– To win today, the 49ers must take a few “chunks” out of the Seahawks’ defense.
This was according to offensive coordinator Greg Roman, who said the common denominator in Seattle’s losses in recent years is that they’ve given up so-called chunk plays, gains of 20 or more yards.
“We’ve played them five times (since 2011),” Roman said. “And in all those games that we’ve won, and really when you see anyone that beats Seattle, one of the common threads is that they’re going to make chunk plays against them. Whether it be in the run game or the pass game – and that’s a common thread of beating Seattle.”
Seattle’s only loss this season – to Indianapolis in Week 5 – featured a handful of big, momentum-turning plays. Colts quarterback Andrew Luck passed to receiver T.Y. Hilton for touchdowns of 73 and 29 yards. The game also included a 61-yard touchdown return of a blocked Seahawks field-goal attempt.
But those types of plays have been scarce this season against Seattle’s defense, which has allowed only 28 plays of 20 or more yards, best in the NFL. In their Week 2 loss in Seattle, for example, the 49ers had only one sizable gain, a 28-yard scramble by Colin Kaepernick in the third quarter.
The 49ers, however, feel there could be more opportunities today against a defense that likes to play aggressive, one-on-one coverage with its cornerbacks and typically keeps only one safety – Earl Thomas – deep in coverage to take away long gains.
In the teams’ first meeting, the 49ers lost their best big-play threat, Vernon Davis, to a hamstring injury early in the fourth quarter. Davis has 14 receptions of 20 or more yards – second to New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham among tight ends – and his 64-yard touchdown against Houston in Week 5 is the 49ers’ longest play of the season.
The 49ers’ second-longest play also gives the team optimism. It came last week courtesy of Michael Crabtree, who played in his first game after returning from an Achilles’ tendon tear and who appears to have suffered no ill effects from his debut.
Last week, Crabtree put a double move on Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson, who was playing aggressively and trying to take away the underneath route, and Kaepernick connected with Crabtree for a 60-yard gain.
Roman said the play was installed especially for Crabtree and for the style of defense the Rams like to play.
“For sure – really saw something that alluded to that being a good play,” Roman said. “And it was really good by Colin and Crab having that Jedi thing going on that play. That was something that they talked about in the meeting. They got a feel for it, and it happened on the field. That was really good to see.”
The 49ers have suffered blowout losses the last two times they’ve faced Seattle, which can clinch the NFC West division title with a win. But both games were in Seattle, and the 49ers did not have the same caliber of pass catchers they will field today.
Davis noted another receiver, Mario Manningham, also missed the teams’ Week 2 game.
“They’re definitely going to have to make changes,” Davis said of the Seahawks. “... We have pretty much all our weapons. We’re ready to go. I don’t know how or what they plan to do to prepare for all of us. But it’s going to be pretty exciting to see some of the changes they’re going to make to try to stop us. They can’t leave us one-on-one all the time.”
Crabtree and Anquan Boldin combined for 166 receiving yards Sunday and were feisty against the Rams’ defensive backs. Was that a good sign with Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman and his physical teammates likely to challenge the 49ers’ receivers today, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh was asked?
“They’re very good at what they do, very good at the system they play,” Harbaugh said. “Yeah, challenge is a good word. They challenge in man-to-man coverage at times. Our guys are up for that challenge, excited about it.”