San Francisco 49ers: QB Blaine Gabbert’s Biggest Challenges vs. Seahawks


Blaine Gabbert helped get the 49ers back to winning ways in Week 9 against the Atlanta Falcons, but San Francisco’s new starting quarterback faces a much stiffer challenge in Week 11 in the form of the division rival Seattle Seahawks.

Seattle has dominated this rivalry in the last two seasons and – including the NFC Championship game last January – the Seahawks have won the last four games between the two teams.

The key to Seattle’s recent superiority has been their ability to suffocate the 49ers offense. San Francisco has scored just 13 points in their last three meetings with the Seahawks, with Colin Kaepernick unable to do anything through the air against a secondary that has consistently been one of the best in the league.

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Gabbert’s decent performance in the defeat of the Falcons at least provided hope he can move the offense on a regular basis, but the 49ers will be widely anticipated to come crashing down to earth given their record in recent games with Seattle and the quality and aggressiveness of the defense he is facing.

Seattle ranks at No. 7 in the league in team defense according to Football Outsiders but, as the Arizona Cardinals proved in their thrilling 39-32 win at CenturyLink Field, this is a unit that can be picked apart. However, in order to do so and give the 49ers a chance of moving level with the Seahawks, there are a number of challenges Gabbert will need to overcome.

A ferocious Seattle pass rush

One reason why Gabbert was able to enjoy some degree of success versus Atlanta was the play of the offensive line, which stood firm in the face of the Falcons pass rush and did not allow a single sack.

No matter how well the O-line performs, the Niners are unlikely to be able to stop the Seahawks getting consistent pressure on Gabbert. Seattle has 23 sacks on the year, tied for No. 11 in the league, and demonstrated its ability to get after the quarterback to devastating effect against Arizona.

The Seahawks got to Palmer three times and strip-sacked the Cardinals signal-caller twice to seemingly turn the game in their favour.

And, after sacking Colin Kaepernick on six occasions in Week 7, Seattle has reason for confidence of forcing Gabbert into mistakes through pressure, particularly with the Niners still refusing to commit to a starter at right guard.

Offensive coordinator Geep Chryst says Andrew Tiller and Jordan Devey are still battling it out at that spot on the O-line, despite the former’s vastly superior play. Tiller has given up just two combined pressures, whereas Devey has conceded 18 hurries, two hits and three sacks, per Pro Football Focus.

"You know, Andrew since he first was in in the Giants game, provides a nice dimension. He and Jordan [Devey] are battling it out literally every day in terms of getting reps and then making something and making the most out of those reps. So, we’ll see. – Geep Chryst"

If Devey sees significant snaps, Gabbert’s task will be much harder, and he must get the ball out quickly and display the same pocket presence he did in Week 9 to avoid being swallowed up by the Seattle defense.

Another week without Carlos Hyde

The 49ers confirmed starting running back Carlos Hyde will miss a third straight game on Friday, meaning Shaun Draughn will again likely be the feature back this week.

Draughn enjoyed a strong debut in Week 9, putting up 96 yards from scrimmage. But 30 of his 58 rushing yards came on one run and his 3.6 yards-per-carry average was far from impressive.

Those numbers will not scare a Seattle defense ranked No. 11 against the run by FO and giving up just 3.7 yards-per-rush in 2015.

The addition of Travaris Cadet gives Gabbert a pass-catching option out of the backfield but with the bellcow of the offense in Hyde out of action, there is more pressure on Gabbert to enjoy success through the air and stop the Niners from being one-dimensional by opening things up a little for a running back in Draughn who is average at best.

The Seahawks secondary

While the Cardinals and a number of other teams have enjoyed success against Seattle’s vaunted secondary, the 49ers – perhaps as a result of the poor play of Kaepernick  rather than the performance of the wideouts – have found it nigh on impossible to get the ball to their receivers in this matchup.

None of the Niner wideouts had over 40 yards receiving back in Week 7 and, with Gabbert unlikely to have much time to throw, San Francisco should struggle to push the ball downfield versus a group of defensive backs who have had little problem stopping the 49ers from getting deep in previous encounters.

The good news for Gabbert is that Seattle has proved susceptible to short throws over the middle. While Palmer mixed in a number of deep shots in the Cardinals’ victory, his drives were primarily methodical and reliant on intermediate gains.

Indeed, 22 of Palmer’s 29 completions were on throws between 0 and 19 yards, per PFF, and resulted in 229 of his 363 passing yards. With Anquan Boldin, who is questionable to play, excelling in contested catches in traffic and Quinton Patton and Bruce Ellington possessing the speed to get open on crossing routes, that could be an avenue for Gabbert to exploit.

Additionally, Seattle continues to find it difficult to guard tight ends – allowing Jermaine Gresham to catch a crucial touchdown in the loss to Arizona – which bodes well for Garrett Celek following his two touchdown game in the win over the Falcons.

Yet the fact remains Seattle will not respect the 49ers’ passing attack as it did that of the Cardinals and, with a fierce pass rush and a secondary used to throttling San Francisco, it figures to be a long afternoon for Gabbert.

Crowd Noise

Gabbert will also have to deal with the high decibel levels created by the passionate home fans in Seattle. If the Seahawks get on top early, then communication will become increasingly tough for the Niners offense.

Expect Gabbert and the 49ers to go to a silent count as they attempt to succeed in one of the league’s most hostile road environments. But, with an unsettled O-line prone to mistakes, it is hard to envision the crowd noise not drawing penalties and errors from San Francisco.

The Seattle defense can be exploited but the omens are not good for Gabbert. Simply too much needs to go right for him to overcome these various challenges. His best offensive weapon is still on the sidelines and the supporting cast does not look to be good enough to cause problems for a Seahawks team eager to bounce back from a huge loss.