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#HawksMailbag - December 10: Why not let the 49ers score late in the game?

Posted Dec 10, 2013

Answering your questions about the club on weekly basis.

Welcome to another edition of #HawksMailbag here on Seahawks.com, our weekly feature where we answer your Twitter questions about the club.

With a chance to clinch the division and a first-round playoff bye with a win in Week 14, the Seahawks endured a 19-17 defeat at the hands (and feet) of the San Francisco 49ers. Late-game decisions, penalties, quarterback Russell Wilson, linebacker K.J. Wright, and playoff scenarios highlighted a majority of your inquiries this week. Let's get down to it.

The thought did cross head coach Pete Carroll's mind.

If the Seahawks let the 49ers score a touchdown late in the game as you suggest, Seattle would have been down by either five or seven points (assuming San Francisco would go for the two-point conversion) with a little more than two minutes to play. Carroll expressed complete confidence in quarterback Russell Wilson's ability to lead the offense down the field for the go-ahead or game-tying touchdown in that position, but he opted to play the 49ers straight up on defense with the hope of forcing a turnover or blocking the field goal.

"We do know that’s an alternative," Carroll said during his Monday press conference. "I remember it’s happened before. People have tried it. I was clear about it and decided to go and see if we can knock the ball down. See if we can get them out of here and just to stay with the principles of doing it on defense."

With the Seahawks out of timeouts, the "let them score" scenario fails to recognize whether or not the 49ers would have been cognizant of the situation and gone down on consecutive plays short of the goal line to keep the clock running to the two-minute warning and beyond. San Francisco running back Frank Gore had already alertly done so on the tail-end of his 51-yard cutback run that brought the 49ers within field goal range.

It's an interesting situation with a lot of variables, and one Carroll said he'll consider moving forward.

"It is one of the alternatives," Carroll summed. "So it’s a possibility."

It's no secret that penalties have been an ongoing issue for the Seahawks, who have racked up 104 flags for 966 yards through Week 14. That number ranks second-most in the NFL, trailing only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (106 infractions for 1,000 yards). The club has found ways to overcome those setbacks en route to a League-high 11 wins, but on Sunday it was apparent the Seahawks had dug themselves into a hole. And against a good 49ers defense on the road, they couldn't dig themselves out.

Head coach Pete Carroll didn't blame the officials for the abundance of dirty laundry (the 49ers were penalized seven times for 70 yards), but rather cited three instances of the flag being tossed where his team "needed to stay out of those situations" - a hold on left tackle Russell Okung, a pass interference on wide receiver Golden Tate, and a face mask on fullback Michael Robinson. All three plays wiped out positive gains and hindered the progress of three separate drives.

"We didn’t overcome them, so those drives got wasted," Carroll said the day after the game. "All three of those penalties were on really successful plays, all first down plays. So that was a big factor."

It's a factor that's unlikely to magically disappear and one that will take discipline to resolve. Sunday's game serves as a great learning opportunity for Carroll and his club to make the necessary adjustments.

Head coach Pete Carroll saw things a little bit differently, noting quarterback Russell Wilson handled his reads in the run game just right, but the option to use his legs wasn't there. Carroll credited the 49ers for defending the situation well, as San Francisco outside linebackers Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks were sitting on the edges waiting for Wilson.

"They had him accounted for at all times," Carroll said on his day-after-the-game conversation with 710 ESPN Seattle's Brock and Danny.

Pass protection also held up for most of the afternoon and we know Wilson likes to throw before he'll look to run. Wilson did take two sacks, but he completed 60 percent of his passes for 199 yards and a touchdown. He finished 8-of-11 for 144 yards and a score with a 145.1 rating in the first half alone.

"We picked guys up well and gave him a chance to throw the football," Carroll said of the lack of designed runs for Wilson. "They looked to be concentrating on him in the running game to keep him from getting the football, so the ball got handed off a lot. We were looking for opportunities, but it just wasn’t there and we handled it right and read it right throughout the game."

You may know by now that head coach Pete Carroll preaches the "next man up" mentality. It's something we've seen multiple times this season, with the most recent example coming from cornerbacks Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane stepping in for Brandon Browner (groin) and Walter Thurmond (suspension).

Well, linebacker Malcolm Smith is the next "next man up." He'll fill the weak-side linebacker role left by K.J. Wright, who is expected to miss four to six weeks following surgery for a broken foot he suffered on Sunday against the 49ers. Smith has been in this situation before, starting two games in place of the suspended Bruce Irvin to begin the year and filling Wright's shoes in Week 6 and 7 when Wright moved to the middle for the then-injured Bobby Wagner. Smith and fellow backers O'Brien Schofield and Mike Morgan move up the depth chart and Carroll has expressed comfort in the trio's knowledge and ability at the position.

Losing Wright hurts because of the versatility he provided at the defense's second level. Wright is capable of playing all three linebacker spots - weak-side, strong-side and in the middle - and he's capable of playing them all at a high level. Smith, Wagner, and Irvin have put together solid seasons of their own, but the coaching staff displayed a unique confidence in Wright's capability to move around when needed. That's what the Seahawks will miss most in adjusting to life without Wright.

I see you sneaking two questions in there, Dennis. Bold move. I'm feeling extra-motivated today, so I'll do my best to answer both.

The Seahawks have already clinched a playoff spot, so that chance is secure.

Clinching the NFC West and home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs are still on the table. If the Seahawks win two of their final three regular season games, they'll accomplish both. A Seahawks win in Week 15 against the New York Giants coupled with a loss or tie by the 49ers and a loss by the New Orleans Saints would also accomplish both.

The Seahawks can clinch the division and a first-round bye with a win on Sunday against the Giants and a 49ers loss or tie. A tie with the Giants and loss by the Niners would also accomplish the same thing.

The scenarios are plentiful, and outlined fairly well on NFL.com's playoff picture page. Check it out.

As for Part II of your question, center Max Unger - who left Sunday's game with a chest injury in the fourth quarter - will be limited when practice gets underway on Wednesday. But head coach Pete Carroll said his All-Pro/Pro Bowl center does have a chance to play this week against the Giants.

Unger was replaced by fourth-year pro Lemuel Jeanpierre, who has already seen considerable playing time in Unger's absence this season. Jeanpierre started games in Weeks 4 and 5 when Unger was out with an arm injury and came on in Week 9 and started in Week 10 while Unger was dealing with a concussion.

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