Coming into the postseason, one of the things I highlighted as a concern for the San Francisco 49ers‘ defense was the fact that in their last two regular season games they were giving up big plays. In specific, the secondary, which had done a relatively good job in this area, once again found itself letting opposing receivers get behind them for big plays. This bad trait was a flashback to the struggles and issues the 49ers’ secondary had at the end of the previous season and in their postseason run.
In the the Wild-Card win over the Green Bay Packers, the 49ers’ defense and secondary did a fine job of keeping the likes of Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson from breaking a big play as Cobb’s biggest catches came on broken plays while Nelson was unable to break a 20-yard plus reception. It was also a game which saw them hold Aaron Rodgers to under 200 yards passing. Against the Carolina Panthers in their NFC Divisional Playoff win, the 49ers’ defense did a fine job of controlling and containing Cam Newton, especially in the second half of a game where only a well thrown touchdown pass to Steve Smith represented the biggest play given up by the secondary.
Against the Seattle Seahawks, the big play came back to be a major reason that the 49ers lost 23-17 as each of the big plays the Seahawks’ offense was able to hit on allowed the Seattle to score points at key moments in the game. The first big play was a five-yard reception by Doug Baldwin where he split and got behind both 49ers safeties allowed the Seahawks to score their first points of the game and find their way into the game as an offense.
The Marshawn Lynch 40-yard touchdown run on the Seahawks’ first possession in the second-half occurred because Tramaine Brock made the incorrect decision to try and knock the football out of Lynch’s hands as opposed to trying to tackle him or push him out of bounds. Yet it was the last big play that the Seahawks were able to execute on offense which broke the camel’s back.
On the broken fourth-and-7 play which Russell Wilson connected on a 35-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse, the 49ers’ secondary once again found itself at fault. Like in Baldwin’s 51-yard reception in the second quarter, the 49ers’ safeties allowed Kearse to split between them and get in behind the secondary which should never be allowed to happen. In the end, the 49ers’ defense will look back on the NFC Championship loss and kick themselves for their breakdowns in assignments that allowed the Seahawks to take advantage of in a win.