|It may seem like a stretch, but Seattle's defense has played as well if not better than Pittsburgh's. (Getty Images)|
By Ryan Wilson
Jim Harbaugh isn't stingy with the compliments, even if they might seem preposterous. On Tuesday, a day after the 49ers handily defeated the Steelers, he said that not only is Alex Smith the team's quarterback of the future, he considers the former first-overall pick a Pro Bowler this season.
"There's other great players out there in the National Football (Conference)," Harbaugh said. "I believe there's three that go to the Pro Bowl, right? Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Alex Smith -- I think those are the top three, in the NFC in my humble opinion."
Pay no attention to Tony Romo, Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan or Eli Manning.
On Wednesday, Harbaugh was back at it, this time flattering the 49ers' next opponent: the Seattle Seahawks.
“We thought the Steelers were good on defense, preparing for them, and we think the Seahawks are even better,” he said according to CBSSports Rapid Reporter John Boyle.
On the surface, it's a ludicrous thing to say; Seattle is 7-7 and long shots to make the playoffs. Not only that, but they were blanked by the Steelers 24-0 in Week 2.
But here's the thing: Seattle may have looked like one of the NFL's worst teams through the first half of the season (they were 2-6 heading into Week 10), but they're 5-1 since November 13 and that includes convincing victories over the Ravens, Eagles and Bears. And while a resurgent Marshawn Lynch and an improved Tarvaris Jackson have something to do with the success, the defense that deserves most of the credit.
The unit's been so good, in fact, that Football Outsiders' advanced metrics ranks them ahead of the Steelers' defense. Through Week 15, Seattle is the NFL's ninth-best defense (ninth vs. the pass, 10th vs. the run), Pittsburgh is 10th (sixth vs. the pass, 13th vs. the run).
The Steelers' D has been more consistent over the course of the season, which makes sense given the Seahawks' slow start. Still, it's a startling revelation; we just assumed Harbaugh was laying it on thick in an effort to butter up the next opponent. Intended or otherwise, it turns out he was onto something. Maybe Pete Carroll really does have a plan.
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