How to beat the Seahawks in Seattle

Let’s not kid ourselves. The 49ers probably won’t beat the Seahawks on Sunday. The game will be in Seattle, where the Seahawks have lost only five times the past three seasons.

But that doesn’t mean the Niners are hopeless. It means their burden of execution will be extremely high. Here are the five things they have to execute perfectly to win this Sunday.

1. Improve their TPS Report.

Before even thinking about beating the Seahawks, the 49ers must make sure they don’t beat themselves. They didn’t get that memo last week against the Panthers.

The 49ers flunked their TPS report. Not the Testing Procedure Specification report Bill Lumbergh pestered Peter Gibbons about in “Office Space.” I’m talking about turnovers, penalties and sacks. Self-inflicted errors.

Against the Panthers, the 49ers fumbled once, threw one interception, turned the ball over on downs three times, committed 10 penalties and allowed four sacks. Add all that up, and the 49ers scored 19 on their TPS report — the second-highest score in the NFL for Week 1.

The Niners aren’t talented enough to overcome 19 mistakes and win. They have to play a much cleaner game Sunday. They need single digits on their TPS report.

I’ll go ahead and make sure they get another copy of that memo, mkay?

2. Keep Russell Wilson in the pocket.

The Seahawks knew their offensive line was bad when the preseason started, but they were optimistic about their left tackle, George Fant. Then Fant tore his ACL three weeks before the regular-season opener, and the Seahawks’ offensive line got even worse.

Their new left tackle, Rees Odhiambo, was their backup left guard before Fant went down. Odhiambo made his first start in the NFL last week, and gave up a sack on the first play from scrimmage.

The Seahawks’ right tackle, Germain Ifedi, isn’t much better than Odhiambo. Ifedi played right guard as a rookie last season. That means both of the Seahawks offensive tackles are guards.

And that means the Seahawks will try to move Wilson out of the pocket altogether on Sunday. Ifedi and Odhiambo can’t protect Wilson. He will try to roll out or scramble.

The 49ers can’t let him do either one. They have to cage him in the pocket, force him to stand in one place and throw. They can sack him if they contain him.

3. Run away from Sheldon Richardson.

Most run plays involve a two-on-one double-team block at the point of attack. Call this the buddy system. Offensive linemen helping each other.

Kyle Shanahan’s favorite run play, the outside zone, does not involve the buddy system. It involves a series of one-on-one blocks. Offensive linemen all alone, stranded on desert islands. Call them Gilligans.

Last week, the Niners didn’t have an offensive lineman who could block Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short one on one. Every time the 49ers ran the outside zone toward Short, he bulldozed a blocker and cut off Carlos Hyde in the backfield. That’s a big reason the 49ers gained just 6 yards on outside zone runs.

This week, the Niners have a similar problem. They don’t have an offensive lineman who can block Seahawks defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson one on one.

So they have to run away from him. If Richardson is on the left side of the line, run the outside zone to the right. And if he’s on the right, run the outside zone to the left. Don’t let Richardson blow up the play.

4. Take an early lead.

Of the five teams that have beaten the Seahawks in Seattle the past three seasons, only two of those teams came from behind to win.

The 49ers won’t be the third. They aren’t built to come from behind, as we saw last week. Their offense depends on the run game and play-action pass game, and neither is a viable option when the Niners are losing by two touchdowns.

If the Niners score first, they can stick with their run game and silence the loudest crowd in the NFL. That crowd is part of the reason the Seahawks are so good at home. Opponents can’t communicate over all that tumult. Players screaming face to face still can’t hear each other.

The Niners have to find a way to score first. And here’s how they can do that.

5. Make the big play.

Forget the long drive.

The 49ers probably aren’t talented enough to execute perfect 10-play drives against the Seahawks. At some point, the 49ers will commit a penalty or drop a pass or give up a sack and they’ll have to punt. They should find an opportunity to throw long.

Second-and-2 would be one of those opportunities. Don’t run up the middle — take the deep shot. If Brian Hoyer doesn’t complete the pass, the result would be third-and-2, and the 49ers can convert third-and-2.

First-and-5 after the Seahawks jump offside would be another chance to throw long. First-and-5 is a free down. Go deep. The 49ers have to recognize the opportunity is there and seize it.

