He said / she said — Seattle Seahawks vs. San Francisco 49ers

The Hit Job editors Julian Rogers and Jessica Ridpath preview the week three matchup between the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers.

When: 1:05 p.m. PT Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016
Where
: CenturyLink Field, Seattle, Wash.

Rogers: In the NFC West, 2016 version, everyone’s a winner. With all four contestants tied at 1–1, the entire first two weeks of the season are a wash. It’s as if they all got together and decided to only play a 14-game season.

Except for one thing: injuries. Specifically, one injury — that being Russell Wilson’s ankle, which may have been the ultimate deciding factor in the Seahawks’ lifeless loss in L.A. on Sunday. Having only produced a single touchdown in eight quarters of play, the results demand an answer to the question, “what’s wrong?” According to Pete Carroll, it’s not the offensive line.

Huh. So Thomas Rawls is supposed to begin every handoff with an unfettered defensive tackle in his face? If that’s the plan, then it is Wilson’s gimpy ankle that is preventing him from evading penetrating defenders, like his first-half-closing sack/fumble, whereupon he was powerless to evade Robert Quinn’s rush.

Jess, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to explain what the problem is with the Seahawks’ offense. Carroll already told us that it’s not the line, so you need not look under that rock.


Ridpath: I’m not sure what Positive Pete is talking about. Anyone who watched Sunday’s game would tell you that Seattle’s offensive line is at least partially to blame for their loss. You don’t end up ranked 31st in points and 26th in yards with an offensive line that’s firing on all cylinders. Left tackle Bradley Sowell is taking some particularly harsh criticism — and rightly so, as it looked like he’d come down with a case of the False Start Flu in L.A.

As a whole, Seattle’s offense looks … well, a lot like they did at this time last year. Their rhythm is off and they can’t seem to generate any momentum. Going 4 for 13 on third down will do that to you.

Even though the Seahawks began last season 0–2, they had still managed to score 48 points heading into week three. With just 15 total points and one touchdown under the belts, the blue birds are looking like a shadow of their former selves.

However, they may have a shot at redemption this week because they’ll have home-field advantage against a team that they’ve owned at home in the last five years: San Francisco hasn’t beaten the Seahawks in Seattle since December of 2011.

What do you think, Julian? Given the Seahawks’ anemic start on offense, do the 49ers have what it takes to break their at-Seattle losing streak?


Rogers: Despite how bad the Rams looked in week one, I was tempted to pick them over the Seahawks because of their recent ownership of the blue birds. I didn’t have the guts. As they say: “no guts, no gloriously rubbing it in Jessica’s face with my prescient insights.” I think that’s how that saying goes.

You are trying to goad me into picking the 49ers this week. We’ll see.

Strictly from an offensive scoring standpoint, the 49ers are several flights above the flightless Seahawks.

The evidence:

  • Total points per game: San Francisco 27.5 (9th), Seattle 7.5 (31st )
  • Points per play: San Francisco .390 (12th), Seattle .108 (31st)
  • Red zone touchdown percentage: San Francisco 71.43% (9th), Seattle 33.33% (26th)
     (stats via teamrankings.com)

The conclusion:

The 49ers’ offense, under the new management of Chip Kelly, are a top-third NFL offense so far in the 2016 season. They earned that distinction playing against the sixth-ranked Panthers defense and the 23rd-ranked Rams, who just held the Seahawks to zero points on their last eight possessions.

The bad news for Seattle is that 2015 is over and so are any similarities to the 31+ points the Seahawks averaged over the latter half of last season.

Jess, do the 49ers have a weakness on defense the Seahawks can exploit?


Ridpath: San Francisco’s defense is ranked 15th in yards allowed (middle of the pack) and just allowed 46 points in their last game. They also just lost starting linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong to injured reserve (pectoral), which may diminish their already lackluster pass rush (a mere three sacks in two games).

However, I think the 49ers’ biggest weakness on defense may be Chip Kelly’s fast-paced (and turnover-prone) offense. When you allow your opponent to dominate time of possession, the defense pays the price — and late-game fatigue appeared to be a factor in their loss to Carolina.

