Carroll, Harbaugh built their teams nearly the same way — heavy on defense and special teams, light on offense. Only the 49ers are better. The Seahawks’ only chance is to be smarter.
They’re the same guy.
Well, same enough to build nearly identical football teams.
No wonder Carroll and Harbaugh don’t much care for each other. And don’t say you don’t remember the feeling in high school when some classmate had your ideas, told jokes better and swiped your girlfriend.
If you haven’t noticed already, you will see Saturday, when Carroll’s Seahawks and Harbaugh’s 49ers meet at the Clink in a Christmas Eve grill-smash sure to keep everyone in the holiday spirit of me-first — the teams are mirror images.
Strong defense. Precision special teams. Offenses that don’t spit up on themselves.
Seahawks/49ers: Twins separated at birth.
“It’s a classic way of putting together a football team together . . . there are a lot of similarities there,” said Carroll of the 49ers, whom he complimented effusively — in no small part because he sees himself in their image, and in large part because it would be stupid to do otherwise.
But the coaches are of the same gridiron seed. If God commanded in First Andtens that the Rushing Game Shall Come Before All, Carroll would be Apostle Peter and Harbaugh Apostle James.
Yet . . . saying these teams are the same isn’t the same as saying they’re even. The 49ers are 10-3 and NFC West Division champs, the Seahawks are 7-7, and 33-17 losers to the 49ers in the season’s first week.
The Niners were 6-10 a year ago and stayed mostly intact except for replacing the coaching staff with a Stanford staff, led by the histrionic Harbaugh. Their players are more talented (11 first-round draft choices), more experienced more jacked about their rookie head coach.
The Seahawks, despite winning the NFC West, churned their roster in the off-season and tossed off long-timers such as Matt Hasselbeck, Lofa Tatupu, Sean Locklear and Lawyer Milloy. The horde of newcomers and youngsters combined with some new assistants to fall down the basement stairs for half a season (2-6).
With wins in five of their last six games, however, the Seahawks can argue that they have rallied from the lineup shuffle and an off-season with no practices to the point where they can now walk up to the 49ers, tug on their dreadlocks, duck the first punch and then throw hands evenly for the the afternoon.
“We’ll get revved up and let it rip and see what happens,” said Carroll Tuesday. “We have a really formidable opponent in this one. There’s a lot of good feeling in the locker room.”
Where the 49ers are most formidable is where the Seahawks are most successful — the rush. The Niners have compiled a freakishly good statistic that borders on the unbelievable: They have not allowed a rushing touchdown this season, a record through 14 games that is matched in NFL history only by the Decatur, Ill., Staleys of 1920. To look at that timeline another way, Vince Lombardi, 41 years dead, was a seven-year-old boy the last time pro football saw anything like this.
As you may have read, the Seahawks, despite a long list of injuries on offense (WR Mike Williams had successful surgery Monday on his ankle broken Sunday and is done for the season), have become proficient at running. Since Week 9, Marshawn Lynch is the NFL’s leading rusher with 748 yards in 171 carries (4.4 ypg).
But he wasn’t so hot Sunday — 42 yards in 20 carries. The defense of the Chicago Bears loaded up to stop Lynch and dared quarterback Tarvaris Jackson to beat him. So he did. The 49er will have to do the same thing. So will Jackson. Only the Niners have the No. 1 ranked defense, which showed why in the Monday night game when they shaved and waxed the Pittsburgh Steelers 20-3 on national TV.
The only way the Seahawks are going to pull off the upset is to out-smart the Niners, as they did in the first series of the second half Sunday against the Bears.
Trailing 14-7 and doing nothing on offense, the Seahawks discussed at halftime the Bears’ frequent use of one of their safeties against the rush. Figuring the defense was vulnerable to the bomb, Jackson first threw short to Golden Tate, who broke two tackles on the way to a 33-yard gain. On the next play, they struck deep to Ben Obomanu, in one-on-one coverage against a streak route, for 43 yards. Lynch scored on the next play, the first of 31 consecutive unanswered points in a 38-14 triumph that became shockingly easy.
For the Seahawks season, the significance of the call, throw and catch by Obomanu was large. It proved the Seahawks, despite all the injuries and mystery talent (Obomanu was a seventh-round pick out of Auburn), and independent of the ground game, were capable not only of imagining the unexpected, but executing it.
“We talked at halftime about the play being there, given that they were playing with only one safety (back),” said Obomanu, who will start in place of Williams. “That was one of our adjustments, and it changed everything. It softened up their defense. Their cornerbacks started backing up, and it gave our offense momentum.”
The Seahawks aren’t going to run much on the Staleys, er, 49ers. They probably are going to kick a few 45-yard field goals, but it won’t be enough to balance the 49ers’ superb special teams. But sometime Saturday afternoon, the Seahawks are going to have to pop the unexpected as they did against the Bears.
It’s the only way for Carroll to show Harbaugh his deal — and get the girlfriend back.