Attacking Seattle's Vaunted Defense

The 49ers combined to score just 26 points in their two games against the Seahawks last year. Coming into their second meeting when Seattle blew out San Francisco by 29 points, Colin Kaepernick had just six starts under him. With more experience and different receivers, how can the 49ers find ways to exploit the Seahawks' elite defense?

The Seattle Seahawks' defense has been described as fast and physical while excelling in both man coverage and zone schemes. By having every dimension seemingly covered, they pose the toughest test of any defense in the NFL.

But there's no doubt Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman have been planning for their return to Seattle since getting flattened 42-13 back on Dec. 13.

"Any time you get blown out of a game like that on Sunday night football, it's a disgrace, it's an embarrassment," guard Alex Boone said. "We were trying to do some stuff that we shouldn't have been…that falls on us."

Boone alluded to the team's running game, or lack thereof during Week 16's loss. Frank Gore, LaMichael James and Anthony Dixon combined for just 12 carries for 51 yards in the blowout.

"We were not pounding the rock like we should be, Frank's not getting the rock like he should be. That's not Niner football," Boone said.

With Alex Smith under center, the 49ers were a ball-control team focused on winning the time-of-possession and field-position battles through an excellent running game and play on special teams. On that late-December night they fell behind 14-0 in the first quarter and went into the half down 28-6. Down so much so fast, they couldn't afford to maintain their emphasis on the ground game.

After the season-opening 412-yard performance against the Packers, Kaepernick and the 49ers took big strides towards proving the days of the run-first mentality are behind them, making Seattle's assignment that much more difficult.

"Kap and (Greg Roman) did a great job at putting us in the right place at the right time. We exploited what they gave us," Boone said.

Last season's game opened with the 49ers going three-and-out on three passes. A 15-yard punt return paired with a personal foul allowed Seattle's night to begin from the 49ers' 35-yard line. Marshawn Lynch scored a touchdown on the second offensive play from 24 yards out.

It was the theme of the night. The 49ers' lack of running game forced the inexperienced Kaepernick to beat the league's best secondary on his own. It led to his worst game of the season. A silver lining could be drawn from the Seahawks allowing five yards per carry in their Week 1 win in Carolina, which could help San Francisco get back to its roots.

But with few weaknesses, how do you beat such a tough defense, Mr. Roman?

"There's a couple different ways to do it really. You can attack size with size and say our size is better than your size, and that's one way to do it. You can attack it with quickness and say you can't catch me mentality. You can attack it with misdirection, that type of thing to try to create a pause in their getup. But, they're very good players and the reality is however we attack it we just got to execute," Roman said.

The unfamiliarity of different players on the roster could help. The 49ers were without Kyle Williams and since drafted Quinton Patton, who played four snaps in Week 1 after playing well in the preseason. Anquan Boldin's 208-yard performance from the Green Bay will certainly draw focus from Seattle's talented secondary, as will Vernon Davis.

Kendall Hunter will also be back after not playing in last season's game after tearing his Achilles tendon a month earlier. That pushes the total to four skill players who weren't around during last year's loss.

Physical corner Brandon Browner was officially listed as questionable for the game Friday, which means Walter Thurmond will likely get the snaps in his stead. Thurmond allowed three catches in as many targets, but they only totaled 22 yards. Overall, the Seahawks held Cam Newton to just 125 yards passing while completing 16 of 23 attempts.

San Francisco's variation in lining receivers up means it's unlikely one defensive player will match up with one offensive player for the majority of the game. That means Richard Sherman won't cover Boldin exclusively, nor will Davis be shadowed by safety Kam Chancellor for the entire game.

Panthers top receiver Steve Smith was constantly shuffled around Sunday and had six catches on eight targets for 51 yards while being covered by four different Seahawks. Williams and Smith share a similar physical skill set.

"Speed and elusiveness will be able to help you out," Williams said on about attacking Seattle's physical defense.

"We'll be able to take advantage of some of that."

Davis was targeted just once in last year's game, making a 27-yard catch in the first quarter deep in Seattle's territory. The drive resulted in a blocked field goal recovered by Sherman that was returned 90 yards for a touchdown, making it 21-0. Look for Roman to find ways to get Davis going early in space to get the rest of the offense rolling.

*Statistics from Pro Football Focus were used in this report*

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