Brock-y Roads: Are 49ers overrated?
Seahawks eyeing first place in NFC West if all breaks right this weekend: Seaside Joe 1696
The Seattle Seahawks have a surprisingly clear path towards being in first place near the midseason point: If the San Francisco 49ers lose to Joe Burrow in Week 8, and the Seahawks defeat the quarterback who seems to care less about football than everyone I know who does improv, then Seattle will be in the NFC West lead as of Week 9.
I thought it would take years for the Seahawks to catch up to the 49ers, but apparently all it takes is an injury to Deebo Samuel. And they told me that running backs don’t matter…
The 49ers lost to the Minnesota Vikings on Monday and dropped their second game in a row, putting San Francisco a half-game ahead of Seattle with a 5-2 record compared to 4-2 for the Pike Place Market Boys.
But I am actually less surprised by the Niners only scoring 17 points in each of their last two games as I am by how mediocre San Francisco’s defense looked against the Vikings. Brock Purdy not playing as well without franchise left tackle Trent Williams and Deebo is expected—and I don’t think Purdy played dramatically different than he has in other games, the big difference being less interception luck this time—but how could the 49ers let Kirk Cousins throw for 378 yards against them without Justin Jefferson?
Yeah, Cousins is a veteran playing at home and Jordan Addison literally ripped off a 60-yard TD before halftime, but these weren’t plays or performances that were predicted to happen against San Francisco’s defense.
Now Kevin O’Connell, the head coach of the Vikings and former offensive coordinator of the Rams, has a blueprint out there for how to do it. The only quarterback who has thrown for more yards against the 49ers since the start of last season is Patrick Mahomes. In fact, only Cousins, Mahomes, and…Jarrett Stidham…have passed for more than 300 yards against San Francisco in the last two years.
What will the Cincinnati Bengals, who have a former Rams offensive coordinator as a head coach and Joe Burrow coming off of a bye week, be able to prove against the 49ers next Sunday? If the Bengals can complete their division sweep of the NFC West (Cincinnati has put an L on the Seahawks, Rams, and Cardinals already), then Seattle’s just a W over a W (Watson or Walker) away from leading the division.
Without making it sound “easy”, let’s address just how possible it is for the Seahawks to be in first place with their ‘49ers series’ starting in less than a month.
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As noted in the tweet above, Brock Purdy’s stats are elite when he has Deebo Samuel and worse than Josh Dobbs when he doesn’t. Samuel’s stats really do not wow apart from his near 1,800-yard season in 2021 and it’s more of his presence that impacts defenses more than his individual dominance. In the words of safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Deebo “can’t run no routes”, “is a running back”, “it’s on film, it’s evident”, and he “taps out every game”.
The 49ers were able to consistently scored 30+ points per game in the first five weeks of the season despite Deebo only being good for about 60 receiving yards, and that includes a 35-16 win over the Cardinals in which he caught zero passes and was targeted zero times.
But then Deebo only played nine snaps against the Browns in Week 6 and San Francisco lost 19-17. He was inactive on Monday night and the 49ers lost 22-17.
In four games playing next to Deebo, teammate Brandon Aiyuk caught 21-of-27 targets for 378 yards, averaging 94.5 yards per game. (Aiyuk missed Week 3’s 30-12 win over the Giants.)
In the last two games, Aiyuk has caught 9-of-16 targets for 133 yards.
It is expected that Deebo Samuel will miss at least one more game, but there’s always the possibility that the injury is indefinite and San Francisco must now test themselves against a Bengals team that has won 3 of 4 and is coming off of a bye week. Cincinnati pass rusher Trey Hendrickson has been dominant against teams with weaknesses on the right side of the line (including Seattle) and few teams seem to have worse starting right tackles than Colton McKivitz.
So as far as whether or not San Francisco’s days of consistently scoring 30 are over, I would think probably not. Maybe not at the pace they were to start the season (30, 30, 30, 35, 42 in the first five games), but the Browns have an elite defense and the Vikings could have caught the 49ers at the right time. However, the Bengals’ timing could be just as fortunate and Cincinnati defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo was the biggest name in his “industry” for his game plans over the last few years.
The 49ers are still ranked second in scoring offense and third in scoring defense after back-to-back losses, but it’s how mediocre the defense looked against the Vikings that could open the door for the Seahawks to make a real run at the division.
The 49ers paid Nick Bosa $170 million over five years, Javon Hargrave $81 million over four years, and Arik Armstead $85 million over five years. They also drafted Javon Kinlaw in the first round, Drake Jackson in the second round, and recently picked up Randy Gregory in a trade with the Broncos.
With what is supposed to be the best front-4 in the NFL, the 49ers got embarrassed by Cousins and Minnesota’s offensive line when they didn’t bring the blitz:
Forget the fact that the Vikings scored 22 points: Minnesota had first-and-Goal at the 1 and settled for a field goal, a scoring situation I would attribute more to luck than skill usually. They also missed an extra point and a field goal, so the 22 points could have easily been 30 points and that’s how it felt the game was going.
Cam Akers and Alexander Mattison are probably one of the worst running back duos in the NFL but they combined to have 18 carries for 70 yards and 33 receiving yards; receiver Brandon Powell, a special teamer forced into action due to injuries, had four catches for 64 yards; T.J. Hockenson had 11 for 86; Addison broke out with 123 yards and two touchdowns but was interfered with on what would have been a third touchdown; receiver K.J. Osborn even had five catches for 47 yards.
