BY Art Thiel 10:45PM 10/18/2012

Thiel: Harbaugh outsmarts Carroll, Seahawks

Coach Pete Carroll’s nemesis, Jim Harbaugh, thwarted him again with a second-half wrinkle that made a difference in the 49ers’ 13-6 win Thursday night in San Francisco.

Pete Carroll admitted he failed to answer the halftime changes made by 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

The last guy who can afford to be a victim of stunted growth is 5-foot-11 Russell Wilson. But if someone other than Marshawn Lynch on the Seahawks offense doesn’t help prop up the rookie quarterback, he’ll need a step-stool to see over the center’s butt.

After five dropped passes, dubious play choices and getting out-coached by Jim Harbaugh, Wilson and the Seahawks found themselves pounded down 13-6 by the 49ers Thursday night at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.

The much-anticipated matchup between NFC West co-leaders lived up to the billing with hard yards, harsh words and heroic moments, but the outcome was particularly crushing for Seattle because the loss turned not necessarily on Wilson’s rookieness – 9 of 23 passing, 122 yards — but on a failure by the heralded defense.

“I’m not pleased with what we did on defense,” said coach Pete Carroll, the first time this season he’s offered such a critique. “We allowed them to run the ball. That stuff shouldn’t have happened.”

The “stuff” was a series of trap plays by the 49ers in the second half that are fundamental to the rushing game, but for which the Seahawks surprisingly had no answer.

The Niners rushed for 175 yards, 131 by veteran locomotive Frank Gore, who in the second half exploded past the Seahawks front seven three times for long gains on the quick-hitter plays that are part of Football 101.

“They (49ers offense) trapped us and we didn’t counter, it was that simple,” Carroll said.  “They schemed great, and we didn’t get it corrected, unfortunately. I didn’t get it fixed.”

The admission was painful for Carroll because it meant that his irritating coaching rival, Harbaugh, bested him again. The 49ers (5-2) have won four in a row against the Seahawks (4-3),  three with Harbaugh – who while coaching at Stanford often had the edge on Carroll at USC —  in charge. It also meant that Carroll now 1-7 in his last eight games against current NFC West coaches.

More painful is that their division road schedule is complete at 0-3. That will prove significant in late December should tiebreakers come into play to determine playoff berths.

Carroll amended his remarks to say that he thought the defense played well overall, holding the Niners to a single touchdown and still providing Seattle with a chance to tie or win the game on the final possession.

But getting beat on a strength instead of a weakness is ever galling.

The weakness was troubling enough.  Wilson looked solid in the first half despite a drop of a potential touchdown pass by rookie running back Robert Turbin. But once they reached the red zone, the offense stalled every time, attempting three field goals and making two. But the Seahawks playcalling strategy of going deeper with throws rather than settling for underneath routes undercut their chances.

In the second half, Wilson did not complete a pass until late in the fourth quarter. Four days after the Seahawks stunned New England at home 24-23, the arsenal of big plays – other than the relentless Lynch, who had 103 yards in 19 carries – was empty.

The Seahawks had only a single turnover and just three penalties, but the five drops, two by Golden Tate, were decisive in a game where margins where thin.

“We had plays.” Carroll said, “we will always want to know: ‘What would have happened if we had made that play?”

Since the Seahawks losses have been by four, six and seven points, all on the road, the what-if game has been played often by Seattle this season — poorly.


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  • Michael Kaiser

    Poor Seahawks. Poor Seattle. How is that we can not, collectively as a community, help propel, through force of effect, a real, consistent winner at times, at least in the more primitive, alpha male-type competitions? I mean, really, we are so “nice,” and passive, and egalitarian. It just does not make sense.

    • Michael Kaiser

      Pete Carroll is, however, such a neat, Seattle-type guy.

  • Steve Graham

    Ah, yes — the inevitible “what-if” game played by fans, talk jocks, etc. when their team “unexpectedly” loses. Amazing how oblivious those same folks are as that same, pointless exercise is played by the other side after the Seahawks or Huskies eke out a close one against THEIR team. It’s as if our guys won solely due to their inherent talent, because they’re brave, clean and reverent.
    Long ago, it dawned on me that success on one Sunday in no way portends success the following week. Isn’t that the nature of all sport? How did the 1980 Rose Bowl-bound Huskies lose to NAVY? At home? Hell if I know, unless it has something to do with the fact that athletes are not robots. It’s like golf, when you make an unforgettable eagle on a par-4 one day. Then, the next time you play the same course and hole, you rack up a quadruple bogey. If it’s consistency you want, watch FOX News, not football. And to those who might angrily sputter I’m too practical or lacking in passion, they’d be right.

    • Michael Kaiser

      I did not find the Seahawks loss unexpected. In fact, quite the opposite.

  • Matt

    I guess the question going forward are several…
    1. Can we win with this offense? Assume some improvement from Wilson, but behind a line that remains suspect with receivers that can make amazing catches and drops. How much do we have to improve? How much can we improve?
    2. We are building a great defense. Is that truly the way to win in the NFL? When we play other good defenses we have a penchant to lose because even if they have just an Alex Smith offense, that’s better than what we have.
    3. Our great defense at times seems not-so-great. We should not be tricked on running plays, at least not as much as last night. We should not continue to give up the big gains on 3rd downs. Truly great defenses don’t do that.
    4. Coaching. Is anyone else tired of feeling like we’re being out coached? Harbaugh may be a so-and-so, but he definitely continues to outsmart Carroll. Bevell seems outsmarted on a lot of plays. You have to wonder if our offense brings up the rear of the NFL pack for a third year running if Bevell will be canned? Will people be said if that’s the case?

    • Michael Kaiser

      Bring back the “Big Show.” Offer to have him hold, simultaneously, the positions of team President, General Manager, Coach, and Offensive Coordinator. And if that will not sway him, offer him a piece of the team as well.

      • 1coolguy

        You’re nuts.

  • Matt712

    There are drops where the pass is not necessarily on target but the receiver still gets his hands on it and should have come down with it; and then there are drops where if the receiver were a tire it would have gone right through him. Last night, the Seahawks’ drops were unfortunately the latter. Those were absolute killers and game changers. Whether he would admit it or whether he’s even consciously aware of it, Wilson was probably pressing in the second half because of them, not unlike a baseball pitcher who suffers an untimely error behind him.

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  • PokeyPuffy

    Tough loss, I think I have a Harbaugh Hangover

  • 1coolguy

    Sure wish million dollar players could do what my son does – catch!!!
    The old saying “watch the ball into your hands” is simply focusing.
    The game was very frustrating to watch, as players dropping catches before getting hit is simply a burn on their teammates.