NFL

TNF Takeaways: Seattle Defense Dominates

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The talk leading into Thursday night’s matchup between the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers revolved around the sudden flaws in the Seattle armor, exposed by the Carolina Panthers last Sunday.

But with their performance on Thursday, Seattle laid to rest — at least for one week — any doubts about their vaunted defensive unit.

The Seahawks dominated the 49ers from wire-to-wire, producing a season-saving 20-3 victory at Levi’s Stadium that put Seattle right back in the thick of the NFC playoff picture.

Although it was the backend of Seattle’s defense that was questioned for most of the week, the Seahawks produced this particular victory from up front. The Seattle defensive line had San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick under constant duress for the entire contest and the entire defense benefitted. By the end of the evening, Kaepernick had been sacked six times for a total loss of 43 yards, and hurried and knocked down on several more occasions.

The outstanding performance by the Seattle defense was led by defensive end Michael Bennett, who tallied 3.5 sacks on his own.

“We know what type of defense we are,” Bennett said after the game. “We were playing great defense the last couple weeks, but we just had some slippage in the second half.  No miscommunications today. We were on the same page.”

A microcosm of the game came late in the first half, after the Seahawks had pushed their lead to 17-0. San Francisco took possession on their own 24 with 2:44 left in the half, but immediately started moving backward. On first down, the 49ers offensive line gave Kaepernick no chance and he was tandem sacked by Bennett and Cliff Avril for a loss of four yards. On second down, it was more of the same with Bennett dragging Kaepernick down for another four-yard loss. On 3rd-and-18, the quarterback finally got a pass off, but it was simply a short one to Anquan Boldin, leaving the Niners well short of the sticks, forcing a punt.

Seattle tried to deliver the dagger on their ensuing possession, but Russell Wilson was intercepted in the end zone, giving the 49ers one more chance with 43 seconds left. But on the first play of that drive, the Seahawks got to Kaepernick yet again as Avril sacked him down for a loss of 14, which caused San Francisco to stop trying and concede the half.

The dominance from the front made it a relatively easy night for the Seattle’s Legion of Boom. Kaepernick completed just 13-of-24 passes for 124 yards and had just two completions over 20 yards. Those two came on back-to-back plays in the third quarter, which set up San Francisco’s only points of the night, a 35-yard Phil Dawson field goal. But by that time, the game was well in hand.

While the Seattle defense was dominating from the front on back, Wilson and the offense did just enough to come away victorious. After the Seahawks set the tone for the night defensively with a quick three-and-out on the first drive of the game, the offense took over at their own 39 and from there Wilson engineered a 12-play, 61-yard drive culminating in a one-yard touchdown run by Marshawn Lynch to make it 7-0. Seattle tacked on three more points early in the second quarter, after another excellent series by the defense produced a short field. Wilson got a big play to Jimmy Graham to get the Hawks into field goal range and four plays later Steven Hauschka drilled a 49-yard field goal to make it 10-0.

The 49ers followed that score with their best drive of the night to that point, finally breaking into Seahawks territory for the first time with eight minutes left in the first half. But that drive stalled at the Seattle 36-yard-line and from there Kaepernick inexplicably took a delay of game penalty on 3rd-and-10, knocking the Niners back to the 41. He couldn’t get those yards back on the next play, which left San Francisco short of field goal range and forced a punt.

Though the ensuing drive started at their own 10, the Seahawks offense wasted little time going down the field to take a commanding lead. On the second play of the drive, Wilson hit Jermaine Kearse for a 21-yard gain. Three plays later, he found Doug Baldwin for a gain of 15 and when Antoine Bethea yanked Baldwin down by his facemask, it tacked on 15 more yards. Then, on the very next play, Wilson went for it all and connected with rookie Tyler Lockett with a beautiful throw for a 43-yard touchdown.

It the first receiving score of Lockett’s young career and Seattle head coach Pete Carroll beamed about it after the game.

