It is not hyperbole to say that Jadeveon Clowney may have played the best individual game by a defensive player this season when the Seahawks took down the 49ers on Monday. On a night when Russell Wilson and the offense struggled, Clowney and the defense kept Seattle in the game by forcing critical turnovers and shutting down what the 49ers do best.
San Francisco’s offense goes through its rushing attack, which ranks 2nd in the NFL. Seattle entered Monday night’s game knowing they would have to slow it down, first and foremost, to have any kind of success. And this is exactly what they did, holding the 49ers to just 87 yards on 27 carries (3.2 yds per rush).
San Fran loves to run counters and outside zones. It was critical that Seattle be able to stop these staple runs. They set the tone from the very first snap of the game.
The below play was a counter. As you can see, the guard pulling to the playside was responsible for kicking out Jadeveon Clowney.
This is a key block in the counter run scheme as it helps to seal off the outside, creating an alley for the running back. So what’s the best way to stop this play? Break the seal, as Clowney did here by squeezing down the line and collapsing the running lane.
Clowney (#90 on the right side) did the same thing on this 2nd-down counter run in overtime. The 49ers would have to settle for a field goal attempt two plays later (which they missed).
Clowney has speed and explosiveness not found in most players his size.
With the help of Clowney, the Seahawks Defense was able to control the line of scrimmage all night, and this enabled them to stifle the 49ers’ outside zone runs. You can see how Seattle was able to penetrate and play on the other side of the line of scrimmage on the below play.
On this next outside zone lead to the right, watch defensive tackle Al Woods do a great job of controlling the A-gap and not letting the center cross his face to cut him off.
Woods made the tackle for no gain.
Now back to Clowney. He was all over the field on Monday night. You saw above just how impactful he was against the 49ers’ counter runs. He was an absolute game-wrecker against the pass, though.
His first impact play was actually set up by his defensive-line mates, Poona Ford (#97) and Jarran Reed (#91). Ford and Reed executed a twist, with Reed penetrating inside after left guard Laken Tomlinson (#75) passed him off to take Ford. Clowney was in the right place at the right time.
Clowney got help from his friends on the above touchdown. Below, he returned the favor, creating quick pressure off the edge that led to a sack.
Clowney almost made left tackle Joe Staley completely whiff on him there. Jimmy Garoppolo was forced to step up aggressively to avoid his rush, and he moved right into the teeth of the D-line, resulting in the sack.
Below, Clowney (right side) was able to get his hands on right tackle Mike McGlinchey first, extend his arms, and lock him out. This put Clowney in total control, enabling him to drive the now-helpless McGlinchey backwards and collapse the pocket. The result was a sack-fumble setting up Seattle’s 3rd touchdown.
Below, you can see Clowney (left side) get McGlinchey with the same move he used on Staley earlier. Again, the quick pressure completely wrecked the play and led to a sack.
The best part of this sack was McGlinchey’s reaction after the play. He’s basically saying “What am I supposed to do?”
Clowney’s performance aside, the 49ers still should have won this game. The two turnovers shown above led to a fumble-return TD and a touchdown off of a short field for the Seahawks Offense. The below interception (on what should have been an easy catch and first down) led to another short field for the Seahawks.
Three plays later, Seattle’s struggling offense was in the end zone.
That type of mistake simply can’t happen. Yet it was indicative of the miscues and missed opportunities we saw all night from the 49ers offense.
The below play came on 3rd down of San Francisco’s first drive. The Seahawks were playing man free and rushing 5 here. That meant there was no help in the short middle of the field. Look at Emmanuel Sanders, aligned as the #3 inside receiver. He had a free release and inside leverage on an in-breaking route against cornerback Tre Flowers.
This route was wide open. For some reason, Garoppolo didn’t target Sanders, though. Instead he worked his matchups to the outside.
In case you were wondering, the pressure on Garoppolo that forced him to move was applied by Jadeveon Clowney. Had Garoppolo been able to operate from a clean pocket, he may have been able to find Sanders.
As it was, he still had the opportunity to complete this pass. Instead, he misfired a bit high, and the ball bounced off of Marquise Goodwin’s hands. This was a common theme from throughout the night, as 49ers receivers seemed to drop pass after pass.
San Fran was unable to stay on the field after this 3rd-and-14 drop by Dante Pettis on a great throw by Garoppolo against cover-2.
Pettis left his feet to try and catch this pass, which he did not need to do. This allowed the hit by safety Brad McDougald to jar the ball loose.
The below drop on a slant by Deebo Samuel (top of screen) off of an RPO would have moved the chains.
The 49ers ended up punting a few plays later.
This drop by Kendrick Bourne occurred on 3rd-and-8 with just over 6 minutes remaining and the score tied. The 49ers were forced to settle for a field goal instead of having a 1st-and-goal situation.
It’s hard to discount the fact that the 49ers were shorthanded on offense. They were without arguably the best tight end in the NFL in George Kittle, and Emmanuel Sanders missed most of the game. Still, there were plays to be made, and the 49ers did not make them.
The good news for San Fran is that they were able to create open receivers and the potential for big plays. When these two teams meet again in Week 17, the 49ers will know that the opportunities are there if they execute.
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