Every week offers lessons and each game bringss up more questions. An attempt to sift through both the meaning and uncertainties of Sunday’s game between the Seahawks and 49ers.
Three things we learned
1. The scouting report on the Seahawks has changed.
Seattle’s approach the first half of the season was to keep the lid on its offense, let the defense do the heavy lifting and try to make a few plays in the second half to pull out the win. It’s not like Seattle is suddenly throwing the ball 40 times a game, but it has given Russell Wilson more freedom both to run with the football and scramble in the pocket to create time. The result is that after scoring 140 points in the first eight games combined, Seattle rang up 150 in the past three.
2. Seattle’s success can’t be attributed entirely to a cupcake diet.
Not impressed by the Seahawks’ 58-0 shutout of the Cardinals or their 50-17 victory against the Bills? Well how about now? The Seahawks held a double-digit lead throughout the final three quarters of their 42-13 victory. The Seahawks have won their last three games by a combined total of 150-30, scored two touchdowns on defense, two on special teams while allowing a total of three touchdowns to opponents.
3. Things are a little personal between the Seahawks and 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh.
It’s not just coach Pete Carroll, who has some history with the former Stanford coach. Cornerback Richard Sherman and receiver Doug Baldwin both played for him at Stanford, which means that on Sunday night, Harbaugh’s former Stanford players outscored his current 49ers 18-13 as Baldwin scored twice and Sherman reached the end zone once. Sherman came running on the field to celebrate Baldwin’s second score, and appeared to be yelling toward the 49ers’ sideline as he returned to Seattle’s bench. Throw in the fact that some Seattle players told Mike Silver of Yahoo! Sports that Harbaugh honk at Seattle’s team bus after the 49ers’ Week 7 victory and you can’t be certain this rivalry isn’t about to get any less fierce.
Three things we’re still trying to figure out
1. What exactly happened at the end of Seattle’s victory in Chicago?
Something changed after Seattle scored touchdowns on each of its last two possessions in that overtime victory at Soldier Field. In the three games since, Seattle has scored on 22 of its 34 possessions, punted just six times and have scored more points in a three-game span than any NFL team in more than 60 years. Sure looks like that win in Chicago convinced Seattle’s coaches to lose all hesitancy about turning the game over to Wilson and letting him do his thing.
2. Is Seattle’s defense on the rebound?
The Seahawks held San Francisco to its second lowest rushing total of the year, but that was more a product of situation than anything else. The fact that Seattle jumped out to a double-digit lead in the first quarter meant the 49ers were forced to throw the ball. The decline of Seattle’s run defense and its third-down defense remain the two most concerning trends about this Seahawks team headed into the playoffs.
3. How much would Richard Sherman’s absence affect Seattle?
He played a heck of a game on Sunday, deflecting three passes in the first half, returned a blocked field goal 90 yards for a touchdown and picked off a pass intended for Randy Moss in the end zone in the second half. He has been the most consistent player on Seattle’s defense this season, and his seven interceptions are tied for second-most in the league. His appeal of a positive test for a banned substance was heard Friday, and he could still face a four-game suspension. Seattle has had the depth to win three straight games after Brandon Browner began serving his four-game suspension. Could it hold steady without Sherman if he’s not available for the playoffs?