By Danny O’Neil
Three things we learned:
1. The Seahawks are defending heavyweights.
Seattle allowed the fewest points in the league last year, but that performance came with a caveat. Well, actually a few caveats as Seattle gave up fourth-quarter leads in road losses to Detroit, Miami and – most painfully – that divisional playoff game in Atlanta.
Seattle’s defense was so utterly dominant in Sunday’s 29-3 victory over San Francisco that it changed the assessment of this team’s primary strength. Yes, the Seahawks have a strong running game, and Russell Wilson certainly looks like an emerging franchise quarterback, but it’s the defense that is the bedrock this team is built upon.
2. Seattle didn’t need Russell Wilson to play his best to beat San Francisco.
In fact, the Seahawks won despite Wilson playing one of his worst games as a pro. Wilson failed to complete a pass in the first quarter, had only two completions in the first half and was sacked four times in the game. Wilson rallied to complete six of the nine passes he attempted in the second half, including a pair of third-down gems, but the fact that Seattle was so singularly dominant in this game not because of Wilson – and in the first quarter almost in spite of him – said everything about Seattle’s defensive performance.
3. Red Bryant is back in a big way.
But not too big since Bryant is in great shape.
After a season in which he was slowed by a foot injury, Bryant has been the undeniable physical force at the edge of the defense. That fact was underscored when he knocked a 49ers guard up into the air and onto his butt. Well, not just any guard, but Mike Iupati, a former first-round pick out of Idaho and Pro Bowl player for the 49ers.
While Seattle’s pass rush was expected to improve after the offseason additions of Cliff Avril and Michael Bennnett – both of whom had a sack on Sunday – fixing the run defense was a matter of faith in the returning personnel. That faith has been rewarded so far as Bryant is again anchoring a run defense that squelched anything resembling a consistent rushing attack against the 49ers. San Francisco’s Frank Gore – who has twice surpassed 200 yards rushing against Seattle – finished with 16 yards on nine carries.
Three things we’re still trying to figure out:
1. How serious is Russell Okung’s toe injury?
The big man did more than stub his toe, he suffered a first-quarter injury that could threaten his availability going forward. The fact he came back to the sidelines in uniform and without a walking boot was a positive sign because it indicated nothing is broken. The way he limped around the locker room was hardly encouraging, though.
He is one of the most important players on Seattle’s offense, and not just because he was a Pro Bowler. The dropoff at left tackle from starter to backup is one of the most severe on the team’s roster. In fact, only free safety and quarterback have a bigger gap between starter and backup because if Okung is out for any period of time, Seattle is left to choose between Paul McQuistan – who was playing to hold onto his starting spot at guard – or rookies Alvin Bailey and Michael Bowie.
2. Do the Seahawks have San Francisco’s number?
That sounds kind of silly when you consider the 49ers are 3-2 against Seattle since Jim Harbaugh became head coach, but indulge this thought for just a second. San Francisco’s offense has totaled fewer than 20 points in each of those five games because if you’ll remember, in the 49ers’ 33-17 victory in September of 2011, San Francisco scored its final 14 points on special-teams returns.
Not only that, but the Seahawks have the two highest rushing totals against San Francisco since Harbaugh became head coach.
Most tellingly, the 49ers’ scoring total has declined against Seattle since Harbaugh became head coach from 33 points in Week 1 of 2011 to 19 points in Week 16 to 13 points in each of the two meetings last season to a single field goal on Sunday at CenturyLink Field.
3. What happens when Seattle is at full strength?
Worried Seattle might peak too soon this season? Well, don’t be. This is a team still missing a number of essential players as three defensive starters were not in uniform on Sunday: defensive end Chris Clemons, linebacker Bruce Irvin and cornerback Brandon Browner.
Throw in the fact that receiver Percy Harvin is coming back from hip surgery – and in fact was running on the field before the game – and the potential for improvement is obvious.
Seattle has allowed 10 points in two games this season, and its pass rush is only going to improve as the year goes on, not to mention the impact Harvin might be able to make on this offense.