San Francisco versus Seattle. A war for the division. At 5:20 PM, on December 29th, 2019, CenturyLink Field will be the battlefield for the NFC West crown, with the winner locking up the #1 seed in the NFC as well as home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. There is no better way to end this decade than with one of the fiercest rivalries of the 2010s deciding the fate of two historic franchises. Here’s what each team needs to do in order to effectively close out the regular season.
San Francisco- Offense
The first and arguably most important thing San Francisco needs to do on offense is to run the ball. Kyle Shanahan needs to win the line of scrimmage against a Seattle front led by Jadeveon Clowney, who destroyed San Francisco’s offense the previous matchup. Even though the Seattle defense is not at their best, Shanahan cannot gameplan away from the run.
The zone run is a vital part of his scheme and it’ll open up the downfield passing game against Seattle’s secondary. Furthermore, it keeps that ferocious defensive front fresh because it controls time of possession while keeping MVP-caliber quarterback Russell Wilson off the field.
Speaking of the passing game, the second thing Shanahan needs to do is get his unique weapons the ball, specifically referring to Kyle Juszczyk and George Kittle.
Whether it’s isolating them to draw clear man coverage or handing it off to them or even throwing them deep balls against mismatched linebackers or safeties, these two weapons need the ball. They have multiple roles, and the threat of San Fran’s zone run will get them open. Feed. Them. The. Ball. In. Any. Way. Possible.
The final thing Shanahan needs to keep in mind is to stay aggressive. Keep putting points on the board at all costs, and go for it on later downs. Fear is the 49ers’ worst enemy, especially against this quarterback and in this environment. Control the environment, control the time of possession, win the game.
San Francisco- Defense
Defensively, San Francisco has to rotate their linemen. One of the most imminent reasons behind this defense’s “regression” is the amount of time their star defensive linemen stay on the field is way too much (about 90% of snaps).
In order to keep the edge rushers fresh, take advantage of the versatility of the starters and bring in the second stringers whenever possible. Those pass rushers (Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead) need to retain as much energy as possible, so rotate.
San Francisco’s front-7 should not overpursue. Hold contain, stay patient, and then attack the quarterback. Call delayed blitzes, set the edge with those defensive ends, and do not ever take a bad angle at Russell Wilson.
He is at his best when he is on the move, and can usually outrun most defensive linemen, period. Wilson is very dangerous from a passing and rushing standpoint, and he’s an even bigger threat when he’s outside the pocket, so be patient. Set the edge, and use the Wide 9 alignment as an advantage.
Finally, do not ever underestimate the Seattle Seahawks. This team has undeniably lost a lot of players over the last few weeks, but any team led by Russell Wilson always has a chance, period. This is a hostile environment, and the 49ers need to be at their absolute best to beat a team trying to clinch home-field advantage.
Seattle, please run the football. No matter what, establish the run when appropriate. If one back is not getting it done, do not hand the ball off to him 30 times with the expectation that it will finally work (I’m looking at you, Schottenheimer). Running against one of the best defensive lines in the league is no easy task, so if something does not work, either change the play or use a different back.
Creating the correct blocking angles based on defensive alignment is just as important as using the right runner. If Seattle re-uses their gameplan against Arizona where C.J. Prosise constantly got stuffed for minimal gains, they will lose this game. The Seahawks’ offense cannot be behind the chains, so use the correct plays and the correct backs to establish the run, always adjusting on the fly.
Play with tempo. Get the quick passing game going so that San Francisco’s pass rushers get tired, and run hurry up so the 49ers cannot substitute and let their superstars recover. Screens, RPOs (run-pass option), quick outs, whatever it takes to keep those pass rushers away from Russell Wilson. The 49ers are not a very blitz-heavy team, but if those corners are giving cushions outside, take advantage of them.
Just like San Francisco, do not hesitate to go for it on 4th down. Pete Carroll has a terribly annoying habit of sending Jason Myers onto the field on 4th & 1 situations, which kills the momentum of the Hawks’ offense. Every field goal in that environment will be tough, so keep the offense on the field if the drive stalls.
Please, please do not play a base defense against the 49ers. Bobby Wagner has given up over 800 yards in coverage this season, and that is primarily because of Ken Norton’s scheme, which forces linebackers to match up on faster receiving backs as well as slot receivers. Wagner is an elite coverage linebacker, but placing him on exploitable islands against the 49ers’ diverse stable of weapons is a recipe for disaster.
Play Ugo Amadi and Marquise Blair in the nickel. They are quicker defensive backs who can cover slot receivers as well as anchor against the run. Blair would be a load for tight ends to handle in the zone run game and he can also cover receivers who leak out of designed bootlegs, a staple of the Shanahan system.
All in all, the 49ers should comfortably win this game. They have a significant advantage at every position outside of the quarterback, and every member of the 49ers roster will be available, with the exception of Dee Ford. Seattle will probably come out on fire, but San Francisco’s overwhelming amount of talent should easily control the rest of the game.
Final Score: 49ers 31, Seahawks 17.