Grant Cohn: How 49ers can beat the Seahawks
The Seahawks expect to pound the 49ers into flat, little hamburger patties on Sunday and probably will. Face it.
Seattle put the 49ers through the meat grinder just two weeks ago, rushed for 168 yards and won by 27 points. Now, the Seahawks need just one more win to clinch a playoff berth.
They’re coming to clinch that berth, hurt the 49ers and break their will to play. I expect the 49ers will lose 20-13. The Seahawks simply are better.
But the better team doesn’t always win. The 49ers have a chance if they can follow these five instructions offered in a well-meaning spirit.
1. Establish someone other than George Kittle in the pass game.
Here’s the Seahawks’ game plan on defense: put eight defenders near the line of scrimmage, shut down the run game, double-cover Kittle and force other 49ers to produce.
The 49ers might have lost last week had the Broncos followed that obvious plan. Instead, the Broncos covered Kittle man to man during the first half, and Kittle gained 210 receiving yards before halftime while the rest of the 49ers gained just 61 yards through the air.
The Broncos’ defense made a simple adjustment during the second half. Switched from man-to-man coverage to zone. That’s all it took to shut down Kittle and the 49ers offense. Kittle caught no more passes and the 49ers scored no more points.
The Seahawks play lots of zone coverage. They will have plenty of ways to bracket Kittle with two or three defenders and force Nick Mullens to throw elsewhere.
Kyle Shanahan must establish someone other than Kittle in the pass game. Someone like Dante Pettis or Trent Taylor or Kyle Juszczyk. If Mullens has to drop back and hold the ball too long because no one is open, the 49ers have no chance.
2. Create a big play for a touchdown.
Here are some numbers you should know:
A typical NFL game usually contains 11 or 12 drives for each team.
The Seahawks shorten games by running the ball more than they pass and using lots of clock. So, a Seahawks game can contain as few as nine drives for each team.
The past three weeks, the 49ers offense has scored points during just 28 percent of their drives — less than one in three. That’s because they’ve struggled to convert on third down (32.4 percent) and in the red zone (37.5 percent).
If the 49ers’ offense gets nine drives on Sunday, it most likely will reach the red zone only three times, enter the end zone just once, kick two field goals, score 13 points and lose.
The 49ers need ways to score touchdowns while avoiding third down and the red zone. They need big plays outside the red zone. Here’s how the 49ers can create them:
3. Challenge Seahawks cornerback Tre Flowers.
The Seahawks defense has given up just 16.7 points per game the past three weeks. But it has a weakness the 49ers can exploit.
Rookie cornerback Tre Flowers.
Flowers played strong safety at Oklahoma State. Never played corner before this season. The Seahawks drafted him in the fifth round this year. On Monday, he gave up a 48-yard catch up the sideline to Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who ran right past Flowers.