He said / she said — Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers

The Hit Job editors Julian Rogers and Jessica Ridpath preview the week seven matchup between the Seattle Seahawks (2–4) and the San Francisco 49ers (2–4).

When: 5:25 p.m. PT Thursday, Oct. 22
Where
: Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif.

Rogers: It would be a stretch to call tonight’s game a marquee match-up. If the on-field ineptitude doesn’t wear you down, the gawd-awful advertisements almost certainly will. But tonight’s game is about redemption: The Seahawks get a quick opportunity to wipe away the stench from yet another blown fourth-quarter lead. Colin Kaepernick gets a chance to stick it to a team that has owned him to date.

What a difference one game makes. Had the Seahawks held on to win last Sunday, the narrative this week would have no doubt been about how the 3–3 Seahawks were in the same spot last year … and went to the Super Bowl. But this is not last year’s model.

Jess, I’m calling it: The Seahawks will not win the NFC West this year, despite being only two games out. Their season’s quest is to make the playoffs as a Wild Card. Today’s goal is more straightforward: win one game. What edge over the equally desperate 49ers might the Seahawks hold?


Ridpath: I had to mull over your question for a long time before I could bring myself to answer it. Before Sunday, I would have said Seattle’s obvious edge is their supercharged pass defense versus Kaepernick’s unreliable arm. But after watching Carolina’s number-one receiver Greg Olson stride into the end zone unchallenged for the game winner, I can hardly make that statement with a straight face. Only it’s not funny. There’s simply no excuse for blown coverage in that situation — especially from the so-called best corner and best safety in the league.

Another thing that’s not funny: The 49ers are coming off a momentum-building victory that saw Kaepernick pass for 340 yards, 2 TDs, and QB rating of 128.2. And for the first time since 1982, they had three players catch for at least 85 yards: Anquan Boldin (102 yards), Torrey Smith (96 yards), Bruce Miller (89 yards). If this trend continues, the surprisingly inconsistent Seattle secondary will have their hands full.

Looking at the bigger picture, however, the 49ers are still the stinkers of the league in terms of passing yards, with 1,217 this season (compared to 1,837 for their opponents). And more than half of those yards came from Kaep’s two 300+ games (last week and in week two against the Steelers, when he passed for 335).

Julian, what’s your take on the Kaepernick of late? Does a passer rating above 100 for two games in a row signal the early stages of a comeback?


Rogers: “Stinkers”? Let’s ease up on the sailor talk. I do think he’s back on the upswing and will continue. But it might not happen tonight. This is a real crossroads game for Kaep. He may be bouncing back from a rough start to the season, but historically, he’s had a lot trouble playing the Seahawks. If he can get well on the Seahawks, he’s officially back. Because it hasn’t been pretty so far:

In five starts against the Seahawks, he has only one win, a 19–17 squeaker in week 13 of the Seahawks’ championship season (2013). In that game, he completed 15 passes out of 29 attempts for only 175 yards and a touchdown (1 TD, 1 Int.). In other words, he wasn’t the reason they won. His passer rating against the Seahawks is 53.7. (According to profootballreference.com, in six games against the 49ers, Russell Wilson has an 84.7 rating.) If you want to believe Kaep’s back, he’ll have to put on a personal best performance against the visiting Seahawks to take the next step. More of the same and the Seahawks will almost certainly return to Seattle victorious.

But history, schmistory. The talents of both Kaepernick and Wilson are still there. What’s different are the season-long levels of play of the Seahawks’ defense (leaky, erratic) and the 49ers’ offense (unsure, low-wattage). Whichever unit can revert to form will carry their team to victory tonight.

Jess, what did you make of Marshawn Lynch’s return to action against the Panthers? Fifty-four yards on 17 carries (3.18 YPC) is definitely not Rawls-like. Last week, I opined the blue birds should ride with Rawls instead of hand the keys back to Beast Mode. Rawls was only allowed one carry for eight yards. Will we and should we see more from the rookie?


Ridpath: My nine-year-old son, Dylan, asked me at least three times during last week’s game why we weren’t seeing more of Rawls. I had no answer for him.

To answer your question: Yes, we absolutely should see more of Rawls. But I’m not sure that we will. Before last week’s game, Pete Carroll said “there’s no reason” Lynch’s role as lead back should be challenged. That’s a head-scratcher. After watching Rawls put up a beast-like 169 yards (the most by any Seahawk since 2007) against the Bengals tough defense, I was anxious to see more — and assumed that we would.