But how? What are some deep passes that would work against the Seahawks defense? I’m glad you asked.

The Seahawks primarily play Cover 3, also called three-deep zone coverage. That’s one safety in the middle of the field, two corners playing deep along the sidelines, and four “underneath defenders” — guys playing closer to the line of scrimmage.

Here are five plays designed to go deep and exploit Cover 3.

Four Verticals.

The 49ers line up in a two-by-two formation (two receivers on the left and two receivers on right). The outside receivers run straight go routes down the sidelines to occupy the cornerbacks. The two inside receivers run seam routes along the inside edge of the numbers on the field. This play puts the free safety in a bind. He has to cover both inside receivers. The quarterback must stare at one of the inside receivers and force the free safety to take a few steps his direction. Then, the quarterback throws to the other inside receiver, who is wide open. This is the play the Raiders used when Derek Carr threw the game-clinching touchdown pass to Seth Roberts during the fourth quarter against the Titans Week 1.

Triple Post (Three Verticals).

The 49ers line up in a one-by-three formation (one receiver on the left and three receivers on the right, or vice versa). On the three-receiver side, the inside receiver runs a post route in front of the free safety. The outside receiver runs a straight go route to occupy the cornerback. And the middle receiver runs a seam route up the inside edge of the numbers. He should be open. Bill Walsh used to run this play all the time against Cover 3, and he would use Jerry Rice as the middle receiver. When Kyle Shanahan calls this play on Sunday, he should use rookie tight end George Kittle as the middle receiver. He’s fast enough to run deep, and has the awareness to find the open window in Seattle’s zone coverage.

Y Sail — Outside Flood Concept.

The outside receiver runs a straight go route. The tight end runs a 15-yard out route toward the outside receiver. And the running back runs a five-yard out route on the same side of the field. This creates a three-on-two advantage for the 49ers. The Seahawks will have only two defenders to cover three receivers. Most defenses see this route combination and think the outside receiver is a decoy whose purpose is to create space for the tight end running the deep out route. So they play the tight end. Hoyer must be determined to throw the deep pass to the outside receiver unless the defense takes him away.

Y Stick Nod.

This play is designed to go the tight end. He runs 5 or 6 yards up field, then breaks to the outside for a couple of steps. This is the “nod.” The quarterback takes a three-step drop and pump fakes toward the tight end, who quickly turns back up field and runs deep between the free safety and the cornerback.

Three Pump.

This play is similar to the Y Stick Nod. The main difference is the tight end runs 10 yards up field before selling the outside move, and the quarterback takes a five-step drop before pump faking.

As you may have noticed, most of these plays are designed to go to Kittle, the tight end. Look for Kittle to have the game of his life if the Niners pull off the upset.

Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at

This article has 99 Comments

    1. He also gave away the game plan to the Seahawks by posting it to the blog. This is something I would have kept to between me and the team.

  1. 1. I’m pretty sure Illinois, and USF didn’t get that TPS memo either.

    2. Wilson is range free. Remains to be seen if they can cage him.

    3.”If Richardson is on the left side of the line, run the outside zone to the right. And if he’s on the right, run the outside zone to the left”. Yea, they’ll never figure that one out, little buddy. (takes off hat, and hits little buddy on noggin)”Don’t let Richardson blow up the play”. Instead of using Beadlesjuice, try the Professor, and go right at Richardson.

    4. Getting the lead…great idea. Then stick with the run game? What run game?

    5. I’d come out in that 22 personnel play you designed, and hit the TE’s in the seam until they stopped it. I would not try to get outside against this team. Dual running backs curling in the flats. Power I running. One deep ball per quarter. Thanks for the work, Grant!

  2. The Niners would have to play an awful good game or the Seahawks, a bad game. Generally when the Hawks get beat away they come back the next week with a vengeance at home. I don’t think we can get to Wilson and that generally spells big plays.. Hoyer has never played at CenturyLink . That is a huge negative.. Anything is possible but I don’t see a bunch of kids going into CenturyLink and performing outstanding football on either side of the ball. That said, Go Niners!

  3. 1. Agreed, they need to clean up the mistakes. Although Hoyer’s fumble can be blamed on poor OL play.

