FMQB: 49ers 24, Seahawks 14

A week ago, this article preached hope. This week, the hope is dead. It is only fitting that the hope died in a wicked rain and windstorm. The offense was put in a great position early in the game, with the defense stifling the 49ers. The defense played great in the first half, but was worn out by the 4th quarter and couldn't force a stop when the team needed one.

There is one huge question: Is this team inconsistent, or just plain bad?

San Francisco 49ers 24, Seattle Seahawks 14
December 15th, 2006
Qwest Field, Seattle, WA

Play of the Game: The whole world got a little bit darker when Arnaz Battle caught a 54 yard bomb from Alex Smith. It was a simple go route – Kelly Herndon gave a little shove, then lost the footrace to Battle, who caught the pass with nobody around him. The momentum was totally reversed after that reception, suddenly it was time for the 49ers to take the lead. Then add to it. Then add to it some more. The game turned on that play.

Bringing Their “A” Game: LB Julian Peterson played like a man with a grudge, flying around and doing his best to keep the defense alive… LB LeRoy Hill was indispensable against the run, though like the entire team in the fourth quarter he became a non-factor… FS Ken Hamlin was very solid in run support early on, and avoided the big pass play… KR Nate Burleson did a great job returning kicks, though he did finally fumble.

The Bad and The Ugly: Lets start with the coaching. Mike Holmgren could not take advantage of great field position early in the game – the offense has played only a couple games where they looked in sync… John Marshall continues to make adjustments 3-4 games after everyone else in the country has spotted the problem – at least this time was saw FS Ken Hamlin in run support… Now, onto players. CB Kelly Herndon is going to be labeled the goat, and rightly so. One huge reception allowed on him, and one gigantic missed sack… The defensive line played with a ton of heart early on, but was worn down by a huge San Fran offensive line… Missed tackles were everything, I’m not going to write about them because I can only repeat the same thing so many times… S Jordan Babineaux, supposedly the answers to our coverage problems, was beaten again for a touchdown, this time to Vernon Davis… RB Shaun Alexander doesn’t looked healed from his injury, I saw exactly one run that looked vintage Shaun… FB Mack Strong was unable to convert on 4th-and-a-foot, rather depressing when your big bulldozer is not able to pick up a tiny chunk of yardage…

Referee Report Card: While it’d be immature to blame this game entirely on the refs, Peter Morelli’s crew deserves a ton of blame for killing any chance of a comeback when they decided not to call pass-interference on Shawntae Spencer, for pushing Nate Burleson down. It was a huge non-call. Someone explain to me why a coach cannot challenge a pass-interference call/non-call. It wouldn’t add more than a couple minutes to the game, and it would help ensure the game is called more efficiently. Pass interference is too fast and usually takes place too far from officials, so they often make bad decisions regarding whether or not to call it. The officials overall called a poor game, but at least they were not biased to one side… D.

Offense: I feel like there is no point typing a section for the offense, because I do not remember seeing the Seattle offense on the field. Before the 49ers went into a prevent defense, Seattle had scored just one touchdown all game, against a 49ers defense that is not a dominating unit by any stretch of the imagination. The inability to consistently move the ball is not isolated to just one game, Seattle’s offense is weaker than it has been since 2002, a serious problem for a team that uses the offense for it’d identity.

Fool Matt once, shame on you… Fool Matt 13 times, shame on him. Matt is playing with heart and determination; he is doing his best to will this team to victory. But he is also coughing up the football at an astonishing rate. The first interception was the kind of throw I’d expect from Alex Smith, who had a historically bad rookie year and hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire this year. As a grizzled veteran who has been to the pro-bowl, Matt Hasselbeck should know better than to make that throw – all Mark Roman had to do with walk right in front of the ball. The second interception was obviously crap, but at some point the excuses have to stop. Matt simply isn’t making good reads out there. The receivers have been dropping balls, but unlike 2004 they haven’t been dropping balls into the hands of opposing players – these interceptions are the result of bad decisions.

Maybe Matt is being stifled by some awful play-calling by Holmgren. I approve of integrating some deep-passing into the arsenal, but I felt like Holmgren was calling plays for San Fran, and notorious lover-of-deep-passes Norv Turner was calling our plays. The deep ball, given Hasselbeck’s arm strength and the absence of Darrell Jackson (one of the best deep-threats nobody knows about), should have been thrown only to keep the defense honest, not as a legitimate part of the passing game.
Note to Matt Hasselbeck: You can throw the ball deep without throwing it into double coverage. Just in case you did not know, seeing as how you threw the ball into double coverage on every deep pass.

Jerramy Stevens might have turned the corner. He missed two receptions that he probably should have had, but he also caught – yes, caught – 5 passes for 64 yards and a touchdown. Those are very respectable numbers, and nearly match his production all season. Could this be the game where Stevens looks back and realizes he can still play football? Stevens has been ripped apart in past columns, and rightly so, but nobody can deny his ability to expand the offense. Stevens looks like a player who lacks confidence, maybe these receptions can turn things around.

