49ERS // SEAHAWKS OVERVIEW
Welcome to 2018, where this one-time rivalry game now pairs a red hot 6-5 Seahawks team and a 2-9 San Francisco squad that has posted an 0-6 record on the road and is once again playing for next year. The Seahawks need this win for their seemingly inevitable march toward the playoffs. The 49ers will try to hang tough for as long as they can as they play games at this point to avoid embarrassment. With the Seahawks carrying the run-heaviest offense in the league into this game, the 49ers will have to surprise on offense for volume to pile up in the Seahawks’ pass game. This will be tough for the visiting team to accomplish, with checkdown specialist Nick Mullens at the helm against a Seattle defense that has allowed the eighth fewest points per game in the NFL. Seattle ranks 24th in pace of play and fifth in time of possession. Only one team has allowed fewer plays per game than the Seahawks this year. Unsurprisingly, Pete Carroll’s squad has been installed as early 10-point favorites, with an Over/Under in this game of 46.0. It will be up to Kyle Shanahan to find ways to get the 49ers to their Vegas-implied team total of 18.0, as this unit does not have the talent to generate many points in this spot without strong, scheme-based play-calling and maneuvering.
49ERS PASS OFFENSE
Seattle has played their typically tight defense downfield this year, forcing teams to primarily stick to short throws — which opponents are completing at a rate 3.82% higher than the league average. The matchup is not nearly as much of a concern for the 49ers as are the talent deficiencies on this offense, with Nick Mullens at quarterback, and with some combination of Kendrick Bourne, Dante Pettis, Pierre Garcon, Trent Taylor, and Richie James Jr. at wide receiver. If Marquise Goodwin returns, he’ll be in the mix as well, with the pecking order among all these pass catchers (in terms of both playing time and targets) looking like this:
Goodwin // Garcon // Bourne/Pettis // James Jr. // Taylor
Bourne has played ahead of Pettis, but he saw only three targets last week, compared to Pettis’ seven (one week after each guy saw six). If Garcon or Goodwin misses more time, either Bourne or Pettis could see another steady stream of targets. These two would become more valuable dart throws if Goodwin misses, as one or the other would take on a couple of the downfield targets that are designed to stretch the defense with Goodwin.
If Garcon plays, he’s a “hope for a broken play” option.
If Goodwin plays, he will carry the most upside on this team with an opportunity for five targets — with a couple of these looks coming over the deep middle, creating opportunities for splash plays. Naturally: the quality of these targets lowers the chances of them connecting.
This unit wraps up with George Kittle, who now has 10 and 12 targets in his last two games from Mullens, good for an awesome 30.1% target rate. The Seahawks have faced 32.9 pass attempts per game on the year, while facing a middling opponent pass play rate. The 49ers lean run-heavy in their play-calling, but 30 pass attempts is a strong median projection, and seven to 10 of these should go to Kittle. Souring expectations for Kittle is a tough matchup with Bradley McDougald, who has keyed a tight end coverage defense that has allowed the second fewest receptions and the fewest yards to the position.
49ERS RUN OFFENSE
Matt Breida has been capped at 14 to 17 carries this year — an occupational hazard of being a “lead back” in a Kyle Shanahan offense; but he is very much the lead back at this point, and he has added a line of around 3-30-0 through the air in five of his healthy games, giving his floor a solid boost. The Seahawks have allowed a below average number of receptions to running backs, but they have allowed the sixth most receiving yards; they rank 20th in DVOA against the run and have allowed a poor 4.74 yards per carry to running backs. To put these numbers in some perspective, it is worth noting that they have faced Ezekiel Elliott, David Johnson, Todd Gurley (twice), Kerryon Johnson, Melvin Gordon, Aaron Jones, and Christian McCaffrey. Outside zone runs have been especially successful against the Seahawks’ run defense — which is where Breida does the majority of his damage.
SEAHAWKS PASS OFFENSE
The Seahawks continue to operate as the only team in the NFL throwing the ball on under 50% of their offensive plays — and in games in which the Seahawks are playing with a lead, this run-leaning tendency heightens, creating obvious volume concerns for this passing attack in a game in which this team is favored by 10 points. Russell Wilson has topped 31 pass attempts only once in his last nine games — in a loss to the Chargers. Somewhere in the range of 26 to 29 attempts is a strong median projection for Russ here, which leaves us once again betting on efficiency in targeting these pass catchers.
As explored last week, Tyler Lockett has been the most efficient receiver on this offense — converting 81.1% of his targets into receptions, and pairing this efficiency with a respectable average depth of target of 12.2 — though this efficiency and his touchdown production have caused his price to continue trickling upward, marking him as a guy with lower floor than his price now indicates. Any guy seeing only four to six targets week in and week out is going to disappoint at some point, but Lockett does still retain solid point-per-dollar upside.
Behind Lockett, Doug Baldwin has an aDOT of 10.2, with recent target counts of 4 // 5 // 10 // 7. Baldwin’s route tree gives him fewer opportunities for big YAC gains (his xYAC/R of 3.8 is a full 1.4 yards shy of Lockett’s mark of 5.2), but he has failed to connect with Russ on a few potential touchdowns recently, giving him some upside that has not yet popped up in the box scores.
David Moore has been the least efficient receiver on this squad, hauling in 59.5% of his targets, but as explored in this space last week: with the fifth deepest aDOT in the NFL, Moore carries a low-floor, high-upside profile on his four to five expected looks. The 49ers shave almost 4% off the league-average catch rate and allow a below-average number of 20+ yard pass plays, but it won’t be surprising if one of these receivers finds a way to gain relevance on the slate.
Behind the wide receivers, Nick Vannett has recent target counts of 2 // 2 // 2. He’s nothing more than a dart throw.
SEAHAWKS RUN OFFENSE
The 49ers are shaving almost 10% off the league-average YPC rate, and they have allowed the 10th fewest rushing yards in the league; but while the matchup may be unspectacular for the Seahawks, we do know they are going to run the ball. Behind Chris Carson, the “number two” job has been split between Mike Davis and Rashaad Penny lately, with Davis seeing a few more snaps but Penny seeing a few more touches. While these two have rotated Number Two work, Carson has remained in the lead, with 17 and 16 carries in his last two games. Carson has only 13 targets and only 10 receptions all season, making him one of the most yardage-and-touchdown dependent backs in the league.
Outside of Kittle, the 49ers’ passing attack has been unattractive ever since Garoppolo went down — and in one of the toughest matchups in the NFL for tight ends, I’ll leave Kittle alone on Main Builds, viewing him as a “bet on workload and talent” play in tourneys. His ceiling remains intact, but his chances of seeing that ceiling are lower.
In the 49ers’ backfield, I don’t love the locked-in low volume on Breida (his ceiling this year has been 20 touches, and 16 to 17 is a safe expectation going in), but I do like the matchup quite a bit. His likeliest range is “doesn’t kill you if he fails to score,” to “provides really strong point-per-dollar production if he pushes one or two into the end zone.”
I won’t have much interest in the Seahawks in a game that projects to be run-heavy, with the work in this backfield being split three ways and with the backfield leader seeing almost zero involvement in the pass game. If going to this side of the ball, my likeliest bet would be on one of the three wide receivers in tourneys, as Russ has thrown multiple touchdown passes in all but one game this season (18 quarterbacks have more red zone pass attempts than Russ, but only three have more red zone touchdowns), and it won’t be surprising if one of these guys proves to be underpriced this week.