    2. Easier said than done. If they do get their hands on Wilson, they have to finish. Don’t let the little man extend plays with our CBs.

    3. Left, right, and center. You have to keep the D honest. Try to limit running at Richardson, But you got to do it at times.

    4. I hope they do.

    5. Throwing long would be more palatable if Goodwin didn’t have problems with drops and tracking. I think we will take what we can get against the Hawks’ bend but don’t break D. Plenty of Garcon short and intermediate. Hyde on the ground. Juice and Hyde on screen passes and maybe a wheel route. I think Kittle and Taylor will be more involved. Kittle was a full participant in practice. Taylor will be featured over the middle from the slot.

  4. The biggest positive the 49ers have going for them tomorrow is Seattle won’t be 100% up for the game. They’ve toyed with the 49ers since 2014. Despite the loss to GB last week I cannot see them mentally or physically full tilt.. That could help SF.

      1. I will be optimistic. Niners 24-23. Seahawks score more times, but Niners do not settle for FGs. I am also hoping for a defensive TD.

      2. It will be lower scoring (relatively…); 9ers 17, Seahawks, 26. Seattle, while improved over last week, will still have lingering issues which prevent greater separation.

        Hoping for better!

  5. Grant, did you forward this to KS! Sounds like a good plan ?.

    Shock the world SF. Plant a Niner flag in the center of the field after the upset.

  6. 49ers defensive line better than Seahawk’s offensive line. There will be chaos in Seahawk’s offense.
    Seahawk’s defensive line better than 49ers offensive line. There will be chaos in 49ers offense.

    Hoyer not a good quarterback in chaotic conditions.
    Wilson very good quarterback in chaotic conditions.

    Seahawks take this one.

    “Mmmm Kay…”

    1. I’ve wanted the Niners to find a way to win at
      The Clink, for so-o-o .. long ….
      my crossed fingers are cramping !

      Grant …

      If the FO .. has never read these threads before …

      THIS … is the one
      they should read !

  7. Nice, Grant, avoiding the unforced errors and containing RW are smart goals.
    However, I wish to disagree about all the deep passes. Niners need to be balanced, and abandoning the run will play right into their hands, like the Niners did with the Panthers.
    I also had advocated a deep pass, but sitting in the pocket waiting for the receivers to get down field may end up with sacks and fumbles. That is bad for the TPS. I had the TE in motion to pinch in the DE so Hoyer could roll out and buy time.
    Niners need to get back to smash mouth football. Start Tomlinson. Start Magnussen. Line up Hyde deep in the I and let him find the hole or weakness. Use Juszczyck as the lead blocker, but also get him involved in the passing game.
    They should run the no huddle to prevent their defense from substituting, and use Kittle and Juszczyck to create mismatches.
    Flooding zones and targeting players is Walsh 101, so I heartily agree.
    Negating the crowd noise may help them win. The Niners should do quick snaps, but then vary the snaps to try and get them to jump offsides for a free play.
    This will be a daunting challenge, and the Niners must hope the Seahawks will take them lightly.
    Niners need to stop beating themselves with deficient preparation and poor execution. GB gave the blueprint on how to defeat the Seahawks. Niners should study that last game.
    GO NINERS !!!!!!

    1. I thought Adalaide Byrd’s 118-110 for Canelo was odd. I had it even. Just a good equal fight.

      This was much better than the Maweather/McGregor exhibition.

      1. That score was off considerably although Canelo turned it on late.
        I hate the draw but it was a fitting result. No one really beat or out boxed the other.

        The thing you have to ask is was this fixed all along for a draw? I mean boxing needs a jolt and rematches do that.

      2. Watching that fight I came away thinking a few things.
        1. Canelo, was the better fighter but the lazier one.
        2. GGG won on activity because for larger portions of the fight Canelo ran and didn’t engage enough.
        I had GGG winning by about 4 rounds, but it seemed like anytime Canelo wanted to be active in a round he won.

