Clayton: Seahawks can finally prove how good they are vs 49ers

Nov 9, 2019, 12:03 AM
Seahawks LB Bobby Wagner...
Bobby Wagner and the Seahawks' defense have a strong 49ers run game to deal with. (Getty)

The Seahawks should find out where they are as a team when they play the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night.

3 Key Players: 49ers’ weakness plays into Seahawks’ strength

This team has been so different from past Pete Carroll teams. The defense has been more bend-but-don’t-break than ever. As Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright said earlier in the week, it’s bent a little bit too much.

The Seahawks rank 25th in the NFL in yards allowed. They are giving up 278.1 yards passing per game. The pass rush has been missing with only 15 sacks in nine games. To get pressure on the quarterback, the Seahawks have been forced to blitz.

In the meantime, the 49ers have made an amazing turnaround from a team that drafted second in this year’s NFL Draft and picked up defensive end Nick Bosa. The 49ers have the No. 1 ranked defense. They have 30 sacks. They are giving up only 241 yards per game, 139.2 less than the Seahawks.

Let’s look at some of the interesting things for this crucial NFC West game.

• Former Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman is back to playing at a Pro Bowl level. In eight games, he’s had only 35 passes thrown his direction. Quarterbacks have completed 21 of those passes for 202 yards and only one touchdown.

Having recovered from his Achilles tendon tear of 2017, Sherman is just playing smart. He may not mirror a wide receiver like he did a couple years ago, but he uses his smarts to position himself not to give up big plays. He has three interceptions and eight pass defenses this year. Pretty good.

• If you are wondering how well cornerback Shaquill Griffin, who took over Sherman’s old spot for the Seahawks, is playing, look at these numbers. In nine games, he’s had only 29 passes completed on him in 51 attempts for 347 yards and only one touchdown. He also has 10 pass defenses.

• The 49ers have had an incredible turnaround on defense. Last year they set an NFL record for fewest turnovers created on defense with only seven turnovers, including just two interceptions. Adding Bosa, defensive end Dee Ford and linebacker Kwon Alexander have improved their defensive playmaking. Now, they are plus-seven in creating turnovers.

• Alexander had to go on injured reserve because of a pectoral injury. His loss will create major problems for the 49ers defense. Alexander is one of the better linebackers in pass coverage. He’s a leader and a play-maker. To fill in for his absence, the 49ers are going completely young at linebacker. Rookie Dre Greenlaw moves from strongside linebacker to Alexander’s weakside spot. It’s possible the 49ers would put undrafted rookie Azeez Al-Shaair on the strong side. The middle linebacker is Fred Warner, a third-round choice from last year.

• Russell Wilson and the Seahawks will try to throw passes in Greenlaw’s area and the 49ers could be vulnerable to Seattle’s running attack. The 49ers had trouble a week ago Thursday against the run by the Arizona Cardinals.

• The 49ers could have trouble if tight end George Kittle can’t play because of knee and ankle problems. He’s one of the best tight ends in football, and that position is an important part of 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense.

• On the positive side for the 49ers, they should have tackles Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey along with fullback Kyle Juszczyk back after missing time with injuries. The return of Juszczyk should add a yard per carry to the 49ers running game.

• The Seahawks’ defensive strategy would be to take away as much of the 49ers’ running game as possible and put the game in the hands of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. For that to work, the Seahawks would need to get some kind of a pass rush and do a better job of tackling and not giving up yards after the catch.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s John Clayton on Twitter.

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Clayton: Seahawks can finally prove how good they are vs 49ers