113 yards, and a touchdown... P Ryan Plackemeier, who hasn’t been here for a couple of games, averaged 50.2 yards on 5 punts... MLB Lofa Tatupu, who had ten tackles and a very important forced fumble to give Seattle a small chance… CB Marcus Trufant, who didn’t get burned at all in coverage and had a couple of key tackles…

The Bad and the Ugly: The entire Seahawks defense was awful. Missed tackles occurred with more frequency than successful tackles… RB Frank Gore ran for 212 yards on 24 carries – that’s an 8.8 average… The defense couldn’t stop screen passes; Seattle came totally unprepared on how to handle the screen… The interior defensive line was abused all day in the running game… Seattle got surprisingly little pressure on QB Alex Smith, who isn’t known for making great decisions while being hit… QB Seneca Wallace had the worst game of his short career, throwing 3 interceptions, none of which should have been thrown… The offensive line, while only allowing Wallace to be sacked twice, also opened up almost no lanes for RB Shaun Alexander, and even the steady Walter Jones had a couple of poor plays. The Ugly: SS Jordan Babineaux’s tackling would qualify as ugly, but that’d imply he actually tackled Frank Gore, when in reality Gore abused Babineaux all day long.

Referee Report Card: Larry Nemmers and his crew were surprisingly quiet. Seattle definitely deserved every penalty called on them, the defense in particular played horribly undisciplined. When the refs reviewed Frank Gore’s near touchdown it looked like Gore had made it, and the audience certainly saw no proof he didn’t make it, but the ruling of a touchdown was overturned and San Francisco instead kicked a field goal. Given how I have no real complaints… A

Offense: The offense would only go as far as Seneca Wallace could take them, and unfortunately that was nowhere. After having performed fairly well in his first three starts – certainly better than most Seahawk fans expected – Wallace was absolutely putrid today. He wasn’t given much help in the running game, but he turned the ball over three times on Sunday, and that is rarely going to lead to wins. In Wallace’s defense, he had a couple of nice runs, and he evaded pressure well. Wallace was able to pick up yardage in chunks, and had two touchdown passes, but the stupid interceptions he threw negated anything positive he accomplished, and put Seattle in an awful position.

The first interception was just a deep ball chucked into triple coverage. What makes that pass even more questionable is that 6’7 TE Jerramy Stevens was running a seam pattern and was between the linebacker and the safety. Stevens, even with his drop problems, would have been a far safer target for Wallace. The 2nd interception was at least man coverage, but Branch obviously didn’t have separation on the play. Wallace had good protection on the play and didn’t need to force a throw. The last interception was simply mind-boggling. There wasn’t a Seahawk with 10 square yards of the throw, and Walt Harris had no choice but to catch the ball… More disturbing than the interceptions are the role it’ll have on Wallace’s confidence. He has, barring a catastrophe, thrown his last pass of the season – will he be able to shake off a dreadful performance, or will he be left with nothing but time to brood over his mistakes?

Wallace probably would have had a better game – and the outcome might have been different – if the Seahawks offensive line had opened any holes up for Shaun Alexander. While Alexander was clearly in pain and wasn’t running as smoothly as usual, he was able to pick up some yardage on the few occasions that the hole presented itself. What is worrisome is that Alexander still appears hobbled – and an injured Alexander doesn’t find the cutback lanes, clearly a problem for a player who has built his career on lethal cutbacks. In the end, this was much like Morris’ performance early in the season, the offensive line was doing nothing, but the runner didn’t create anything on his own, either. The 49ers beat the Seahawks in the trenches, on both sides of the ball, and that was key to why the 49ers were able to run the ball (with impunity) and Seattle wasn’t (at all).

Helping out Alexander, but not Wallace, was TE Jerramy Stevens. It was yet another frustrating game for Stevens, who has had a tough year. Stevens dropped one key pass, then, after finding the hole in zone coverage, left the ball exposed and fumbled it right to S Keith Lewis. Stevens hasn’t been mentioned much in previous MMQBs, largely because a certain crazed writer believes he is under appreciated and the target of unfair criticism, but Stevens has played poorly the entire season… At least in the passing game. For the third consecutive week, Stevens has been absolutely money in his run blocking. Not sure what the difference is, but for a guy who isn’t suppose to be a strong blocker he has done a great job of occupying defensive ends and linebackers.

Not doing a good job of blocking anyone was LT Walter Jones. Jones, who is easily the best tackle in the game, struggled this week. He could be charged with two sacks, though Wallace held onto the ball too long on one sack and could’ve avoided the rush on another. Jones wasn’t much better against the run. When Mike Holmgren called for a run on 4th and 1 (close to 4th and 2), it was Jones who let his man blow past him and hit Alexander for a loss. Everything that could have gone wrong seemed to have gone wrong this game, so it’s only fitting that even the superhuman Walter Jones struggled. Unlike running game woes and Seneca’s befuddling interceptions, Seahawk fans should not worry about the state of Jones, who will probably return to his dominating self against the Green Bay Packers.

There are some positives for the offense, mainly the play of WRs Deion Branch and Darrell Jackson. Both caught long touchdown passes, and both caught several first downs. Jackson has to be making a reputation as one of the best deep threats in the game, and he made a great touchdown reception on a great throw, giving him eight receiving touchdowns for the year, not bad for a receiver that half the fans wanted to cut before the season started. Branch continues to make President Tim Ruskell look like a genius, and the scary thing is that Branch is still finding his place on the team. When Jackson and Branch start catching balls from QB Matt Hasselbeck, their already impressive numbers will improve, just from Hasselbeck’s savvy and touch.