  8. Wow Seb, I actually agree with your synopsis, especially your first four paragraphs. Excellent. Two things I believe won’t happen in this game. They won’t stop the noise. I’ve been there. It’s loud even when they’re not loud. I’ve never heard anything like it. Deafening. Even if the Niners were to somehow jump out to a large lead, the place is ridiculously loud and won’t stop until the game is over. The fans there (some but not all) go there just to yell at the top of their lungs all game long. It’s become a tradition. Everyone around us yelled rabidly the entire game. It’s beyond belief, trust me. The other is keeping RW under wraps. That won’t happen either. He’s incredible, and reminds me of a modern day Tarkenton, only way better. They’ll have to deal with those two issues and do what you said, which I agree with more than Grant’s game plan, and also play mistake free football. Balance is critical against this team. You can’t just throw the ball way down the field, outside or seam, all game long. Hoyer won’t have the time, and would get killed. I’ll stick with my prediction. Unfortunately, Seattle 37 SF 13. The game will be closer than that final score.

    1. Juan, you may be right about RW. He is a mobile elusive QB who is also accurate.
      However, this time, we will not be seeing Brooks acting like he is on roller skates trying to corral RW.
      I hope they send some safety blitzes, because they would be quick enough to tackle him.
      If Hyde can get 100 yards, the Niners may control the clock and make it competitive.
      I hope Goodwin can do a stutter step or double move, and get open for a long strike down field.

  9. look back even at the Haurbaugh era..Bowman’s knee..Sherman embarrassing Crabtree..Kyle Williams..ever since the York’s took over this team we’ve been Yorked!Seattle has never had one major injury..the fail Mary went their way..They are good and lucky.. Were getting smoked tommorow..It’s the 49er way..Can’t believe this is the same team I grew up watching..anything bad that will happen it will happen to the Niners..The Seaclucks could fall off a cliff and land on marshmallows made of gold..Forget talent this team is cursed!Seahawks 33 Niners 3..

  10. Go Niners!
    Reality Check unfortunately:
    Sea 30
    SF 13

    Seattle will bounce back with a vengeance from last week at opening homegame to a loud packed house.

    Niners are too young and simply don’t have the experience to mentally handle games in a setting like this. Also, I predict Hoyer will be sacked at least 4 times, hurried and hit 10+ times and be responsible for at least 2 turnovers.

  11. 2020: “after firing Kyle Shanahan, the San Francisco 49ers announce their 21st Head Coach: Grant Cohn.”
    Everybody’s wondering why they didn’t think about him before….

  12. I just don’t see the 49ers prevailing in this one. To many bridges to cross, I’m afraid. It’s too bad because I really want them to beat the living stink out of the Seahawks! Just don’t see it happening yet. A bridge too far.

  13. Like I said in the previous thread, we have one secret weapon that gives us a leg-up on previous seasons: No Kaepernick. In his 8 starts, he was 1-7 with a 63.7 QB rating while adding to Richard Sherman’s reputation as he threw quite a few right to him…

    1. I had a link to YouTube with this. It went into moderation. And another post with a link to the Sacramento Bee went into moderation a couple of days ago. What is going on?

      1. Happens to me too. If any linked url has a combination of characters that can be construed as being inappropriate/offensive, it will cause the post to drop into moderation. I’ve had completely innocent, directly related to football urls drop into moderation–never to be seen again–because of potentially suggestive terms or groupings of characters.

        I would imagine other filter nuances are applied as well.

  14. Grant

    Your posts have been getting better and better.

    As a very visual person I have enjoyed the periscopes and now these
    diagrams of plays to go along with the written description.

    As my father would say “Good Show Lad! Good Show!”

  15. Highly doubtful the Niners can beat the Hawks in Seattle, no surprise there. I just hope we don’t have a complete meltdown like last year’s game. Talk about not showing up! They were completely humiliated and was a truly embarrassing effort. It was like watching a varsity football team play the freshmen. I’d just be happy if this year’s team was competitive.

  16. From…

    “Just two weeks into the season, the Saints are planning for a major move on defense.

    They spent the early portion of the week calling teams and shopping former first-round safety Kenny Vaccaro, according to multiple sources.

    A playmaker on the back end, Vaccaro is a do-everything defensive back who was a starter right off the bat for New Orleans. He’ll play this season on his fifth-year option, a one-year guaranteed contract worth $5.7 million.”

