By the numbers: A Seahawks-49ers Week 17 preview
The Seahawks (11-4) and 49ers (12-3) will face off in a battle for the NFC West this Sunday night.
A win guarantees Seattle a division title and homefield advantage in at least the first round of the playoffs. The Seahawks can clinch a first-round bye with a win plus a loss by the Green Bay Packers, and can clinch homefield advantage throughout the playoffs with a win plus a loss by both the Packers and the New Orleans Saints.
Here’s a quick preview of Sunday’s big game, by the numbers:
The number of sacks registered by the 49ers’ defense this year. It’s also the number of sacks surrendered by the Seahawks’ offensive line.
That it’s the same number makes this a nice, convenient way to package both stats into one point here. But importantly, that number highlights the challenge San Francisco’s front seven brings to Seattle on Sunday, as well as one key to a Seattle win – winning the battle up front.
The Seahawks struggled mightily with protection last week against the Cardinals. Arizona’s defensive leader Chandler Jones registered four sacks alone while ex-Seahawk Cassius Marsh registered another. The Seahawks were without starting left tackle Duane Brown, their best offensive lineman, and in his place started second-year pro Jamarco Jones, who impressed the team earlier this year filling in at right guard. While Seattle’s Jones performed well against Chandler Jones in the first quarter, the Cardinals’ pass rusher got the better of the young tackle from the second quarter onward.
The offensive line has pushed Seattle’s run game into the top-5 league-wide, but has also struggled this season to produce consistent pass protection. Part of that is due to injuries; the team lost starting center Justin Britt earlier this season, lost starting left tackle Duane Brown (at least for the time being), and by Week 17, saw all but one offensive lineman listed on the injury report.
As of the close of Week 16, Wilson has been sacked 47 times this year – just four sacks short of tying a career-high total (51).
So, how does this line slow the best pass rush in the NFL?
“The only way that’s going to happen is if you impose your physical will,” Brock Huard said during Monday morning’s Blue 42 with Danny and Gallant. “These guys are going to create a lot of movement, and the only way you handle all of that movement is to first impose your will. You can’t be in reaction mode and you can’t be in third-and-seven-plus where you’ve got no shot. They’ve got to go to their heavy package. I think that’s why Robert Turbin and Marshawn Lynch were signed. They’re going to need three different sledge hammers behind Russell. It’s got to get back to them dictating and imposing their will and running in play-action if you’re going to slow those guys down at all.”
The number of defensive starters Seattle could see return this weekend.
After avoiding too many serious injuries – with the exception of center Justin Britt and tight end Will Dissly – the Seahawks have run into a string of bad injury luck.
In addition to losing their top three running backs for the season, the Seahawks have been dealing with injuries to three defensive starters: edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney (core), cornerback Shaquill Griffin (hamstring) and safety Quandre Diggs (high-ankle sprain).
Both Clowney and Griffin are expected to play Sunday after missing the last two games.
“That’s huge,” Carroll said. “It’s a huge deal. I mean, our top cover guy and a top rusher. That’s a big deal. It’s great to have those guys back out.”
Diggs was listed as questionable on Seattle’s final injury report, but Carroll hinted he’ll be a longshot to play.
Asked if it would take a miracle for Diggs to play, Carroll said Friday, “Well, somewhat. Somewhat. We can’t tell yet, so we’ll wait and see.”
The number of interceptions by Seattle’s defense this year. Believe it or not, that’s four more than San Francisco’s top-ranked passing defense.
That in no way means the Seahawks have been performing as well against the pass as the 49ers have. San Francisco is limiting opposing quarterbacks to just 165 yards per game, well below the league average of 235 yards. The Seahawks, meanwhile, are allowing 263 passing yards per game – good for a sixth-worst ranking that groups them near Detroit (3-11), Arizona (5-9-1), Houston (10-5), Tampa Bay (7-8), and Miami (4-11).
But that interception total is important, as is Seattle’s 16 fumble recoveries (second-most in the league). The Seahawks haven’t always made the most of their 32 takeaways this year, but many of them have been game-changers. There was a fumble recovery by Tre Flowers to seal a Seahawks in over the Bengals in Week 1; a fourth-quarter interception by Tedric Thompson in a Week 5 win over the Rams; Marquise Blair’s forced fumble near the goal line against Cleveland in Week 6; Jadeveon Clowney’s pair of pick-sixes against Arizona in Week 4 and San Francisco in Week 10; a trio of interceptions by linebackers K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner in a Week 15 win over the Panthers, and more.
Whether it’s luck and great timing, a willingness to attack the ball, great coaching and speed, or a combination of all of it, the Seahawks will need it against the 49ers.
“You’ve got to just combine in the crazy, wacky homefield advantage, bizarro situations this team has had in primetime,” Huard said when asked about Seattle’s best chance at a win against the 3.5-point favorite visitors. “If it’s a conventional game where the 49ers just line up and control it, and they’re able to do all that they do in their run game and their play-action game and their movement game with their tight ends, on top of their defensive line beating Seattle’s O-line… this has got to be just unconventional, absolutely primetime wackiness to get it done Sunday night.”