Fann: Why Seahawks should go for broke in playoffs vs 49ers

Jan 10, 2023, 11:38 AM
Seahawks Geno Smith Tyler Lockett...
Seahawks WR Tyler Lockett celebrates his touchdown catch with QB Geno Smith on Jan. 8, 2023. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

If you’ve convinced yourself the Seahawks can win on Saturday in the NFC Wild Card Round against the 49ers, you’ve probably told yourself one of two things (or both):

• 1. San Francisco quarterback Brock Purdy was “Mr. Irrelevant” for a reason, and that will show up in the playoffs.

• 2. It’s hard to beat a team three times in one season.

If I’m talking to you, I credit your optimism, even though I don’t share that outlook. Seattle will take the field at Levi’s Stadium on Saturday as 10-point underdogs for a reason, and I think that line could be justifiably larger.

San Francisco is the objectively better team across the board without an edge to be found for the Seahawks. The 49ers’ offense ranks fifth in total yards, eighth in rushing yards and sixth in scoring. Seattle’s defense ranks 26th in total yards allowed, 30th in rushing yards allowed and 25th in scoring. San Francisco’s defense ranks first in total yards allowed, second in rushing yards allowed and first in scoring.

Carroll: Seahawks face big playoff challenge with ‘on fire’ 49ers

The overall speed at 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans’ disposal, led by star pass rusher and expected Defensive Player of the Year Nick Bosa, will likely be overwhelming to the point where Seattle will be unable to exploit San Francisco’s 20th-ranked pass defense.

Neither of the regular season matchups were close between the two teams, with the 49ers covering with ease on each occasion. I don’t say this to intentionally upset anyone or cause a stir, but I genuinely think it’s going to be a boat race on Saturday.

Seattle was borderline dreadful for the final two months of the season. A comfortable win in Week 17 against the nosediving Jets was the lone bright spot over the last eight games. The Seahawks’ only other wins during that stretch came in a pair of nail-biters against the injury-depleted Rams.

Those wins still count, of course, and squeaking into the playoffs during a rebuilding season is as impressive as it is admirable. There just hasn’t been anything that suggests this team is poised to put on a glass slipper and go on a Cinderella playoff run, a la the 2021 Bengals.

That’s why I’m very eager to see how the Seahawks approach the Wild Card matchup. I sincerely hope Seattle doesn’t spend this week of prep with the expectation it can line up, play its game and beat San Francisco straight up. I’d much prefer some degree of acknowledgement that they’re the inferior team and need to gameplan accordingly.

If Seahawks offensive coordinator Shane Waldron has a “break glass in case of emergency” sheet in his playbook, now is the time to tap into it. If he’s ever had the thought “This would be fun to try but would be too risky in a real game” while drawing up plays, this is the game that warrants such risks. If the Seahawks face a fourth-and-manageable anywhere near midfield or beyond, this is the game you go for it every time. If you’re somehow able to play the game close enough with the chance to win in regulation, you go for it. That means going for two rather than a hypothetical game-tying and overtime-forcing extra point.

The Lions’ final drive on Sunday night in their win against the Packers, coincidentally the one that clinched Seattle a playoff spot, provided a wonderful blueprint for how the Seahawks should approach this game.

Leading 20-16 and facing second-and-17, Detroit ran a hook and ladder at the line of scrimmage. It looked like Green Bay was going to blow it up on two separate occasions. Instead, the Lions managed to get the timing right for a net gain of 14 yards.

Two plays later, facing fourth-and-1, the Lions hurried to the line of scrimmage and passed the ball for a game-sealing 9-yard gain. Not once did Lions coach Dan Campbell even consider kicking a field goal to make it a seven-point game, a decision that would have ensured Packers QB Aaron Rodgers getting one possession to force overtime.

The beauty of being the underdog in a David vs. Goliath matchup is that you get to play with house money. Every ounce of pressure and expectation is on the 49ers, a team with Super Bowl-or-bust aspirations. Seattle is quite frankly just happy and lucky to be here.

So why not play loose, play free, throw the kitchen sink at San Francisco and hope that a few bounces go your way? Maybe turnover luck will be in your favor or you can recover a surprise onside kick. Maybe a fake punt earns you an extra possession. Maybe the trick play you drew up hits. Maybe you catch the 49ers on a bad day with a quarterback that makes rookie mistakes in his first taste of playoff nerves.

And maybe, just maybe, you can shock the world (myself included) and send your division rival home far earlier than expected.

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