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Monday metatarsal musings
Wow. Who really expected what transpired at Qwest Field on Sunday afternoon?
We knew the Seahawks would be more competitive under coach Pete Carroll. We knew they wouldn’t back down from any challenge, including playing their season opener against the NFC West favorite San Francisco 49ers. We really didn’t know what to make of all the roster changes last week.
But 31-6? That’s not a step in the right direction; it’s a quantum leap for a team that won nine games the past two seasons.
Here’s a look at three things to build on, three things that still need work and a look back at how last week’s needs-work elements played out against the 49ers.
Three steps forward
One. The defense. Where to begin? Marcus Trufant returned an interception for a touchdown and Jordan Babineaux also had one to set up a touchdown. The pass rush pressured 49ers quarterback Alex Smith into making ill-advised throws. The run defense limited Frank Gore to 38 yards on 17 carries. The 49ers drove inside the Seahawks’ 10-yard line on its first three possessions, but got only a pair of field goals. But the bottom-line stat that can be used to tie a ribbon around this total package was the 49ers converting one of 15 third-down situations. You don’t just win with numbers like these, you win going away.
Two. Matt Hasselbeck. Some quarterbacks threw for more yards in their openers. Some passed for more touchdowns. But no one completed a higher percentage than Hasselbeck (.783). Take away that interception on the first play of the game and a couple of drops and Hasselbeck was 18 of 21, or 86 percent. Hasselbeck spread his 18 completions among eight receivers for 170 yards, two touchdowns and the interception. That’s a portrait of efficiency.
Three. Third downs. We already touched on the suffocating efforts of the defense on third downs, but the offense converted five of 11 – or 45 percent, which is a marked improvement after the offense converted at a 33.3-percent clip last season. Hasselbeck was 7 of 7 on third downs for 32 yards, including his 3-yard TD pass to Deion Branch. After starting 3 of 3 on third downs during the 49ers’ first three possessions, Smith went 2 of 9 on third downs the rest of game and both interceptions were on the pivotal down.
Three areas that still need work
One. The running game. A little better. But, as Carroll put it after the game, still not good enough. The Seahawks want to be more balanced. They were in terms of plays (23 runs, 23 passes), but not production (170 passing yards to 77 rushing yards). The running-back-by-committee approach was just that – seven carries for 43 yards by Justin Forsett; eight carries for 18 yards by Julius Jones; and six carries for 12 yards by Leon Washington.
Two. The return game. Washington broke a 41-yard kickoff return, but got only 17 on his other attempt. Forsett averaged 5.7 yards on three punt returns, with a long of 12. They have the right players returning kicks and punts; it’s just that the return game still needs to find a productive groove following the infusion of so many new players last week.
Three. First-down defense. This is picking a nit, but the 49ers had four first-down plays that produced eight or more yards in the first half. But allowing fewer yards on first down, it puts the opponent into more third-and-longer situations – which can lead to the third-down interceptions by Trufant and Babineaux.
Last week’s improvement list
One. The offensive line. This unit was improved, and did it with Tyler Polumbus starting at left tackle for Russell Okung (sprained ankle) and Ben Hamilton playing the second half at left guard for Mike Gibson (strained back). Hasselbeck was sacked only once and Polumbus did a good job against 49ers Pro Bowl defensive end Justin Smith, without being given a lot help. Now, if they can start creating more running lanes in the zone-blocking scheme.
Two. The running game. See above.
Three. Penalties. Another improvement. After committing nine penalties for 111 yards in the preseason finale against the Raiders in Oakland, the Seahawks were flagged five times for 35 yards against the 49ers. Three of them were neutral-zone infractions by the defensive linemen, which will happen when you’re applying the kind of pressure the D-line did on Sunday.