The Seahawks did not win any style points on Sunday but they did win. In fact, the stat sheet seems to indicate that they won more decisively than it appeared at the time. The Seahawks won the time of possession battle (albeit very slightly), they won the turnover battle, they dominated the punting and return game and, most tellingly, they had 370 yards on offense to Carolina’s 243. Yardage isn’t everything, but it isn’t nothing either, and it’s worth noting that Seattle only exceeded 370 yards on offense four times last season and only conceded less than 243 three times. This game could have been a decisive win for the Seahawks if they had kept the penalties under control and not given up the ball in Panthers territory.
However, just because there are reasons for optimism regarding the Seahawks victory yesterday (holding Cam Newton to a career low 125 yards passing is a big one as far as I’m concerned) it doesn’t mean that there isn’t work to be done in preparation for the big matchup with the 49ers in Week 2. Frankly speaking, a similar effort will not be enough to beat a San Francisco team that looked very solid in their debut against the Packers. There is reason to expect a better performance, especially at home, but I thought I might look at a few things the Seahawks will need to improve on going into this crucial game.
1. Cut down on penalties
This is the most obvious talking point for the team this week. Penalties were an issue at times during the preseason and that spilled over into this game. Cleaning this up is easier said than done and I suspect that based on some of the players on this team the Seahawks will always be in top half of the league in penalties. However, 109 yards is not acceptable and everyone knows that. Look for this to be better in Week 2, if not perfect.
2. Improve the pass rush
I think this is more of a personnel issue than a schematic issue. Although it is true that the Seahawks could have blitzed more yesterday the lack of pass rush was mostly due to the fact this team was missing its top three pass rushers. That is a tough blow for any team to sustain. If Avril returns next week that will be really helpful as this team did not do a very good job of getting at Cam Newton, although you could argue that sitting back in coverage was an effective strategy given that Newton put up only 7 points and a putrid yardage total. I suspect the Seahawks will not dial up too many blitzes next week out of concern that Kaepernick will burn them with his legs, but the front four has to make sure he doesn’t have all day to throw. This will be a big game for new additions Avril (if he plays), Bennett and Schofield.
3. Get a push from the interior offensive line
Even though the 49ers have a very strong interior defense, the Seahawks will have to have some success running between the tackles in this game. Against the Panthers getting by with the passing game alone was enough, but the 49ers are too good to beat with a one dimensional offense. According to Pro Football Focus all of Seattle’s interior offense lineman, including Pro Bowler Max Unger, graded out as below average run blockers on Sunday and if they don’t improve this week the Seahawks could be in trouble. When the Seahawks dismantled the 49ers 42-13 at home last year Russell Wilson only had 171 yards and it was Lynch who paced the attack. In fact, the Seahawks had 176 rushing yards to 170 net passing yards in that game. I would expect more passing this time but the Seahawks will have to run and Lynch is a guy who specializes in inside running.
4. Contain the running game
It was not so heavily publicized, but unlike the first two years of the Pete Carroll regime, last year the Seahawks were not a very good defense against the run. Seattle allowed an unacceptable 4.5 yards per carry in 2012, a number that flew under the radar in the context of the team’s overall defensive excellence. The struggles against the run persistent in Week 1 as the Panthers piled up 5 yards per carry. Some of that was Cam Newton, but not enough of it to make that number palatable. Although this defense forced a fumble on DeAngelo Williams they allowed themselves to be gashed by the mediocre running back for the majority of the day. The 49ers have long time nemesis Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter as a formidable pair running the ball, as well as their dual threat quarterback. Perhaps more importantly, the 49ers have an unbelievable offensive line and Seattle’s front seven will really have to step up if they plan on stopping this ground attack.
The Seahawks were rather underwhelming in their debut but ultimately they won under difficult circumstances. This week they face one of the most important games of their season and will have to play at a higher level to come away with the victory. With a little work on these points, and a little help from the 12th man, it can be done.