Lowell Cohn: Weakened Seahawks give 49ers a chance
SEATTLE - The 49ers have a pretty good chance to beat the Seahawks.
Pretty good isn’t very good or excellent, but it’s better than no way in the world or this game is so easy for the Seahawks it’s a joke. Well, check it out, this game isn’t a joke. The Niners have a definite chance to win, not a bet-your-mortgage-on-them chance, but a pretty good chance. It has something to do with the Seahawks and it has something to do with the 49ers.
For starters, the 49ers have beaten better teams than the Seahawks, who won 12 games last season and played in the Super Bowl. Now, they seem lost. Their record is crummy, 4-5. Not what you’d expect. Certainly, not what they expected. The Niners, for all the weirdness surrounding them, have beaten the Vikings and the Falcons, both playoff contenders. It’s kind of inexplicable but it’s true.
The Seahawks did the 49ers and the entire league an enormous favor after last season. They messed with a good thing, their good thing. They made a splashy trade which, in hindsight, blew water into their faces. They traded center Max Unger and a draft pick to New Orleans for tight end Jimmy Graham and a draft pick.
Unger for Graham. No-brainer, right? Centers are a dime a dozen. My dad used to say “a dime a dozen,” not to mention, “There are more (fill in the blank) than you could shake a stick at.” Well, it turns out good centers are not a dime a dozen and there aren’t enough elite ones to shake a stick at. They’re hard to find.
The Seahawks thought by getting Graham, one heck of a tight end, they would improve their passing game and be even better than last season and win the whole thing. After the trade, someone wrote on seahawks.com: “If the 2014 season proved anything for the Seahawks, it’s that they needed more production from the tight end position and also that they could win without center Max Unger.”
Win without center Max Unger? You want to fall down laughing. The Seahawks have a losing record. As every casual fan knows, teams need a good center. The center is so unglamorous but so necessary. And teams most definitely need a firm, strong, talented offensive line. A team doesn’t have one of those it’s the Seahawks - or the 49ers.
So, here’s what happened to Seattle. They wanted to improve the passing game with Graham, but without Unger, the pass protection flopped. That means quarterback Russell Wilson has trouble getting the ball to his receivers including Graham. The paradox is the Seahawks could get more out of Graham if they had Unger, but if they had Unger they wouldn’t have Graham. Rock-and-a-hard-place territory.
There’s more. The Ungerless offensive line doesn’t block so well for the run game. That means Marshawn Lynch rarely goes into Beast Mode anymore. He’s in Just Another Guy Mode.
The Seahawks offense has been dull, limited, not good enough. And the Seahawks did this to themselves. They struggle to score. The 49ers ought to send them a thank-you note.
OK, that’s what the Seahawks did to themselves. That’s why the 49ers stand a chance. But the 49ers also did something to themselves. They benched quarterback Colin Kaepernick and replaced him with Blaine Gabbert. Of course, that move now is moot. On Saturday, the 49ers placed Kaepernick on injured reserve with a left-shoulder injury, ending his participation with the Niners this season and probably forever.
Until Gabbert beat Atlanta in the 49ers’ previous game, he was nobody. Even as a nobody he is an upgrade from Kaepernick, the once-and-no-more 49ers QB. Look at Kaepernick’s “achievements” in games played in Seattle.
Note: It is not the custom of this column to cite statistics. This column tries to be accessible to the casual fan and the non-fan. But in this case, statistics tell the Kaepernick story, now reaching its denouement. So, please take a deep breath and read on:
Dec. 23, 2012: Kaepernick threw one pick and finished with a 72.0 passer rating.
Sept. 15, 2013: three picks, one fumble, 20.1 rating.
Jan. 1, 2014: two picks, one fumble, 56.4 rating.
Dec.12, 2014: zero picks, 81.2 rating
Cumulative: four games, eight turnovers, 55.2 rating.
You want to die.
Kaepernick never won in Seattle. The last time the 49ers beat the Seahawks in Seattle Alex Smith was the quarterback - Dec. 24, 2011. Long time ago.
All Kaepernick’s defiencies emerged against Seattle in that loud, damp, unwelcoming stadium. His inability to get the ball out fast. His inability to see multiple receivers in the flash of an eye. His tendency to go into a trance and repeat the same mistakes again and again. His tendency to get plays off too late. His tendency to throw bad passes under pressure.
Alex Smith could beat the Seahawks because he was - and is - a game manager. A modest game manager. He makes few mistakes, doesn’t beat himself, allows his defense to rise up. Sometimes, a game manager is just the ticket. And Kaepernick is too undisciplined - or whatever he is - to be a game manager. He is a game murderer. And now he’s history.
Which brings us to Gabbert, perhaps a game manager deluxe. We’re about to find out. If he doesn’t turn the ball over, the 49ers have their chance. The 49ers defense can control the unthreatening Seahawks offense, or at least compete. Can keep the 49ers in the game. The 49ers don’t have to score a ton to win. They need to play a neat, efficient, respectable offensive game. They need an offense which complements their defense. That Kaepernick could not give them.
That Gabbert may give them. Just may.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at firstname.lastname@example.org.