Written By: Boris Krutiy
On a day where many were distracted by great East Coast games being played in the snow that brought them back to their childhood, the west coast fans where getting ready for one of the biggest games of the year, if not the biggest.
The Seattle Seahawks have been playing amazing football all season and have really been untouchable at home as proven by their dominating wins over top NFC teams like San Francisco 49ers and New Orleans Saints. On the road they have not been nearly as dominant but other than a blemish on their record due to yet another Andrew Luck comeback victory, they have been able to win. Typically, by big plays from the defense like the pick-6 by Richard Sherman against Houston or the forced fumble of DeAngelo Williams late in the game against Carolina which definitely swayed the result of that game. In the meantime, the San Francisco 49ers, who many predicted as this year’s Superbowl favorites, have not been playing at the same level as they did last year and needed a big time win against a dominating defense. After a dominating performance in week one against the Green Bay Packers, the 49ers lost in Seattle, in miserable fashion (5 TOs), as well as Indianapolis Colts and Carolina Panthers at home and just missed a big opportunity against the New Orleans Saints but fell short. If you add it all up, it was time to show up for a big game on Sunday.
On a Cold Sunday afternoon in Candlestick Park, with wind blowing throw the stadium. We gathered together for great tailgating with friends and family in preparation for the biggest game of the season. We screamed every time we heard the Horn blowing which let us know that game time was nearing (30m) and we Booed Seahawk fans that were trying to strut their stuff. They even went the extra mile and had some rich fool pay for a flyover plane that was pulling a 12th Man banner. This would be a grudge match and 49ers had something to prove. Tension was high in the stands. No one sat down the entire game and when the Defense was on the field, the stadium was louder than ever before. It was deafening and I lost my voice and got a splitting headache from all the yelling but it was all worth it in the end.
From kick off until the final whistle blew, it was clear that this was going to be a dog fight and that no one would run away with it in a blowout. Last week, I posted on my Blog that the Niners would win 16-13 in a hard-fought game but either team could come away with it. I was not far off as they won 19-17, but did not cover the spread (2.5) as I suspected they would. As for the game, it was unbelievable. Many ups and downs, lots to cheer about and boo at. Here are a few highlights from my final game at Candlestick Park (don’t know if I will be able to go to Falcon’s Game)…
I thought that the 49ers defense set the pace by stopping Seattle in the 1st quarter (ZERO points). Unfortunately, our offense could only come up with 2 FGs. They did not score until the 2nd quarter on Marshawn Lynch’s scamper for 11 yards, which was his longest run of the game. You know the Defense showed up when they were able to hold Russell Wilson to under 200 yards passing and only 2 yards rushing! Wilson and Kaepernick had very even numbers, both had a TD and an INT, Kaepernick through for 175 yards and had a lower QB Rating but overall this game was won in the trenches, not by the Quarterbacks. The defenses only allowed 1 FG each in the entire second half, both of which came late in the game.
On offense, even though they were being held to field goals by a very strong Seattle defense, it was very positive to watch the offense move up and down the field. This showed perseverance by the offense and really gave us two advantages, it kept Wilson off of the field and our defense fresh for the end of the game where they would be needed most. Though there was only 1 TD, the 49ers were able to score 5 times on the Legion of Dome which is saying a lot. But they MUST do better in the red zone and get TDs.
In the end, this game could have gone either way. Seattle had a big drive late that allowed them to score the go ahead FG with 6:20 in the fourth. At this point, we (the fans) were all biting our nails. We knew that we were not exactly proficient on offense and going up against a great defense (#1 in NFL), it would be a hard task and the fans where clearly nervous…but we got louder!!!… On the next offensive drive by the Niners was when the necessary “Big Play of the Game” happened, in fact two occurred. The first one was the huge run by Frank Gore. Say what you will about him being on the decline but that boy can RUN and seems to always come up with clutch late game runs that either puts us in a position to win or seals the deal. He did it again on Sunday when he busted out for a HUGE 51 yard run that put us in FG range. He even had the presence of mind to drop down before going out of bounds to keep the clock rolling. This was huge because it caused Seattle to eat up their timeouts on defense.
