Lefko: Gap closed? How Seahawks, 49ers match up after trade deadline
Nov 1, 2023, 9:12 AM | Updated: Nov 15, 2023, 10:47 am
(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
The path to the NFC West title is wide open for the Seattle Seahawks.
That would have been wild and reckless to say a little over three weeks ago after the 49ers methodically dismantled the Dallas Cowboys to improve to 5-0. Yet Brock Purdy’s regression plus injuries to Deebo Samuel and Trent Williams put San Francisco in a position to not just be aware of a looming threat, but now have to keep pace with the surging Seahawks.
These teams weren’t all that close after the 49ers beat Seattle in the playoffs last January, they didn’t appear to be close in the offseason, and nothing in the first five weeks of the season did anything to dispel that notion. However, the 5-2 Seahawks are now the team in first place. They have been able to withstand injuries and overcome mistakes, whereas the 5-3 Niners have succumbed to them.
Since 49ers offensive tackle Trent Williams hurt his ankle against the Browns, Purdy has thrown five interceptions in their last three games, all losses. The 49ers’ offense has yet to crack 20 points in those losses despite averaging more than 33 points per game in the first five weeks. In the snapshot of this very moment in the NFL season, the picture is clear: the Seahawks have closed the gap and perhaps even surpassed the 49ers.
Can we say for sure that the Seahawks trading for Leonard Williams sent a panicked 49ers front office into a frenzy trying to figure out a way to upgrade their defense? Probably not, but it’s fun to envision, especially considering their move to acquire Chase Young came a day later. You can easily construct a picture in which it was a direct response to Seattle. Both moves undeniably raise the ceiling for these respective defenses, but neither Williams nor Chase will be the reason alone that one of these teams will win the division.
Let’s take a closer look at how the two division rivals match up after Tuesday’s trade deadline.
Stellar defensive lines are built on waves of interchangeable depth, and Williams, the Seahawks’ newest lineman, can provide that boost to supplement what has been a revitalized force in the trenches behind Dre’Mont Jones and Jarran Reed.
NFL on FOX analyst Mark Schlereth mentioned Tuesday in his weekly conversation with Seattle Sports’ Wyman and Bob that the Eagles dressed 11 defensive linemen (for only four spots) this past Sunday. Keeping linemen fresh for the Seahawks will be critical, especially with their early bye week already having come and gone this season. Jarran Reed played over 70% of the snaps the past three weeks, while Williams has been a workhorse with the Giants, as well – he averaged 83% of New York’s defensive snaps the past three games, including 90% on October 15 against the Bills.
The Seahawks are flush with impact players they can rotate around in the secondary, but they don’t quite have that luxury up front. If the presence of Williams can erase any drop-off and help maintain the numbers we have seen from the Seahawks’ defense so far this season, it’s a massive advantage moving forward.
As strange as it sounds for a team with Nick Bosa, the 49ers defensive front has a dearth of talent that showed up – or failed to show up – in their three straight losses. The Browns ran for 160 yards on them, Minnesota QB Kirk Cousins carved them up and wasn’t sacked at all (despite dropping back to pass 45 times), and Cincinnati QB Joe Burrow completed 28 of 32 passes for 283 yards and three touchdowns against the Niners. Tuesday’s trad with Washington for Young now provides that bookend pass rushing force on the other side of Bosa and allows the Niners to slide the ineffective Clelin Ferrell into a reserve role.
Chase Young is off to a stellar start to his season (here’s where you throw in the caveat that he’s in a contract year), but staying healthy has been his biggest issue over the past two seasons. The move to acquire him might not even matter for the 49ers if their stars don’t get healthy.
Purdy has proven he is a much worse quarterback without Trent Williams protecting him and Deebo Samuel at wide receiver, and San Francisco lost left guard Aaron Banks to a turf toe injury on Sunday against the Bengals. It’s an offense in flux, but the 49ers do get the benefit of a bye this week before entering a stretch with three of their next four on the road – which includes a Thanksgiving Day game at Seattle on a short week of prep.
The Seahawks’ biggest injury concern, meanwhile, rests on the knee of Abraham Lucas. The second-year right tackle hasn’t played since Week 1, and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Monday that Lucas wouldn’t play again this week and still don’t have a definitive answer on when he will return.
“He’s still uncomfortable with it, it still bothers him” Carroll said of Lucas’ knee. “He’s working hard now, just not quite ready. We’re trying to alleviate the discomfort that he is playing with.”
The prospect of two games against the 49ers over the next six weeks without Lucas is enough to get your stomach churning with unease (that feeling also comes up if you eat too much Halloween candy). Pro Football Focus ranked Lucas in the top 30 among all offensive tackles in pass blocking prior to this season, and he was 39th overall out of 96 offensive tackles in 2022. Despite an admirable showing by Stone Forsythe so far, the 49ers’ defensive line becomes even more dangerous against Seattle if the Seahawks aren’t at full strength.
What this trade deadline boiled down to was two teams circling, warily eyeing and sizing up the other. At the start of the year, it felt certain that the path to the NFC title game would run through the NFC West. After eight weeks of the season that may still be the case… only now the favorite might be the Seahawks.
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