You’re absolutely right that San Francisco has the statistical edge in terms of scoring. But their offense fared no better than the Seahawks in terms of third down conversions last week (4 of 14 versus 4 of 13), and their overall rhythm looked equally off, especially down the home stretch.

Gabbert vs. Seahwks in 2015: 22/34, 264 yds, 1 TD, 0 int

49ers running back Carlos Hyde, who looked impressive in week one, was held to just 34 yards last week. Seattle’s defense is better than Carolina’s — in fact, they’re ranked #1 in the league. If the Seahawks’ gimpy, out-of-sync offense rears its ugly head again this week, their only shot at winning will be to rely on their oppressive defense. Again.

Speaking of rankings, even though the Seahawks are near the bottom of the offensive barrel, they find themselves in the #11 spot on this week’s power rankings — largely because of their stellar defense. The other reasons cited are “Pete Carroll’s track record” and “trusting [them] to bounce back.” Do you buy it?


Rogers: That sounds like a lot of wishful yesteryear thinking. Fans do that. The thing is, the fans are not always wrong. This could be the game where Seattle puts it together on offense. As you noted, the defense is crushing it. Special teams have not been a liability. It’s the offense that needs to round into shape.

The Seahawks were not up to the task against last week’s familiar opponent, and now are 1–4 in their last five contests against the Rams. Also every bit as familiar, the recent story with the Seahawks and the 49ers doesn’t give the Seahawks’ opponent any ownership rights. In fact, it’s the other way around: the 49ers are 2–7 against the Seahawks in their last nine games, including the 2013 NFC Championship.

So, given that historical backdrop that includes the consistently top-performing Seahawks defense at its ongoing peak against the 49ers institutional knowledge of said defense and their inability to do much about it, no, I’m not going to let you goad me into picking the 49ers.

But that’s not the only reason. Injuries may well tell an important tale in this one. You noted the 49ers just lost Armstrong, but they also may be without some other key players. Defensive tackle Tank Carradine, and cornerbacks Marcus Cromartie and Rashard Robinson are all questionable. While only Armstrong was a starter, the others are key rotational players that will rob the 49ers of depth. Their possible absences bode well for this being a springboard game for the Wilson-led Seahawks.

I’m not worried about Rawls’ contusion, nor Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett, both of whom are listed as probable. I expect all three to play.

Prediction time. Who ya got?


Ridpath: I’m tempted to predict that Seattle will lose this week, which is painful because I’m about as far from a Niners fan as you can get. I said last week that I didn’t think Wilson should be starting. But he did, and they lost anyway — clearly illustrating the degree to which the Seahawks’ offense relies on his ability to scramble. I don’t expect we’ll see much improvement in his mobility this week because of the strain of last week’s game. But with the league’s #1 defense playing on their home turf, I think the blue birds still have a shot. Prediction: Seattle 13, San Francisco 10.


Rogers: I’ll be shocked if this is a high-scoring, track meet game. I’m going with recent history, Seattle’s dominant defense and my gut that the Seahawks’ offense is going to get it together this week at home. Prediction: Seattle 22, San Francisco 17.


Owning up

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

What he got right: I cautioned that the Rams play the Seahawks tough, but I didn’t have the guts to predict them to win. After a poor start in week one, it looks like Lockett is on his way to fulfilling my prediction that this will be “the year of Lockett.” His 99 yards on four receptions was by far the offense’s bright spot. File this under obvious, but Wilson’s ankle was as I predicted, a liability.

What he got wrong: The game winner. The Seahawks’ offense is stuck in neutral. I’m 1–1 on the season.

What she got right: I expected a low-scoring game, and boy did both teams deliver. I was also skeptical about Wilson’s ability to play well through his injury and about the o-line’s ability to play well at all. Sometimes I hate being right.

What she got wrong: The game winner. Thankfully, my esteemed colleague called it wrong, too, keeping us tied at 1–1 on the season.

Julian Rogers and Jessica Ridpath