My new line is that when it comes to Saturday, the Seattle Seahawks will not beat the San Francisco 49ers, but they can. One way to pull off the
unthinkable upset would be via a time-tested blueprint adopted by underdogs and their hopeful fans everywhere. Keep the game close and steal a score somewhere. Fumble recovery or pick six work... or a couple big kick returns.
Enter only the best kickoff returner Seattle has seen since Seahawks legend Devin Hester. Who, you’ll remember vividly, threatened to single-handedly knock off the mighty Falcons in the 2016 divisional round, on January 14, until a trigger-happy official threw a ticky-tacky flag.
BUT I DIGRESS. His name is Godwin Igwebuike, and if you haven’t learned it yet, damn, you are not paying very good attention, are you?
Since Igwebuike took over return duties against the Panthers in Week 14, he has five returns of more than 30 yards. In 11 tries. Half the time he gets a chance to bring the ball forward, it’s an explosive play that puts the Seahawks past midfield, at midfield, or near midfield. From which position it’s easier to score. (No citation needed.)
PAST THE 50
Facing the Panthers, more of the same. We love to start drives in enemy territory, right? And he finishes with a little violence, too. pic.twitter.com/PSoGOgPGem— John Playoffs Fraley (@johndavidfraley) January 10, 2023
AT THE 50
Put some respect on the name of Seahawks return specialist Godwin Igwebuike, starting with this thread. Against the Chiefs, this is 48 yards of pure goodness. Watch him sidestep a helpless defender when he darts to his left after the scrum. pic.twitter.com/ssQvFue4G5— John Playoffs Fraley (@johndavidfraley) January 10, 2023
NEAR THE 50
The Rams thought maybe a tricky little pooch kick would neutralize him. They only did this once in Week 18; all their other kickoffs were touchbacks. Smart. pic.twitter.com/PnKK9WdoUB— John Playoffs Fraley (@johndavidfraley) January 10, 2023
His worst return so far is 19 yards. Well, besides that one muff at Arrowhead. Which, Godwin, don’t do this again on Saturday:
Igwebuike can be a real determining factor in Saturday's wild-card matchup with the Niners. He just can't do this again. pic.twitter.com/CR6gZQD597— John Playoffs Fraley (@johndavidfraley) January 10, 2023
Ironically, or in some way that resembles irony, the Seahawks were unharmed on that drive by Igwebuike’s mishap, as they found themselves on KC’s 32 just five plays later.
Special teams matter. But they have not played a major role in the recent success of the 49ers, who very nearly represented the NFC in Super Bowl 56 and seem just as likely as the Eagles to win the conference this time around.
Football Outsiders places San Francisco’s ST DVOA at an extremely average +0.2 this season, good enough for 15th in the league. Last year they were 26th.
Specifically on kick return coverage, the 49ers are 23rd. In short: they’re a below average unit, and their below-averaginess happens to line up with the one area where the Seahawks are poised to take advantage. Admit it: breaking off some game-changing returns and leveraging those into 10 points sounds a lot more likely than bottling up Nick Bosa for 60 minutes.
Like you, I’ve watched the games. It’s not like the Niners win or lose necessarily because of their special teams. Until Saturday, maybe. (But I mean, come on, this is a classic mismatch. Seattle has no chance. Get real. Everyone’s picking the 49ers. Hear that, Seahawks? Nobody believes in you. It’s over before it even begins. OH-VER.)
BONUS MATERIAL: Quarterback sensation Brock Purdy has been on everyone’s ears, and nerves, with his unblemished 5-0 record as a starter and magnificent statistical line. How magnificent, exactly?
2022 Patrick Mahomes— John Playoffs Fraley (@johndavidfraley) January 10, 2023
67.1 comp, 8.1 Y/A, 105.2 rate, 41/12 TD/INT
2022 Brock Purdy (prorated)
67.1 comp, 8.1 Y/A, 107.3 rate, 45/14 TD/INT
Mahomes led the NFL this season with 41 passing TD and a 6.3 TD percentage on all throws. Again: led the league.
Purdy, meanwhile, is on pace for 45 TD and his throws found the end zone on 7.6 percent of plays. By some — extremely important — measures, he’s been more productive than the best QB on the planet.
I’ll wager that Purdy isn’t a new Mahomes, and isn’t a Top 2 QB in the league, not in the long run at least. There’s a moment coming when the TDs will dry up, the interceptions will catch up, and the sacks will stack up. It hasn’t happened yet, but it will. If Igwebuike’s legs don’t jumpstart the upset, maybe Purdy’s arm can pitch in.