“The execution of the big play was perfect,” Carroll said. “It was really a beautiful job of protection and the quarterback throwing it and him running the route to get open, and the execution of the catch too. It was just a beautiful play for us. One of the best plays of the year.”

The Seattle offense tallied 269 yards of total net offense during that monumental first half, showing what they are truly capable of offensively, on what looked well on its way to being a banner night for the Seahawks on both sides of the ball. But while the defense continued to dominate for most of the second half, the Seattle offense went dormant. They managed just 119 second half yards while playing keep away from the 49ers for the most part.

Most of that second half offense was created by Lynch who, after a 45-yard first half, finished with 122 yards on 27 carries, his first 100-yard rushing game of the season. After completing 10-of-14 for 184 yards and a touchdown in the first half, Wilson was quiet in the second half and finished 18-of-24 for 235 yards with that lone score and two interceptions. A major contributing factor there was protection, as Wilson was sacked five more times on Thursday, bringing his season total to an NFL worst 31.

That’s something the Seahawks will have to get corrected if they plan to go anywhere this year, and if they plan to keep their quarterback healthy for the rest of the season, for that matter.

Getting Lynch going and taking some pressure off the passing game should help in that regard and Lockett emerging as a credible weapon, not only on special teams but in the passing game as well, will be a boon for Wilson too. But their is still plenty of room for improvement from the Seattle offense as they move forward.

However, this night belonged to the defense, thanks to their dominance of the San Francisco offense. Not only was Kaepernick sacked a half-dozen times, the quarterback who famously ran for 130 yards on the Seahawks defense in the 2014 NFC Championship Game, didn’t tuck the ball and run with it even once on Thursday. The 49ers only ran the ball 15 times in total, with Carlos Hyde and Reggie Bush combining for 61 yards rushing.

The 142 yards of total offense was San Francisco’s lowest total of the season. But that performance, along with the decent but not great play of their defense, was more in-line with what we expected out of the 49ers going into this season than last week’s outing vs. Baltimore.

In fact, Thursday night’s game hit expectations on pretty much all counts, producing a predictably dominant victory for the Seahawks and putting to bed, at least for one week, the premise of Thursday night being upset night in the NFL.

“That’s supposed to be normal to finish a game like that. I don’t want to make a big deal out of it. It’s just the way we should be playing,” Carroll said of the win. “We should be finishing like that. It felt like a really normal Seahawk night tonight.”

BEARS CUT RATLIFF AFTER ALTERCATION WITH GM

A shocking bit of news came out of Chicago on Thursday afternoon as defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff was released by the Bears after reportedly getting into a heated exchange with Bears general manager Ryan Pace at the team’s Halas Hall training facility on Wednesday.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the incident began when Ratliff reported to team headquarters for practice on Wednesday morning. Bears officials judged that the 10-year veteran was “not in condition to work” and decided to send Ratliff home. Ratliff refuted the punishment and had vocal altercations with several officials before relenting and leaving the facility.

Matters got worse when a heated Ratliff returned to the facility later and got in another argument with Pace, this time outside the team facility. The Tribune reports that Ratliff actually returned on two separate occasions to voice his displeasure after being sent home initially. The incident was heated enough that Bears called the police, though no charges were pressed and a police spokesman labeled it a “minor call.”

But the whole incident was major enough for the Bears to cut ties with the player one day later. Pace released a brief statement addressing Ratliff’s release on Thursday.

“We felt moving forward without Jeremiah was in the best interest of our team,” he said. “We appreciate his contributions and wish him well.”

Ratliff is well known for his fiery personality and a similar incident with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones in 2012 spelled the beginning of the end of his eight-year stay in Dallas. Ratliff never played another snap for the Cowboys and was released early in the 2013 season while taking his time recovering from a groin injury. He caught on with Chicago later that season, but had been far from a model citizen in his two years with the Bears.