It just looked easy for Minnesota to move on San Francisco’s defense and they didn’t have the injury issues that the offense was dealing with: The 49ers had all the players they wanted on defense other than a few missed snaps for linebacker Fred Warner. Cornerback Charvarius Ward ripped an interception out of Addison’s hands, but then nothing else really good happened for the Niners defense after that, including Addison’s rip revenge on the 60-yarder at the end of the first half.
I’m not going to say that the 49ers have anything less than a really good defense, because that feels accurate, but they certainly got to pad their stats a little bit with some matchups. Just two weeks ago, the 49ers faced P.J. Walker and held him to 18-of-34 with two interceptions…but still lost the game 19-17 and were gashed in the ground game (160 yards) despite Nick Chubb being out for the season. I’ve also seen complaints by 49ers fans that defensive coordinator Steve Wilks is an inadequate replacement for the departed De’Meco Ryans, a topic I’m unqualified to speak on but…Sure! I’ll take all the potential internal dissension I can get.
Head coach Zac Taylor, offensive coordinator Brian Callahan, Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, Joe Mixon, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd…I’d say they’re actually looking forward to this game.
The 49ers and Bengals last played each other on December 12, 2021. The 49ers blew a 20-6 lead in the fourth quarter but prevailed in overtime after Cincinnati settled for a field goal and allowed San Francisco to drive down the field for a game-winning touchdown. I’m sure the Bengals players and coaches have thought about that game a lot over the bye week and they’re eyeing an opportunity to get back over .500 after starting the season 1-3.
Too soon to say it’s over
Now that we’ve had a chance to enjoy this delicious “Niners Suck” soup, time to read the alphabet: The 49ers started 3-4 last season, including a 28-14 loss to the Falcons and a 44-23 loss to the Chiefs in Weeks 6 and 7. They turned the ball over six times in those two games and people were questioning if Kyle Shanahan would ever live up to his billing as the greatest offensive genius in football.
Then the 49ers won 12 straight games, including seven with a starting quarterback who was the last pick of the 2022 draft. As much as I hate the “Shanahan is the best coach” discourse, it’s hard to argue with the results up until these last two games and even those were by a combined 7 points.
I don’t expect San Francisco to finish worse than 12-5 and they’ve already proven capable of winning out, but the door is open and they have remaining games against the Bengals, Jaguars, Eagles, and Ravens, plus two against the Seahawks, rematches against the Rams and Cardinals, plus Moons and Bucs.
Aside from Arizona, who could bring back Kyler Murray in two weeks, the only three teams left on the schedule with a losing record are 3-4: L.A., Washington, and Tampa Bay. The five-hardest remaining strength of schedules: Bengals, Cardinals, Moons, Seahawks, and 49ers.
If Seattle can get an advantage in the loss column by beating the Browns on Sunday, if the 49ers also lose to the Bengals, it’ll be an immense boost to their chances of shocking the world and winning the division. Could it happen?
I’ll have more to say about the Browns in the coming days, but I can’t to get this off my chest: Deshaun Watson is the worst quarterback in the NFL. I’ll rank him below anyone else because at least I get the sense that every other player actually wants to be in the NFL. What people tend to forget about Watson’s lack of leadership qualities is that even before his legal issues, he had quit on the Houston Texans months after they signed him to a lucrative contract extension.
Watson, fresh off of padding his stats during a 4-12 campaign, had already declared he wouldn’t play for the Texans again before being forced off of the team in 2021. Sitting for a year and a half honestly shouldn’t ruin a quarterback’s career—Geno Smith did it for 7 years!—but Watson has been as bad as anyone you could name during his 10 starts for the Cleveland Browns:
59.6% completions, 11 TD, 8 INT, 79.8 rating, 32 sacks taken
Far be it from me to say that I know how severe his shoulder injury has been, but it sure feels like he’s quitting on the team and refusing to play when he’s been capable of playing. That type of behavior is the polar opposite of what’s expected of a quarterback, but does sort of fall in line with Watson’s character.
Nobody knows yet if Watson will return to start in Seattle this weekend. The only reasons that head coach Kevin Stefanski would even welcome him back are…$230,000,000 guaranteed (the worst trade and worst contract in NFL history, wrapped into a single move, fittingly by the Browns) and the fact that backups P.J. Walker and Dorian Thompson-Robinson have combined for zero touchdowns and six interceptions on 102 pass attempts.
Folks…the Cleveland Browns are 4-2!
The Browns have the number one third down defense in the NFL, allowing teams to convert on only 27.5% of their attempts, and the Seahawks rank 24th in that category on offense. Cleveland has allowed the fewest yards in the league, the fewest yards per drive, the fewest passing yards, the fewest scoring drives, and they rank second in points per drive allowed and third in net yards per pass attempt allowed.
Myles Garrett is the leading candidate to win Defensive Player of the Year (7.5 sacks, 16 QB hits, 3 forced fumbles) and he could attempt to double his stats with Abe Lucas out for another game.
Suddenly, thoughts of Leon Washington are dancing in my head…
Will Seahawks pull out the win and throw it back to first place?
Only time will tell.
We’re seeing that sometimes football is as much about luck and taking advantage of opportunities as it is about talent and winning streaks. The Seahawks have done enough to keep the division close, now they’ll need to get a little lucky during this moment of opportunity.
Do that, please^^^