Former 49ers linebacker and KNBR analysis and color commentator Gary Plummer is back again this year with his Points of the Game, a weekly online column that previews the upcoming opponent. Read his thoughts below about Sunday's road game against Seattle. **
Seattle is without some of their top receivers and I say Hallelujah. Matt Hasselbeck has shredded the 49ers more times than not, and part of the problem last week in Buffalo was the fact that he only had one starting receiver, and that was Nate Burleson, who's now gone. Hasselbeck had a difficult time making any throws against Buffalo. They pummeled him, partly because of injuries on the offensive line, their starting right tackle Sean Locklear didn't play. He should be back for the 49ers game, but Seattle lost one of their starting guards in Rob Sims.
Hasselbeck has been to the Pro Bowl a number of times. He's obviously capable of shredding you, but he's also got to have somebody to throw to, and essentially he's going into the game with fist- and second-year players that don't have a heck of a lot of experience at that position. It's totally set up for the 49ers. Now you can play an awful lot of eight-man fronts to take away the running game, and that's always a good thing when you can predetermine that somebody's going to be one-dimensional.
It sounds like Seattle might give backup quarterback Seneca Wallace some work at wide receiver. He's done that before and done it fairly well. The problem is you have a quarterback who has a back problem in Hasselbeck. He did play last week, but he's got a sore back. So, do you want to risk having your backup who might have to play quarterback starting at wide receiver?
Also, at the running back position, Maurice Morris, who started last week is gone, which just leaves them with Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett. Morris is a guy who knows that system up there and he's been their 3rd-down back in the past, so he's very good at blitz pickup. Now you put two new guys on the offense in there on 3rd downs. That creates problems for you.
Jones is a guy who's kind of a flasher, but he's not a big, physical guy who's going to hammer it up in there. You're going to get that from Duckett, who will be their short-yardage back, and you're going to get more of a speed guy who can break the long run in Julius Jones.
This is a team that depends on its offensive prowess, but it is sort of difficult to have a productive offense when you have so many injuries at the skill positions, and they're in a world of hurt on the offensive side of the ball.
The 49ers defense needs to rebound this week after a long second half against Arizona. What you have to understand though is that Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin are one of, if not the, best receiver tandems in the league. The 49ers defense quieted Fitzgerald, but Boldin managed 7 catches in the second half just finding those little holes in the zones underneath. Seattle, I'm sure, will look at that and want to do the exact same thing, especially considering that they haven't protected the quarterback very well. It'll be tough to duplicate for Seattle since they may have some guys who have never started or who just came in and are learning the offense on the fly. I'd expect the 49ers to blitz them more, and if they go zone coverage, lock it down more underneath.
Defensively, Seattle is getting back two players who missed week one because of a league suspension. Jordan Babinueax is back, and so is Rocky Bernard. Getting Bernard back is a huge deal for them because they struggled at those defensive tackle positions. Patrick Kearney, who did very well last year with 14.5 sacks started at end, but their other defensive end from last year, Daryll Tapp, got beat out by their 1st-round draft pick Lawrence Jackson. With Craig Terrill and Brandon Mebane starting inside, they just didn't perform very well. So, Bernard back in the lineup should help them in there. Marcus Tubbs, who was a real big guy for them last year, was released in training camp because he had a bad back, and I think that's hurt them too because Seattle relies on their team speed. They're an undersized defense that makes a lot of plays by flying around to the football.
The 49ers saw a team in Arizona last week that has a very, very fast defense, but one that also has a big body up front in Darnell Dockett. Seattle hasn't had that big guy up front and they need one because if you can hammer somebody up in those guard-center gaps, then it's going to be a long day for the offense.
Seattle is a team that likes to blitz, and you saw Arizona doing that last week too. Because of that Mike Martz ran a lot of two-man routes, and if you're running two-man routes, that means everybody else is left in for protection. You're trying to guess at what time – it's an educated guess – but you're still trying to guess when Seattle is going to be coming with an all-out blitz. What happened, and it happened two or three times in the game against Arizona, if you're keeping all those guys in to protect, and you only have a two-man route and the defense doesn't blitz, it becomes very difficult to complete a pass. I believe you'll see the 49ers mixing it up. Yes, you have to go max protect on some occasions, but you might see them open it up a little bit more. You may see moving Vernon Davis out wider this week.
Against Seattle, you have to be able to run the football very well. Last year they played an eight-man front the entire game. So, if you send Frank Gore at that, it's like sending him into a brick wall. You have to force them out of that front. How do you do that? Complete some passes. Seattle likes to blitz their safeties and if you can complete a few balls early on, you can make the defense pay for creeping up on you. And if you can get them out of that eight-man front, it will make things easier.
I think there are a few key matchups for the 49ers on both sides of the ball. Linebacker Lofa Tatupu has always played well against the 49ers. He flies around to the ball, so I think some misdirection plays would be helpful against him. Vernon Davis could be on him, or Zak Keasey, or an offensive lineman, but whoever is on him, needs to handle him. Whoever is matched up with Patrick Kerney is important too. He's a lot like Justin Smith. The 49ers didn't have a guy like that last year, so that will be great practice for the offense because like Smith, whoever is on Kerney is going to have their hands full all day.
I would say that the safeties in this game are very important for the 49ers. In terms of the cornerbacks, the 49ers are going to be fine with Walt Harris and Nate Clements because they are going against what would normally be backups. But there's always the situation where your corners get beat and your safeties have to cover for them. Also, your corners have to be very strong in run support because I'm sure the emphasis this week for Seattle is that they are going to have to establish the run.
Last week's turnovers ultimately come down to the players being more diligent and more responsible. There's no excuse for five turnovers, but I don't see it happening again.