The Seattle Seahawks’ ongoing issues with tight ends running free for big plays — scoring plays — against their defense might have partly cost Cary Williams his starting cornerback job.
Defensive coordinator Kris Richard and coach Pete Carroll had DeShawn Shead replace Williams for the last half of San Francisco’s final drive of the third quarter into the final period of Seattle’s 29-13 win Sunday.
“DeShawn Shead deserves a chance,” Carroll said.
“There have been some plays that were made that we just wanted to see some improvement on, and see some carryover from weeks past. I thought it was time to give DeShawn a chance to see if he could do it.”
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Williams said it was the first time since he became a full-time starter in the league in 2011 with Baltimore that he had been benched during a game.
“I wasn’t playing well,” Williams said.
Shead, who has also played safety and nickel back inside this season, entered after Williams appeared to have the responsible coverage behind reserve outside linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis down his sideline as tight end Garrett Celek caught a 33-yard pass. That set up a field goal for the 49ers in the third quarter.
San Francisco’s first score came just before halftime, at Williams’ expense. On third and 7 with 63 seconds left in the second quarter and Seattle using defensive time uts to try to get the ball back for another score, Williams played almost 10 yards off of wide receiver Quinton Patton. Patton made an easy turn and catch for the first down that sparked the 49ers into a 2-minute drill.
That ended with Blaine Gabbert throwing down the middle seam to wide-open tight end Vance McDonald. Williams was well behind McDonald near the goal line. Free safety Earl Thomas whiffed on an attempted arm tackle at about the 2 on McDonald’s first career TD catch.
“I got my eyes in the wrong place a little bit, and they were able to capitalize,” Williams said, calling them “mental mistakes.”
“I feel I can be better. ... It’s just me being a professional and understanding what it is.”
Asked if he expects to win the job back, Williams said: “Um, I’m definitely going to go out there and compete. This is what we talk about, competing each and every week.”
The Seahawks signed Williams to a three-year, $18 million contract that guaranteed him $3.5 million this season but is not guaranteed after 2015. The free agent arrived from Philadelphia in March after former Seahawks’ starting cornerback Byron Maxwell got an average of $10.5 million over six years from the Eagles.
This has been an up-and-down season for Williams and the Seahawks’ secondary. St. Louis, Cincinnati and Carolina, in particular, have burned Seattle’s zone coverages for big plays deep down the middle with tight ends.
San Francisco became the sixth team to pass for a touchdown against Seattle this season. Every one of those six teams have had a tight end get a least one score. The Seahawks have allowed seven touchdowns to tight ends in those six games.
Next up: Pittsburgh’s big-play passing game that has the NFL’s fourth-highest average yards per catch, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and standout tight end Heath Miller coming off a bye.
“The great thing about it,” Thomas said with a straight face, “is we keep seeing how we are getting attacked.”
JACKSON’S ROLE INCREASES
Marshawn Lynch’s absence because of an abdominal injury not only created the opportunity for Thomas Rawls to set Seattle’s rookie rushing record of 209 yards Sunday, but it also gave 34-year-old running back Fred Jackson some rare extended playing time.
Until Sunday, Jackson’s most noteworthy act as a Seahawk was speeding his 2016 Corvette into a stop sign just outside team headquarters following practice last month. But Jackson was in for 16 snaps to Rawls’ 33 into the fourth quarter. That’s when Rawls ran 31 yards with a pass from Russell Wilson for the game’s final score.
Jackson finished with four carries for 11 yards. It was his most carries in a game as a Seahawk; he signed in August to be a third-down back after Buffalo released its former lead runner. Jackson also caught both passes thrown to him for 11 yards, though his 1-yard swing route on third and 9 in the third quarter didn’t do Seattle much good. The Seahawks settled for a field goal by Steven Hauschka.
The split of roughly two-thirds of the tailback snaps to Rawls and one-third to Jackson could hint at the playing time if Lynch remains out. Lynch is heading to Philadelphia on Monday to visit a specialist about his abdominal injury.
“Obviously, you don’t want to not have Marshawn. You never feel good if he is not back,” Wilson said. “But at the same time, you have a tremendous rookie, in terms of Thomas Rawls and what he can do. You also have Fred Jackson, a veteran who works extremely hard and really helps lead everyone.
“Hopefully, we have that three-headed horse, or arsenal, that we can bring all those guys in there.”
WR Doug Baldwin had a 49er fall on his ankle at the end of a catch and run with 5 minutes left. Baldwin said “I’m good” but will get an MRI Monday. … No undrafted free agent had ever rushed for 160 yards or more twice in his rookie season – until now with Rawls this season. … Hauschka had an extra point skim off the outside of the right upright and another one blocked. The first one was his first true miss wide in 40 PATs and field-goal tries this season. His only miss in 22 field-goal attempts was blocked at Dallas last month. … Former 49ers LB Nick Moody injured his hamstring while his Seahawks teammate Tyler Lockett was getting drilled as he fielded a punt in the second quarter. Moody did not return. San Francisco’s Bruce Ellington got flagged 15 yards for nailing a “defenseless player,” in the words of referee Ed Hochuli. … C Patrick Lewis left with a turned ankle late in the game. Lemuel Jeanpierre replaced him. “We’ll see what that means in a couple days.” … Gs J.R. Sweezy and Justin Britt left late in the game with “stinger” nerve issues in their necks but returned.