Cary Edmondson-US PRESSWIRE
A further look at how good the 49ers' running game remains and how bad the passing game has become.
After watching the 49ers' 13-6 victory over the visiting Seahawks and reviewing some of the stats, it really jumps out at you that this victory was reminiscent of 2011. Their last two victories, against the Jets and Bills, showed an offensive explosiveness not seen since Jeff Garcia was run out of town. Many of us were hoping that this was the new norm, and all of the offseason offensive upgrades had finally gelled into a potent, fine-tuned machine. A week 6 loss to the Giants at home in which they never even sniffed the red zone showed us otherwise. Thursday's win dispelled any illusions any of us might have still held that the offense had turned a corner.
Some of the offensive numbers, while an upgrade over the previous week, left much to be desired. Many of the same problems that have held the 49ers back for the last season and a half were ever-so-clear in this one. The 49ers were 3/13 on third downs. As a whole, the team is completing 36 percent of their third downs on the season placing them at 19th in the league. Alex Smith did complete 5 of 6 passes on third down, but on three of those occasions failed to gain a first down and took multiple third down sacks. He also scrambled twice on third down, failing both times to convert. For most of the game Smith was on a tight leash. We may never know if he put himself on said leash or if the coaching staff has lost some faith in him. What we do know is that his interception was atrocious. Following our only pick of the game of Russell Wilson, by Dashon Goldson, Smith marched the team 66 yards down to the Seattle 7-yard line. On third-and-goal, Randy Moss broke free along the back of the endzone. At one point, Frank Gore can be seen pointing to Moss running freely. It's not clear who Smith intended to throw the ball to, but had Brandon Browner not grabbed it first, other Seahawks would have had their chance. At that point, in a 10-6 ball game, a field goal would have given them a touchdown lead while a touchdown would have more or less put the low-scoring game out of reach.
Another recurring problem was the lack of a any deep threat. The 49ers only threw two balls that would be considered deep and both were incomplete. The Bills game was the only exception to this, a game in which numerous long balls were completed, albeit against one of the worst passing defenses in the league. Frank Gore was the leading receiver in both catches and yards, collecting 5 for 51 and the dump off pass to the back was one of the few plays that worked in the passing game. The 49ers have one many a game with few or no deep passes, but it should be noted that there wasn't even an intermediate passing game against the Seahawks. Few passes were thrown more than 5 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. A third problem that crept up again for the team were key penalties. Dashon Goldson and Larry Grant were both called for personal fouls (though Grant's was offsetting) and an obscure defensive illegal formation on a punt gave the Seahawks a first down.
That covers the negatives. How about some positives. The defense was dominant as usual. Marshawn Lynch did go over 100 yards, the second week in a row the team has allowed a 100-yard rusher, but the complete negation of the passing game for the Seahawks more than offset that. Russell Wilson had the worst game of his young career completing 39% of his passes and finishing with a 38.7 rating for the game. In his defense, there were some key drops, including a few on deep balls when the intended target had their man beat, and a crucial third down pass that Golden Tate let bounce off his mitts. The fact remains, the Seahawks completed 9 passes on the day. You won't win a game completing 9 passes. The 49ers defense leads the league in fewest yards per game against, 1st downs against, and fewest yards per play allowed. They come in second in defensive PPG, only a fraction behind the Chicago Bears.
No wrap-up would be complete without mentioning Frank Gore and the offensive line. Gore was spectacular, rushing for 131 yards on only 16 carries to go along with the 5 catches for 51 yards mentioned earlier. Gore was the offense in a game in which Vernon Davis was never even targeted and Mario Manningham was out with a shoulder injury. All this despite bruising his ribs in the second quarter against a very physical Seattle defense. Gore now has 601 yards through the first 7 games and is averaging a colossal 5.8 yards per carry on the year. Much of this is due to the stellar offensive line play the team has received this season which was on full display against Seattle. A few numbers from Pro Football Focus should help to illustrate this point. Gore had 6 plays during the game in which he picked up 5 yards before first contact was made. Let it sink in. 5 yards past the line of scrimmage on a run play and you are in the secondary. That's 6 plays where the line got him to the secondary before he was touched. For the game, the 49ers averaged 3.6 yards per carry by RB before contact. Each of the starters on the Seattle D-line received their lowest grading for the year during the game. Seattle is supposed to be stout against the run, but the 49ers manhandled them.
The whole league knows the 49ers can run the ball. The entire league must have skipped a collective heartbeat when Alex Smith and Co. put on the aerial show in week 5 against the Bills, but Thursday's game further demonstrated how truly one-dimensional the offense remains.