This coming weekend, the NFC Championship game has two teams facing each other that I’m pretty familiar with — the Seattle Seahawks, and the San Francisco 49ers.
I’ve studied both teams quite a bit on film. We played the 49ers in Week 1 and then in the playoffs, and we actually played the Seahawks back in the preseason.
Sunday should be a battle. Here are the things that, as a defensive player, I see factoring into the outcome of the game.
THE LEGION OF BOOM
The entire Seattle defense plays with a lot of confidence, and it makes an impact. When you’ve got guys running around making plays, it saps all the energy out of an offense.
Start with Richard Sherman. His whole demeanor — how aggressive he is, his confidence — to me, he’s the most confident DB I’ve seen in a while. Confidence will take you a long way. On top of that, he’s 6’3″ with long, lanky arms. His ability to go up and take a receiver out, his press game — there’s very few receivers that can go against Richard Sherman.
A lot of people think he takes risks, but that’s not how I see it. I’d call it good film study. It seems like he knows where the ball is going the vast majority of the time. Richard is a smart guy. He graduated from Stanford.
When a quarterback tries to throw his way and he picks the ball off, or the receiver’s not catching it — the quarterback’s not going to look his way anymore. And that shuts down a whole side of the defense.
Their free safety, Earl Thomas, does everything well. To me, he’s the best safety in the game. He’ll come up and smack you in the face, as you saw in the Saints game. On top of that, he’s a ballhawk. If anything happens to the corners, he’s got their back. That’s a big difference. It allows you to jump routes when your safety can make the kinds of plays that he does — plays that a lot of other safeties can’t make. He also can make tackles in the open field. If you miss those, they can really cost you. He does a great job doing it, and it’s fun to watch him play.
Then there’s their strong safety, Kam Chancellor. You look at him, and he looks like a linebacker. That’s how big he is. But he runs like a DB. It helps their defense out a lot. Earl runs around the backfield and Kam roams around the box a lot. He’s a sure tackler and one of the hardest hitting safeties in the league. Receivers, tight ends, running backs — when they’re moving around the field, they’re looking to see where Kam Chancellor’s at.
TWO OF THE BEST
The 49ers defense has a lot of weapons, too. The two that stand out to me are NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis. They’re easily two of the best linebackers in the game. What makes them so elite is how fast and aggressive they are, and how quickly they see things happening out there. As soon as the ball is snapped, they know exactly where they’re going. Two middle linebackers like that who can feed off each other, and really know each other — one knows to shoot, the other knows to protect — when you have that, good things tend to happen. Chemistry is really important at that position.
I remember when I came to Green Bay. Charles Woodson was here at the time and I got to learn my position from a guy I watched my whole life. He’s going to be a Hall of Famer. He’s top two at his position the way Patrick Willis is. When you have someone like that there, you work even harder. You want to be like him. You want to make plays like him. When you have competition like that, it makes everyone better.
When Bowman got to San Francisco, I’m pretty sure he wanted to do everything he could to try and excel and succeed the way Patrick did. And that’s exactly what he’s doing. You could probably argue that he might be the better linebacker, which is crazy, because Patrick Willis is amazing.
WHAT MAKES SEATTLE RUN
The last few times Marshawn Lynch has played against San Francisco, he’s rushed for at least 70 yards and has scored at least once. Marshawn’s going to have success. The 49ers just have to have two or three guys on him every time he touches the ball. He’s the type of guy that’s always going to fall forward. He did that a few times last week against the Saints. There’s no hole that’s too small for him, and he’s their big play guy on the ground. Every time he touches the ball he could go the distance. If you’re a defensive guy, you’ve got to hit him before he hits you. Once he gets up to speed and gets rolling downhill — it can be very hard to tackle him.
Russell Wilson just finds a way to get it done. He doesn’t panic. He doesn’t force throws the way that other quarterbacks do. He’ll take what you give him. If no one is open, he’ll run it. He controls the offense well. Not everyone is going to throw for 300 yards the way that Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers does, but it’s not only about yards and touchdowns. It’s about winning.
KAP AND CO.
There may only be one person in the league who throws the ball harder that Colin Kaepernick, and that’s Aaron. The velocity that he puts on the ball — he can zip it into some really tight holes. Is his accuracy as good as some of the elite quarterbacks? No. But his arm strength and the timing he has with some of his receivers makes it harder to stop and defend him. On top of that, there’s the way he scrambles. When a guy like that gets in the open field, it’s really, really hard to stop and defend. I played against him in college, and he’s gotten a lot better in every way that you can play the position. In college, it was like, “Let’s stop him from running, and make him be a quarterback.” That’s not the case now. He does both really well.
One of Kaepernick’s favorite targets is Anquan Boldin. He isn’t really a trash talker unless you say something to him. Anquan is a different beast out there. He’s not really the kind of guy you want to mess with. But I’m the type of player who doesn’t really care what anyone has to say between the white lines. That’s what happens. It’s football.
When anything is thrown his way, he feels like he can come down with the ball. There were some plays in last year’s Super Bowl that he made that were like, “Man, there was a guy right there in perfect position, and Anquan still came down with the ball.” Back in Week 1, we double teamed him, and he was still coming down with the ball. It comes down to his ability to track and high point the ball. Boldin and Michael Crabtree are strong finishing catchers — they’re like Larry Fitzgerald and Jordy Nelson. They’re good at coming down with the ball.
Crabtree’s return late in the season has been a difference maker for San Francisco. In third down situations, they used to go to Anquan. Now they will go to either, which is obviously tougher because you can’t double team either of them. You’ve got to cover them straight up.
And of course, there’s Vernon Davis. He’s big, strong and easily the fastest guy on their team. He’s their vertical guy. They’re going to try to stretch the field with him, get him going deep and try to get him rolling.
All of that said, the crowd up there in Seattle will make it hard on the 49ers. When it’s that loud, it’s difficult to hear the snap count. The Seahawks’ fans really are the 12th man.
Seattle has the personnel to matchup against the 49ers. That’s why San Francisco struggles so much with them, especially in Seattle. It’s going to be tough. I think Seattle’s defense is too good. They’ll create some turnovers, and be able to score off those turnovers. I think the Seahawks win it, 26-16.