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Seahawks vs 49ers Playoff Preview: Highlighting 4 key matchups in the Wild Card round

Arizona Cardinals v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The playoffs have arrived and thanks to some help from the Detroit Lions, the Seattle Seahawks finished the season as the 7th seed in the NFC. Seattle squeaked by the Los Angeles Rams in Week 18 thanks to a game-winning overtime kick from Jason Myers. It was not an overly convincing win as they let Baker Mayfield and co. stick around all game, but it’s a win nonetheless which is what was needed.

In the Wild Card round the Seahawks have a date with the division rival San Francisco 49ers. San Fran is the hottest team in the league right now, having won 10 straight games. As a result of the dominance of Kyle Shanahan’s team, DraftKings Sportsbook has this matchup as the second most lopsided game of the week with the Niners sitting as 9.5-point favorites. If Seattle wants any shot at pulling off the near double digit upset, they are going to have to keep San Fran’s biggest stars in check for all four quarters, which they were unable to do in their first two meetings.

George Kittle vs the defense

George Kittle has quietly built a great connection with rookie quarterback Brock Purdy. Over the past four weeks he has 18 catches on 27 targets to go along with 265 yards and a casual 7 touchdowns. With his impact in both the running game as a blocker and the passing game as a receiver, Kittle is one of the more influential offensive skill position players in the league. Kittle is a dominant end line blocker who can be trusted to take on an edge defender one on one and more than hold his own. He is also a fantastic blocker in space and at the second level, looking almost like a lineman at times with his angles and power. He is the perfect player for Kyle Shanahan’s outside zone running scheme.

In the passing game Kittle is one of the more dominant tight ends. He is fantastic after the catch, has strong hands, and is a savvy route runner. Kyle Shanahan tries to get creative with how he uses Kittle as a receiver, and we can see that on the first play. They fake a screen to the motion man and then to McCaffrey at the bottom of the screen. Once the safeties split, Kittle releases from his block and runs a simple seam route. Purdy does not deliver a great ball, but the former Iowa Hawkeye has the speed to run away from Quandre Diggs for the touchdown. On the second play, Kittle once again shows off his abilities with the ball in his hands. He gets open because of a bust in coverage, but he smartly gets his head around to locate the ball once he gets free. Then he is able to make Quandre Diggs and Cody Barton miss in the open field for his second score of the game.

The edge - George Kittle

The Seahawks have really struggled at defending tight ends this season (ranking 27th in DVOA), so the majority of them would have the edge in this matchup. There is a significant gulf in terms of talent between Kittle and the average tight end giving him a massive advantage over Seattle here. He just went for 93 yards and two touchdowns on them a month ago, whilst making a significant impact in the running game as a blocker. Kittle posting similar numbers in this one would not be surprising, and it is honestly something I expect to happen.

Brock Purdy vs the secondary

Brock Purdy has done a fantastic job for the 49ers since he was thrust into action in week 13 when then starter Jimmy Garoppolo went down. In the 6 games where Purdy has seen significant playing time the former Iowa State quarterback been great. He’s thrown for 1,308 yards, has a compilation percentage of 68.32% and a passer rating of 112 to go along with 13 passing touchdowns, 1 rushing touchdown, and 3 interceptions. Purdy has the poise, pocket presence and football IQ of a 10-year vet, not a rookie who was selected with the last pick in the draft and has 5 pro starts to his name.

The tweet from Brian Baldinger does a great job of breaking down everything that Purdy brings to the table as a passer, so I am not going to go too in- depth on it. It is evident from the tweet that even if you take Purdy’s first read away or can move him off of his spot, which rookies traditionally struggle with, he is poised enough to move to his next receiver in the progression or slide and reset if pressured. I’m curious to see how Clint Hurtt decides to attack Purdy seeing as this is the second time, they are facing off in less than a month. I would expect a bit more simulated pressure to try and throw Purdy off a bit pre-snap.

The edge - Purdy

This is a close one, but Purdy just threw for an efficient 217 yards and 2 touchdowns on 17 completions and 26 attempts against Seattle a few games ago. Purdy is not going to take this game over, although he has shown the intelligence to make the necessary plays and prevent the game changing mistakes giving him the slight edge here.

San Francisco offensive line vs the Seattle front seven

The 49ers offensive line is a solid unit and is headlined by Trent Williams. The former All-Pro tackle is arguably the best offensive lineman in the league and capable of carrying a running game on his back. We see his ability in the running game in both tweets, but it is truly showcased in the first one. Offensive linemen are not supposed to be able to get out of their stance that quickly, nor move like that in space. There is nothing a defender can do to defeat him in that situation as he has the speed to beat them to the spot and the size to either seal them off or pancake them with zero problem.

