I’ve received some flak for thrice posting lists of “11” during the lead-up to the biggest game the Seahawks have played in Seattle since hosting the Carolina Panthers in 2005 with an XL trip to Detroit on the line. Okay, okay, yes in hindsight I should have been posting lists of 12.
But now it’s the weekend, the game is tomorrow and I know all you 12’s out there are ready to burst with excitement. To improve your viewing pleasure tomorrow, I wanted to prepare you with another list, the 12 things to watch for on Sunday. The team that excels in the most categories of these 12 will most likely win the game.
Open field tackling
Naturally, this is going to be a very physical game with the potential for a lot of big hits and gang tackles. If the Hawks want to win, they can’t afford to miss tackles in the open field. If Brandon Mebane gets into the backfield and doesn’t bring Frank Gore down immediately, that’s the not end of the world. But if LaMichael James sneaks out of the backfield and catches a screen pass, the defense has to tackle James at the first opportunity.
With the noise level at CenturyLink, the ability for the San Fran offense and the Seahawk defense to call pre-snap audibles, and avoid pre-snap penalties, is going to be very important. Seattle’s defense is used to this noise and should know how to effectively change plays using hand signals. San Fran, on the other hand, better come up with a way to effectively change the play at the line of scrimmage or they’re SOL.
Near the end of the San Fran – Green Bay game two weeks ago, Green Bay brought a corner blitz on 3rd and long and when Kaepernick pump-faked, the defender left his feet, was blocked toward the pocket, broke contain and Kaepernick escaped the pocket to his left for a first down, essentially sealing the victory. In this contest, neither team can afford to let the quarterbacks outside the pocket and defenders NEED to keep contain when they are rushing the quarterback.
Third down conversions
During the last two games against San Fran at home, the Seahawks converted 16 of 29 (55%) third downs to San Fran’s 6 of 23 (26%). On the road , Seattle has converted just 9 of 25 (36%) third downs to San Fran’s 8 of 24 (33%). It’s clear that on third downs Seattle has to convert on offense and hold on defense to win
Points off turnovers
During the regular season, the Seahawks forced a turnover on an astounding 20% of drives, were +20 in turnover differential and scored 115 points off turnovers – allowing only 33. San Fran, was only +12, scored 121 points off turnovers and allowed 37. Simply getting a turnover isn’t enough in this game, scoring after a turnover is imperative.
It’s often said that there is holding on every play. Recently it’s been said the Legion of Boom commits a penalty on every play. At the end of the day, I think flags thrown for holding in the backfield will be far more influential than flags thrown for holding in the secondary.
Game Changing Plays
Sadly, the Seahawks once again take the field without Percy Harvin, preventing one of the league’s best game-changing players from influencing the outcome of this game. Who then, on either side, will step up and make the first Big Play. I’m talking about a kick return for a touchdown, a 70-yard catch-and-run or a pick-six. Whichever team has more Big Plays wins the game.
It’s no surprise that San Fran and Seattle love to run, they rank 3-4 in the league, respectively, in rushing yards per game. Both quarterbacks are known for the read option and their abilities outside the pocket. That being said, it’s going to be important for both teams to use the run to set up the pass and there’s no better way to do that than effective play action fakes.
The Seahawks averaged only 21.2 yards per kickoff return but 11.1 per punt return; they allowed 24 and 3.8 respectively. Meanwhile, the Niners averaged 22.7 yards and 8.9 yards per kick and punt return, allowing 24.6 and 8.3. The Seahawks need to win the field position game both offensively and defensively to win.
In order to win the field position battle, the Seahawks need a strong game from punter Jon Ryan. Ryan has been one of the best in the league the past two seasons limiting return yardage and avoiding touchbacks. Meanwhile, Steven to-the-Hauschka was near-perfect this season, making 33 of 35 field goals with only one true miss. Phil Dawson made 32 of 36 but is already 6-for-6 in the postseason and kicked four field goals when these teams last met.
I separated this from audibles because it involves more than just pre-snap reads. During a game with this much on the line, regardless of fan noise, Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh are going to be taking in a lot of information from coaches, officials and players and will need to communicate well with others in order staying focused, operate within the game plan and avoid costly mental errors.
Is it Sunday yet? #GoHawks