Monday metatarsal musings

Posted Sep 12, 2011

Or footnotes: A look at three things that went well in the loss to the 49ers on Sunday, and three things that need work as the Seahawks prepare for this week's game against the Steelers.

They are the youngest starting safety tandem in the league, but you never would have know it by the way Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor performed in their first game together as the Seahawks’ last line of defense.

They were selected in last year’s NFL Draft – Thomas with the 14th pick in the first round; Chancellor in the fifth round. Thomas, who grew up in Texas and played at the University of Texas, turned 22 in May. Chancellor, who grew up in Virginia and played at Virginia Tech, is 23. Thomas is smaller (5 feet 10, 202 pounds), but faster – a prerequisite to play free safety in coach Pete Carroll’s defense. Chancellor is bigger – a lot bigger (6-3, 232) – and is as physical as he is big. That definitely works when you’re playing strong safety.

Their paths have crossed in the Seahawks’ secondary, and Sunday they were on a collision course with any 49er who had his hands on the ball during the Seahawks’ 33-17 loss at Candlestick Park.

Chancellor made a game-high nine tackles, all solo stops. Thomas was next with eight, including six solos.

This is just what the coaches expected when they selected the pair last year, and exactly what they got in their first start together.

“That was absolutely the thought and the plan, and that’s what they’ve grown into,” said Kris Richard, the former Seahawks cornerback who is now coaching the defensive backs on Carroll’s staff.

Thomas was a starter last season, when he tied the franchise rookie record with five interceptions and also finished fifth on the team with 71 tackles. Chancellor played behind Lawyer Milloy until the bye week, and then starting replacing Milloy at strong safety in the nickel so the veteran could be a playmaker even closer to the line. Chancellor finished with 12 tackles, including a sack.

But the Seahawks decided against re-signing Milloy, in large part because they wanted to see what Chancellor could do given a larger role. He and Thomas have meshed their talents into an impressive 1-2 punch.

“You can see it in the way their relationship has grown,” Richard said. “It’s grown tight, and the influence that they have had over the (meeting) room as far as effort and intensity is concerned is absolutely phenomenal.”

That was apparent Sunday. Their combined 17 tackles didn’t come only while chasing down receivers after big gains. They were forcing plays by forcing the issue. Each had two tackles for losses. He had two tackles inside the red zone.

“That’s Earl’s nature,” Richard said of Thomas’ fearless style where he’ll throw himself into thighs as large as those attached to 49ers running back Frank Gore.

“The one thing he is absolutely committed to is giving his best every play that he’s out there.”

That same description could be used to define Chancellor’s style.

And these guys are basically still kids, even on a roster as young as the Seahawks.

“There is no age specification as far as effort and enthusiasm and all the things we ask in a game is concerned,” Richard said. “If you go out there and you do your best to do what we ask you do, that is what’s up to them and what they have done.

“That’s what they’ve taken advantage of, essentially. They’re doing everything they’re asked and they’re doing it with great intensity and effort.”

With the said, here’s a look at three more things that worked against the 49ers and three things that need work this week as the Seahawks prepare for Sunday’s game against the Steelers in Pittsburgh:

What worked

The defense. Especially in the red zone. As Thomas said after the game, “I think the defense played really well. I think we gave ourselves a chance.” That they did, and coordinator Gus Bradley’s unit was exceptional once the 49ers got into the red zone. Four times the Seahawks forced them to settle for field goals, despite having first downs at the Seahawks’ 9-, 4-, 14- and 1-yard lines. How does that happen? One 15 snaps inside the Seahawks’ 15, the 49ers got 24 yards – or an average of 1.6. That works no matter how you slice and dice the stats.

Doug Baldwin in the slot. Surprised that a rookie free agent is the team’s leading receiver? Then you haven’t been paying attention. The plays Baldwin made on Sunday were the same kind he has been making since he showed up for training camp and continued to make during the preseason. He had four catches for 83 yards and each produced a first down – including a 12-yarder on third-and-9, a 12-yarder on third-and-10 and a 4-yarder on fourth-and-1. The biggest, of course, was his 55-yard TD catch – which was a 7-yard pass and 48 yards of run after the catch.

Jon Ryan. His final punt was returned for a touchdown, but before that he got off a franchise-record 77-yarder and his average on seven punts was 48.9 yards. Obviously cutting his long locks last week did not sap him of his strength.

What needs work

Kick coverage. Does this even need elaboration? OK, in one game-altering 59-second span of the fourth quarter, Ted Ginn Jr. returned a kickoff 102 yards for a touchdown and a punt 55 yards for another score. On the day, Ginn had 268 yards on nine returns.

Pass protection. Tarvaris Jackson was sacked five times and hit eight other times. That’s bad enough, obviously. Even worse? It wasn’t just a 49er or two doing the damage to the Seahawks’ QB. Sure, Justin Smith had two sacks and Ray McDonald three hits. But the five sacks came from three different players and the other hits from four. This week, it’s the Steelers in Pittsburgh – aka Blitzburgh.

Penalties. The Seahawks had 11 for 72 wrong-way yards. This after averaging almost nine during the preseason. They can’t continue to give away yards, and the yards those penalties erase.