In the second tweet we see what the entire offensive line brings to the table in this running scheme from the end-zone camera, which is shown second. Williams helps guide Shelby Harris inside before he climbs to the second level to seal off Cody Barton. Left guard Aaron Banks gets to Shelby Harris’ outside shoulder which allows him to drive him inside and seal him off as well. Rookie right guard Spencer Burford pulls down, bounces off of Banks and then gets to Tanner Muse to complete the seal of the left A gap. Additionally, right tackle Mike McGlinchey is able to get up to the second level to prevent Uchenna Nwosu from making the tackle near the line of scrimmage. Runs like this are a sneak peek into the 49ers running scheme and it also highlights what every individual lineman is able to do in the running game.

The edge - San Fran offensive line

When these two teams met a few weeks ago, the Niners offensive line dominated the trenches. Their running backs averaged 5.73 yards a rush and Purdy was sacked just once. It would be a bit surprising to see the script in this one flip giving the offensive line the edge.

Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead vs the Seattle offensive line

Nick Bosa is arguably the best defensive player in the NFL right now and is a mortal lock to win the DPOY. The former Defensive Rookie of the Year has posted a league leading 18.5 sacks on the season, registering at least one sack in all but three games. Additionally, he is tied for the second most tackles for loss at 19 and leads the league with 48 QB hits which is 13 more than Maxx Crosby who is sitting in second. On top of having Bosa, DeMeco Ryans’ defensive line also features Arik Armstead, who is one of the better interior defensive linemen in the league. Armstead’s numbers on the season are down but that is in part because the former Oregon Duck has only played in 50 percent or more of the defense’s snaps in just six games this season.

Getting back to Bosa, in his two games against the Seahawks this season he has 3 sacks, 5 solo tackles, 3 tackles for loss and 8 QB hits. His dominance against this offensive line is shown in both tweets above. In the first one Bosa and Armstead run a stunt where Armstead rushes up field into Charles Cross to prevent him from carrying Bosa inside. Bosa strikes an already off-balance Cross in the chest and then forces the interception from Geno Smith, which was waived off because of a terrible roughing the passer call. On the second play Bosa dominated with a bull rush move. Cross is not able to anchor down so he gets driven into the lap of Geno Smith resulting in the sack.

The edge - Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead

I think the only offensive line that might have an edge on this duo is the 49ers because of Trent Williams so this duo has a step up on every team in the league. Nobody on the Seahawks offensive line is capable of stopping Bosa and they will also continue to struggle against Arik Armstead especially when the duo is lined up on the same side. I expect Shane Waldron to have running backs and tight ends consistently chipping Bosa in an attempt to limit his production, but Bosa is a player you hope to contain, not stop. Because of that Bosa and Armstead have the clear edge here.

Score prediction

49ers 31 - Seahawks 14

Last week recap

Baker Mayfield vs the Seattle secondary

Predicted edge - the Seattle secondary - Actual edge - Seattle secondary

Mayfield was not very good in this one. The former Oklahoma Sooner only threw for 147 yards and he completed just 50% of his passes, getting picked off by Quandre Diggs in overtime for an all-around poor day at the office. The Seattle secondary had the clear edge here.

Cam Akers vs the front 7

Predicted edge - Akers - Actual edge - Akers

Cam Akers had yet another dominant day en route to his third straight 100+ rushing yard game. The third-year pro amassed 104 yards on the ground on 21 carries whilst also picking up 24 receiving yards on 3 catches. Akers clearly had the edge.

Rams tight ends vs the Seahawks linebackers

Predicted edge - tight ends - Actual edge - the linebackers

Tyler Higbee and Brycen Hopkins were a lot less impactful in this one than I anticipated. Higbee only had 33 yards on 4 catches and Hopkins had one target which did not result in a catch. They were also not overly visible in the running game, giving the backers the edge here.

Rams defensive line vs the Seattle offensive line

Predicted edge - offensive line - Actual edge - offensive line

This is a tight one. Kenneth Walker lll did have 114 rushing yards, but he only averaged 3.9 yards per carry and the Seahawks did not generate much push upfront, particularly in short yardage. However, the offensive line was able to keep Geno Smith relatively upright in the passing game giving the Seattle line the edge here.

Predicted score

Seahawks 24 - Rams 14

Somewhat close.

(All advanced stats cited provided by Pro Football Reference)