    1. Chiefs should take a one year rental on him. He’s solid against the run, but not so much in coverage. But, if they put him in that free to roam role, where he can plant and pop, maybe he can patch the hole left by Berry’s souring….

  17. Richard Nixon (record in presidential elections 2-1) used to draw up plays and send them to George Allen. Allen’s record coaching Washington while Nixon was in the WH was 30-11-1. That will be a lofty standard for the Kyle Shanahan/Grant Cohn tactical dynamic duo to match. TBD.

    1. who can forget such classics as the : “Halderman trap right” & the “plumbers unit fade” …. made Kilmer look like HOF material..
      Oh yeah…the Ellsberg blitz pkg. too.

  18. Key players today?


    Russell Wilson- elusiveness and accurate passing will be the difference today.
    Jimmy Graham- his play will be the determining factor in controlling the pace of the game and breaking the 49ers defensive schemes
    Cam Chancellor – he will be the enforcer in the middle of the field and will determine whether Kittle and others on the field can be successful

    Brian Hoyer- will need to play a perfect game in order to have a chance even with constant harassment.
    Kittle- will need to be tough and fast and withstand the enforcement of Chancellor.
    Goodwin- must bounce back, get open and catch the dang ball!!
    Reíd- he has to set the tone early in the secondary and make it hard for Russell to have his way.
    Lynch- must catch Russell.

  19. Grant Coach,
    This game should not focus on winning but on what the nines can achieve in a game.
    keep running 2-3 similar plays in each quarter, and new ones in the next. Playing them just once or twice in a game isn’t gonna get them very far. If they were to practice your deep ball play for instance, it should be played 5 times minimum in a game.They should approach this year as a practice year. Win or lose shouldn’t matter in a rebuilding year. The guys will play looser and be able to enjoy their gains as the year progresses.
    let’s not forget Seattle is coming of a tough loss…

  20. Sebbie… Your top 10 songs for 9er practices. You’re totally crack at compiling lists for the 9ers. How about sharing your list of practice songs–you know, that music played loud during practices (regardless of where they’ll be playing)? Knowing that you prefer motivational messages–such as Kipling’s IF–what top 10 motivational songs would you list…Sebbie’s motivational playlist? Before sharing it, remember, these songs would be played outside at practice for all to enjoy…

    Climb Every Mountain (Sound of Music)?
    Weekend in New England (Barry Manilow)?
    Theme From Shaft (Isac Hayes)?
    Safety Dance (Men Without Hats)?

  21. The biggest problem with attacking the 3 deep zone down the deep middle is the fact that the niners Oline has yet to show it can stop a defender from getting to the qb within 3 seconds. If the qb doesn’t have time to wait for the receivers to get down the field or even get close to their break points, it makes these plays nearly impossible to run.
    Second the outside zone wont work against this team and they will likely only run it sparingly to keep the D honest. Seattle is a penetration defense with speed across all levels. They need to be pounded.

    If the niners were to somehow win, it would be because they won the turnover battle by a large margin and the defense shut down Seattle’s offense. I have Seattle winning by 13+ points with the game being close until about midway to the late 3rd quarter when the D gets to tired.

  22. Love the idea grant, but to make them plays work requires a 5 to a 7 count , we will be lucky if we get 3 from this offensive line at best all day . Run the ball set up the play action ( don’t matter which runs ) leave a safety net ,or dump off player in each , ( FB,HB) press the seam ( split FS ,CB)with Wr ,flood there zones , keep them honest . Looking for a break down in coverage . Barring a major injuries , to Seattle , don’t see us winning this one . Now if you take out Sherman ,( hammy ,ankle ) and other corner ( Rodgers picked on) .than you can pick them apart with the slants ,and crossing routes , mismatching the LB . But like I said to you earlier . They would have to keep them honest with the running game. This is saying the offensive line holds up adequately. Reality sets in bad guys 23 sf 17 …. Can’t wait till we the ones kicking there butts again …

  23. Grant’s diagrammed plays are interesting. I hope they don’t become the baseline for grading the team’s performance following the game, e.g… “9ers get an F for failing to run the triple post!”

    1. Get points off of turn overs, greatly improve the 3rd down conversion rate, and reduce penalties. Force more 3rd and longs on Seattle. Yeah, nothing magical here–easier said than done. I suspect the Seahawks will continue to struggle a bit–they haven’t cleaned everything up from their first game.