Defense: What a two-faced defense. In the first half, the defense couldn’t have stopped a DII football team. San Francisco, not known as a powerhouse offense, ran the ball without resistance, and the passing game was effective as well. While Frank Gore is a strong runner with good speed, he’s not a 200yard performer like Seattle made him. Some of the reason may have been pure exhaustion – the defense was on the field 20 minutes in the first half, due to the turnovers given by the Seattle offense – but more was just sloppy play. Missed tackles were killer to the team, especially in the secondary, as CB Kelly Herndon and SS Jordan Babineaux missed several easy tackle opportunities. On the plus side, FS Ken Hamlin made 12 tackles – that’s a mixed blessing, since you seldom win with a safety making so many tackles. CB Marcus Trufant was the smartest defender on the field and went for Gore’s feet, tripping him up on two occasions where he otherwise would have had long(er) runs.

Poor defensive line play was the reason that Gore made it into the secondary so often. The DT rotation, in particular, is to blame. Seattle has a lot of small, quick linebackers. Unlike the secondary, the linebackers had little trouble tackling Gore. But, because the interior line was so bad, the linebackers were busy engaging blockers who normally are picked up by the defensive line, meaning that there were fewer men available to bring Gore down before he exploded into the secondary. It wasn’t necessarily a poor game for the linebackers – they were put in a situation that made it very hard for them to even get a shot at Gore, just a poor day for the defensive line that the linebackers couldn’t fix.

And once Gore ran past the occupied linebackers, there were two people you could count on not to bring him down: Kelly Herndon and Jordan Babineaux. Herndon gets a bit of a pass, he’s a cornerback and anytime a cornerback is needed to bring down a running back, especially a good one like Gore, there is a problem. Jordan Babineaux may be better at cornerback, but he is the starting Strong Safety and doesn’t have that excuse. Gore beat Babineaux with jukes, by wiggling out of tackles, and even by bouncing off of Babineaux. It is time for Michael Boulware to return as a starter. Since Boulware was benched, Seattle has had trouble dealing with good running games (Kansas City, St. Louis, and now San Francisco), and has only improved a little against deep passes. Seattle will be facing a strong running game against Green Bay on November 27th, and the ability to consistently tackle is going to be vital to stopping the resurgent RB Ahman Green. Babineaux can’t do it, Boulware can.

As often as Marcus Trufant is picked on in this article, it is only fair for him to now receive some praise. For the third straight week, Trufant was not been burned deep, something that is a relief for all Seahawk fans. Trufant even made some good plays on the ball, which is something he hasn’t done very often. But on Sunday his greatest contribution came against the run, where he tackled Gore three times, all three times preventing huge plays from Gore. He tackled smarter than most of the defense, going for Gore’s feet instead of trying to overpower Gore – who is built like a bowling ball and hits with the force of one. Maybe, just maybe, Trufant has turned the corner.

Lastly, the MMQB would not be complete without a paragraph criticizing Defensive Coordinator John Marshall. Marshall had a fairly easy assignment today – the 49ers are not a bad offense, but they are not a dominating team either – and in the first half couldn’t even slow the 49ers. Without injured DT Marcus Tubbs, the defensive tackle rotation is very undersized, missing the bulk vital for stopping the inside run (especially when undersized DT Chuck Darby was matched up against super-strong LG Larry Allen), and Marshall couldn’t think of a way to fix that flaw. Seattle will be gashed inside all year if the interior line can’t get bigger, even if it means benching Darby on more running downs. More frustrating than the lack of size on the line, was the inability to stop the screen pass. San Francisco was able to do what Seattle hasn’t done in four years, run a successful screen pass, which they did again and again and again. The only time a screen pass should work is against heavy blitzes, but even against the basic four-man rush the screen worked to perfection.

Special Teams: Something has changed in this unit. No longer are special teams the bane of the Seahawks’ existence (that’d be the defense). Instead, the special teams are actually quite good. Josh Scobey is unexciting but acceptable, Nate Burleson is very exciting and an actual asset, Ryan Plackemeier is a devastating field-position weapon (first time a punter has even been called devastating), and between game winning kicks, Josh Brown cures cancer. Even the coverage units have been dominating, especially Lance Laury, who had two great tackles against the 49ers. It pains me to say it, but ST Coordinator Bob Casullo looks like he’ll have his job next year.

Summary: This was a tough loss to swallow. Sure, some things I don’t expect to see again. Seneca will get to go back to holding the clipboard, Shaun Alexander will eventually get healthy, Walter Jones will return to his dominating self, and Matt Hasselbeck will hopefully light up the scoreboard. But this team isn’t quite gelling. This Seahawks team is even streakier than the 2004 Seahawks, who at least could keep their consistency throughout a game (sometimes). These Seahawks will dominate half a game, and play like a High School JV team the other half. The intensity is there throughout; Tim Ruskell has found guys who don’t quit.

The real question is, where can we find 320-pound DTs who don’t quit?


Kyle Rota is our MMQB, and is also known as "Rotak" on our message boards. You can e-mail him here.

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