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Four Downs: How Can the 49ers Level Up in the Postseason?

The San Francisco 49ers return to the postseason for the third time in four seasons as they host the Seattle Seahawks at Levi's® Stadium in the NFC Wild Card Round. On Saturday, the 49ers will look to earn their third-consecutive victory over Seattle and their first postseason victory against the Seahawks in franchise history.

"They're playing pretty good right now," head coach Kyle Shanahan said. "As good as they have been all year and turning on the tape, they're a better team than they were four weeks ago and it's not a surprise to me that they're in this position." 

For this week's Four Downs, 49ers team reporter Lindsey Pallares and 49ers Spanish insider Jesús Zárate have joined me to break down several storylines ahead of the team's Super Wild Card Weekend contest against the Seahawks. We also answer questions directly from the Faithful exclusive for the 49ers Supporters Club. To get your questions answered, sign up for the 49ers Supporters Club here.

1st Down: Biggest Takeaway from the Regular Season?

@LindseyLares: Resiliency

This 2022 edition of the San Francisco 49ers is incredibly resilient. Typically, when a team's starting quarterback goes down due to injury, it takes the organization at least a second to regroup and move forward, and that has not been the case with the 49ers both times their starting quarterback suffered a significant injury. San Francisco, instead, has upped their production in the final stretch of the regular season, scoring 30-or-more points in five of their last six games. It's a similar story with running backs and cornerbacks in 2022 with injuries to Emmanuel Moseley, Jason Verrett and Elijah Mitchell. This team has depth and willingness to win, and it's been fun to watch players get an opportunity and step in during their team's time of need.

@JesusZarate87: Quarterback depth

The 49ers were able to win 13 games and get the No. 2 seed in the NFC with three different starting quarterbacks. They also won the NFC West and finished 6-0 in their division. Losing two starting quarterbacks due to injury is very difficult for any team to go though, but rookie QB Brock Purdy has stepped in seamlessly. Purdy has shown great talent and that has helped keep the team's hopes alive.

@BriMcDonaldTV: A dominant defense

The 49ers defense dominated the NFL in the 2022 regular season, finishing No. 1 in total defense, scoring defense and big plays, and the unit is stacked with elite playmakers at every level. DPOY candidate Nick Bosa closed out the season as the league's sack king with 18.5 quarterback takedowns. Bosa, Fred Warner and Talanoa Hufanga all earned Pro Bowl and AP All-Pro honors for their record-breaking performances this season, which represents just how powerful San Francisco's defense is. All together, the 49ers held their opponents to 277 points on the season, the fewest in the NFL and by a 49ers team since 2013 (272 points).

2nd Down: Area of Improvement Heading into the Postseason?

@LindseyLares: Number of penalties

This 2022 team is incredibly talented but could stand to reduce the number of penalties incurred per game to avoid giving opponents any type of help. Penalties weren't a huge issue against Seattle in the 49ers home opener, however, in their second meeting of the year, San Francisco had seven penalties totaling 60 yards. Those seven penalties were overshadowed by Seattle's eight flags for 79 yards, but it's still something that would be helpful to limit in the Wild Card game.

@JesusZarate87: Defending downfield

I think an area where the 49ers can improve heading into the playoffs is on the secondary to defend the deep ball. That's how the Arizona Cardinals scored on their first possession last game, and in Week 17, the Las Vegas Raiders were able to complete several deep passes. Now that the 49ers will face guys like DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, it is very important to defend the deep ball better and limit the big plays they can make.

@BriMcDonaldTV: Eliminating explosive plays from opponents

We saw it against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 7, Raiders in Week 17 and some against the Cardinals in Week 18, but allowing explosive plays from offenses helps opponents gain momentum in contests. The 49ers linebackers will be tasked with the ball and defending the run, and the secondary's coverage will be put to the test, especially in the postseason. However, with the concern being on the league's top-ranked defense, the 49ers are in good position to make a push in the playoffs.

3rd Down: What Are You Expecting from the Seahawks on Saturday?

@LindseyLares: A disciplined defense

I expect to see a Seattle team with a pretty disciplined defense on Saturday. It's easy to overlook how soundly this unit has been playing because Seattle lost two of their last four games of the year, but that's no reason to underestimate them. The Seahawks defense is holding opponents to an average of just under 11 points a game and limiting those same opponents to 33 percent in third down conversions. I expect San Francisco's offense to have to fight for their points, so it's going to be a fun matchup to watch.

@JesusZarate87: A physical group

On Saturday, I expect a very tough Seahawks team. Pete Carroll is a great coach and has good players to work with, so they will definitely be a difficult opponent. I expect them to try to run the ball early in the game with Kenneth Walker III to then open their passing game and try to do some damage with guys like Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf. On defense, they are always aggressive and trying to generate turnovers, so the 49ers will need to take good care of the football.

@BriMcDonaldTV: An efficient quarterback

Although Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith struggled in both matchups against San Francisco this season, he's entering the postseason with an impressive regular season performance under his belt. Leading Seattle to the playoffs and making the Pro Bowl in his first full season as a starter since 2014, he's broken the Seahawks single-season passing record (4,282 yards), led the NFL in completion percentage (69.8) and led the NFC in passing touchdowns (30). The 49ers defensive line will definitely have to put him under pressure to find success in the first round of the playoffs.

4th Down: What is Your Bold Prediction for the Super Wild Card Weekend Matchup Against Seattle?

@LindseyLares: The 49ers win their first playoff game versus the Seahawks on Saturday.

@JesusZarate87: The 49ers will shut down the Seahawks running game.

@BriMcDonaldTV: San Francisco's defense will force at least two turnovers.

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