Two weeks ago, the San Francisco 49ers suffered their worst lost of the season: a 43-16 loss to the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field.
Despite a 414-yard day day from starting quarterback Nick Mullens, San Francisco was gashed by a Seahawks running attack that nearly tripled the output of the 49ers’ rushing game.
This time around, in Week 15, San Francisco will look to tighten things up against the run and secure their first win against Seattle since 2013.
The 49ers need to contain the edge against Seattle
On Dec. 2, when the 49ers traveled north to face the NFC West rival Seahawks, their defense executed a plan of keeping Russell Wilson contained to perfection, holding the Seattle quarterback to only 163 yards passing.
The problem was that, while they kept Wilson in a vice grip, they seemingly forgot about the Seahawks’ running game, which racked up 168 yards. This time around, San Francisco will be looking to contain the edge, preventing the Seahawks from picking up the chunk-yardage that crippled the 49ers in Week 13.
“They had seven carries for over 110 yards when they broke our edges,” said defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. “So, it’s gap discipline and making sure that you set edges on the defense with great lockout and extension.”
Part of the reason why Seattle was so successful in their efforts to create space and open gaps for their ball carriers was the insertion of tackle George Fant in their jumbo package, in which the 322-pounder was lined up at tight end.
Fant’s ability to reach and maintain his blocks on San Francisco’s defensive linemen led allowed Seattle running backs Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny to combine for 134 yards on the day.
“They’re a very, very good running team,” Saleh said. “Their backs are probably the most underrated in football, in my opinion.”
With this in mind, the 49ers’ Week 15 defensive scheme will likely focus on setting and controlling the edge, forcing Seattle to take the ball up the middle, where defensive lineman DeForest Buckner will be waiting.
“We just have to do our jobs,” Buckner told the Examiner. “If we can do that, we’ll be fine.”
Mullens gets another crack at Seattle
In his second road game of the season, Mullens faced one of the hardest tests in the NFL: playing a game at CenturyLink Field.
Instead of looking like a true newcomer to the pro game, Mullens appeared to be more comfortable than most thought he’d be, throwing for 414 yards — more than any 49ers quarterback has ever done against Seattle. Unfortunately for Mullens, the gaudy stats wouldn’t be enough to earn a win.
“I understand that stats don’t matter; points do,” Mullens said. “The first time we played Seattle, we did not score enough points. So, that will definitely be the emphasis.”
While Mullens was able to get the ball down field at will against Seattle, the 49ers found themselves unable to punch the ball into the end zone. In fact, San Francisco only scored one touchdown in four trips to the red zone that afternoon.
On the other hand, Seattle was able to capitalize on their opportunities, converting on three of its four red zone trips.
“We have to capitalize on important opportunities during the game and perform well in the moment of truth,” Mullens said. “That’s how we’ll get our points.”
Draft standings tracker
With a win against the Denver Broncos last week, the 49ers brought their record up to 3-10, which is tied for the worst in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders and Arizona Cardinals, after the Josh Rosen-led Cardinals suffered a 17-3 loss to the Detroit Lions and the Raiders secured their third win of the season against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Still, San Francisco is projected to have the No. 1 overall draft pick in the 2019 NFL Draft because it holds the weakest strength of schedule out of the three — the first tiebreaker in determining who picks first.
Arizona will play the Atlanta Falcons — who currently sit with the No. 4 overall pick with a 4-9 record this season — on Sunday in Atlanta. The Falcons are currently favored by 9.5 points according to OddShark.com.
Oakland, on the other hand will take on the Cincinnati Bengals, who are 5-8 on the season, in Cincinnati. The Bengals are favored to win, but by only three points.
In the event that Arizona wins, they will slide down to the No. 4 overall pick and Atlanta will move up to No. 3. While both teams will be 4-10, Atlanta will hold the tiebreaker due to the fact that they have a lower strength of schedule according to ESPN.com.
If Oakland wins, as well, they will likely stay at the No. 3 overall pick and the Falcons will move up to No. 2, considering that the Raiders have a lower strength of schedule than the Cardinals, but a higher one than Atlanta.
If the 49ers, Oakland and Arizona win, the 49ers will slide down to No. 2 because although they will be tied with Atlanta at 4-10, Atlanta will have the tiebreaker of strength of schedule.
For San Francisco to stay at the top (or bottom) of the heap, regardless of the results in the other two relevant games, they will need to lose their game against Seattle, in which they are 3.5-point underdogs.