Who has it better: 49ers or Seahawks D?
January, 17, 2014
By Marty Callinan | ESPN.com
Michael Zagaris/Getty ImagesThe offenses will have to work for every yard in Sunday's matchup.
Today we look at the defenses of the Seahawks and 49ers to see who has the advantage at each level.
The Seahawks signed defensive ends Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett in the offseason. They contributed with 8 and 8.5 sacks respectively. In the previous 10 seasons, Seahawks defensive ends reached eight sacks in a season three times, and never in the same season.
Seahawks defensive linemen did more than sack opposing quarterbacks. They accounted for 39 disrupted dropbacks (sacks + interceptions + batted/defended passes) during the regular season (10th in NFL). 49ers defensive linemen finished 30th in disrupted dropbacks with 19.
The 49ers do have a strong defensive line, anchored by defensive tackle Justin Smith, but they have been uncharacteristically generous when facing the Seahawks over the last three seasons.
Since the start of 2011, the 49ers defense has allowed Marshawn Lynch to rush for 100 yards in a game three times, more than all other individual rushers combined over that span.
The 49ers have been particularly vulnerable on Lynch’s rushes up the middle, allowing 5.2 yards per rush over the last three seasons. The other 30 NFL teams average 3.8 yards on those rushes against the 49ers.
Pick: Seahawks. They have gotten after Colin Kaepernick and have held him to a Total QBR of 16 when rushing four. That leaves seven in coverage for an opportunistic defense.
Tackling technique comes into question a lot in today’s NFL. Not so much with these two teams.
The 49ers and Seahawks ranked first and second in fewest yards after contact allowed this season, thanks to strong tackling at all levels. The 49ers led the NFL in solo tackles by linebackers with 348, 33 more than the next closest team.
All four of the 49ers’ primary linebackers have been named to the All-Pro team in the last two years. Aldon Smith made it once in 2012 while Patrick Willis, Ahmad Brooks and Navorro Bowman have all made the first or second team multiple times.
49ers linebackers combined for 46 disrupted dropbacks, fourth in the NFL. Those came in the form of 28 sacks (fifth), three interceptions (T-18th) and 16 pass breakups (fifth).
The Seahawks cannot match the 49ers in terms of name recognition at linebacker, but Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, Malcolm Smith and Bruce Irvin all had strong seasons.
As mentioned above, the Seahawks are among the best at tackling. The linebackers also helped contribute to a league-high 56 defensive expected points added when sending four or fewer pass rushers.
On passes between the numbers and 10 or fewer yards from the line of scrimmage, the Seahawks allowed a Total QBR of 40, ranked fourth in the NFL. Seahawk linebackers have four interceptions on such throws, tied for third in the league among that position group.
Pick: 49ers. They have too many All-Pros who can do everything.
The case for the Seahawks secondary is not a hard one to make. As the chart shows, Seattle led the NFL in just about every defensive statistic.
First team All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman leads the talented Seahawks secondary. Sherman’s 20 interceptions in his first three seasons are the third-most in a player’s first three seasons since the merger in 1970.
Sherman and the rest of the Seahawks secondary take away the sidelines as well as anyone. The Seahawks allowed NFL-lows in completion percentage (49), yards per attempt (4.8), interceptions (14) and Total QBR (34) on passes outside the painted numbers.
Pick: Seahawks. Sherman, fellow first team All-Pro Earl Thomas and company are the best in the business right now.