San Francisco 49ers Out-Slug the Seahawks, Take Over NFC West
By Brandon Burnett
Cold, Hard Football Facts Wizard of the NFC West (@B_Burnett49er)
Win the ground game, win the ball game.
That's been the story for the divisional rivalry between the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks, and the Niners are sticking to it.
Powered by 175 total rushing yards (131 from Frank Gore), San Francisco was able to out-slug the Hawks by the score of 13-6 after 60 minutes of trash-talking, face-mashing, NFC West football.
As previously mentioned in this week's NFC West preview, the team with the most rushing yards at the end of the game has come away with the W in the last six matchups between the Niners and Hawks.
Go ahead and make it seven straight.
Both squads lowered the boom on defense, as expected. Points were undoubtedly to come at a premium all night.
The difference? The 49ers found the end zone, while managing to keep its opponent out of it for a fifth straight game when following a loss.
Here are five things we learned.
1. This was one of those "All-Day Street Fight" Kinds of Games
Bone-crushing hits. Field Goals. Punts. Sacks. Turnovers. Get used to these things being commonplace when two NFCW foes line up across from one another for four quarters of football.
Never mind that these two teams were four days removed from their Week 6 battles on the gridiron. There was a clear understanding of the importance of this ball game on each sideline. The winner is guaranteed at least a share of first in the division and possibly sole possession of it if the Cardinals fall to the Vikings on Sunday. The loser, believe it or not, could wind up tied for last with a Rams win over the Packers.
So, they fought. And after two quarters, the Hawks held a 6-3 advantage and, more importantly, were winning the physical battle in the Niners house.
But the 49ers came out of locker room and found another gear to start the second half, taking a 10-play, 86-yard drive to the end zone the first time they got the ball. Their next was a 9-play, 66-yard march down the field that came up empty thanks to an ill-advised Alex Smith pass to the end zone that found the hands of Seahawks' CB Brandon Browner.
2. Keeping the QB's Quiet
Thursday night was not a great night for Russell Wilson. Aside from a 12-yard TD pass to TE Delanie Walker, it was a forgettable outing for Alex Smith as well.
Wilson's horrific stat line (9 for 23, 122 yards, 1 INT) wasn't entirely his fault. Numerous precise deep passes in the first half were inexcusably dropped by his intended target. The pick on the other hand was a shot down the field into triple coverage while he was being hit. Sidney Rice, who was wide open on the play, thrust his mouthpiece into the dirt in disgust after the outcome of the play.
San Francisco came in allowing 183.2 passing yards per game—the second lowest total in the NFL. So, it's not entirely a surprise that he had such a rough day, but Wilson could've easily went for over 200 and a score if his receivers didn't flub some of the most catchable balls you'll ever see.
As for Smith, his third-quarter red zone interception was his fifth INT of the season. That total matches the amount he threw after all 16 games in 2011. Surprisingly, there wasn't a ton of pressure coming from the Seahawks D-line. But their physical defensive backs won the individual battles all night and relegated the 49ers passing game to check-downs.
Unfortunately for Seattle, those check-downs were effective. In addition to his 131 rushing yards, Gore caught five passes for 51 yards on the night. It was enough to keep Wilson and the offense off the field much of the second half, and the 49ers defense held Seattle to three punts, an interception and a turnover on downs on their five second-half drives.
3. San Francisco's Defense Goes Into Overdrive After Losses
We touched briefly on the 49ers holding their opponent out of the end zone for a fifth straight game following a loss, but just how impressive is that feat?
San Fran is allowing a measly 234 yards and 3.4 points per game in their five post-defeat victories under head coach Jim Harbaugh. The sample size isn't huge, but you don't need me to tell you that those figures are historically low averages.
As far as 2012 is concerned, the Seahawks aren't too shabby in this department themselves. Following a Week 4 loss to the Rams, Seattle held Cam Newton and the Panthers to 190 yards of offense in a 19-12 win. Back in Week 2, they shut down Tony Romo 27-7 after a Week 1 loss.
Keep an eye on the Seahawks next week to see how they rebound when they head to Detroit to battle the Lions at Ford Field.
4. Russell Wilson Needs to Clean Up His Act on the Road
Seattle is now 1-3 in away games, with all three losses coming against NFCW foes. And the difference between Wilson's performances home and away have been night and day at this point.
At home, the Seahawks' signal-caller has six touchdown passes with no interceptions and a passer rating of at least 99.3 in each game. In those four away games, he's got just two TD passes compared to six interceptions and a passer rating higher than 62.5 in only one of those contests.
Wilson has had plenty of great moments in 2012, but the majority of them have come inside the friendly confines of CenturyLink Field. The receivers need to help him out and catch the damn ball, of course, but not even a stout D and potent rushing attack can carry a team to victory if the passing game doesn't pitch in.
Now sitting at 4-3 and 0-3 in the NFCW, winning each of their final five home games would only put the Seahawks at nine wins. You can expect 10, if not 11 to be the toal required to take home the division crown. So, at the very least Seattle will have to win at least one road game to stay in the hunt, or they'll be looking at a best-case scenario of earning a wild card spot and heading out on the road for the first week of the playoffs.
5. The 49ers Remain the Team to Beat in the NFC West
Coming in to Week 7, the 49ers were scoring 25.3 points per game, exactly one touchdown ahead of the Rams, Seahawks and Cardinals who had all scored 110 points (18.3 PPG) through six games.
On defense, all four NFCW squads came into Week 7 in Top Five in points against. After the Bears (14.2 points allowed per game), the Seahawks (15.5), 49ers (15.7), Cardinals (16.2) and Rams (18.5) follow, rounding out the Top Five.
After holding the Seahawks to six points, San Fran is now allowing just 14.3 PPG and scoring 23.6 PPG.
Of course, these numbers alone do not decide wins and losses, but they do fall right in line with where the Niners were at last year after a 13-3 record. In 2011, the 49ers final points allowed per game was exactly what it is now (14.3 PPG) and the points scored (23.8 PPG) is just a hair off.
Now, nobody is "crowning their ass" just yet. A Rams win on Sunday guarantees that only a game will separate first place from last.
That said, the numbers give us a pretty solid idea of where each team stands at this point in the year. And right now, they're telling us that the 49ers are still the team to beat in the NFC West.