MMQB: Seahawks 20, 49ers 17

This column has wanted to see the Seattle Seahawks get wide receiver Deon Butler (left) more involved in the offense. Late in the 4th quarter of Sunday's 20-17 win over San Francisco, the rookie from Penn State showed why.

Seattle Seahawks 20, San Francisco 49ers 17
Sunday, December 6, 2009
Qwest Field
Seattle, WA

Play of the Day: On 1st-and-10 from the 49ers' 47-yard line with 18 seconds remaining in the game, the Seahawks sent out "Eagle" personnel (1 RB, 4WR), with trips left and third-round wide receiver Deon Butler split wide to the right by himself, matched up one-on-one 49ers cornerback Keith Smith. As quarterback Matthew Hasselbeck took the shotgun snap from Chris Spencer, running back Julius Jones stepped up and got just enough of a blitzing Patrick Willis to allow Hasselbeck to step into his throw deep down the right sidelines to Butler, who had a half-step on Smith and gained more separation as the ball was in the air. Butler eyed the ball all the way into his outstretched hands, tiptoed his way down the sidelines, running out of bounds at the 49ers' 15-yard line for a 32-yard gain to set-up Olindo Mare's 30-yard field goal.

Handouts to the Standouts

Jordan Babineaux certainly deserves a game ball, leading the Seahawks with 9 tackles, splitting the team's only quarterback sack of the game with Brandon Mebane, and forcing a fumble on Frank Gore that thwarted what appeared to be a sure-fire 49ers' scoring drive.

Cornerack Josh Wilson continues to be one of the few play-makers on the Seahawks defense, recovering the fumble created by Babineaux and returning it 43 yards. Wilson also had a solid tackle for loss on a screen pass to Michael Crabtree. As recognition of his play-making ability, the Seahawks sent Wilson out to return a kick for the first time since Week 8.

Mebane also had a solid day inside, getting good penetration to blow up a few plays in the backfield, and getting to the quarterback for the first time since the season-opener against St. Louis.

Rookie defensive end Nick Reed didn't make much of an impact on defense, but did come up with three special teams tackles and recovered a fumble when the 49ers tried a razzle-dazzle punt return that set-up the Seahawks' first touchdown of the game.

Wide receiver Nate Burleson's 5 catches for 54 yards were overshadowed by his 61 punt return yards, including a 21-yard return that set the ‘Hawks up with excellent field position on the game-winning drive.

Deon Butler coming through on the one pass thrown his way on Sunday will hopefully result in more opportunities for #11 in the final month of the regular season. The Kid's earned it, Mr. Knapp, and since he's the only wide receiver named De(i)on that will be in Seattle in 2010, there's no reason not work him more in 3-wide receiver sets. (Unless someone doesn't want 'Why didn't he do this sooner?' being asked.)

When given enough time, which was rare, Hasselbeck was able to complete 25-of-34 passes for 198 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Sacked five times, Hasselbeck did fumble twice, losing one, and took a nasty shot by a pair of 49ers in the 3rd quarter that kept the gritty quarterback on the ground for an extended period of time.

After that sack, which was eerily reminiscent of the shot that broke his ribs in Week 2, Hasselbeck was 13-of-14 for 121 yards.

Things That Made Me Go "Blech!"

The "Play of the Day" aside, Seahawks offensive coordinator Greg Knapp's inability—or unwillingness--to get Butler and tight end John Carlson involved in the offense earlier has become a major problem. Carlson is a pass-catching tight end who should be used to move the sticks on every possession, and Butler is the only receiver on this team with elite speed.

Seattle's offensive line was overmatched by the 49ers' front seven, so much so that on obvious passing downs, backup tight end John Owens was used as an additional blocker. At that point, why not just put Damion McIntosh in there?

Offense

With the NFL's 5th-ranked run defense coming to town, the Seahawks were expected to air it out on Sunday, and Knapp did not disappoint. Seattle's first five play calls, including the opening play that was negated by the 49ers' bizarre timeout, were pass plays.

Seattle's offensive line struggled to protect Hasselbeck, so for much of the day, the passing game wasn't real effective. Much of the completions were dumpoffs to the running backs, and the passing that didn't crack the century mark last week in St. Louis, had just 98 yards through three quarterbacks, including 23 on a Hasselbeck-to-Burleson on the final play of the 3rd quarter.

In the fourth quarter, though, Hasselbeck was an efficient 12-of-13 passes for 98 yards, with his lone incompletion coming on Deion Branch's dropped pass deep down the middle on a 3rd-and-19 play that ended the team's second-to-last drive.

Burleson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh were the most-targeted Seahawks on Sunday, each catching five of seven targets. Houshmandzadeh did the bulk of his damage in the 4th quarter, catching three passes for 21 yards. Because of the ferocity of the 49ers' pass rush, and the offensive line's inability to handle it effectively, the running backs played a larger role in the passing game.

40% of the Seattle's pass attempts were to running backs, with Jones leading the way in receptions with 5, though for -3 yards. Justin Forsett was limited by a quadriceps injury, but caught three passes for 25 yards, including a 7-yard touchdown on a screen pass in the 2nd quarter that was set-up by an impressive 25-yard grab by fullback Justin Griffith, who caught two additional passes, but finished with just 25 yards receiving. Backup running back Louis Rankin caught one pass from Seneca Wallace for seven yars.

