John Clayton’s keys: Seahawks, Wilson need a solid pocket vs 49ers
Because of last week’s loss to the Rams, the Seahawks are in “must-win” mode Sunday against the 49ers.
Heading into the season, most people thought the Seahawks could be 4-0 before their bye week, 3-1 at worst. A good start was important to make sure they stay with or ahead of Arizona in the NFC West.
Quarterback Russell Wilson’s ankle injury and the struggles of the offensive line have virtually shut down the offense, which has scored only 15 points in two games. The 49ers team the Seahawks face Sunday is a little better than most people think, but it’s beatable.
Chip Kelly runs a fast, up-tempo offense that has somehow averaged 27.5 points through two games even though the 49ers are thin at receiver and have struggled with the running game.
Here are four things to look for in Sunday’s game:
1. The offensive line has to give Wilson a solid pocket. Even though the Seahawks’ offense hasn’t been scoring points, it has possessed the ball. The Seahawks have run 139 plays in two games, seventh-most in the league. Their time of possession of 33:02 is ninth. Of the 139 plays, Wilson has been in the pocket for 75 of them. He’s completing 68.1 percent of his passes and has averaged a respectable 7.12 yards per attempt, but he has been sacked three times. If the offensive line can give him time, Wilson can get into a passing rhythm and get the offense moving and possibly scoring. Wilson won’t have the explosion to escape as he normally does because of his ankle sprain, and he won’t be able to get as many yards running. Wilson is averaging only 3.3 yards a rush this year, and his career average is 5.9.
2. Will Sherman trail Smith? It will be interesting to see if the Seahawks put cornerback Richard Sherman on wide receiver Torrey Smith the entire game. Smith is the 49ers’ main receiving threat. He has good deep speed. But the 49ers are thin at receiver. In fact, that position is in complete transition for San Francisco. Two of the 49ers’ top four receivers were picked up in training camp, slot receiver Jeremy Kerley and Rod Streater. Defenses are letting Kerley and Quinton Patton get most of the work. Kerley has 10 catches, Patton eight, but they are only averaging around 10 yards a catch. Smith, meanwhile, has been held to five catches for 68 yards in his first two games. Sherman has had only five passes attempted on him in two games, giving up two catches for 10 yards. He might like a little more action.
3. Communication is going to be the key for the Legion of Boom. Kelly likes to get his offensive plays off every 20 to 24 seconds. The Seahawks have to make sure they can react to the plays at a fast pace. The strength of the Seahawks’ defense is experience. Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Sherman and the rest of the secondary have played so many big games in so many different environments, they shouldn’t have a problem communicating as 49ers quarterback Blaine Gabbert runs the plays. Gabbert has some of the worst passing numbers in the league – he is completing only 54.9 percent of his passes and averaging 5.8 yards an attempt – and the crowd noise could affect him in this game. And if you are wondering, the team may be three or four weeks away from going to Colin Kaepernick, who is still trying to gain more strength following his surgeries from last year.
4. Hyde will be another test for the Seahawks’ run defense. San Francisco’s Carlos Hyde is off to a slow start, averaging 3.3 yards a carry, but he is a good back. The problem facing him is that the Seahawks are very good at stopping the run. Second-round pick Jarran Reed is already doing a good job and has increased his playing time to 40 plays. With Reed, Ahtyba Rubin and Tony McDaniel, the Seahawks have a great trio of run-stopping defensive tackles. It will hard for the 49ers to have a big running day against Seattle.
Want more John Clayton? Listen on-demand to his weekday and Saturday shows as well as his “Cold Hard Facts” and “Clayton’s Morning Drive” segments on 710 ESPN Seattle. Also, check out his all-new “Schooled” podcast and look for his columns twice a week on 710Sports.com.