  24. One thing the Niners should do is realize that the Seahawks will absorb, study and scheme about what the Niners did in the first half, and make adjustments.
    KS should do something totally different from what he did in the first half. He should devise a whole new scheme that will stymie their adjustments, by thinking 2 plays ahead. Maybe line up like they would run a play they saw in the first half, and do something different.
    Last season, the Niners did not do well in the second half, because the other team would make adjustments. Niners need to make adjustments to their adjustments.

  25. Love it George , you have become one of the people I’ve come to enjoy , your thoughts are open and detailed , I appreciate all you do to open our thoughts ,and ideas , and the conversation . So I ask you , which part of our team makes the biggest strides today, offense, defense, special teams?

    1. Thanks very much, amigo. I think it will be the dline, but that’s because their oline is below average. I don’t think this is going to be a good day for the offense and secondary. The background is their crowd and how it can disrupt. IMO the outside zone runs will be nil. The inside zone runs might produce but only enough for us to kick field goals, if that. Hoyer will be under seige by their pass rush, and, the way I see it, the ‘Hawk’s secondary will contain our passing. Maybe there will be one or two good pass plays to Goodwin. I think we’ll stymie their running game and chase Wilson around, but he’ll make some big plays against our secondary. IMO it will be a close game decided by field goals. If it’s not a close game, it means that Seattle romps. Sorry for the pessimism, but our team is a work in progress. This is going to be a tough season for us but with glimpses of progress. Anyway that’s how I see it.

      1. — use pass rush, if any, to close off outside lanes for RW to escape…force him to find a way up between tackles.
        — use run game, again- if any, to quiet noise, as long and verbose pass play calls will be tough against noise. (even kgo show talking about lip reading Hoyer!)

  26. Agree with you Seb ,change it up at half ,and start over after adjustments are made , coming at them from same formation , attacking a different way would set it up ,I understand what your getting at . Agree

  27. KS game plan? everbody do post, flood a zone here and there. We’ll baffle ’em with pump fakes and precise route running. Don’t forget d-line ears pinned. they will love this. Hoyer gonna like like Brady vs. Denver…

  28. If the Niners defense can pressure Wilson they can keep the Seahawks offense from scoring more than 17 points.
    I have a hard time seeing the Niners offense scoring more than 13 points. The O line will have trouble protecting Hoyer. The passing game will be limited unless the running game can be productive, which isn’t probable.
    I also think it is likely the Niners will turn the ball over a couple of times which could result in 7-10 more points for the Seahawks.
    I hope the Niners can play smart tough football , limit there mistakes and have some longer drives to control the game. But the Seahawks are playing their home opener after losing last week. I just don’t see the Niners winning this game.

  29. Grant, the problem with attacking the Seattle cover 3 with 4 out of 5 concepts is that they rely on 3×1 or 3×2 sets. When this happens Seattle doesn’t run a spot dropping cover 3 zone or even a man-in-zone cover 3. They use a cover 3 “mable” which stands for “man” on the single or double receiver side. The “mable” was originated by Nick Saban to defeat flood concepts. In the “mable” your trips side hook/curl defender will run with any vertical route and take away mid outs and corner routes with outside leverage using the high safety as help.

    On 4 verts from a balanced set, like you show, Seattle, if they see it once, will run a cover 3 rip match. Where the strong safety will come down like normal but he’ll run vertically with any vertical route. Thus taking away your seams against the cover 3. 4 verts is what Pitt used to beat Saban and bellichick in 94 against their cover 3 so Saban and hoodie came up with the matching 3, Seattle uses this with Kam chancellor when a lot of teams try and do the 4 verts(interestingly enough, Saban call the 4 verts concept “seattle”).

    What’s better against Seattle is if you can isolate a shifty running back on the weakside LB in a 3×1 set as the “will” would be responsible for carrying that player upfiled since the corner on that side is in man, not deep 1/3 zone. That’s what NE did in the SB and forced man coverage, which was defeated with pick plays which then forced spot dropping which then was defeated by flood concepts. So, to beat them, you have to keep to a gameplan and execute it well.

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