The second big play was by Kaepernick when he gained 7 yards on a designed QB keeper. Though it does not look like much on the stat sheet, that was a 3rd down play that gave the 49ers a 1st down on the 7 yard line. If we did not get it, we would have kicked the FG and Seattle would have had close to 3 minutes to move down the field. Instead, we were able to bleed the clock so that when the Seahawks had the ball on offense, they had 26 seconds and NO timeouts. I personally thought they had time for 2-3 plays but instead they went for it all to get into FG range. The receiver slipped and fell but it did not matter because we had 3 DBs and the throw was picked off by Eric Wright to seal the game and send us home VERY happy.
Personal Takeaway (please excuse the venting of my frustrations)
Seattle is still the team to beat because they will win the NFC West and have the best record in the NFC, so they will have home field advantage throughout the playoffs. This is huge considering Wilson, the Legion of Boom and the 12th Man are undefeated at home in the last 2 years. They are very strong and the only way to beat them is to play a solid and safe game and avoid making mistakes and turnovers. Defensively, you need to contain Wilson and control the run game which the 49ers can handle now that they are fully healthy on defense and are a bigger threat on offense.
At the end of it all, it will really come down to one player making the difference for the 49ers. The leader, the most important position on the field, the Quarterback! Colin Kaepernick MUST go to school during the remaining few weeks of the season and work on his defensive reads and progressions. Colin is a great talent and athlete, but he is still very raw when it comes to QB skills. While Russell Wilson has been a lot better with the fine points of the position, Kaepernick has not been as proficient. Seeing it closely both on TV and as a fan in the stadium, anyone that knows a bit about football can see that Kaepernick is not going through his progressions and checkdowns as a QB should be able to do. I think that defenses have figured this out and know that if they can take away the primary receiver, Kaepernick is unable to make anything happen unless he pulls the ball down and runs.
A few weeks back, Trent Dilfer called him out on it and Colin was not to pleased about it. What he needs to do is accept the criticism and take the opportunity to learn from it. Kaepernick is a 1-read QB out of the pocket right now. It is clear that he focuses on his primary target and does not have good vision, especially when on the move or when hurried.
I can think of at least 3 glaring examples during the second half alone where he was so focused on getting the ball to his hot read (Crabtree) that he did not see the open receiver. The first was a designed rollout to the left. He tried to get the ball to Crabtree who was double covered but could not. What he did not see was Boldin, literally 10-15 yards behind Crabtree and the defenders WIDE OPEN, it would have been an easy TD. The second, also to Crabtree who was well covered was when he also had Davis and Boldin middle of the field crossing to the right side (Crab was on left side) and both did not have a DB within 10 yards of them. Either would have been big gainers. The last and most obvious was another pass to Crabtree who was well covered on the right hash. What I saw was Vernon Davis running up the left hash wide open. Kaepernick even looked in that direction but did not pull the trigger. I do not remember him having this issue last year and do not understand why he is having such a problem finding the WRs this year. For us to win it all, Kaepernick MUST fix this immediately. Also, he needs to run more freely, afraid of injury? Grow a pair! This is football! Run like you did last year. You are Big, Fast and Strong (for a QB), go for the first down. Baseball slides are for losers. If you want to win, you need to help your team move the chains, especially when it is part of your game, your strength!
I do see other problems that are not Colin Kaepernick’s fault but become his problem. The line is not 100% healthy. Joe Staley played but had a grade 1 knee sprain. Mike Iupati did not play and Snyder came up limping at one point in the game but was the one that had a big block to spring Gore for the 51 yard gain. The offensive line has to start pushing people around. It seems to often they are the ones being pushed around which kills the run game as well as the passing game because Kaepernick does not have enough time to throw. No QB can be proficient if they only have 2-3 seconds to throw the ball. There were plays where Russell Wilson had 5+ seconds to throw and that was without scrambling. That needs to change. Also, Crabtree played in only his second game and he clearly is not at full speed yet, still getting there. I also see really bad play calling on crucial downs which you can only blame Greg Roman for those! Very predictable and bland makes for lack of offense when going against strong defenses. When everyone in the stadium knows you are about to run, guess what… so does the defense. Try not running up the middle and being predictable. How about a sweep or a screen or even a quick post by Vernon. By the way, why did Vernon only have 2 catches Kaepernick? He was open all freakin’ day! Get the ball to your playmakers!