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Failures on third down has led to fourth-quarter collapses

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RENTON, Wash. — An inability to convert third downs and stay on the field is at the root of many issues for the Seattle Seahawks.

The Seahawks had just 14 total first downs against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. They converted just 4-of-14 opportunities on third down against the Panthers and were just one for their final seven the week before against Cincinnati.

“That’s the biggest challenge for us, to keep the ball in our hands, to keep moving it and reap the benefits of what that means,” head coach Pete Carroll said Monday. “That’s play-calling opportunities that you get, keeping the other team off the field, all those good things that happen.”

The third-down struggles are causing problems in other areas as well. Seattle ranks dead last in the league in red-zone touchdown percentage as they are unable to finish off drives when the field gets tighter.

The Seahawks have said they’d like to keep their third-down conversion rate around 50 percent. For the season, the Seahawks are averaging just 37 percent, which ranks 20th in the league.

“We can convert them. That’s the difference,” offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said of what they could do differently. “We’re doing a nice job of keeping our third downs manageable. That’s probably the positive that we’ve been able to do, we’re staying in shorter yardage situations like under six yards, that’s where we want to live. We’ve kind of done that really well. We just haven’t been able to get the number of conversions that we like.”

The lack of ability to keep drives alive offensively is having a negative effect on the defense as well. With a nine-point lead against the Panthers on Sunday, Seattle’s offense held the ball for less than two minutes in their next two possessions. The limited time of possession gave Carolina ample time to mount their rally. Similar struggles the week before allowed the Cincinnati Bengals to rally from a 17-point deficit as the Seahawks managed just two total first downs in their final five possessions.

“The execution that got us in the lead and put us in position early in the game just needs to continue,” Carroll said. “We don’t even need to do anything different, we just need to continue the execution and not let it fall where they take advantage of the last quarter, which has happened.”

Seattle will try to get pointing in the right direction against a San Francisco 49ers team that is struggling as well.

The Seahawks-49ers rivalry had become one of the most intriguing rivalries in the league in recent seasons, culminating in a memorable NFC Championship meeting in 2013. Now with both teams at 2-4, the rivalry seems to be a shell of its former self. The 49ers scored just 10 points combined in two meetings against Seattle last season.

The 49ers enter this week’s game ranked 30th in total offense and last in points per game. Despite their fourth-quarter struggles, Seattle’s defense still ranks fourth in the league in total defense.

SERIES HISTORY: 33rd regular-season meeting. Seahawks lead series, 17-15. Seahawks have won four of the last five regular-season meetings. The most historic matchup was in the NFC Championship in January, 2014, which Seattle won 23-17.

GAME PLAN

–The Seahawks have to find some consistency on both sides of the ball. Seattle must find a way to improve on third down and in the red zone against a struggling 49ers team. A defense that has given up too many fourth-quarter leads must find a way to keep a poor offense from creating big plays in the passing game. The 49ers can still run the football fairly effectively at times and keeping Carlos Hyde contained will be an important first step for Seattle’s defense.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

–Seahawks vs. the fourth quarter.

The Seahawks are being outscored by a 61-27 margin in the fourth quarter and overtime, a minus-34 differential that is 31st out of 32 teams. Seattle has held a lead in the fourth quarter of every game this season and is still 2-4.

–Seahawks SS Kam Chancellor vs. 49ers TE Vernon Davis.

Seattle allowed 90 yards and two touchdowns to Tyler Eifert two weeks ago and 107 yards and a touchdown to Greg Olsen last week. Covering tight ends effectively has been an area the Seahawks have been lacking in recently. Chancellor and Davis know each other well.


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