Booger McFarland: Seahawks, 49ers ‘mirror images of each other’

Oct 24, 2023, 12:47 PM | Updated: 3:16 pm

Seattle Seahawks Kenneth Walker III...

Seattle Seahawks RB Kenneth Walker III scores a TD against the 49ers on Jan. 14, 2023. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Much like when Pete Carroll first took over the Seattle Seahawks in 2010, the defense has mutated from allowing a pedestrian 23.6 points per game last year into a borderline top-10 unit shepherded by rookie phenom Devon Witherspoon, stalwart defender Bobby Wagner and a pass-rush rotation where seven different players have multiple sacks through six games.

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The only NFC teams allowing fewer points per game than Seattle are Atlanta, Tampa Bay, New Orleans, Dallas and San Francisco.

One of those teams shares a division with the Seahawks: the NFC West-leading 49ers (5-2), who are just a half-game ahead of 4-2 Seattle. When looking at the two rivals, something jumps out to ESPN’s Booger McFarland.

“I think San Francisco and Seattle are very mirror images of each other,” McFarland said Tuesday to Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk. “Two teams that, when both are healthy, got really good offensive lines and defensive lines that can put pressure on a quarterback.”

Even though the 49ers lead the division now and reached the NFC Championship game last season, McFarland thinks there’s one way Seattle has the upper hand on them.

“I might lean towards Seattle’s secondary being better overall as far as being able to cover,” said the former NFL defensive tackle and current television analyst. “I think that’s the one weakness San Francisco has. I don’t know if they have really good man-to-man cover guys and it kind of got exposed last night a little bit (in a Monday Night Football loss to Minnesota).”

What about the team’s two quarterbacks, Geno Smith of the Seahawks and Brock Purdy of the 49ers?

“Quarterback wise, when Brock and Geno are playing at a high level, neither one of them is going to wow you with their athleticism, but they both can play from the pocket,” McFarland said. “Both have proven to be able to make some big-time throws in situations. I don’t know if I give the edge to either one when they’re both playing at their best, so that game usually comes down to who can kind of create the most turnovers.”

Despite San Francisco’s upset loss to the Vikings on Monday, and an underwhelming Hawks win Sunday where they coughed up the ball three times to Arizona, McFarland still sees the two NFC West squads as amongst the top of the food chain after the Philadelphia Eagles.

“Philly looks to have a formula that, regardless of how the ball bounces or how the weather goes, there will be very few scenarios where they aren’t in every football game,” McFarland said while analyzing the NFC. “I think we saw Detroit step up in class against Baltimore, even though they’re in the AFC, and I think there’s a different level that Detroit wasn’t aware of. They’ve got to go back to the drawing board, and I don’t know if anybody looks at the NFC South as a real contender.”

There is still some time until the Seahawks and Niners see each other face to face for the first time this season. They’ll play in Seattle on just three days rest on Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 23), then a few weeks later at Levi’s Stadium in the Bat Area on Dec. 10.

The defense’s turnaround

In 2011, the Seahawks allowed just 19.7 points per game (good for the seventh-best mark in the NFL) after allowing 25.4 in Carrol’s debut season, mirroring the transition the Seahawks have undertaken defensively from 2022 to 2023.

“When do you know that a defense is turning into something? Something good?” host Brock Huard asked McFarland.

“I think when there’s pride – not in just the statistics, but there’s pride in how they play and what it looks like,” McFarland answered. “I think there’s pride in taking the field each and every time, defending every blade of grass. I think there’s a certain aura and a certain mindset that everybody has. And that’s not just the 11 starters, that’s the five, six or seven guys that back up and come in and play. So the 17, 18 guys that are going to be on the field each and every Sunday, I think that’s what I look at first and foremost.”

Carroll has coached eight top-10 scoring defenses in his career, including six in a row from 2011-16, but none since the 2017 season. That might finally change in Clint Hurtt’s second year as defensive coordinator, alongside the acquisition of pass rush specialist BT Jordan from Michigan State, as the defense has allowed the fewest points in the league over a team’s last three games with 30.

“It’s easy to sit there and say, statistically, this team has given up the fewest points,” McFarland continued. “But sometimes that can be like bikinis, they can show some things, but not all things. So I think what you have to do is you really have to take a look at how they play, the product they play with, and the camaraderie because ultimately that’s going to translate into playing really, really good defense consistently. Every team can have a performance that’s like, ‘Oh, man, we shut this team out.’ But how can we do it consistently week in and week out?”

Offenses around the league are scoring the fewest points per game since 2010 at 20.5 points, while the league average explosive play rate of 10% this year is the lowest in more than 20 years, according to Yahoo Sports. Quarterbacks are currently throwing touchdowns on 3.9% of their pass attempts while averaging 6.9 yards per attempt, according to Pro Football Reference, both all-time lows since 2008.

Hurtt and company are taking advantage of the league-wide offensive drought, as the team’s defense will define the team’s chances for a second straight postseason run in the post-Russell Wilson era.

Listen to the Brock and Salk Show weekday mornings from 6-10 a.m. on 710 ESPN Seattle. Subscribe to the podcast here.

More on the Seattle Seahawks

Seattle Seahawks showing signs of a defense that can win games
Seattle Seahawks’ top OLB Uchenna Nwosu likely done for season
Carroll: Seahawks’ Witherspoon ‘left his mark’ again in Week 7 win
Rost: Is Seahawks QB Geno Smith’s play a cause for concern?
Carroll: Bobby Wagner ‘having a blast’ as Seattle Seahawks’ D develops

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