Butler, Branch, and Ben Obomanu each caught one pass on Sunday, with Branch scoring on a 7-yard pass to put the ‘Hawks on the board.

Seattle's 107 yards rushing against the NFL's 5th-ranked run defense sounds impressive, but is ultimately misleading. Remove Hasselbeck's 31 yards on four scrambles, and the running backs gained just 76 yards on 25 carries.

The 12th Man appeared displeased with the lack of Forsett in the running game, as Jones had a 4-to-1 edge in the team's carries on Sunday. As tempting as it may be to criticize the way the ‘Hawks used their running backs, Forsett wasn't 100%, and Jones was.

A more focused criticism could be that the team made no effort to Rankin involved in the offense, given that these final five weeks should be used to evaluate as many bodies during in-game situations as possible.

Defense

49ers running back Frank Gore could be enshrined in Canton one day if he were allowed to play against the Seahawks every week. Entering Sunday, Gore needed 126 yards to reach 1,000 against Seattle, in what would be his ninth game since entering the league in 2005.

So it was stunning that 49ers offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye, a self-described "run first" play-caller, handed the ball to Gore just nine times on Sunday, gaining just 25 yards. A third of Gore's carries came on one series where the 49ers were just trying to give punter Andy Lee some room when they were pinned deep in their own territory.

Therefore, one can only take the 53 rushing yards allowed on Sunday with a copious amount of salt, though this isn't to say that the Seahawks didn't get solid efforts against the run by Mebane, Colin Cole, Lawrence Jackson, Darryl Tapp, along with linebackers David Hawthorne, Aaron Curry, and Leroy Hill, who limited Gore to a long run of 6 yards. Safety Deon Grant played well in run support, as well.

The 49ers two longest runs came on a tight end around to Delanie Walker (7 yards) and an end around with Josh Morgan (20 yards).

With 49ers quarterback Alex Smith often in shotgun (37 of 58 plays), the Seahawks weren't able to get much pressure on him, sacking him just the one time, which helped for the 1st overall pick of the 2005 NFL Draft throw for 300+ yards for the first time in his career. The Seahawks didn't defend many passes (Curry had a team-high two), and allowed eight of Smith's 23 completions to go for what's classified as "explosive plays", which in the passing game is 16+ yards, and does not include Marcus Trufant's 28-yard pass interference penalty in the 4th quarter.

What they did do well, however, was get off the field on third downs and play timely defense.

The 49ers converted just 1-of-13 (8%) third down conversion attempts, and were 0-of-6 on third down in the second half, thanks largely to the Seahawks putting the 49ers into unfavorable down-and-distance situations. Four of the 49ers' second-half third down conversion attempts were of 7-yard or greater, including third quarter attempts of 12, 12, and 15 yards.

When the 49ers' offense did get rolling in the second half, as they did early in the 4th quarter, driving 72 yards on five plays in less than four minutes, the Seahawks team defense came up with a big play on defense. Jackson and Tapp stopped Gore's progress just as Babineaux came from behind, knocking the ball loose, which Wilson scooped up and returned 43 yards to set up a Seahawks' field goal.

Special Teams

Seahawks punter Jon Ryan was busy as he was effective, putting six of his nine punts inside the 49ers' 20-yard line. He and Olindo Mare, who punted for the first time since 2005, had excellent help down-field coverage on their kicks by the aforementioned Reed, whose three tackles and fumble recovery could warrant Special Teams Player of the Week consideration, as well as Carlson, Butler, Obomanu, Unger, and even long-snapper Kevin Houser.

Mare was his usually accurate self, hitting on both field goal tries, including the game-winner from 30 yards out. He's now connected on a franchise-record 18 straight field goal attempts. Mare struggled a bit with depth on his kickoffs on Sunday, only placing one into the end zone for a touchback. Reed, Owen Schmitt, Lance Laury, and Ken Lucas all made tackles as part of the kick coverage unit.

Game Notes: QB Mike Teel (3rd QB), DE Cory Redding, S Jamar Adams, G Mike Gibson, G Mansfield Wrotto, TE Cameron Morrah, DE Derek Walker, and DT Red Bryant were inactive on Sunday…Seahawks head coach Jim Mora wore a Lakewood Police Department hat on the sidelines, with the badge numbers of the four officers slain last week embroidered on it.

Summary

It wasn't pretty, in fact it was downright ugly, but the Seahawks picked up a win in back-to-back weeks for the first time this season and all but ended any hopes their closest geographical rival had for the post-season.

For a team in transition, those are insignificant achievements.

Now the Seahawks must go on the road to face the inconsistent Houston Texans, who provide the ‘Hawks with an outstanding opportunity to put together their first three-game win streak since 2007.

In addition to writing for NorthwestFootball.net, Brian McIntyre blogs daily at Mac's Football Blog. You can follow Brian on Twitter, and if you'd like to e-mail him, you can always do so by clicking here.

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