Instead, he was in for two measly snaps. By not playing Rawls, the Seahawks may very well have thrown water on what could have been an electrifying hot streak. Not to mention that it seems to me like Rawls simply wants it more.

Here’s what I’m wondering: Why not take advantage of both beasts, using a two-back formation to force defenses to make even more guesses than they already have to with Russell Wilson at QB? Throw in some well-timed play action, and passing lanes are likely to open up for him and his new best friend, tight end Jimmy Graham — who connected for a whopping 140 yards on 8 receptions last week.

Julian, the long-awaited chemistry between Wilson and Graham was visible throughout last week’s game. At times, it looked like they were old friends playing backyard football. Have the Seahawks finally figured out how to take full advantage of Graham’s talent?


Rogers: Yes. They were also smart to get Graham engaged early on. It made the Seahawks’ offense more dynamic from the outset. If they do not successfully do the same again tonight, expect them to struggle against the 49ers defense, even if they do go with your double-headed monster idea at running back.

I’m with you and Dylan when it comes to wondering why Rawls got planted on the pine. But the reality is, Lynch probably wasn’t the real problem. It’s still the offensive line that cannot create running lanes (or a safe zone for quarterbacks to throw from). Although … Rawls certainly made better use of those same blockers than Lynch has so far this year.

Carroll did state there is no reason why Lynch’s role as lead back should be challenged. I can think of one: 2.4. This figure represents the difference in average yards per carry between Lynch (3.3) and Rawls (5.7). I don’t see how you bench a guy playing that well. One carry?

Jess, I’m annoyed with you and your sailor-talkin’, persuasive ways. I was going to pick the Panthers last week until you convinced me they were unworthy of their unbeaten status. I think we’re going to be on opposite sides on tonight’s game.

Both teams are red-faced about their performances so far. Despite Kaepernick’s historical struggles with the Seahawks defense, I look for him to improve upon recent history, given Seattle’s newfound vulnerability. San Francisco’s signal-caller has put in two good performances in a row against the New York Giants (262 yards, 2 TDs) and the Baltimore Ravens (340 yards, 2 TDs). And, the 49ers defense managed to hold the Green Bay Packers to 17 points and the Ravens to 20 points — both teams that have higher-performing offenses than the Seahawks. Give this one to the home team. Prediction: 49ers 23, Seahawks 20.


Ridpath: So, it’s my fault you were wrong about last week’s game? I don’t think so, mister. You can take your finger-pointing and aim it directly at the LOB instead. That game was won — until they gave it away.

And it won’t be my fault when you’re wrong about tonight, either. Nope, tomorrow you can play the blame game with your buddy Kaepernick and his plague of inconsistency. Unlike you, I’m not so easily converted. It takes more than two good games (only one of which was a victory, by the way) to turn me into a believer. When a QB’s combined passing and rushing TDs (seven) are trumped by his combined interceptions and fumbles (nine), I’m gonna stay skeptical until he turns those stats around.

Perhaps I should be equally skeptical about the newfound chemistry between Wilson and Graham. But I’m not. Chemistry like that doesn’t develop overnight. So it’s reasonable to assume that the duo just needed time to figure out how to work together — and how to overcome the challenges posed by their leaky offensive line. Now that they’ve found a groove, I expect we’ll see them stay in it. Prediction: Seahawks 27, 49ers 17.


Owning up
Here’s what we were right and wrong about last week.

What he got right: I said the Panthers were “The Cam Newton Show.” I think he continued to prove he belongs in the discussion of top quarterbacks — even though the traditional metrics don’t agree. Are the Seahawks unlucky in facing off against QBs having career years (Newton, Andy Dalton) or are they helping these guys pad their stats?

What he got wrong: The game winner, for starters. I’m 4–2 on the season. I said the Seahawks were a stiffer test than the previous teams the Panthers faced. Wrong. I said neither team wanted to have to pass their way downfield at the end of the game to win it. Wrong.

What she got right: I suggested Seattle could gain an edge against the Panthers if their defense put them on top of the turnover differential. They did — until another epic fourth-quarter collapse nullified the advantage. I also predicted Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly could spell trouble for Seattle. He did, and then some.

What she got wrong: The game winner, bringing me to 3–3 on the season. I obviously didn’t give Newton enough credit for his passing swagger. I was also certain the LOB would find redemption after their disappointing finish in week five. Instead, they poured salt on the wound.


This article was also published in Oregon Sports News and the Seattle PI.

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