The San Francisco 49ers will face a familiar foe to start their playoff run. This Saturday, the 49ers are set to take on the Seattle Seahawks in Super Wild Card Weekend after sweeping the Seahawks in the 2022 regular season for the first time since 2011.
In the 49ers past two matchups against the Seahawks, San Francisco outscored Seattle by 28 points and had a +4 turnover margin, holding the Seahawks to 10.0 points per game and a total of 246.5 yards per game. Now, in the third contest between the division rivals, the stakes are much higher and a season will end for whichever team falls short on Saturday.
"I look at it as this game, this week," defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans said. "I can't look at it as the third time. It's all new. They've done different things, different tendencies from the last time we played them... It's about this time and how we're going to go play this time. It's playoff football, how are we going to go out and play our style of football? We have to be the best team on Saturday for three and a half hours."
Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith enters the postseason on a high after breaking the Seahawks single-season passing record (4,282 yards), leading the NFL in completion percentage (69.8) and leading the NFC in passing touchdowns (30). However, Smith struggled in both games against San Francisco this season. Across both matchups, Smith recorded an average of 217.5 passing yards per game, registered a single passing touchdown, was intercepted once and finished with an 87.4 passer rating against the 49ers.
How the Seahawks perform in the run game will be a significant key for Seattle's offense. In the previous two contests, Seattle only rushed for a combined total of 106 yards. However, rookie running back Kenneth Walker III has fired up a hot hand as of late, rushing over 100 yards in each of his last three games.
On the flip side, Seattle's passing offense hasn't been as explosive to close out the regular season. The unit has scored under 20 points in three of their last four games, and Smith is coming off of a regular season finale with one touchdown, two interceptions and a 65.7 passer rating. In DK Metcalf's last two games, the wide receiver only notched four receptions on 13 targets for a total of 43 yards.
San Francisco's biggest threat entering the Wild Card contest is likely wide receiver Tyler Lockett. The wideout returned to the field last week after suffering a hand injury against the 49ers in Week 15, and scored the Seahawks single touchdown against the Los Angeles Rams. In 2022, Lockett passed the 1,000 yard threshold for the fourth time in his career, recording 84 receptions for 1,033 yards and nine touchdowns on the season.
"This will be a very physical matchup with DK and Charvarius Ward and just across the board with their O-line, our defensive line, our linebackers, it's going to be a physical game," Ryans said. "It's playoff football and that's what it comes down to. Typically, the most physical team, the team who attacks the ball and takes the ball the most is the team that's going to win this game."
The Seahawks defense enters the Wild Card matchup with some impressive statistics both in the trenches and deep downfield. Seattle's defensive line finished the 2022 season ranking seventh-overall in sacks (46.0 total) and the CB duo of Michael Jackson Sr. and Tariq Woolen have tallied seven total interceptions for 69 yards and hold wide receivers to a 78.3 reception rating, the second best mark in the league.
Yet, a hole in the Seahawks defense that the 49ers could likely take advantage of is against running backs. This season, Seattle's defense has allowed an average of 4.7 yards per carry to opposing running backs which ranks tied for 24th in the league. Opposing backs pose a threat to the Seahawks passing defense also, as they've allowed a 102.7 reception rating to RBs, which is ranked 27th in the league. A dual-threat back like Christian McCaffrey could have a big game both on the ground and through the air against Seattle's defense on Saturday.
Another player to look out for in the matchup is tight end George Kittle, as the Seahawks have allowed a 106.5 rating to opposing tight ends. In the the 49ers Week 15 matchup against the Seahawks, "The People's Tight End" saw the end zone twice and posted 93 receiving yards on the day.
"They're sound and they're more disciplined as the season has gone on," quarterback Brock Purdy said. "They still have play makers and they're athletic... Overall, they're just a team that you respect, a defense that you respect and they're going to make you drive. They have a bend but don't break mentality, so we have to be on point with what we're doing to be successful. Definitely a defense that we respect."