The Tribune also reported that Ratliff had to be escorted from the team facility last December, after causing a disturbance at the team’s final practice of the year. He then missed the first three games of this season due to a suspension for a violation of the league’s substance abuse policy, which stemmed from an incident that dated back to his Dallas days. Ratliff was involved in a car wreck in January of 2013 and when he plead guilty to DWI charges in April of this year, the NFL followed with punishment of their own. Ironically, the last few years of Ratliff’s career have been akin to a car wreck.

Still, the 34-year-old did have some bright moments in Chicago. He started at defensive end for the Bears in each of their last two games, recorded seven tackles, and has been regarded as one of Chicago’s best defensive players. But his production wasn’t enough to merit dealing with the associated problems, at least not for the Bears, an organization attempting to change their culture this year.

It seems fairly likely that Ratliff catches on elsewhere before his career ends. He’s not far removed from a 6.5-sack season with Chicago last year, in which he started 11 games. He finished his Bears career with 17 starts in 18 games, over parts of three seasons, recording eight sacks and 53 tackles. In his 10-year career, Ratliff has 35 total sacks and 280 tackles, and it’s probable he still has something left in the tank. But clearly the Bears had questions about his work ethic, leading to the unraveling of the relationship on Wednesday, so wherever he lands that team will have to work hard to get the best out of him.

To fill Ratliff’s spot on their roster, Chicago signed veteran Ziggy Hood.

INJURY REPORT: BILLS SHORTHANDED IN LONDON

The Buffalo Bills will be without several key players this Sunday as they take on the Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium in London.

Bills coach Rex Ryan announced on Thursday that quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who practiced with the team on Wednesday, will miss his second straight game with a MCL sprain in his knee. EJ Manuel will make another start in his stead.

“Tyrod, he did a nice job yesterday,” Ryan told the media in London. “We got him to spilt the reps but as he came back in the evening our medical people, our doctors looked at him still has some soreness in that knee and that means basically when you touch it and it is still sore that it has not healed all the way. So we are not going to force this young man out there, put him out there when he is really not a hundred percent. So he will not play in the game.”

That’s true of more than just Taylor. Additionally, the Bills will be without wide receivers Sammy Watkins and Percy Harvin, running back Karlos Williams, starting right tackle Seantrel Henderson and defensive tackle Kyle Williams for Sunday’s game. That list leaves Buffalo rather shorthanded as they look to get back on track after last week’s loss to the Bengals.

While the Bills are the walking wounded, the Jaguars, their opponents in London on Sunday, seem to be getting healthier. Running back T.J. Yeldon returned to practice this week and should play after missing last week’s game with a groin injury. Jacksonville wide receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns have both been limited at practice this week with leg injuries, but are expected to play in London.

In Tennessee, Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota is dealing with a similar injury to that of Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor, an MCL sprain suffered in last week’s game against Miami. Mariota has yet to practice this week but has also not been ruled out for Sunday. Zach Mettenberger would start on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons if Mariota is forced to miss the game.

The league’s rash of injuries to star quarterbacks also isn’t improving, as it appears Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will miss another game this week with his own MCL sprain. Roethlisberger is on his way back from the injury, but has been a limited participant in practice this week and looks to still be at least a week away from a return. Quarterback Landry Jones is expected to make his first career start for the Steelers on Sunday against the Chiefs.

Sunday’s big NFC East showdown at MetLife Stadium could revolve around two of the league’s top wide receivers though neither has practiced yet this week.

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant is on the mend from a broken foot, suffered in a Week 1 win over the same New York Giants team that Dallas will meet up with again at the Meadowlands on Sunday. Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett reported that Bryant is running and cutting at full speed on the foot, but Bryant has only been a limited participant in practice this week, working only on the side, leaving his status for a potential return this week in doubt.

Less doubtful is Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who is still dealing with a hamstring strain suffered in the team’s Week 5 win over San Francisco. Beckham played in Monday night’s New York loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, but has yet to practice this week. Still it appears he will be ready to suit up come Sunday afternoon.


About Devon Jeffreys

Devon Jeffreys