The inability to manage Stevens is just one bullet on the gigantic list of woes with this offense. Holmgren has taken what should have been a strong offense, and has gone nowhere with it. The running game has been putrid. The team has not played good football for more than half a game. The offense consistently comes out stale. The quarterbacks have thrown nearly as many interceptions as touchdowns. Can anyone find a real positive with the coaching this year? This could be the last year for Holmgren – there is just so little going right, and so much that needs to be improved on. I am not advocating dumping Holmgren, I am just saying that it might be inevitable, and it might not be the wrong choice.

Defense: Unlike the offense the defense played at least three quarters of good football. In the end, they were simply worn down and beaten, and a couple key changes need to happen, but at least the defense played well for a short period of time. I think Seattle is seeing what not having DT Marcus Tubbs means to the defense. Since Tubbs was put on injured reserve with a knee injury, the defense has yielded tons of yardage to every mildly effective running game they have faced. Tubbs is a huge factor in the running game, and not having that big body is really hurting the team.

After a lackluster performance in San Francisco, Julian Peterson exploded this time around. Every big defense play could be traced to Peterson. For a few series, it sounded like Peterson was the only defender on the field. When Peterson knifed past Larry Allen on a screen pass to tackle Frank Gore, it could be the first time a technically sound tackle is featured on “Jacked Up”. Peterson has been quiet the last few weeks, and is still being hampered by unimaginative play calling, but he really broke out against San Francisco.

When President Tim Ruskell came to Seattle, one of his ideas was to use a small, quick defensive line to apply pressure on the quarterback and hit the running back in the backfield. That has officially failed as an idea. With the starting defensive line averaging less than 280lbs, the opposing running games have taken over. For the first three quarters, it looked like the defensive line might actually make it through the game, but they simply wore down near the end. To add insult to an already fatal injury, the defensive line didn’t even do a good job applying pressure on Alex Smith – the defense hasn’t sacked a quarterback in two games. Small-and-undersized works for linebackers, but there needs to be at least some weight on the defensive line to keep the offensive linesmen off of linebackers.

Jordan Babineaux has officially failed as a starter. Yet again a team ran all over the Seahawks defense. Frank Gore managed to be a good sport and only embarrassed Babineaux twice, though Babineaux did nothing to redeem himself. He even gave up a touchdown to Vernon Davis, who did nothing special to get separation on Babineaux. We have all seen the defense get even worse since Boulware was yanked. Babineaux is clearly not going to help Seattle stop Chargers RB LaDanian Tomlinson on Christmas Eve, and now is the time to put Boulware back in and raise his confidence a little.

If this game has shown anything, it is that Defensive Coordinator John Marshall is not an NFL coordinator. The list goes on and on, but I’d like to know how three blitzing linebackers haven’t reached the quarterback in the past two games. Could it be because Marshall seems intent on only blitzing linebackers Lofa Tatupu and LeRoy Hill as a last resort? Marshall is blitzing, but he isn’t disguising his blitzes very well – I think every fan watching the game could tell who was blitzing and when. And where are the stunt plays? Rocky Bernard made a ton of sacks off of stunts, but Marshall has an aversion to calling them, even in obvious passing situations. Seattle needs a defensive coordinator who can take advantage of the playmakers, and mask his weaknesses – like Kelly Herndon.

Now, in pass coverage Kelly Herndon is a pretty big weakness to mask. The problem with Herndon is that he is downright slow. Arnaz Battle did nothing special to separate from Herndon, all he had to do was run in a straight line right past Herndon. Battle, while not slow, is not a speedster either. When Herndon bounced off Alex Smith on Frank Gore’s touchdown reception, it symbolized the entire Seahawk season – an inability to follow through. This team has come out and expected that teams would lose to them, simply because they won the NFC last year. Instead, teams are fighting tooth-and-nail against Seattle and they are beating the team’s intensity.

Lastly, for the first time this season, I saw Seattle roll over and die. The defense has had its problems, but they have yet to roll over and die. At the end of the game, that is exactly what the defense did. I knew that this defense had major problems, but I thought the one constant was that the defense would play an entire game with max effort. This game, they did not look interested in finishing.

Special Teams: Nate Burleson finally fumbled. We knew it was going to happen. Then, just as predictably, he fair caught the next couple of punts. Still, the guy has the ability to make people miss and give the offense good field position, not that the offense did anything with the field position they had. Plackemeier had another solid game, though he did get a punt somewhat blocked. And Josh Brown, despite not doing much, is still amazing.

Summary: This team has shown that they are not Super Bowl-ready. It is frustrating because we know that this is a talented team. Honestly, this team does not belong in the playoffs, and even with a home game I have little confidence that this team can win. Simply put, the defense is atrocious and the offense is unable to pull it all together. It is a ride, and over 20 NFL teams would love to be in our position, but it is undeniable that this team has underachieved.

Kyle Rota is our MMQB, and is also known as "Rotak" on our message boards. You can e-mail him here. Top Stories